Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bringing it Up To Date!

Hello all!

Here, as promised, is another blog entry, in which I intend to cover everything from the herbal conference to current. (Yikes!!!) Here we go…

So, the day after the herbal conference, Brian and I shifted into full throttle at work. The people for whom he was building the house needed to move in at the end of October, as the lease on their apartment was up. Granted, the house was mostly finished, but we weren’t exactly in “two weeks out” shape. So, we worked a 50-hour week followed by a 60-hour week, and finished up just in the nick of time.

It was intense. Not because the work was that difficult. I was doing mostly detailed finish work: sanding, applying stain, unmasking, touching up minor imperfections, etc. The intensity came from the long days; we worked 10 hour days, on average, which is literally dawn until dusk at this time of year!

On the other hand, it would not be accurate to say that the work was easy, either.

One of my projects was to strip and refinish an antique door with fifteen panes of beveled glass. Well, come to find out there were six distinct layers of paint (and goddess only knows how many coats of each…), which had to be painstakingly removed from each little crevice around every individual pane of glass. (By the way, no matter how much pain you are in after spending 10 hours bent over, scraping a trillion layers of ancient paint out of every nook and cranny of a ridiculously complex door, DO NOT complain at the dinner table that your back hurts from all the stripping you did that day. Your housemates will never, ever, ever let you live it down.) Anyway, two days, two cans of stripping agent, and $200 in labor later, they had me paint it a striking shade of cobalt blue.

Other projects forced me to face my fear of heights. One space in the house features a sort of balcony/skylight feature, where the second floor is opened up to allow light into the kitchen. (It’s very difficult to describe, but I hope to get pictures up soon.) Anyway, there is a window that is inaccessible except by a 20-foot ladder from the first floor, and a couple of weeks previously a bird had gotten in and pooped all over that windowsill. Brian asked me to climb up the ladder and clean it off. It was a very, vey tall ladder. Luckily, I was too proud to admit to Brian that I was too afraid to take on the task. I mean, come on! In Peru, I walked along the edges of cliffs that dropped off easily 100 feet. So I climbed up the ladder and cleaned the bird shit off the windowsill. I sweat bullets and my hand cramped up from my cast iron grip on the ladder, but I did it. Here’s to the healthy use of ego!

After that, Brian asked me to get on the roof and, with a broom, knock down all the cobwebs and wasp’s nests that had accumulated in the eves. Well, I’d done already faced my fear of the ladder, and since the house is bermed in, the roof isn’t terribly high… on one side of the house… But again, I invoked the power of the ego. I have pictures. It was a really nice day for being on the roof, too; warm, but not foot-burning. (You have to walk barefoot on metal roofs to avoid denting them.)

Anyway, I soldiered-up, and I made it. I got it while the getting was good. And did I get it! I ended up making a little over $2,500 in six weeks. Go. Me.

And apparently, I passed muster with Mr. Brian Love, as he subsequently offered me a work exchange position: house and farm-sitting for him while he is off on a sailing adventure this winter. So, this Thursday, December 1st, I am moving across the village to his house.

Brian’s house will be a wonderful place to spend the winter. Built with a rock solid passive solar design, the warmth from the sun maintains the house at a fairly constant 75-80 degrees all winter, without any additional heating! It is truly incredible. In addition to being well designed and efficient, the house is elegant and beautiful, and being surrounded by beauty is really uplifting. Plus, I am super excited about learning how to care for his flock of sheep (that’s the “farm-sitting” part). I have always loved and wanted to work with animals, and now I am getting my chance!

However, moving to Brian’s means leaving Medicine Wheel, which is bittersweet. I’ve had some great times here and my housemates feel a lot like family. I also think the vision for the neighborhood is really beautiful. However, given a lot of the advice I have gotten from long-time members, I think that it is really important for me to explore other neighborhoods and seeing what else Earthaven has to offer before I commit. I may end up back at Medicine Wheel, I may stay at Gateway after Brian returns, or I may end up somewhere completely unexpected. Who knows? Recently, the universe seems to have taken all of my careful plans, patted me on the head, and dropped them into the trash compactor. The new plan is that I have no plan. I have goals and direction and an understanding that there are many paths by which those goals may be achieved and an openness to those paths. Gai way oh.

Also, I recently found out that I will not be living alone at Brian’s. A really lovely family – Tiffany and Temple and their awesome kids, Amber (7), Evan (5), and Ocean (1) – will be joining me, at least until April or May, by which time they plan to have closed on a house and property of their very own. While I don’t know them all that intimately, my impressions and interactions have all been really positive. Tiffany and Temple are both really friendly and generous, and their kids are just fantastic. (I was recently at the house working on a project that involved sorting cloves of garlic into “preserve-able” and “compost,” and both Amber and Evan joined right in to help me. Of course, a number of play breaks were enjoyed, but they were super helpful, cooperative, respectful, and a ton of fun. Plus, Ocean is just melt-your-heart adorable. I just wanna squeeze him!) Anyway, the whole family is very well loved in the community, which is always a good sign. I am really excited to get to know them. It seems like Tiffany and I will be having a lot of fun cooking and doing crafts together this winter, and it’s really nice to have the genuine joy and playfulness of happy, healthy kids in my energetic space. Plus, now I have community with whom to collaborate on food and chores, which is really helpful. So, here’s to new living situations.

So, the other major thread in my life has been the initiation of a new romantic relationship. Exactly one month ago today, I met Giles at Medicine Wheel’s Hallowe’en party, and we immediately hit it off. I was initially charmed by his skills at dancing and conversation (both of which are eminently noteworthy), but through the powers of openness and honesty, we have managed to cultivate a really deep relationship in a surprisingly short period of time. In a mere month, we’ve come to a really rich understanding of and appreciation for each other. I feel like he is more familiar with my dreams and aspirations, doubts and insecurities, traumas, joys, personality flaws and character strengths, ambitions and fears and philosophy of life than some people I’ve known for years. And likewise, I feel like I know him more intimately than many of my closest friends.

And what I know of him is this: first and foremost (for me), Giles is really clear about his life purpose and work, which involves using story-telling as a tool for transformation, from personal to global. This clarity of direction not only gives meaning to his life but also informs the meaning and purpose of his relationships, including his relationship with myself, adding a very attractive layer of depth to our connection. Giles is also a real gentleman, and he has acted with deep integrity, which allows me to feel very safe in trusting him. He has also demonstrated this incredible capacity to communicate in deep, meaningful, connective ways. I am continually impressed by his ability to make himself vulnerable in the service of connective communication, as well as his ability to make me feel safe sharing all the things that make me feel most vulnerable.

He is intelligent and articulate. He has been really generous and tender. He makes me laugh, and that is really important. He is charming and romantic, and he treats me like a lady. (We have been on some excellent dates, including a rock climbing adventure, a very romantic dinner at a fancy, delicious tapas restaurant, and an ecstatic dance experience that left me literally and figuratively breathless.) He is a fantasy author and a rock climber. And he just about matches my degree of geekiness, which is, of course, incredibly hot.

I am looking forward to continuing to get to know him more deeply and seeing what kind of gifts and growth our relationship will offer us.

Well, that’s about it. Except that I have another terrible case of poison ivy. “How?!” you may ask, “How can you possibly be covered in poison ivy? It’s almost December, for the love of Gaia!” Well, it was a really nice day last Tuesday – short sleeve weather at the end of November! – and I was ripping out honeysuckle and blackberry brambles in the orchard to prepare beds for planting in the spring. Though the foliage has died back, I did not take into account that, as I ripped up honeysuckle roots, I might have been disturbing poison ivy roots, which are covered in more of those volatile oils than the leaves.

So, like last time, it took a couple days to show up, but I ended up getting it really badly in the little cuts on my arms from the blackberries I took out (those things are absolutely vicious), and I think I got it systemically, because it is popping up in exactly the same places I had it this summer. For some reason, however, it isn’t nearly as bad. Maybe it’s the cooler, less sticky weather. Maybe I have developed a physical and/or emotional tolerance. Maybe it just isn’t as severe. Maybe I have only been dealing with it for four days, rather than two weeks. For whatever reason, it isn’t driving me nearly as insane as it did in back in August. Yet.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Finally slowing down... a bit

Wow! Long time, no update, y’all. Sorry about that! However, life is finally settling down a bit for the winter. Well, a bit.

Let’s see, the last time I updated was on the eve of the Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference (which seems like several lifetimes ago now). As I expected, I had a really powerful experience. It almost felt like an anniversary, considering that it was the 2010 Herbal Conference that got me interested in Western North Carolina and initiated my relationship with Earthaven. (Red Moon Herbs, the company that organizes and sponsors the conference, is based out of Earthaven.)

I took some awesome classes, but the two that really stand out for me are the two I took with Dr. Ada-Belinda Dancing Lion, whose perfect blend of humor, wisdom, and no-nonsense delivery made her one of the best teachers with whom I have ever taken a class. The first class was on the Wise Woman Tradition and how it differs from the Scientific Tradition and the Heroic Tradition. The most powerful take-home point for me was the importance of taking good care of myself first. No one else knows better than me what I need and no one else is better equipped to give it to me than myself. Radically intuitive, huh? The second class was entitled “Living Takes Life: Our Predatory Nature,” and it was incredible! We talked about how, as mammals with canines and eyes in the front of our heads, human beings (including women!) are predators. The word “predator” carries a negative connotation in our culture (i.e. sexual predatory) because it is misused. The only two reasons predators in the wild kill are to eat or to defend. (By this logic, “sexual predators” are not true or healthy predators; they are mentally ill, which is to say attacking for reasons other than defense or food, and the term predator doesn’t really even apply.) Anyway, in reclaiming our predatory nature, we reclaim our right to take care of ourselves first, which is the only way we can truly take care of anyone else anyway. You can’t give something you don’t have. As Dancing Lion said, “Your nice is killing you.” Also, we reclaim our power to protect ourselves, even in the subtle realm of our energetic field. Predators aren’t “mean;” they have good boundaries. They know and are present with their own limits. Plus, they let you know where those boundaries are with a low growl before they attack to defend those boundaries, which is so healthy and so helpful. It’s powerful stuff.

Also, my work trade position for the conference was fire tender during the late night drum circles on Friday and Saturday nights. I still am not sure what sort of magickal transformation I underwent, but it was pretty powerful. Something about building the literal fires that provided warmth and light for the drummers and the dancers fed my internal fires, and I sang and danced and chanted with wild abandon both nights. I like to think of it as having opened my throat chakra, allowing my voice and my creativity to flow freely. I came back from the conference so much… freer, less inhibited, more empowered, more vocal and communicative. It has been great!

After the conference, I worked two solid weeks with Brian Love, finishing up the house, which is beautiful. (I’ll get pictures up soon!) And when I say I worked two solid weeks, I mean I worked two solid weeks – 110 hours all together. I got it while the getting was good, and I am very proud of that. Now, I am glad to slow down… a bit.

As much as I would love to update more about those crazy hours and the feats that I accomplished, I have got to get going. More later, though, now that things are slowing down a bit.

Love to all!


Friday, October 14, 2011

I have been made very aware that there are several people eagerly anticipating an update, so here we go…

I had a spectacular birthday. The Friday before my actual birth-day, I hosted an open-invitation dessert potluck and game night, which was blast and a half! About twenty-five people showed up, bearing delicious cakes, breads, and even ice cream, and we played a variety of side-splittingly hilarious games. We finished up with “Honey, I Love You,” in which one person must go around to one of those sitting in the circle and say (in some permutation) “Honey, I love you, won’t you please smile?” The person must then respond, “Honey, I love you, but I just can’t smile” without smiling. Riotous hilarity ensued.

Then, on my actual birthday, my dear friend Chynna came over to make dinner for a smaller group of Medicine Wheelers and close friends. She made the most incredible lasagna I have ever eaten in my life – with all organic ingredients! Mmmm! We followed that up with an equally incredible carrot cake, make by Earthaven’s official pastry chef, Eli. When we were done, we all piled in Chynna’s SUV and went to the local contra dance and danced the night away. Contra is so much fun, especially as a woman. I just have to follow (and laugh!) as I am whirled through the excitement of the lines, and partners, and neighbors. Delightful!

In other news, I have been busier than ever.

As he approaches the deadline to finish the house, Brian Love has plenty of work to keep me going literally from dawn until dusk. I am not complaining, though, as I am making a significant amount of money in a very discrete period of time.

In addition to the 10 and 11-hour days with Brian, I still have my responsibilities at Medicine Wheel, as a work exchanger, as kitchen manager, and as a member of the household. It just sort of happened (perfect-storm style) that Patricia and Steven both left to visit Texas for the month of October and I got this six-week job at the same time. Anyway, with those two gone, a lot of household chores and tasks have fallen to the already fully burdened shoulders of Lyndon and I. For example, I am now fully responsible for the garden, which is still bearing a lot of the fruits of the summer’s labor.

Needless to say, I have been dropping more than a couple balls, which doesn’t feel great. I am usually so on top of things. I dislike the feeling of knowing that I am repeatedly missing connections and that, due to my commitments and priorities, there really isn’t anything I can do to change that. As much as I would love to, I can’t add more hours to the day! If this breakneck pace were to go on indefinitely, something would absolutely have to give; as it is, I can suck it up for six weeks to ensure financial stability for a solid six months. Sleep is for the weak. ;P

Right now, I have time to write this because I am at the Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference! I am SO excited about it. It was at this conference last year that I fell in love with this area, starting the chain of event, which would eventually bring me to Earthaven. In that sense, it is almost like an anniversary.

I am very excited on many different counts. This weekend I intend to:

- Relax! I am giving myself the weekend off. I don’t have to do anything, which is a relief after weeks of heavy ToDo lists.

- Learn. So many wonderful teachers are offering so many interesting classes, I can hardly decide what to attend! I will definitely check back in afterwards, though, to report in on what I learned.

- Eat incredible food that I neither have to prepare nor clean up after! I am actually especially excited about this.

This year, I am work trading for my conference registration fee, and since I am now a neighbor to the conference staff, I have been involved in pre-conference set-up. To help with loading and unloading (and to hitch a free ride), I came a day early. Since the conference doesn’t start until this afternoon and my work trade doesn’t start until this evening, I have this whole morning free, which is very exciting.

Also, the conference hasn’t even officially started, and I have already had an interesting experience. The conference is held at scenic Camp Rockmont, and I decided to camp (which is free) instead of getting a bunk in a bunkhouse (which is expensive and not particularly private). Unfortunately, last night, we had a rainstorm with high winds. I had a tarp over my tent that kept me pretty dry, but the winds were so intense that I thought I was going to blow away! At one point in the night, the wind tore my tarp right off my tent, and I had to get out and re-tie it. Needless to say, I look forward to a nap after lunch.

Speaking of which, it’s time for lunch, so I gotta go!


Friday, September 23, 2011

Makin' Some Money and Takin' My Medicine...

Hey y'all!

I only have time for another short update, so here it goes...

I got a job working for Brian Love, one of Earthaven's natural building contractors. It is going really well. He is building this absolutely beautiful eco-mansion for a newly-wed couple. It is really stunning, and I hope to get pictures one of these days. I have done a lot of sanding and finishing, using a natural finish call Rainforest (which smells like orange peels). Today I had to stand on the (unfinished) counter in the kitchen to sand and re-finished some damaged areas on the joists and the sub-flooring. A few years ago I don't think I would have been able to do it, but having climbed Machu Picchu, I can now handle dangling precariously four feet above the concrete flooring to get that little spot just out of my reach.

I have also been managing a slight head cold. Luckily, I have plenty of herbalist friends around help me heal myself. River Otter made this super awesome elderberry-wild cherry syrup (for respiratory support). I gotta say, I love the good, old fashioned medicines made with fresh berries and herbs, local raw organic honey, and a fair bit of brandy... to preserve it, y'know.

Well, busy busy busy. Off to dinner now.



Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Back in Action

Hello all!

I just want to give a quick update to let y'all know that I am back in action. Which is good, because there is SO MUCH awesome stuff happening.

I am back in the garden, playing with my plants. After several weeks of staying inside and quiet, nursing my poison ivy, I almost forgot how happy it makes me to be with growing things.

I am spending a good deal of time and energy helping to pull off the Village Harvest Festival coming of this Saturday, which promises to be a fantastic time. We are going to have talks and and tours and demos, food and vendors, music and dancing, and playback theatre in the evening. I am really excited!

I also have several jobs prospects on the horizon and an Exploring Member interview scheduled for October 4th.

Life is good.


the MollyWog

Monday, September 12, 2011

Crisis Averted

So I suppose I owe y'all an update after that last crazy entry. Unfortunately, this one is no less tumultuous! The good news is that my many recoveries are coming along.

I am finally done being itchy! It is nice to see that this too does indeed pass. I am hyperconscious, now, of where I am and what I am touching, especially in the garden, but I am deciding to put that focused observation, which can yield great insight, to good use.

Ulcer re-recovery is also coming along. I only got two and a half days in on the cabbage juice fast, but I still think it did well for me. Whenever I fast (and I actually do one-day fasts on occasion), I find it helpful in remembering the difference between physical hunger and appetite, which I think is really important. I don't need to be putting any unnecessary strain on my stomach, and eating only what I physically need and not necessarily what I emotionally want is a big step toward that. I am still trying to eat less and more frequently, which requires a good bit of foresight to bring snacks when I am out and about. I am avoiding spicy and heavy foods, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar, all of which are reputed to be hard on ulcers. I have been drinking herbal teas with a bunch of different herbs indicated for ulcers, stomach, and digestion. Most importantly, I think, I have been (trying to) take it easy. I feel so blessed to be in a space where I can just be "out-of-commission" for a while. Everyone has been so very loving and supportive.

Which is pretty lucky, because I am just turning the corner after a brief emotional breakdown. I am not sure what it was or caused it. I think a bunch of factors all collided for a perfect storm of momentary insanity. But, amazingly enough, I think I have worked through it already. It started on Thursday, but this community holds such a beautiful space for healing that I was able to experience my breakdown, analyze it, work through it, and turn it into a breakthrough pretty seamlessly indeed.

Between the full-body poison ivy and the reemergence of ulcer issues, I was already feeling a whole range of emotions from frustration to fear to anger to inadequacy, and so many more, some of which I cannot name and do not understand.

Then, to add to that mess, on Thursday I started to get really frustrated with school. First off, I am discovering that being a full-time student and a full-time Earthavener are mutually exclusive activities. There simply and literally are not enough hours in the day. Well, maybe if I had the energy to work 18-hour days, seven days a week, it might be an achievable feat – Earthavener by day, student by night. But the simple fact is that I just don’t have that kind of energy (thus the feelings of inadequacy). I could try, but this minor emotional breakdown makes it very clear and obvious that pushing too hard would just be counterproductive. I would just be burning myself out, and I do not believe that that would be a wise decision.

Then this class that I am in, Introduction the Liberal and Independent Studies, keeps asking all these questions like “Why are you in college?” and “What are you hoping to gain from your degree?”

Backtracking a moment to give you some more context: Something that I am learning here is deep and profound honesty with myself and openness with others, which I am finding it very freeing and very healing and very helpful in creating a healthier relationship with myself and others. All those years that I struggled with depression and anxiety, part of the problem was that I was not being honest with myself or open with others. I was not emotionally mature enough to confront my pain and say, “No, no I am not okay, and this is how I feel and why.”

What I have found here at Earthaven is that not only is it okay but it is preferable to express what you are really feeling, to experience it, to share it, to analyze it, to work with it and through it. When someone asks, “How are you?” that person actually expects to hear what is really on your mind. Earthaven is actually home to a new and different (budding) culture of profound emotional health and for the first time in my life, I really feel like the truth is setting me free.

Enter tough questions about my academic and career goals, and two different, emotionally-charged quandaries. First, I was torn between giving a bluntly honest, first-thought response (right now, I am only in college because my family doesn’t want me to drop out... essentially, I am doing the "right thing for the wrong reasons," and I know it) and thinking out the answers that I believe the professor is looking for, which may or may not be what he is actually looking for or would deem acceptable. It doesn't seem like that big of an issue, but when I am newly experiencing the freedom of openness and honesty, it is really heart-wrenching to have to work within the limitations of a culture that doesn't necessarily value that honesty.

Second, being honest with myself about those questions, I find that I am actually very internally conflicted, and frankly, afraid. I am burnt out on traditional schooling and have been for a long time; that is a very simple fact. Another simple fact: I am a radical, and I would never be satisfied with the standard American nine-to-five, which “getting a degree” is supposed to be preparing me for.

At the same time, even at Earthaven or in a similar community, it is not (yet) possible to entirely disconnect myself from the money economy, no matter how much it conflicts with my ethics and values and philosophy of life. So when I see people with BAs unable to find work (except at Wal-Mart), it scares the shit out of me. It seems that these days you have to have a BA to be a checker or a waitress! The economy is so terrible and jobs are so scarce that people are competing viciously over the previously undesirable jobs. While I don’t want to have any part of that culture of scarcity, I still have to recognize that I have to figure out a way to get by while creating a culture of abundance. And while I would be perfectly happy to live on the “economic fringes,” making just enough to get by, it seems that even “just enough to get by” is becoming less and less attainable.

So, yes, it would be a damn good idea to go ahead and get the degree. But, I am still faced with same problems. I am still burnt out. I feel it acutely. I absolutely dread working on my class work, despite the fact that I know that a lot of it is very interesting and engaging. So, despite the above, no amount of fear and “shoulds” are relighting that fire.

What is relighting my passion for learning is experiencing learning at Earthaven. I learn so much every day just by living here. I am not taking tests or writing essays, but I am learning and deeply integrating skills that I believe will be very important for my future.

Fortunately, as a result of all this agonizing, I think that I have figured out an acceptable course of action. Essentially, I am going to finish LIS 301 (Introduction to Liberal and Independent Studies – the course where you design your Liberal Studies degree) and see what happens.

I could continue as a part-time student, taking one or two classes at a time (like Saralin). I already have that independent study on anarchy with Richard Gilman-Opalsky (best. radical. philosophy. prof. ever.) scheduled for next semester. I think that I could handle being an Earthavener and doing a couple of free-form independent studies each semester until I finish my degree. That way, I could be a student and live in a way that is in keeping with my values and ethics and philosophy of life.

I could go back to Springfield next semester and dedicate myself to doing nothing but finishing my degree. If I did that I would graduate at the end of next summer. They might even let me walk in the spring, if I only have one summer class left to finish up. Then, once my college trauma, er, experience, is out of the way, I would be really free to come back to Earthaven and focus completely on being here. However, that doesn't address the burnt-out-ness...

I could take a break next semester and dedicate myself to doing nothing but being an Earthavener and getting myself settled in here. Then, once I have secured a sure place for myself here, I might find myself able to be an Earthaven and a student after all.

I am leaning, right now, towards the first option, but I think my best bet is simply to allow the course to unfold and see where it takes me.

But getting back to my emotional breakdown/breakthrough, I guess what happened was that my issues with school dredged up fear, doubt, insecurity, and pain way beyond the scope of not knowing how to answer a particular question. In fact, it opened Pandora’s box of existential crisis, and I had to face all of the terrifying things that came out. Fortunately, there was hope in the bottom, and that hope is the beautiful community that I am becoming a part of.

My community has been so good to me! It literally brings me to tears just how amazingly blessed I am. Here I am; I have only been here for, what, a little less than four months? I am having these crazy health challenges followed immediately by an emotional meltdown, which have made me (in my estimation) totally useless for weeks. And yet, I continue to feel boundless love and support from my "extended family." They understand and they care and they want me to do whatever I need to do to take care of myself, despite the fact that that means I am not able to be working on certain projects. They keep telling me that they are happy that I am here and that they want me to be part of their tribe. Here I feel like I am so clearly demonstrating that I can’t pull my own weight and that I wouldn’t make a reliable team member… that I am inadequate. I guess I was projecting onto them this (unfounded) idea that they would be better off without having to deal with me and my emotional breakdowns. But when I think about it, if I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t just write someone with so much potential off because she needed healing. If we wrote off everyone who needs healing, who would be left?

And still, finding love and support and understanding where I was afraid that I would find rejection and loss is in itself incredibly healing. I feel so blessed to be here, so blessed to be among people who understand, who love me, who see my potential, who want me to be part of their tribe. Wow.

Well, I guess that is enough for now, huh? It has taken me all day (literally) to digest and process this into something resembling communication, but it has been time very well spent. Eventually, I will tell the story of the crazy events going on all around me in the external world while I was going through the heart of this breakdown/breakthrough. (In short, I was forgotten in town, spent a night at an Asheville community house, then came home to a delightful celebration of Founding Day... on September 11th. It is, in hindsight, a great story, but it must wait for another time.)

P.S. This might look really neat and tidy now, but know that it is the result of several days spent in emotional turmoil trying to figure out just what the fuck I am doing with my life. Breakdown, breakthrough. Praise the Goddess for the cycles of life.

Friday, September 2, 2011

As If Full-Body Poison Ivy Wasn't Enough...

August 29, 2011


I have the poison ivy. And it’s everywhere. And I mean EVERYWHERE. I have it all down my arms, all over my neck and chest and belly, on my back, down my thigh… it’s even on my face! I have poison ivy on my eyelid! And it is driving me crazy!

I have no idea how I got it. It must have been in the garden, but I am usually so careful and aware. And it mystifies me how it got everywhere. My only idea (and I’m not entirely sure it holds water) is that the day after I woke up itchy the first time, I took a hot shower because it felt good. Having never had poison ivy before (I’ve been so lucky up until now!), I neither recognized the symptoms (for some reason, the rash hadn’t shown up yet and I could not figure out why I was so itchy!) nor knew that taking a hot shower apparently allows the oils to spread. So maybe that’s how it got on my eyelid.

I have washed with poison ivy soap a couple of times since then, so hopefully it is done spreading. But it still itches like crazy. I have been taking cool showers and jumping in the creek. (Although, the weather has been so beautiful – 70’s and breezy – that it almost isn’t hot enough for me to stand the icy creek water!) I’ve been rubbing down with jewelweed decoction ice cubes, using Red Moon Herb’s poison ivy relief spray, and anointing with plenty of tea tree oil. (That stuff is magical! It dries it out the rash and leaves a cool, lingering tingle. I need to find somewhere that sells it by the gallon.) And I will admit that, at this point, I am not too proud and have been slathering on the good, old-fashioned hydrocortisone. I am sleeping with really soft socks on my hands, but I am still waking up several times all night long, scratching, scratching, scratching. I am just really trying not to tear myself up. Especially my face, as the whole “meth addict” look really just doesn’t work for me. I have to say, this would be a particularly creative method of torture.

But, on the bright side, this too shall pass. I have seen a bunch of people go through the ivy torture this year alone, and it runs its course. And while I have it, it has been teaching me some valuable lessons. When I think I am about to completely lose my mind, I have learned to stop, take a deep breath, and just be with it. Just be in my body, accept the reality that my skin is on fire with itchiness, and breathe through it. It is making me more patient. It is certainly making me more sympathetic to other poison ivy sufferers. (Having not had it before, I wasn’t able to really get how uncomfortable it is.) So, as Lyndon and Patricia like to say, here we are. (I love that phrase – it is a simultaneously a simple, honest acknowledgement of the reality of the moment and a call to move forward no matter the current position.)

I am also feeling extremely low energy, which is stressing me out because I feel like I am getting behind. It becomes this crazy feedback loop. I am itchy, so I am not sleeping, so I am low energy, so I am not getting things accomplished at the pace I would like to, so I am getting stressed out, so I am not sleeping, so I am tired, so I am grouchy AND am not getting things accomplished at the pace I would like to, and I am itchy, which continues to stress me out… GAH! I need a nap! And I’m itchy.

September 1, 2011

So, despite the fact that I would much rather stick my head in the sand and pretend like it isn’t happening, after supper last night, I had to get real with myself: I have been starting to experience the same symptoms that I was experiencing shortly before I ended up in the ER for an ulcer earlier this year. Discomfort after eating has given way to general discomfort all the time, and extreme discomfort bordering on pain after eating. Last time this was happening, it only took a week (during which I ate mostly easy, bland foods) for it to escalate to ER grade pain.

So, here we are.

I have been reading up on the approach that alternative medicine takes to healing ulcers, and what I have read is encouraging. According to several sources, conventional medicines, which work by reducing the body’s production of stomach acid, will take care of the ulcer in the short term. However, reoccurrence is very common because the drugs do not restore the natural balance of microorganisms in the stomach, so they will not heal the ulcer in the long term. In fact, acid-reducing medicines set up the body to become permanently dependent on the medicines.

Luckily, I am surrounded by friends and neighbors who are ready and willing to help however they can. Earthaven is home to a wide variety of natural healers, and my housemates are being incredibly supportive.

Since I was finally able to be real with myself last night, I decided to be real with everyone else during house meeting check in. I cried. I am not sure why, but I think perhaps because it scares me (another reason I did not want to be honest with myself), and because it is hard for me to open up to people about my health challenges. For some strange reason, I have this complex of feeling guilty when I have health challenges, as if I am personally responsible for my illness or in some way deficient as a person because I am sick. If I had only tried harder, had more self-control, etc., this would not be happening. Seeing it written now, I realize it doesn’t make much sense, so I suppose that is another way that this experience is providing me with opportunities to heal.

Anyway, everyone rose to the occasion, and I now have the aid of three different healers and the support of my whole community. Along with a variety of herbs and a homeopathic remedy, I have decided that I am going to attempt Rosemary Gladstar’s favorite remedy for ulcers – a seven-day cabbage juice fast. While I am not at all looking forward to consuming nothing but raw cabbage juice (a truly repulsive substance) for seven days, but I am ready to try it because I trust and respect Rosemary Gladstar and I am very serious about healing this ulcer once and for all.

Then after house meeting, Patricia took me into Black Mountain (in her bio-diesel-powered ’82 VW Rabbit) to get a significant amount of cabbage and to wash my laundry. I had at least three large loads, as I changed my bedding and have been changing clothes all the time to prevent the poison ivy from spreading any further. We had a good time. We stopped by the thrift store to pick up some novels (she wants me to be taking it really easy while I am fasting and healing), and she even took me out for ice cream as a pre-fast treat.

I feel so blessed! Here I am in this truly awful situation, and yet I feel strong and empowered. I am surrounded by people who can help me, who support me, and who love me. This is community. I am home.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The First Half of August

So I know I have been remiss in my posting (sorry, Dad), but I am still alive and actually doing quite marvelously. Thanks for your patience, and I am proud to present... The first half of my August.


Monday, August 1, 2011

A new month, a new datebook! I am getting to be so busy that I think I might need a bigger one. Or maybe that is a bad idea, unless it comes complete with more hours in each day!

I worked for three hours on the fence in the morning. Lyndon asked me to teach Joe and Taylor how to weave on the mountain laurel. Apparently I did a good job, because Lyndon took me aside later and asked me to take stewardship of fence management so that he could focus his energy on other things, specifically the greenhouse. Essentially, I will need to make sure that everyone knows what needs to get done and how to do it, and I should be prompting people to put some time in on the fence when they have a chance.

This whole management thing is new and strange to me. Now, the conceptualization and practice of “management” at Earthaven is much healthier and more effective than in mainstream society. In fact, the preferred term is “focalize,” which implies that one provides organization for the project and those working on it, “holds energy” for the project (makes sure that the necessary steps happen and in a timely manner), and is simply the “go to” person – the one who knows what is going on with a certain project. I think that these are all necessary functions and that having a focalizer for projects does not necessarily bring in the hierarchical structure of “management.” That said, I still feel a little out of my comfort zone being the one that everyone looks to for direction and, sometimes, the one who must give direction even when certain people are not seeking it. Luckily, I have plenty of excellent role models and people that I can ask for tips. In the meantime, I have asked everyone to bear with me while I figure out how to provide organization and hold energy gracefully (that is, without being bossy or passive-aggressive).

In the evening, I met with Arjuna, Melissa, and Pía (my nickname for Patricia) regarding Culture’s Edge, Earthaven’s educational non-profit organization. We are not for sure yet, but if we can bring back an active educational program at Earthaven, I may have a job in organization and promotion for events. I am really excited that I might just be able to make ends meet by helping educators at Earthaven get their message of sustainability and resilience to the world. Hooray for Right Livelihood!


Tuesday, August 2, 2011


This morning, I continued clearing in the garden. Geeze! By the time I clear to the other side of the garden, it will be time to start on the first side again! I worked on the asparagus patch and surrounding paths today, which were quite possibly the most overgrown areas. Bed was indistinguishable from path, and the shortest weeds were waist high. Yikes! I am also discovering the tenacity of honeysuckle. Praise it for holding the topsoil in disturbed areas, but when it is time to allow for succession, it does not make a graceful exit!

When we were done in the garden, we came inside and had a garden meeting. Right now, the garden team is Patricia and I, with some help from Lyndon when he is around and aware. We had a slight disagreement about seedlings. Lyndon wants to get a whole ton started and then sell the excess. Personally, I think it will be all we can do, with two and a half people, to get some food out of the garden for Medicine Wheel. Next year, if we spend all winter planning and prepping and have enough human energy, we might begin to think about having excess. I ended up telling him that he could do whatever he wanted, but I was only taking stewardship of my three flats. I am overcommitted as it is without throwing in 500 more baby plants…


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

So, I was starting to feel a bit stressed out today. You see, I have recently made some sizable commitments, and I was a bit worried that I might have been over-committing. I was already feeling overwhelmed and half of my commitments have not even begun! So I sat down to assess my commitments and make a plan to be able to satisfy them all, and now I feel a lot better.

My Commitments

Education: In addition to finishing off my AST, this coming semester I will be taking two classes online for UIS, Intro to Self-Directed Learning and Intro to Metaphysics and Epistemology. (I am really excited about the latter; nothing like a good philosophy course to get me all excited about learning!) Also, I will be taking the permaculture design practicum, for which I will be committing to four hours of classes every Thursday morning in September and November plus 40-60 hours worth of “homework” for the design project.

Work: I will still be working 15 hours a week as a work exchanger for Medicine Wheel, 4 hours a week in the garden (for a cheaper food bill), and 4 hours a week of community service for Earthaven. This will include my responsibilities as kitchen manager and as half the garden team. Also, I have no idea how much I will be working for the Culture’s Edge team, but I suspect that it will take a good chunk of time in the initial organization.

My Plan

Since I have so many commitments, I decided that solidifying a routine would be really helpful in mitigating my stress levels. Personally, I find the structure and reliability of a routine schedule helpful and comforting.

Thus, based on my experience of how things tend to go already, I drew up a weekly schedule for myself in which each commitment is allotted a sufficient time on specific days.





WEX project

WEX project / Leaps

Culture’s Edge



WEX project / Leaps


Chores / Kitchen ass’t

Day clean / Cook


House/WEX meeting

(Practicum classes)

(Practicum classes)





WEX project / Leaps







Rest / (Council)

[Note: ( ) indicate non-permanent aspects. The permaculture practicum will be Thursdays in September and November, and council is second and fourth Sundays.]

I am going to go over that general schedule with Patricia and Lyndon and see if that works well for everyone. Even if I need to change it a bit, I do need to establish a routine. And I need to establish it NOW, before everything gets too crazy. Whew! But I do actually feel significantly better having planned and organized. I think it goes back to control. I have now reestablished the comforting illusion of having some control over the chaos and craziness of life.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Today was one of those days where I just got a lot accomplished. We had a productive house meeting in the morning, which is always good. I cleaned the bathrooms (my house chore), and got a carbon trash container in both, which was something I have been meaning to do for a while.

My big project today was cleaning and organizing the root cellar, which took three hours. I started with actual cleaning – scrubbing the mold off of every exposed surface, composting several containers of what might have been considered food several years ago, and sweeping out the dirt and dust and mouse nests. Then I moved into organizing, because the root cellar was as disorganized as it was dirty. There were more buckets strewn across the floor than were actually on the shelves, which actually turned out to be a blessing because I had to pull everything off of the shelves anyway. While there were plenty of labels to go around, it was surprisingly often the case that the label on the lid didn’t match the label on the side which didn’t match what was actually in the container. So for two methodical hours, I opened each bin, correctly re-labelled it, found a suitable place on the shelf for it, and changed the label on the shelf. Now, it looks great, and it is going to stay that way… or else!

Joshua, who has a habit of walking in during those really bizarre tangents in otherwise normal conversations, came through the door just as I was saying, “… so the first person to leave a bucket on the floor is going to get punched in the face!” and, of course, a thorough razzing ensued. My dear housemates never pass up an opportunity to give me hard time, so they are (of course) determined to never let me forget that I “threatened horrific violence” against them. But I endure the good-natured abuse, as I will admit that it is true – my uncontrollably indignant reactions are actually pretty funny. I am glad I have finally learned to lighten up and laugh at myself. It makes life a lot more fun.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Today was my very first “real” Day Off since I have been here. I did not make myself do anything. I did not let anyone else ask me to do anything. My mantra was, “Today is my Day Off. I will see to it tomorrow.” So I did not have to do a damn thing that I did not want to do. It was FANTASTIC. It is SO necessary to have a real, widely known and recognized Day Off in order to remain sane amidst the sea of activities and responsibilities. I am really glad that I have reserved Sundays as my Day Off, and I am going to protect and defend them with my life.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tuesday was really lovely. Steven, Nathaniel, and I drove to a little organic farm somewhere north of Asheville to work trade for some food. The weather was absolutely perfect – warm and very breezy with periods of sun and clouds – and the farm was in a flat, clear cut valley with a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains.

It was a pretty relaxed day overall. We started the day canning green beans. That involved cleaning up the screened-in outdoor kitchen, washing the beans three times, snapping them, blanching them, and canning them. Each step unfolded at a fairly relaxed pace and with much indulging in the abundance. Then, later in the afternoon, we went out into the field to harvest cucumbers, corn, and purple beans. My shade hat and the strong breezes made being out in the field really pleasant.

All in all, it was a really good day, and did we bring home the produce! We got three paper grocery bags full of green beans, a sack of yellah squash, two dozen ears of sweet corn, a huge box of cukes, and seven quarts of canned beans as a bonus prize!

I was pretty wiped when I got home, but I managed to make it to the potluck since I had a date with Kimchi afterwards to tour her humanure system.

You see, Medicine Wheel is in the midst of a transition in how we deal with our shit. Essentially, we are going from a “dry mouldering” system to a “hot composting” system. (For further explanation, see the entry for July 5th; for further, further explanation, see The Humanure Handbook, free .pdf available online.) What I am trying to do is to make sure that we do it right.

From what I have been told and from my personal experience, things at Medicine Wheel tend to happen gradually, evolving as people have time and resources to put into it. Sometimes this means that things end up a little half-assed, not through any fault of the people working on the project, but through the lack of clear design and consistent implementation. When we are dealing with the smell and disease vector of piles of poop, that plan just isn’t going to cut it for me.

Therefore, I have taken stewardship of the Great Humanure Transition, and I have divided it into four discrete steps. First, I am researching humanure system designs in use at Earthaven that already work well for people ’round these parts. Everyone is always talking about how nice Kimchi’s toilet is and how well she maintains her “worm bin” (humanure pile), so I decided to start with her. I really like her system a lot, so I may or may not seek out other examples. It will depend on how much energy I feel like putting into it.

The next step will be to design all aspects of the infrastructural and systematic changes that we will need to make. We will need to retrofit the two outhouses for a 20-gallon bucket rather than a 55-gallon drum and decided where 5-gallon poopers will be placed. We will have to determine the location and the structural design for the compost piles. (Structural design for a compost pile, you wonder? They must be rat-proof. Really, really, really rat-proof.) We also must make sure that there are clear routes from the poopers to the piles. (Hauling a bucket of shit is enough of a task without throwing in an obstacle course.) We will need to come up with a humanure toilet management system that is effective (well regulated and maintained) yet does not place too much burden on any one household member (ahem).

Then, we will need to complete all the construction, ideally within the span of a few days. Once we switch systems, I want us to have switched systems. I want one, tight, solid, functioning humanure system, not two different half-assed piles of shit.

Finally, once the entire infrastructure is in place, the entire household will be well educated (and signage will be hung prominently for visitors and guests) on how to responsibly deal with our waste.

Maybe then our shit won’t stink. ;P


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Today, I spent a couple early hours in the garden and the rest of the day doing day clean, my house chore, and cooking, as per my schedule. I did not get myself signed up in time to wash towels at Shangri-Laundry (the on-land, off-grid Laundromat), so I did not get my kitchen chore done today. I am, however, scheduled to do it tomorrow, and it is on my ToDo list to sign up for Wednesday next week.

Speaking of my schedule, it has been a week and implementation has been gradual, but overall I feel really good about it. Having a weekly routine gives me structure, which makes me feel secure. I know I have allotted time to fulfill each of my obligations. I know generally when I will be doing what. I have grouped together certain activities on certain days to maximize efficiency. I have worked within the boundaries of what usually happens when so that I will be available for house projects when work parties are likely to be taking place. I have established boundaries so that I can feel secure about saying, “No, not right now. On Blankday, I do X, but right now is my time for doing Y. I am fulfilling my obligations, but I am not participating in this project this time.” I can feel good about what I am doing while I am doing it, rather than worrying if I should be doing this or feeling guilty for not doing that. I feel more clear and present, and I like it.

Also, I think I am going to like Wednesdays. They are pretty chill. Get up, do a little gardening, go wash towels, come home and clean bathrooms, do a day clean, cook dinner, and hang out after supper because the kitchen is already clean. I like having an “indoor day” to cook and clean (and be slightly neurotic) and do chores. That is all stuff that comes pretty naturally and isn’t too taxing; I’m just good at it. Once I get into “cleaning mode,” I really enjoy being able to get the place sparkling and get my all chores taken care of (out of the way) at the same time. The sense of accomplishment is satisfying.

After a week of observation, I am also realizing something else. I think I am spreading myself too thin trying to work on all of the projects – the garden, the fence, the water line, the humanure system, the greenhouse, etc. Especially with school starting soon and my schedule becoming more cramped, I think I am going to have to concentrate my energy on certain projects. I think I will focus hard on the garden (since the garden team is just Pía and I and I am naturally inclined to want to garden) and the humanure system (because I have taken stewardship of that project and no one else is likely to pick it up if I put it down). I will lend a hand on the fence and perhaps on the waterline and greenhouse if need be, but I am coming to a place where my time, my energy, and the capacity of my working memory are at a premium. Like I said yesterday about the humanure system, I want to concentrate my energy into “doing it right.” I want to obtain positive and tangible results from a select few projects, rather than half-ass a dozen of them. This will mean holding some boundaries, but I think that I will be able to do that in a manner that everyone finds fair and justifiable.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Yesterday was quite the day, quite the day indeed.

I spent four hours in the garden in the morning. Patricia led a work party with Steven, Joe, and Nathaniel in the orchard, but I had other things to do in the garden, watering seedlings and weeding productive beds and the like. I ended up rescuing some pole beans that were having the life choked out of them by morning glories. I could have sworn I got all the morning glory seedlings out of that bed last week, but they are stubborn critters. And beautiful. But not when they are killing baby beans.

In the afternoon, Chynna and I went to Shangri-Laundry to wash the Medicine Wheel kitchen towels, and we caught up on a lot of girl talk.

She is planning to move to Asheville, and really soon, too. She thinks that she will be out of here by the end of the month. Plus, she is leaving on the 23rd to go back to New Jersey for her cousin’s wedding, so really she only has a week and a half left here. I am going to miss her. Despite the fact that we are complete opposites personality-wise and that I am several times as mature as she is (which she openly admits), we have become really close friends. She, Cate, and Patricia are the only other women in the house. Patricia is awesome and I love her, but she’s not so much a girlfriend as she is a mentor, and Cate is so busy I rarely see her. Chynna really has become my close girlfriend here, the one I confide in and giggle with. I’m going to miss her. Saralin and Nicole need to move here. Then my life will be complete. At least, as far as girlfriends go.

When the laundry was done, we came home, and I retired to my room to read Spectacular Capitalism. However, my background in political philosophy is sadly lacking, so I have been having a hard time catching all the philosophical references and understanding what exactly Richard Gilman-Opalsky is saying. When I went back downstairs to get a dictionary, I ran into Joshua and asked if he had a dictionary of philosophical terms and people. He just pointed to his head. From that ensued a long evening of philosophical discussions, with various people popping in and out, ranging from pre-Socratic philosophy and its historical context to ancient astronomy and why we have minutes to global warming and the Earth’s magnetic poles to Baudrillard and simulacra… and everywhere in between. It was pretty intense, but there is nothing like an evening of intense intellectual stimulation to get me all hot and bothered about philosophy.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Today was my second weekly Day Off. I celebrated by doing absolutely nothing that I didn’t want to, including and especially interacting with other people.

I did go to Council, but only because I wanted to. It was fascinating. It is my observation that self-governance is a great deal more work than simply allowing oneself to be dominated. However, I believe it to also be the case that it is worth it.

For the most part, everyone was pretty civil. However, there was a great deal of arguing over some fairly petty details, and it could have been better facilitated, as there was a great deal of switching back and forth between topics.

At the end, Arjuna expressed frustration regarding how few people attend Council. I had noticed that (with the exception of one younger man who was required to be at Council as part of the membership process), every single person in Council had gray hair. They were all at least over fifty. Also, out of 50 full members, only a dozen or so were there. That is about as dismal as America’s voter turn out rate! Having 50 people in the room with the process as it is would be nigh unto impossible, but it is strange that so very few even make the effort to show up. Part of Arjuna’s frustration is that she, then, has to carry all of these huge projects with very little if any help. I am both excited and nervous to become a member – I cannot wait to dive in and pick up some slack… on a project or two. I intend to set good boundaries so that I do not get overwhelmed and burnt out. I really hope that I am able to strike a good balance.


Monday, August 15, 2011


It was autumn in the mountains until at least 1pm today, and it was so wonderful! I was downright cold when I woke up in the morning, and I was wishing I had a flannel or something for the first couple of hours that I was outside working. It was just warm enough not to call for my hoodie, especially since I was going to be working, and I do not have anything lighter to wear over a T-shirt. At least, nothing I am willing to build a fence in. Time for a trip to the Free Store! I love the Free Store.

Have I told y’all about the Free Store? Well, essentially, it is an old shiner’s cabin – the only pre-Earthaven building on the land – converted into a thrift store where everything is free. Drop off your junk, pick up some treasure. I have scored so much awesome stuff at the Free Store. I LOVE it!

Anyway, I spent seven and a half hours working on the fence today, and I finished the north side! Woo-hoo! I love how comfortable I am becoming with power tools and how good my mountain laurel weaving looks. I spent almost all of my time weaving mountain laurel, although I did paint a little bit and take a couple of walks to drop off and fetch power tool batteries from the charger at Alice’s. It is such a beautiful walk that I never mind going, especially with such fantastic weather! Seriously, today was gorgeous. I was able to work through the “heat of the day,” no sweat. Well, maybe a little sweat, but not much compared to two weeks ago! Some of the trees are even beginning to turn and drops leaves. Autumn starts in August around these parts? I could get used to this!

Also, I have been working with my schedule the past week or so, and it seems to be working out for me. We will just have to see how I fair when school starts. Plus, I sort of just came to the realization that, since I will only be working for WEX hours and Leaps on three out of seven days, it means that I will have to be putting in some long days. It will be okay. I’ve been playing with it. If I spend 8 hours on a WEX project on Monday, 4 hours in the garden on Tuesday and Friday mornings, and 1 hour in the garden Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings, that will cover my WEX hours. That leaves Tuesday and Friday afternoons for me to earn Leaps, a task that I can also squeeze in other places as well. Obviously, I am not going to be overly rigid about it, but for the sake of my sanity, I need to know what to expect on certain days, and expecting to put in 8 hours makes scheduling much easier.