yesterday i read my sister-in-law’s great article about desert homesteading and it reminded me that i have some desert homesteading projects i’ve been meaning to write about. i signed into wordpress and what do you know, it’s been three months since i wrote anything at all, and i haven’t written anything permaculture related since may! oops. it’s been a busy summer and fall… we’ve been digging swales, planting trees, starting a desert plants nursery, doing permaculture design work for neighbors, going on apple and acorn harvesting missions, experimenting with palo verde flour, fermenting stuff, and oh yeah, working at our jobs that pay money. (check out the instagram feed in the side bar for pics of the wicking bed, baby mesquite trees and new swales.)
thus far our permaculture endeavors have mostly cost money, but permaculture principles state “obtain a yield” and “share the surplus” so you could argue that we are not yet successfully doing permaculture. we are ready to change that. we’re brainstorming about value added crops, refreshing our chicken system (the hens we got 9 years ago have quit laying), and aquaponics.
focusing on systems that minimize the stupid use of water and fossil fuels is a good starting place, but now we want to move beyond conservation and see just how abundant we can get this piece of earth.
last night i had the privilege of attending a workshop about caring for people with dementia from a distance. it was put on by the bc alzheimer’s society and it was top notch. there were about 20 of us who find ourselves in the position of having a loved one with dementia in a far away place. it was really cool to have that “these are my people” feeling with such a diverse group. in the past, i’ve felt that kindred spirit feeling in groups of (my age, mostly white) unschoolers, and at a breastfeeding conference (women my age, mostly white). but the group last night had so much diversity it almost looked like the people were hand picked for an affirmative action commercial (we’ll take one young man from hong kong, one female east coast jew, one aging australian, a tattooed hipster, oh and we’ll need somebody wearing a turban). our shared experience (and skilled group facilitation) quickly trumped any social awkwardness.
a main theme in the workshop was guilt. long distance caretakers feel really guilty that they are far away. in most cases there is a primary caretaker who lives near or with the person with dementia, and the near caretaker is at high risk of burn out. us long distance caretakers feel somewhat helpless watching from afar as the care of our loved one eats up more and more of the primary caretakers life. usually the caretakers are also related, so family dynamics usually add a layer of challenge.
one of the facilitators pointed out that guilt is a main theme in workshops for primary caretakers too. they feel guilty that they aren’t doing more, and more and more. they feel guilty when they take time for themselves, they feel guilty when they get impatient. the guilt we all feel can get in the way of providing the best care for the person with dementia. for example, being overly assertive or defensive when we talk with other people on the caretaking team.
it was a bit of a revelation to me to hear that everybody is feeling guilty, and that it’s not helping anything. i realized that instead of sitting around feeling guilty and defensive, i could focus that energy on caring for the caregiver. supporting my mom emotionally is not that hard long distance. when i call just to check in and she can give me the blow-by-blow of the latest marathon drug trial tests, she feels less alone, and i feel like i’m doing something helpful. yay.
another take-away from the workshop is that i am, in fact, a caregiver. i hadn’t claimed that identity because i live far away, but the facilitator encouraged us to claim it. it takes a village to care for somebody with dementia, and we don’t need any martyrs. we are all doing our best and want the best for our loved ones. acknowledging that we are all on the caring team can create more connection regardless of our location and other life commitments.
the last take away is that caregivers are effing heroes.
i’m visiting my hometown of vancouver. one of the projects on this visit is helping to declutter my dad’s apartment. as the dementia progresses, my dad finds it harder to manage his household. things like deciding what to have for dinner or getting laundry done are much harder for him. heck, that stuff is hard for me sometimes! but i digress… my parents have been divorced for 20 years but my mom, bless her heart, has stepped up as my dad’s main caretaker. one thing we thought would make it easier on him (and easier on my mom when he calls her in a state of confusion) is getting the place to a state of minimalist peace and organizational bliss. simple simple simple. i’ve noticed in parenting that my 3-year-old is so much happier and more able to play when he has only 2 or 3 toys in sight. when his space is chaotic, he acts chaotic. i imagine the same is true for all of us, but a healthy adult can cope with the stress of clutter a little better. so my mom and i have been spending many many hours over the past few days purging, organizing, and cleaning. my dad is being a good sport. i know it must be very hard for him to let us come in and take away 80% of his stuff. today i helped him declutter his books. his memory has declined to the point where he really can’t read a book anymore. i mean, he can read it, but he doesn’t remember what he just read. so we kept his language dictionaries, atlas and art books, and anything with lots of pictures. he had books in english, french, spanish, and german, biographies, novels, reference books… when we put the books he was keeping back on the shelf, it looked nice and minimal, but the stack on the floor felt like a physical symbol of my dad’s decline. i came home and had a good cry.
i think i might be back to the anger phase in grieving my dad’s illness. i couldn’t quite figure out what was up, but i’ve been irritated with everything all day. when i got on facebook and saw everybody waxing on about how their dad is so great, that’s when it hit me. it’s not like me to feel mad when other people express positive feelings, but today i wanted to yell at everybody celebrating father’s day.
when i was a kid and teenager, my dad and i didn’t have much in the way of shared interests. we didn’t have the easiest time relating to each other. he loved science and sail boats and how stuff works. he was a thinker, staying up late to calculate tidal patterns to the minute, for fun. i was a feeler. i liked tea parties and stuffed animals and stickers, then feminism, alanis morissette, and boys. my dad and i couldn’t (or at least, didn’t) relate to each other much at all until we hit a really rough patch when i was 16-18, then we fought. finally, when i was an adult, i could start to truly appreciate him. we started having great conversations about religion and politics, hull speed and moon phases. i genuinely enjoyed being with him and felt like i could relate and have a rich give-and-take relationship with him.
but now all his theories and opinions and well developed ideas that i love are vacating his mind as alzheimer’s eats away at those neural-pathways. it’s not fair! i don’t like it!
i suppose the silver lining here is that we can find new ways to relate. maybe he’s ready to meet me on the feeling plane and i should try again with the tea parties… that’s probably true, but for today i think i’m just gonna let my self be pissed off. stupid corporate-generated consumeristic holiday making me have feelings… bah humbug!
one more thing though, to balance things out…
when i was a newborn i became jaundiced. the midwife recommended that my parents take me to the hospital to be placed in an incubator for light therapy. my dad’s papa-bear instinct and inventor’s mind hatched a plan to keep me at home with my family instead. he set up a full spectrum light above the couch and my mom, dad, and oma took shifts with me laying skin-to-skin on their chest either on the couch or outside on the patio to get all the light therapy i needed to clear up the jaundice. i will be forever grateful that my first few days on earth were listening to the heartbeats of my family instead of the beeping of machines. thanks dad, i love you.
i’ll just tell you right now, this is a love letter. there’s no denying it. i am head over heals in love with you. it’s that crazy kind of love that i want to shout from the mountain top. this love is irrational and all-consuming. i can’t help it. i just think you are the very greatest. when you turned one, i published your birth story. when you were two, i wrote you a somewhat desperate letter. but today, my ollie, today, you are three, and i have nothing but praise. sure, you struggle plenty as you develop that pre-frontal cortex. and i reach the end of my rope often. i loose it sometimes… but more and more you are an utter pleasure to be with. you speak kindly and impress people with your “thank you so much!” and your “excuse me, mama…” people often comment on how verbal you are and we all get such joy out of conversing with you these days. you are full of great ideas like sharing fruit with our neighbors, or mesquite bunny crackers. i love how you pronounce festival, “festibal” and tell your papa to “send me a text.” you give great kisses and hugs, and randomly exclaim that you love us. recently you commented that something was “stress-able.” i asked you what you meant and you said, “you know, like, yelling.” i think you are really smart. you like to riff on words and rhythms. “crack an egg, crocodile.”
i love your physicality and how you move your growing body. you can ride FAST on your balance bike and aren’t afraid to try new challenges at the skate park. you know yourself, though and don’t try anything outright dangerous. generally, when you want to go somewhere, you don’t walk or run, you gallop. -a modified skip that i better get on video before it’s too late.
your focus and patience is increasing every day and you are a joy to work with on projects like paper mache, or even vacuuming or doing the dishes (sometimes). i love how you are using your imagination more and you can tell us stories. you are figuring out so much all the time. you want to know the what-where-why about everything and your questions are getting more complex.
you are starting to learn what is pleasing and displeasing to the people in your life and often choose actions that will please. we are very charmed when you do this! the other day a friend of yours was crying because he wanted a toy that another kid was playing with. once you understood the situation you marched over to the kid and emphatically explained why they should give up the toy “to make jonah feel happy and not cry).
oliver lee, we are so glad that you are here with us!
just realized you haven’t seen this impressive cooler-washer-tree system that was so impressive to our neighbors. well, here it is, in all it’s glory:
the top barrel collects the water from the output lines of our 2 evaporative coolers. this water has cycled through the jute cooler pads and is slightly higher in minerals because of evaporation, but is otherwise basically clean. when i do a load of laundry i fill up the washer from this barrel for the wash cycle. i just put the hose straight in the washer. i tried hooking it up to the washer line, but there isn’t enough pressure to fill from there. for the rinse cycle i use fresh water that fills automatically from the washer line. both the wash and the rinse water dumps out into the lower blue barrel. from here we have a spigot and hose and can water pretty much anywhere on the property. one wash is about 45 gallons. i move the hose to a new tree every time i do laundry there are 7 trees that only get watered this way. i do laundry about 3 times a week and this is enough for the jujube trees, but the apricots always look bad before i move the hose back to them.
yesterday we had about 30 people show up to check out what we’ve done on the property so far. it was very satisfying to see people taking notes on everything damian said. i also liked it when they oohed and ahhed over our evaporative cooler to washer to trees grey water set up.