muddy feet memoirs

The Chronicle of My Comeback

Month: March, 2013

Home Economics


There aren’t a lot of essentials in life.  Food, of course.  Water.  Shelter.  Love.  I think that about covers it.  Money is the way most of us secure these things – or in the case of love, sometimes we chose money over it – but Jay and I have taken a different approach.  We look for ways not to need much money.

These past few years we have focused on food – growing it, gleaning it, sharing it, butchering it, preserving it and enjoying it.   We’re hardly experts, but our backyard gardening skills are getting honed and through networks of generosity we essentially have all the fresh produce we need without having to buy it.   Livestock and poultry find their way to us for slaughter – roosters, old hens, turkeys, even a pig – and our freezer is filling up with a lovely array of meat for the table.  Ten young hens lay eggs for us every day.  We’re doing alright in the Food department.

Water is our next project.  I can’t say much about water conservation except that we plan on installing rain cisterns and redirecting the laundry water into a grey water system sometime this year.  With the apparent drought we’re facing we might have to jam on that grey water system!  Will the grey water flood the backyard?  Will the rains from next winter be sufficient for our garden the following summer?  I promise to keep you apprised of our mishaps and victories!

Third on the list is Shelter, which is a tricky one because it will always demand money.  Currently we’re trying to modify our home loan through the new HAMP program (brought to us by our beloved President Obama).  This should lower the interest rate and reduce the mortgage to something manageable in relation to our very low income.  In previous posts I have fantasized about walking away from this house for something even funkier in the country – something we could buy outright – but reality set back in and this is our best option.  We love our drafty old house with the big-enough backyard.  It fits the five of us nicely, and with the basement being built-out possibly another soul could join our adventure one day.  We’ll have to be discerning about who we invite to do that of course, as recent events have taught me.  I’ve been known to be naive about these things.  I think of myself as idealistic, but sometimes the theory doesn’t pan out in practice.

And lastly Love, which probably doesn’t need description, but I believe it is how we’ve made any progress with the 3 “essentials” listed above.  I can’t grow all the food we need in our relatively small backyard (.15 acre), but I don’t need to.  We share with friends and they share with us.  We’ve created a community built on friendship and abundance.  These friends have helped with plumbing and construction, advice about our mortgage, are drafting the plans for our water systems…   and we help them in turn.  They love our children, and so can watch them while I accompany Jay to his doctor’s appointments.  We are trustworthy and honest with them and they return the favor – family in the truest sense of the word; a community greater than the sum of its parts.  Ironically, Love is the cornerstone of self-reliance and yet cannot be achieved alone.  At least that’s true in my world, and I mean to keep it that way.

That’s it for now.  Thanks for stopping by.


Growing the %$*&! Up

There was a time when my (now ex) husband’s leaving was the most devastating thing I could imagine.  I was a new mother and he was outta here!  His job was his excuse, but fatherhood was the reason.  Parenthood made him panic, so Bob took a job jetting around the world and our home became a pit-stop between journeys.  As a friend said at the time of our split, “If Bob admitted how much he loved his job he’d have to admit that he left on purpose.”  So true.

Stella in City Park age 5

For 10 years I thought of our marriage as my great work, and  parenthood was to be the pinnacle of our long, happy partnership.  But instead Bob retreated.  When he was home he mocked my sadness.  When he was gone our phone conversations were held between flights, or outside of restaurants, during minutes between things.  I had an affair with a friend and began to unravel.  Bob never noticed.

In retrospect, I continued to unravel for quite a while afterwards.  I wreaked a lot of havoc and made an ass of myself more than once.  I grasped at lovers like life rafts and burned a few bridges.  I drank way too much.  I was completely untethered without a partner, someone to reflect back my worth.  There I was, a 40-something mother with a small child, acting like an enraged teenager on a bender.  How lovely.  I needed to grow the fuck up.

Year’s later (as this blog chronicles) I have a new and improved partner.  He brought his two kids into the mix, so we’re deep in the throes of parenthood and love.   Jay is transgender, so whatever Freudian pitfalls buried in the average man’s psyche (the ones that can turn a Marxist Musician into a Corporate Slave at the sight of a baby) are not an issue.  We are true partners and very happy, outside of the fact Jay has cancer that cannot be cured.  That part sucks, and has me considering the effects of life without a partner yet again – in the abstract of course.

2012 first day of school

For nearly three years Jay and I have been facing cancer side by side.  There have been a few times we thought we were cured.  There have been a number of times we thought death was very close.  We have made plans despite the unspoken question of whether life would last that long.  We have been honest with the kids, managing their anxieties in the midst of our own.  School years and birthdays and seasons have rotated through & we marvel that we’re here to see them come around again!  Such a blessing, these everyday things.

As it turns out, Bob’s leaving wasn’t as devastating as it felt.  I can think of a lot more devastating things.

Last weekend Bob was urgently trying to reach Stella on the phone.  He was in Dubai.  He was having a health scare.  He didn’t have anything particular to say to our girl, but he wanted to hear her voice.  He loves Stella, though he sees her only 6 days a month.  When they finished their conversation Stella said wistfully, “Why does daddy have to be the President of his company?  Why can’t he be the President of Walgreens?  Walgreens is right down the street!”.  Then she wandered into the kitchen to help Jay with dinner.  The five of us ate together, the kids were read to at bedtime, the sun set and rose the next day.  On Sunday the kids had a water fight and built forts in the garden.  We savored our everyday life.

I am grateful for these gifts in my life, no matter what the future holds.  And somewhere along the way, I’m not sure how, but I may have grown up these last few years.  Seems like the right time to do it.

Back in the Water

We got a call today.  Something about Jay’s blood work.  We thought we’d have a few months before we had to think about his oncologist.  Instead we have the next available appointment – Thursday afternoon.  That’s all we know right now, but that kind of says it all.

African Queen praying

God damn it.

Being in love with someone in Jay’s position is its own special torture.  Holding part of the fear and grief of cancer but not being able to shoulder it for him – I’ll take this next round of chemo, babe – is debilitating sometimes.  Horrible.  Heartbreaking.  I often reflect on that awful scene in The African Queen when Bogart, having just faced the horror of being covered with leeches and the fragility of his fears, realizes that he must get back in that leech-infested water.  There’s no alternative.  Only now he knows what’s in the water.  It’s worse, and Hepburn can only watch in agony as he lowers himself back in.


Thankfully we had the opportunity to spend time crying this morning.  It shocks us every time.  Now we will assume the fatigue of people in a long war, weary just thinking about it but grateful for the cease-fire however short lived.

I caught myself praying to God for a miracle.  He told me this life is the miracle.  Jay is a blessing.  And the journey is worth every step.

African Queen both pulling boat

That’s it for now.  We’ll keep you posted.

Turkey for the Table

It’s been two days since I killed the turkey.  I didn’t raise it, so I didn’t really know it, but it had round dark eyes and what seemed like a sweet disposition.  It lived tucked away in the hills of a local cemetery – the mortician as its caretaker.  Twice a day Ed, the mortician, would don the cut-off sleeves of an embalming shirt and hoist the bird towards food and water – it hadn’t walked in 3 months, its top-half having grown too great for its legs.  I arrived Thursday afternoon and took the bird from Ed.  It spent its last night in the base of a dog crate in my basement.

Turkey in crate

The turkey was purchased at the Solano County Fair’s 4-H auction last August.  A turkey hen was thrown in and the birds went to live at the cemetery.  Time passed, Thanksgiving came and went, and the turkeys continued to grow.  It is a sickening thing we’ve done to certain poultry, breeding them to have so much breast meat that their legs break under their own weight.  The bird’s caretakers where not aware of the pressing imperative to slaughter it.  We all shared a sad relief when I agreed to do it.

The bird had no name in life, but in death we’ve named it Toodles (in honor of a certain pig called Noodles, the subject of an earlier post ‘Nearly Free Meat’).  Toodles weighed 50 lbs on his day of slaughter and dressed out to 33 lbs clean.  Toodles, like Noodles, will feed our family nicely for a while.

Turkey carcass

It’s strange to think of these birds, or that pig, as urban food waste but that is exactly what they would have become had they not been slaughtered.  It’s even stranger to consider the odd niche I’ve found myself in – the recipient of that food, the bringer of death and filler of freezers – but it fits perfectly into my home economic plans and I am grateful for the generosity of the animals and their owners.

Toodles was a strong, healthy bird despite his condition.  It took two of us to humanely end his life, many minutes for the life to leave his body, and all afternoon to clean the carcass.  I will collect the turkey hen (Mrs. Toodles?) in the next week or so – before her legs give out – and repeat the process again.  Slaughtering something this size is physically and emotionally taxing, but I am thankful every day for the food it brings to our table.