5/2/2012 Paranormal Day

Today it’s raining, and it has been raining off and on, and a bit chilly all week. I’m afraid I’m in a rather grumpy mood (and today is the Great American Grump-out Day), and mostly what I’ve been noticing is the knotweed springing up like crazy, and the goats getting out of the electric fence more often. We’re going to have to go around and check the connections, and probably replace sections of wire… as soon as possible.

Mayday itself was rainy, and I pointed out that that made it hard to wash one’s face in the May dew, but Kat said it made it easier. I said that it didn’t count if it wasn’t condensation, and she pointed out that rain IS a product of condensation “It’s a hundred degree humidity out there!”

The big news this week is that Willow successfully completed her month with no wheat and dairy, and as far as we can tell, it had no effect. Neither are we seeing any change from “loading” up on them these first few days of May. This is good news, because it means that she doesn’t have to continue dropping them from her diet for the rest of her life. It’s bad news because that removes a possible affordable therapy we can do ourselves. It throws us back into the looking for possible therapies available “out there”, which, if they were easy to find, we’d have done so by now, and may have large monetary and/or physical costs. At any rate, she doesn’t feel any better than she has for the last few months, which is sad. As she said one morning, ” Just getting dressed should be preparation for your day, not a goal.” CFS sucks.

We tripped over the word “feckless” this week. It’s always been a word that was applied to the rather pathetic wannabe heros in fairy tales, and I have accepted it as a derogatory term, but not thought about it much. Apparently feck is energy. Feckless is lacking in vitality. More than just unthinking or irresponsible, it implies a certain inability to get anything done. So feckless is what people with CFS are. There’s a website for the word feckless. It says “feckless is on hiatus. it became woefully out-of-date, and is taking a little nap while it dreams of its future.” We can now aspire to being feckful. More usefully, it can be used for “minced oaths”. If you don’t give a feck, “are out of fecks to give”, it will be a reasonable expression that you don’t have the energy to put into caring. This reminds me of when I learned that “pluck” and “lights” were both words for guts- not just having intestinal fortitude (hmm, that refers back to the innards as well!) but also to the actual organs- as “I’ll have your lights and liver!”. (Lights are specifically lungs) One rarely hears that use of the words these days. Gosh I love language!

So yesterday we had pizza for lunch, and I made Willow Cream of Wheat (rather than Cream of Rice or Grits) for breakfast, and good old Mac and Cheese for supper. I also made a strawberry rhubarb pie- although we were too full after mac and cheese to have it before breakfast! I’ll be honest, I was going into some serious baking withdrawals. The kosher wheat-free cake mixes helped a bit, and rice krispy treats fall into the same broad category as cookies- (although adding sesame seeds, cardamom and chocolate chips does give a bit more leeway for playing- I was thinking of trying a batch with cinnamon chips) but I am SO looking forward to making some loaves of bread! And I missed making the traditional Walpergisnight cake.

The girls went down to Salem this weekend to hang with their friends. They went to see the movie Cabin in the Woods, which apparently looked like a really bad teen horror movie, but they said it was surprisingly good. (Hey, what has Josh Whedon done that’s bad?) They also went to a wax museum, (Willow says their Peter Cushing’s head is too round) and then had to get triple A to give them a jump before driving home.

Yesterday we went out to get milk, cream, yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, bread, bagels, crackers, and buns. We also went to the Blake Brothers Open-house to get a few more cladagh and other rings to fill in holes in our stock. We didn’t want to spend much, nor spend too much time out and sap Willow’s energy. This weekend is “KatCon”, what the girls call getting together with their friends at a Karaoke Parlor to celebrate Kat’s birthday.  (Feel free to send her birthday greetings- it’s May 7th, and she’ll be 25!) I’m heading down to the CT Beltaine a Pagan Odyssey to speak and sell. We’re waiting to see what Willow’s energy is like- if it’s up, they’ll come down and help put up the tent and sell on Saturday, and go up to KatCon Sunday, and I’ll break down myself. I can do it myself if I have to, but quite frankly, I’d rather have help.

Tonight is my next New Normal show, and I hope it goes better than the last one. I have been having SUCH problems with technology! We switched the website to WordPress so I could fix things myself without having to wait for someone else (Josh) to do it for me, but I often can’t figure out how to work it, and this week discovered that one of my problems was that sometimes when I click save, nothing happens, and I have to notice whether the little thingee whirls around and if it doesn’t hit save again harder. I was given to understand that hitting the computer keyboard is NOT supposed to be dependent on how hard you hit it, but I guess it IS binary- hard enough or not hard enough so the computer knows you’ve done it. I know I spend a LOT of time going back and fixing my typing because apparently I type so fast that when I hit the shift to capitalize something, it often does both first letters in a word. Feh.

I am spending a LOT more time than I want to on the computer trying to get the conference website to be the advertising tool it needs to be. I am still excited about the con and the workshops and panels and speakers, but trying to negotiate the fixing the webpage makes me feel like incompetent and frustrated. I hate it, and that may be why I’m not doing it well and easily. I expect that eventually when there are enough people involved, the various jobs of running the con will work the way other cons work- with committees and things being way too slow, and not what I’d envisioned, but at the same time, I am SO looking forward to turning the business parts I’m not good at over to someone who “gets” it. I wish I could figure out a way to be spending my time doing art and writing and what I do enjoy and feel I’m good at. I expect those who’ve spent the last 30-40 years doing jobs they don’t enjoy will be feeling “welcome to the real world!”, but somehow I still feel there’s a germ of truth in the advice that if we do what we love to make a living, the whole world will work better.

I’m trying to remember to exercise- to walk, or to lift weights if I don’t want to go out. The other day we found a bunch of horsetail growing beside the road, and I’ve hung some up to make tea. I am hoping that it will help my nails which are in awful shape. They delaminate like horn spoons left in the dish pan. Part of me distrusts what painting chemicals does to them, part of me feels that the “hard as nails” stuff is protecting them so they’ll grow out (while I try ingesting silica and zinc to get them healthier from the inside). I am experimenting with a “nail growing” application, although I wonder what the mechanism is supposed to be. As it says it can be applied to either polished or naked nails, I highly suspect it does NOT sink in through the nails, but rather through the cuticles around them. Also the directions include the instruction to rub it in with the applicator or your finger. I suspect that any growth that MAY come from using this product is either from improved circulation from the rubbing, or from the placebo effect tricking your body into growing the nail. The stuff is pail green and has blue spots in it. What’s up with the spots? At least it doesn’t smell bad. I have switched to non-acetone polish remover- which means that it does take more rubbing to get the polish off when I decide to touch up. Mainly I just want a protective shell since the poor nails fragment so, to keep them from breaking off. I have to smooth the edges of one or another daily. Having paid little attention to anything but nails “snagging” things, for most of my life, I have no idea if this is normal or not.

I suspect that the fragmenting ends of the nails is at least partially because last winter I was using the polishing doo-hicky where you shape, then polish, and buff the whole nail with finer and finer abrasives collected (and numbered) on the side of a sponge block. It does smooth down any ridges and leaves them nice and shiny. But perhaps the phrase “take off any ridges” would be a more accurate description. Logically that could reduce the thickness of the nail, and may be why they are flaking off as the “previously polished” sections reach the finger tip and are no longer supported. Possibly the pressure may also stress the nail and lead to de-lamination.

I will also admit that as long as I’m going to be putting on the protective layer, while seeking out the hard as nails, I have been seduced by the sparkly polishes. I have no interested in the red talons I remember on old ladies from my childhood, but I’ve always been a sucker for glitter or iridescence, and now that I’m old enough not to worry about seeming childish, I’m enjoying it. So it’s quite a project: a layer of nail strengthener, with a layer or two of glitter, then a layer of “anti-chip” stuff. It is a huge trial for me to hold still and not do anything while the layers dry, as not doing anything is alien. I try to deal with it by having videos on to distract me- but obviously when actually applying the polish, I need to not watch, and I’m not used to just sitting and staring at the screen. When I watch a movie I’ve seen before I’m discovering all sorts of things that I had only heard the other time(s).

Recently I’ve been watching (and re-watching) sports movies. They are are formulaic and often promote the benefits of “teamwork” that are not dear to my heart. Many of them use the trope of the unexpected victory of underdogs who surprise people by their talent because they were poor, or other outcasts. Hardball broke away from that one by having the really poor kids of normal talents being satisfied simply with being able achieve being in the championship. Hoosiers was less of a sports movie and more about people, and taking responsibility and dealing with the normal stresses of life. Remember the Titans was one of those “you have to learn to get along to be a team” ones that explored how a team overcame the irrational racial prejudice that was so pernicious in the 20th century. I think the help focused on it more, but I liked when someone threw a brick through the black coach’s window while the white coach’s daughter was visiting which terrified her father, and the response was something like “welcome to my life”. I really think we don’t LET ourselves know a whole lot of what’s unpleasant and we could know if we were willing to accept that people we like, and we ourselves, are not always as reasonable as we’d like to think.

In that category I’m going to try to be brief in mentioning the “death” books I’ve been reading this week. They’ve included How we Die, by Sherwin Nuland, Carlson’s Caring for Your Own Dead, and Jessica Mitford’s American Way of Death- Revisited. Apparently these are all “classics” in that field.

Mitford’s description of the bizarre way the American funeral industry developed came out in 1963 and apparently had a major impact on the industry. I think it must have been like when I discovered that you are “allowed” to have a home birth if you want one. Especially under the constraints of having a dead body waiting to be dealt with, you have to make major decisions- NOW. Since most people put off thinking about death until it drops into their laps, they are especially incapable of asking the right questions to be the intelligent, educated consumers they may be in all other aspects of their lives. This edition was updated in the 90s, so it includes descriptions of the formation of societies to get the less elaborate burials most people want, and the rise of cremation. Still, I think it could use another update, there’s nothing in there about Green Burials- although when it comes down to it, those are not much different than the traditional burial before the Civil War. Embalming came in during the Civil War to facilitate sending soldiers bodies home. Did you know that normal embalming really doesn’t preserve the corpse as we’d imagine. Corpses that are being saved for long periods for use in medical schools have a different technique. There are other fascinating bits of information like the “burping coffins”- too tightly sealed coffins could hold in the gas created by normal decay, which on occasion blew the tops off the “casket” (the preferred word) until they added “burping” mechanisms. In 1984 the Funeral Rule was passed requiring businesses to give itemized prices to their customers so people didn’t end up paying for “services” they didn’t want. I was appalled to read that after your house and car, your funeral is the most expensive thing people buy. More than a wedding? Perhaps because so many people have pensions and savings plans to cover death expenses, and the funeral industry keeps tabs on those so they know exactly how much they can charge people. There was a chapter on Forest Lawn- which was fascinating. I haven’t quite finished that book; I have yet to find the description of embalming which Mitford mentions her editors originally thought too graphic, but possibly I have already read it and didn’t even notice. Did you know that embalming fluid is red in order to make the corpse look pinker? I found that fascinating. The subject matter being burial, and thus, death, does not make it macabre, because it’s all so prosaic- people making money and trying to do whatever they need to do to feel good about themselves. It missing being depressing despite being about how an industry reduces people’s options because it so often talks about how people fight back against those pressures. OK, it is depressing thinking about how we are blindsided by these problems.

When Lisa died, I remember poor Steve knew that lots of friends and relatives would show up at his house, so he sent for large amounts of food to be a good host. Apparently he didn’t know that the primary response to a death is to bring food to the survivors. He was swamped! Often the biggest problem is how to store the food. On a lighter note, our family will always remember how when Mother was planning her funeral services (she was NOT one to shy away from taboo subjects), we got to talking about the ubiquitous finger sandwiches with tuna and spam. “You almost never see those except at funerals”, my brother remarked,  “I love them. I can hardly wait!” It only took moments for him to realize his mis-speaking, and you may well imagine that we never let him forget it, even as he was dying himself. I made sure to bring some to the gathering after his funeral.

I looked back in my journals to the day Ælfwine died, and his funeral. We did OK, but it is very hard to deal with trying to juggle the emotional needs of those around you with your own. I am VERY pleased that Willow understands what I want well enough that I’m not worried about either burial issues or end of life decisions. A couple of days ago I dreamed that Mark had died, and woke up wondering what I’d do about it if it happened. Really, everyone, if you haven’t done it yet, make sure you have made your wishes clear, recorded, and easy to find, redundantly! How you want your final days and disposition of your body, and your goods arranged. The vast majority of people have those instructions stored some place where it’s not found until AFTER the funeral, at which point their family finds out that “they did it wrong”. I almost blew Ælfwine’s arrangement to donate his body to a medical school because he died on a Friday, and the school didn’t want it on Monday. Luckily, as it had been refrigerated they were willing to accept it on spec, but it was close. I didn’t think about it until the hospital called and told me they wanted it gone out of their storage. He had his card saying where it was going in his wallet, but no one thought to look there. I suppose they expected me to keep track, and I’d forgotten where he was supposed to be sent. What I remember from Mother’s death was how fast they came to collect the leftover morphine, the body was our problem. In the old days, when someone died, the people in town told each other and the family knew which distant friends and relatives needed to be told. These days we should all probably have a file with an easy to search name in our computers with a list of “who to tell”, and where to find anything else important. I haven’t done that yet, but I will if you will. The last thing someone who’s had a parent, child, spouse or friend die needs is to have to deal with the frustration of not knowing what they’re supposed to do next!

This should be easier when one dies of a long illness rather than a surprise accident, but we are really not good at talking about death. The book How We Die, contained a lot of good information on the medical aspects of modern death. Since the author is a general practitioner, he also discusses the important social and emotional impact of various types of death. I had no idea that people died OF Alzheimer’s, I only thought they died with it. Apparently the mental problems are part of your body falling apart. It’s pretty gruesome- both for those who have it, and those who love them. Put me down for DNR immediately if my mind goes! It also talked about cancer, heart attacks, AIDS, suicide, and why old age isn’t considered a cause of death although autopsies so often show that if the “cause of death” hadn’t happened, the person probably would have died of something else soon- because our bodies wear out over time. That book is more philosophical and less witty, and certainly doesn’t offer the reader as many options for empowerment as the burial books do, but I can recommend it.

Caring for Your Own Dead is a manual for taking the ultimate step in being in control of the post mortem events. I was not thrilled to discover that New Hampshire is one of the bottom two states when it comes to laws about funerals reducing our choices. This edition was from 1987, so maybe things have improved since then. As with so many other aspects of the law code, it comes down to legislators deferring to the advice of “experts”, which is the people in the industry, who want to make sure that only the “professionals” get to do their job. It’s like the early guilds or unions protecting their members, not the public good.  I admit that, as the song goes, “You just can’t leave dead bodies lying round”, but I was surprised after growing up in this culture, that we are at greater risk from our feces than our dead.

Let’s face it, as I know from my anthropological reading, most funeral customs are based on some pretty basic things- rotting bodies are not pleasant to have around, so you want to get them away from where you live, while respecting the memory of the person who used to use the body, and (something we often forget) to make sure that the other part- the spirit part- of the person goes where it’s supposed to go too. A ghost could be seen as the spiritual equivalent of the rotting body. It may not really be evil, but it’s not comfortable to deal with it. You want the soul to go to whatever you see of as the appropriate destination, so you do whatever religious ceremonies you think will help with that. But I think that (especially after all I wrote last week) I’ll stop sharing my thoughts on death here. I do have more “death” books I’m reading, but I expect you’re getting tired of me going on about it.

Of course, I’ve started Terror in the mind of God: the Global Rise of Religious Violence, a fascinating look at modern religious violence. Maybe I should look at my use of the word “fascinating”… I seem to use it when I find a subject interesting, but have the feeling that many other people would be repelled even while I’m attracted. I want to know how things work, that may account for it, at least a bit.

For fun I watched more Rat Patrol, and some Bat Masterson episodes Mark loaned me. In the cultural literacy area I finally got around to watching The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and to be honest, I was under-whelmed. None of the characters were likable, and watching nasty people be horrible to each other is not my idea of entertainment or inspiration. I would never have expected that sort of plot from the popular song “Jean, Jean, roses are red” that apparently was the theme song of that movie. Maggie Smith was lovely back then, but I’m so used to her in the Harry Potter and Sister Act films, I can forget she used to be a romantic lead. I’d love to find a copy of the Much Ado about Nothing she was in!

I watched a couple of documentaries on on Ancient Altered States (shamanism, trances, drugs, etc. in history), and one (I think History Channel) on Ancient Aliens which was as bad as you can imagine. Some interesting images, but not enough to carry an hour. Argh. On the other hand the film Queen of the Sun- What the Bees are Telling Us  was incredible. It took me three tries to get started, because it started off very “artistically” with a woman dancing wearing a beard of bees. I’m sure that was great for her, but it didn’t do much for me, and made me anticipate a whole lot of New Age blithering. Luckily, once it got started it was great. Most of the documentaries I’ve seen up to now about Hive Colony Collapse have been both depressing and weren’t able to say more than we don’t know why it’s happening, although there are a lot of possible insults to the bees, and if we don’t have them, we are in deep trouble!. This one had interviews with beekeepers, scientists, and philosophers from around the world including Michael Pollan, Gunther Hauk, and Vandana Shiva. They suggested ways of helping the bees, improving how we deal with them. Are you aware that during the almond orchards two week blooming period almost every portable hive in the country is shipped to California, and without enough bees, there are no almonds? They suggest that the almond growers take out a few trees and plant strips of wildflowers sufficient to sustain the bees year round, so that the huge transportation won’t be needed. They had several improved hive designs that I loved seeing. I love it when people are working to make the world work rather than just talking about why it doesn’t.

I always feel badly when I have more to say about what I’ve read and watched than what I’ve done! I am reminded of my theory that the Baby Boom generation needs fairy tales to teach us how to deal with aging (as the originals taught children to deal with the new life of adults they had to enter). I’m sure there must be some good things about aging that make up for the losses, but I’m afraid I’d like to have them spelled out for me, and preferably have them be built into the culture so we can relate almost instinctively to the characters, the way people can to Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Cindermaid, Rapunzel, Clever Hans and the various other “youngest sons”. (Guys seem to have a lot fewer “names”.) All the older people in fairy tales tend to be wise, but generally ugly and often cranky- like Baba Yaga (or Gandalf).  I feel I should be out there DOING something!

Oh well, in theory, I’m reminding you that other people have some times amusing, often frustrating, lives, and remind you to think about things.


“Research, in nature’s laboratory, never stops. It explores every possibility. It never lacks funding. It is never demoralized by failed experiments. It cannot be lobbied.”

Verlyn Klinkenborg  in the Folly of Big Agriculture: Why Nature Always Wins