Saturday, November 26, 2016

I Couldn't Handle It

I had a momentary thought to get on the internet for the Black Friday deals. I had a couple things in mind to get for Marty and Ari and I was not about to get into the crowds in the stores. I think I have claustrophobia and besides, there are so many germs. Howard Hughes and I have a teeny bit in common.

O, woe, it was not what I thought.

First off, the things I wanted were not on sale or they were "sold out" (click here so we can let you know when they are available). Then other things I wanted were available but the discount came in the form of gift "cards" so you would be locked into spending your discount at the place where you purchased the original item. For a person like me who buys very little and then more than likely only one thing  at a time this was an anathema.

So I gave up. I'll go find these items somewhere in a real live bricks and mortar store. I might not get a deep discount but I'll have the satisfaction of spending only what I want to spend on the thing I want to buy and not get roped into buying more than I need. The rest of my gifts will be handmade.

Here's my theory and contest it if you will but I think this Black Friday business is just for people who spend, spend, spend and love to surf the internet or brave the crowds as some sort of ritual. They are ok with seeing what they can find for the most part randomly and getting a spur of the moment good deal. This is my humble opinion.
The best of luck to all these people and I hope someday they realize this is not the path to happiness. It's just not me.
I like what this guy says about "stuff".

I hope you had a really, really nice Thanksgiving and that the Christmas season will find you joy and peace.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Trained Beyond Use

I had a hard time figuring out what to entitle this piece. I thought about "Adjust to Fit the Situation" because what I'm feeling right now seems like a horse training philosophy promoted by Tom Dorrance, the famous natural horsemanship trainer.

But "Trained Beyond Use" won out because it, too, is a horsemanship phrase and it feels more apropos. You see Marty and I are studying to become real estate agents. Our state test is scheduled at the end of this month and we are studying with an unrivalled ferocity. We have to make this work. And we will. Living on social security doesn't cut it. So we're adjusting to fit the situation. (Thanks Tom) We'd love to be able to make a living from our homestead but that isn't in the cards. Anyway, not any time soon. Even the redoubtable Corina and Steve of Marblemount Homestead, who I love to follow and learn from, have Steve going off for part of the year working for wages to plant trees for reforestation.
Alas and alack, we're too old for that. So what can we do?

To keep it within budget we signed up for self study through an online class. We passed the first hurdle and received our certificate of completion which entitled us to sign up for the state test. Now we're preparing ourselves with a few hours study every day. We're going through chapters in the last book which is the exam prep book and then we take the quiz at the end of the each chapter.

I saw this house recently. Look at all the amazing architectural details.
The quiz questions are badly worded and the answers sometimes incorrect! The questions are about things that I am 100% positive we will never use as agents. Subject matters such as Legal Descriptions, Methods of Acquiring Title, and Deeds,  or Encumbrances, Liens, and Homesteads sounds benign enough. (Is your head popping just reading that? Mine is!) But then you get to the chapter on Taxation and you start to really wonder. That's when I feel like what John  Lyons said during one horse training seminar. He stood up in the arena in his usual way and asked the crowd if they knew what the term "dressage" meant in French (it was originally a French system for the refined training of horses). A few people volunteered an answer and then he said you're close but it actually means " trained beyond use".
Everyone laughed.
Now I doubt that is the real definition in French. It sounds pretty sassy and John Lyons was a funny guy prone to injecting humor into his seminars. But it fits. I feel trained beyond use.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

It's a Wonderful Life

I was recently reflecting on how much my life has changed since I moved out of the city and into the life in The Big Valley. First the northern part of The Big Valley and now the middle part of The Big Valley. If only it were more like what Barbara Stanwyck's and Linda Evans' life was like on the TV show set. Being a rancher is a very interesting existence. It's nothing like City Life. Maybe even 100% different in every way. Here's a list I have compiled in the 5 years I have been away from City Life that I have to gratefully and sometimes not-so-gratefully contend with.

Thinking I washed all the chicken feathers/horse hair/etc. off and then getting in bed at night and finding more.

Finding alfalfa in the washer and dryer, my bra and hair, shoes and pockets.

Painting my nails not because it's pretty but because I can't seem to get all the dirt out from underneath.

Sweeping the dust off the floor and then having to go back and do it again because it's never ending and then saying heck with it and not sweeping the floor and letting it accumulate until I'm disgusted.

Having a "Farmer Tan" (i. e. electric white forehead, upper arms, legs and torso; George Hamilton color on face and forearms and hands)

Going to the auction to pick up what we bought and calling it a vacation.

Having to stop whatever I'm are doing to chase (horses, chickens, dogs, guineas, etc.) that got out on the road (usually in the dark in the rain). Thanking God I live in the middle of nowhere so there's no traffic and no one gets hit by a car/truck/pick up.

Not knowing what holiday it is because I basically work 24/7 360 days a year.

Buying boots and gloves is a bigger decision than buying a car.

All my clothes have stains on them except a couple nice outfits that are back in the closet that I never wear.

My (horses, cows, chickens, etc) live better than I do. (they're essentially on welfare.)

I really look forward to when it rains because I can stay inside.

A romantic adventure is riding out with Marty to move cows from one pasture to the other.

Shopping for clothes in the men's section of Tractor Supply because they're sturdier and fit better.

Realizing that being a "morning" person looks good on the resume because the work day prevents me from sleeping in. (Always.)

Getting my boot stuck in the mud and my foot pulls out of it and there I am having to figure out how to get the stuck boot out while balancing on one leg. In the middle of cow/horse/pig/etc. shit.

Thinking the smell of horse manure is pretty good! (but not extending that to pig manure or dairy cow pee. That I've just gotten used to.)

Having animal tails smack me in the face while I'm working on them.

My haute couture is dirty jeans, a grungy baseball cap and a snap button cowboy shirt.

Having peanut butter sandwiches for dinner because I'm too tired to fix anything and I forgot to set the crock pot to cooking in the morning.

Thinking the cooing of chickens is better than music.

Having to explain to my city friends what those Burdizzo pinchers are that are on the kitchen counter. And what they are used for.

Monday, August 29, 2016

She's My Daughter She's My Sister

Some of you may remember the iconic movie China Town which was a fictionalized account of how water was gotten from the Owens Valley to supply the growing metropolis of Los Angeles. That was the subplot. The main plot involved an investigation into the murder of an engineer married to the local power broker's daughter, Evelyn Mulray, by private eye J.J. Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson. All this was part and parcel to the subplot of stealing water from the Owens Valley.
Somewhere along the line J.J., confused but smelling a rat, tries to get the truth out of Evelyn, played by Faye Dunaway, and he slaps her as she says, "She's my daughter. (slap) "She's my sister". Finally, breaking down, "She's my daughter AND my sister".  It turns out that the power broker, Noah Cross, played by John Huston, molested his daughter and a child was the result.

My recent turmoil of not being able to get my Valley Fever medication - Itraconazole, it controls the spores in my lungs, keeps them from taking over - felt just like China Town.  In a moment you'll see why. But first let me preface it by saying three months ago I found out my meds were not going to cost $100 a month any more but over $400. $424 to be exact. Humana, the health coverage, couldn't/wouldn't help.

I went into hyper-drive to find a solution, calling internet help sites but none of them covered my weird medication. Would something else work? No, I patiently explained. We've been through that. The cheap meds give me excruciating joint pain.
Finally, I contacted the pharmaceutical and my Madera primary care doctor. Both my PCP and I made application to Johnson & Johnson to their Patient Assistance Program. I made application, too, because I didn't trust my doctor to make the application in a timely manner. I only knew her for a couple months and I wasn't sure if she had True Grit.
Two days before I was going to run out I got word from J&J that they denied my application.

I then went on GoFundMe to get by with a little help from my friends (I was desperate) and sure enough my friends were my friends and I was able to get a month's supply. Whew. Now I had 30 days to keep working on it. I then saw Dr. Thompson, my Valley Fever doctor,  who has been with me since 2012. I told him what was going on and he said we'll get the UC Davis Infectious Disease Pharmacy working on it. Now we were getting somewhere.
The very next day I got a call from my Primary Care doctor saying that J&J had called them and had approved assistance after all and that they would be sending a retail card*. This was two weeks after I would have run out had my friends not helped out.

A week later I got a letter from Humana saying they would help, too. Actually, it was a letter (and I was copied) to my Valley Fever doctor Dr. Thompson.

I don't understand how this "system" works.
I think I could call this blog The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease but She's My Daughter is what it feels like.
* a retail card means I get my medication free for a year! Yippee!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Dust If You Must

We got back yesterday from the Memorial for my friend Georgia who found out she had a terminal brain tumor 3 years ago. It was a fine memorial and I walked away thinking what would Georgia say if she had been here to contribute? Many people had recollections of her and they were all wonderful. They said things like she was brave until the end but I had a different experience of her. She was human until the end. She was not brave. She was confused. She was angry. She was extremely sad. And she was also sometimes brave. It's ok to eulogize her as being brave until the end. I don't have a problem with that. Much. It's a bummer to pass but as Mark Twain said someone has to do it.

So I think I will videotape a short speech before I pass and have those guys play it at my memorial. I want to make a contribution, too. Don't worry. I'll try to be nice.

Life goes on as they say.

I'm going to visit my sister in Colorado. I'm really looking forward to it for a number of reasons. My sister turned out to be a really cool person who I get along with really well. Oh boy. It could have been different but it's not and for that I feel grateful. It's really nice to get along with someone who understands you and your family dynamic. It's really nice to have someone like that who you can talk to about anything and they won't judge you. Yes, I'm really looking forward to being with her. Lucky me.
She also gives me free laser treatments because she's a part time aesthetician. The treatments are a drop in the bucket of wrinkles and brown spots but I'll take whatever I can get. Also the weather is so much better out there. It's in the tolerable high 80s instead of the intolerable low 100s. She likes to do things I like to do. We're going to the best second hand store on the planet. I'm going to tell you what it is and I'm not afraid that you will get all the good stuff. There's plenty there. So here it is. It's Mile High Thrift in Denver. I don't even much look for clothes anywhere else. I see something retail and then I think, no, wait until you get to Mile High.

Then we're going to the Peach Festival and maybe learn how to line dance and walk and talk and walk and talk. Yah. We have fun.
So I'm running around trying to prepare so when Marty's here holding down the fort things won't degrade too badly. Marty is actually quite good at holding up his end of the stick. The house will be clean when I return and I'll not worry one lick about the animals. Maybe I'll worry about the plants because he has that black thumb. So I'll call him once a day and say how are the tomatoes looking? And they'll be fine.

I was out in the horse barn this morning after rounds and noticing the accumulation of dust.

I really wanted to get a rag and then I said no. I thought of my favorite poem.
Dust If You Must
by Rose Milligan

Dust if you must but wouldn't it be better
to paint a picture or write a letter?
Bake a cake or plant a seed,
Ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must but there's not much time
with rivers to swim and mountains to climb.
Music to hear and books to read,
Friends to cherish and life to lead.

Dust if you must but the world's out there
with the sun in your eyes, the wind in your hair,
a flutter of snow, a shower of rain.
This day will not come around again.

Dust if you must but bear in mind,
old age will come and it's not kind.
And when you go and go you must,
you yourself will make more dust.

So what are you going to do today?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Peaceful Place

It's been hot. Too hot. And there's nothing I can do about it. Of course, one can take solace in the fact that it's a "dry heat". But really? The only solution seems to be the solution we are already very familiar with having lived on The Ranch for four years. We get up early, do as much work as we can outside until we're dying and then we go inside where it's cool for the rest of the day. Then later, as the sun starts to go down, we come out again and do more work until it's too dark to see. Sometimes to extend my endurance I soak my shirt and head with water but that only serves to keep me going about 15 minutes longer and then my shirt is 100% dry.  This system is kind of an inch worm approach to getting outdoor things done.

I am in awe of the field workers. I wouldn't last a minute out in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley. I wasn't born to the heat. As you drive along the highway you see billboards that advise the farm workers, "Agua. Sombra. Descanso." Which means "Water. Shade. Rest." They might be more accustomed but it's still dangerous and everyone knows it.

I grew up in central Iowa and when it got hot it was also humid, too. We didn't know anything about heat index at the time and we didn't have central air conditioning either. We didn't get central A/C until I was a teenager so I remember quite clearly how Mom would put a big fan in the hall way at night between the bedrooms to circulate air that sort of but not really helped to evaporate the sweat off our miserable sleepless bodies.

I don't know how my uncles and cousins did their farm work. They'd come in off the fields and take off their caps and their foreheads were white as snow against their darkly tanned faces. They would drink huge amounts of iced tea and lemonade my grandmother and great aunt would make. There were no air conditioned tractor cabs in those days.

We were out late in the evening the other day and the dusky air took me back in time in my mind. Being out that evening reminded me of the days back in Iowa when we would come out of the house in the evening to play or go for a walk or a swing on the porch. My grandmother, in particular, had a north facing porch the length of the house and a porch swing that we kids wore down until we almost broke it. On those sultry evenings the air was quiet and off high up in the trees we heard the drone of the cicada. The stillness of the air. The drone of the cicada. The dusky light. Swatting a mosquito from time to time.

My mom called them June bugs. I think she really knew the difference but we kids didn't and it didn't matter. You'd find a June bug that had shed its exo-skeleton and left it in the crook of two branches of the tree limbs. Fascinating stuff.

My Aunt J said: "I hated that June bugs would come in through holes in the window screens and would buzz around at night when I tried to read in bed before falling asleep.  I would holler for Mom if I thought there was a chance that Mom would come and get rid of the thing.  Mom usually said ”Turn out the light and it’ll go away." Or  "just catch it and kill it yourself.”  Ugh!  I would usually kill it because I didn’t trust that it would politely leave if I just turned off the light. The cicadas came at night in August.  We always knew summer was going to end in another month or so when we heard them start up.

My mom said she listened to them at night and that their buzzing was hypnotic in a way. Later when she learned a meditation technique she said listening to cicadas buzz was similar to meditation. The buzz of the cicada was like a mantra that helped her transcend the world and go to a peaceful place in her mind.

Monday, July 25, 2016

For Those of Us Left Behind

Georgia and I at the horse pasture a few weeks before she passed.

My friend Georgia Zurilgen Williams passed away peacefully last night. She was 62 years old. She had been living with a glioma brain tumor for nearly three years and had endured chemotherapy and surgery more times than I can recall. For most of those years she was upbeat and optimistic. She was hoping she'd beat it. It's true that some people can live for years with a tumor but it has to be very special circumstances. I have even heard of 25 years. Near the end she was not happy. As a matter of fact, she was miserable. The tumor took her ability to speak correctly and to reason and she knew it. There's no blanket way to deal with these things. It's all personal and if such a thing befalls us we each have to take our individual situation and decide what to do. There's no cookie cutter approach.

Georgia took her way and I was in awe of her bravery. I forgive her the confusion and anger she experienced near the end.

Our Friendship

I knew her for 30 years. We were partners in horses for that whole time. First, we had Magic, an appaloosa gelding, and Majestic, a paint mare. Then we had Dusty, another appaloosa gelding, and at the same time there was Baush and Spice. Seems like there was one more but I can't remember its name because I had moved out of the Bay Area by that time. Of course, before I met Georgia she had a slew of other horses because her history in horses started when she was a girl.

I remember once we went to a John Lyons clinic in Davis, CA. We slept in the back of her pick up in the clinic parking lot because we were both too broke to afford a room. It was better that way anyway. We could get up and be the first ones in the bleachers. We could wander around the grounds and commune with the animals.

There are so many things I remember about her. You know how a lot of times when you eulogize a person that in the back of your mind as you're saying all the nice things you're also thinking I wish I could say the whole truth of my experience with this person? Like he sure was a bastard in many ways and cruel and selfish? I wanted to say this about my dad. But I didn't. There's no point.

Well, in Georgia's case I can honestly say there was not a mean bone in her body. I can eulogize her with confidence about her sweet nature. She was an exemplary person who always looked for how it might feel to walk a mile in another one's shoes. She was kind. She was thoughtful. She had demons like we all do and she battled them and it made her a compassionate person. She lived that compassion in her daily life.

Of course, I'm going to miss her. Like I miss my dad's wife Teresa. Also taken before old age. Also taken while still young and vital. They're both gone on ahead to the ultimate adventure. They've both travelled up the road ahead of the rest of us and have left us behind. We'll follow them on that same path soon enough. May life set lightly upon you and give you have peace.