Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Rural Minnesota Matters

“Small towns matter” “Rural Minnesota Matters”

Those were the slogans repeated over and over at the 8th congressional district round table discussion with Rep. Stauber yesterday in Northome, Minnesota. He opened with that, and closed with that and repeated those slogans frequently during the hour and a half meeting. It took place in remote Northome, at 10:30am-noon. I attended that meeting.

The only reason I knew about this “town hall meeting” was because I joined the Northome Area Facebook group. I contacted the Itasca DFL to find out if anyone was going, and they didn’t even know about it. They announced the event at the central meeting that night but reported back to me that no one was interested in attending.  I had RSVP’d earlier with the requested list of topics that interested me: crisis at the border; climate change; gray wolf; copper mining.

I was prepared for this to be more of a social anthropology excursion for me as I knew that Stauber is Republican, a Trump supported, pro-mining, a Christian who is “pro-life” as well as a 25 year police force veteran. I wanted to see who else was in attendance and how militant the right wing in the north woods is.

I walked into what felt a lot like a Lutheran social (which I reluctantly admit immediately made me feel comfortable). I signed in at the door and put on a name tag and was offered cookies and coffee. There was a U-shaped configuration of white topped tables set up for the VIP panel members. Chairs for the rest of us were set up facing the VIPs. I’d say there were about 60 people there total. The group was completely homogeneous: all white; all older; mostly male. Of the 15-20 people sitting on the panel, only one was female. She came representing an electrical coop.
Stauber sat in the middle flanked by his assistant one side and Bob Zimmer, the mayor of Northome on the other.  Ted Lovdahl, the 8th district GOP chair (and I might add, once of my close neighbors) was next to Zimmer.

After much gushing about how wonderful Stauber is they opened the floor for questions and I raised my hand. To my surprise, I was the first person called on! I asked what Rep. Stauber was doing about the humanitarian crisis at the border. Here’s the recap:

Stauber has recently been to the border town of Yuma, AZ himself and had these observations: The agents are overwhelmed and don’t have enough resources but are compassionate and caring towards the migrants/refugees. Drug cartels are using migrants as unwilling mules to overwhelm and distract border agents so that they can slip drugs into the U.S. They drive on the other side of the Colorado River in jeeps and ATVs during the day to prevent crossing, only allowing the migrants to cross at night. They are using drones to scope spots to pass the drugs. He also said he was shown a package of fentanyl that could kill the entire population of the U.S. twice over. Rented children are being sent over with fake family members because they know they must be released within 48 hours. The children are flown back to Central America, and the adult disappears never to show up at their immigration hearing. And the child is used over and over. He also said that refugees from Central America cannot be returned to Mexico either which is a problem. Stauber was firm on the idea that if there was no demand in this country for drugs that there wouldn’t be this problem. He maintains that there must be “Prevention, Prosecution, and Treatment” for drug users here.

Stauber did not address many of the facts or conflicting observations made by others who have toured the detention centers. It was clear that this would not be an exchange or conversation. He ended on a very positive note by pointing out that Congress had just approved another $4 billion in funds for border security.

No one else brought up any of the other issues I was hoping to hear about.

There were a couple of people who railed against “socialism” and that the Republicans needed to educate the public on what it really is and how dangerous it is. They mentioned the Democratic debates and how FREE this and that was the hallmark of socialism, but nothing was free and that the money for health care and education would be coming out of our own pockets. 

I found it ironic that every other person speaking on behalf of area medical services, schools, or utility companies all asked about federal funding for their services. No one seemed aware that there is an obscene level of income, wealth and resource inequality in this country. It’s the elephant in the room which no one will address. I wanted to scream that there was plenty of resources but that we do not have control of how they are used. But I didn’t because I knew I’d be thrown out.

Then the topic of infrastructure was also brought up—with the expectation that federal funding was needed. I would have been amused if it weren’t so disturbing to witness this mental blind spot on a group scale (even if tempered with polite Minnesota niceness).

Stauber talked a bit about mining and how it is so important to northern Minnesota. Although he did emphasize the importance of safety and regulation compliance. He made it all sound so under control.

Some people in attendance were more concerned about the possible loss of fishing and hunting privileges if HR799 and S199 were passed. Apparently, these bills return 11,000 acres of federal land in the Chippewa National Forest back to the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. No one seems to know or care that 90 millions Native Americans were eliminated by genocide so that our forefathers could leave us the legacy we now enjoy.

The principal of Northome school opened the subject of school funding for special education. Since Stauber has a special needs child he was all about making the federal government live up to its promise of funding special needs education.

He was also sympathetic to vets not getting needed health care because payments from the VA are not reaching the providers. He did not know why that was. But he was very sympathetic.

One irate man asked about why it was that he couldn’t get opioids for his back pain and felt he was being unfairly targeted. Stauber explained very tactfully that he was not being targeted, but that there was a blanket policy….and thanked him for sharing.

These are just some of the highlights of the meeting.

Overall, I was impressed with Stauber’s sincerity, intelligence, and ability to speak well. He deftly handled everyone with respect and made everyone feel heard. On the other hand, there was no opportunity to get very deep into any topic. I walked away feeling better than I expected but wondering if my question made any impact at all on him or anyone else. I fear not. He was pretty good at directing his responses to what is positive and minimizing the negative without dodging the subject.

I am disturbed with what is going on at the border and think that Stauber is being willingly deceived due to his background in law enforcement. He is passionately supportive of law enforcement and the military (at least active military).

My take on all this is that the residents of District 8 are basically good people despite their Republicanism, who have little to no interest in confronting unpleasant truths other than the ones that affect them at the moment. They are understandably wrapped up in the unique challenges of survival in the north woods and in small towns. As I’ve seen over and over in my life, intelligence does not lead to success; in fact, it often leads away from success. I’m not saying that the people up here are stupid; but rather, wittingly or unwittingly somewhat happily uninformed. And that makes them accepted into t he club in this neck of the woods.

My thoughts on the Democratic message: stop talking about FREE medical and FREE college. To most people up here, all they hear is that their taxes are going to go up. These issues need to be reframed big time. Perhaps as subsidized, or sliding scale, or affordable, or something. But not FREE. People up here work HARD, and struggle for every ounce of happiness and success they get. They are not cool with FREE.

Dems also need to stop talking about socialism. It’s a BAD WORD. Even though everyone is on the dole from the federal government in some way or another, no one sees that as “socialist”.

I thought it was quite clever to adopt the “Small Towns Matter” and Rural Minnesota Matters” slogans which appeals to the ubiquitous and mostly unconscious racism.  The white, conservative males that hold power here may be big fish in a small pond, but they don’t see it that way. In fact, they see Minneapolis and Saint Paul as enemies trying to shove policy down their throats and them as righteous warriors protecting their families. They will be the least likely to be offending by Republican gerrymandering!

Stauber’s ingenious  remark to votes was every vote should carry equal weight—no more and no less. Which no one can disagree with right? Unfortunately, I’m absolutely sure that’s not what his audience heard. I'm pretty darn sure they heard that Northome should have just as much influence over laws as Minneapolis/Saint Paul. Their population of 200 compared to the Metro's almost 4 million….that doesn’t sound equal to me! Even if you take the population of the entire 8th district (which is under 700,000 including Duluth) you can still see that people in this vast district feel their vote is worth way more. 

Now, I actually do sympathize with this feeling. I live here. I’ve never wanted to live in the city. I’m here because of that. I am an outlaw from big city society. I don’t want people removed from my reality to have control over how I live my life. 

On the other hand, we are all in this together. What happens here affects those in the city and what happens in the city affects us up here.We must learn to come together and correctly identify what the real threat is. It’s not city vs. country. That’s one made-up diversion strategy along with the war on drugs and illegal immigration. 

The real threat is the almost incomprehensible imbalance of wealth, income, resources and power. The one half of 1% has most of us glazed over with confusion and distraction. I’m not sure how we’re going to get out of this one.

Evolve or die I guess. I'm working on evolving.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Northern Exposure

I’ve occasionally mused that my life since moving to Effie, Minnesota almost 8 months ago is eerily reminiscent to the award winning CBS TV series Northern Exposure which aired beginning in July 1990 and ran for six seasons. Awesome music aside, it was a show my family loved. The story-line is about the unlikely relationships formed in the imaginary and remote town of Cicely, Alaska.

There’s Dr. Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow) the reluctant, neurotic, Jewish doctor from New York; Ed Chigliak (Darren E. Burrows) the mild mannered introspective, both backwoods and wannabe film producer half-Native American; Maggie O’Connell (Janine Turner) the spitfire bush pilot; Maurice Minnifield (Barry Corbin) retired astronaut, fighter pilot, and millionaire who basically owns the town; Holling Vincoeur (John Cullum) mayor of Cicely and the owner of the neighborhood pub The Brick; his much younger bride, Shelly Tambo (Cynthia Geary) who is completely devoted to Holling; Chris Stevens (John Corbett) the disk jockey of the local radio station and our philosophical commentator;  Ruth-Ann  Miller (Peg Phillips) the pragmatic and wise elderly owner of the general store; Marilyn Whirlwind (Elaine Miles) Joel’s dead-pan, take-no-prisoners Native American “nurse/receptionist”; Dr. Phil Capra (Paul Provenza) and his wife Michell Capra (Teri Polo) who replaced Dr. Joel in the final season. For more information, visit www.moosechick.com.

Each of the characters are quirky, eccentric to the point of pathological, and could be viewed as archetypes. Each character is more than just a representative though; each is a complicated human being with surprising twists. One of my favorite characters is Maurice. He’s one I both love and hate. He is a curmudgeon, bigoted, privileged white male and everything right wing that makes my skin crawl. But he pulls out his generous and softer side on many an occasion. He is the one who brought a doctor to town because it had none. He brought Shelly to town for himself but had to give her up when she fell in love with Holling. He always ends up helping others.

The similarities sometimes precipitate a déjà vu. Between Bigfork and Effie and Marcell, we have about the same population as Cicely. The population of Effie has been dwindling for some time now. There are less than 130 residents. I live in what I think of as a glorified cabin. It's actually an old farmhouse. It's 800 square feet with a bedroom so tiny it only fits a full size bed and one small dresser. It's cozy, but it's mine, and I like it. I feel like I've joined the ranks of the tiny house movement (except for the fact that I have a full unfinished basement and and a walk up attic!)

I live less than 4 miles to the heartbeat of Effie: the café, owned by Kathy and husband Willie (recently deceased at age 84) for more than 25 years. Kathy still works the café along with Mary Powell (adopted daughter of Willie) and a few waitresses notably including Tina the Ukrainian immigrant who has been with the café for a very long time as well. The café is Northwoods quaint, homey, and a little run-down. Willie, Kathy and Mary were the first people in town to really welcome me when I first moved here. I’d go in to eat with Nikki (who is a trans-woman) and my main—if intermittent cohort in survival here; Dan my recent ex-husband; Rainey my ex-partner in a previous lesbian life and 30-plus-year BFF; my mentally disabled daughter Maren; and the gals from SquatchHers (women-led cryptid research team). The food is plentiful and predictable and agrees with my sensitive Norwegian digestive system.

Across the street is the Country Service Station/post office/convenience store/liquor store/bait store/feed store, owned by Willie’s son Jeff Powell (who also runs a tree service/ excavating service/plowing service). He has other interests as well along with other brothers who have businesses in Bigfork.

At one time, Effie actually had TWO grocery stores which are closed now. The last Lutheran church just recently lost its woman minister. The boarded up school building sits in asbestos purgatory.

Effie is at the end of the line of The Edge of the Wilderness: a stretch of communities that extend north from Grand Rapids along the designated “scenic highway” of Minnesota 38. Along this road are markings denoting locations of interest from logging history. Most often there is nowhere to stop to muse on these locations, so I’m not sure why they are there.

North of town before you turn to go to my place is the North Star Ranch owned by Cimarron Pitzen who runs the decades old Rodeo grounds of the North Star Stampede. It’s a really big deal here I guess, and I’m looking forward to the event the last weekend in July with both anticipation and trepidation.
The Neighborhood Tavern is just down the street on Highway 38 from the pot-holed town intersection. It’s closed on Mondays. Has a meat raffle on Friday nights, and hosted the SquatchHers for a community “Squatch Chat” in March. The owner Heidi Gustafson is a young woman who is struggling to make this bar lucrative. It serves the basics along with hamburgers and pizza. It also has a mechanical bull which I’ve never seen operate, and there are also laundry facilities available. Occasionally there will be live music too. It’s a comfortable place to be where everybody knows you name! Cheers!

About 15 miles east on Highway 1 is a seasonal beer and set-up bar called Deer Lake Charlie's or The Dome as locals refer to it.  It's owned and operated by Gail Blackmer and has been around for a long time. Although it's a ways out, it's still considered Effie.

East on Highway 1 is the Forever Green greenhouse run by Missy Francisco. It’s an awesome place and she seems to really know what she’s doing. She’s even expanding adding another greenhouse. Along with plants she sells eggs and keeps a bison.

In Bigfork, there is a hardware store that rarely has what I need, but I go in there and buy stuff because I like Mary’s cats who are always there and demanding attention and her retriever type dog Emma. There’s also a nice gift shop in the back which used to be part of the original church.

There is one veterinarian in the area: Byron Sugden. He and his wife open the place for walk-ins on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday from 9:30 -1 if they are not traveling somewhere. They would like to retire but cannot find anyone interested in buying the business. They are relative neighbors of mine, living only maybe 3.5 miles away.

There are other businesses in Bigfork too along with local utility offices. Another gift store, insurance, bank, a couple of eating establishments, a bar, and a terrible laundromat. Oh, and a gas station, a small grocery store, and just recently a Dollar General was opened! I am very happy to say there is also a clinic and hospital there with a chiropractor, massage therapist, and fitness center. Seven or so miles away is Scenic State Park.

The best part of Bigfork in my opinion is the Edge Center for the Arts. Patty Feld is the executive director and spearheaded its development 25+ years ago. It has a very nice art gallery, and a superb theater which hosts music, film, and theater performances. She and her husband Barry have lived here for decades as well and are my next-door neighbors (maybe a quarter mile away).

Marcell is a sprawled-out lengthwise town with a nice little restaurant which is open seasonally. There is one antique shop attached to the liquor store and another which is about to close this year. There is a nice landscaping business, a gas station, and a lumber/hardware store. There is a very nice Family Center which offers yoga classes, and a non-denomination community church next door. Just south of Marcell is an RV campsite, and next door is Richie's Inn and Restaurant which is now closed and for sale.

Most of the people around these parts rely on tourism or logging to make a living. There is little in the way of jobs that pay a living wage. The closest big towns are Grand Rapids, Bemidji, or Hibbing, which are all at least an hour or more away on a good day. No surprise that there are a lot of older people living here.

I understand why some people might want to add jobs here at any cost. The copper-nickel mining project near Ely is a big issue. It’s virtually guaranteed to irreparably damage a lot of wilderness and water in Minnesota, but people are desperate for jobs now! It saddens me to see people accept such devastating and permanent trade-off for temporary survival. They refuse to believe that they could be personally impacted.

Farming is tough here. I have heard of innovative farming techniques in being used in Finland, Minnesota though. The soil is full of clay and rocks. Some sand. Lots of swamps. It’s great for wildlife, but not for farming (except hay and then only one cutting), or industry—unless you are a massive entity mining for iron or copper.

The weather is harsh. I noted more than once almost 50 below zero this winter. The past couple days have hit 89 above with oppressive humidity. The deer flies and horse flies love it though, as well as the mosquitos and the ticks. The “grass” (read weeds) grows so fast, I cannot mow it fast enough when I get a dry day.

There are so many deer I risk a collision every time I get in the car to go somewhere. There are bears all around me as evidenced by trail cams, tracks, and personal sightings by my next door neighbors, the Felds. I suspect that I have not seen any here due to the presence of my dogs and the fact that I am super careful about garbage disposal and do not feed the birds.

Which brings me to how disposal of garbage is accomplished. Each week I drive my carefully sealed garbage to the Bigfork Transfer Station where there are dumpsters lined up for recyclables and trash. The trash has electric fencing to keep the bears out when the location is unattended. I usually pay $2-3 a pop which is punched out of coupons purchased at the Effie Country Service. There are winter hours and summer hours. Winter hours are pretty limited.

Summer is when the tourists and city people are here at their cabins. There is more going on so there has to be more in the way of services. 

But winter is pretty challenging if not downright desolate. It’s dark most of the time. It’s cold, as I mentioned. Survival is not something to take lightly. Hibernation is the modus operandi. That said, the bar scene at The Tavern is pretty hoppin' in the winter. There are snowmobilers almost every day, and really it's quite convenient for me to get there for some socializing.

But winter also awesome. It's quiet. There are no bugs. It's cozy inside. I’ve seen moose too! Not exactly walking down the street like on Northern Exposure, but less than 1 mile from my house!

The people here seem to be mostly conservative, right-wing Republicans who counter-intuitively are also usually pretty nice people--like Maurice on Northern Exposure. There are some left leaning liberals here too, and I have more than an inkling who some of them are. I'm not completely alone. I think one of my life lessons this time around is to learn that people who seem to hold deplorable viewpoints can also be very welcoming and open-minded. I still don't know what to make of that. I guess I need to take people one by one and not assume.

I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of my new community. And yes, I feel like I am a part of this community already. I have been assured that I have the bragging rights of having moved here during the winter and not only survived but thrived. The fact that I don’t want to leave is testimony that seals the approval.

I’ve also been told that I’ve brought some spark to the community too! I’ve also been given the dubious distinction of being on the “outlaw side” of the community by virtue of my location and attitude.

Always the renegade, I guess!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

New Name and New Attitude

I’ve changed the name of my blog to TaraWood Acres. That’s because I’ve finally settled on a name for my home Up North: TaraWood. I had to add Acres onto the blog name because there’s already a Tarawood at blogspot, but I kinda like it. 

Originally, I’d latched onto Tara as my estate’s name for two reasons: 1) Tara is the name of Scarlet O’Hara’s home in Gone With The Wind, and 2) Tara is the name of a Tibetan Buddhist goddess/bodhisattva. This intrigued me as I’ve felt an affinity for the Buddhist philosophy from as long ago as my teen years when I attempted to become a vegetarian. I also joined a Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist group back in my 30s which lasted only for about a year due to my discomfort with the evangelical nature of the philosophy. I loved doing the chanting and miss it still. You can hear an example here: https://youtu.be/rVr9BzGijPU

So, what’s my new attitude? Humbleness

I thought I knew what I was getting into when I moved here. I sorta did…but the reality is that it has been much harder than I hoped it would be, but also less difficult than I feared it would be. I had no illusions that it wouldn’t be difficult in general; I just didn’t know what the specifics would be. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

November: Got divorced with all the attending stressors and challenges; staged and sold old home, packed everything, searched for and found my current home (thanks to Kerstin who babysat so that I actually could do this); arranged to board dogs; closed on old home; moved into new home without really owning it yet due to last minute impediments of probate proceedings. I am soooo grateful to my ex-husband for all the help he provided me with various things including dog transportation; to Stephanie and Katie from SquatchHers for helping me transport my pack to their new home; to Nikki for preceding my arrival and putting up temporary kennels outside and setting up indoor crates; to Rainey for arriving days later to help me unpack and keep me company so I wasn’t alone on my birthday and Thanksgiving. I’m also grateful that the weather held out until I could get the hatches battened down, because I was soon going to be needing all the protection I could get!

December:  The snow arrived. Was snowed in a couple times. Plowing service began on December 1st. Nikki arrived with truck trouble, but Effie Country Service was able to handle it. I became aware of mice in the attic and walls, and also aware that peppermint deters them. Christmas was spent alone, which felt kinda sad. Heard a very strange HUM three times in one week but haven’t heard it since.

January:  Experienced the coldest weather I can ever remember starting out with minus 27°F on New Year’s Day. The blower motor in the furnace needed replacing on that same evening and cost a bundle to have it done. Hit 45°F below zero on the 31st.

Both Dan and Nikki drove up to help me in the first half of the month. Nikki and I fetched a cord of wood that I had previously purchased as insurance against a furnace failure. Thankfully, there has been no failure, and none of the wood was used. On the 22nd the sewer vent pipe on the roof froze in the middle of the night and the Bigfork Fire Department came to my rescue. I was subsequently assisted by the owner of the local café, Kathy who gave me the phone number of Jim, a handyman she hires on occasion. Jim was super nice and helped me to solve the freezing sewer pipe issue over the next few days.

February: Both Dan and Nikki (and my daughter Maren) came up in the first half of the month to visit. On the 11th ice dams caused leaking inside the house. All month we got a lot of snow and very cold temps. I struggled to get the snow off the valleys on the roof where there were ice dams but had to hire help to get it done. Found out I owed the government several thousand dollars due to Trump’s tax “cut”. Probate was completed and I was finally officially the owner of the property. Competed in the Neighborhood Tavern’s chili cook-off and lost. The battery in my car died and it had to be towed to Effie for a new one. The snow was so deep that Jeff (who plows) had to bring in his AVS Skid Steer which has tracks, not wheels to move the snow.

March: The SquatchHers had a marvelous attendance at the Tavern on March 2nd for what we call a “Squatch Chat”. We do these in different places to learn of Bigfoot sightings so that we can get leads for  investigative purposes. Nikki brought Maren up to visit for a few days. Then Dan came up again for a couple days but came with car trouble. Neighbor Duane was able to fix the problem. Then Rainey came up for a whole week!! And what timing! The basement flooded from a clogged drain tile pipe and she vacuumed up gallons upon gallons of water and carried them all outside where I helped her dump them all on a slope away from the house. Just got the $255 bill for that goat rodeo! Materials were delivered from Marcell Lakeside Lumber for the roofing of the shed.

April: Right after Rainey left, Nikki and Maren arrived at the beginning of the month. Brother Josh arrived shortly after to help roof the shed. Unfortunately, Josh put a 2 inch staple through his knee cap and femur and had to go to the ER to get it out. I had to scramble to find helpers for Nikki but was lucky to have established relationships with community members who could help me. Nikki and Josh also put together a bigger play area for the cooped up pups. Nikki and Maren came up again from the 22nd to the 25th. As they were leaving in truck it became clear that something was terribly wrong. They had to leave the truck and take my car back. The truck was fixed on the 30th.

On the 28th, my beautiful shepherd mix Buddy facilitated a nasty fall for me which put me in the ER. I’m thankful that Jim was available and willing to bring me home in the middle of the night after my discharge. I’m immensely grateful to Nikki for arriving the very next day and taking charge of things.

May: Nikki took me for a follow-up appointment at the Bigfork clinic, and put up an alley to the puppy pens so I don’t have to use leashes and risk another spill. Nevertheless, a day or two after she left I had another terrible fall due to an invisible sheen of ice on the wooden stairs outside which added massive bruising to already traumatized muscles and bulging disks. I’m sure the mix of muscle relaxers, pain killers, and anti-inflammatories contributed to my lapse in good judgment as to my ability to navigate the stairs. I am grateful to the doctor who gave me an Rx for more meds than I thought necessary at the time.

Nikki brought Maren up again less than a week later, and Josh came up as well to grade the driveway, and cut down dead trees. I got my car back but was unable to drive it yet.

I missed an overnight visit with friends on the 11th even though Dan was here to babysit the dogs because I was still so sore from my falls and couldn’t drive.

I was finally able to drive and attend the WOW greenhouse tour however on Monday the 13th after abstaining from narcotic pain killers for a full day. It was uncomfortable, but it was a beautiful day and I really enjoyed it. 

Spring has suddenly sprung and everyone is more than ready to welcome it in. I’ve been steadily improving and getting outside to putz around a bit. However, I am missing an adventure with the SquatchHers this weekend due to no dog sitter. Even if I did have a sitter, I still wouldn’t feel up to lots of driving and walking. I have trouble sitting. My sleep is disturbed by pain, and I can really only go for a couple hours before needing to rest.

I’m looking forward to Nikki arriving early this coming week and starting the lean-to which will shelter the dog kennels. Slowly but surely and with lots of help this place is getting made safer and more user friendly.

I’ve been visited by neighbors and welcomed by the community. I’ve had the help I’ve needed when I’ve reached out. Yes, I’ve been lonely at times, but am so happy that Nikki, Dan, Maren, Josh, and Rainey have been there for me!

I still love the North Woods and can not imagine ever going back to the city.

 I’ll paraphrase Jim here: You really have to love it here to live here. It’s a hard life and you have to work for each moment of happiness.

When you live in a small community, and especially when it’s dispersed like Effie is, you need to be more careful about everything. You need to know your neighbors. You need to become friends if not just friendly. We all need each other.

I look forward to being able to provide some kind of help or assistance to my community in the future. Until then, I’m going to take a deep breath, continue to heal, and be grateful. 

I am learning to be humble.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Old age is not for sissies!

I stand at my breakfast counter typing this because I can’t sit down without agonizing pain.

Sunday night at about 9pm I was taking my shepherd mix Buddy out for his last potty call before bed. I had him on a retractable leash which gives him a little more leeway to travel a bit before find just the right spot. Unfortunately, he saw something across the yard and took off like a rocket barking ferociously. He got to the end of the line in about 2 seconds and despite my screeched NO! he kept going. For some unknown reason I held on to the grip while I splatted on the wet and muddy ground. It wasn’t a good landing. What came out of my mouth at that point should have assured the whole county that I was at least alive, though not well.

I already have an old injury to my spine in the lumbar region. A “bulging disk” I guess. I sustained that one long ago as a student at the University of Minnesota in my 30s sparring with a much larger, stronger, experienced, male Karate classmate. I attempted to deliver a controlled kick and we both heard something snap. I was down for the count with excruciating pain. I could barely walk for weeks and even used a cane to get around. I’ve been fighting a recent flare-up for weeks now, taking up the physical therapy exercises again and doing some yoga stretching.

I managed to hang onto the dog, but at my own peril. Between the swearing and crying and mud and rambunctious dog, I knew it was BAD. I’m not quite sure how I managed to get off the ground and get Buddy back down the stairs to his crate, but I did. Then I managed to get myself up the stairs and make calls: one to Nikki (of course) and then to a neighbor (Jim) and then to 911. How I managed to stop screaming long enough to talk I don’t know. When the ambulance came, they got me on a backboard and off we went to the ER in Bigfork. Getting me off my feet helped some, but the pain was incredibly intense. I’m not even quite sure I remember the sequence of events clearly as the pain was pretty distracting.

After a few x-rays they determined that nothing was broken. Since Jim was waiting in the lobby to drive me home, I was eventually allowed to leave. It wasn’t easy. The drugs and the pain made me wobbly. Walking was almost impossible, but I had to do it If I wanted to leave. All I could think about was my dogs locked in their crates in the basement who still needed to go out. I dragged myself up into his truck and off we went. I arrived home around 1:00am and actually did go up and down the stairs to potty the remaining pups. At least I imagine I did. I hope I did.

I fell into bed overwhelmed by pain and emotional and physical exhaustion.

The next day, Nikki arrived, somehow having arranged a couple days off. She took me to the clinic for a follow up and made sure I had enough meds to get me through for a while. The first muscle relaxer they gave me made me quite dizzy, even nauseous, and fright of frights, I woke up from a nap with extremely blurry vision. I thought I might be having another TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack) or a full-blown stroke. Being a nurse, Nikki was able to do a quick neurological assessment and ease both our minds. Upon further investigation, blurry vision is a side effect of muscle relaxers.  Nikki also insisted on putting up a temporary alley of fencing from the door to the fenced play area, so I wouldn’t have to keep anyone on a leash.

This evening, there were deer galore again. A couple so close to the fence that I’m sure the dogs would have attempted to crash through it or jump it if they were that close. They pretty much ignored me as I stepped outside and took this photo. Lessons learned:  retractable leashes are DANGEROUS. I disposed of mine. Always go outside FIRST to scare away the deer before letting the dogs out. Always let go of the leash if this kind of thing ever happens again. My well-being is more important than the dog’s. I understand that on an intellectual level, but my first and only reaction was to hang on and prevent Buddy from disappearing into the night woods.

I can’t wait to get the bills: ambulance; hospital; MD; Rxs, and X-rays, clinic appointment, etc. I have insurance, but it’s UCare through MNSure. I have a $6,500 deductible. And I pay $374 a month for this. My subsidy is even more than what I pay!

Shit sure happens! So, I’m hobbling around trying to facilitate speedy healing when my cats decide to start fighting. For real fighting! I react by sticking my bad leg out to block the attacking cat and find that I’ve made a terrible mistake. The pulled muscles let me know in no uncertain terms that moving like that was NOT ok.

I’d been pretty proud of myself being so diligent about stretching and doing yoga. My flexibility, strength and balance were significantly improved. So this is a setback I do not appreciate. At my age, setbacks are a real issue.  I have to be extra careful and vigilant at all times. If I were younger I wouldn't be so preoccupied with the consequences of carelessness.  But even that does not ensure my safety because shit happens to everyone, not just me. And even with a pretty good community around me and pretty good services, it’s still not quite adequate. As we age, we become more fragile and more prone to minor mishaps turning into full blown nightmares.

But there is even MORE to the story! yesterday morning I experienced another insult to injury. I had uneventfully taken the dogs out the south side of the house, and it was not slippery. I opened the north door to take out the ash can, took one step down the stairs and FELL AGAIN! It was 28° and I didn’t see the invisible coating of ice on the stairs. So now I have a huge bruise on my hip same side as the pulled muscles.

And the saga continues: I woke up from a nap yesterday with blurry vision again! Since this had happened before I didn’t panic. It passed in about 15 minutes, but I decided to cut my muscle relaxer down to half. I was pretty owly yesterday afternoon trying to sit at my computer and coordinate the arrival of a skid steer for next week, gopher one, and duties that needed to be performed for a couple of organizations I belong to. I admit I questioned my own sanity.

It takes a certain kind of crazy to choose an uncertain, perhaps even treacherous path entering old age. As my mom always said: Old age is not for sissies!

Photo on the right is my mom getting pounced upon by Mita. She always preferred animals over people. Miss you Mom!

Monday, April 8, 2019

A rant on the medical mafia: my experience with HRT or lack thereof

So … when I was at my last check-up (last May) my female and much younger doctor reminded me that I should really wean off the HRT that I’ve been on since my hysterectomy 10 years ago. I wasn’t menopausal at the time of my hysterectomy, but somehow surgery kicked me right into it. I did not have a full hysterectomy either, which has puzzled me as to why this phenomenon affected me. But it did. And I was told after-the-fact that this is common.

Almost immediately I started to experience hot flashes and night sweats; sleep disturbance; brain fog; irritability; joint and muscle pain. All the fibromyalgia symptoms I had seemed to be exacerbated. I was prescribed estrogen without progesterone despite having retained my cervix. I later asked for progesterone to balance the estrogen and to help prevent cervical cancer. I seemed to have to explain over and over why I thought I needed estrogen PLUS progesterone. Finally, I prevailed.

My body seemed to settle down. No more hot flashes. No more sleeplessness. No more rages and irritability. Fibro-like symptoms also subsided. All seemed good except for the annual lecture from my doctor about the risks of HRT which included breast cancer and heart attack. I felt pretty darn good though, so I argued to stay on HRT. My doc told me that once I hit 65 no MD would be willing to prescribe HRT for me.

Here’s a fun little story: I was with my daughter one day at an appointment with a specialist for some hormone/endocrine related issues she was having, and her doctor was super amazed at my clear, youthful looking skin. He even pointed this out to the female nurse when she walked in making the comment that he’d like some of what I was taking because it seemed like it was the fountain of youth for me. Ironically, I had not mentioned, nor did I subsequently mention that it was the ESTROGEN!

Estrogen preserves the elasticity of skin and, also preserves bone density. Those two things alone are important factors in staying healthy as we age; in preserving good self-esteem in our youth obsessed culture; in continuing to be physically active and safe doing so. I’ve been pretty darn active my whole life. Not in the sense of being committed to visiting a gym (although I have done that), but in the sense of doing things that require me to move. I’ve had horses, sheep, cattle, hogs, chickens, dogs, cats, and even birds. Living on hobby farms has required that I get up and work my body daily. There’s been a lot of heavy lifting, and lots of work involved in animal care. Not to mention the gardening and upkeep on a very large yard.

Last August I was informed that my husband wanted a divorce. Fine. I started to worry that I might be without health care for a couple years until I was able to go on Medicare and started to examine which medications I might be able to do without. You got it: estrogen and progesterone. So, I began to wean myself off.

7 months later I am completely off HRT and have been since January. So that’s 3 full months.

And I am NOT happy.

I am again subject to hot flashes and night sweats, brain fog, irritability and rages, joint and muscle pain that is debilitating. I’ve aged on a fast track. I don’t feel good. I’m tired. I hurt. I’m profoundly resentful.

My whole life has been regulated by estrogen supplements for birth control, migraines, uterine fibroids and excessive bleeding.  Now I’m being told that it’s a life-time of cumulative exposure to estrogen that now threatens my health. The medical cartel is responsible for that one. And now that I really want and need estrogen, the medical mafia says I’m too old for it. Well, isn’t that just dandy? I guess it’s more important to (supposedly) keep me alive with a low quality of life than it is to allow me a high quality of live with a risk of (supposed premature) death.

They also said that butter and eggs were bad for you and that margarine was good for you.
The medical industrial complex also has 28% of people in the USA on statins. Never mind WHY our cholesterol is so high. Take a pill!

That same medical profit machine also has us inundated with infomercials on the newest drug they are pushing. Again, pay no attention to that man behind the curtain of cheeriness talking about side effects!

I also pay $400 per month for medical insurance through Minnesota (ACA) which supplements about the same amount so that I can have a deductible of over $6K.

Something is really wrong here. I’m not the only one who doesn’t trust our health care delivery system. No one that I’ve talked to has EVER said it was even an adequate system. It’s a for-profit system which ensures that our illnesses and conditions are CAPITALIZED UPON FOR PROFIT. We are delivering money to big insurance, pharma and medical business with our ailments and needs—many which I suspect are contrived and/or caused by the same system that is supposed to be healing us. I feel like a rat in a cage with millions just like me serving as experimental subjects, objects of entertainment and sources of easily extractable wealth.

Do you suppose the lack of estrogen has made me prone to conspiracy theories?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think we should throw the baby out with the bath water either. Medications can save lives. Vaccinations save lives. And they should all be available to everyone no matter your socio-economic status. I know someone right now who is rationing their insulin and I’m mad!

It’s an absolute abomination the way we are used and abused by big pharma and the medical mafia.

Go ahead. Make my day. Blame it on my hormones. 

Sunday, March 31, 2019

It's a Gusher!

Oh yeah…it’s been a rough winter.  I’m ready for a break.

A few days ago, I woke up to the regular howling fest at 6AM that alerts me to the beginning of the day. I made my usual trek to the basement to bring the dogs outside for their first potty break.  To my horror I stepped down into maybe an inch of water. Between the howling and the water it was a rude awakening! 

I started shrieking, waking Rainey who was here visiting with her two dogs.  I waded through the wet mess and got all the dogs out and safely kenneled. Rainey joined me after she got her own dogs outside for their first potty break. If there is a silver lining to this new minor disaster, it’s that it happened when Rainey was here. As luck would have it, Frank had left a wet/dry shop vac which sucked up 3 gallons in 17 seconds! Rainey is a lot stronger than I am, so for each of two days she carried 20 or more 3-gallon buckets up the stairs. Then the two of us schlepped the thing across the driveway and dumped the water out onto the slope into the woods.

Things seemed to be under control. The water went down and looked to be slowing down. The dog crates were dry. The furnace did sit in water for a good while, and all the rugs and carpets were wet, but nothing serious was damaged. we hefted the soggy rugs by wrapping them in heavy duty plastic (again, Thank You, Frank) and woman-handled them outside. The weather was windy and warm, so we draped the carpets over the numerous ladders (two that Frank left me, and others that I have somehow acquired) to dry.

Tired and hungry, we took a break and went to the Effie Café for breakfast. Now, Kathy (who has been an awesome advocate for me in the past) owns the restaurant. And her step-son Jeff owns the Country Service gas station/post office/convenience store/liquor store/auto repair/tree service/excavation/snow removal/supplier of pretty much all of life’s necessities except plumbing and HVAC.   I had texted him earlier for help because he was the installer of the drain tile system. That afternoon he arrived with a long ice breaker and shovel to try to dig out the end of the 300-foot pipe that brings melting ground water away from the house to drain into a gully. He couldn’t find it. It was so buried by debris, erosion, snow, and ice that it was clear the job was going to be more complicated. The daylight was fading, and Jeff was late getting to his granddaughter's birthday party so the project was put on hold until the next day.

Next morning--flooded again. We repeated our vacuuming and bucket brigade, but it was clear the water was continuing to rise.

Jeff sent a young, hardy helper who was able to locate the pipe, but it was frozen shut. Later they both arrived with a 200-foot hose to steam the clogged opening loose. It wasn’t long before the water was gushing. And my basement drained. Fans and a dehumidifier were strategically placed to facilitate more thorough drying.

I'm told this has been an unusual winter. Events layered to create the “perfect storm”. Frank had Jeff install the drain tile system so that he could remove the sump which was then capped with concrete. However, there are still 2 drains in the floor to catch overflows from cranky appliances like washers and water softeners. To make things worse, Frank had put the drain from the washer into one of those drains instead of having it hooked up properly to go to the line emptying into the septic tank. Washing clothes all winter did not help keep the drain tile pipe open. However, it also did not cause the plug-up. The pipe was buried by enough snow and ice; the weather was just warm enough during the day to melt things too fast, and the ground was cold enough at night to refreeze it all. It was just destined to be!

Nevertheless, plumbing the washer properly is on the priority list. A pipe extension, maybe a piece of metal covered with straw will be in place for next winter as well.

Just another great adventure for this old crone in the North Woods.

Did I mention that recruiting for the commune is on hold for a while?

Friday, March 29, 2019

A Morbid Tale of The Fly

Rainey and I were enjoying unseasonably warm weather at my new home in Effie, Minnesota.  Yes we had some consternation swatting flies that had collected on the inside of the windows. And more flies. And more flies. So, I got out the vacuum cleaner and sucked up the rest. For the moment. I knew from experience that just as many would appear eventually.

After watching Rainey split some wood for kindling, we decided it was so nice we should sit on my tiny little deck and enjoy drinks, but there were flies pummeling the vinyl siding like it was the Piped Piper. Rainey stepped up to another gruesome task and exhausted herself in her futile quest to eliminate my fly infestation. She also realized that she may be racking up unwanted karma with all the killing.

So, we decided to make a trip into town together even though as a passenger she was risking death by shrapnel from defective airbags should we be forced to make a sudden stop. Just as we were walking to the car, my wonderful UPS lady, Sandy arrived with a couple of packages. I pointed out the flies and mentioned that I was considering getting Heidi Steffens from My Spirit Experience out here for an exorcism. She proceeded to educate us on the phenomenon of cluster flies. She also had them at her house for a few years before she figured it out. They almost drove her crazy until she started hiring an exterminator in the fall to spray the outside of the house. 

Cluster flies are similar to black flies but are in some ways both less icky, and more icky. They live in areas where there are large tracts of grassy areas (I have 30 acres of hay fields). They lay their eggs in the dirt, which hatch and find earthworms to inhabit until they grow up and start looking for food. They are attracted to garbage, feces, food compost and just about anything organic and decaying. In the fall, as it gets chilly, they congregate on houses and find cracks and crevices to infiltrate migrating to the highest part of the house, typically the attic. They are also referred to as attic flies. Once inside, there is nothing you can do about them except to swat them or vacuum them up. Apparently, the only way to control them is to fumigate the outside of the house with a permethrin cocktail. Once they’ve latched on to a house, they exude pheromones that stick to the siding and keeps generations returning to the same place year after miserable year.

Why I’ve never experienced this before in my 63 years of living on this earth is a mystery to me. While living in Nowthen, surrounded by farmland and hay fields we never had this. We had cattle, hogs, sheep, chickens, ducks, horses, dogs, and cats at various times, and never ever had something like this. Sure we had bot flies, and deer flies and horse flies, and black flies. 

I’ve been coming to the North Woods for my whole life and the worst I've been tormented by are mosquitos, deer flies, horse flies and ticks. Maybe a few black flies. Nothing like this. I am dumbfounded. Incredulous. But I have since done my research, and Sandy was not pulling my leg. Check out this entertaining article from Northern Woodlands

I really hate the idea of having to spray my house down every year with insecticide (although I used the same stuff on my horses for years).

Stay tuned, hearty souls for the dubious conclusion to this morbid tale.

P.S. Marketing for a commune is on hold until further notice.