Keurig hell

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I had the unfortunate experience last week of having to go shopping.  Not “holiday” shopping, just the usual stuff.  Lamentably, I could not delay the trip until after the shopping craze associated with Christmas.  So I wound up in stores that were just piled with all kinds of things marketed as “gifts”.  I wound up being reminded repeatedly about just how much junk seems to be part of the American consumer lifestyle.

I have spent a fair amount of energy over the past few years changing my buying habits in order to reduce the amount of garbage I generate in my household, to reduce the distance items travel to get to me, to reduce the demand for plastics, to consider the environmental and social  impact of every purchase I make.  This is a spiritual discipline for me. I seek to preserve and honor my beloved Mother Earth. I seek to channel my dollars away from companies and governments that I believe do harm to people and to the Earth.

As a result of this priority, I have become somewhat of an oddity (well, even more than I always was, to be honest).  I generate approximately one small bag of garbage, maybe about 1 or 2 cubic feet, per month. (When my compost gets hot enough to deal with animal waste, and the cat litter can be composted, I will go to almost zero garbage).  I reuse things until they fall apart, even if they are supposedly disposable.  I use rags instead of paper towels, cloth totes instead of grocery sacks, canning jars instead of plastic vacuum sealer bags, rechargeable batteries in all my small electrics.  You get the idea.

I’ve become very aware of packaging, and its environmental impact.  I work very hard to avoid buying anything that comes in multiple layers of unnecessary and nonreuseable packaging.  Have you ever noticed how difficult it can be to open items that are enclosed in multiple layers of cardboard, plastic, packing foam, etc? When you’re done, you have one little object and about a mountain of material that is mostly garbage and a little bit of recyclable paper or cardboard (the plastic mostly is not recycled, even when “They” tell you it will be).  The places I avoid buying from on humanitarian/political grounds, like China, are among the worst for this.  I would imagine it’s because getting cheap plastic crap all the way to the other side of the planet without breakage requires absurd over-packaging.

So, anyway…back to walking through shopping hell last week. One of the items that seems incredibly popular is the automatic drink machine that makes coffee, tea, or whatever, from individual little plastic and tinfoil cartridges.  I have a lover who has one of these, and I’ve used it when staying at his place because I’m addicted to the taste and smell  of coffee in the morning and that’s the only option he has. But every time I pop one of those things into the machine, I take out the previous one and throw it in the trash, and I am appalled. These things are the adult equivalent of disposable diapers – completely unnecessary, going into the landfills at ridiculous rates, made completely of materials that are petrochemical based and nonrecyclable.  They are one of the worst examples of which I can think of the completely cavalier way in which we use our resources and pollute our earth.  After seeing the veritable mountains of these cartridges piled up for the holiday consumers, I think I’ll just have to stop using the thing no matter how desperate I am for my java kick.

And why do we even have such, let’s face it, bizarre stuff on the market?  Because every single person has the option, no, the RIGHT! to have the exact beverage of their choice. Because if I like dark roast and you like Columbian supreme, and someone else likes Kenya coffee, we each must have our own way!  No compromises.  After all, we are all special, and we deserve  to have our own whims catered to, and that selfishness, that self-indulgence, is all we need to justify abusing the resources the Earth has offered us.

We have way too many specious conveniences in our lives.  Ever since Burger King came up with the “have it your way” ad campaign when I was a kid, our society has increasingly bought into the idea that we are all special, all unique, and all have the right to express our uniqueness with completely trivial consumer choices.  We have so many “conveniences” available, and so very many choices.  We can, if we choose, not only have every member of the household have their very own coffee flavor, but we can buy prepackaged foods in single servings so everyone can eat their very own menu right at home!  Every piece of electronics I own allows me to completely customize its “look” – which allows me to adapt to my unique needs in terms of which information I access and so forth, but also includes having a purple skin on the phone because, hey, purple is my color.  Ringtones, bumper stickers, bling….all essentially trivial, and all there to give me a comforting sense of my own invincible uniqueness.

But the things that make me unique and beautiful have nothing to do with what flavor of coffee I like or what color skin my phone wears.  It is the combination of my skills, experiences, and talents that make me wonderful.  And I fear that all this cheap plastic crap masquerading as personal expression detracts from people’s ability to value themselves.

So many of the conveniences of our contemporary American life prevent us from needing actual  skills and knowledge.  Eating processed cheese food product in prepackaged individual slices (talk about a packaging nightmare)  requires no effort at all.  Slicing cheese, only a tiny bit more, but it would require one to have a knife and maybe even to know how to sharpen it now and then.  Making cheese….well, that requires a knowledge of chemistry and microbiology and of cooking techniques that go far beyond hitting “start” on the microwave.  Anything that is made to be easy for us removes challenges – that’s a tautology.

I believe it’s in being challenged, though, that we learn to enjoy and respect ourselves.  Developing skills and applying them to solving our day-to-day problems helps us build a sense of our own competence, our ability to triumph in the face of difficulties.  Confident people are embedded in a healthy way in their lives.  Competent people truly have something to offer themselves, their families, and their communities.  They believe in themselves. They have tools for handling new situations. They know how to fail, because no one develops skills and knowledge without the occasional failure.  They know they don’t control everything, that nature and physics and so forth set the rules, and that if we do not dance in balance with those rules our projects won’t succeed.  They are accustomed to somewhat capricious changes in plan imposed by external circumstances, and learn adaptability and the ability to regroup with a modified plan.  They learn that there is more than one approach to any problem, and they learn to value the perspectives and teachings of others.  They learn that their actions create outcomes, both immediately and further down the road. They develop self-responsibility and a commitment to their visions for themselves and their world.

We have lost so many of these attributes  in our “have it your way” world.  People who are products of our convenience culture, who have learned to define their specialness only in terms of their superficial consumer choices, never get to learn and experience all these strengths.  They become less competent, less embedded in meaningful activity, less adaptable.  In a very real and very sad way, they become less special, rather than more.  Having been taught from early childhood that they are defined by cheap plastic crap and coffee flavors and which fast food chain is theirs, they have no concept of who they are, what their true purpose in this life might be.  They have time to sit watching TV because everything is convenient, so they can absorb even more propaganda about how the real difference between them and others is the flavor of creamer they use.  And they never develop the ability to cope with  challenges.  When or if they figure out, ultimately, that they are not that special, that the world was lying to them when it said they could have it their way without working or learning – then what?  Self destructive over-indulgence?  Extremism in the name of some sort of dogma, religious or political?   Nihilistic rage?

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Tragedy and compassion amid the short attention span society

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On Friday, a gunman went into an elementary school about 40 miles from where I grew up.  He got through the locked security door because they knew him: the school was where his mother (whom he had already murdered) had worked.  On gaining entry, he systematically murdered more than two dozen people, most of them children under 10 years old, before killing himself.

Now, the internet is alive with all sorts of memes and debates. The categories I’ve noted so far are: pro and con gun control; prayers and condolences to the families and community most directly affected; social commentary on why these things happen;  and, amazingly, discussion of whether it is “respectful” to the bereaved to even talk about how to prevent such things.  Some folks have “acted” abruptly:  the Michigan legislature immediately “tweaked” their gun laws to allow teachers to carry guns in the classroom, stating that this would “prevent” such things as happened in Newtown.

So let’s talk about prevention. Let’s talk about gun related violence in our society. Let’s talk about mental illness, and the fact that we do not have any effective system for identifying and treating people who are high risk for violent outbursts.  Let’s talk about the growing inequities in our society and how they breed alienation and violent behavior.  Let’s talk about how we glorify murderers and other monsters in the press, giving the otherwise anonymous the fame that so many of our people seem to crave like crack.

But we better do all this quickly. Because the tragedy of the week will wane. People will think they did something because they posted a meme of a child/angel or a candle to their Facebook wall.  Politicians will object to “politicizing” this problem, because they would have deal with it that way, and they are far too interested in sucking up to their donors rather than serving their nation.  They should be leading us into solutions for the dreadful social conditions and access to murderous tools that cause these episodes to happen over and over again, but instead they will keep taking money from health insurance companies and gun manufacturers, from all the big money interests who are growing rich from the tragic status quo.

A few weeks down the road, the families who lost their children, the town that lost its innocent belief in safety, will still be reeling, but the American public will have moved on to the next episode of whatever the media tells them is important at the moment.  Few if any of the internet commenters who claim it’s time to do something will ever even bother to send an email to a legislator about this tragedy.   And we’ll keep not dealing with our social problems, and not dealing with reasonable limitations on the availability of weapons, because we just don’t  actually want to do the work to tease apart the underlying issues. We will stay mired in our factionalism, unable to come together productively even on such a no-brainer as “mass murder  is wrong and should be prevented”.

I’m not going to tease apart all the issues, and tell you what my perfect solution would be (and imply that you’re some kind of idiot or moral failure if you don’t agree with me).  There are plenty of people out there on the internet doing just that, if that’s what you want to read.  I am only going to ask one thing of any of you who are talking about this mess:

What are you, personally, going to DO?

The end of the world, the beginning of the world

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ixtab

It’s 12-12-12.  For some reason the odd coincidence of this date’s numbers has people excited. So does the fact that the Mayan calendar ends on 12/21/12.

Now, one could argue that the Mayan world ended a long time ago, so fretting about this is kind of like my house burning down but being upset because the calendar that survived will end later that year.  Why is the Mayan calendar ending? Well, one reason is that the Mayans were destroyed a long time ago, so they haven’t had a chance to update it lately.

Another reason is because this is a cusp between two ages in Mayan time.  It’s the sensible time to take down the Quetzalcoatl calendar and put up the new one featuring pictures of Ixtab, the suicide goddess (always depicted with a noose around her neck).  We are moving into a new age, allegedly one in which humans will transcend all our flaws and learn to connect with each other spiritually to create beauty and harmony on earth (or on other noncorporeal planes, depending on the exact New Agey myth you buy into).  We will move into a place of wisdom in which we are able to claim our true birthright as magical and spiritual beings.  We will give up materialism and cruelty and social inequity and economic definitions of human worth.  We will transcend the mundane.

Some folks have pretty entertaining ideas about how this will play out. I’ve been told (apparently in all seriousness) that Jesus Christ is one of the rulers of the universe now, part of some kind of Cosmic Coordinating Committee that is talking to the New Agers through channelers.  Oh, he goes by a different name now as a member of the CCC, but they know who he really is….must be the bloody robes that gave him away.  Hard to travel incognito with stigmata.

And what do I think?  Well, I think that all of the above ideas about where we’re headed are probably right (except the Jesus thing and the CCC).  Being a witch, I embrace science, and I am a firm Darwinist.  It makes sense to me that we would evolve in our capacities.

We no longer allow evolution of our physical bodies in the “first world”. We devote a great deal of resources to facilitating the survival of flawed physical bodies of children with what should be fatal birth disorders, to helping people with clear severe  physical flaws reproduce anyway.  Nature can be harsh if left to her own devices, and we’ve chosen not to do that.  So….our bodies are what they are.  We aren’t selecting for the strongest, most functional, healthiest bodies any more.  If we didn’t have appendectomies, we would probably eventually not have appendices.  But we do, so we’ll keep them, and a bunch of other physical risk factors that eventually would breed out of a naturally selecting animal population.

So our evolution will have to be on some other plane of our existence, because the one thing I am sure of is movement.  Nothing stays the same.  “She changes everything she touches, and, everything she touches changes.”  So if we are not evolving as a species physically anymore, what’s left? Our minds, our hearts, our spirits, and our psychic capabilities.  But evolution is a slow process, and this kind of evolution takes work, and who wants more work?

Humans have an odd habit of picking a certain day when everything will get better all of a sudden.  Thinking the Golden Yak will swim up the bathroom drain is easier than thinking one might have to go out and create one’s own soap scum (thank you Ren and Stimpy).  Magical thinking is adorable in toddlers, but annoying in adults.  Life does not get better suddenly without our effort.

And in some respects, it won’t be able to get better no matter what transcendence happens nine days from now.  The best and most cogently analyzed climate change data appears to indicate that it is basically too late to fix that problem, or to moderate our behavior so we are not accelerating it as extremely.  Long after I am dead, but probably not before my friends’ children are old, the water levels will rise and the climate changes  that go along with this will result in a complete inability to maintain our current “civilization”.  I think of the earth as a sleeping dog and humans as fleas. Eventually she will yawn and stretch, and scratch vigorously, and the irritating pests that have thought they were in command will be destroyed.  A tragic apocalypse for the fleas, a momentary annoyance for the dog.  The earthquakes caused by fracking, the floods and megastorms caused by polar ice cap melting, are just the first yawns and twitches.  Just wait until she stands up and shakes herself off.

Apocalypse predictions are not new.  In 634 BCE, the Romans thought their city would end as a result of the mistaken analysis of a prophecy involving 12 eagles.  Turned out 1 eagle ≠ 10 years.   An understandable mistake, right?  And we keep coming up with this kind of stuff. In the past ten years alone, the earth failed to end and the “rapture” failed to occur and the aliens failed to show up dozens of times.

For some reason, humans place a great deal of weight on calendars.  Which are, of course, something we made up in order to convince ourselves that we are in control of time’s mysteries (and to make sure we all get to the drum circle at the same time).  So looking at certain dates as auspicious simply because of their numbers is completely circular reasoning.  Why is the date 12-12-12?  Not because of some numerological miracle, because we numbered it that way!  It could as easily be 328/213/99, if the calendar had been designed differently.  So imputing received wisdom to this kind of thing is just plain silly.

But we keep doing it.  And getting our hopes up for a transcendent change in humanity that will happen because it’s a certain date.  So we won’t have to fix anything in our day to day lives, individually or collectively, and we won’t have to work on becoming wiser, better, stronger, and more beautiful,  because all of a sudden one day things will miraculously turn into something better for everyone – or for those few who believe the same delusion as me, anyway, and who cares about the ones who are wrong?  Often, the prophesy indicates that the others, the ones we don’t like or don’t agree with, will be swept away, leaving the earth/humanity/Age of Aquarius/end times/(insert post-apocalyptic vision of your choice here) to those the prophet likes.  So belief in a lot of these prophecies boils down to:  I don’t want to work hard to improve myself or my society, but I would like it very much if everyone that I disagree with would be killed suddenly, and me and my friends would take over, and then we wouldn’t be held back by Them anymore, and we would all become divine beings and fix our problems and live happily  ever after.

Guess what? It’s not going to happen.  No matter what 12/21/12,  or any of the other myriad projected apocalypse dates already on the calendar, brings, we are still going to have to learn to deal with those we don’t like or agree with. We’re  going to have to learn to project the outcomes of our actions and inactions, and use those projections to make responsible choices for the future of all beings.

Each day a new world forms around us.  Each day, old ideas and technologies die and new ones take their place.  Change is incremental, not apocalyptic.  We can sit on our duffs and lazily wait for a catapult to launch us into some fantasy of the ideal world, or we can start walking toward it on our own two feet.

Expecting responsibility

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Well, okay, so here is a post that directly talks about what it’s like to be a witch in a world of muggles.

One of the things about neopagan ethics is that through a variety of pathways it always comes back to one simple statement, which my revered teacher and friend Albert Webb used to state repeatedly:  “You’re responsible.”  For what, you might ask? Well, pretty much everything. Certainly, for all your choices, your decisions, your actions and inactions, for the predictable impact of all of these on other beings and on the Earth.  For finding out what the rules are, and (assuming you’ve chosen the situation) following them.

This proves to be one of the aspects of being a witch that makes it difficult to interact with our current society, which seems to bend over backwards to assure people that 1- they are not responsible when they fuck up; 2 – that everyone always gets “do-overs”; and 3 – that whining is an appropriate way to get do-overs.

I have worked very hard for a number of years on the spiritual discipline of developing clear boundaries.  Yes, that’s right, spiritual.  We witches have a precept called the Rede that is one of our major ethical principles.  (There are various versions out there, and some other time I’ll rant about the details of how they play out when they are considered from an ethical perspective.)  But one phrase that’s always there is “do no harm” or its semantic equivalent. Well, if you don’t even take the time to figure out who is responsible for which actions and their effects, it’s impossible to apply this principle.  So knowing what’s my problem and what’s not my problem winds up being a focus of a great deal of spiritual work for the true witches among us.

As a result, I get very irritated by people who seemingly have spent no time thinking about who is responsible for their lives, their actions, and (dare I even use the word) their consequences.

I’m grading undergraduate papers now.  This is an activity which gets most faculty in higher education very cranky because it raises all of our concerns about the dire fate of humanity when the illiterate generations take over the world.  I am feeling particularly cranky because I’ve had a number of students who earned otherwise mediocre to horrific grades, who then got dropped to a zero because part of their alleged work was plagiarized. (This, after a nauseating amount of information and support provided to get them to handle this issue correctly.)

Oddly, it’s the bad papers that are more likely to be plagiarized (you would think it would help, but it doesn’t).  If I think the student truly had no clue and they’ve been conscientious in every other way, they get one week to rewrite and resubmit (with a grade penalty). But if they “hid the evidence” or otherwise have been remiss, such as failing to fix the problems pointed out in previous feedback, they get a zero and I’m done.

So here’s where we get to the issues of responsibility: a significant proportion of these folks seem to believe that it’s my fault if they fail.  And that I’m somehow responsible for shielding them from the consequences of their choices.  And so here come the emails and phone calls (which usually come when I’m grading the next inadequate effort, and am not in the mood).

Here are a few goodies:

  • The student won’t get reimbursed for poor grades by an employer who is paying for their degree.  Right on! I think to myself, while telling the student that their employers’ policies are unrelated to my expectations for performance in the course.
  • The student wants to inform me (because of course I’m clueless) that she will fail the course if she gets a zero on this paper. Now, I wrote the syllabus, and the paper is worth 25% of the grade, and she’s not been a stellar performer all along, but….thanks for telling me that.  No, I won’t change the grade.
  • The student tells me that she was pretty sure there was a big problem with the paper, so she asked her teenage son (who is good with computers, and thus the oracle for her online courses apparently) – but he said it was okay, because the same paper had been plagiarized by a lot of other students.  I take a deep breath and say, “Maybe next time you are concerned you should ask the instructor, who is likely to be more familiar with the standards for the course than your son is.”

And on and on we go.  Somehow these folks managed to get through a whole semester in which this issue of using and crediting sources accurately was presented in many ways, over and over again.  And most of them got it, and did a good job. Some of the ones that didn’t get it, got in touch and got help and that was fine too.  And then there are the ones who are too clueless to notice how clueless they are, or who think that because I’m in a different state (of the Union, not of mind) they will get away with lying to me.

That’s the thing that I hate most. These people are liars. To me, to themselves, about the creative work produced by others, about their own role in choosing their outcomes.  And that’s one thing that is absolutely verboten to me, by my own understandings of what it takes to be an ethical witch.

Lying to anyone makes it impossible to honor the divine spirit within them.  I cannot view someone as a God or Goddess and then lie to them.  I cannot claim my divine nature by lying to myself or to others.  I cannot make the most of myself, foster my own growth, if I cannot be honest about my motivations.  I cannot learn if I do not grapple with the sometimes lamentable consequences of my choices.  Whining and expecting others to fix it is not courteous, it is not reasonable, but most of all it is against my religion.

Wouldn’t it be entertaining if I tried to shove my religion down the throat of the religious right?  If they were not allowed to lie because it’s against my religion, they wouldn’t be able to talk at all some days. But, I digress…..

The harvest continues

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This year, I decided not to plant a winter garden.  There are plenty of foods that would do well here overwintering in the greenhouse, or in the ground with some minimal help to get through the coldest weather.  By the time I should have been planting for fall and winter, in August and September, I was working two full time jobs at the same time, and had a huge summer harvest to process, and was working on building the pig tractor…..anyway, I just decided enough was enough.

So I’m pretty amazed, and pleased, that I still have a few last bits of fresh food to eat, such as the last few plum tomatoes that I am eating as they slowly ripen on my kitchen counter.  And there is still some in the ground: I need to pull carrots and make more soup to can for the winter.  I have chicken carcasses left from the killing day at Sunflower River, an intentional community and organic farm just down the road a piece.  So I need to make more chicken stock and soup (and will throw in some of those last carrots….mmmm.) And there are the African blowfish melons from my partner’s garden, which may or may not be ripe, and may or may not be particularly tasty….I consider them with delight and trepidation, and they glare back menacingly.

But clearly the largest ongoing harvest project is the pig.  Hambone weighed somewhat over 300 lbs when she went to meet the Swine Goddess at Samhain.  She was a delightful sweet creature who loved to have her back scratched and did a fine job turning up new garden beds for me out in the meadow where it’s impossible to dig with a shovel.  I have an intimate energetic connection with all the food I produce; I choose to do all my own slaughtering and butchering here at home in order to honor and maintain that complete connectedness (and have control over the hygiene of my meat – no one is getting sick from my food!)  Hambone was happy here, well fed and safe and sheltered, and I cannot see ever sending her, or any of her successors, to a slaughterhouse, making death day stressful and scary for the pigs and for me.  As a practical matter of maximizing my harvest, doing my own butchering ensures that I am able to glean all the goodies that would otherwise be lost to me.  Old time treasures like the bladder I preserve for use as a sausage casing to honor the ancestors’ ways.  Some “inedibles” like the pancreas go into sausage, where no one notices them and they taste fine.  Separating the leaf lard from the back fat and the trim fat allows me to create an old time treasure that can only be found on a farm.  Fat concentrates toxins and stress hormones. My toxin free, happy pigs produce leaf lard that is a prized commodity for pastry making.  Using as much of the pig as possible is another way I honor her gentle spirit and her sacrifice of her short life for my long one.

But….all this meat processing takes time, and work.  Four days of hard labor starting with slaughter day. Then two weeks of steady work butchering and starting the curing process and rendering the lard that results. Later, some parts of the project, like sausage making, just take setting aside a day and getting a few helper/apprentices lined up.  Some of it, like making bacon, is simple to do, but cannot be rushed. Bacon and related products must cure for as long as they need, and when they are ready they needs to be dried and/or smoked, and then packaged for storage, and you have to do those things when the meat is ready. So it requires tending and attention, if not daily work.

Then there’s the charcuterie, including my new attempts with this pig at salumi, the Italian dried and cured meats, such as pancetta, coppa, and so forth. Yum! Again, these don’t take any particular length of time, and they need small daily attentions (such as filling the humidifier I use in my drying room! Welcome to New Mexico).

Lastly, there’s the lard.  This was a rather rotund pig, an American Guinea Hog, which is a breed known for being “lard pigs”.  So beside rendering lard, and having plenty of fat for sausage-making and dry-curing (as “lardo”, an Italian delicacy which is pure fat heaven), it looks like I’ll be making soap sometime this winter.  I understand pig fat makes very rich moisturizing soap. Given the rough palmed muscle men who helped with the  slaughter and raved about how smooth and soft their skin was afterwards, I bet it’s true.

All the above will easily last me until time to start the garden babies in the greenhouse in early February. And until the next pigs move in.  So at last, I’m doing farm work year round, and eating fresh, safe, nutritious food through the winter.  And working my ass off most days.

Hello world!

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So….here I am, blogging.

I have been told by so many people over the years that I write well, that I have an interesting life,  that they would like to read what I write about my life and my reflections on the world around me.  They probably say these things because I’m weird, and thus intriguing. I have found myself writing  short essays about why I live as I live, or about my daily activities and choices and the ideas they inspire, or just funny anecdotes about my animals and gardens.  This blog is a first step toward organizing some of that kind of material and making it available to….whoever might be interested!

I am a witch. I am a priestess of the goddess Hekate, and a coven leader, and a teacher and mentor to some of my fellow witches.  My spiritual path defines me, and is central to the way I live: my choices, my attitudes, my judgements, all spring from my interpretation of what it is like to live a life in which every choice is a spiritual one to some degree.

There are many other things that I am besides a witch, of course. I’m middle aged; I’m bisexual; I’m an educator; I’m a nurse; I’m a white blonde who lives in a Mexican neighborhood.  I’m Leo with Capricorn rising. I’m a superb cook, and a fair hand with tools.  I am a horsewoman, and an animal lover.  I love to sing,  to laugh, and to think.

I have a small property, about a half acre, in the South Valley of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Over the three and a half years that I’ve been here, I’ve been turning it into a very small farm.  The process of doing this, and the reasons for it, have become an ongoing exploration.  My relationship to life, and to death, and to my community, and to my body, and to work and money, are all being explored in this laboratory of mine. Along with my relationships to food, and to how-to books, and to vermin and pests, and to tools, and to county regulations, and to thrift stores, and to public utilities. And to chickens.  It’s all constantly up for re-evaluation, all in motion, all evolving.  I am a work in progress. I invite you to witness my changes, and enjoy them with me.