December 19, 2014 § 24 Comments
You know, I kind of wish I could meet this woman. Enjoy.
So Begins Los Angeles and I am NOT Kidding:
Okay, so like last night? We finished mall shopping and I got this OMG TOTAL RAD and SUPER CUTE acrylic purple-sparkle sweater and wore that bitch home, found parking for my enormous (rad) car around midnight and for reals, the soothing mercury vapor lamp bathing the plastic fibers of my entire ensemble in its glow made me look like I was on fire. And I am on fire, okay? Meaning my life is BLOWING UP it’s so rad.
Now I’m online ordering multiple plastic figurines for each of your blog followers, just a small token of the TOTAL LOVE and jealousy, hostility and aggression I feel for people I’ve never met in person but who are all, oh, dude, my cow is like, so friendly it gives me milk and my sheep are knitting things and can you SMELL ME? PLUS! LOOK AT THIS HOUSE I BUILT! Oh my god. Hello, do you know what renting even IS? It means more time for shopping and TEXTING OBVIOUSLY. Oh my god. OKAY.
Anywho, so I am totally ordering stuff online PLUS I’m also reading about Hollywood celebrities and for real, who would date that guy because he doesn’t even make movies anymore plus? That girl is like, old. Oh my god. I just texted my friend all about that PLUS I’m maybe ordering takeout, plus TOTALLY updating Facebook and chillaxing in general. Also, OMG, so cute this cat video! SO FUNNY! Okay, listen to this goat. It’s screaming! WTF? I am dying.
Across the room the kids are TOTALLY staring at their multiple screens and game consoles and I could feel the unbridled joy of zombie-darkness coming off them in waves. “Aren’t you tired, girls?” I inquired. No reply. They are SO into it! SO CUTE! “Aren’t you tired, girls?”
“Shut up, mother,” they flipped me off in unison. “Thanks to your decision to liberate us from the tyranny of coming up with our own agendas, we just can’t get enough of this game: Kill All The People Dead with Deadly Weapons II.”
OMG, motherhood, AM I RIGHT?
In the kitchen, my boyfriend was making Molotov-Midori shots with melon liquor and gasoline. Edited to say: okay, dude? I don’t even know what dew IS and I can’t even parody that paragraph because WTF is he talking about? Oh my god. Anywho, we had green drinks and ciggies for dinner because I am totally losing weight and getting into my skinny pants. So over being big fat size two. WTF. YO. Also YOLO.
This morning we had MENTHOL cigarettes and coffee (with hazelnut-gingerbread-pumpkin spice non-dairy fat-free creamer) for breakfast and the coffee made itself because I went and got it at Starbucks. I was still wearing the purple sweater from last night and if you don’t know how HOT that is, that is HOT.
The girls didn’t come with me because they were on the seventy-third level of Dead People Dead and they shot everything they could because YO. Also YOLO.
So I get back and the girls are like, YO, MOM, what is for breakfast? And I’m all, um, I don’t know. Do I look like your servant? Am I supposed to go out and GATHER YOUR EGGS FROM THE STORE BY HAND? OMG, RUDE! I was all, YO, can’t you open a box of sugar cereal? And they are like, YO. And I am like YO. And then the older one said, your sweater is rad, Mom. So I go, I KNOW.
But then her sister is like, COME ONE I WANT TO GO TO THE DEADLY WEAPON SHOP AND RELOAD, FOOL, and I said, DO IT. YO. And I sat there losing weight with my coffee and watched my girls blow up this whole crazy rad building or country or SOMETHING on the shooter game and you are probably saying like, NO WAY but I am writing on this comment section to tell you: WAY. They did it. I swear to GAWD and LOL it doesn’t get any better.
So begins another day.
December 18, 2014 § 62 Comments
I finished knitting another cage-free alpaca sweater around midnight, the soothing candlelight bathing the soft fibers in its glow (I’m making a sweater for each of my blog followers, just a small token of the love I feel for people I’ve never met in person, and oh the joy I find in the task and the small clicks of my fair trade knitting needles, like the sound of pure gratitude). Across the room, the boys were digging into a trigonometry lesson, and I could feel the unbridled joy of learning coming off them in waves. “Aren’t you tired, sons?” I inquired. “Oh, no, father,” they piped in unison. “Thanks to you and dear mother and your decision to liberate us from the tyranny of school, we just can’t get enough advanced mathematics.”
In the kitchen, Penny was making tea from dehydrated morning dew siphoned from clover leaves in the pre-dawn hours back on the summer solstice. We dry it atop the matts she wove from artisan hemp fronds. The dew doesn’t have many calories, it’s true, but ever since we’ve become utterly independent of the modern industrial economy, we don’t need as much food. (Can’t afford it, either, but that’s a story for another day)
This morning, while the cows milked themselves (if your cows don’t milk themselves, it’s probably because they’re not of the proper heritage breed and because you’re not moving them to a fresh grazing paddock every twelve-and-a-half minutes), Penny and I stoop hand-in-hand at the height of the land, watching a rainbow shimmer (if you don’t see rainbows in winter, it’s probably because you work in an office and feed your children boxed cereal). The boys had already completed the remaining chores, spent three-hours tracking a moose, which they decided not to shoot with their self-made long bows because “he just looked so magnificent and we felt such great respect for him” and were hitting the trig yet again. “I really want to help Rye understand these unit circle inverse functions before I fill the woodbox, do the dishes, and gather shed alpaca hairs for tonight’s sweater,” replied Fin. “Will that be ok with you, sweet Papa?”
“Of course, my son,” I said. “But please don’t forget the 8-page handwritten thank you letter to your Grandmother for the dime she gave you yesterday.”
“Actually, I wrote that last night after you and mama went to bed,” he replied.
So begins another day.
December 17, 2014 § 48 Comments
Too warm this morning, 40-ish and spitting rain. The snow, which just yesterday was ideal for skiing, that elusive combination of glide and yield, has gone to mush underfoot. What more, it has been gray for more consecutive days than I have fingers to count, and while I suppose I could remove my socks to facilitate the math, I don’t like cold toes. So let’s just say we haven’t seen sun for at least 10 days, and let me keep my warm toots, ok?
This morning I noticed a spike in traffic to this site; ever curious, I followed the spike back to Heather’s page, where she’d linked to this page. I like Heather; she’s been incredibly supportive of my work, and furthermore wicked generous with her insight and experience. She strikes me as a thoughtful and gentle person, though of course I know her only at a distance, and this allows me the luxury of imagining her in a manner that’s entirely inconsistent with that impression. I’m thinking pack of Pall Malls perched on the corner of a chipped formica counter, something raunchy on the juke (Skynyrd? No, wait, I got it: Skid Row!), post-breakfast Bloody Mary in hand… damn, I better stop, or she’s never gonna talk to me again.
Anyway, my only-partly-latent narcissism couldn’t keep me from reading the comments pertaining to her post, which included the following statement: I can’t help but feel a bit judged when I read Ben’s work. I might’ve passed it by, but it’s an issue that’s been on my mind; a while back, someone (can’t remember who, and I’m too lazy to go looking) commented on this page that what I write here sometimes makes them feel inadequate.
I’m not sure exactly what to say about the sentiments expressed, except the only honest thing, which is that they make me feel pretty bad. I know that wasn’t the intent, but of course intent and outcome do not always align. I also know what it’s like to feel judged myself; if you have a spare, oh, 5 hours or so, scroll through the comments pertaining to my Outside article. There’s no shortage of judging going on over there. The obvious difference, though, is that I sort of ask for it. I mean, I put myself and my story and my views out there for the world to see and dissect and critique. Over the years, I have developed a fairly thick skin, though of course it’s not without its cracks. I don’t exist in some sort of evolved state of consciousness where nothing anyone says about me matters. Which is why I suppose the comments about my work making people feel judged or inadequate bother me in the first place.
Ok, I’m figuring out what to say. The first is this: If what you read here makes you feel lesser in any way, shape, or form, please don’t read it. I mean, I want you as a reader, don’t get me wrong. But not at the expense of your self-worth. Or at least your perception of your self-worth, which I suppose is pretty much the same thing. I realize this might sound sort of cold – if you don’t like it, don’t read it - but that’s not how I mean it. What I sincerely mean is that if my work does not hold some positive value for you, find someone’s work that does. There is so much great writing out there; there are so many interesting stories. But far as I’m concerned, none of them are worth feeling shitty over. Conversely, if what you read here somehow makes you feel superior to us, well, you might want to think about that, too. Because that’s its own form of self-deception, is it not?
Second. My intent is never to suggest that our way of life is the best, or that I’ve got it all figured out. We are constantly reevaluating, making changes, tweaking, thinking, talking. In my view, the moment you stop asking questions, not merely of others, but of yourself, is the moment self-confidence tilts toward arrogance. And maybe I am guilty of this at times. I hope not, but maybe so. I know I feel strongly about many aspects of our life, about many of the choices we have made. Truth is, you can’t make these choices and not feel strongly about them, because many of these choices are not widely supported in our culture. I would like to think that through my work, I do not offer answers, but rather encourage people to ask questions. The answers they come up with might be entirely different than the ones we come up with, and that is exactly as it should be. Why? Because they’re not us, that’s why!
Ok, one more thing, and then I’ll shut up. We do thing things we do, the things I write about, because they align with our version of a meaningful life. We do not grow most of our food to meet some arbitrary goal for how much of our food we can grow, or because we’re trying to uphold a moral code. We grow most of our own food because we like it. Because when we wake up in the morning, we get to wake up excited for what the day will bring (well, ok, maybe not today, what with the rain and all). Because we like the feeling of dirt under our fingernails. Because I like to sing stupid, made-up, ad-lib songs to the cows as I go about chores, about love and fur and hay and milk. (If I get $1000 in donations today, I’ll make a podcast of one of these songs. It’s like one of those NPR fund-raising challenges, except the reward is actually a punishment)
Someone once said something really smart to me, and I try not to forget it: I cannot control how people perceive my work and what they take from it. I think this is true, because of course my work is not entirely mine: It inevitably crashes against and into the experiences and perceptions of those who read it. This just now occurs to me, but it’s like the rain that’s falling this very minute. It’s mixing with the snow, it’s becoming something entirely different, one into the body of the other. And the outcome – the final result – is not mine to fully understand.
December 16, 2014 § 47 Comments
Sometimes I think I should write more about food. I know a lot about food, I really do. For instance, I just finished making a shepherd’s pie. I cooked up burger from one of the cows we killed back when. I tossed in some sausage from the last batch of pigs. I diced up an onion and a bulb of garlic. Grated a couple of carrots and a half of one of Penny’s monster beets. Thyme and oregano. Chopped a whole bunch of lacto-fermented green beans and mashed a half-dozen potatoes, added a splash of fresh cream and some of our own butter. The only boughten ingredients in the whole mess were salt and pepper. Oh, and some fennel that was in the sausage. I like me some fennel sausage.
Last night I made a soup. I sautéed onion and garlic. Carrots. When those were ‘bout done, I dumped in a couple quarts of beef bone broth. We make a lot of bone broth. I browned ribeye and blade steaks (no particular reason I chose those; they just happened to be on top of the pile of freezer beef) in lard and chopped ‘em up pretty small. Still bloody. Tossed ‘em into the mix. I rehydrated some dried chanterelle mushrooms. Lacto-fermented green beans again. Splash of tamari. Pepper. Crumpled in a few handfuls of dried kale. Real handy, that dried kale. Real handy.
We don’t ascribe to any particular diet. We pretty much eat what we grow and call it good. I guess you could call it a “whole foods” diet. Or maybe “traditional,” assuming one associates tradition with region. Which we do. I mean, otherwise it’d be pretty confusing, would it not?
There are few foods we avoid. We don’t eat much, if any, highly processed, multiple ingredient prepared foods. We rarely have pasta. Maybe once a year. We consume relatively few grains, but not because we’re paleo or anything. Not because we’re afeared of gluten. Mostly because we’re too lazy – our habits are such that it’s easier for us to cook with vegetables, meat, and diary, that’s all. We eat hardly any dried beans. I’d eat more, but Penny hates ‘em. The only food we might be a little dogmatic about is sugar. Oh, and soy. Sugar because it’s sugar. Soy because it’s loaded with phytoestrogens. Well, that, plus it’s disgusting. (yes, I know that soy is the primary ingredient in tamari. But it’s fermented, and that’s a whole ‘nother dealeo)
We aren’t foodies. We don’t talk about food in exhausting detail (although, like most of you, I’m guessing, we are sometimes exhausted by food). Our kitchen is simple, and usually pretty cluttered. We spend waaaay more time growing and processing our food, than actually preparing it for the table. But of course growing and processing is preparing it for the table, so maybe that’s a ridiculous distinction. We try to make the most of the animals we slaughter; in addition to using many of the hides, we eat a lot of organ meats. We make a mean liver pate, and pate on warm sourdough crackers with a side of kimchi is one of our favorite meals. In fact, yesterday we polished off a pint of pate in no time flat.
My general sense is that a lot of people are really confused about food. My other general sense is that the dominant food industry likes us to be confused. And maybe a little afraid. It likes us to think we’ll die of some horrible disease if we make a batch of sauerkraut or butcher a pig at home or drink unpasteurized milk. It likes us to skip from one diet to another, because each skip represents an opportunity to sell us more things we don’t much need.
I also suspect that the first step toward eating a truly healthy diet is to listen to whatever government nutrition professionals tell you about eating a truly healthy diet.
And then do exactly the opposite.
PS: Andrea posted an interview with me. Check it out if you’re interested.
December 12, 2014 § 25 Comments
Four straight days of accumulating snow. It is dense with moisture, the poverty snow I wrote of Wednesday, and moving through it calls to mind the heavy-limbed feeling of running in water I remember from childhood. So much effort expended for so little progress. Our yard is a spiderweb of beaten tracks – to the barn, to the hydrant, to Rye’s goats, and finally, deep into the woods where the pigs reside. I’d intended to bring them closer to home for the snowy months, but things intervened, and I am now shackled to my own stupidity as I ferry the sloshing five-gallon buckets of milk-water-grain slurry to the hogs and their insatiable hunger, each lurching step a down payment on the debt created by my procrastination.
Yesterday the power flickered on and off and on again intermittently, and the boys were perplexed. It was our first significant outage since we grid-connected way back in September 2013; prior to that, we were immune to the vagaries of utility power, and they’d never experienced such a thing. Truth is, we own a generator, and thus could have brought ourselves back online with only a modicum of effort, but could not determine a reason good enough to do so. The animals’ water troughs were full, and both wood stoves were radiating waves of delicious heat. Our refrigerator is powered by cold winter air, and the chest freezers’ frigid cargo would hold for days. So we stuck a pot of leftover squash soup on the cook stove, lit a few candles, and went about our business in the soft light of those small flames.
Then the candles burned down and we went to bed.
• • •
Inspired by Penny’s rousing success with intricately folded strips of birch bark, and seduced by the sweet corruption of material wealth, the boys have been in a frenzy of making. As such, I humbly offer this link, where they have posted a few of their wares, each and every one crafted with exactly zero assistance from Penny or myself.
Go ahead. Corrupt to your heart’s content.
December 10, 2014 § 27 Comments
If you plow driveways for a living, there are exactly two kinds of snow: Money snow, and the sludge that fell last night, which might best be described as “poverty snow.” That’s because most plow guys charge by the job, not the hour, and a storm that consists of four or five-inches of cold, low density powder, the sort of stuff that practically leaps from the path of the truck as if in anticipation of contact… well, that, my friends, is money snow. That’s the sort of snow you can plow with a hot coffee wedged into your crotch and a sugared doughnut on the dash, with the radio tuned to 107.1 FRANK FM, with your foot to the floor – 20 mph on the straights, the snow pillowing and billowing into the weeds, a $30 driveway done in 8 minutes flat. A bite of doughnut, a sip of coffee, Aerosmith’s Sweet Emotion, and onto the next. You could plow forever.
But this stuff? This stuff is the reason you don’t take money snow for granted. This stuff is the reason you keep a shovel and a bag of sand in the bed of your truck. This stuff is the reason you think about charging by the minute, rather than the job.
This stuff is the reason our truck is current stranded in middle of our driveway with a pool of hydraulic fluid beneath the raise/lower cylinder of the plow. Ah, well. So it goes. At least I needn’t wonder what I’ll be doing later this morning.
• • •
Part II of my interview with Andrea.
December 9, 2014 § 21 Comments
I was awakened at 4:30 this morning by Rye, coming indoors from the wall tent in which he’d spent the night. I found him sitting on the rim of the kitchen woodbox, quietly sanding the blade marks out of his latest spoon. He smelled like fir boughs. I lit a fire and just sat for a while, lulled by the building heat, the early hour, and the rhythmic scratching my boys’ work. It was his first night sleeping out alone, something he would not have done even a few months ago. So this is how it happens, I guess.
The air feels soft this morning, the calm before the storm. A foot of snow, some sleet, maybe freezing rain is what they’re saying, so I passed much of yesterday cleaning up our small log yard in anticipation. I stacked and stickered the 2×6’s I milled over the weekend, laid old roofing tin atop the pile. I wrapped a tarp around the sawmill’s motor, cinched it tight. I called Melvin and offered as much of the bucked-up slabwood as he could take and he came and twice filled the big bucket of his New Holland. Today I will head to the woods to drop and skid as many sawlogs as possible, because while it’s preferable to have some snow on the ground when working the woods (keeps the logs clean, for one), a foot on top of what we already have will equal about a foot-and-a-half, and that’s about where things start getting cumbersome for a little one-man, tractor-logging outfit like myself.
• • •
As most of you know by now, I really enjoy Andrea Hejlskov’s writing. I discovered it when I followed a link from a comment she made a while back. I must confess to not reading many blogs regularly. In truth, Andrea’s is the sole exception to this rule-that’s-not-really-a-rule, and there are two factors at play. The first is as I have already said: I like her writing. It is not like mine, and it is not how I would like mine to be, but it is exactly how I would like hers to be, if that makes any sense. The second is that I’m drawn to her story. She and her husband Jeppe and their four children fled the city life, and with it, their increasing sense of desperation and isolation among the masses. They moved to the forest in Sweden with little more than what they had on their backs and few skills to rely on. I think I’m drawn to their story because it helps me believe I’d have the courage to do as they did.
(She wrote a book about it all, but it’s in, I think, Mexican, or maybe French, or whatever language unAmericans speak while they’re measuring things in Celsius and centimeters and smirking about their government-sponsored healthcare and 50mpg diesel hatchbacks, so you probably can’t read it. But it was a best-seller in her homeland of Denmark and she got sort of famous. If any American publishers are reading this, you really should drop Andrea a line).
For the heck of it, Andrea and I asked one another a few questions. Here are the questions I asked her, with their respective answers. Actually, I’m going to milk two posts out of this, so here are some of the questions I asked her. Part II tomorrow.