Notice Anything New?
Can you see it? It’s transformational! It changes everything.
This isn’t smoke and mirrors. (Well, maybe smoke.)
I’ll give you a hint. It’s about heat.
Notice Anything New?
Can you see it? It’s transformational! It changes everything.
This isn’t smoke and mirrors. (Well, maybe smoke.)
I’ll give you a hint. It’s about heat.
Getting Mike: Part Two–
It was the Christmas storm, in New Mexico, that triggered our actions. That, and the fact we finally got Mike to give us an address.
Squalor is such an ugly word. So is elder-abuse. I try not to be judgmental. I know that every person has their own reasons for what they do, and that it doesn’t help if I overlay my own perspective. I think the facts should speak for themselves. You’re free to draw your own conclusions.
I had coordinated with Adult Protective Services before my arrival in New Mexico. I wanted to document conditions—and I wanted company out to the site—just in case. APS was concerned, too—they wanted me to coordinate with local law enforcement for “civil standby,” which would cover police presence, not only for the initial status check, but for the time it took to pack Mike’s belongings, and go. The county sheriff’s department had jurisdiction, but they reached out for additional back-up from the local police department that had previously been to the location. We were quite the parade. Mike was living in a remote trailer out in the high desert. We, (me and my entourage of law enforcement, totaling four vehicles), met down the road, and then pulled up to the trailer, together. To my shock, the police flanked the entry, hands on holsters, while the deputy pounded on the door. She, Mike’s “friend,” answered—of course, Mike was home.
She presented as a good-looking, if overly made-up, middle-aged woman. She wore one of those “stylish” track suits. You wouldn’t look twice if you passed her on the street. She called Mike to the door. He peered out at the collected entourage—slack-jawed and stunned. His clothing hung on him, his pants held up by a belt with a long tail that spoke to the enormous weight loss since I’d last seen him. He sported a Hard Rock Café t-shirt, several sizes too large, and stained with the kind of deep grime that screams poverty. His hair was clean, but long, and matted. His feet were wrapped in pressure bandages. Even that prelude didn’t prepare me for the inside of the trailer.
Mike’s eyes found me in the crowd and he relaxed, but just a little. I handed him the kitty carrier and told him these people had to come inside to see where he lived. I instructed him to put the kitty in the carrier, so that we wouldn’t scare her off. Unfortunately, the cat was already outside—Mike went out to try to find her, but we never saw her.
We took advantage of his search for Penny, to go into the trailer where Mike had been living for ten months. I knew that he mostly lived there alone. We knew from conversations with Mike that She “lived” there, in address only—mostly she spent the nights at her boyfriend’s apartment. Mike was proud that he “held down the fort” at the trailer. Every couple of weeks, he’d be taken to the boyfriend’s house, to clean up—and to do laundry. Sometimes, if weather was really severe, he’d spend the night at the boyfriend’s.
Getting a good look, inside the trailer, brought tears to my eyes. There was NO water, NO sanitation, NO power, and NO heat. An outdoor, propane, “patio heater” stood in the center of the main room, an empty propane tank, on its side, next to it. No matter, at least today was a warm day. Plastic gallon-jugs of water circled the heater—so they wouldn’t freeze at night. I knew, from Mike, that there was a generator outside that gave light, and access to a microwave oven, when there was fuel. Too often, there wasn’t any. The only significant furnishings were two “easy” chairs, one heavily worn and shabby, and the other in reasonable condition. It was no challenge to guess where Mike had been sleeping for the last 10 months.
The trailer was filthy, covered in the reddish grit that comes from the wind-blown desert of New Mexico. It was strewn with rags, or so I thought, until She told me they were Mike’s clothes. There was a plastic trash bag with his clean laundry—he had no dresser, not even boxes for his clothing. There was a short, folding shelf unit for his personal effects—his razor, miscellaneous papers and junk he’d collected. I had to step outside for a moment, overwhelmed. We’d clearly waited too long, and though he denied it, Mike had paid the price. I went and found Mike, wandering in the field, looking for the cat. “Mike, you have to come with me, now. You cannot stay here, any longer. It’s not safe or healthy.” He dropped his head. I hated to do it—Mike believed I was dashing his dreams.
You see, Mike saw this as his opportunity for homesteading. Apparently, She owned the property. She relieved him of his Social Security money each month, and fed him the fantasy that soon, they’d own the trailer, together, outright. Then, they could see about real “improvements.” Mike had spent the previous summer clearing the mesquite and tumbleweeds from the “yard.” He showed me the tree he’d planted, that he watered diligently from those plastic jugs. He was nothing if not patient, and proud.
By law, most livestock is treated better.
I’d brought plastic trash bags, to pack. I was concerned about the possibility of gathering up pests, and bringing them to my mother’s, where Mike would be living. I was optimistic on that front—even insects couldn’t thrive in these conditions. As I headed back in, to pack, one of the officers offered me gloves—those blue, nitrile gloves they wear at crime scenes to avoid contamination. I gratefully accepted them. Mostly, I just wanted to pack Mike into the car, and escape with just him. After all, anticipating the worst, I’d brought him new clothing. But, I know that there’s a danger in that kind of uprooting; you dismiss and abandon the person’s past—good and bad. Though the officers were quietly conversing amongst themselves—appalled at the conditions, I had to be mindful that this had been Mike’s home, and that he was proud of it. I packed what I could—sorting out the clothing that was too grimy, or threadbare, deciding what was worth hauling across the country.
The officers and APS admitted that this was a clear-cut case of abuse. But, they didn’t seem in favor of prosecution. Mike certainly would be unable, or unwilling, to cooperate—he believed this woman was his friend and, in any event, he was safely leaving the state. At the time, I had no interest in going down that road—I just wanted Mike healthy, safe, and away. One of the officers mentioned that this was not her first time doing this. She was outraged at any suggestion of abuse—after all, how could it be abusive if Mike agreed to it. And, she told the officers, She lived there, too! (Yeah, right. We all knew better.) Mike and I stopped in Roswell, on our way out of town, for a haircut and to close his bank account—he had almost nothing to show for his 44 years in New Mexico.
At last, we headed home. It’s a long trip, over 1,600 miles, to the UP. Mike was quiet at first, but finally, he began to chat—about the problems with his feet, about his cat, about the burritos she’d brought him to eat, from the convenience store where her current “boyfriend” works. Other than a feral cat, lost to him now, nothing he said about his life in the desert made me feel any better. It will take some time for Mike to adjust.
My niece, Jessica, who is a saint, arranged a medical appointment for the day after we arrived home. On the trip, Mike wouldn’t undo the bandages on his feet—he said the doctor (whom he hadn’t seen in a month, because She didn’t get him to his appointments) told him that only a doctor should wrap or re-wrap them. My mother and I were in the exam room when they removed the wrappings. We didn’t know what to say. His feet were grossly swollen and crusted—skin split from the swelling. There was evidence of frost-bite—a testament to his living conditions. His feet did not look human. The doctor took one look, and sent us to Emergency.
No thanks to his “friend” in New Mexico, Mike will be okay. His feet and legs will recover, if slowly. He now has loving caretakers who will see to it he eats properly, exercises, and gets needed medical care. They tell us he came very close to losing his feet—and maybe his life. We’ll deal with the blood clots for several months, yet—with blood thinners and proper pressure wraps. I arrived, apparently, just in time.
I’m still fuming. In front of Mike, I’m careful not to criticize his “friend.” I understand Stockholm Syndrome, and how a victim can attach to his oppressor, or worse, when the victim believes it’s his friend. I take a deep breath, and think of what he’s been through. Given what we now know about his physical condition, I wonder if I made the right decision not to prosecute.
Snow or Blow?
It’s been an adjustment, moving from California back to the land of winter. Winter is not just a season; it’s a culture. It’s been cold this last week, single digits and below. And, it’s not a joke—people really say it, wherever you go, “Cold enough for you?”
In the past few days, we’ve seen about nine inches of new snow–the dry, powdery, fine stuff that you see in really cold weather. It doesn’t stick. It won’t pack for snowballs or snowmen. It’s tough to walk on. It blows every which way, with even a puff of wind. When Rick is out with the snow-blower, he looks like his own mini-blizzard. Everyone has their own little microclimate, depending on how close you are to the lake, how frozen the lake is, or isn’t, and whether you’re in hills, woods or cleared areas. Driving into town, today, put us through three distinct climate changes. Even people who live a scant few miles from each other compare constantly. And, it’s competitive.
If you look on the weather map, where we live is a funny little comma-shaped blotch, where we get the most snow in the “Mitt” of Lower Michigan. When I visit my brother, 180 miles south of here, I am always surprised at how little snow he gets. I try not to be belittling. Where my mother lives, in Keweenaw County on the Upper Peninsula, gets the most snow in the state. With that guaranteed advantage, you wouldn’t expect that she’d be competitive, but she is. We talk every day.
“Snowing down there?”
“Yeah. About six inches. Rick’s out clearing now.”
“Really, six inches? New Snow?”
‘New snow.’ That’s code for whether or not you get credit for it. It’s either snow or blow–old snow that’s just being whipped up and redistributed by the wind. Blown snow still needs to be plowed, still impairs visibility, still drifts up against your door in a wall that has to be shoveled before you can even step outside, but you don’t get credit for it. Snow or blow, though, it’s still beautiful.
This competition is harmless. It’s designed to give Northerners something to talk about through their dry, chapped lips. It’s a bonding experience. It masks the envy underlying the shtick of snow removal. Yesterday we met with a guy who has a Kubota with a front mounted snow-blower and a heated cab. The King of Kings. We’re a couple of rungs down from that– a Kubota with a 3 point, rear mount snow-blower and many layers of goose down and scarves. Because ours is a rear-mount, our snow-blowing has to be done in reverse gear. Rick has become pretty good at it. I tell him he’s the Ginger Rogers of snow-blowing—doing everything the King of Kings can do, only backwards. (And, in heels?) Below us there’s a whole field of snow removal–folks who use blades (or plows) (truck or tractor mount), walk-behind snow-blowers (with or without attached snow shields), snow fences, and a vast array of shovels and scoops. Snow removal is what Northerners do in the winter for exercise.
There’s strategy involved, too. We waited one season before we put in our driveway, so that we could chart a path less likely to drift over. Some folks plant trees or shrubs for snow breaks. Others place seasonal snow fencing to deflect the wind and discourage drifting in areas they have to clear, or they pile accumulated snow as a barrier. Farmers will leave sections of corn stalks standing–for the same reason. But the corn field next to us, left uncut last fall, is neck deep in snow. No help there. Of course none of this compares to last year, when we broke records for snowfall, fully double what we’re reporting this year. This year is colder though–if it keeps up we may break that record. The Great Lakes are well on their way to freezing over (and then it’ll really get cold.) The local weekly does a full column of weekly winter weather.
Things move slower in the winter. Drivers move more cautiously on slippery roads and schedules are buffered by the need for extra prep. If you have an appointment, you need to add extra time for shoveling and scraping beforehand. Depending on the weather, that could mean an extra hour. (Not including the extra ten to fifteen minutes it takes, just to suit up.)
There’s a funny running debate about whether it’s better to leave your windshield wipers up or down, in winter weather. I can see reason for putting them up if you expect freezing rain. A week ago I walked out to the car after sleet, only to find it encased entirely in a cocoon of clear ice. The wipers were stuck to the windshield. It took me ten minutes just to get into the car (where I keep the scraper.) It was another twenty minutes until I could see enough through the windshield to drive. As you drive around the North, you can see some cars parked with their wipers pointed up, like antenna. My dad opined that, like life preservers in chilly Lake Superior—it only makes the bodies easier to find. As far as I’m concerned, if the snow is up to your wipers, you’re not going anywhere, anyway. When he ribbed me about asking if I should leave the wipers up, I countered, demanding what strategy he favored.
“Me? I’d just keep the car in the garage.”
Single Digit Cuisine!
It’s nippy out there. We’re pretty winter hardy but low single digits, and lower, get our attention. That’s frostbite weather. It’s also the range at which our minimally heated apartment begins to drop below 60. That’s the point where I take notice, and action. The cold front has been predicted for several days, and I made plans.
I started with a hearty, East Indian rice casserole. The aroma of turmeric, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, cloves and just a dash of cayenne is enough to warm anyone. So is the oven at 375. Then on to a batch of oatmeal cookies–Rick’s been asking for a couple of days and this seemed just the opportunity. Oven at 350 (and opening and closing between cookie sheet batches.) Finally, one of our regulars, a loaf of banana nut bread. It bakes for approximately an hour. By the end of it, we had goodies galore and the temperature was back up above 60.
We’ll see how we hold through the night (or, I see muffins in our morning!) This cold is expected to last the week. We’ll be portly by then.
Feed The Soil, Not the Plant!
It’s the organic gardener’s mantra. If the soil is healthy, the plants will be healthy. If the soil isn’t healthy, there’s little you can do for the plants, that isn’t ultimately bad for the soil. Chemical fertilizers are the equivalent of an IV drip. Maybe it will do in a pinch, but it’s no solution to the nutrition issue. Do things that are good for the soil, and you will be rewarded with a healthy garden. It’s almost that simple.
I’ve been soil building for over thirty years. Trouble is, I keep moving on and leaving my efforts behind. This year we will have a garden. Last year we didn’t have our well in, so it wouldn’t have been responsible to put in a garden. Instead, I took soil samples and sent them in to the extension office for testing.
The results were grim. Our soils are largely glacial deposits. Sand, and lots of it. We’re deficient in most of nutrients for which they test. Most importantly, there’s not a lot of organic material to hold what’s there. With straight sand, it’ll take a good bit of soil building before we have something to hold the nutrients and to hold moisture.
That said, it’s not a disaster. Our delays have helped. We’ve changed the location for the garden–our first pick didn’t have as much sunlight as we thought. Being here has let us learn more about the location, the winds and how the sunlight falls. This land hasn’t been farmed (conventionally or otherwise) in at least thirty years, so the good news is that there are no bad things in the soil. We just need to build it up. The fastest way to get that process started is to add compost, or composted manure. And we’re lucky. It’s easier to amend sand than it is to lighten heavy clay.
I watched last winter as the Amish farmers spread manure on their fields in February and March–really in the middle of winter. At first I was surprised, but thinking more, it made sense. The fields are frozen, so their teams (they farm with draft horses) don’t get mired in the muck from early spring rains. The composted manure doesn’t care when it is spread, it’ll freeze now, but then “activate” when things thaw, and the early rains will carry the nutrients into the soil. It’s an efficient use of winter down time. I knew then that I’d need to watch for a supply of composted manure, come February.
And, this past weekend, there it was. A craigslist ad for 100 tons of composted cow manure. I forwarded it to Rick. He laughed. Meanwhile, I went to the internet to get the weight to volume conversions and I did the calculations.
I assured him, “No sweetie, we don’t need 100 tons.”
“What do you think we need? Says in the ad that there’s a ten ton minimum.”
“We need fifty tons.”
He could hardly believe me. But if we’re going to jump start this garden, and if we’re serious about it, that’s what we need. There’s the garden, and then more for our small orchard. We’ll need to amend deeply in the orchard. (Thank God for the Kubota and the backhoe! Maybe, if it’s a light enough mix, we could use the snowblower to spread it!) (I wonder what Rick will say about that.)
Rick is a nice boy from Southern California. I don’t think there’s any way in the world that he ever thought that he’d be the kind of guy to purchase fifty tons of composted manure. He’s shaking his head. I’ve negotiated with the dairy owner for a good price. So, now we just need to find a trucker to haul it. This isn’t a case where owning a pick up will help. This is easier said than done. I haven’t yet been able to find a hauler. The primary crop in these parts is cherries. Cherry farmers use flatbed trucks (with stacked bins.) A flatbed won’t work for manure. I’ve asked around, so far with little luck. Once I disclose what I want hauled, I’ve detected a near-immediate, and serious lack of interest.
It may take a while or so to get this all arranged. That’s good, because in the interim, I’d like to haul all of the trees we cleared last summer over to the new garden site to do a burn. Nothing helps a new garden like bio-char. Winter isn’t just about seed catalogs and dreaming. Sometimes there are garden chores that are best saved for the dead of winter.
If you have followed this blog, you may have gleaned that I’m a bit of a Craigslist maven. Indeed, I have been accused of being the Queen of Scrounge—and I’m not sure if it was meant to be a slur or a profound compliment. It follows from my environmental efforts, to live a little more lightly on the planet. We have become a disposable culture. Most Americans would prefer to have new rather than making what you already have, better. I enjoy the challenge of finding that which others discard and transforming it into a head-turning success. I can’t help it; I am a middle child. Generally, Rick shares my view, though occasionally he looks at one of my schemes and shakes his head. He is a magician in the world of rehab alchemy. He can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, in part because he has a discriminating eye for sow’s ears.
My sister rolls her eyes and says, “Admit it, you’re just cheap!” I laugh. She is a Craigslister, too. She just thinks she’s more honest than I am. Somewhere, in all of this, you can triangulate to find the truth.
January has been a tough month. My car died. A friend died. My computer went on the fritz. And, so did the back-up laptop.
The car was a high-end, performance machine—a relic from my former life. It could have been saved, but it had reached that tipping point where the repairs were more than its Bluebook value. After 15 years, it was about to get expensive. Its low-slung elegance did not fit our country lifestyle, or country roads. It was time.
My sister was so excited that I’d be getting a new car. She knew that I’d get a Subaru, like hers, for the all-wheel drive, good mileage and high clearance. “Get an orange one, like mine.”
“Not so fast, sister. I won’t be buying new. I don’t get to pick the color when I’m scouting for a good, used deal.” The deal came quick. Within days I’d located the very low-mileage car I wanted, at a good price. The color—twilight blue.
Let me be perfectly clear—I loathe blue. The color only gave me a moment’s hesitation. A good deal on a good used car is enough to ask of the universe. Buying a blue car made me walk my talk. That sister hates blue, too. So does my mother. It must be in the genes. (My sister howled when I told her.) But, beggars can’t be choosers.
Learning I’d bought it, one friend emailed,
“OMG!!!!! … a BLUE car. (That’s a lovely blue.) Will the world change its axis? Sun spots. Will they explode? The Mississippi flow backwards? It’s a lovely car.”
Some folks can’t resist rubbing it in.
With a few trips to the local Mac store, (in my blue car) I was finally able to iron out the computer problems. (That’s a whole story by itself.) I’m back up to speed, on the net, and on the roads.
I’ve met some great people on craigslist. A $25.00 set of curtain rods sealed the deal on what became one of my closest friendships. But, you can’t replace a friend on craigslist. Some things don’t come cheap and they take time. January closes, more resolved and more unresolved, all at the same time. My condolences to all who have suffered January’s losses.
Banking on Winter…
After several false starts, I think we can finally say that it’s winter. The last eighteen hours have dropped six inches on us, with another five or six expected over the next two days. More than that, the temperatures are dropping. The next week promises single digits and lower, if you count the wind chill factor. It’s not last year’s record breaking snows and recurring ‘polar vortex,’ but it is winter.
We’re a bit concerned about the heat in our little basement apartment. So far we’ve been fine—interior temperatures in the low sixties, which works for us. When we did the remodel, we did connect the apartment to the heating and cooling for the house—then we promptly blocked it. The landlord keeps it way too cold in the summer and way too hot in the winter. In addition, she has dogs—lots of dogs. I’m allergic to dogs, so a shared HVAC system isn’t going to work for me. I’m a mess when I visit my mum, with just the one dog, so blowing three dogs’ worth of winter dander into my living space is a non-starter.
Up until now, we’ve done fine with a little plug-in baseboard heater. After all, it’s a (walk-out) basement apartment. Nearly two sides are imbedded in the ground. As a baseline, underground keeps things warmer than at the surface.
Our landlord’s heat ducts run above us, and that warms us up a little more. The furnace is in the basement—two rooms away; it’s collateral heat. Still, we start to worry when our interior temperature drops into the fifties, a tad chilly, even for us. At that point, I begin baking. While Rick loves the goodies, it’s not exactly a heating strategy (and threatens to send us both into spring portly.)
With the snow drifting around the house, and with silent thanks to my dear departed dad, I finished up our regular snow removal chores by ‘banking’ the foundation. It’s an old-fashioned insulation strategy. I piled the snow up about four feet against the cinder-block foundation walls that are also our exterior walls.
My dad grew up in the far northern reaches of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. When we returned there, he had a local-yokel solution to most of the problems posed by extreme weather. To be really effective, my dad used to make us bank the house two or three feet thick, cautioning us not to pack it against wood or other surfaces that could be damaged. We don’t have quite that much snow yet, but today was a good start. In the next few days, with the snow we’re expecting, I’ll finish, and bank the foundation anywhere that there aren’t windows. Rick smirked a little at my efforts, but I noticed that he packed snow over areas of shallow or exposed pipes. He’s not eager for a repeat of last winter’s pipes freezing.
It’s “cold snow,” light and fluffy. With a grin, Ricks tells me that it’s snow—but that it’s a dry snow.