Today is one of those days where I think I should just go back to bed……never been one of those people that can fall asleep at the drop of a hat and often find myself twisted into a pretzel on the recliner trying to ignore Bruce’s snoring and staring at bad infomercials – wondering who on earth actually buys that crap. It seems we are a nation of people who are incapable of flipping an egg, chopping veggies without a gizmo, and can’t be trusted with a safety razor – darn good thing somebody invented the ‘no-no’ laser hair removal system.
My garden is rebelling this year – not the kale of course, it never rebels, and after a panic attack over the fact that for whatever reason there were NO kale seeds to be had this year, (thanks to everybody who went on a kale seed hunt and sent them to me :)), the kale is doing awesome. My broccoli however – that’s another story but an old one. The stuff bolts. Every year, no matter what bed I put it in, I end up with plants that are three or four feet tall and bolting heads – makes me almost crazy. The beans, which have always given me a bumper crop, are definitely making beans-ish, but they’re yellowing and spindly and not impressive at all. I’ve got beets in three different beds – one is doing fine, the other two will likely get torn up and tossed to the goats. My salad beds which usually produce enough I have to give it away by the bag full, have barely given me a couple of leaves this year. Oh well – there’s always next year – the lament of the gardener.
So back to the never ending story – really, I should have called this one ‘the summer of my discontent’. I began to feel like I was leading two separate lives – chief cook and bottle washer, laundry doer, housekeeper……and wishful closet homesteader. Having an eleven year old, a twenty something, and a year and a half old grandson around made for an atmosphere akin to a zoo with no zookeepers around to manage the chaos. My stepson was a handful – I often thought he would have done well running loose in a commune – some place with no rules, regulations, structure, systems. We were at loggerheads more often than not. I’m one of those ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’ parents – he was one of those ‘what do you mean you won’t drive me into town to the skateboard park’ kids. He managed to tough it out for a year before he decided Mom’s place wasn’t such a bad deal after all – and on a recent visit a couple of months ago it occurred to me that if nothing else, his time with us gave him a good idea of what he didn’t want to do when he grew up – anything related to farming. Totally fair – it’s not everybody’s idea of a good time.
My daughter on the other hand, jumped in with both feet. She made bread, helped with the cooking, helped control the general chaos and allowed herself to be recruited for Bruce’s ‘here hold this while I hit that’ projects. Still, at a crossroads in her life – she spent a lot of time grappling with trying to keep the little one happy, trying to keep me happy, trying to decide what exactly she was supposed to do next in her life besides throttle her new little brother – while he decided there was no real reason why he should have to listen to her anyway.
Our grocery bill went straight through the roof – two full baskets of food every two weeks, a lengthy visit to the laundromat every week, more water deliveries more often – we were going nowhere with this homesteading thing at all. I found myself longing for some peace and quiet, there was none to be had – found myself depressed at the amount of food five people can consume in one meal, found myself almost in a rage over the never ending job of boiling water and washing dishes. I recall standing at the sink one day, fed up yet again at the pile of plates, saucers, bowls, cups, cutlery and came up with what I decided was a genius solution (this speaks to my frame of mind at the time). I decided that if I was the one being stuck with the chore than I was going to have to make it a do-able chore. I began tossing the dishes in the trash. In my mind, everybody should be in possession of only one plate, one saucer, one bowl and one set of utensils. That was that. It was while tossing dishes in the trash that I came upon another genius idea. Everybody could do their own damn dishes after they ate – unless they didn’t care if they ate off a clean plate. Of course as luck would have it, Bruce came upon this most interesting scene – stood baffled for a moment and finally spoke up.
“What are you doing?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“You can’t throw all the dishes in the trash…”
“I’m not. I’m only throwing most of the dishes in the trash.”
“Stop.” he finally says. “I’ll do the dishes.”
I actually made him box up the excess and read everybody the riot act – at no time had I volunteered to be the only one in the house that was capable of washing a dish.
When your life seems out of control, it’s the little things that push you over the edge – the dishes became the big red button. Despite the insanity, I plowed ahead on the ‘homesteading’ front. We ordered geese (although they were destined to be pets from the start), and chickens – finally I could look forward to our own eggs. My daughter decided on goats (read ‘The whole kid and cabritto’ an earlier post, so I don’t repeat myself). I felt better for the fact that at least we were making some progress – not as much as I would have liked, but better than none at all. The garden was definitely not going to happen at all – the biggest issue of course – water. When you have to pay for water, and you have a houseful of five people – there’s no using it up on a garden. We collected as much rain water as we could – not a downpour passed that we weren’t out there moving buckets and barrels around trying to catch as much as we could off of the roof – but the idiocy of our downpour dash hit home one stormy afternoon when my daughter and I were racing around the house holding up five gallon pails under the downspouts and bucketing them to the barrels when lightening hit. To this day she calls it the funniest ‘I almost died story ever’. With myself at one corner of the house and her at the opposite – I suddenly felt this totally strange sensation of all the hair on my arms standing up – a dead silence – then a very ominous loud buzzing noise filling the air. Instinctively I bolted three giant steps and dove onto the porch to land with a crash as the lightening hit and the hydro went out. Rolling to my feet as I realized what had happened I charged back out in a panic that my daughter would be laying flat out on the ground – we collided in a heap as she was already running for the same porch. Once under cover, and neither of us dead, we sat there laughing hysterically at the stupidity of standing out in a thunderstorm holding buckets of water under metal downspouts. I’ve always loved thunder and lightening storms, but to this day, if I have to run out to the barn in a storm I catch myself nervously watching the sky and counting seconds between the thunder and the lightening.
At some point during the summer we found time to add a room onto the room at the end of the woodshed to give daughter and growing grandson more space. We lopped the roof off one of the old leaning over sheds, stood it back up and braced it, put on a new roof and turned it into a temporary barn for the chickens. We tore the lawn tractor ‘shed’ down completely, and managed to demolish the last of the old ‘chicken hut’ as the bees had moved on. Finally, we tackled the project of closing the porch in and making one half of it into a room for the step-son, it was high time to get him off of the couch and give him some space of his own.
Now Bruce, is a worker extraordinaire – aside from a full time job as a mechanic, there were very few minutes at home where he wasn’t hammering or sawing or heaving up parts of buildings. He tackled the new room with the same sort of zeal he tackles everything with – go go go until you almost drop tired or not. The room got built in record time, a couple of weekends at the most. Walls, ceiling, poly and insulation – the idea being, get the kid into the room and finish the finer details later. Come a Sunday, Bruce measures and cuts and screws together a bed frame out of rough cut lumber, finishing it just as it was starting to get dark. I’m making a late late dinner, stepson is happily moving his collection of stuff into his new room when he wanders into the kitchen.
“Have you seen dad? He was going to bring in my mattress.”
“No – I’ll go see if he needs a hand.” I wander outside to find Bruce, near the house in the back yard – unbelievably – standing with mattress on it’s side, sawing six inches off the end with a hand saw. Apparently, in his fatigue, he’d made the four post bed frame the exact size of the mattress – there was no making it fit between the posts. I never said a word – simply turned and went back into the house. ” He’ll be along in a minute.” I said, wandering off to find some sheets and returning in time to see Bruce march into the house with the shortened mattress, gaping hole in the end and all, and plunk it down on the new bed.
“There.” he says. “All set. Dinner ready?”
Even an eleven year old can grasp that there are some things not worth pointing out – like a suddenly short mattress.
Throughout the spring and summer of this particular year, I had not been feeling all that great – actually I was feeling like so much crap. The most noticeable symptoms aside from a chronic dry cough, were the literally never ending headaches at work, and the distinct sensation my arms were on fire – especially when I lay down and tried to sleep at night. I put it down to stress – especially at work. The headaches were the toughest to deal with, it felt like my head was in a vice half the time, and simply pounding like crazy the rest of the time. I began chewing down Advil like they were candy – I simply figured that if my job weren’t such a gong show, I would feel better – I didn’t think it was anything at home for the fact that when I was at home at least the headaches seemed to disappear. My boss, who I had now taken to calling ‘fearless leader’ behind his back – was seldom at work at all. It seemed he thought if I was there to hold down the fort, then he could do whatever he felt like doing – head off on holidays, leave for a haircut only to not return until the following day, take a day off to go get a tattoo – leaving me to book the work, deal with the customers, keep the guys on the floor working, build transmissions and endlessly run for the phone. No stress there. On one particularly hot miserable day I grabbed the phone to hear a man with incredibly bad cell reception ask for the boss. Between him breaking up, the racket from the compressor and the impact guns and the traffic outside, I could barely make out what he was saying.
“If you can just give me your name and phone number I’ll have him get back to you.” I`m almost shouting into the phone.
“It`s Bob Gynecology!” he shouts back.
I actually take the phone away from my ear, stop my scribbling in the appointment book and stare at the receiver for a moment. “Excuse me? Could you repeat that?”
“I said it’s Bob Gynecology!”
“Okay got it!” I shout back. Good grief, I thought, no need to get testy about it – I write it in the book and get back to work. An hour or so later, fearless leader returns from wherever he’s been hiding out and I catch him on the way by. “You’ve got some phone calls to return.”
It’s not two minutes and he’s heading towards me with the appointment book. “Is this right?” he points to the odd name.
I shrug. “I asked him twice – he nearly burst my eardrum yelling it into the phone.”
“Really? Imagine being stuck with a name like that.” he mutters and heads back to the office. Of course you probably know where this is going….I hardly get back to work when I look up to see a very red faced fearless leader marching through the shop, appointment book in hand.
“That!” he yells, now the color of a tomato as he jams a finger on the offending memo. “was BOB! DYNE! CALLING!!!!” He’s like an inch away from me now and madder than hell. “I picked up the phone!” he continues to shout. “and asked for Bob GYNECOLOGY!!!!”
I stand there for a minute and stare at a man I have come to truly dislike. I buy some time by fishing around for another Advil and chewing it down – he is seriously making my headache even worse.
“You know,” I finally deadpan. “if you hung around the shop a little more often, you could maybe get your own damn phones.”
With that gem, I turn back to work. After a long long moment, fearless leader turns and storms back to the office and slams the door. I stop working, walk the other direction through the shop, all the way out back to the parking lot and crack – I don’t think I stopped laughing for five minutes – definitely the highlight of my week.
At some point, I should have had enough sense to get to a doctor – but the problem was, there is a shortage of doctors here, it took nearly four years to finally get one. So…if one gets sick enough they can’t fix themselves up, they have to go to the dreaded walk in clinic. There’s a procedure. You get there very early before they open, get in the already long line up, get through the doors, give your name and when your name comes up you get hammered through the system like cattle in a castrating station – seconds later you are out the door with a prescription that may or may not help you and if it doesn’t you are told to go to the emergency ward at the hospital. The emergency room is another story. The joke around here is – nobody goes to the emergency ward unless you are holding your own severed leg in a baggie seriously injured. If you are injured any less than that, and willing enough to blow a day of your life waiting for somebody with an opinion to look at you, then fine. Take a book – perhaps War and Peace – and something to drink, and maybe eat. Be sure to have many dollars for the parking. Point being, I just kept on keeping on, thinking to myself – how seriously can I be taken if I head off to the clinic or the emergency ward with a complaint of a chronic headache? Not very, I figured.
It seemed I was the only one who didn’t notice how ill I looked, or how bad I was really feeling. My chronically bloodshot eyes, I put down to allergies, the never ending cough – the same. The flaming arms I wasn’t sure about, the headaches of course – stress.
It was my daughter who finally snapped me out of it. Returning home from work one day with possibly the worst headache I’d ever suffered, barely able to concentrate well enough to drive, I made it home to basically pour myself out of the truck and gingerly make my way into the house and straight to bed. She marched in with a sandwich, a glass of milk, an order for me to get out of my clothes – which she promptly removed from the room. She returned with some stronger headache pills.
“Mom. You should have gone to the hospital!”
“And tell them what?” I wondered tiredly, trying to lay still and not move.
“They would have taken one whiff of you and thrown you into an oxygen tent! Can you not smell that?”
“Smell what?” I was truly baffled. Apparently my sense of smell had become totally immune to the fact that I was a walking, reeking, paint thinner bomb.
The following morning I woke to the first headache free morning in months. It seemed my habit of tossing my solvent soaked clothing on the floor beside the bed had been feeding the headaches and the numerous other symptoms as well. Dressing in clean clothes I made my way to work, opened the shop, opened the bay doors for fresh air and considered the fact that my head was not pounding.
For months, the boss had been pouring solvent into one gallon jugs and handing them out only as I needed – I assumed at the time, that the price of automotive solvent was beyond what he could tolerate, and he didn’t want me having ready access to the stuff lest I start throwing it around like it was free. I waited until one of the guys showed up for work and asked. “Where is the big can of solvent – the one he’s pouring from?” After some hunting around, he produced it. A five gallon can of paint thinner. A tiny fraction of the price of automotive solvent. I held it up, I read the safety data on the label, I marched through to the photocopier in the office and slammed the entire pail down on the lens and hit the copy button. I carry that sheet with me to this day – I cannot ever remember being so angry at someone else’s ignorance and stupidity at subjecting one of their staff to their own sense of save a dime.
I refused to start work until a can of proper automotive solvent arrived at the shop – I handed in my notice. I didn’t care if we went bankrupt at home, I didn’t care if I moved on to another job as a fry cook – it literally took months and months before the most obvious damage to my system finally disappeared. To this day if I get so much as a whiff of any solvents at all, I feel sick, my head starts to ache. Thankfully, where I work now, the guys use the stuff sparingly and keep the lid on the tub closed when they’re not using it. I myself have never touched the stuff again – the parts washer functions and gets cleaned on a regular basis.
So…..with that particular crisis finally sorted out, things got back to a bit of normal – at least as they can get around here. Feeling better than I had in months, my level of tolerance got better, I began to look around and take stock, began to get back into the swing of things, helped with some hammering and sawing, sent number one stepson home for a couple of weeks to get a break from all of us. My daughter took a down south break of her own with the grandson and Bruce and I found ourselves able to take a breather and relax – sort of.
“You know,” he says one day after work. “That knucklehead dog won’t stay off of the car.”
“Huh? What’s he doing on the car?”
“No clue. But I catch him on the roof of it all the time – chase him off and no sooner do I turn my back and he’s up there again.”
“Maybe he just wants to be up high enough to look around – it’s probably the tallest thing he can get up on.”
“Well he’s scratching the paint – he’s a dog – what difference is it to him if he’s up on high ground?”
My point was proven when a day or so later I came out to find him on the roof of my truck – he’d managed to clamber up the bumper, over the tail gate, over the headache rack and onto the roof where he stood acting like it was nothing out of the ordinary.
“Build him a ladder so he can get up on the roof of the house.” was my suggestion.
“He’s not going to climb a ladder…..”
The next time I get home from work knucklehead dog is on the roof of the house, in command of his little kingdom, able to look all around the property – looked for all the world like he belonged up there. Bruce had built a ladder/stairs unit of sorts, leaned it up against the water room and sure enough, the dog simply climbed it like he’d been climbing things all his life and headed up to the roof. Well it’s not that people weren’t already driving by, slowing and rubbernecking as they passed the property – everybody was aware that something was going on at the old place – but once the dog was on the roof I think people were next to getting whiplash. Some even stopped and snapped a picture or two.
“Hey lady! You know your dog is on the roof?”
“Yeah – keeps him off the car!”
I’d lay awake at night listening to him pace end to end of the roof, barking at all manner of imaginary ninja foes or whatever he thought to bark at, until weary of the game he’d curl up by the chimney to keep warm and fall asleep there til morning, when he’d come down and make his ground level rounds. Seems to me – the banjo music was getting louder.
Up next: Part five: An AWOL pig – and getting into the chicken business. 🙂