Sheep-scaping

I need a break from cancer: from thinking about it, from writing about it.

Thank you, Eddie Miller, for providing that break.

photo: The New York Times

Miller is the brains behind sheep-scaping, the newest trend in landscaping. Instead of a crew of guys, Miller employs Panda, Nerd, Princess, and Carol. They’re Jacob sheep by breed, “organic lawn pruners” by trade.

When he graduated from Boston University with a double major — Economics and Environmental Science –last year and couldn’t find a job, Miller founded Heritage Lawn Mowing using sheep instead of a lawnmower. Sheep are cheap, sustainable, and much greener than conventional lawnmowers. Business was booming in Oberlin, Ohio. He started small, with two sheep who grazed in his parents’ backyard, and admits that the impetus for buying the sheep was that his (now ex-) girlfriend thought they were cute. Once the first two sheep chowed his parents’ lawn, Miller started moving his tiny, hungry flock to the yards of friends. While walking his sheep from house to house, he realized he had an innovative business model on his hands. Thus, sheep-scaping was born.

Customers pay $1 per sheep per day to have their lawns sheep-scaped. Most jobs require two sheep and cost on average $8 — far less than the going rate for commercial landscapers. Miller says that Jacob sheep eat broad-leaf plants, dandelions, clovers, and grass. They seem to know not to eat flowers and ornamental plants. “They have a built-in weed whacker,” he said. Because they lack teeth on the top, they don’t rip grass out by its roots.

They’re a delightful breed of sheep, according to the Jacob Sheep Breeders’ Association: “The American Jacobs are an old world sheep which, unlike many other old world breeds, have not undergone improved breeding and out crossing to satisfy the commercial marketplace. They have a more primitive body shape, are slender boned and provide a flavorful, lean carcass with little external fat. The carcass yield from hanging weight to freezer is high when compared to the more improved breeds.”

Ewwwww.

I didn’t need to know that much.

Let’s focus on how cute they are, instead of what good eatin’ they can be.

photo: JSBA

After achieving the holy grail of publicity, an article in The New York Times, Miller and his business seemed destined for success. However, further research on my part revealed that Heritage Lawn Mowing is no more. After weathering a few setbacks, including some sheep sickness, his business suffered a fatal blow in the form of a $150 ticket for “animals at large.” His sheep escaped through a gate and were found wandering the streets. The $150 fine was earmarked for the purchase of a tractor cart that he could use to transport the sheep and their hay as he migrated west to Jackson Hole, WY. Miller made it to Jackson Hole, but the sheep did not.

So now Miller is a sheep-less shepherd in Big Sky Country. He’s set his sights on elk, which apparently are rampant in Wyoming. He wants to work with the National Parks system to develop a permaculture farm with elk and pine trees. I hope he makes it.

 

 

 

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A sliding scale

Words and images of battle are often ascribed to cancer.  Some cancerchicks take issue with that but I’m not one of them. Having written this blog — mostly about cancer — for the last year, I’ve come to realize that it’s hard to talk about a cancer battle without well, calling it a battle. I’m not even sure what else one would call it. “While undergoing treatment for breast cancer” seems rather cumbersome; “While undergoing treatment for breast cancer, I lost my mind, gained weight, and grappled with a whole new set of issues” doesn’t quite work, but “While battling breast cancer, I lost my mind, gained weight, and grappled with a whole new set of issues” is a bit more succinct. “During the time in which I was ridding my body of cancer” is pretty clumsy, but “During my fight against cancer” works quite well. I like efficiency, so the battle metaphor works for me.

One thing I don’t like about it, though, is the idea that those who “lost the battle” with cancer didn’t fight hard enough or were somehow at fault. Cancer is totally random, people. It strikes those who take excellent care of themselves as often as it strikes those who are not so careful with their health.  Survival depends on a lot of things, and sadly, sheer force of will is pretty low on the list. If survival were tied to will, my sweet mama would be alive and probably ringing me up on the phone right now to ask me if I’ve mastered the art of pie crust yet and to suggest that I let her little darlins, aka my children, have enormous ice cream sundaes for breakfast. She fought like hell and did every single thing her team of doctors at MD Anderson told her to do, no matter how tired she was or how crappy she felt. She endured more awful stuff than I like to remember. She wanted to live to see her little darlins grow up (and to hassle me about not giving them enough treats/presents/leeway/benefit of the doubt). She fought like hell, and waged a mighty battle, and was a tireless, non-complaining warrior. And yet, she still “lost.”

Cancer, and the battle one’s life becomes when diagnosed, is on my mind today, as it often is, but today even more so than usual. Another friend has been diagnosed, and my heart is so heavy. My thoughts return to her often, and I’ve felt just plain sick ever since I heard the terrible news. Cancer comes after people indiscriminately, and it seems to me it gets the good ones just as often as the mean ones. My newly diagnosed friend is most definitely one of the good ones. She deserves so much better than pancreatic cancer. How someone with such a sweet and gentle nature and such a giving heart can fall victim to such a merciless fate is beyond me. And yet, she begins her epic battle today.

I’m not naive enough to wish for a world free of cancer. But I do wish there was a sliding scale. If you’re going to get it, in all its ominous forms, why can’t the scope of the disease be equal to how nice a person you are? Why is it that “only the good die young,” as Billy Joel sagely points out? It’s just not fair for cancer to wage war on someone who is patient and kind when someone who’s vain and shallow gets a free pass. Or for cancer to creep up on someone who’s worked all his life and is ready to finally enjoy retirement, while someone who’s dishonest and rude escapes unscathed. I just hate that cancer pounds on the door of someone who’s trying to do all the right things, yet skips completely the person whose main concern is keeping up with and besting her neighbors. Where’s the sense in cancer claiming a delightful human being who would give you the shirt off her back, yet ignoring the not-so-delightful human being who is petty and small?

I’d like this system a lot better if there were a sliding scale.


The Thanksgiving list

 

It’s Thanksgiving and I would be remiss if I didn’t remark upon the things for which I am thankful. This time last year I was fresh off the post-mastectomy infection train and trying to navigate life as a survivor. This year, the infection is finally in the rear-view mirror, and 8 surgeries later I’m on the road to reclaiming my normal life.

I’m contemplative on this day of everything good in my life. Not gonna think about the bad stuff today. Here’s a short list of the things I’m grateful on this day of Thanksgiving.

My family. And the beach. Two of my favorite things at the same time — good stuff!

Living in Texas, where it’s warm enough to swim on Thanksgiving. People joke about how Texas is a whole ‘nother country, and it’s true. Everything is bigger here, and better.

My kids. Every parent thinks their kids are amazing and wonderful and I am no different. 

As the grow I see more and more the people they are becoming, and that will always be a source of pride for me.

Youth sports. Being a part of a team, and experiencing the thrill of victory as well as the agony of defeat is a wonderful thing. 

Raising kids who love animals. Whether furry or slimy, cute or with a face only a mother could love, my kids adore animals and have learned compassion and sacrifice through caring for them. 

Good books. I love a good read. And I love that my kids are readers, too. My sweet mama the former English teacher would be so proud!

Natural beauty. Whether the rolling waves of Salisbury Beach, the mountains of Utah, or the public gardens in Boston, I’m grateful to have beautiful scenery to gaze at as I go about my days. 

Tennis. I’ve learned so much from the game, most notably humility, and continue to be challenged. People laugh when I say I started playing tennis because I like the clothes and had no idea how hard a game it is, but it’s true. 

Funny art and snarky humor. I hope I never outgrow my enjoyment of them. If I’m ever too old to laugh at something like what you see here, smother me with a pillow. 

Jacoby Ellsbury. Because he’s so fine. Oh, and baseball, too. I’m thankful for baseball. But mainly Jacoby. 

 

 

A legacy. The women in my family are strong and funny and kind-hearted. I hope to continue the traditions they’ve established. 

Mentors for my kids. I’m so grateful for the people in my kids’ lives who teach them, guide them, and love them.

Cocktails. Need I say more?

Great food. To soak up the alcohol.

Puppies! The more the merrier! Sometimes I think I like dogs more than people. Puppies especially.

Things that challenge me to get outside of my comfort zone. Like modeling in the Couture for the Cause a few weeks after my latest hospitalization last fall. Yikes. After wondering what in the sam hell made me agree to do it, I ended up having one of the single best experiences of my life. And plan to do it again in March. Get your tickets now, before it sells out!

Friends. Couldn’t have made it through the last 18 months without them. Whether buds from way back or newly connected, I’m imminently thankful for my friends. 

Cheers to Thanksgiving!


The creep

It’s a well-known fact that I am a Scrooge. 

At the risk of alienating friends and loved ones and inciting harsh judgement against my Scroogy self, I say it again: I hate Christmas.

The reasons are many, and I won’t rain on anyone’s parade or crush anyone’s candy cane by listing them here. Suffice to say that the “holiday season” fills me with dread, and I grit my teeth and power my way through it. I wish I enjoyed it. I really do. While I do smile sweetly at the cashier who wishes me “happy holidays” on November 1st, it’s a pretty fake smile.

I do enjoy the annual Christmas Eve get-together with my cousins — a great meal, festive drinks, and the tradition of gathering in a circle to exchange gifts. My cousin Jimmy’s Texas Trash is a most-favored gift every year.  I enjoy getting cards and photos from far-flung and nearby friends, seeing how big the kids are getting and taking in new additions of puppies, boats, and what-not. Ok, and the music. I do like Christmas music.

But that’s pretty much it.

I love Thanksgiving, and it’s a shame that it’s overshadowed and steamrolled by the creep. Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday: gathering around a table to celebrate the bounties of life with nary a gift exchange in sight. It’s about the sentiment, not the stuff.

Each year I wonder, sometimes aloud and sometimes in my head, at what age my kids will be old enough that I can skip putting up a Christmas tree. Last year I finally caved and bought an artificial, pre-lit tree, to ease some of the drudgery. I should have done it several years ago when our real tree had a wonky trunk, only to be discovered after it was encased in gallons of water, lit to the heavens, and laden with fragile ornaments. The day that tree came crashing down, literally, I added another entry to my “I hate Christmas” list. Water and pine needles all over my hardwood floor, ornaments shattered into millions of pieces, lights half on and half off, and two doggie cardiac arrest cases later, I should have pitched the deficient tree and its remaining lights and ornaments right into the street and sworn off this wretched holiday altogether.

But I didn’t. I went to the garden center and got another tree and started all over, cursing all the way.

My dislike of the most wonderful time of the year hasn’t mellowed, and this year when the Christmas merchandise appeared in the grocery stores the day after Halloween, I was ready to punch Santa square in the face.

I know, I know that would rocket me straight to the top of the naughty list, but I suspect I’m already there.

Halloween candy bags had barely been picked through when the marketers decide it’s past time for a holly jolly Christmas. It’s especially painful to endure in Texas, when it’s 89 degrees and shoppers are sweating their way through Target. There’s something just plain wrong about summertime conditions juxtaposed with a winter wonderland. ACs are blasting, but we’re dreaming of a white Christmas.

The Christmas creep seems to start earlier every year. Maybe it’s right on time and I’m just getting crankier every year, but it seems like the school supply displays are barely dismantled before the light-up wire reindeer lawn ornaments magically appear in a big box retailer near you. One of my  neighbors has a Christmas light installer every year for the outside of his house. They started last weekend. Oh joy. Maybe they’ll get the Griswold Award this year. Or throw a breaker. The wreaths have been up on the shopping center exteriors and neighborhood entrances for a while now, too. I can’t very well avoid the grocery store, and I have to get into my neighborhood somehow, which means it’s hard to avoid the Christmas creep. 

The Black Friday deals are already on, and inciting panic attacks. Just this morning I had 2 emails in my inbox, one from The Gap and one from Off 5th, telling me that Black Friday Starts Today!! With Black Friday Prices Now!!

But it’s only Wednesday. Black Friday should be on Friday, not Wednesday. No exceptions. Stupid creep.

My favorite girl hates the creep, too. Loves the gifts, but hates the creep. She writes a little blog herself, and recently posted about the creep. Now, let me warn you that her writing is a little out there. She’s a big-time outside of the box type thinker. Sometimes her writing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it’s always creative and wacky. For example, her recent post on Reasons Not to Carry French Fries Around Buffalo:

We all know that you shouldn’t carry French fries around buffalo,but do you know the reasons?
1. Buffalo come from Belgium, where French fries were originally made, they find it offensive that’s it’s called French.
2. Scientists find it unhealthy for buffalo to be eating French fries,also scientist are always watching you.
3. Buffalo have the worst fast food craving out of all the animals except mice, and when you eat a French fry they want a French fry then they pelt you with mushrooms. So stay away from those undersize Musk Ox.

Her post on the creep is titled Nobody Cares About Thanksgiving, and she has a point, if I do say so. An excerpt:

This news was discovered by an insane 9 year old. You know when it’s 3 weeks before Thanksgiving and there are already Christmas specials on TV, and in magazines there are 20% off on Christmas gifts for the little acorns. Now it’s a way to become a Thanksgiving Hater- Christmas Maniac-Rainbow Zombie!!! The worst part is the Pilgrims come back and they are all upset that nobody cares about them and their back hair!! So stop the Christmas specials before all of the zombie rainbows and apple sharks start to fight over the cow that makes the best milk!!! Or was it spaghetti nobodies turn into spaghetti somebodies? Either way no one wants that to happen, (except the spaghetti nobodies because they all want to be a somebody).

Can’t we just enjoy Thanksgiving without the creep? Those hairy-backed Pilgrims would want us to.

 


Being real

‎”It doesn’t happen all at once, you become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get all loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”  — Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

The Velveteen Rabbit is one of my all-time favorite books. I don’t recall reading it as a child, but I do love it as an adult. I was sorting through one of the never-ending piles of kid junk upstairs and found my copy of The Velveteen Rabbit. I sat down in the midst of my junk pile to re-read it. It had been too long; I certainly haven’t read it since breast cancer so rudely interrupted my otherwise-fabulous life.

The passage above jumped out at me, and stuck with me after I finished reading the story and got back to my junk pile. As I tossed worn-down erasers and fuzzless tennis balls into the trash and stacked some outgrown books for donation, I realized why that passage was stuck in my brain: it speaks to an issue near & dear to every cancer patient’s heart — the idea of being “done” and being able to get back to our “real” lives.

This is a recurring theme in the life of a cancer patient, whether stoic and methodical or impatient and impetuous. We want our real lives back. You know, the lives we lead before receiving the phone call from the doctor’s office that changed the course of our lives. In my case, it was a life of a million ordinary things — carpool, homework, packing lunches, making dinner, scrubbing infield dirt out of white baseball pants, playing tennis, and raising my kids. Those million ordinary things added up to make a full and contented life.

The life I lead now is quite different. So much so that I’m not even sure what my real life is anymore. I do know that in my pre-cancer life, anxiety didn’t plague me like it does now. I slept easily and soundly without visions of recurrence dancing through my head. I woke up each day ready to attack my to-do list and carve out a little time for me as well.

In my “real” life, my calendar wasn’t chock-full of doctor’s appointments, and now my life seems to revolve around them. Appointments for follow-ups after surgery, appointments to check blood work and feel for enlarged lymph nodes, appointments to monitor the prescription drugs that are a part of my everyday routine, appointments to stem the ever-present threat of lymphedema from the lymph nodes that were sacrificed during my mastectomy, appointments to plan the next surgery necessitated by a hungry cancer beast with far-reaching tentacles.

My “real” life wasn’t bifurcated into B.C. (before cancer) and A.C. (after cancer). Instead of marking time by the milestones of my kids’ lives, I now keep track based on which stage of the cancer “journey” I was in when said event occurred. To wit: Payton’s 11th birthday was 10 days before my bilateral mastectomy and the same day as my PET scan, to determine just how long this cancer beast’s tentacles were.  The first Taylor Swift concert Macy & I attended was 2 weeks after the mastectomy. The post-mastectomy infection struck 5 days after my 41st birthday. Payton’s baseball team’s first trip to the State Championships coincided with the second hospitalization because of the infection. The weekend before Payton started middle school I was in the hospital again because of that damned infection. I had a bone scan the same day our new refrigerator was delivered.  Payton’s first baseball game of the spring season was the night after my reconstruction surgery. School started 2 days before my first revision surgery. My second revision was 4 days before Halloween.

I’m trying to get back to my “real” life but am learning that some things will never be the same. Like The Velveteen Rabbit, becoming real again means my hair is different from the hormone-manipulation hell required for pre-menopausal cancerchicks.  My eyes haven’t dropped out just yet, but my vision has changed (again from the hormones) enough that my Lasik surgery 7 years ago might as well never have happened. I’m for sure loose in the joints from the daily dose of Tamoxifen, and am getting used to the recurring bone pain as well. I am most definitely very shabby overall, with more grey hair and new wrinkles from the stress of life with cancer. Some days it’s hard to decide which has been battered more — my body or my soul.

And like The Velveteen Rabbit’s experience, it doesn’t happen all at once. It takes time. A long time. I’m not very patient, and much of this “journey” has been a true test of my limited stores of patience. They say it’s a virtue, but one that I don’t have. I’m still waiting to just become. Those 2 little words, “You become,” represent what I’m working toward in getting back to my “real” life. It definitely doesn’t happen to people who break easily. Cancer is a mean and vicious enemy. Many times on this “journey” I’ve heard myself saying out loud, How much more do I have to take? And the answer has always been, I don’t know how much, but more. Always more. If I were one who was easily broken, I’m  not sure how this story would have played out. Most likely, I’d be in a 12-step program for Oxycontin addiction. Or I’d be a repeat visitor to the Betty Ford Clinic. What I do know is that there’s always more. And that it’s a daily battle to get back to “real.”

 


All knotted up

My favorite girl wants to crochet. She’s pretty crafty and likes doing stuff like that, which is great. Problem is, I’m not so good with the handicrafts. Sitting still and being precise aren’t my forte (hence the slapdash nature of this blog — I have  a thought, I sit at my computer and bang it out; no laboring over every word or nuance. Plus, there’s something about the directions to crafty things that just don’t compute in my brain. Sure, I can read the directions but they make no sense to me.

But my girl wants to learn how to crochet, so I’m going to help her.

I did the rudimentary things necessary for learning a new hobby: bought a how-to book, invested in the basic supplies, and signed her up for a class–crochet 101 the Sunday after Thanksgiving. 

My girl is impatient like her mama, and doesn’t want to wait until next Sunday to learn how to crochet. She wanted to make a scarf and she wanted to make it right then & there. I can respect that.

But I can’t crochet.

Trevor found her a simple video on youtube that helped her get started. She was crocheting up a storm like she’d been doing it her whole life. I was quite amazed. Pretty soon, she had one long chain for her scarf. As my sweet mama used to say, she was cooking with gas. 

When it came time to create the second chain, to make the scarf wider, we were in trouble. The turning stitch is kinda tricky, and neither the book nor the youtube videos were making it click. We were stuck.

My favorite girl wasn’t ready to give up, but she was frustrated. She wanted to keep on crocheting, she just didn’t know how.

I was just sick, absolutely sick at the idea that neither my sweet mama nor my favorite aunt Sophia was still on this Earth to teach my favorite girl how to do a turning stitch. Both of them could crochet like a house on fire. Those ladies cranked out afghans like it was nobody’s business. That gene must skip a generation, though.

There was nothing I wanted more than to call my mom or Aunt Sophia and set up a crochet date for Macy. And if there were still here, I know there’s nothing they would have like more. Instead, my favorite girl and I piled into the car and drove straight to the Sugar Land Yarn Company, a sweet little store full of yarn, knitting needles, patterns, and best of all, crafty women. 

I explained our dilemma to the store owner, who said that she does not crochet. However, we were in luck because on Sundays, they have Afternoon Knitting, where women bring their projects and camp out in the store’s comfy chairs to knit and visit. If I were crafty and had a store that offered such a thing, I’d call it Stitch & Bitch, but these women clearly are much more civilized than I.

The store owner called out to the Afternoon Knitters and one of them, Miss Kathy, kindly volunteered to help my favorite girl with her turning stitch. Miss Kathy made it look easy. She demonstrated several times on two different crochet projects she is working on, and she spent a fair amount of time explaining it to Macy. I could tell by the look in M’s eyes that she wasn’t, getting it, though, and sadly, neither was I. Miss Kathy might have been speaking in tongues for all the sense it made to me.

I think Macy realized that there was a bit more to crocheting than just looping a single chain, and I guess by then she’d gotten enough of the new hobby out of her system and was content to wait until her class to learn the turning stitch. I was ready to head on out and leave the Afternoon Knitters to their projects and conversation, but my girl was lingering.

She watched each of the four knitters with her big, beautiful eyes, noticing the colors of their yarns and the patterns in their projects. She was quiet and still and respectful (good girl!). But there was something else, too — she was peaceful. I would expect most 9-year-old girls to be ready to blow that popsicle stand as soon as it became clear that we had received all the help we were gonna get. I would think most 9-year-old girls could think of a million things they’d rather do than hang out with four strangers who are at least 50 years her senior. The store was quiet and absent any music, TV, or video games, just the regular and rhythmic click of knitting needles. Yet my girl was peaceful in the company of the Afternoon Knitters. She would have stayed all afternoon if I hadn’t shooed her out of there, feeling like an interloper among the skeins of yarn. And she said that once she learns to crochet, she wants to come back and join the Afternoon Knitters.

It hit me then like a ton of bricks — my girl craves the company of a YaYa who died from uterine cancer before Macy could tie her shoes or write her name, and that of her favorite aunt who was swallowed up by glioblastoma in May. I guess neither Macy nor I realized until we barged in on the knitting circle how much she misses their company and their tutelage.

Another startling example of how much cancer steals from us.

I was nearly flattened by the unfairness of it all. It would have been very easy to fall into the abyss of grief, anger, and loss that comes when someone you love–and need–is stolen away by cancer. If not for cancer, my girl would be happily crocheting the day away with beloved family members. I have no doubt she could master the turning stitch under the watchful eye of my mom or aunt. Instead, I have to solicit help from strangers. Instead of enjoying the company and the bonds of one generation teaching the next, I’ll be sending my girl to a class in a hobby shop.

Cancer steals so much.

 

 


It’s a sweet day

At the risk of appearing to be more than a little bit pie-obsessed, I give you this:

It’s Pie Day at the middle school, a tradition in which parents send pies for the teachers the Friday before Thanksgiving . It’s a small but sweet way of showing our thanks to the teachers for everything they do for our kids. Thanks to my get-‘er-done friend Amy Pace, I’m now a proud contributor to Pie Day. Two of these beauties are going to school, and the other two are going to friends: one who is recovering from surgery, and one who makes me hit it hard at the gym. There is something deliciously ironic about taking a homemade Derby pie–chock full of sugar, butter, eggs, nuts, chocolate chips and whisky–to my trainer at the gym.

As I might have mentioned before, I love pie. I don’t eat it nearly as often as I should considering the flood of good memories it gives me of my mom and her superstar pie-baking skills. I’m happy to pass that good feeling on to my friends and my kid’s teachers today. Pie for everyone!