The Birth of an Animal Rights Activist

My parents didn’t spay or neuter. They believed that every animal should have at least one litter. Only we never seemed to stop at just one.

As a little girl, having a constant stream of young kittens and puppies to play with alternated between the thrill and delight that any child experiences when presented with a new kitten or puppy, and the underlying sorrow that I would have to say, “Goodbye” to them in the not-so-distant future. My mother always assured me that we would find homes for them. We seldom did. And, of course, we couldn’t keep any of them; we couldn’t afford to feed that many. And how do you choose just one? Besides, if we kept only one, it wouldn’t be fair to the others, they assured me. And, as I was constantly told, as the kitten or puppy matured, the mother would start to fight with them and I wouldn’t want that.

Every six to eight weeks my stepfather would place the kittens and/or puppies into a box and we would take another trip to the local shelter or pound. I always accompanied him, unwilling to relinquish those last few moments I would have with my new friends. I hid my tears the best I could. And whispered to each of them how much I loved them and how sorry I was; as a child, I was powerless to change their lot in life. And I knew it. I also lied to each of them, telling them they would find homes. Because that’s what I was told. And I wanted to believe.

Of course, once we arrived, those beliefs were shattered–both for me and for my young friends. Walking through rooms full of cages that were full of unwanted and unloved animals was overwhelming. The frantic yipping and meowing as each animal begged to be released, to find that forever home, was a heart-wrenching chorus…especially since we weren’t there to adopt, but to add to their numbers. How on earth do you find homes for so many animals when we couldn’t even find homes for 5 or 6? In every shelter there was also a row of cages labeled Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. I guess you could call it “death row” because, even as a child, I understood enough that the animals in these cages (or pens) had only until that next Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday to find a home. Afterwards, they were gassed. This was the 1970’s; no-kill shelters, if any existed then, were unheard of. And so we left them there and drove home again.

Our pets free-ranged the neighborhood. We lost quite a number to the streets and highways as motorists, unable to brake quickly enough, struck them down. Daisy, Ginger, Misty would be in heat again; it didn’t take long for other dogs or cats to find them and impregnate them. And the whole cycle would start all over again. I lied to Ginger and Misty, too. I told them we would find homes for these puppies or kitties…

And, as I type this, I realize that at some point we did start choosing at least one from a litter. Ginger was Daisy’s daughter. While Daisy had only 6 puppies (yes, only!), Ginger had 12, 13, sometimes more. Some of them might have been still-born but the numbers were astronomical for a relatively small dog. We also kept Ginger’s son, Barney. Barney came down with heartworms. He died slowly, painfully, gasping his last on my parents’ bed. We didn’t do vets either. And while Misty wouldn’t venture outside but did have Muzi in the beginning; he gave her a litter of four kittens before he was run over by a motorist. We kept three of the kittens; a friend took the other in a rare instance of finding someone a forever home. However, one of those kittens was a male–Toby. All of Misty’s litters afterwards were by her son, a too-close breeding.

Bubbles, whose only litter-mate had been stillborn, spent her first year with us. She couldn’t “me-ow”; she made a little tsk-ing sound each morning as she jumped onto my dresser and waited for me to awaken. Though they were all grown, mother and child did get along just fine; another myth debunked. Bubbles also never went into a heat or, if she did, Toby had no interest in his sister/daughter. Only a year with me but she carved a place so deep into my heart that I was devastated when, after a year of cuddling this beloved pet, my stepfather gave her to the dog warden along with Misty and Toby’s latest offspring. I cried an ocean of tears but there was no getting her back. My stepfather screamed and hollered at me to stop; I’m still getting choked up now.

When we moved across country a year later, the dog warden came again to pick up Misty and Toby to take them to the shelter. He was a neighbor of ours. When I asked him, with all of my teenage heart hanging on my sleeve, if they would find new homes, he didn’t lie to me. He said they would try. By then, Misty was an older cat. While I hope she did find some caring person to give her a new home, I also can’t help wondering how much time she spent in a cage, feeling alone and abandoned, before she, too, found her way into a cage labeled “Monday”; ditto for Toby. Daisy and Ginger both found their way onto Interstate 70. Daisy in a blind panic from Fourth of July fireworks; Ginger, just because. It was a year before this move. In that year, we had acquired Baby, a little beagle. At least in her, I know she went to a good home. A neighbor of ours, knowing we were moving, offered to take her in. She and her husband were unable to have children. Their home was filled with cages of birds, hamsters, guinea pigs, etc. They also had cats but no dogs yet. It was not a hoarding situation; these animals were the beloved children they never had. While my heart broke to say “goodbye” to Baby, as we pulled away from the curb that one last time, my heart knows she was at least loved throughout the end of her days. I vowed then and there that, when I was finally out of the house and on my own, no matter what, if I ever had to move, I would make that extra effort to find lodgings that would allow me to keep my pets. The heartache was just too great. And the looks of confusion and fear on each pet’s face haunt me still. Over the years, the myriad rescues I have taken in have all been either super anxious to win my affection, fearing being abandoned again, or else, incredibly shy and quite a work to win over; I suspect, if Bubbles, Misty, Toby & Co. did find homes, they were tough to win over, too.

We got Tiger when we finally rented our new house in Rhode Island. Tiger disappeared only a few months after we got him. Then we got Garfield and, later, Samantha. Samantha’s first litter all died before they were weaned. By this time, I was in my early-20’s but still living at home. I had graduated high school before we left St. Louis and was now working a part-time job, while also taking a correspondence class in Journalism and Short Story Writing, taking guitar and voice lessons, and fronting metal bands. Samantha had a bit of a nasty attitude; few could pet her, let alone handle her. I was an exception but that trust didn’t come along until after she’d had her second litter. There were complications. Three of the kittens were still attached to the umbilical chord, which had somehow gotten wrapped around her front paw. My stepfather noticed the problem but assumed she would get them off on her own and left her alone. By the time I came home from work at noontime, Samantha’s paw was three times its normal size due to her circulation being cut off. When I came in the door, she jumped out of the box she’d been laying in and chirped at me. Amazingly, she let me look at her paw but the chord was so deeply embedded into her skin, there was no way for me to cut it. I picked her up, placed her back in the box and closed the flaps (we didn’t have a pet carrier because our pets rarely, if ever, visited the vet), then headed for the door.

My stepfather tried to stop me. He yelled and threatened. He wasn’t paying for any vet. I was working; I had money saved in the bank. I would pay for it. As if it was an even worse threat, he told me if I was going to pay all that money foolishly, then when I finally moved out, I was taking Samantha with me. I told him I planned to anyway and stormed out the door.

We drove to East Greenwich Animal Hospital where the prognosis was not good. She had one kitten in the box who was not attached to the chord and seemed fine, but the other three were so tightly wrapped with her, that the vet could give me only two options: either I take the paw (i.e. amputate) or he euthanizes the kittens because he could not cut them away otherwise. While it broke my heart to lose such young lives, I opted to spare Samantha’s paw; he wasn’t even sure she would regain full use of it but, thankfully, she did. And he managed to save one of the kittens still attached. Like the previous litter, the two that survived this initial catastrophe, died before they were weaned. Not wanting to ever go through such a thing again, I had Samantha spayed. Again, my stepfather threatened that I was to take her with me when I moved out; he thought the money spent to spay/neuter was a waste.

When I moved out in 1990, Samantha came with me. She had belonged to my Aunt Sandy’s father-in-law before we took her in; she was at least a year old then. I had her another 15 years. She died of renal failure just before I bought the property that is now The Herbal Hare Homestead. Prior to her passing, my then-father-in-law was amazed at the lengths I was willing to go to to spare her life. He walked in one night while I was hooking up the IV to administer her daily sub-cutaneous fluids. Though he thought it was silly, he also thought I’d make a good vet.

I beg to differ. I think the constant exposure to neglectful and abusive pet owners, the continued exposure to unwanted and abandoned pets, would turn me into a fanatic. And fanaticism doesn’t help anyone. I also don’t think my poor heart could take the pain of it. Though I know, and have had to make such decisions, to terminate a life that is beyond any human capacity to help, I think I’d be an empty shell from it over time. Instead, I’d rather mitigate as much suffering as I can by caring for the orphans that come my way and making The Herbal Hare Homestead a haven and a rescue for those in need. And, where possible, to lend my time and financial resources to help others who can provide that veterinary care better than I can. Over the years, I have added herbal remedies to my care; rabbits, especially, do not always respond well to more orthodox medicines. Thankfully, my vet’s sister is also an herbalist and he’s well-versed in the myriad herbs and their uses and, rather than condemn, as many would, applauds my use of them. Over the years, we’ve worked together…rather than against each other. (Would that more doctors, nurses and vets open their minds and hearts to such practices; herbs and modern medicine, when understood, often compliment each other…and alleviate more suffering by doing so)

May God bless you & keep you!

Thoughts on This Blogging Thing

It has been seven months of pretty steady blogging. And, wow, what a change in my life this has made. Sure, there have been a few hiccoughs along the way when my postings haven’t been quite as steady: a bout of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (still recovering from that but it’s getting better); the loss of Internet service at home; and, amazingly, once you break a habit, such as a very early rising to write and blog, it is very difficult to get back on that horse again and ride, as they say. But I won’t give up. And I love horses…and blogging.

Obviously, this post is a reflection of these past seven months. Prior to making this commitment, my blog posts were pretty sporadic, spanning months sometimes in between. Now, when I’m away for even a few days, I’m like that hungry bear coming out of hibernation. It’s become like a drug and I need my fix. These seven months have taught me a few things, too.

First, I underestimate myself. And maybe others, too. When I first started, I think the reason my posts were so few and far between was because I didn’t believe I had anything to say that people would want to read. The long list of followers and “likes” for each post that I have received these last several months–both here on WordPress and on my Facebook timeline from friends and family–have proved me wrong. And a big “Thank You!” to all of you for the boost in confidence; the support; and simply for being curious enough to read a post or two in the first place. Also, to the many friends and family members who have “shared” some of my posts.

“In Al-Anon I realized that I had a distorted self-image. I had never thought to question my beliefs, but when I took a good look, I discovered they were untrue.” (Courage to Change, 1992, 192)

Another thing I’ve learned, and there is a little voice of cynicism rippling through as I type this, is there is definitely some truth to that old adage that those closest to you have the toughest time accepting changes in you. In being brutally and painfully honest about the effects of alcoholism and abuse in my past; in sharing political views; in taking a much stronger stand with my blog about animal rights and environmentalism; in staying true to my faith in God and openly sharing that faith, I have alienated many who have been close to me and yet, ironically, found new friends who share my views–in some cases, in places I never would have expected. This last one is a gift because we can never have too many friends.

A difference of opinion can divide the best of friends. I am learning, through blogging, to be more forgiving of those whose reactions in the face of a different opinion may be hostile. I’m learning not to react in kind. A difference of opinion is simply that. A difference. It need not divide us. But I’m also learning to accept that sometimes it does…and not to take it so personally. In short, I’m growing a thicker skin yet being more willing to offer that olive branch in return. Life is too short.

I think the most amazing thing that has happened with blogging, is I am learning to stand up for myself and what I believe in. I hope I am doing so in a respectful way; I have no desire to purposefully alienate anyone…I do enough of that without trying. (chuckle) But I am no longer as afraid to rock the proverbial boat. My thoughts, feelings, views and opinions may be in the minority in some circles. But I truly have learned to say, “That’s okay”, and really mean it. I now share those feelings, thoughts, opinions and views anyway. And not as a heart-on-my-sleeve victim but simply as a fellow human being with a voice that no longer wishes to be silent. And, really, I think that’s what writing is all about: having something to say. Whether it is a blog, such as this one, a news story, a textbook or even a story made up expressly for the purpose of entertaining, writers are good with words. I hope I am…and this blog is good means of exercising that creative muscle.

As for homesteading? This blog has been good medicine for that, too. I know where I want to go, where I want to be but, for years, I have allowed others to sometimes influence of bit of my direction. If there is anyone more of a non-conformist as me, I’d truly like to meet them. While more and more people turn back to the land because of a distrust of what’s in our food and what sort of damage is being done to the environment, I am in the minority even further being a single female doing this homesteading thing and, while I raise animals, I do NOT raise them for meat. That’s a complete anomaly. They are here for eggs or dairy, or fiber for spinning, depending on the animal; they give me free fertilizer for the garden; companionship, love and laughter. That’s enough. But it has taken me seven months of steady blogging to be able to write this and to say it aloud, and to not care if people don’t “get it”. This is part of who I am and I make no apology for it.

A friend sent me something that I copied on a little Post-It note that has been attributed to author Anais Nin. I don’t know if she really said this or not but it fits: The time came that to remain in a tight bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

May God bless you & keep you!

Works Cited

“Courage to Change” Al-Anon Conference Approved Literature. Al-Anon, Virginia: 1992

Taking A Step Back

I try not to get political with my blog. Try! Big word, even if it is only three letters. I mean, this blog is supposed to be about homesteading, herbs, animals rights and, most importantly, faith in God. In recent months, I’ve found myself also sojourning into some recovery posts, recovery from growing up with active alcoholism and childhood molestation. The healing from that childhood, along with the development of my homestead and my faith in God are all intertwined in one long journey. By keeping this blog, I hope to help others to heal from similar pasts, and/or to inspire them to take those steps towards a more sustainable future.

Again, I try not to be political. However, what happens in the political arena affects us all. And, sadly, I find I am not immune to all the hoopla going around social media these days…and a quite heated hoopla it is. I’m actually ready to eat some humble pie.

No, President Trump didn’t suddenly become all things wonderful for me; quite the opposite. Too many rash acts that hurt too many people, the animals that share our world, and Mother Earth, herself. Too many rash acts that have the potential to bring us closer to the brink of another world war, and even, if the angry comments flying around social media are any indication, possibly, another civil war. This country has been divided nearly in two. And it breaks my heart to see it.

What hurts more is that I recently lashed out with one of those “open mouth, insert foot” retorts to a friend’s equally ignorant remarks. And I’m not proud of it. In my defense it was the blanket statement that all Democrats are evil that caused the backlash. Not all Democrats, not all Republicans. What makes a body evil is how they act, how they treat their fellow human beings, the other creatures that share this world with us, and even, how they treat the planet. Respect for all life…or a lack thereof. What choices are you making? Are you treating others as you would want them to treat you? Are you intentionally cruel, or worse, indifferent to the so-called “lesser” life forms? I have friends who are Republicans who want President Trump out of the oval office yesterday. And Democrat friends who actually like him. It isn’t our political affiliations that make us good or bad. Again, it is the choices we make. Do we love our neighbors as ourselves? Or do we lash out in anger?

I lashed out in anger. And for that I am truly sorry. So I’ve taken a step back from all of the heated debates, slowed down the number of articles (and, in some cases, potentially propaganda) that I’m sharing on social media, and am simply taking a deep breath. I am also turning to that Source of peace that has been the cornerstone of my life. For me, He is Jesus Christ.

May God bless you & keep you!

Trusting in Jesus

I confess. I have been caught up in the post-inauguration hype on Facebook. Nothing really wrong with that but it has been a distraction, keeping me from the more important things that matter, and using energy that would be better used in other areas in my life.

Granted, if I hadn’t worked yesterday at the dealership, I would’ve walked in one of the local marches. I was there in spirit. I admire the unity and strength that has sprung up between such a diverse group of people against–dare I say it?–a common enemy. Maybe too strong a word for Donald Trump. He’s not necessarily “the enemy” but I’m in the anti-Trump camp. I don’t believe he has our best interests at heart. I believe he thinks he does but his agenda, so far, suggests otherwise. He’s crude, vulgar and crass; not exactly the personality one would want to represent this great nation. But, who knows? I may be wrong and, underneath that crudity and vulgarity, may be a heart of gold. I can’t judge by the outer package; only God knows his heart…even if it is topped with a bad comb-over. (Sorry…couldn’t resist) Chauvinism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia and his head in the sand about the environment–this last, as I posted about in November when he became the president-elect, was my reason for not voting for him. And, for that reason, as well as his derisive and demeaning talk about women, would’ve been behind my marching. Again, I was there in spirit.

As for the environment, and the next four years that leave me quaking in anticipation for his lack of appreciation for our natural world, and Mother Earth’s very violent warnings that we truly are in trouble, I can only pray. And put some of the energy I’ve been wasting debating this whole inauguration/march on Washington thing into leading by example. Every small effort counts. And more, I have to trust in God’s promise to Noah, a promise not to destroy the Earth.

It’s not easy though. I know what tar sands/oil shale drilling/mining looks like, what it can do to the earth. We would be better served with an investment in greener energies (which would also equal greener jobs…), and an infrastructure in our cities and towns similar to Amsterdam, where the whole city is designed around bicyclists and foot traffic rather than bumper-to-bumper auto traffic. I recently posted on my Facebook page an article from Treehugger, with a video of downtown Amsterdam, where even 4 year-old children get around on bicycle, already accomplished cyclists, due to this being part of their culture–and they didn’t wear helmets. What few motorists shared their streets and byways were respectful and mindful of the many cyclists–rather than aiming to take them out. (How dare they share the road with our gas-guzzling, carbon emitting selves???) In Scandinavia (sorry…can’t remember which country; I think it was Sweden), they’ve figured out how to recycle factory emissions to heat their cities. Implementing such methods, I believe, would be a win-win situation for all of us.

These are some of the things I’d like to see. But maybe that’s not His plan. While everything looks hopeless from an environmentalist’s perspective, maybe Trump being elected, and compromising our fair planet even more with his big oil plans, is part of a bigger plan He has. And who am I to question His wisdom?

Again, it is not easy. If our polar ice caps melt completely, and our oceans rise the 40 feet scientists predict they will (and this based upon well-documented evidence), it will be too late to say we should’ve focused on the real enemy–climate change–and taken a stand. But, while my heart aches for the many species of life on this planet who are struggling to stay alive in a rapidly-heating world, and I intend to do everything in my power to bring awareness and promote their protection, I’m giving over the reins to Jesus. I, and you, and everyone else on this planet, can do all things through Christ.

And that’s a promise I’m willing to put my trust into.

May God bless you & keep you!

Congratulations

“Then Daniel praised the God of heaven, saying: Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for He alone has all wisdom and all power. World events are under His control. He removes kings and sets others on their thrones. He gives wise men their wisdom, and scholars their intelligence.” Dan 2:20-21

This morning I turned on the PC, went directly to MSNBC’s website and swallowed my disappointment. My gut was telling me last night, before I turned off the TV (yes, we have TV now; Mom can’t get along without it…), that Donald Trump would be the winner. And, while it is a disappointment, because he has little to no stand on the environment, thinking only with his pocketbook rather than the safety and good health of the people, animals, and our shared planet, I have to concede to God’s wisdom in this and give thanks. We have a new president. And, before I went to bed last night, I prayed only that His wisdom prevail and that whoever He thought would be the better candidate would win.

Astonishingly, to those who know me best, Hillary Clinton was not my first choice of candidates. I have been following Jill Stein of the Green Party, which is just as the name suggests–one concerned with our environment and the very real threat of global warming. However, she did not get my vote. And, I confess, it was a bit of a dilemma all the way up to the ballot box. While I felt she would have been the better choice, I also knew, like our Independent and Libertarian candidates, she wouldn’t even be a consideration in the overall big picture. It is sad, because we really can’t call ourselves a democracy if we narrow our views to the same two parties each election, but that is the way of it. And, as I debated about my decision, knowing that maybe a few more votes might put the Green Party in a better position for later elections, I didn’t want Donald Trump to get into office. I didn’t really want Hillary either but, in my opinion, because she at least she has some sensitivity to the environment, she was the lesser of two evils. My vote went to her only because I wanted it to truly count against Trump and, maybe, just maybe, give Hillary a little more edge over him.

But who am I to question God’s wisdom?

While disappointment is a bitter pill to swallow before 4 a.m. in the morning, I give my heartfelt congratulations to Donald Trump. I don’t really think he’s “evil”, per se. I think he is an intelligent man, even if he lacks the finesse and tactfulness that should be a leading quality in any position of authority. We already have a reputation in many other countries for being greedy, wasteful and arrogant, even as we provide aid and support to many countries, especially in times of crises; before Donald Trump is through we may have to add crude to that list as well. I do think he is a good businessman. He knows how to manage big money, how to handle large debts, how to balance a budget, and he has the strength and courage to make tough decisions where it comes to job creation and the economy. For me, those things are almost as important a concern as the environment, as full-time, decent-paying employment opportunities are few and far between these days. However, I also think, as a businessman, he leads from a corporate perspective, meaning the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots is going to get even wider. No, I don’t expect anyone to be handed anything but I do hope he truly can create more and better-paying jobs so that Americans may stand proud again from having earned those wages. Somehow, though, I think we are going to see longer unemployment lines, and longer lines at our local soup kitchens and food pantries. I hope I’m wrong. If I am, in four years’ time, I’ll eat some humble pie and sing his praises.

In the meantime, I’m sending up prayers for our environment, that his decision to start extracting oil from tar sands and oil shale might change before he is sworn into office in January. I hope that, somehow, he manages to pull his head out of that sand and stop denying this very real threat–not only to America, but to the whole world, and to every living being that shares it with us. As the US currently is responsible for 25%-40% (depends who you ask but it’s a large number either way) of the energy usage in this world, I think we would better serve it–and even ourselves–if we moved to greener energies rather than mining for more petroleum. That’s my personal utopia speaking but I dread the next four years; I dread what they will do to this great planet. Somehow, America the Beautiful is more of a history lesson now than anything else–or it will be once this mining begins.

Last night, before she went to bed, I half-jokingly told Mom that if Donald Trump won the election, we were moving to Canada. Amazingly, she laughed and said, “That’s right!” I doubt she truly meant it but it has been a consideration. However, as our polar ice caps continue to melt, and knowing Donald Trump will likely not use this new authority he’s been given to try to at least help slow it down, moving is not really an option. If they melt, and our oceans rise the 40 feet scientists predict, there will be nowhere safe. And, in the meantime, as our planet continues to heat up at an alarming rate, I’m going to join some of those doomsday preppers. Greater temperatures mean bigger and stronger hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. Again, nowhere safe.

And, yes, I am a little ray of sunshine this morning. I told you it was a bitter pill to swallow at such an ungodly hour.

So, a truly heartfelt “Congratulations!” to Donald Trump. Again, despite my fear for the environment, I will not question God’s wisdom in setting you in our highest office. You fought the good fight, maybe a bit down and dirty, but that’s politics. And you won. That’s an accomplishment in itself, for any candidate. To Hillary, an A for effort; you hung in there until the end. As I felt Bill did a decent job in office, I am sure you would have done well, too. And I would have liked to have seen a woman–finally–in our highest office. Just because. Thank you to all our candidates! Maybe our next election will be one of true change–a change in parties; can’t hurt. The last few elections have been more about choosing that “lesser of two evils” rather than a candidate we can truly feel good about. Sad, but true. And, as we begin the march towards that next election, may Donald Trump, and all our political leaders, lead with God’s wisdom and love…for all creatures great and small.

May God bless you & keep you!

Connecting Alcoholism with Homesteading

Homesteading. The phrase conjures up images of “clean” living: home-grown organic fruits, vegetables and herbs; hand-spun yarns and woven fabrics; beekeeping; permaculture gardens; wildlife habitats; green energies; zero waste; compost–the list is endless but, again, it typically equals “clean” in most people’s minds. Alcoholism–or any kind of addiction, really–typically conjures up that stereotypical waif with the rheumy eyes living in a doorway. What our society doesn’t see is the priest/clergy, the school teacher, the lonely old woman, the star athlete, the average Joe working the deli counter in the supermarket. In short, it is an insidious disease that affects millions of people, either directly or indirectly–people who still manage to lead productive lives, who still manage to make meaningful contributions to their community. My paternal grandfather was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize while being an active alcoholic; not exactly the rheumy-eyed waif. There’s no cookie cutter definition or description.

That’s actually true for homesteading, too. I’ve read numerous newspaper and magazine articles that typically define it as simply growing your own food yet they miss the myriad goals of reducing one’s carbon footprint; the utilization of antiquated farming methods; raising animals for fiber, as well as eggs, dairy and, in many cases, meat. As a pescetarian, my homestead will never be used for raising meat and that actually raises some eyebrows because of the goats, chickens and ducks that grace the land. To me, the dairy, eggs, pest-control (chickens love bugs; slugs are duck delicacies), and rich, free fertilizer are enough.

As for alcoholism, I’m in the latter category with being indirectly affected by alcoholism. Though I enjoy a glass of mead on rare occasions, maybe a glass of wine at a toast, or, on even rarer occasions, a shot of Sambucca, overall, I’m pretty much a teetotaler. I can sit with friends who are enjoying a glass or two of Guinness or an Irish coffee after dinner and not be nervous or uncomfortable, while sipping a glass of pineapple juice or a cup of Salada tea. But as soon as the blurry-eyed stare, the loud voices, etc. rise to the occasion, I’d rather be anywhere else but. Too many frightening memories get triggered.

Growing up, the violent temper tantrums were only part of the picture. Dinner came out of a box labeled Rice-a-Roni, Noodle Roni, or Hamburger Helper; in leaner times, it was white gravy on toast (gravy made with flour, water and a little bacon grease). Dinner was often paid for with food stamps after a touching story was given that the step-father had left us high and dry. He hadn’t; he had simply lost another job due to too much time missed. Shut-off notices and bill collectors knocking on the door to which we pretended we weren’t home were part of the picture; name changes to the accounts often followed as if a new tenant had moved in–once, the electric bill was even in my name though I was only 13 or 14. Winters were always toughest. When we could get heating assistance, it was a little better. And one apartment actually had a working fireplace + a separate chimney that we were able to install a woodstove; a neighbor allowed the use of an old garage for storing wood. When my step-father was working, things were also better. But poor money management meant they didn’t stay that way. A steady paycheck meant we shopped every weekend for more “stuff” we really didn’t need. We treated every kid in the neighborhood to a trip to the zoo, an ice cream cone when the truck came down our street, or the amusement park. In many ways, as a kid, these aspects were fun and I encouraged these rare treats; I was suddenly a popular kid. I didn’t realize it for the poor management it was until many years later. And, of course, there was always money spent on beer. All of it would’ve been better spent in saving for leaner times or getting out of debt. We moved a lot. Beloved pets were disposable at the local pound, as were the endless litters of puppies and kittens because spaying and neutering was either too expensive or we could “always” find homes for them so why bother(??!?); cherished possessions were tossed or left behind for someone else to clean out–if they didn’t get destroyed during one of those temper tantrums. Beloved pets sometimes went hungry during the leaner times and were abused along with their humans when the temper tantrums started. The sound of a pop-top opening still sends me into shivers.

As a kid, I was always eligible for free lunches at school. In high school, we actually had a salad bar and I frequented it as my body craved the vitamins and minerals these fresh foods provided. I confess to often feeling guilty as I enjoyed these salads because I knew everyone at home was living on something much poorer. We often received baskets of food from local charities but it was almost always more of the same–packaged, processed foods because they retain a longer shelf life. This poor diet, as well as the stress that went with it, has led to some digestive health issues: Irritable Bowel Syndrome, gluten-sensitivity, lactose-intolerance and, in more recent years, some acid reflux. In learning about these health conditions, I’ve also learned how important a healthy, balanced diet really is. I’ve learned about food additives like High Fructose Corn Syrup and Monosodium Glutamate and how really bad they are for the body; the former being a leading culprit in the development of IBS. I learned about artificial sweeteners like Sweet N Low, which is saccharine and a leading carcinogen; Equal, which is aspartame and has its own health issues; Splenda, a by-product of the pesticide industry. In short, I learned the difference between organic foods that are grown without the use of chemical pesticides/herbicides, without any Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) vs. the Franken foods that dominate most supermarket shelves. The desire to grow my own food, for homesteading, was born.

Of course, once you get started down that road to homesteading, if the itch takes hold, food production is only part of the picture. Yes, growing that food in a manner that conserves water, builds up the soil and maximizes space is a major part; canning and preserving, making everything from scratch, making one’s own bread and condiments. From there, as an herbalist, I’ve branched off into making my own medicines, health and beauty products, and even some natural cleaners. Because of all those lean years, there is also a deep desire to become more self-sufficient, to not be dependent upon the grid, to minimize the cost of living as much as possible while also taking better care of the planet. Because of the neglectful animal care, the desire to implement more humane practices–well, this is at the heart of it all because I owe it to the memories of so many pets to make sure current and future generations don’t suffer similar fates. Spaying and neutering, regular check-ups, adopting rather than breeding, and simply seeing these animals as the living, sentient beings they are complete the homesteading package. In many ways, homesteading has been the vehicle for curing the hurt and the ills created by that alcoholic upbringing. With each new skill, with each new and positive practice, with the care that goes into a homestead, my confidence and self-esteem rises. Therein lies the link.

When I started this blog, I was determined that it would only be about homesteading endeavors. Many false starts, and years of dormancy, led me to simply start writing whatever came to mind–even if it didn’t have much to do with homesteading at all. I’m finally finding my voice and the direction I’d like to take it. And, oftentimes, as I write, I find that blogging has become a sort of therapy. It is a hope that, by sharing my own experiences with alcoholism–and abuse–that I might help others to heal; knowing you’re not alone can be the most liberating experience. I have considered creating a separate blog, one that deals only with the alcoholism and abuse, and leaving this one to homesteading, animal stories, and faith-based postings but they are all part of the same world and I fear I might neglect one over the other. Besides, homesteading brings about its own liberation.

As I read back over this post, and realize where I’ve been, and how far I’ve come in life, suddenly the over-grown yard; the fact that this homestead has a long way to go before becoming a “working” homestead; the fixer-upper status; the less-than-perfect conditions that I often bemoan or shy away from fall away. Both homesteading and recovery from addiction/the affects and/or abuse from someone else’s addictions are journeys. You’re never quite done; there’s always room for improvement, always room for more growth. And as I plant those seeds for more growth, I also plant a few seeds of faith because, above all else, homesteading and recovery need a daily dose of that.

May God bless you & keep you!

For the Birds

Many years ago, when I bought the present homestead, there was a bird feeding station outside the double windows over the kitchen sink. The previous owners of the property had set it up and I continued the tradition. Bird feeding–and watching–has always been a favorite pastime. I remember my paternal grandfather keeping a feeder in the backyard as well as a birdbath for his avian friends. It is a lovely sight each morning to see the variety of feathered friends zooming in and out for their daily sustenance. No matter how tired, depressed, sad or lonely I may be feeling (eh, we all have those feelings once in awhile…), the sight of their aerial antics lift me up. Sometimes I wonder if that old wives’ tale is true about them being God’s messengers–like little fluttering angels in disguise; it would seem so at times.

Of course, when I first moved in, that variety had me stymied a bit. I could recognize the mourning doves, the cardinals, robins, sparrows and the chickadees but what was that little gray bird with the crest? What about that black bird with the brown cap? And that little yellow guy is adorable but I haven’t a clue what kind of bird he is. So I bought a Peterson’s Field Guide for Eastern Birds. This book has received a lot of use.

Today, I can easily identify the titmouse, cowbird and finch (respectively, from the above paragraph). I also delight in the nuthatches, the starlings, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and the occasional oddity. This can be a unique bird that’s come to visit or else a non-avian visitor. Toads, chipmunks, squirrels, and baby bunnies all come to dine from time to time. Of course, last week Mom and I entertained a visitor of another sort that, while not entirely unwelcome, did leave behind an unpleasant aroma. We see larger friends, too: deer, wild turkeys, the occasional fox or hawk.

Despite the noisy Interstate that runs almost through the front yard, it is particularly gratifying to know that this lonely, little acre provides a safe-haven for so many creatures. If I stay, there are plans to develop some wildlife habitats here–above and beyond the bird feeders–in the form of native plant gardens as well as bird gardens that provide food for our avian friends. I’ve added birdhouses over the years; every spring new birds are born here, providing a gift beyond measure. With so much natural habitat being destroyed by over-development–especially in northeastern Connecticut–it is important to provide a few oases in the midst of such chaos. We share this earth with so many beautiful–and sometimes not so beautiful but equally important–species; it seems selfish to the extreme to keep taking without giving back. God made all creatures. Not for us to exploit or destroy, but to share this great planet with in harmony.

If I relocate? A wildlife habitat will be created in the new digs; it’s a plan that can be readily implemented but I do worry about the creatures here, especially with so many properties on this Interstate being sold as commercial. This is a fixer-upper. There’s no doubt in my mind that, if I sold, it would be bulldozed down to make way for some sort of strip mall. And then where would these creatures go?

In the meantime, I watch their daily flight in for their breakfast. I delight in the occasional friend who finds shelter from the storm either in one of the birdhouses or else in one of my feeders (one has a rooftop). And I pray that, whatever choice I eventually make, my feathered friends will still find their oasis.

May God bless you & keep you!

Works Cited

Peterson, R. T. Peterson Field Guides: Eastern Birds, 4th Edition. Houghton Miffler: 1984.