just a little lovin’ early in the morning…

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I have a beau and her name is Sparkles.  Sparkles is a golden blonde, her hair glitters in the sunlight and I think she loves me. That is Phoebe she is leaving, to be with me. Me, do you hear that Phoebe? Me.

It was overcast and everyone was busy chewing cud inside.  The pen was empty, so I went out to clean the mess they’d left.  Suddenly, I am the center of a giant living flower, with sheeps for petals. They were bored and I was the floor show. I went, and they followed, clustered around me until they realized there was no food involved. One by one the sheeps & goats abandoned me and went back into the dry.

Everyone but Sparkles.

She followed me here, then there. When I paused she came and leaned on me, waiting to be scratched or petted. I cleaned one half of the cement pen, she wandered over, dropped her sheep pellets in the clean & came back, leaning on thigh as I shook my head.

Maybe this was her expression of affection or approval, that she agreed to poop in the area I’d worked so hard on. Maybe she thought I’d cleaned it for her.

She was right, I did.

chance meetings & second chances

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When I was a kid I wanted to be a garbage man or a guest on the Tonight Show. I’m an inveterate garbage picker, half my furniture has been “found”, and this, this is my version of the Tonight Show. I get to chatter endlessly.

Lately, I’m discovering things I didn’t know I wanted the first time I came across them. Drunk as a skunk in 1987 (most of the 70s and 80s actually) I picked a guy up in the Lone Star Cafe, a singer in the country band, Atlanta. They were booked at the Dutchess County Fair and the next morning I found myself hungover, hopping pigs and cherry pies.  I’ve been back for 15 of the last 20. I’m hooked on livestock, pie competitions, pitchmen & deep fried everythings.

From 15 to 23 I had the same dream every night. In it I die violently four days after my 23rd birthday. I believe in omens and didn’t make any long term plans outside of staying drunk.  Ten years past my expiration date, I ended my old life and got sober — four days after my 33rd birthday (just because I believe doesn’t mean I can read the bones). When I turned 50 I thought, okay, maybe I need to make some plans. I still wasn’t sure what I wanted, but the Dalai Lama says everyone wants to be happy. For me, happy has fur and four legs.

Ten years ago I’d volunteered at an animal shelter and heard about something called Tellington Touch, an approach to working with animals that was helping feral cats be more adoptable.

A year ago I took a workshop on Intuitive Diagnostics for Animals with Brent Atwater. She’s working the slightly crazy side of the street and if there’s something to her, I didn’t see it. But the road to happy isn’t a straight line, so I wrote that path off, but not the journey.

I finally took a workshop on Tellington Touch with Edie Jane Eaton. This was the real deal & I’m a card carrying member of the Church of all things Edie Jane.

In Ttouch I met another sober woman my age and she was getting her MA in Animal Behavior.  I borrowed her focus and vision and enrolled in grad school.

I showed up for an animal communication workshop in Canada (at the Church of Edie Jane) with Lauren McCall. I’m still a skeptic, but I’m also the girl who stops to talk to dogs, but only if they talk to me first. The best part was staying on a 400 acre sheep farm next to Edie Jane’s place. (My brain says, did you hear what you said? the best part was the sheep farm, pay attention, puh-lease!)

When the economy took my office down to a four day work week, I knew I wanted to do something compassionate with my day off. I contacted several animal shelters. Nothing fit.

Two months ago I attended a humane education conference at Green Chimneys, largely because Linda Tellington-Jones was presenting. The following week my graduate class was there for field trip. 10 years ago I’d been offered a job there as a teacher. I wasn’t ready. Maybe I’m still not ready to be a teacher. But I’m teachable today.

I found my fit. Next month I’m going with the Green Chimneys crew, the kids & the critters, to present at the Putnam County 4H Fair. Full circle and sober.

I don’t know where this is all going, and I don’t need to.

I know the power of declaration. I once said I owned too much stuff, that I needed to lighten my load. I was, within a month, robbed and served an eviction notice. The universe takes the most direct route, I’m now specific when making declarations. I said I wanted to do something compassionate with my free day and two months later I found myself at Green Chimneys, working with farm animals.

Now I’m saying I want my life to keep moving in that direction, to earn my wages with compassion,  working with animals, outside of a steel and concrete office. Let’s see where this ride is going to go next…

everything i know about the beach house

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I started coming down here 15 years ago to be with my bff. It’s a lovely town where nothing happens, Mayberry RFD. With sand.

(Location to remain semi-secret because it’s already way too popular. When we first started coming it was the anti-thesis of hip. Sometimes you’d find that you’d rented next to a house full of pajama men. Those unwanted men, forgotten by their families, dumped by the state into boarding houses along the shore, they’d wander town or camp on benches or front porches, in thier pajamas and slippers, smoking cigarettes, shuffling, smelling vaguely of urine. One step away from paper slippers. We should have seen it coming. That description sounds suspiciously like the East Village and Williamsburg just before they slid into hipster-ness.)

I came this weekend with the intention of…

a) spending quality time with my peeps – totally forgetting it’s Father’s Day weekend and everyone scatters to spend time with fathers, past, present and in-lawish. Well, it would have been the same had I stayed in the city, but here I got to sleep in to the sound of rain pattering on the front lawn, stay in my pajamas all day watching the entire season of Real Housewives of New Jersey with my peeps (and “prostitution whore” becomes shorthand for ‘Jersey trash’, much like the phrase, “with a minimum of makeup” is shorthand for ‘she looks a little bit like an ape don’t you think?’) and be woken by having my god-dog crawl into bed with me and dance all over me until I slid over and made enough room for him.

b) doing laundry. There is something comforting about the smells & sounds of the dryer going round when it’s in your own house. It doesn’t have the same charm and coziness in the basement of an apartment building with bright fluorescent lights and strangers wandering around. My god-dog sleeps next to me as I write, the dryer hums below me, the birds tweet from the telephone wires outside the window.

c) writing. To spend a considerable amount of time writing, editing, reading, generally being productive.  Outside of this post, none of that has happened. The other housemates are better, they do some of their art, their writing. I am best at doing nothing down here.

I am terrible at doing nothing Any. Place. Else. The beach house gives me permission, in a way that no other place or time does, to do nothing. To sleep in or watch crap on television.  To not get properly dressed for two days in a row or putter aimlessly. To get down on all fours and play with my god-dog and be absolutely one hundred percent silly. To not care what my hair looks like or think about makeup. To sleep on the beach when it’s sunny. To walk on the shoreline at night, and feel simultaneously significant and insignificant. To partake meals made from group efforts. To not have to be anyplace or anyone other than who and where I am at that moment, who I am when my guard is down. To laugh until I almost wet my pants.

When I’m here, I get to be the authentic jodi. The chattering stops, the world slows down, my heart opens, my silly comes spilling out and my laundry gets done.

thin skins & tender hearts

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Therapy Guy is back from vacation. Now I have a safe place to cry instead of leaking all over town. He thinks I need to cry more, I think he needs to shut up.

‘Did you miss me’ he says?
I admit I did.
‘That’s progress’, he says, ‘you’d never have admitted that a year ago.’
‘Shut up’ I say. I really mean fuck you. He hates when I say fuck you, finds shut up disrespectful. How does he know me so long and not understand that shut up, fuck you, idiot, these are terms of endearment coming from me?  I’m still there, still engaging. It’s playful, affectionate even. My aunt used to call her three boys her “shitheads”. If he doesn’t want to hear shut up or fuck you he really should keep his fingers outta my brainpan.

Idjit.

I get the fuck you finger from the boy in the crosswalk when I’m driving. Fuck you from the man on the subway when I ask ‘Would you slide over a little?’ ‘Fuck you’, he says, ‘I built this country for people like you’, he says. Wait, what? You built it but you won’t move your ass over six inches so I can sit down? Fuck me? Fuck you, I think at him.

So many chips on so many shoulders, some of them mine, apparently.

My friend Lyle used to say we’re hard-hearted and thin-skinned, but what we needed were softer hearts and thicker skins. I was hard-hearted to survive, I’ve become too tenderhearted for such a thin skin. I need to hide behind that thicker hide.

I also need less concrete around me and less garbage. There are too many people here. Too many angry people. Too many tailgaters, Fuck youers, two-seat-on-the-subway-taking angry people.

I used to fantasize about shaving my head and moving to a remote village on the cliffs in Italy. A small house with no electricity, I’d take the long walk to town daily for fresh fruits & vegetables. I don’t speak Italian. No one can say anything to me, nothing to hurt me, nothing tender to frighten me (because it does, tender scares the beejesus out of me). This was the safe place I went in my head when it got too noisy inside or out. Sweet Italian silence, the ocean & fresh fruit.

Reality check. I live in Queens, in a neighborhood that is almost exclusively South American. I don’t speak South American. I go to market daily to buy fresh fruits & vegetables. And there is no one here I can talk to. No one can say anything to me that I would understand. I’m living my fantasy but instead of being comforting, it’s lonely. Instead of feeling safe, I feel isolated and angry.

I need that thicker skin, a safe place to cry, but mostly, I need a new fantasy.

my little mommy

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I’m tired, so this will be short.

Big Edie called Thursday complaining of fevers, congestion, aches &  what sounded generally like the flu. I convinced her to call her doctor. He agreed to see her the next morning because, at 79, the flu is nothing to sneeze at. She sent the Italian out for some Over The Counter flu meds and next thing I knew he’s calling saying “She’s bad. We need you now, kid.” Thirty minutes later I’m looking at her in bed.  She’s under the covers, looking confused and tired.

There were damp towels all over.

She’d had a seizure. Or she passed out. Either way, suddenly she was gasping for breath, her head lolled back on her neck, her eyes rolled back in her head, unfocused, unaware of her surroundings or his presence. He gave her mouth to mouth. She was out for three minutes, disoriented and confused for another ten. That’s when he called me. Then he washed her down and put her to bed.

He’d seen his wife go through almost the same thing not that long ago, shortly before she died. He was understandably a little freaked, but he did the right things. He called me. He cleaned her up, put her to bed, kept her warm when she was cold and cooled her down when she was feverish.

I slept on the floor next to her bed. I could’ve slept on the couch, but I wanted to be close enough to hear her breathe.

We spent today at doctors. Her internist. And as of today, she now has a cardiologist as well (her heart is fine, her lungs, clear).

The Italian slept in the various waiting rooms while we waited. He’s 87, he’s entitled to a nap.

Then off to his cardiologist for an appointment (we all disliked this doctor and took turns making rude faces behind his back).  Back in the car, the Italian reminded her, “Buckle up, sweetie.”  She turned to me and said “Sometimes, I just ignore him.” I knew this meant she was feeling better.

Then she feel asleep as we drove.

I picked up his two new medications and threw out her OTC stuff. Maybe the TheraFlu Extreme Cold caplet wasn’t the culprit, but maybe it was. Tomorrow there are more appointments both medical and veterinary and next week, a neurologist.

By the time I left her and the Italian, her feisty was back full on. She’d whipped through some outstanding condo business, reorganized the shoes in her closet, rested, dumped the recycling. He’d moved furniture (he’s refinishing her table and relocating a ceiling fixture), napped, cleaned her kitchen.

I was crabby all week and really looking forward to the farm and the beach house for a couple of mood changers. Nothing like a day with goats  and a weekend of sleeping in, sand and porch to really put a smile on my face. Life made other plans for Friday. Right now, I’m up to my knees in grateful that I was only thirty minutes away, that the Italian was there, that what happened may stay a mystery as long as it stays a single event.

Big Edie and her Italian beau

Big Edie and her Italian beau

old goats & open hearts

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Green Chimney’s is a place for learning & healing for kids and animals. That’s why I’m here. Because I need the healing too – my inner kid and my inner wounded animal.

It’s raining again this week. I clean the pens, taking wheelbarrows full of goat poo and wet straw to the dumpster. Returning with fresh sawdust for clean bedding. The physical labor is very cathartic, very zen.

At noon everyone heads for the dining hall and the barn is quiet. No one here but us chickens.

The baby goats come nibble my fingers.  It tickles in a really pleasant way, they have no upper teeth (reminding me of an old boyfriend or two, back in the days when teeth, or lack thereof, was not a deal breaker for me).

I sit quietly on a milk crate in the center of the sheep pen and think at the sheeps. I think about Brian, who died this week, and Lyle, who died six years ago. With my heart instead of my head, I think how nice the quiet is, how good everything smells in the rain. I soak in the smell of the earth, the sweetgrass, hay and the smell of the sheeps around me.

Brooke, the lamb, nuzzles my arm and I bury my fingertips in her cotton-soft wool.  The Jacobs sheep (still looking very much like a goat to me) limps over. I don’t know much about sheeps, really. About where they’re supposed to bend, what a healthy hoof looks like, none of the particulars I know about dogs and cats. I’m here to learn. But I know a limp is not a good thing & I try to bring a little relief with some Ttouchs on him. When I stop, he nudges me with his head & waits. I start again & he stays, his head resting in my hand. In silence, we understand the language of the heart.

Another Jacobs sheep is limping too, a senior named Hazel. I take this old lady by her beautiful curved black horns while Maureen soaks, cleans, trims, medicates and wraps her hoof. Hazel lays her head on my knees and lets Maureen work.  It takes about ten minutes and I realize half way through that I’m doing the Asian squat, a position I really can’t manage anymore – I was so wrapped up in helping Hazel, I forgot what I couldn’t do and just did it.

Tommy, another senior with milky cataract eyes is almost completely blind, . He wanders over to us, to Maureen, Hazel and I. He pushes the interns out of the way and wedges his head under my arm until his big blind sheep head is just below my chin. He is wedged in tightly between me and Hazel. He stops pushing the minute he gets his head in there. I rest my chin on his old head. He doesn’t smell sweet like the baby goats. He smells like an old goat, or more accurately, old sheep.

Maureen finishes up. Hazel’s hoof has been treated and wrapped. I let go of her horns. The sheeps don’t move.

I throw my hands up in the air, “Run free little sheeps. Go frolic. Go.” Hazel & Tommy do not move, they remain standing with their heads resting on my lap.  Maureen says she’s never seen any of them do anything like that. I cannot imagine how I could be any happier than I am at that very moment with a lap full of old sheeps. My heart is wide open. I’m here, in my skin.

For most people I don’t think that’s a very big deal, being awake, present, in your own body. For me, this is huge.

That’s how Green Chimney’s works.  It’s about helping each other heal. It’s the language of the heart.

be kind to each other

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My friend Brian died Monday.
I met Brian though my friend Lyle.
Lyle died 6 years ago this summer.
They had a lot in common. They were cranky, curmudgeonly, loving men, 8-year-old boys at heart, who poke you and pull your hair when they like you. Men who came from hard places and had big soft hearts.

I found out yesterday.
My phone rang and from the name on the caller ID I knew I’d either been dialed by mistake, or it was bad news. I’d rather have been a mistake.

Brian and I had drifted apart for no reason other than location, location, location. We found each other again through Facebook, so say what you want about it, it brings people together.

Lyle used to say Life isn’t fair. You don’t get what you deserve, he said, You get what you get. It’s what you do with it that’s the measure of your character.

They were men of character.

I can only remember half a dozen things in my life, but that’s one of them.

Brian had the virus.
Lyle had cancer.
They both died sober. That’s supposed to be some sort of consolation, and I suppose it’s better than dying drunk, but really, dead is dead and gone is gone. There is no good way to die, there is no good day to die.

Lyle also said, be kind to each other.
That bears repeating.
Be kind to each other.

Rest in Peace Brian.