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Daisy tells a graphic birth story.  You have been warned.

Well dear readers, Fern has had herself a Baby Boy.  As of this writing, he is exactly 48 hours old, 6 pounds and some change, and he looks like a pink Mr. Magoo with long hands and feet.  I’m totally his favorite.  Fern and her Honeyman are busy adjusting to life +1, so I shall unfold the tale for you….

In the wee, wee hours of Monday morning (or late, late Sunday night really), Baby Boy let Fern know it was time to be born.  So Fern and the Honeyman set off for the birthing center, calling cowgirl M to join them.  The predawn hours were spent in the first stages of labor, sleeping when possible, singing and breathing when sleep wasn’t possible.

I, meanwhile, was sleeping peacefully, then having my usual morning of coffee and cats and chickens and Little Boy and getting the Herban Cowboy off to work.  Just before 8am, M calls me and tells me Fern is 6cm and progressing nicely, so I have another cup of coffee and read another chapter of my book.  At this point, I assumed we had hours and hours and hours, so I casually dressed Little Boy and we finally dragged our butts to the car and headed out the door.

I called M as I left, wondering if I should go let Fern’s chickens out on the way, but the urgency in M’s voice dispersed all other thoughts.  “Um, I think you need to come right now and hurry.  She’s at 10cm.

“What?  Already?  Ohmigod.  I’m on my way.”  Pedal to the metal.  I decided if I got pulled over, I’d stick my belly way out and tell the cop I had to get to the birthing center to have a baby (technically that would not be a lie).

I was the last of the birthing party to arrive.  Back in the birthing room, Fern was in the whirlpool tub with her Honeyman behind her, supporting her.  I joined the midwives, M and the photographer, who documented the event.  The lighting was dim and the only sounds were the whispers of the women and the bubbling of the water in the tub.

And that was what astonished M and I the most.  Here was this woman, with a baby’s head pushing past her pelvic bone, and she squatted quietly in the water, occasionally moaning with her breath as she pushed through the contractions.  Um, wow.  M and I shared giggled confessions behind our hands at how much we had screamed and cursed as we’d pushed our children out of our bodies.

And Fern was so beautiful!  And not in an “oh isn’t childbirth beautiful” kind of way.  I mean literally, truly, powerfully beautiful.  She is a slender woman anyway, and her pregnant belly only added a graceful curve to her middle.  Her skin was dewy and unblemished, her chestnut hair piled gently on top of her head.  I couldn’t stop staring at her, naked and laboring, every part of her perfect and gorgeous.

You know a woman’s true self when she gives birth.  Y’all, when it happened to me, it was awful.  I was a fat, sweaty, naked, angry animal with a puffy face and frizzy hair.  I screamed like a Viking during every contraction, cursing and belching and crying in between.  There was so much sweat and poop and blood.  At one point, I even begged Death to take me.  There was no such drama for Fern.

After more than an hour of coaxing the kid towards the light at the end of the tunnel, the midwives got Fern out of the tub and into the bed to move around and change positions.  We tried a few different ones, everyone taking turns holding her up or squeezing her hands.

Standing?  No.  Hands and knees?  No.  Laying over a yoga ball?  Um, no.  Finally, Jill (the midwife leading our team) says in her thick South Georgia accent, “Well.  I hate to do this, ‘cuz usually the mamas hate it, but let’s get you on your back honey.  I hate to do it, but sometimes it’s just the magic you need.”

So we flipped Fern like a pancake and propped her up with some pillows, the Honeyman snuggling beside her in the bed.  Sure enough, not long after that, Baby Boy’s head starts coming out.

Okay.  So even though I’ve actually had a baby this way before, and I’ve seen pictures and videos, I have never actually witnessed a live human birth.  And that right there Ladies and Gentlewitches, is the coolest thing I have ever seen.

Jill said, “Somebody get the mirror.”  Ooh!  I’m on it.  I can do that.  I grabbed the big hand mirror and held it up between Fern and Jill, angling it so Fern could see all that was happening.  And Fern, who had had her eyes closed the entire time I had been there, suddenly opened her eyes wide and watched.

The waves of the contractions crashed bigger and bigger, each crest bringing us closer and closer.  With each push, Fern saw more and more of the baby she’d been growing inside her.  We held her up, we murmured our encouragement and love, we watched in agony until finally –

POP!

We all gasped as his little face appeared.  M and I began quietly sobbing with joy (such a strange feeling).  And then with an unceremonious mmmmbloomp, he was out.  Jill wiped him off and put him on Fern’s chest to be kissed and cooed at and fallen in love with, while the rest of the team sprang into action, cleaning up various fluids and baby’s first poop (mmmm is for meconium!), delivering the placenta and finishing the paperwork.

With the hand holding part over, M and I decided to make a graceful exit.  We left the happy new family in the bed, Baby Boy already a champ at latching on and nursing.

So that’s it kids.  Our newest little Herban Cowboy has arrived.  Fern has requested no visitors or phone calls if possible for this first week.  Facebook messages are fine, since she can get to them at her leisure.  If you are one of her friends and you are dying to be helpful, bring food!  Visitors are overwhelming, but food is necessary.  M and I are doing our best to keep the new family fed, but more help is always needed.  You can always call me or M to find out what you can do.

Thanks to all who have breathlessly awaited our new arrival.  And in the coming weeks, Fern will emerge from her New Mommy Cave to tell us her story herself.  And post pictures.

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fern considers the fine art of listening

well, folks, we are in the final stretch.  just 6 days until my due date.  wow.  really?  have we come this far already?

i have been blessed by an outpouring of support from so many kind and generous people in my life.  especially by my cowgirls.  with aida, daisy, and the wise and wonderful M, i have managed to find my own space to learn and to grow with my child.  the wisdom and support shared by these amazing women help to ground me in my intuition, into my own innate wisdom.

i think one of my favorite things about sharing with the cowgirls is that each of us genuinely listens to each other.  we share our stories, we bless our homesteads, we aim not to judge, and we flow.  this leaves a sacred space for sharing, and for finding our own way, however different or similar it may be to the witch beside us.  we honor that which is sacred within, while appreciating the variations that make us individuals.

each witch has her own brand of wisdom to share.  daisy leans toward the practical, giving books and nourishing food and good humor to us all.  aida shares her pain, her dirt, and her physical and emotional strength.  the wise and wonderful M shares her heart, her warmth, her gentleness.  and we all share our hands and other tools for helping when we can.

in addition to sharing wisdom and resources, the cowgirls put no demands on one another.  we assist when we can, knowing that the day will come when we may need a helping hand, or four or six, in our gardens, our homes, our births.  we share without the thought of reward, yet we find security in knowing that our own needs will be met when it is time.

never in my life have i had friends like these.  we are sisters, women, mothers and guides.  we weave a web of life, of growth.

simple gifts- mint, sage, and thyme

i have been seeking a kind of network like this for goddess knows how long.  i was seeking before i knew i was seeking, before i knew what i was missing.  somewhere along the meandering path, i set my heart’s compass to love, and i have continued to stumble into the most beautiful and enlightening situations.

that said, i have learned in my young age to be careful of the kinds of help i accept.  the cowgirls don’t call ourselves ‘helping’ one another; we prefer to think of it as simply doing what we do, what feels right for every creature involved.  often, we enjoy the doing as much as the person in need enjoys the assistance.  and we always, always have a good time doing it.

too many times we fall into the trap of self-sacrificing.  many of us have been raised with the judeo-christian mores of self-sacrifice, with the notion that this makes us somehow better than others, better than even our selves.  and while, yes, it is good to shed some of our selves from time to time and give forth to someone else who may be in need, to force ourselves into a state of ascetic piety doesn’t really help anybody.  plus, it makes us not fun to be around.

gifts that keep giving- mabel and esther

i got a lot of flack from my sister about throwing my new family a party in lieu of letting her plan a baby shower.  she griped and complained, “when will i ever have another opportunity to do something for you?”  yet, as i discussed my wishes with her regarding food and guests, she met my requests with contempt and sarcasm.  so much for doing something for me, huh?

recently, two high-school girlfriends also wanted to do something for me.  i acquiesced, still feeling quite satisfied from the anticipation celebration.  i asked that my sister and mother be included, since they hadn’t had the “opportunity to do something” for me.  they agreed, and asked me about my needs here in the final two weeks of pregnancy.  i told them the truth- we were well stocked, and that all we needed now was cloth diapers.  we set up a registry for them, and intended to add a little money as we made it, or to ask others to contribute to our fund, until we had enough to get a good supply of diapers.

it’s funny how people seem to think they know what is best for you.  i loved all of the gifts i received from the women in attendance- i got adorable clothes, shoes, blankets, and yes, money (going straight to the diaper fund!).  i even got a gift certificate for homemade baked ziti!  but oddly enough, from the two women who wanted to “do something” for me, i got exactly the opposite of what i needed, or wanted.  i feel a little guilty for thinking this way, but i can’t help but wonder what about my requests seemed to them to be not in my best interest?  one friend spent a considerable amount of our time together casting doubt upon my birth choices, and the other spent a crazy amount of money on items we already had or did not need in the first place.  while i felt touched initially at the thoughtfulness of these women “doing something” for me, at the end of it, i felt a bit slighted and a little angry that my wishes had been so easily dismissed.  now i have two large bags full of items i can’t use that i have to take back to target, and still no cloth diapers.  at least now i’ll have a store credit when i’m in a pinch, or at the very least, items to re-gift when my next friend gets pregnant.

the cowgirls never cease to inquire honestly what each others’ needs are, and then listen, consider, and thoughtfully give.  i appreciate the books, herbs, chickens, bathrobes, mobiles, food, and rituals shared by these women during my time of need.  but most of all, i appreciate their commitment to the fine and delicate art of  listening.

the most sacred gift of all- space to grow and discover

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Fern touches on a sensitive subject

In these final days of pregnancy, I have been doing a lot of resting.  Of course, I do my exercises and swing my hips as often as possible (lordisa, do they hurt!), but I must admit I have been spending a lot of time off of my feet.  This has facilitated me doing something I don’t really do- watch TV.

A large part of our meager income is thanks to the honeyman’s graphic design skills.  While I am not typically a TV watcher, honeyman likes to have it on while he works- being from the Big Apple, he works well in chaotic and noisy environs.  So, of course this means that as I am sitting on my big butt, I, too, have been watching TV.

It’s worth noting that we do not have cable.  Which means our choices are blessedly limited- cable TV can make a person batshit crazy with all of the inane choices available.  But this also means that even when we don’t want to see them, there are some pretty heavy, fear-mongering shows on network TV.  Shows such as CSI and others like it can’t seem to go five minutes without uttering words such as “rape” and “sexual assault.”  There was a time when I would have felt compelled to watch such shows (many, many moons ago), but since life is scary enough, these were the first to go when I stopped watching TV more than 10 years ago.  In addition to the crime-dramas, there are the readily available news shows, also heavy with the fear.  And it is one of these shows that has inspired this post.

This past Friday evening, the honeyman and I rented a movie (the A-Team was awesome, ya’ll!) and made some pasta for one of our final date nights as non-parents.  We turned on the tube while we were waiting for dinner to finish, and set up our little nest for comfortable action-movie-watching.  The show that was on was a news show featuring the Peace Corps.  As we watched, a story unfolded about a lovely, idealistic young woman who was murdered while teaching in a foreign country.  She had discovered that one of her fellow volunteers had been sexually assaulting some of their young female students.  An email and an information leak later, and the young woman was found dead in her hut, after letting her dog out.

The show went on to feature other women who had been assaulted and raped while on duty with the Peace Corps.  It was gut-wrenching to watch, but I wouldn’t stop.  The honeyman kept checking in- was I sure I wanted to watch this?  I nodded, and remained steadfast. As I listened to these women tell their stories on national television, thoughts of my own fears and experiences began to surface.  I went to the places in my heart that for so long I had ignored, suppressed, pushed down, way deep down.  It’s only been in the recent present that I have begun to accept and deal with my own experiences with such an unfair and atrocious reality.  And I, like so many women, must answer to these memories every day.

There was a time in life when I thought that I could erase the things that had happened to me.  I could numb my fears with alcohol, with food, even with sex.  It wasn’t until I found some compassion for myself, and began to tell my own story, that the healing began.  And it’s funny- it’s still only beginning.  Not a day goes by when I don’t remember it, when I don’t feel it.  It never stops happening.

I won’t patronize you with numbers and statistics on sexual abuse and it’s prevalence in our culture and others around the world.  Statistics don’t heal, they don’t comfort, they don’t understand.  Instead, I encourage you- hell, I demand you- to tell your story.  Tell it, and tell it again.  Find your tribe.  Dance to your pain.  Look it in the eyes and laugh at it.  Own it.  Wear it on a t-shirt, make art about it, have a party to celebrate it.  Make it yours.  You will find others like you.  And as much as it hurts to know that others have endured something like you have, investigating your pain earns you strength, resilience, and best of all, love.  It’s not magic, people.  But it kind of is.

It’s taken me a lot of time, effort, crying, sharing, walking, dancing, tree-climbing, singing, screaming and other sorts of unorthodox therapies to come to a place where I can face my demons.  It hasn’t come easy, but it has come abundantly.  I now have a loving tribe, women and men in my life who listen in earnest and share healing love energy.  It’s taken a lot of sorting through the rubble of acquaintances and experiences to find my true friends.  I am continually astounded at what I discover about the women in my life each time we share in ritual.  I find more strength and loving within myself, and I see it reflected in the faces of my tribeswomen- and in the men in our lives.  I see the faces of the oppressors, of the barbarians softened into faces of respect and protection in the man I love and the men who love the powerful women in my life.

I’ll never stop holding out hope that one day such stories will be something we read about in the herstory books and we try to imagine the horrors of, like we do the Holocaust.  But until then, I will delve down deep into my own pain, and while I am there, will take the hands of the women like myself, and smile, as we walk our paths to a place of healing.

Peace, peace, peace.  Ferocity and love to all who have been hurt in this way.  May we find each other, embrace, and dance on.

Following are some suggestions for how to find your tribe, how to protect yourself, and how to nurture the love within.

–       First and foremost, share your story.  Whether it’s through a support group, a dance class, an herbal lecture, or a sewing circle, find a group of women, and start talking.

–       Get out in nature.  Breathe in the air, put your bare feet on the ground, feel the life in a huge tree.  Reconnect with Mother Earth.  She has infinite healing powers.

–       Take care of your health.  You will feel better and have more stamina for the healing work when you feel and look your best.

–       When you are out and about alone, walking, biking, running, skateboarding, or whatever, navigate well-lit and well-traveled areas, and always let a trusted girlfriend know where you’ll be and when you expect to be home.  It may sound goofy, or even dependent, but knowing someone has your back is empowering, and let’s face it, it’s just a damn good idea.

–       If you live alone, consider getting a dog.  Preferably a medium-sized to large one.  Yes, it is a big responsibility.  But a dog will be more loyal to you than any gun, knife, or taser, likely won’t be wrestled from you and used against you, and will be a deterrent before any need arises to use force.  And there are trainers who specialize in pairing guard dogs with women specifically for this purpose.

–       Make art and journal.  Be as messy as you can be when you create.  Life is messy and erratic, and abuse gets on our hands and hearts.  When you can see your fears and your dreams come alive in color and texture, they will be more easy to recognize in real, waking life.  The power lies in awareness.

–       Finally, love your Self.  I cannot stress this enough.  No matter who you are, what you’ve done, where you come from, or what you think you look like, be your most beautiful and loving Self.  Be your own best friend, laugh, and forgive.

Wilddog Ollie and the Bulldozer- home security systems, personal trainers, therapists, and potential weapons of mass destruction.

Healing blessings to all.

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Fern dishes about her obsession with food.

So, I’m guessing by now, you, dear reader, have estimated that my favorite subject for this blog is food.  You would not be incorrect, although I would say that I have a variety of favorite subjects and thoughts to share here.  Perhaps it’s having a baby on the way, and considering how to get him off to the best start in his life that food is at the top of my list of concerns.  Maybe it’s that I know that what and how we eat is the foundation for all that we do, and often it’s the way that we eat that either hinders or helps us to achieve our day-to-day goals and lifelong dreams.

Truly, we are what we eat.

I come from a family chock full of diabetics.  Nearly all of the adults I am related to are overweight and/or have high blood pressure.  Somehow, I managed to evade these disorders, though I can only attribute it to pure luck, since I grew up eating as they did.  At age 17, I was struck with horrible cramping pains in my gut.  They caused me to double over, and often, to miss school.  Being from a traditional western family, I went to a doctor.

I knew even then that I didn’t eat properly.  I hated fruits and vegetables (I wouldn’t even eat ketchup!), and my diet consisted strictly of fast foods and refined sugars.  There was nothing even remotely natural in my diet.  I knew this was wrong.  I knew that I needed to start eating “right,” but eating vegetables totally made me gag.  (In hindsight, I can probably attribute this to the fact that all of the vegetables available in our home usually came from cans, were seasoned with bones and fat, and cooked to greyish mush.)

So, I had a talk with myself, and decided that I needed to own up to my part in this situation, and tell the doc just exactly what and how I ate, and open up the conversation for him to correct my behavior.  I felt like all I needed was a little guidance, some adult to tell me what I should do.  The fear of getting into trouble was usually enough to get me on the right track with other aspects of my life.  I figured this was no exception.

So, I sat in the good doctor’s office and got my checkup.  At the end of our appointment, I came clean about the dirty foods and I asked him what he suggested I do to correct the problem.  He smiled and said, “You’re fine.  You are a normal teenager.  I’m going to write you a prescription for {blank} and {blank}.”

I felt a bit puzzled.  I was just a dumb teenager, and this guy was a doctor, so certainly he was smarter than me.  As I walked away from the pharmacy counter with those two plastic brownish-orange bottles in my hand, something just didn’t feel right.  Still, I obediently began taking the pills as prescribed.

Perhaps it’s because I grew up around a lot of sick people, but I kind of enjoyed the attention I got from pulling out my pills at school or work.  Now I had something special, something was wrong with me, but these trusty little pills in the bottles with MY name on them were going to make me alright.

Except they didn’t.  I mean, they really, really didn’t.  They made me the opposite of alright.  I found myself crying on the bathroom floor with excruciating intestinal cramps.  Again, I began missing work and school.

So we called up the doctor and he ordered a scope.  I went to another doctor who ran a little light down my throat and checked things out.  Hmm.  It hurt, and I had to drink some god-awful chalk smoothie before it went down.  But I figured they knew what they were doing, so I obediently did as I was told.  The results came in- gastritis, one step away from ulcers.  I was written a third prescription.

Once again, the abdominal pains increased.  I spent more time crying on the floor and holding my belly than most teenagers spend talking on the phone.  I remember sitting on the grimy bathroom floor of the grocery store I worked in, and having a heart-to-heart with myself.  This had to stop.

I quit taking my pills.  I tried to eat the one fruit I did like- the apple- at least once everyday.  I ate applesauce and drank apple juice.  While I knew this wasn’t the answer to the problem, it was a start.  The pains lessened a bit.  I began taking Tums like candy to help with the indigestion I had from the bad foods I was still eating, and to gain some calcium, since I also would not drink milk or eat cheese.

I graduated high school a few months later.  I opted out of the college track, choosing instead to work.  I got a job selling jewelry at the mall.  Everyday for lunch, I’d hit the Chik-fil-a.  I remembered reading that this was one of the ‘healthiest’ choices in fast food, and it certainly was the tastiest.  Usually, my grandma would send me with a coupon for a free sandwich with the purchase of a meal, so I had chicken for lunch and dinner.  I was making my own money now- real money.  So, it was time for a change.

Each day that I went on my lunch break to the food court, I ordered my chicken sandwich ‘meal,’ complete with fries and soft drink.  And then I made a deal with myself: order a salad with each meal.  Eat one bite, and throw the rest away if you have to, but eat one bite.  I drowned it in Italian dressing, and I gagged down one bite each day.  Sometimes I was so disgusted by the taste, I threw the rest away.  Sometimes I took it home to choke another bite down later with my dinner sandwich.  But I stayed committed, and I bought one salad every day.

I was 19 then.  It took me nearly 4 years before I could eat a salad and enjoy it.  Usually there were chicken fingers and honey mustard on top, but at least I was getting something green in my diet.  I tried this trick with other foods I didn’t like but knew were good for me.  I hated bananas, but found when I blended them into a smoothie, they were tolerable, and even good!  Same went for yogurt.  I continued with all kinds of fruits and veggies, until I began to not only enjoy them, but I actually craved them!  By the time I was 24, I had begun working in fine dining restaurants and was eating all kinds of delicious, fresh, and exotic foods (WARNING- do not ever turn down food from the chef you work for.  He will make your life H E L L).

I discovered that nuts weren’t exclusively for brownies and candy bars; they upped the texture, enjoyment, and nutritious value of my salads.  I learned that bitter greens go great with rich wine and butter sauces and fleshy, fresh fish.  Onions and apples stuffed into a roasted chicken breast?  I’ll have seconds!

At the age of 27, I became a full-fledged vegetarian.  A couple of years later, I was vegan.  Now 32, I have since come back to being an omnivore, though I consider myself 90% vegetarian.  I still crave a lot of the bad indulgences I grew up with.  But now I make little deals with myself.  How bad do I really want that snickers bar?  Bad enough to drink a bottle of water and eat a banana first?  Ice cream craving?  How about a bowl of whole-grain cereal with nuts, dried fruit, and- what the heck- a few bitterweet chocolate chips?  Now, I substitute smoothies for milkshakes.  I buy bars of expensive dark chocolate that are high in antioxidants, and I eat only a square or two, my craving satisfied, and knowing my money was well spent with each decadent bite.  It helps me not to strive for perfection, but instead, to try to do just one better than the alternative.  It’s all about moderation- and patience.

Needless to say, my gastritis has disappeared.

Do I stumble?  Of course I do.  There are some nights when the honeyman and I want to curl up with a movie, and eat pizza followed by ice cream.  But these nights are relatively rare, and we typically offset our fatty foodprint by eating salads and drinking veggie juice the next day.  Our guts usually remind us pretty quickly why we don’t eat this way all the time.  And it’s generally pretty easy to track the culprit anytime we do get sick.  Which doesn’t happen very often these days.

So, dear reader, you now have some insight into why food is so important to me.  I still have some trouble when it comes to family gatherings.  I get picked on for being “too healthy” or just plain “weird.”  And I do my best to explain the reasons for my choices, in the hopes that I can help those family members who complain about their weight realize that the power of our health lies in our own kitchens, and in our own hands.

 

Here are some of my favorite ideas for beating ‘bad’ food cravings, and learning a new eating lifestyle:

  1. Remember that the goal is not about getting skinny- it’s about being healthy (I got ‘lucky’ to be thin- more on that double-edged sword in a future blog.).
  2. Throw out your ideas of perfection.  This is about awareness.
  3. If you absolutely hate something, don’t force yourself to eat it.  Take your time, and introduce substitutions gradually (it’s been 15 years since my nutrition journey began- and I still struggle).  Hate yogurt, but know you need it?  Make your shake or smoothie with ice cream and include one spoonful of full-fat vanilla yogurt (Brown Cow brand is my personal favorite!), until you come to tolerate the flavor; gradually add more as the taste becomes more palatable.
  4. Know that by introducing more good foods into your lifestyle, the bad ones will naturally begin to be less desireable.  No need to go cold turkey.
  5. Don’t watch too much TV.  Big food businesses want you to eat their crappy food, and will do their best to entice you and kill your self-esteem via the tube.  Turn on some music and shake your booty instead!
  6. Have dinner with friends, preferably in someone’s home.  Eating in isolation will only make you feel depressed and you’re less likely to hold yourself accountable for what and how much you eat.  Sharing meals with good friends who eat healthfully will increase your chances of making more sensible choices and of trying something new.
  7. If you have a craving that just won’t quit, try making it at home instead of going out.  You can control the portions, you can add health-boosting herbs and spices, and you will save money.  Inviting friends over will only add to your enjoyment and portion considerations.
  8. Alternately, don’t keep food culprits around your house.  If the craving gets so strong that you simply must have it, walk or bike to the store.  This way, not only are you offsetting some of the negative effects of the food before you eat it, but the extra effort it takes to get it will make you think twice about how bad you really want it.
  9. Substitute natural sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, dates, stevia) for white sugar in everything from your morning coffee to dessert.  Natural sweeteners each have their own health benefits and unique flavors, and you will end up using less, while boosting you vitamin and mineral intake.
  10. Get out of your shell.  Try a new activity, like yoga or zumba.  You will likely find at least one other person facing the same issues that you are, and who is willing to listen and offer supportive feedback.  Plus you’ll end up feeling so good afterward, you’ll be jonesing for fresh foods instead of junk.

Finally, take an honest look at your Self, and smile.  Love who you are, enjoy your body, and be your own best friend.  Remind your Self that you are getting healthy for the long run, and learning new ways to enjoy this precious life.  Be the love you want to see in the world!

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Daisy discusses death with a three year old.

Little Boy and I saw a dead squirrel today on our walk.  It was totally gross.  It floated in the murky water of the lake at Daffin Park, patches of skin gone, revealing nasty smooth white skin underneath.  Sick.  It took me a minute to even identify it as a squirrel it was so weird looking.

“Look at vat Mommy!” Little Boy shouted as he ran towards the concrete edge.  “Eew what IS it?” he crouched to get a better look.

“I think it’s a squirrel.  It’s dead.  Eew.”  and then I added, “Aw, poor thing.”

“Aw, poor fing!” my little parrot echoed.  Little Boy wanted to stay and observe the dead squirrel some more, but I was eager to continue our walk, so we moved on. 

As we walked away, he called over his shoulder, “Bye Dead Squirrel!  I hope you feel better soon!”

I had a moment.  Do I let it go, or correct his understanding of death?  We’ve had discussions about it before.  He has seen dead animals, we’ve told stories of long dead relatives (like the Herban Cowboy’s late father “Grandpa Andy”), and we’ve even discussed how the dinosaurs died a LONG, LONG time ago, before there were even any people on the planet.  I have done my best to answer his questions as honestly as I can, in terms I think he can understand.  So far he’s been very matter of fact about it all.

So I said, as gently as I could, “Well, Honey, that squirrel is dead.  She’s not going to get better.  She’s just gone now.”

He continued walking for a moment, then stopped and turned back toward the dead squirrel.  When he turned back, I was surprised to see big, fat tears welling up in his little eyes.  “Well…” he began in a cracking little voice.  “Well…”  He was obviously thinking very hard about what he needed to say.  “Well, Mommy, but I don’t WANT the animals to die.” 

“Oh Honey.”  I swooped down to be Mommy and we hugged for a few minutes.  I broke the embrace and got face to face with him.  “Are you feeling sad about that squirrel?”

“Yes,” he replied, looking honestly more heartbroken than I’ve seen him in a long time.  And then he repeated it, and I swear his cute little chin was actually quivering, “I don’t want the animals to die.”

What could I do?  I hugged him to me again and he let me hold him without wiggling free.  I said, “I don’t want the animals to die either, Sweetheart.  I know it’s hard for you to understand right now, but that is how things have to be.  That is life, my Love.”

We walked on and he muttered, “But I don’t WANT it to be.”  We held hands and walked to the playground and talked about how important it was to have as much fun as we can every day, having adventures and making people laugh and helping people along the way.  Before long, he was laughing and showing me how he can go down the slide backwards.  Showoff.  I don’t know where he gets it.

Little Boy in the backyard.

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Aida has some ‘splaining to do.

Daisy asked me to write something for the full moon.  Actually, it is part of my commitment to this blog and to the other cowgirls to do so.  And I was about to.  I really, really was.  And then, life kind of happened.  It tends to happen to me a lot this life thing.  Lately, I was wondering about my ability to follow through on my commitments and I have a pretty shitty record.  So, to make it all up, I was going to write this stellar (lunar!) post.

Also on the agenda for this past week was a trip to New York City.  I’ve never been and that was high on the Big Boy’s list of things-to-do-in-this-lifetime.  So, we were going to head down on the 23rd and be back today.

Oh, readers, all two of you….how funny Aida is when she tries to plan.

To catch you up a little bit, I’m now living in a little apartment across the street from an old graveyard tucked into the forest up the mountain on an unpaved road.  I grew up in the Caribbean and have spent the past five years living in Savannah.  To drive up an unpaved road in the waning days of December is a skill I thought I had mastered.  I have.  My car apparently has not.

One night, oh yeah, the night of the full moon, specifically, when I was going to have written this great piece of blog literature that would go down in the annals of the best moon blog post of this week, there was a winter storm.  I’ve never let a good storm stop me.  I mean we were driving back to the woods after a couple of days with our cousin’s in New York.  We had just ridden a ferry across Lake Champlain after getting lost about twenty times.  A little drive up a hill?  Please.  I once drove my little white W bug (a gift hand assembled by my dad) for a couple months with no starter.  I know hills.

One third of the way up, in a snow storm, my the unpaved road became a treadmill under my car.  Oh we were pedal to the metal, but not going anywhere.  It wasn’t even the steepest point of the road, we’d already tackled that one.  But, the car was tired-or cranky, or whatever other anthropomorphic attribution we can muster.  So, I left it in the ditch.  I grabbed the dog’s leash with one hand and some groceries with the other after slinging my ten pound backpack over my shoulder.  The boy grabbed the rest of the groceries and his attitude and off we went.  In the dark.  In the snow.  Up a hill.  Where bears live.  Some of us (I’m lookin’ right at you Big Boy) have not yet learned the skill of the steady trudge.  So, whine, whine, whine…run to catch up….pant, whine, whine, whine was his chosen method of getting up the hill.  Mine was march, march, march…clutch heart in an effort to remind myself to not kill this child and march, march, march…pull predatory dog back into a sustainable shoulder to leash ratio and march, march, march.  Fine, full disclosure, when I had any breath left over, it was finely channeled into some very creative cursing.  I have a gift, what can I say?

We got home to the cat.  Popped in a movie and slept.

The next morning, wanting to feed two birds with one biscuit, I took the dog with me back down the hill (about a mile and half to two) to the car.  The plan was to start it up and see how I did with getting it out of the ditch in the daylight.  Raised to be conscientious of other drivers on hilly roads with blind corners, I’d left the hazards on.  I kept expecting to see the blinking lights around the next corner.  I didn’t.  Instead, I found the vague outline of my car.  I unlocked it manually (you know, actually sticking the key into the hole and twisting?) put the dog in and started scraping snow off the windshield.  I tried to start it.  I know, readers, you’ve already arrived at this conclusion.  Dead.  Dead.  Dead.  The battery didn’t even give me a little dashboard light action.  Nada.

So, just as I was about to lose hope, a huge pickup slid up and rolled down its window.  (By the way, Vermont, that wasn’t the first car to pass but the first to pass…I’ve got my eye on you no.)  I didn’t even wait for him to ask.  “Could I get a ride into town?”

And, that is how I got a ride to the first gas station in town from a taxidermist who was just delivering a bear he’d stuffed up to the hunter on my hill who’d bagged it.  At the gas station, I got myself some fresh,, hot, homemade chili and asked how I could get into town proper.

“There’s a bus?”  (Still snowstorm, everyone.)  Sigh. I stepped outside to scrape the last chunks of chili into my blue-tinged lips.  I decided to go ahead to the post office across the way and get my p.o. box since I don’t get mail service up my mountain.  When I came out, a young man (don’t get too excited, I mean a REALLY young man…again, sigh.) asked me if I was the lady that needed a ride into town.

Yepper.  That was me.

So, one stop closer.  I was able to get a ride from the only person I know in town back to the car to rescue the dog (had you forgotten that he was still in the car?).  She very kindly gave me a ride back up to my apartment.  The roadside assistance folks had told me that it would be about two and half hours before they could come tow the car.

After an episode of Dexter (rented from the family run video store), I re-packed my bag and hiked back down to the car, this time alone, to wait for the towers.  Things do tend to look rather homogeneous under a thick blanket of snow that was growing thicker by the minute.  So, when I reached the place that I though my car should be, I uttered a curse and rounded another corner just to make sure.  But, nope, the car had already been taken.  So, for a second, I stood there and weighed my options (for those keeping score, I’ve already walked more than 3 miles in the snow, in a storm in less than 4 hours).  Options: 1. lie down and let the cold take me while I wept.  2. walk the two miles home UP hill. 3. keep walking.  Tenacious to a fault, I kept walking.  And walking.  And walking.  I only fell twice.  I only shed one lone tear.  I only used up 1/3 of my encyclopedic cursing knowledge.  After another two miles, boots soaked through, heart hurting from all that cold air, chin numb, someone gave me a ride into town.  Right to the place where why car was waiting.

And I got to watch three more episodes of Dexter while I waited.

The next day, after shelling out my Christmas fun money into four new “Arctic Claws” tires and a new battery, I could not get out of bed, I felt so sick.  So, Christmas eve was spent in bed watching movie after movie trying not to vomit.  Christmas was spent in much the same way.

But, in the words of the Big Boy, between all that whining: “At least now I can say I’ve been on a real adventure.”

Of course, when we walked up from the abandoned car that first night, I watched as my son spread a little foam onto his upper lip and chin and with his new razor, shaved for the first time.  All that did was lend additional surrealism to these past few days.

And that, my friends, is why there was no awesome full moon post.

 

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Daisy butchers a Dickens classic.

I am not getting you a Christmas present.  There, there; dry your tears.  It’s not as bad as it sounds.  Really.  If you think I’m a Scrooge, join me for a Christmas Carol, Herban Cowgirl style.  First, let’s follow the Ghost of Christmas Past to an amalgam of Little Daisy’s childhood Christmases….

By Thanksgiving, my mother would always announce (quite emphatically and sadly) that This Year We Were Not Going To Have A Big Christmas.  She would explain to my younger sister and I that we were very fortunate to have all that we did, and Christmas isn’t about getting presents anyway.  Then, over the next few weeks, my sister and I would watch as the drifts of brightly wrapped packages got bigger and bigger under the tree, eventually spreading across the living room floor like an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Then of course, Christmas morning would arrive, and with it, all the rest of the toys and goodies that Santa had left for us in the night.  It was a toy orgy beyond most children’s wildest dreams.

I was always excited for Christmas, and eagerly anticipated its arrival, but so much about the holiday confused me, even at a young age.  Why do people put up decorations and do Christmas stuff for weeks before the actual day?  Nobody does that with any other holiday.  Why do we get/give so many presents?  In the stories, Santa only brings one, and what do presents have to do with Jesus being born anyway (my mom always said it was because of the Magi, but they only brought one present each as well)?

I was too young to be able to articulate it, but I always wished for a truly simple Christmas.  There was something about opening ALL those presents that made me feel uncomfortable.  I also spent a lot of time thinking about the Jewish kids, and wondering why Santa never left them any presents.  On a side note that the Herban Cowboy thinks is hilarious (he grew up Jewish), I always assumed that any undecorated houses at Christmastime were where the Jewish people lived.

Enough idyllic Christmas scenes from Daisy’s childhood; the Ghost of Christmas Present will take it from here.  First of all, I do love getting gifts for people.  I love finding something that makes me think of someone I love, knowing that they will love it.  I love the look on people’s faces when they receive a gift that truly touches them.  What’s so difficult about it?  Make a list, check it twice, shop, wrap, give.

Of course what works in theory often falls apart in practice.  Making the list, even when I check it twice, I invariably forget at least one very important person.  I really hate shopping, but when the stores are twice as crowded as normal and everyone seems to be rude and pushy and angry for some reason, it’s even worse.  I also hate wrapping presents.  I don’t know why, but I always have.  I’d rather be waterboarded for an entire minute than wrap any kind of gift. 

So the actual giving part is the only part of this entire process that doesn’t irritate me.  And don’t even get me started on the boring, awful Christmas music.  I know some of you love that stuff and that’s fine, but imagine the most annoying music you can think of being played everywhere you go for an entire month.  Gah!

Sometimes I make homemade gifts for people, but I do that year round anyway.  And some people think handmade gifts are cheap.  I’ve even had someone say to me, referencing the bath salts I just handed her, “It’s hard to be able to afford gifts for everyone.”  I just let it go, but I always want to explain to people that I have enough money to buy them a gift but I chose instead to… Uch.  You know what?  Nevermind.

I do feel pangs of guilt when I hear my mother or sister talk about how many gifts they’ve gotten for people and how much shopping they still have to do, because I know that all they’re getting from me are secondhand books and homemade soup mix (hastily wrapped in brown paper).  It’s hard not to judge myself because I’m not putting as much thought or effort into their Christmases as they do mine.

Perfect. The house is now decorated. Pass the eggnog.

So where do I go from here?  How do I celebrate the holiday in a personal and meaningful way without succumbing to the pressures of the perceived expectations of others?  This is where the Ghost of Christmas Future gently takes our hands and leads us to a vision of the Christmases to come.

Daisy’s utopian Christmas?  One present for Little Boy from mom and dad, and one present from Santa.  One small Christmas tree covered with two strings of lights and a bunch of old ornaments.  Homemade food and drink, freely shared with friends and family.  We’ll spend a weekend making presents for our extended family, each year a different project; salt dough ornaments or handmade cards or whatever crafty idea suits our fancy that year. 

In my imaginary future Christmases, I feel no guilt for not celebrating the way others do.  I give what I can, when I can.  I accept gifts with grace, without feeling the pressure to reciprocate. 

I’ve already started making these changes towards my ideal future Christmas.  This year I Freecycled all the decorations except the tree, two strands of lights, a box of ornaments and our stockings.  No garlands, no wreaths, no extra Christmas tchotchkes.  I got my nieces one book to share.  My mom is getting some homemade lentil soup mix in a jar.  The Herban Cowboy is getting some sexy flannel PJ pants (I’m going to burn his nasty sweatpants so help me).  A few of my Cowgirl friends will be the lucky recipients of some books I no longer want in my collection. 

And that’s it kids.  No guilt, no shame, no pressure, no excess.  This may sound crazy coming from a non-believer, but I’m pretty sure it’s what Jesus would have wanted.

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