You Reap What You Sow

Boy howdy. What a crazy few weeks I have been having! First, there is a LOT of good news to be excited about. Andrew and I have scored a sweet partnership with an organic farmer up in the lovely little town of Snohomish, WA, which is about 30 miles northeast of Seattle with beautiful views of the Cascades. The farmer, Eric, is a wonderful man who has agreed to take us in as interns/ farmers/ laborers / brainstormers / marketers/ whatever-needs-to-be-done-ers.

Chinook Farms is a small side business to Eric’s main endeavor, a sawmill that has been in his family for three generations. His previous farm managers left, and despite our lack of experience he was impressed with our zeal and has agreed to take us on and plan this season around our abilities and interests. We are also going to be building some kind of shelter (a yurt or a tiny house) on the farm property. This is all extremely exciting for me! I am already getting emails from him about upcoming “Grower Round Table” meetings, and different marketing ideas and plans. Andrew has already put in two days of work prepping the farm by tilling and planting seeds in the greenhouse. I cannot wait to learn everything I possibly can about farming while putting my current skills to work marketing and selling healthy food! I am also really proud of Andrew and myself for being able to realize one of our biggest goals. Watch out world!

Naturally, since this is life and nothing ever goes exactly according to plan, my amazing piece of good news has been regrettably tempered by a slew of setbacks here in Tucson. The day after being released from a rehab center (after healing from a successful pacemaker surgery) my grandmother was rushed back to the ER with insanely high blood pressure.  She spent a couple days being monitored, and the doctors readjusted her medications before sending her back to her apartment.

We celebrated this small victory by taking her to get her hair trimmed, curled, and set at her favorite salon. We enjoyed a nice lunch at the assisted living facility, and I went home to relax. A few hours later I got a phone call: “Meesh, you won’t believe this. I fell out of bed and they are taking me back to the ER.” Two ambulance rides in four days. My poor grandmother should really stop getting her hair done. Last time she went to the salon she also wound up going to the ER later that day for an extremely high fever!

Fortunately this time she only stayed a few hours in the hospital. Her X-rays and CT scans were negative (she had also bonked her head on the side table when she fell). The bad news is that she did hurt her back and is in a lot of pain. She has trouble getting out of bed or walking by herself, which is making life very uncomfortable for her.

In the meantime, I took my “special,” neurologically impaired cat to the vet to get her caught up on vaccines before our road trip up to Washington. I thought it would be a good idea in case I needed to kennel her along the way. Big mistake! She wound up having a reaction to the vaccine, and her leg is incredibly swollen and tender. I thought it was broken so I rushed her back to the vet. I lost my marbles in the office right there in front of the vet and technician, and started bawling. They were nice enough to do an x-ray and exam without charging me and sent me home with some medicine for the cat. I joked that they should have also given me a prescription for a therapist! My figures are crossed that my silly cat recovers quickly and can handle the long drive to Washington.

In two short days I will be on the road. I have anxiety about leaving my grandmother in a situation that is less than ideal. I had hoped that in coming to Tucson I would help her transition to a fairly independent, happy life in her new apartment. Setback after setback has me thinking this might be the “new norm” for her. I have to keep reminding myself that she is 89 years old! She has the memory, clarity, and wit of someone much younger, but I suppose after a certain age your body has its own ideas of what it needs.

The emotional and physical toll of rushing between hospitals, doctors appointments, doling out medications, cutting through red tape at various medical facilities, and coordinating care has me bushed. Add a dash of cat-induced panic and I am ready to keel over in Andrew’s lap and sleep for several days. I will be leaving Tucson early Saturday morning to meet him at the San Diego airport for his arrival, and I can’t wait to squeeze him, hand him the truck keys, and let him take care of me for the next few days. Everyone needs to be carried now and again…and I’m ready for my turn!

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Hurry Up and Wait!

It’s a difficult endeavor to write an interesting blog people will want to read when you spend the majority of your time sitting in the hospital, playing Words with Friends on your iPhone. “Earlier today I played “peyote” for 54 points! My life is so exciting, aren’t you jealous?!” In truth, it has been an arduous few weeks since I returned to Tucson. My poor grandmother has experienced one setback after another, and her doctors finally decided she needed to have her entire pacemaker replaced in order to remove any potential hiding places for the mystery bacteria that has been marauding in her blood stream. Fortunately her pacemaker removal and the subsequent replacement all went well, and Grams is recuperating nicely.

One happy side effect of potentially serious surgeries is that my dad and uncle Ed flew out from Sacramento and New York, respectively. Although the majority of the week they were here was also spent in the hospital reading, chatting, and playing more Words with Friends, we also managed to have ourselves a little fun. Ed and I went to the movies, Dad and I went to the gun range and cigar store (I guess I’m like the second son he never had?), and all of us spent a couple hours in the casino. We wined and dined all over town, but our favorite restaurant of the week was Lil Abner’s, an ancient, divey steakhouse out in the boonies. The walls were covered in scrawled autographs (evidence of over 60 years of business), the food was presented with nary a garnish, a giant bowl of soupy beans was plopped down to be shared, and…the food was absolutely spectacular. Who needs ambience when the ribs are so tender the meat simply melts right off the bone?

Another added bonus occurred when the two of them staged an intervention. I had been driving my truck around with a worn out clutch (a 15,000 mile road trip will do that), and was now accustomed to the occasional gear slip. I also had developed a great technique for hooking my toe under the sticky clutch pedal and pulling it back up so that I could shift again. I even managed this right after a pedicure without smudging my newly painted toenails! Dad and Ed were less than impressed with my skills and demanded I take the truck in to be serviced. After a day in the shop I drove off with a new clutch, and now that I have readjusted to what is normal I can see that it was a good idea. Fathers know best!

One of the stops on our way from the hospital was to the cemetery, where my grandfather is buried. He passed away four years ago, and I don’t often go visit his gravesite. I have a hard time appreciating cemeteries; I find them to be a tremendous waste of space and water, especially out in the desert. When I go I don’t feel like my grandfather is there, but it was nice to see his tombstone and it made my grandma happy that we went. The flowers, visits, silk-lined caskets, elaborate ceremonies and such that we afford the dead are really placations for the living. Throw me in the ground in an unfinished pine box and plant a gnarly willow on top! Or better yet, pass on the formaldehyde! Cremate me and spread some of my ashes under a tree, some on top of a mountain, and the rest into the ocean. The first law of thermodynamics states that energy is never created or destroyed, but merely transferred between systems. And so we go. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Many of my readers may disagree with me philosophically or theologically on what happens after death, but I personally take comfort in the thought that after I have churned away the years in my little fireball of life, the world around me will absorb that energy and propel it into new creatures, ad infinitum.

While I am not a mystical person, I do sometimes find meanings and signs in the commonplace.  While we were standing over Gramp’s grave, two sprightly, dusty, gorgeous coyotes appeared in front of us. They frolicked together, groomed themselves, and seemed right at home in the cemetery. I immediately thought of how perfect the coyote is as a “spirit animal” for my grandfather. In many Native American traditions the coyote is a perpetual trickster, which definitely suits my grandpa whose favorite pastime was to slap you on the butt if you made the mistake of bending over in his vicinity.

Although it is still January, changes are coming and it feels like spring is in the air. The temperature in Tucson is rising back to normal after a few weeks of frigid desert nights in the 20s, and when I step outside into the sun I feel a warmth that stretches its energizing fingers down into my tired bones and restless soul.  Andrew and I have a few potential farm job/apprenticeship options brewing up in Washington, and while I don’t want to jinx them by detailing them here, I feel good about the coming spring. It is going to be a time for renewal, and a time for us to rediscover our newlywed bliss. I wish the spring was already here, but there’s nothing for it but to hurry up and wait!

Oh No…Now I’m the Girl Who Writes About Her Cat

A week passes incredibly quickly when you are living life on the road, experiencing new sights every day with the love of your life. A week passes agonizingly slow when you are sedentary, alone with your thoughts, bad television, and your cat. Obviously adjusting to life in Tucson is going to take some time. I am grateful that I get to see my grandmother every day, and help make her life better by keeping her company and running small errands for her. When Andrew and I visited her before we went to Mexico I was worried about her. She was tired and disoriented, symptoms of the infection she has been fighting for months. For many people aged 88 these symptoms are commonplace, but for my grandmother they are extremely unusual. As a child I always thought my grandmother was invincible, and though I am far less naïve these days, I am happy to report that she is back to normal and seems healthier than ever. In fact she looks downright out of place at the rehab center, where she is the only patient who does not rely on a wheelchair to move about.

Unfortunately the world of health insurance is so muddled that the only way my grandmother’s antibiotic treatment is covered is if she stays at the rehab center until she finishes her second six-week course of medication. So I do what I can to ease her boredom by visiting her in the early afternoons, and we often sit outside and chat with a nice woman from the Congo who is recuperating from a stroke. Thankfully I never tire of hearing about the past lives of others, whether it is about pre-war Holland, post-war Ecuador, or traditional birthing practices of the Congo. It’s also fortunate that the elderly seem more than eager to share their stories and reminisce about their youth, and I am a willing receptacle for their memories.

I am living alone at my grandmother’s house, and unfortunately she lives in a suburb north of Tucson that is not within walking distance of much. Driving in this city is INSANE.  The main roads are six lanes wide, and there are very few stop signs or protected left turns. Because of this I haven’t ventured too far away from the neighborhood, but luckily I found a Bikram Yoga studio nearby where I go for an almost daily 90-minute torture session in a hot, humid, stinky room. The actual exercises and positions utilized in this kind of “yoga” are not incredibly difficult, but the near 100-degree heat and extreme humidity make this a very sweaty, dizzying, and in the end, rewarding experience. It doesn’t fulfill me spiritually in the same way that other, more traditional styles of yoga do, but at least it gets my blood moving and keeps me from going stir crazy.

When I’m not busy with Bikram or locking my keys in my truck (thank you, AAA!), I am cooking for myself using Paleo-diet friendly ingredients. I first went on this diet at the beginning of the year, and I was amazed at the results I noticed within just one month. The diet stresses fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, eggs, nuts, and other items that are considered “natural” to the ancient human condition. I already don’t eat wheat or dairy, and “going Paleo” just means I also cut out other grains like rice, and corn, and avoid overly processed foods. It’s a really great way to keep healthy, and this combined with Bikram will help me “detox” from all the noshing that occurred during the last month of our road trip.

I have also been enjoying the company of my cat, Sake. I was very fortunate to find a wonderful foster mom for Sake while the rest of us hit the road, but now that I knew I would be more stationary I decided to take her with me to relieve some of my loneliness. I love this cat, but after all I have experienced with her I have to say I might never have another. I adopted her from a shelter about five years ago, and when I took her home she was already a year old and had birthed a litter of feral kittens. Since I have owned her, her health problems have ranged from severe skin allergies to major scent gland infections to chronic arthritis. When I brought her to Tucson and let her out of her carrier I noticed she walked like she was three sheets to the wind. She was always a little on the loopy side, but at this point she couldn’t walk in a straight line to save her life! I brought her to the vet, and it was determined that she may have “bilateral vestibular disease,” which I think is a fancy way of saying serious double ear-infections.  She is on a course of antibiotics, but there is a possibility she may never fully recover. She is a very happy, loving cat otherwise, and her quality of life is still quite good, despite the apparent heart murmur that she has also acquired. I think I should just stop taking her to the vet!

In my spare time I read, research potential careers, or as a last resort, watch television. The other day I decided on a whim to apply for a position as a Park Ranger for the National Park System…at Kenai Fjords, Alaska! I have no idea how competitive the position is, or whether or not I will even make it through the first cut. I have never even been to Alaska! Ironically that seemed as good a reason as any to apply, and since I am determined to avoid a traditional office job for the time being, I might as well venture out on a limb or two while I can! In the meantime you can find me in Tucson, white-knuckling the steering wheel, sweating profusely while attempting to balance on one foot, sunbathing in December, or making dinner plans with octogenarians. Jealous yet?

A Homeless Homecoming

I’m sitting in the passenger seat of the pickup, outside my favorite taco shop in San Diego. “San Diego!?” you say. “You’re still in Arizona!” Okay, I admit I have fallen hopelessly behind on blogging about my adventures, and for this I apologize. I know many of you (okay, maybe just you Jane!) are sitting glued to your monitors wondering where in the world the Ides are now.

After departing the Grand Canyon we headed down south towards my native city of Tucson to visit my grandmother, who at 88 years old is just starting to experience some health issues. Once we were on our way to Tucson we started to get the sad feeling that our trip was coming to an end. We saw more and more California license plates on the road and realized our teardrop traveling days were dwindling. We tried to keep our spirits up with diversions. We stopped in Sedona for lunch, and we went into every single jewelry store in town so Andrew could find the perfect silver wedding band before he finally settled on a very cool Hopi design. We braved the snow flurries on the crazy mountain pass outside Jerome, and then hunkered down for a freezing night spent in a campground near Prescott. Despite the bitter cold we were not alone, and made a point of camping as far from possible from the group of young men rocking out heavy metal while huddling around a large bonfire.

Sadly, this was to be our last night in the teardrop. We spent our first night in Tucson with Jane, an old family friend who lives out in the desert in an area so remote that she came out to meet us on her four-wheeler as we were driving up. We had a lovely time visiting Jane and her husband Don, while also mooching free laundry and dinner. We have become quite adept at taking advantage of people’s generosity, and fortunately so far people seem to actually enjoy helping us. I am grateful for all of the help and hospitality we have received along our journey. I wonder how long we can keep up this charade…I really think I could have a future in hobodom!

The next few nights were spent at my grandmother’s house, and we visited her every day in the rehab facility where she is being treated for a mysterious infection. While in Tucson we distracted ourselves by having a drink with Chaz, an old high school buddy of mine who happened to be in town. He showed up in his Navy khakis (he is an officer), and talked about his plans for nursing school. Yet another example of one of my peers having achieved so much already and having responsible plans for the future. Who are these people?!?

Most of our time in Tucson was low-key, so we had plenty of time to think about our options and fret about our own future. We figured we were all set to move in with Andrew’s parents for the winter, but we were beat to the punch by his sister, her husband, toddler, and their two dogs. Andrew’s family is very generous and accommodating and still welcomed us to come, but having six adults, a toddler, and three dogs in one house was starting to sound like “crazytown” to this girl, who is used to being alone in the woods with her little family. Additionally, as I spent more time with my grandmother I realized that, while she has a wonderful network of friends in Tucson, there is no family nearby to take care of the day-to-day tasks that she needs assistance with. She had been in the rehab facility for five days before we got there, and still only had the clothes she was wearing when she arrived. I started thinking maybe I could be of use to her this winter, so Andrew and I began grappling with the idea of parting ways for a few months.

After lolling around Tucson for a few days we said goodbye to Grandma and headed back into San Diego for a few days before the exciting Mexican leg of our adventure; the grand finale if you will. Returning to your hometown without actually having a home there is tough. You feel like you’re home, and you start spending money on all of your favorite restaurants and such, but you don’t have a routine, and you don’t have a place to settle. You also don’t have a job, so the whole spending money bit is treacherous! After floating around San Diego for a few days we dropped Zephyr off at Sunnybrook Farms, an awesome dog-boarding farm that lets the dogs run around in a pack and play all day. It was bittersweet to say goodbye. Zephyr has grown on me, despite (or maybe thanks to) his crazy antics, but it was nice knowing he was going to have a grand time with some canine pals.

Our Thanksgiving trip to Baja, Mexico was planned months and months ago, much to the dismay of my father who usually hosts Thanksgiving. Fortunately Dad was generous enough to give me his blessing. I love family and I love Dad’s turkey…but when life asks you “Sacramento…or Mexico?” you’d better say Mexico! Our friends Danny and Katie travel to Baja frequently, and Danny’s family owns a house near the town of Mulege which is about 12 hours south on the Sea of Cortez. After a few days in San Diego the four of us crammed into Katie’s (mostly) reliable sedan, along with oodles of fishing gear, spear guns, snorkeling equipment, coolers, and a wakeboard, and left San Diego at 0’ dark-thirty in the morning.