Saturday, April 28, 2012

Weekend Ahoy!

This weekend is a double-header, much excitement and activity abounds!

Today I am with the wonderful and hilarious Tamara Houseman and we will be at her daughter Jessica's Farm, Blueberry Barnyard to teach organic beekeeping. FREE farm tours, food, and fun...or you can learn about organic beekeeping the way my grandfather did it--old-fashioned, no-pesticide beekeeping!  CLASSES START AT 10AM today--we'd love to see you!
If you are in the Geneseo, IL, stop on by! See more HERE

THEN, THIS SUNDAY I will be in Donahue Iowa, with the amazing Cathy Linker Lafrenz at her amazing paradise farm. I've been going there for each of the three Iowa journeys I've been on--it's a slice of heaven!

We will be doing a SPRING EGGSTRAVAGANZA! I will be teaching you how to make flower decorated eggs, and we will be baking a souffle and cheesecake and showing you how, too! We will have food and fun here also! $25/per person for a wonderful day. Email cmlafrenz(at)netins(dot)net to reserve a space or for questions!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Life At Antiquity Oaks...

See this mischievous munchkin? She is the unofficial greeter of Antiquity Oaks. Once Donna and I drove from Donna's farm to Deborah Niemann's rambling acreage, Deborah greeted us with her large dog, Porter. And then--poof--this little fuzzy popped out from behind the large canine with a small but pointed bleat. I'd never seen a house-goat before. Folks, we weren't in Kansas anymore.

The unexpected is part and parcel at Antiquity Oaks, and Little Miss--the baby goat in question-- is just part of it. She is smaller than a chihuahua: one of a group of triplets, she was only one pound at birth. She immediately was taken to the house to be bottle fed. She has since made amazing strides, jumping jack rabbit high, running up and down stairs, head-butting the dogs, tasting curtains, rugs, clothes. She is quite the little mascot. I spent the entire stay at Deborah's negotiating how to stuff her into my suitcase for a one way ticket her to New York City. She is small enough to pass as some sort of exotic dog, I think.

Antiquity Oaks is the thirty-two acre  testament to the sustainability movement that Deborah and her family has practiced for over a decade. Their goats and cows provide milk and cheese, they have maple syrup from their own trees, chicken for eggs, a garden for veggies, and sheep for wool. Their life is one frenetic ball of energy of their various interests and activities. Deborah Neimann lives there with her husband Mike, and three children--or rather, two children, and one newly moved to Chicago for her new job.

I had met Deborah when interviewing her for The Renegade Farmer, in regards to her book Homegrown and Handmade. Her own sustainable life on the farm can be found at Antiquity Oaks.

Raised beds...

Cute barn cat...

Merlin the guard and fiber llama...

I was surprised by many things during my visit to their homestead--that they REALLY do seem to cook all of their own meals, and was happy to see that their son did much of the cooking, that a professional family still could be fully self-sustainable (Mike is a professor of engineering, Deborah is a writer, teacher, and speaker), and that Deborah can be both so accomplished but somewhat introverted about it--although frankly, I think it's rather a case of me being a bit too extroverted (read: loudmouth) because of my New Yawka York City upbringing and performance arts training.

I was there for their latest venture, beekeeping: they had just acquired two traditional hives in order to garner themselves some honey. I would be teaching classes at their home, but what ensued were some wonderful talks about writing, the process of promoting yourself, fair payment for homegrown products and similar subjects that I believe benefited both Deborah and I.  I have to say in my travels, I have seen a lot of independent, quality farmers and small business-men (and women!) undersell themselves. Their understandable argument is that raising their price above a certain price point would bracket their products out of the reach of local customers, whose incomes were extremely limited. However, my argument is that quality will attract certain customers who will understand your worth. They are still out there, there is still hope for American goods and services. And of course, I will say to those who truly want quality to support your local farmer and artisan, it will mean the world to them!

For Deborah's part, she is extremely well versed in sustainability, and sustainable methods. She is a great advocate for her farm, and transferring that knowledge into techniques that anyone can use. She is funny and outgoing in ways to bring more diversity to her community, a great planner of events, and a mean cook: you will be amazed at what you eat at Antiquity Oaks!

She and her husband are intelligent and hardworking scrupulous folks. Mike calmly helped around the farmstead with chores, has a love of astronomy (he is hooked up to alerts that tell him what to watch in the night sky), and is clearly interested in all thing electrical engineering. They drove me around one day in their electric car. I'd never been in one, and stared in awe as a dashboard screen demonstrated when the car used electricity and when it switched over to conventional modes. I barely understood much of the conversion rates, and when or why the car shifted through it's various modes, but it was definitely gas efficient, and fascinating to see. I kept joking that it would be an accident prone vehicle in my hands, I'd stare at all of the bells and whistles, and not the road.

Their children are the most put-together young people I have met, with more going for them than I remember having at their ages. Life on their farm seems productive and frenetic--there were animals to tend to, problems to solve, book contracts to negotiate, people to speak to, children to help, schedules to organize.

Apparently, there are dangers to tackle as well, as demonstrated in the day I went to help Mike fix a fence post (note: by me "helping," this meant tagging along and NOT getting in the way of his work). Of course, baby goat Little Miss HAD to tag along as well, since she clearly supervises everything and everyone. So off we went, small goat running jack-rabbit-ishly in tall grass. We were actually fixing a fence in the sheep pen, one run by a largish Shetland ram named Stormy.

The fencing itself was not a problem. Most of the sheep ran from us as we traversed on field, with several steps to get to the gate that would lead us outside of the pen.  We wouldn't be lucky enough to clear it. From around the corner, I suddenly spied the ram sprinting at us. To be fair, I think he probably could have charged us faster, but it was enough speed to realize he was making some sort of statement and--more importantly--he was right in the path to trample one small and oblivious baby goat.

I quickly said to Mike, "This ram is coming right at us and the baby," and then quickly bent down and scooped her up. I remembered to stay calm (all that vet tech training in my previous life finally DOES pay off!) and jaunted quickly out of the line of fire.

Mike impressively stayed calm and and huddled down, not unlike a line backer, and took the blow (and the ram's horns!) in his palms. He decided to turn the animal around and send him back with his ewes, but the ram wasn't having it. He took a few steps, then spun around and came right back at Mike with the same maneuver. Mike took the blow the same way again. This was getting complicated.

Clearly, the ram could not be let loose. Mike was carrying a heavy metal post hammer and I was carrying a baby goat that was gawking at being held. But we couldn't let the ram go.

Mr. Ram. Up close and far too personal...

I volunteered the idea that we should WALK the ram over to the gate we needed to go through, and THEN let the beast loose once we got on the opposite side of that gate. We agreed to do so. I didn't think the ram was horribly violent, but just dangerous enough to bruise one or both of us over and over. I understood the fellow, he was doing what male sheep do all of the time--he was protecting the girls. Still, I breathed a sigh of relief once we both got to the other side of the fence and let our horned friend go.  This definitely didn't happen in the big city.

On my last day with Deborah, I attended a green festival with her, in which she was a featured vendor. We spoke with several wonderful people about her books, a future homesteading conference that she would be hosting, and much more. I truly believe in her work and am looking forward to her new book Ecofrugal, coming soon to a bookshelf near you. I hope to work with this tireless advocate of sustainability again soon.

It would be wise to learn from such a person and her family, as we all could be self-sustainable in our own ways. I will miss her and her family...and of course, Little Miss!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Midlife Farmwife

South Pork Ranch, Illinois
America is beautiful.
There are places out there, the ones you think about when you see those bucolic countryside scenes-the kind that make you think of another time, another era.  Do they live somewhere in postcards, or antique books? Is "farmer Brown," some sort of bygone notion, and archetype of hard work and near poverty that is scorned by the masses?

Somewhere out there, there are people who would laugh a hearty "no," then get back to work, on tractors, on horseback, ambling in fields that have yet to be taken up by large corporate farming, where pesticides are the norm. No, the organic farmer (or, as Mama would have said, "the farmer") is working hard to feed his or her family, and YOU, and such was the world I was traveling into.

A bus has left the huge concrete world up North, and slowly wended and whirred into a world full of golden fields and red century barns and cattle lowing while chewing cud. This is no Currier and Ives world--this one exists, and I would be teaching beekeeping here, to people who wanted a smile slice of "better" in keeping livestock organically. This would be no grand cake walk, but a wee piece of learning, and a chance for me to return to a place I love--the Midwest.

Of the brave people who battle the elements, disease, and one too many daily chores, I would be meeting up with my friend and fellow farm-hearted soul, Donna OShaughnessy. A Chicago raised, Irish bred lass, Donna is also a fellow wordsmith who writes for our other blog, The Renegade Farmer. Here, I had met her, and died laughing at her amazingly witty and insightful posts about her farm life in Illinois, which is also chronicled on her own amazing site, The Midlife Farmwife.  Her farm--cleverly named South Pork Ranch-- is a testament to a life where she and her husband dared to be organic, with a grass-fed meat and RAW MILK operation--you know, the way they USED to do it before the farm world decided to accept pesticides, medicated animal feed, and growth hormones. In fact, much small, organic farming is so regulated that it proves difficult for honest farmers to continue farming without fines, hassles, and paperwork, where as large agricultural operations (BigAg) is allowed to get away with many more provisions that can harm the average citizen.

No, Donna and Keith are good folks who truly cared about their animals and strive to create quality food for you and I. Their farm encompasses a rambling 40 acres of good pasture, with a myriad of animals. Indeed, driving in with Donna, we were immediately greeted by a Great Pyranees dog that could have been my Polly's skinnier sister, a slate turkey hen, and a barn cat. They followed us around the farm and farmhouse. Visions of Doctor Doolittle immediately ensued.

Peacocks...gorgeous, but loud...

Donna's horse and donkey...

The Midlife Farmwife and her small fuzzy equine...

Their larger pastures had a nice mix of cows. Dairy Holsteins, English Milking Shorthorns, and the smaller Jersey cows seemed to be the general makeup of the herd. They frolicked--literally!--running in funny circles around the pasture, for what reason, I'm still not sure, but it was a wonderful site. Calves in a smaller pen in the front also ran after each other, kicking up their heels.

Cute baby calf, how do I hug you and sneak you into my suitcase for the ride back to the city?

Calves on one pasture, Red Wattles in the back pasture...

There were peafowl, chickens, ducks, and guinea hens. In another far pasture, several pigs from the American heritage breed known as Red Wattles--a specialty animal raised by Donna and Keith--lazed in lush terrain.  There were also some-odd number of heritage spotted hogs, and mothers and babies lounged in various pastures, while juveniles jaunted in others.

Donna is a creative, funny woman with a mischievous streak and a penchant for making GREAT soap. She and Keith live in a rambling farmhouse sans several adult children who have since moved away. Donna's soaps sit in her her living room and smell wonderful, and THEY ARE, since they're made with herbs, and in ways I have never heard of.  Keith seems to be a bit more introverted, quiet, pensive. He clearly loves the animals, and is diligent with milking, feeding, and caring for the many animals on the farm. He was scrupulous about milking, and their quality milk was created via a small operation--not more than a dozen cows--that made for a remarkable product. Their milk is as popular as is their grass fed beef, their heritage meat was served in restaurants and coveted by such noted chefs as Rick Bayless. Plus, they have a wonderful little farm store that sells all of their meat, milk, soap and other organic wonders.

Even so, their farm is for sale. Surprised, I asked Donna why, and am told that even the farm--this farm that they clearly love--has become too big.....that hey love what they do, but they want something smaller, simpler, for themselves. Mind you, nowhere during our stay did I feel that they FELT this life of theirs was a burden--indeed--they went about their days with happiness, humor, candor--they never complained, did not seem annoyed and had such a great spirit about them--the same farmer spirit that I fell love with. Because, truly, it is still a gift to live as they live and look out on such an honest life.

The day for beekeeping class came--no one had registered online, but I was not worried. I had faith that perhaps someone would simply pay "at the door," and I also wanted to help Donna and Keith, as they also planned an Open Farm Day to coincide with my funny little teachings. I needn't have worried. Firstly, there were two sweet people who came to learn. Also, Keith and Donna's son and others came to help for the farm day. And so what ended up happening, after hours of teaching and selling, meet and telling, and wrangling small children and animals is that we all were gifted with a glorious day, our profits measured in smiles and new friends and hard work recognized.

I leave this place with a sense of satisfaction--of doing this little journey and keeping my promise to meet and teach, and of wonderment of these beautiful folks, resourceful people that seem to take everything in stride, and with a smile. I know it's not easy, doing this thing, but I am amazed at how buoyed everyone and everything is. I will miss Donna and Keith--funny, intelligent, good people--my friends. If you are in Chatsworth IL, please do support these salt of the Earth folks--you will not be sorry to own their goods.

And I will miss the animals--the image that stands out is one of their cute Red Wattle piglets, a somewhat spoiled precious little oinker that I call Rufus, and Donna calls "Big Fat Mama's Boy," who got out of his pen and giddily chased Keith, son Jason, and farmhand Aaron, before mama called him back to her side. A modern day Wilbur from Charlotte's web--he circled around legs, ran back on forth on grass--happiness written all over him.

Here is the spoiled little fellow in question, eating with mama....

Even in this small act, on Midlife Farmwife should be proud.
I hope I get to see her and her family again, soon--to thank her for all her kindness...

Tomorrow--a tale of beekeeping at Antiquity Oaks.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Slice of Cherry Pie

nd so, the journey continues....

There are golden new days and new adventures. I eat a slice of cherry pie for breakfast, the only fitting foodstuffs for an odyssey of this sort, and give a toast to it all, for I was headed off to the Midwest...

Long before the triumphs and tragedies of recent events..there was the Midwest. In fact, my Midwestern friends are the ones that started these traveling shenanigans to begin with. My fellow crazy-haired/writing/ performing/farming friend, Maggie Howe--clearly part of the Tribe Of Mischief Makers--had invited me out, even agreed to host me, for my first beekeeping foray into Iowa, this time LAST year.

People, my heart was crushed under splendor, being there. I had never been to such a place. People DON'T BELIEVE me when I tell them about such a place.  There's a place of such natural and quiet beauty, where the people are kind, direct, generous?  Poppycock! Heck, they WOULD NOT TAKE MY MONEY, these humble people on farms, small businesses, and places where hard work is still valued; they clearly COULD USE the money!  But no, they brought me into their homes, laughed with me, treated me as family...gave me a chance to prove this little traveling-beekeeping-teaching experiment could  work. To say I owe them everything is to throw a pebble of faith onto a much larger river of the Greater Good.

So off I was, on a bus, ready for all of it. I was eager to see faces familiar, and fresh. I was looking forward to hugging small calves at my grass fed farm friend Donna OShaughnessy's place. I heard rumors there were piglets in the mix, too. I wanted to eat farm fresh food that REALLY was farm fresh, not just doodled on the side of some store package. I wanted to teach beekeeping and help eager folks get themselves on an organic keeping path. I wanted to see small sheep and goats at Deborah Niemann's house, to sit amongst charm at Cathy Lafrenz's place, to laugh with Tamara Houseman. These were all friends in Iowa and Illinois. I wanted to revisit the myriad of farm cats and dogs, to visit antique stores, to learn more about farming. I wanted all of it, amongst rolling hills and endless blue skies. That is the Midwest, my Friends...what a collision it would be.

Life is  a bowl of cherries, or maybe a cherry pie...somewhere beneath the layers, there was sweetness to be had.
Let the journey continue.....

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Bee Queen....

Artist Rendering by Lori Crace
I wanted to preface this post by sending out a huge THANK YOU to all of the kind words, emails, and other expressions of love that have surprised and overwhelmed my family and I. I am simply overwhelmed by the magnitude of this large display of love! Truly, there are no words for everyday kindness, even from people we did not know, what a sweet display of humanity...I am honored.

With that said, I am continuing on with the original journey--I had been scheduled to go to the Midwest starting THIS SATURDAY, to teach various workshops there. My father would expect nothing less in behavior than to keep one's word, and I cannot disappoint my friends from the Midwest, who have worked and organized so much to have me come and teach at their farms, and in their communities.

And, to be fair, I LOVE these people. Truly, I consider them extensions of my family, they have been generous and truthful with me, I owe them much, and miss them often. So I am STILL looking forward to my Iowa and Illinois adventures, teaching beekeeping, cooking, crafts, and much more. If you'd like to see how this mayhem started, you can read the story of my first bee teaching adventures to Iowa HERE.

And if you are in Iowa or Illinois, we'd love to see you!

So below, you may find a description of each class, event, and perhaps a bit about each host on my adventures to Iowa. I will be going there with the spirit of happiness, and am ready to teach, and learn, as always...

I should probably mention, as far as beekeeping is concerned, that these Organic Beekeeping classes are  based on my grandfather's WWII era European beekeeping teachings, and have previously been taught throughout the Midwest! I have also been featured in the bee movie Queen Of The Sun for my beekeeping, and in the New York Daily News and Bronx Free Press. You Learn the true way to work with bees based on their behavior, WITHOUT the use of pesticides or chemicals!

April 21st
South Pork Ranch Farm Day and Beekeeping Class with Zan Asha
South Pork Ranch LLC
32796 E 750 North Rd
Chatsworth, IL 60921

FREE ADMISSION--OPEN FARM DAY! You do NOT need to sign up for beekeeping to come for farm day! A great day of beekeeping, farm tours, and farm store offerings of South Pork's renown soaps, pasture raised pork and beef, and raw milk!
For directions please see the map on the farms website or call 815-635-3414

My friend Donna OShaughnessy is also a wonderful writer and a contributor to my other farming website. She has an amazing sense of humor and good-will (find her humorous and educational farm tales HERE). She and her husband have dedicated themselves to their farm, which offers organic raw milk and grass fed beef and pork, and is a place that feels like old-time farming. They respect their animals and operate in an amazingly ethical way. They will be offering their raw milk, soap bars (these are amazing!), and other wonderful farm products as well as doing farm tours throughout the day!

I will also be offering my bee classes in the middle of all of this but again, YOU DO NOT NEED TO BE REGISTERED for beekeeping classes to come and have fun! I look forward to seeing you!

Organic Beekeeping 101 (Beginner's): 10:30a - 1:30pm

Organic Beekeeping 102 (Advanced): 2-5pm

MORE INFORMATION and early registration is HERE

April 22nd

Organic Beekeeping Classes with Zan Asha at Antiquity Oaks
Cornell, IL

For directions please email or call 815-358-2450

Antiquity Oaks is home to self-sustainability expert, speaker, and author Deborah Niemann. Her latest book Homegrown and Handmade is HERE and you can find more on Antiquity Oaks HERE and HERE. We will be teaching organic beekeeping at Antiquity Oaks AND rendering wax into ornaments, expect a lot of learning and fun!

Organic Beekeeping 101 11a-2pm

Organic Beekeeping 102 2-5pm

MORE INFO and early registration is HERE:

April 28th 
Blueberry Barnyard Farm Day and Beekeeping with Zan Asha
9659 Us hwy 6 Geneseo IL 61254

FREE ADMISSION for Open farm day! YOU DO NOT NEED to sign up for a beekeeping class to come see us!  Open Farm Day featuring Zan's beekeeping plus tons of animal fun, and wonderful farm items for sale and a meet and greet!!. Join us on this open farm day!

My friend Tamara is passionate about farming, Blueberry Barnyard is a venture between her and her daughter in u pick blueberries, along with keeping goats, chickens. Their historic farm is beautiful, and they will be hosting an open farm day all day, and I will be teaching beekeeping in the middle of fun and festivities.

Again, YOU DO NOT NEED TO BE REGISTERED for my classes to meet us! We hope to see you soon!

Organic Beekeeping 101 10-1pm

Meet and  Greet/Festivities  1 - 2pm

Organic Beekeeping 102 2-5pm

For more details, or to register, CLICK HERE

MAY 13th
Organic Beekeeping and Meet and Greet with Zan Asha
Host Dawn Suarez
2211 North 8th Avenue
Winterset, IA, 50273

Good friend Dawn is an amazing holistic practitioner: a massage therapist, henna artist, dance enthusiast--she has agreed to host our beekeeping  classes on her 10 acre farm. Join us FOR A FREE MEET AND GREET mid-day, or take on of my organic beekeeping classes!

Organic Beekeeping 101  10a-1pm

Meet and Greet Luncheon  1-2pm

Organic Beekeeping 102  2-5pm

For more information or to register, CLICK HERE

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Goodnight, Sweet Prince

 Samir M. A. Yassin 1937 -2012

was supposed write a post to tell you about journeying to Iowa and Illinois, and describe the many classes I would be teaching.  But today would not be the day for such a post. Instead, this will be one of the hardest posts I've ever had to write, with the caveat that  I will never complain about writer's block again...

You might remember, a time or two ago, the story focusing on WHY I do the things I do, and why you should follow your own dreams, too, if at all possible. I had wanted to scribe another post about it, one of  the brevity of life, as demonstrated by the shocking death of my cousin's husband dying suddenly, two weeks ago. But I declined to over saturate my point and, as I was falling behind on writing (as mentioned yesterday), I nixed the post.

Had I been given the chance, then, I would have expounded the details: he had literally been at our house five hours earlier, fit as a horse, with no signs of a previous illness. And then, and then...his heart tore--in a literal, shocking fashion, sending him to bed, then the hospital, before anyone realized how horrible the situation was. A young man was he, fifty-seven. With three sons not yet twenty five.  I might've gone onto say that I couldn't know how his family feels, but that it could happen to any of us, and time is our only precious commodity....

Apparently, even these humbly offered statements had tempted the Fates...because as of today, I CAN say I know how it feels....
Fifteen days after I lost a cousin, my father, The Bear King, died at 11:45 last night. 

Whilst you and I both catch our breaths, I should probably say that while this was not a surprise, it still shocks the heart and mind...for this man was so much larger than life that I dare say there were times I was sure he would outlive me, despite a lifetime of hardships and health issues....

My father was born in amongst heat and dust, far away. The baby of four children, his life was cast into turmoil when his own father died whilst the baby son was only eight. Barely subsisting in poverty, my father's own determination put him through medical school, where he would commonly copy whole chapters of medical books, simply because he could not afford to buy them (and of course, this was an era before copy machines existed). After obtaining his PhD, he met and married my little European mother and then set off for America, the land of Milk and Honey.

Daddy as a young graduate in medical school...

Mama and Daddy's wedding day....we always joked his pants were too short for the occasion..
Or so it seemed...why some hands are dealt to certain souls, I'll never know, but within months of my father arriving, and taking up residency in New York City, he felt his legs feeling "tired" and numb. Both my parents speculated that it was a side effect of his long hours at his hospital job. Within 4 months he was wearing leg braces, as his limbs weakened and no test could pinpoint a diagnosis on his malady. Before it was said and done, my father was in a wheelchair within 6 months of our entering the United States.  From that day to yesterday, he would never walk on his own again. Our lives had set a course unlike any other.

If you think I am inking this for pity, then pity us not--this is the story, like so much journeying here, about the journey of  a person who STILL kept at a dream. Instead of dissolving in pity, that same savvy and determination set him forward to CONTINUING his doctoring career well into his sixties. He resolved to learn how to use his shaky hands to hold items, type on the computer (slowly) and maneuver much of his life. As a pathologist, he used his training and eyes to see under microscopes and type up reports. With my mother's help, he managed to create a full scale lab business (she processed lab slides and did paperwork) became quite a thriving business and even helped put my sister and I partially through college.

It was all so normal-seeming, so much so that I distinctly remember being  a wee child who, upon meeting the father of another friend, for the first time ever, thinking it was odd that the father was STANDING. Weren't all Daddies meant to be in a wheelchair?

Daddy and Baby Zan

It wasn't all roses, of course: there was a residual bitterness somewhere in him, which came out in a never-ending drive towards perfection in his children. I sense that he felt that if we were EXCELLENT in everything we did, nothing could touch us...we could not fail and nothing could harm us. An extremely intelligent man (besides the PhD in medicine, he spoke three languages and had an insatiable thirst for knowledge) he drove us hard on our studies and extolled difficult consequences for anything he deemed flawed. He needn't have gone so far--his idealism, high ethics, and just his everyday triumphs despite his difficulties, were inspiration enough. There was little he couldn't how could we, his blessedly ambulatory and healthy girls, NOT succeed at anything we dared to?  Suddenly, something as crazy as beekeeping, writing, performing arts, riding around the country via horse and wagon...seem less outlandish or risky, if it was truly something one set their mind on.

As he aged, though, his health became more and more of a vice to him. Within the last decade or so, we had a name to this monster illness: peripheral neuropathy, but we still had no sure clue as to what caused it. It would be no matter, though, as there was no cure, and it slowly gnarled his hands, so he couldn't work, and caused him to start losing his memory. After he retired, he eventually lost so much leg and body strength that he was bed ridden, but lovingly cared for by my mother. Scarier moments were when he began getting infections...sepsis that affected his blood, drove up a fever, and sent him to the hospital. But, saber-toothed in strength, spirit, or pure stubborness, he always hurdled through it with no problems.

In the last two months that I had been at home with them for the Alabama Wagon train project...he seemed rambunctious as ever, but my cousin's death seemed to take the wind from his sails, as it did all of us. He began muttering heartbreaking babbling: "he was far too young, I should have died instead."  Somehow, I think he meant it. Some part of him felt "useless," since he spent much of the day not doing much but watching television, an activity hard-chewed for a man of his vigor and intelligence.

On Friday, he began complaining, calling my mother over and over again, which he did when he wasn't well. By Saturday, he was shrieking and shaking. Whisked by ambulance, he eventually seemed to stabilize out after initial antibiotics. By Sunday, the doctor said some part of his lung collapsed,  that there was water on it, and that it could be cleared by drug therapy. We breathed a sigh of relief--

But then, no, we were wrong. A phone call at 3:30am from the hospital sent my mother and I rushing to him. His lung capacity had decreased by a full fourth. And it was confirmed both lungs were collapsed--not by water stress but--because the peripheral neuropathy had seized the lungs so they could no longer breathe on his own, and he was unconscious from his weakened lung state.  We sat in stunned silence in his hospital room when we realized that he was absolutely dying, he would not be wily enough to escape the jaws the Fates had meted out to him for all of these years. Decades of suffering, frustration, triumphs...they lay here, at that moment.

I've known many people who have died, but it was such a far away experience--tidily buffered by news that traveled through friends or family. Never had I ushered someone into death--and I didn't think I would find the armor for it. How do you tell someone hooked up to ventilators every. single. thing. that they have ever done, and meant to you? All I could do was cry, watch my mother cry, along with my cousin--my father's niece, the one who had lost the husband two weeks ago, who bravely came to escort another poor soul past its Earthly journey. How could she not? Daddy had basically helped raise HER, as a girl,when her own father died. That was my papa, he changed people's lives with his kindness, determination, and life example.

We lay shattered, a wet heap of tears, fragments of memories turning on multi-faceted edges, each one more heartbreaking than the next.  I found myself hugging this big unconscious hulk of a man, putting my head on his shoulders as if I were five year old, even surprising myself by asking my mother if we could somehow save him, a child's fantasy. At the end of the day, after nearly four decades of thinking I had it all together, I was reduced to Daddy's Little Girl.

There were several instances where he did finally open his eyes--brief moments where we told him all we could say for his journey to the other side. But once my sister arrived from her out-of-state job and said her goodbyes, we allowed the ventilators off. He had fought for three days, he was not getting better. The many passing doctors gave us no good chances for him to be off of machines. My mother wanted no continuation of his suffering.

How many kisses can you give a Goliath who has taught you everything you know? We told him that our two deceased family dogs would guide and play with him and that he'd see family members he missed. We told him we loved him and we knew he loved us, and that it was alright to go.

Life is short, my friends, and much too soon there is no time for whatever preciousness you want out of this beautiful gift.

Mama and Daddy, a few years ago...
Say what needs to be said, now.
Forgive what you can, and hope people can forgive you.
Do whatever you can, as much as you can, towards what big and small dreams you may have.
The Gems of Life: Human and Animal friends and family.
Even if it doesn't look exactly as you wish, be determined that each day holds some happiness.

Goodnight, Sweet Prince. We already miss you.

UPDATE. -- since daddy taught me to keep my word, and because I believe highly in the project--I WILL STILL BE GOING TO IOWA and ILLINOIS to TEACH BEEKEEPING! More on that, tomorrow

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Road Leads to Forever....

 The old porch swing at the front of Joe Bullard's grandmother's house. I could have stayed there forever...

There is no guidebook to this funny journey I've bee lucky to travel. Most guidelines are fabricated on the run. There will be risk involved. There will be fun. There will be work. A few rules may be bent. There will be interesting detours. There will even be magic, if one sticks with the journey, keeps their nose clean, and keeps their eyes open. But nowhere can one find the laws of how to say goodbye.

I have realized that I am one of those sorts that could not be happy in an office. Like some park tour-guides, farmers, rangers, and even tree surgeons, amongst others working with nature--my office requires perhaps a bit more acreage, my window needs stretch as large as a skyline. Yes, we are out there, perhaps restless, but willing to work, and particularly fond of the differentness of each day. There are no time clocks to punch here, and the work schedule includes simple unpredictability, the willingness to risk...our teachers the people we meet and the situations we undertake everyday.

The Alabama Wagon train has been the perfect adventure, but like so much of life, it is but a small and beautiful hymn in this large and spacious temple, one part of the Road That Leads To Forever. How do you say goodbye to such a thing? Like so much of the past year, this sort of parting is like leaving your bestest childhood friend, sure you will never see them again, and sure that life will never be the same.

Life NEVER will be the same...there was so much to take away from this experience: a humility and refreshing knowledge that, yes, indeed, America is still full of good hearted, funny people that will stick their necks out for things they believe in, and stick together to help a fellow or dame. The Alabama Wagon Train is a story about old time friends, a community of people who voraciously believe in a country way of life, their animals, and the spirit that brought them together.

Alabama itself is full of kind folks that gave two young gals (one of them a stodgy Yankee, to boot!) a shot.  Words cannot express how much I have known and seen: it's long winding roads, haunted golden valleys, verdant hills, antiqued forests and barns, little shacks with olden whispered secrets, postcard perfect farms, stunning and shy equines...they all speak to me in their folkloric way.

Alabama's people have shown generosity beyond reason. Like those long-missed friends in the Midwest, the people smile broadly and volunteer to help you at all turns. Joe and Cindy Bullard, our hosts with the EIGHTY horses, refused our money--outright stopped me from paying for any of our meals when we went out. People had kind words, encouragement, and so much more...that old Southern charm and hospitality were ours in spades. A sense of humor and adventure were everywhere, a ruggedness wrapped in mischievousness seems part of the fabric of everyone's personalities. Mostly, I miss the quiet simplicity of the people's from the land, honoring one's family and history and roots, swinging on porches, drinking in tea and nostalgia....

Alabama, why have you hidden from me so long?  I will miss you and your lovely horses and horse (and mule!) folk...

I am indebted to Mr. Jim Crosson, his wife, and the fabulous wagon mules, Kate and Hank. I hope the tradition of that Alabama Wagon Train is continued by Mr. Thomas and the members of the founders--the Silver Sands Saddle Club....
One of these days I hope Joe and Cindy Bullard adopt me..or will at least tolerate a visit from the strange-haired Northerner...
And always, always shall I consider one spectacular fellow Vagabond--Kira Burdeshaw-- nothing less than a sister, if not a partner in my particular adventure crimes Without her, truly, I would be a fool in the promised land (without a tent!)

I feel I am leaving a great Southern Grandmother behind....


My heart is held only in the fact that these Alabama journeys will continue (and I shall leave the reason a mystery, as of now), and that I am now off to see my Midwest Family: in less than a week...back to Iowa and Illinois I shall go!

Tomorrow: Beekeeping Adventures!