Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Debi: Big City Blessings

Along with the many other things I appreciate about living near a big city like Chicago (the city border is five blocks from my house), I have come to be deeply, deeply grateful for the availability of unparalleled medical care. If you have insurance (and of course, this is a whole other political discussion that makes my blood boil, but we're not writing a political blog here...), you can get excellent care in any number of hospitals. If you are a child, Children's Memorial Hospital, here in Chicago, is one of the best in the country.

We discovered just how specialized the care at that hospital is when our younger daughter was diagnosed at a year old with a serious congenital heart defect. It turned out, after we got the diagnosis and began furiously searching for information, that the two doctors who have done the most research on the condition -- and who perform most of the corrective surgeries for it nationwide -- are here, at Children's Memorial. They did the surgery for our Sammi, and while I have nothing to compare it to, I found the care at the hospital to be just wonderful.

Now, our older daughter, Ronni, has been diagnosed with another congenital defect, this time of the bladder and ureters. She'll require surgery to correct it, and so we had no hesitation in choosing the pediatric urology faculty at the same hospital to guide us through the process. Earlier this week, she had to undergo a scan that we knew would take a long time, involve a lot of waiting and remaining very still, and might, in other circumstances, be quite frightening. The people at Children's Memorial, however, know exactly how to handle this -- and I had some good ideas, too.

That picture above is of Ronni undergoing a DMSA scan. Sitting next to her, holding her hand, is her best friend. That best friend, along with her mom who is one of my best friends, came with us and was allowed to stay in the room during the procedure. The radiology techs have rigged a DVD player to their machinery so that children undergoing their scans can watch a movie while they lie still and wait. Since the scan takes 90 minutes or more, this is a lifesaver. Ronni's best friend was set up in some chairs with some pillows and allowed to lie there with Ronni, watching the movie, holding her hand, keeping her company, the entire time.

The kind of population density around here can be daunting to those who are used to living in the suburbs or, like Stori, in the country...but it is a great comfort to me to know that there is unlimited personal opportunity surrounding me at all times. Meeting friends as dear and as kind as the ones who came with us to the hospital this week, having a hospital this excellent nearby, having the infrastructure to support our easy movement through our days here -- all these things make me feel safe, loved, supported, and cared for in an environment that probably looks like none of those things from the outside. Isn't it glorious how we look at the lives we've built for ourselves? I feel lucky, every day, to live here.

(And, by the way, the test went well. There is no damage to her kidneys, and so, while she'll still need bladder surgery, it is likely to be the last step in our journey. Thank goodness!)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Stori - a day in the life of

My two oldest kids are not sleeping at home tonight. Well, to be honest, they are not sleeping inside the home tonight. They have (with the help of their dad) pitched a tent and are camping out in the yard. I have a couple mixed feelings about this whole scenario. For the most part, I'm very happy they are doing this. What fun! A little bit of independence and a whole lot of freedom. Although I can see the tent from my living room window, to them, it must feel out in the wild. Paige just turned 11 last week and Colt is not quite 4 years old. They have their footy pajamas and a couple of sleeping bags, as far as they are concerned they are good to go. I had the tent set up in the play yard, which is fenced. Although it is only sheep fencing, I think it is enough to discourage any wandering moose from tripping in the guide lines of the tent. My major concern comes from some of our more un friendly Alaskan neighbors. We have had a pretty big issue of wolves in our area this spring. Although we have seen several sets of prints that came right through our yard/driveway, we think there is too much activity to allow them to come too close to the house. Wolves do not appreciate this much humanity for the most, but have been known to get a little too close for comfort in the past. Last winter a pack realized that pet dogs on chains make very handy ready to eat meals right inside the North Pole city limits. Several people lost their pets to this pack. Why go hunting when there is prey right there unable to escape? Would our little fence around a play yard stop a pack of wolves? No, not if they really wanted in, but it may be just enough to make them nervous about the situation and decide to move on. The second nasty neighbor is bear. We have no shortage of black bear or grizzly in our area. We have never seen one in our yard, but that doesn't count for much. I'm sure they would be more interested in the pen of trapped young pigs we have, or even last year's calf before tearing down a wimpy fence to go poking around in a tent. But that doesn't guarantee that they wouldn't. Needless to say, we will be sleeping with our bedroom window open tonight. I'm sure my two giggled out, mosquito bitten, grown up feeling kids will be getting a lot more sleep than I will tonight.

As I am sitting here typing this, my husband is watching " Ice Road Truckers" on Discovery and commentating the entire time about the haul road they are filming on. This season is all about the road between Fairbanks and the north slope. My husband has traveled this road hundreds of times while running his old trap line. As the show portrays a certain section of road, Marc interjects with " That's right where I got that black bear hanging up stairs" or "That hill is pretty nasty." or my favorite, "Why do they keep saying ice road? There's no damn ice on that road, it's all gravel and pavement." Starting to feel the Discovery Channel is becoming a bit Alaskan Voyeuristic with all the Alaska shows here lately. Geez, until they told us how tough we were for "surviving" here, we just thought we were living our day to day life. Either we are really tough ( read stupid) or the rest of the world is a bunch of weenies. Who will ever really know the truth?

We had to go into town (Fairbanks) today for some supplies. I needed to look for a particular piece of tack for my horse Rusty, we had to go to the commissary for groceries, and of course our regular stop of Home Depot. On the way to town, we seen a cow moose on the side of the road here on the farm road, and on the highway all traffic was stopped to let a moose momma and her brand spanking new baby cross the road heading towards water. I have yet to see a new calf quite that young yet in the time I have lived here. It was so tiny, all legs and joints. Maybe born yesterday, maybe even today. Bouncing along after it's momma, a little bitty red piece of miracle. If only they stayed that cute and harmless! All in all, we seen a total of 6 moose today on our trip to and from town. We haven't seen a single one in the last 2 weeks due to calving season. The cows had all tucked them selves away in their own little chosen nurseries to have their babies. It's funny how nature sets even moose on a timeline. Within a very small 1 to 2 week period, all the baby moose will be born in the entire state. With so many babies, there is no way that the bear and wolves can possibly kill them all. Pretty neat how that all works itself out.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Debi: Herbal Malady

I have a little bit of a mint problem.

This house, like many houses in my part of town, has a small, fenced in back yard that includes a garden. The former owners were impeccable gardeners and clearly did a lot of planning so that perennials continued to flower throughout the growing season. They also must have really, REALLY liked mint, and all things mint-like, and all of mint's cousins and uncles and step-brothers. All the pictures above are mint-family-members growing in my garden. There are two more varieties not pictured above, including my favorite, a spearmint which actually grows in the alley outside my yard and, because of a crack under the fence, along the perimeter of my backyard patio.

Two of the mint family members above are actually oregano, which -- who knew? -- is actually a type of mint. One of the oregano brothers here is delicious and makes for great pizza sauce and soup, and the other is bitter and probably should be dug up and treated like a weed. One of the mint varieties above is also a little bitter, but, paired with that purple feathery-looking mint dame in the last picture, makes a wonderful tea. That purple gal is called Anise Hyssop (also a mint! will they never stop?!), a licorice mint that makes that whole area of the garden smell like a candy store.

When I was a kid growing up in the suburbs of Milwaukee, my mother had an absolutely spectacular garden that she loved dearly, protected from area deer by a tall chicken-wire fence. I remember the wonder of eating sugar snap peas right off the vine, warm from the sun. I remember wrinkling my nose in disgust at the spinach she insisted was wonderful, too. That said, I hated the work of that garden and, when I bought my first home, never planned to do more than plant a pot of tomatoes, maybe. Now that I'm here, and there is mint as far as the eye can see, I can't bear to throw it out. I take care of it, harvest it, dry it, share it with friends, leave bouquets of it on front porches, beg friends to dig up plants for their own gardens. I am my mints' pimp!

Oh, yeah, and did I mention? I've added more to the herbal insanity:

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Stori - beginnings and happy endings

Today, June 9th, was my daughter Paige's due date to be born. Although she did not actually get here till the 12th of June, I was in moderate labor starting from the 9th. I would suspect that most mothers are like me in the respect of traveling down memory lane with their children's' birth date. Before I had kids, I always thought birthdays were for the person having them. Boy was I wrong! Now I realize my kids' birthdays are special days where I get to relive every minute of that special miracle. A mother can look at the clock on the day (or night before) of a baby's birthday and think to herself, "It was now that I felt the first pain" or "Right now I knew today was the day" "Here's when my water broke" "This is when they laid my own true love on my chest to meet for the first time". All these small moments may seem irrelevant to others, but are so incredibly dear to me. With Colt and Sunni Sue, I get about a 24 hour period of this. Paigee gives me over 4 days of day dreaming. I had one day of happy thoughts with Colt, till he actually got here and threw me into 9 days of hell reliving our nightmare. But Paigee's arrival was for the most part a warm and fuzzy one. The 9th is when I called my parents and told them to get down to Texas NOW!! The 9th was the day the Doc sent me home to pack my things because it was only going to be hours before I was back to deliver her. Although all 3 of my babies were c-section deliveries, I do not feel like I missed out on the whole "real" labor part. I would have cherished having them natural, but nature had other plans for me. So today marks the start of my tender moments with Paigee week. She gets annoyed with me, but has no other choice then to just deal with my emotional over load.
I had a friend mention to me the other day that most of my animal stories on the blog are sad. She was happy to see it all turned out well with Moose coming home. I had to think about this for a minute. I guess the tragedies are just more memorable to me than the sunshiny moments. I know lots of folks that just have hit after hit of bad luck with animals. Since we very rarely experience hard knocks with our furry friends, it may just impact me more than others. So I thought I just might mention a couple success stories on this here old fat farm for my friend. Not all is dark and sad in my world, very little is in fact. So here we go......
This is the second time we have owned this particular horse. The first time was about three years ago. A man held a farm and livestock auction here locally. It has only happened twice and we were pretty deeply involved both times. We bought Rusty from a guy who owns a big trucking company here in town. He had traveled to Missouri and cleaned out the stock on a Quarter Horse ranch that the owner had passed away. Since the man's death, the ranch nor the animals were taken care of. My dad has a very good eye with animals with potential that other people don't always see. We bought Rusty that day with the horse being almost 300 lbs underweight, his feet were overgrown and deformed, and he was completely covered in mange (body lice). I got him home, fed him, bathed him, wormed and deloused him ( this taking several treatments and a lot of elbow grease and used motor oil!) Within a couple months, he was absolutely beautiful. A perfect example of what an athlete should look like. Although his medical issues were fixed, he still had a lot of He bit. He kicked. He would not allow you to touch his head. We had Rusty for a full year and that following May, due to my dad's knee problems, we sold him at the next year's auction. He was broke, he was well mannered, he was physically perfect. We sold him for over 3 times what we bought him for. Rusty and I hated each other.
2 years pass. Circumstances lend me looking for another horse to buy. We ran into the guy that bought him from us (who incidentally, we man we bought him from originally) and asked after Rusty. They man told us he had too many horses that weren't getting rode and he would sell him back to us at way below the cost we sold him for. Why not right? Rusty gets delivered back to us, 200 pounds again underweight. Completely dehydrated, feet are once again trashed. He does nothing but eat and drink for the first 2 weeks. If I would try to approach him while he was eating, he would strike out at me with teeth or hooves, a common behavior with horses that don't get enough food. With time and patience and food, and more time and still more patience, and almost 2 months later, Rusty has come into his own. He has come to trust me as a leader and enjoy me as a friend. When I could not catch him at first, he now seeks my attention and affection. He's kind and funny. My family jokes around about him being my big red dog. He follows me around the barn yard like a faithful pet. We do not tie him up when picketing the horses in the pasture, he would not dare leave Heidi who he is so fully bonded to, he can't stand being separated from her. He knickers me at when he sees me approach. He rubs his head on me when we are close enough to touch. He now follows verbal commands as well as Heidi and is really coming along with his riding training. He has gained most all his weight back and shines like a copper penny. He is more comfortable in his little shed than I have ever seen a horse attached to a place. He is home now. Even if he does not work out for the best as far as a saddle horse goes, I don't believe I could sell him for the simple fact that he is happy here. I know how to take care of him in a way he desperately needs and the poor guy needs a break. He is safe here. It's the least I can do for a fellow creature.
~Yellow hen~
The last time we travelled down to Dry Creek was to pick up Sister, my filly that died. While we were down there that day, we also got a new rooster for our flock since our old guy had finally lived out his life. While sacking up the rooster, the chicken guy brings out a hen. Asks if we wanted her for a butcher chicken since she was probably not going to live anyway. She had frostbitten her leg badly enough for the tissue to die and for everything from the knee down to fall off. Chickens are ruthless things. If they catch any sign of weakness in another chicken, they will attack and kill it, and sad to say, eat it if allowed. If a hen gets pecked and bleeds even the tiniest bit, the other hens will kill it if it's not removed and all signs of blood taken care of. So we take her not expecting her live out the night in the hen house. We were pleasantly surprised to find her alive the next morning, and the next, and the next! She may have been crippled but our hen house is set up a bit differently from her previous home in the way that she had places to hide from the rest of the hens here. Not only did this little yellow hen survive, but she thrives! She is able to get around just as good on her gimp foot as all the other chickens. She can hop, one legged, up on the roosts at night and is able to get all the way up into the nest boxes to lay her daily egg. These nest boxes are about 3 foot off the ground! She's a nice little hen, very reliable with her laying, and never aggressive. She'll have a home with us for the rest of her days as comfortable as we can make her.
Here at The Fat Farm, we open our arms to all those that aren't deemed acceptable to others. We accept the skinny, the crippled, the short, and the funny looking. Don't judge us, and we won't judge back.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Debi: Other Things I Shouldn't Take for Granted

Well, I'll be! Stori is writing again! Hooray!

It's been a few years now that we've been friends, and I've come to recognize that, come about May, she disappears into the outdoors for the few glorious months of nice weather in her neck of the woods. The first summer of our friendship, I thought she'd just gotten tired of me, but then when the weather turned, I suddenly started getting instant messages from her again. Now, I'm used to the pattern but wasn't sure how it would bode for our blog. I've been meaning to write to her for the last couple of weeks to ask if we ought to just put a "WENT FISHING" sign up for the summer. I guess she's able to squeeze in a post here and there after all! Glad to see you back, sis!

Things around here have been a bit low for me, I'll admit. That freelance work that had started dropping off a couple of months ago still hasn't picked up, and I've had to start really hustling. While we can pay the bills comfortably on my husband's salary, little luxuries definitely disappear if I'm not bringing in any money. I'm so spoiled; I miss my mochas from the coffeeshop! I think it's less about the mocha itself and more about getting out, seeing people and chatting and feeling like I have some purpose each day. I love our house, but staying in it all day drives me, as my now-seven-year-old-daughter would put it, "cuckoo banana head."

I feel like I've been sitting around waiting for something to happen. Last week I decided to redesign my freelance website, order some new business cards, and start "networking." That means going to meetings of local businesspeople and figuring out how this town fits itself together, like a puzzle, with everyone knowing everyone else and connecting pieces that need each other to be complete. The meeting I attended yesterday included an Equal Opportunity Employment consultant, an accountant, a business coach, the marketing manager for a local coffee roaster, and me. The discussion was interesting -- more interesting than I had expected -- and made me more hopeful that I could use my own business to make a difference for other people, someday. It's hard to explain...but if I am patient, and cultivate more relationships, I think there is hope.

It occurred to me, at one point, that we were all trying to figure out a way to share the pool of money in Evanston -- I know someone who needs an accountant, and the accountant has a client whose brother-in-law is starting a business and could use a coach, and the coach has a friend who needs help with a database, etc. I had this thought in the middle of the meeting that this was a little bit ridiculous; if we all just grew our own food and shared our basic life-sustaining knowledge, we would not need to swap money for first-world-skills all the time. And then I giggled, called myself a pinko, and passed out some more business cards.

Friday, June 5, 2009


I had a couple of eye opening moments today that made me really thankful for my life. These weren't huge life changing things, just small instances that made me reflect on what I'm truly thankful for. In no particular order of importance......and only a very short few in a long list.

~I'm thankful my little dog, Moose, was not killed by wolves two weeks ago like we thought. Marc ran into a guy we know downtown today and they were discussing the wolf problem we have been having out in our area. The guy is trying to be a farmer out here. Marc mentioned how we even lost our little wiener dog to the pack. The man stopped and said, "Do you mean the little red dachshund that has been riding around in my son in law's truck for the last two weeks?" !!!! It was great! Moose had a really bad reaction to some fox tail seeds in his eyes, ended up in the wrong place, and the kid thought he was a lost dog. I guess he put up fliers around town, which we don't go to very often, and an ad in the paper, which we don't get. So Moose came home tonight after living 2 weeks as "Oscar", had surgery on his eyes and head, but was glad to come home to his family.

~I'm thankful for my beautiful home that my husband built with his own hands for us. I take for granted sometimes exactly how amazing our cabin really is. I get to live an experience every day that lots of folks only dream of. Alaska has toughened me in a way I could never imagine. Today I had the chance to view another way of life so different from my own. After the visit, I came home to wrap my home around me like an old soft sweater.

~I'm thankful for my friends- old and new. In the last couple years I am truly lucky to have met some wonderful, beautiful, courageous, crazy women. My strong German friend, Sylvia, who I've come to realize is one of the most down to earth women I have ever known. Caroline, one of the most brilliant people I've ever met, but I suspect dumbs herself down for others' sake. Last, but NEVER least, my Debi. She has opened my eyes to another world that I may never see in person, who has forced me to see the world in a slightly skewed way different from my norm. Because of her, I weigh my preconceived prejudices before I dare speak them. Just because I enjoy my world small, does not mean my children will and it is my responsibility to send them out in the world with an un muddied mind.
I have also had the huge pleasure of getting to fall in love all over again with some friends from another life. Flee, her strength helped carry me through the ugliest time of my life and is still there, a sturdy little rock. Cody Dawn. I never imagined I could ever enjoy her as a person this much. We were kids together, young and stupid. Making snap decisions that we never understood could affect others. Now we have grown up, having kids of our own. I'm glad to have these women back in my life, and will try to work very hard to keep them there this time.
And my constants. My mom. More than a mother, she is my closest confidant. I find I accidentally reveal too much information sometimes. She is the strongest woman I will ever know. Jeanie, such a funny, kind, brave woman who has been kicked in the teeth by life more than any person ever deserves, yet does not allow her personal tragedies to define her. I hope one day, she discovers how highly others think of her.

~I'm thankful for my husband. I would be completely lost without him. Such an amazing, kind, gentle man. So many big ideas in one person. I would love to walk the hallways of his mind opening doors just to see all the things he thinks. My love.

~I'm thankful for my babies. They made me old, but keep my young. Such different personalities in 3 little people, yet they all know their own mind. I just hope I can do them justice as a mother.

~I'm thankful I have been deemed worthy of trust and friendship from a broken and beaten horse that just needed a little luck in life to find some peace. On the same note, every day I am blessed to have the chance to know my mare Heidi. Although I am charge of her training, it is she that has taught me.

~I'm thankful for the battles I have fought and won in my life. Each leaving their own scar, but also making me stronger and turning me into the person I am today. I am also thankful for the battles I have fought and lost. Each one a learning experience. And If I wasn't able to learn from them, they allow me to appreciate the life I get to live now.

~ I'm thankful for the new family I acquired when I married Marc. Although I only got to meet them one time, they each have left a impact on my life.

What are you thankful for?