Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fall Grazing

This year, the plum trees along my alley started firing their missiles early. Last year, I remember plucking plums out of the snow some mornings. But this year each morning, I get to fill my basket in my T shirt. When I get up, I tippy toe out my back gate, past my friend BJ's RoadTrek, which is her home on wheels, soon to be heading south, past the 2 immense, leaping dogs across the alley (see below), , past the abandoned camper with the cat on top, to my destination-the 3 heavy laden plum trees.

For some reason, each year, the fruit on the trees is far from ripe until it comes tumbling down into the grass, gravel or cement. When I look up at the branches, I see bushels of fruit still airborn, so I will be busy for awhile when they decide to come down. The hint of purple in the grass reminds me of Easter egg hunts. They are even the same shape. I don't know until I pick it up whether it will be a perfect ovoid or a slimy gob of fruit goo, half gutted by hornets or ants. I bring a separate bucket to pick up the goo so that my finger tips don't keep re-visiting the same bummers. They go in a special compost pile. Those pits will make great soil, but it will take time and llama manure, I suspect.

Under one of the plum trees, I noticed a fresh crop of stellaria, my 2nd favorite salad green after arugula. It looks just like it does in the spring, little blossoms sparkling out of the grass, all ready for picking. I wonder if chickweed pesto would be a wonderful taste treat? Chickweed and mint might create a zingy sauce for rice or pasta. Inventing new foods from grazed ingredients is like a riotous collaboration with Ma Nature in the kitchen. It makes me giddy just thinking about it.

A brand new breakfast cereal I think I invented: Get out your iron fry pan and roast brown rice that has already been sprouted and dried (soaked in water for a day, then laid out on a tray); then grind to a powder in an electric coffee grinder (I keep one for only seeds, spices and nuts). Add 2-3 Tablespoons of the rice powder with 1 cup water, simmer for about 15 minutes (be sure to keep stirring and adding water), and voila, cream of rice on steroids. With some plums, almond butter and maple syrup thrown in, it was amazingly filling. that has to be the most economical breakfast in the history of the world (or not).

I am thinking about
Plum Chutney. This is my haul every morning, until the frost and then watch out; it will be snowing plums. Other grazing earlier this year took Al and I to a friend's cherry orchard where we picked 15 gallons of cherries. A plum, peach, cherry cobbler is certainly in my future. Speaking of which, the blackberry peach cobbler at East Shore Smoke House is not to be missed. they have a unique yellow bisquit that perfectly complements the fruit. Also, their Cherry Chocolate Bread Pudding with Vanilla Sauce is exquisite.

I can't believe I was fasting just a few weeks ago. Imagine going 8 days with no solid food and not being hungry. That story will star in a future blog in October. But for now I am eating with gusto and enjoying every wildcrafted bite. Remember find something insanely fresh for your mouth every day!

It is just the best feeling to know that morsel
you are chewing came directly from the earth or from God or angels or All That Is; whatever you want to call it, and it is traveling like a rocket into that other piece of earth/God/Angels/ATI which is You! Something so neat & tidy about that. Freshness and wholeness are the essence of that transformation. I am biting into an item that is whole unto itself. Nothing quite like that. Produce is really the only thing that is still in its original format. If all the non-whole products were vacuumed out of the grocery store, there would be only one aisle. Guess which one?

When our bodies were being perfected about 10,000 years ago, that was the only kind of nutrition around, things whole in themselves. Now almost everything we eat has been taken apart and put together, assembled from parts. I suspect that is confusing, if not debilitating for the average physiology. Everything from french fries to pudding to bread is a conglomerate of substances that would never come together without human aid. Maybe a simple health regimen would be to eat some things that are whole everyday. That's where grazing comes in.

Freshness and wholeness is a given with alley forage. Especially when you yank it right out of the ground or off the tree (giving thanks of course). Elapsed time from harvest to table = 15 seconds instead of 4-10 days. It's harder to feel the resonant spirit in a box of cake mix that has been parked God knows where for half a year.

When does that mouthful stop being chickweed or plums or blackberry cobbler and start to be me, I wonder? In my mouth or stomach or later? Or is it always me..and you and earth and sky? These are the things a girl gets to ponder when she doesn't have a day job. More about that next time.
As Julia Child always says,

Monday, May 25, 2009

Let The Alley Grazing Begin

As those of you who read my blog know, alley grazing refers to both kinds- eyes on the ground and head in the clouds. Wandering the byways and back alleys of my mind is more productive with a specific earthbound goal directly ahead. Just ask any fisherman (woman), huckleberry or asparagus stalker, or mountain rambler. As each of you also browse the rich forage of your thoughts, either occasionally or constantly, so I find myself drawn to the harvest of thoughts and weeds when spring erupts. And it is, finally, erupting.

This year, a quick trip to California to pick up my Mom's furniture made me miss my favorite seasonal event, the scent of cottonwood. By the time I got back, my dog was covered with the sticky little bud scales, and the scent had been carried far away on prevailing winds.Here in the Mission Valley, we have had a long, teaser of a spring with the promise of sun, then with a few warm, languid days followed by snowy nights and visa versa. The warm and cold have been so seamlessly sandwiched together that everyone has been going loco with the ambivalence of it. Ah, not to mention the confused tomatoes , pussy willows and cherry trees.

For the month of April and most of May, I believe it snowed on the mountains everyday. That has to be some kind of record. I was on my knees rummaging in my under-the-bed summer/winter storage box daily like a nervous squirrel checking the cache. First, grabbing summer stuff and replacing it with winter togs; then grabbing the jackets again and putting away the shorts, with each new blast of cold.

Now, Memorial Day is upon us, the official opening of summer, and it is a tad frosty, but when the clouds part, it gets steamy and warm. The mountains produce the most interesting weather, if not the best for gardening.

Speaking of gardening, in a rare burst of enthusiasm, and with Al's help, I now have a raised bed garden, bristling with seedlings-lettuce, arugula, cilantro, some broccoli and basil plants and a few tomato seedlings. In the foreground are bunching onions and a 'lawn' of tiny collard volunteers.

I am currently reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, published in 1974 by Robert Persig, a cultural classic and metaphorical masterpiece of its time that sold 4 million copies.

He shows the error at the very heart of western thinking that creates most of the confusion and misunderstanding of our times. It is brilliant and sometimes difficult to follow as the author shows the errors in thinking through the narrator, a former philosophy professor who we understand goes mad tracking down an idea to some horrid dead end, has electroshock treatment and emerges as the current narrator. This narrator writes technical manuals and is attempting to trace the journey to madness of his former personality (without following him into the abyss), while taking a motorcycle trip with his son. Wow. That book covers a lot of ground both vertically and horizontally; like a non-fiction inquiry wrapped in a fiction story wrapped in an enigma? See for yourself. But does it ever start you browsing through your ideas and assumptions.

As for the earthbound alleys, chickweed is blossoming and spreading; lamb's quarters is up about 6 inches. Just the right size for picking. And, oh those collards! Once again, I have to rhapsodize about them.

Two years ago, when I threw some collard seeds into the soil here, they grew into trees with two foot seed stalks. Then those trees had babies the following season and I saved seeds from them in my garage and thrashed/winnowed them a month ago.

In the magnified photo below, they look like Montana river rocks. These seeds in my jar had siblings that fell on the ground and are now 4-5 inch seedlings. Within a few months, their gigantic leaves will be blanched, frozen, and put away for winter nutrition. Third generation. The beauty of non-hybridized seed, is the exact genetic vigor year after year. Bugs don't eat them and they withstand drought and flood. Collards, like chickweed, lambs quarters, dandelions and burdock (root & stems), contain stellar vitamin/content and are very tasty. I just love how that works. This year when I finally got around to making raised beds, I didn't have to buy anything but the seeds. Been avoiding it as too much work, but it wasn't. With scavenged wood, digging the paths, and shaping stakes to hold up the side boards, and screwing everything together, I was done. Oh yeah, and a great helper. Let's not forget that. A special place in heaven for garden helpers. Then Glacier Gold compost folded into the soil completed the job.

It wouldn't win a beauty prize, but I think we'll get some good eating this summer. I thought the long pea bed (foreground, 2nd photo from the top) was a stroke of genius. Sometimes I think we just channel the plants wishes, because the whole template just stamped itself on my brain and I started building. The vigorous little plants to the right are arrugula. I plant thick, then start thinning for salads. Looks like good picking right now, only two weeks after planting!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What's all this white shit???

Today is my mother's birthday. March 31, 1926. She who died July 1, 2008, nine months ago.

She who made every birthday into a national holiday with home crafted cakes and presents galore. Or in later years, a big check. We started sending checks on her birthday and she absolutely loved it. Alan, whose mother also died recently and whose birthday was the day after his (how brutal is that?), buys a cupcake identical to the cakes his mom used to make him, and has a birthday party each year.

I was so glum today that sounded like a great idea. I had to stand up in front of thirty people and do a presentation at noon, but I really wanted only to lay down in the snow and bawl like a baby.

Today I got a poem in the email from my notorious poet friend, Eugene. It sums up quite nicely and expresses probably the emotion of the whole town:

where's the season's cotyledon

why is springtime not-a-heedin'

all the critter's calls for it

why's there more of this white shit?

Yes, waking up yet again to the imitation blizzard which stops and starts again all day. Yesterday the cloud was over Polson and no where else. I came down over the hill from Pablo into a snow shower. We're having one now. This late season snow is putting a serious cramp into my pre-season alley grazing. Those poor robins what are they doing today? They were so optimistic showing up three weeks ago! The lilac shoot buds are greening up, irises poking up. Anyone have crocuses? I wouldn't be surprised to see some surprised pussy willows. I saw stellaria making a bold come back last week...some tiny seedlings popping up through the dirt.

But winter has no teeth now. And the snow could be our insurance policy against August wildfires. You just never know.

Back to my mother. There was only one time that I know of that my Mom honored her own birthday. She was coming up on 80. No one including her thought she would EVER live that long. She had just been diagnosed with metastasized lymphoma, was bewigged following aggressive treatment, and she figured this was it. Last Birthday. So we called in the troops: her long lost brother and adorable wife came in from Florida, my cousins rolled in from the south, my brothers and I were there with bells on, and we had a ball for 3-4 days. She was the center of it all and loving it.

The funny thing is the cancer just went on holiday for a year, so she ended up having the birthday she didn't think she'd have: # 81; what an anti-climax it was for her. Then some other medical problems started edging up on the cancer, which muddled the diagnosis when it came back. During that hiatus, she said, "Shit, I thought the cancer was going to take me out."

Really, she talked about her eminent demise that way...with such a cavalier, in your face directness, she had us undone most of the time. Looking at her calendar one time, she said, "Maybe I won't have to have my teeth cleaned next time!" Have you ever known anyone to look at the bright side of dying...as a way to get out of an unwanted appointment?

Today I will follow my dear one's advice and get a cake and have a birthday party. Turn around is fair play, Mom!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What some people do for a living

So here it is, almost the Ides of March again. I remember my first 'ides of march' post last year, was a trip down memory lane detailing mid-March catastrophes.

Now I see the pre-spring bursting-at-the-seams energy as a good thing. Me, I'm out of my mind as usual. But the good news is that I am enjoying the insanity rather than fighting it. So one crazy thing is that my job is really two jobs, Executive Director and Administrative Assistant. Since we tightened the old belt and cut out a position, there are only two of us. My Program Director is already doing two jobs, so I can't complain. But I began to notice that I am a mean boss. I flog that poor Admin. Asst. like a government mule.

Now that we are putting the fundraisers together, it is especially intense. If you want to check it out, don't say I didn't warn you! I sent a fundraising letter to all my friends and God Bless the darlings, they started sending $$.

My friends have the most varied occupations as I'm sure yours do too. Many of my friends are writers in addition to the following. I have 2 psychologists, 6 carpenter/contractors, 2 tile setters, 1 communication cable installer/engineer, 3 nurses, a computer geek, 3 store owners, 2 restranteers, 1 chef, a classical musician, several authors, one judge, a medical transcriptionist, a transitional housing job coach, a peer counselor, a business consultant, 2 graphic artists, 2 online business entrepreneurs, a photographer (and hermit), a former school custodian, a dentist, a doctor, and a dozen massage therapists (lucky me!). One of my high school sweethearts was a famous illustrator for Disney before he died a couple years ago. The thing is you could put all these people in the same room together and you would have a party. Simple as that...they are all stellar humans who happen to perform the current job description of their choice.

A man I once worked for was a carpenter before he decided to go to medical school. He had a rich Hawaiian auntie who paid his way and he became a surgeon. When we started the remodel on his medical office, he was so happy to throw his stethoscope on the desk and strap on the tool belt again. You have to love a guy like that. My friend Shaun, a petite lass, was a dump truck driver, became a nurse, then private detective/insurance adjuster and finally went back to school for her Masters in physical therapy. Wow. Her husband was a nurse anesthiologist, became a master tile setter, and now is back to his original profession.

We have so many opportunities to express who we are. I jumped from college to massage in a sleaze joint, to phone soliciting, to recycling center worker, to pre-med, to truck gardener/tree planter to house painter/carpenter to self-employed masseuse, to job coach at a sheltered workshop, to cabinetmaker to landscaper, to domestic violence shelter advocate, then shelter Director, to Big Brothers Big Sisters Director. What a surprise. It never occurred to me to go for a career.

I had a short little attention span that quite forbade that type of thinking. So here I am...having a ball, my confidence running just ahead of my incompetence most days. My learning curve is always steep. I must like it that way, because I can't seem to stay with what I know. Some days I am so exhausted, I wonder why I have created such a life, where getting through the day feels like a marathon.What I figured out is this: like many folks I have a hell of a time asking for help. Guess what? I am so freaked out most of the time-working these two jobs in one, shouldering more responsibility than I thought I could, crashing my computer with my manic energy, making hellatious accounting blunders and still managing to have it all turn out okay. Why? Because I have to ask for help a dozen times a day.

Like Sandra Bullock in 28 Days, with the sign around her neck, 'Confront me if I don't ask for help'. I was handed this weird combination of qualities: a tough little body, a galloping mindless energy, ferocious ambition, a dose of ADHD, and a clown's gift for klutzing. Most days my mind is like a catfight in a burlap sack. So asking for help hits the restart button and off I go again. Another thing that happens, is like I mentioned in an earlier post, self doubt comes blowing in with gale force to try to topple me. When it doesn't work, when I laugh at how nuts I seem to get, instead of cursing it, I get another opportunity to restart the day.

A lot of my friends also design their lives to be maximally challenging. My cuz is the head of a huge women's homeless shelter. Because they believe in the women, empower them to make their own choices, and stand out of the way, some exciting (sometimes horrible) things happen, some huge disasters ensue. But these gamblers on human potential never stop expecting the best. I love that about my friends. If they aren't racing around the next bend to see what new thing they can learn, what new person they can meet, they are betting the ranch on someone coming through and not worrying if they don't.

This cobbled together life that found me, that nailed me, even though I was too distracted to settle in for a long time, came with great friends, a splendid man who really sees me and still sticks around, and my brothers and cousins who have loved me so well all my life. When I was a little tyke, the stupidest things would upset me, like having to share a bathtub with my brother and cousins. It never occurred to me that it might get a lot weirder than that.

I may even retire sometime from the exhausting day job. I wonder what will happen then?! The friends are for life, and who knows maybe even after that!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Getting back on the horse

I finally got back on the horse and headed for the slopes last weekend...and then again this weekend. Once you start, there is just no stopping. It turns out my old friend/new love, Alan, who had never skied Blacktail (and never let on that he was a skier), looked like a slalom racer blazing down the hill. The first time I saw him in action, all I could think was, "Yikes".

So, yesterday, I did buy myself the promised helmet. My ski outfit is almost complete with only the poles to go. I went without last year, just because, skiing without poles felt very free. My skiing went to hell but it was worth it with less equipment to wrap around the lift chair or catch under my ski. Noting this deterioration of my skiing ability, and having a ski buddy that looked like a pro, I rented poles and took a lesson last week. Voila! Was I ever doing it wrong.

When I headed down the first run yesterday, I worked on my 'homework' of practicing hands out front ("like you're holding a tray") and shifting my weight from the uphill to downhill ski before the turn and keeping my weight forward. It was feeling pretty good after awhile. I didn't biff all day which is a personal record I will probably never beat. Usually, you can recognize me by the amount of snow I'm wearing. Skiing with Robert and Maddie, Terry and Dave and their grandson, Shawn Michael, or waving to them going by on the lift, is just a great way to be with friends.
photo of Flathead Lake and the Mission Mountains by Janice Myers

A bus full of school kids arrived from Browning and they were having a blast chewing up the slopes on boards and skis, some of the younger ones getting lessons on the bunny hill. I thought about what a trip that was for them across the highline, up through the passes and down along the park. They must have left in the dark. That is the obsession for you...to go through anything to get to the ski hill. The bus driver looked as though he was getting a much needed rest to make the drive back, probably also in the dark.

That 14 inches of new powder up there drew us like flies to honey. And sunshine. Nothing beats a place like that in the sun. The valley was shrouded in damp, soupy overcast when we left Polson. Talk about mega depressing. Driving up Blacktail Road was like ascending into heaven, with the hush of whiteness, pine boughs bowed under the load, and a dazzling panorama of non-stop mountain ranges in the distance.
cell phone photo by Al 2/28/09
Up there in the clean, blue air it was hard to imagine a single problem in the world.
Can't you tell by our happy little faces!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Mother of All Vampires

When I started this blog a few years back, all I was interested in was schlupping around the margins of town, the alleys and byways that snake around largely unnoticed in our little berg. But then I noticed how that physical alley grazing was mostly an excuse to roam around my mind at the same time. So today is my day to mentally graze. Amazing what shows up!

So this morning, having recently embarked on a new and
delightful relationship with a man I have known for some time, I ran into the hulking monster of SELF DOUBT. When I doubt myself and my choices, I also doubt every right and wonderful thing that is happening in my life. Self doubt is the ultimate robber baron, plucking the numinous and joyous, the splendid, the sublime, right out of your fingers, then throwing it down and stomping on it.

And it was right there, lying in wait for me when I woke up. Of course it took quite a while to recognize the beast for what she is. She dresses up in all kinds of disguises like 'my protector', 'intelligent inquiry', 'critical thinking', 'no one's pulling the wool over my eyes'...

It's not like this is a new realization about self doubt and the power it has over me. No, I come by here every few months, but each time it seems brand new. Maybe because I take the scenic route through new depths of despair, through the annihilation of what I know to be true, to finally recognize the she-bitch, once again.

Since one of my best friends has been working on a book about metaphorical vampires, The Practical Vampire Slayer, we have been having a lot of fun using the tools she proposes.
Anything that sucks your vitality, hijacks your concentration, and/or compromises your great personality might be a candidate for vampire of the hour, day, or month. For me, that is mostly my crappy thinking. Any downturn into bitterness, criticism or despair needs a second look for what is driving that. So now it's almost like coming across a familiar face in a crowd. Oh, you again.

According to the practical vampire slayer and all vampire literature, the vampire needs an invitation to come in. So I think about how did I invite this in? Why in the world would I want to take an uzi to my dreams and hopes, my fondest assumptions about my future (even if only momentarily)? That is masochism to the nth power.

For me it always comes back to the Marianne Williamson quote that Nelson Mandela delivered to the world in his 1994 inaugural speech,

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure..."
My terror of that power within, could that be my invitation?
"Ah, excuse me, Miss, could you take the edge off that power I'm so freaking terrorized by? Oh, yeah, thanks, now I don't feel powerful at all, or even connected to anything powerful. Thanks, now I feel like a whimpering cur. That's much better." Or something like that. The invitation, I didn't hear myself make, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen.

From what I understand, Spirit responds to all our requests (which must be quite a trick, considering the completely contradictory nature of desire and the non-stop attempts to fulfill it), so the invitation could have been issued in the intake of a breath, in an instant of fear or doubt. So having looked it over, I revoke that invitation to SELF DOUBT and reclaim my God-given power to have a great day and a fabulous life.

For me, as I imagine it is for you, at times each day, there seem to be vigorous wrestling matches between opposing thoughts. Today, I just happened to listen in, and boy, was I surprised. Other days, maybe I just experience the malaise and wonder what's going on. Am I getting the flu? Or I attack someone, maybe only in my thoughts, because this churning is making me so uncomfortable. Taking time to graze inside, especially when it gets nasty in there, is always a revelation.

Ultimately, when I expose the false assumptions, the self doubt, or the desire to attack, for what
they truly are, I find nothing much. A bunch of smoke and mirrors that clouds the truth and throws me off track. Self doubt tells me that 'this isn't going to work out'. But it says it about everything I really do care about. It is a one-size-fits-all, shop-worn slogan that just doesn't fly anymore for me. I can't tell you how many perfectly good jobs, relationships, and situations I have left over the years.

No doubt these escapes were prompted by this exact thought, "this will never work". Now the familiar whiff of negativity in my thinking is a dead giveaway. But still, I get led around by the nose for a couple minutes, maybe an hour or a day. Throwing the laser light of clarity and positive beliefs onto this 'boogey man' does the trick.

Another way of looking at Self Doubt is the concept of the predator in Clarissa Pinkola Estes classic, Women Who Run With the Wolves. The predator is like a wolf that prowls around the edges of your thoughts and gobbles up all your half baked plans, the dreams you ignore, those great intentions.

So in terms of "I am woman hear me roar", If I don't put some mojo behind that belief, it will just get chewed up and swallowed by the 'predator' along with all those new years resolutions, plans to travel the world, to-do lists, and other calves too
weak to keep up with the herd. If you think about it, its kind of ecological to have something sweeping up all the beliefs and half-baked schemes that would otherwise be cluttering up my mind like debris along the highway.

So whether I see my self doubt as 'the mother of all vampires', the human condition, or a community minded wolf, the fact is that I have incredible choices:
1. I'm not my thoughts
2. I can discover what is making me unhappy (hint: it is always a thought)
3. I can throw light on whatever it is, because I have that power
4. Or I can wallow for as long as I like!

This is the beauty of grazing for me....
I look around in the weeds
and broken bottles,

the rusting auto parts,
that greasy
shadow where
motor oil slumped into the weeds
and there , off to the side,

almost hidden by a plastic grocery bag, the
wild viola shines, with snow on the leaves.
or maybe,
a poppy in a traffic clogged corner of Seattle's University district

Friday, January 23, 2009

Drama Dweeb

So after I created the drama around losing my wallet (last blog), I opened the passenger door of my little red car and there it was peeking out of the door side pocket. Little buggah! Little pink wallet with the Trader Joe's sticker on it. Oh yeah, I laughed so hard. Like finding an old friend playing hide and seek standing on her head in your closet hours after the game ended. The things it takes to get me to post.

Snow is coming down like its heading to a half off sale. Snow is one of those things I can't imagine having too much of, though I've never lived in the Yukon. Here along the lake, we sometimes get snow deprivation because of the banana belt effect. However, we did get a bumper crop in December. Wasn't that impressive!

So back to the wallet. By the time I cut up all the credit cards I had to cancel and replace, I had a pile of colorful plastic confetti that looked like the aftermath of a hamster chewing its way out of a lego set.

Sort of a warm fuzzy to see your former ID mangled. Sort of liberating. Now I start fresh. Howboutchu?