Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Raising Womb Gremlins



Faith Cook

"Stay-at-home moms are too stupid and lazy for college or actual work. They just sit on their butts and watch TV all day long.” Excuse me?? When you decide to be a stay-at-home mom, you might picture days at the park, snuggles and smiles. There are certain things nobody tells you about. Being a stay-at-home mom comes with many dangers. Losing your sanity is high on that list, but I would like to talk about physical dangers such as blood, electrocution, vomit, and head injuries.   

Electricity is an obvious danger in houses. You buy those little plugs. Then you realize children can pull cords, so you try to keep all cords hidden or out of reach. Once when Bailey was approximately 8 months old, I left him in the living room by himself while I used the bathroom. On my way back to him I heard a screech like I had never heard before and pray to God that I never hear again. He had unplugged my breast pump from the pump itself and stuck it in his mouth while the other end was still plugged into the wall, thus giving himself an electrical shock. After that he never touched an electrical cord again until he was about 7 years old. Jade on the other hand, is far more stubborn and while she has never electrocuted herself, also has never feared cords and unplugged and plugged them back in repeatedly.  

Another possible danger is a child cutting themselves. You cannot be prepared to find their blood smeared all over the kitchen counter. One time I was cooking for a church gathering and left the kitchen to again, use the bathroom. When I came out of the bathroom, I discovered Bailey had climbed up on the foot stool I had been using and grabbed the kitchen knife. There was blood all over the counter and not a peep from him, not even a whimper. After getting him cleaned up I realized he cut his finger open.  

Getting locked out of the house is probably something most have feared in their teens, but nobody warns you that it could occur as a result of a toddler. When Jade was about 2, her and I had gone to town to go grocery shopping. When we got home, I carried her inside and answered the ringing telephone. With the phone to my ear, I headed out to the pickup to start carrying in bags of cold and frozen food first, so they didn’t go bad. When I got back to the front door, I discovered I had been locked out and she didn’t appear to know how to unlock it. She stood at the window smiling and giggling the whole time. I was worried I’d have to call my husband home to unlock the door as we didn’t have a hide-a-key. She did eventually unlock the deadbolt and we do now have a hide-a-key. She is also the reason our deadbolt got broken. I am not at all certain how she did it, but we discovered the knob for the dead bold on the floor and her sitting under it crying. In the past she had been witnessed to hanging from the knob and I am certain that is what happened. I never in my wildest dreams would’ve thought that something that is supposed to keep intruders out of the house could so easily be compromised by a toddler.

Medical dangers are something I never thought I’d have to learn about. The words “de-sat” and “brady” became every day words referring to heart rate and oxygen saturation. Rafe, who is forever a “28 week-er was born 12 weeks premature and has been in the hospital and ER many times due to ‘abdominal breathing’. For an adult, this is common when we have exercised heavily or have been running and are now out of breath. For an infant, this is dangerous, seeing their skin sink in between each individual rib with each breath. You learn to notice the signs almost before the machine can even pick it up. The wide scared eyes, and gray-blue hue of their skin. 

Vomit is going to happen. One-time Bailey was walking and heard the dog, Timber, running up behind him. Instead of a ‘bob and weave’ they both weaved and the dog hit Bailey in the leg, sending him flying in the air and coming crashing down on his head at an odd angle. It took several minutes before Bailey could even stand up, then when he did, he couldn’t walk straight. He had to stand for several more minutes before he could walk. I was scared he had broken his neck or back. He did finally walk into the house and sat in the living room on the recliner. After about 30 minutes he said he was hungry and asked for a snack. We gave him some fruit snacks. 20 more minutes go bye and he said he was thirsty and asks for a drink. We gave him some milk. Within 5 minutes he vomited. We rushed Jade to bed and left her with Grandma and Grandpa while we rushed Bailey to the ER for fear of a concussion. No MRI was required that night and he was discharged.  

On a separate occasion, one-night Bailey vomited in his bed and came to wake me up. “Mommy, I threw up in my bed,” Bailey tells me. 

“Okay, go lay down and I’ll be right there.” 

It was about 2:30 in the morning and I asked him to go lay down so I could grab a robe and walk out of the bedroom. He assumed I meant in his bed. I assumed he would understand that I was telling him to lay down on the couch. That is when I learned it is important to make sure you always have AT LEAST one extra set of clean sheets for each bed. After we got the messy bedding in the washer, we cleaned up Bailey and put clean bedding on his bed for him. By this time, the washer was done, and we got the once soiled sheets in the dryer. Roughly and hour later he came back in and had puked all over his bed AGAIN. Sheets off the bed, into the washer. Clean child and laundry out of the dryer and back on the bed. Now time for sheets out of the washer and into the dryer. An hour later, it happened a third time. Now time for child to sleep on the couch. Did not vomit the rest of the night.  

Choking is a danger most people are aware of. Small children put things in their mouths and need to be watched for things like Legos and popcorn kernels. Nobody tells you that even a three-year-old can unscrew a bottle cap. Bailey once opened Jade’s gas drops and drank the whole bottle while I was in the bathroom. I called Colglazier Medical Clinic immediately after I discovered this. The clinic told they didn’t know what to advise other than to call the pharmacy where I purchased the gas drops. I called Adam’s Drug and spoke with the pharmacist, Jamie. He told me “He should be fine, just don’t let him take a nap today. He might not wake up.” WHAT??? 

I hope nobody blindly goes into being a stay-at-home mom. There are plenty of snuggles and giggles, teaching and learning with being a stay-at-home mom, but there are many physical dangers that you cannot be fully prepared for. Motherhood is the scariest ‘hood’ I have ever witnessed. Buy stock in Band-Aid, study CPR, make sure the child is ALWAYS contained when you have to pee, and know that there are many dangers. Ones I have gone through and ones I have not.  


Thursday, September 3, 2020

Transforming a Tenth of an Acre Lot into a Homestead for Free (Almost)


Maria Bergner

A loud popping sound echoed through the crowded patient’s room, “Maria, is that you?” asked Jenny as she squints at me, drenched in sweat. We were bent over the waist, arms outstretched as we try to lift a deadweight patient off the floor.

“I think so,” I said while trying to feel which part of my body made the dreaded sound. I tried to straighten up but then darkness enveloped me.

Fast forward three months later, my orthopedic doctor, Dr. Sullivan told me, “Maria, I think your best course of action is to change your profession. Your body cannot take the strain anymore and it needs ample time to rest and recuperate. There is only so much that therapy can do.”  I knew that I must do something because bills don’t pay themselves, they come like clockwork.

The next morning, as I make myself hot green tea to wake me up from a sleepless night. I find myself staring at my empty backyard which measures roughly a tenth of an acre, sitting barren with nothing but thorny weeds and littered with torn down cement, a thought came to me. “I am paying a lot of money for this property and here it is barren and unused.” I mused, then a thought hit me, “why don’t I make my property work for me.” An old English proverb stated that necessity is the mother of all invention, that aha moment prompted me to transform my tenth of an acre property into a homestead, given my current circumstances, it must be done for next to nothing.

The first step is cleaning up the place: to get rid of the thorny weeds, instead of using harsh expensive chemicals, I dug them up by hand. Then to get rid of all the torn down cement that littered the yard, I ask for a free pass ticket from the city dump department so I could get rid of them, they said each resident of the town can get 2 per year, I also discovered the construction dump where I can get usable items like cinder blocks for free.

The second step, checking on the nature of the soil or dirt; upon inspection, I discovered that my yard has layers of sand. I must dig at least half afoot to reach the soil and found that it is not the best quality and needs to be amended. An example of good quality soil is something that you could form like a ball in your hand, the soil in my yard is mostly loose and sandy. Buying soil to grow food is out of the question, so I used the power of social media to get dirt. I used the Facebook marketplace, Craigslist and word of mouth to find free soil. After two weeks I was able to gather a truckload of free soil, which is not enough to fill the entire yard.

Since I cannot fill the entire yard, the only way is to use planters. This leads to step three, gathering materials to make planters for free. Every weekend for a full month, my husband and I went to the construction dump, I found cinder blocks that still have cement on them but still in good usable condition, I also found tires, metal pipes, wires, and cow panels that can be salvaged. A neighbor gave me his damaged canoe which can still be upcycled, another neighbor gave me wood pallets, and a friend gave me three huge plastic barrels. After a full month, I was able to gather enough materials.

Step Four, constructing the vegetable planters using the materials gathered and picking a sunny location to place them. My backyard is north facing, observing the shadows cast by trees and houses around the property for a full day shows that the middle part of the backyard is the best place to grow food. I lined up cinder blocks into rectangular forms using only one layer of cement blocks, I ended up with nine planters measuring six feet by two feet in diameter. I used cow panels as trellis by bending them in the middle, using trellis would save growing space since plants like squash and melons take up space. I trained the plant to weave its way upwards on the trellis using cut up pieces of old t-shirts, I also supported the heavy produce as they grow using t-shirts. I layered the tires and used it to grow red Norland potatoes and I used the canoe to plant sweet potatoes.

Before planting seeds, I must first stop weeds from growing back, the solution I found is to cover them with mulch. Step five, finding free mulch materials because buying them would cost around $80.00. On one of our trips to the dump, we came across woodchips piles from yard waste. I asked the manager if we could get some woodchips for free, and she said yes, she also said that the electric company also cuts down trees. I called the electric company and they agreed to dump two truckloads of woodchips in our yard, for free! I then proceeded to spread layers of woodchips around the backyard which helped stop the thorny weeds from coming back. The following year as I was re-mulching, I discovered that half of the woodchips have decomposed from the initial year and that it helped amend the soil!

I discovered that if I buy the seeds that I need, it would cost around $60.00! this fact led to step six, finding free seeds. I asked around through word of mouth and inquired at community gardens, in roughly two weeks I was able to gather enough seeds to plant. I used empty containers of sour cream, yogurt, and egg cartons to start the seeds. I used popsicle sticks that I got from the store for $1.00 as seed tags so I know which seed is growing in each container. To water the garden, I harvested rainwater using huge plastic barrels given to me. I saved the vegetable peels and turn them into compost using earthworms to serve as fertilizer. I used wood pallets in constructing the compost bin by nailing the four of them together forming a square and placing it at the back corner of the yard. During the entire growing season, I cooked our meals based on what is harvested from the garden. At the end of the growing season, I harvested roughly fifty pounds of fresh produce. Having excess fresh produce meant that I need to learn how to preserve them.

Step seven, learning how to preserve food for free and get canning supplies for free because buying them would cost around $50.00. I borrowed books from the library about how to preserve and can food. I got my canning supplies from a friend’s garage sale using the barter system, I paid her with three quarts of homemade salsa. Some friends permitted me to harvest their excess produce like apples, rhubarbs, and grape. I canned around fifty quarts of vegetables, forty pints jams and jelly, twenty pounds potatoes, four pounds onions, and garlic, fifteen quarts applesauce, ten quarts spaghetti sauce, ten quarts mild salsa, and brewed four gallons grape wine. I preserve the potatoes by digging two feet in the ground then covered it with loose dirt and hay. The preserves lasted throughout winter and into the beginning of spring the following year.

The garden helped lowered our grocery bill down to 10% of our monthly budget and the only items that we mostly needed to buy are the ones I could not grow like grains, nuts, and fruits like banana. For dairy and meat, I used the barter system with other like-minded people, for some reason most people chose mild and hot salsa as barter products. The garden also produced excessively during the growing season that I ended up selling them to neighbors and friends. The garden raised roughly $225.00 from fresh produce sales, I used the money to buy fruit-bearing trees like apple, peach, pear, and plum for a mini orchard that I placed near the fence the following year, they would serve as a food source and windbreaker. 

The following growing season, the garden made around $300.00 in fresh produce sales which I used to buy two honeybee hive for honey production and four chickens for meat and egg production, both of which is placed on either side of the property where it is shaded. I again used recycled materials from the construction dump to build the chicken coop. Within two years, I was able to transform my tenth of an acre property into a homestead with almost zero dollars and lots of elbow grease.


Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Grandpa Going to College?

John Little

I was given my placement test results, by a lady with dark, shoulder length hair, glasses and kind eyes. She was a little older than me and reminded me of the librarian from my high school days.


“Take this to the front office and make an appointment to visit with an advisor.”


I stepped out into a hallway with hard speckled floors, white walls with gold borders up to the ceiling, classrooms and offices on both sides. On the walk from the library, to the office, I examined the paper that was given to me. It had three numbers on it, that I wasn’t sure what they meant. When I arrived at the main entrance hall, I looked at the office where I was to make my appointment. It was all glass with glass double doors that were propped open. I also looked at the exit, with the sun shining outside and for a second, thought about just leaving and forgetting the whole thing. I walked through the glass doors to where the receptionist was sitting.


“May I help you?” asked the young lady sitting behind the desk. Actually, it was more like a desk wall, with three separate desks on the other side. She was sitting in a low chair that bothered me. For some reason I am uncomfortable talking down to people, maybe because I am short and used to looking up at people. I explained that I need to meet with an advisor and had just finished my placement test. She asked me to have a seat and would have an advisor talk with me.


I sat in a hard-plastic chair with a wire metal frame, outside of the glass wall, facing the bookstore. I noticed the gray t-shirts first, with the college name, in yellow or gold on the front. There was a poster talking about student aide and another with the sports schedule. Inside, there were students looking for supplies, milling around resembling shoppers at a grocery store. Some looked like they had no idea what they were doing and some sure of themselves. One young man appeared to have a face full of pimples, at least I think it was pimples, could have been freckles or birth marks. My eyesight isn’t what it used to be. Some had backpacks, others book bags and every one of them young enough to be my child.


I could either hear nothing, or I just didn’t notice any sounds, other than my breathing and the paper crinkling in my hand. I was acutely aware of my heart beating. It didn’t seem to be beating any faster, but it seemed to be thumping my chest harder than usual. So many thoughts started to swirl in my head. Am I too old for this? Will I be able to pass any classes? Will the other students give me shit for being a “middle aged man” in their class? I decided to google the numbers on the results sheet, of my placement test. What? This can’t be right. These scores were actually pretty good, and how did I do better on the math? It was then that I noticed the scale at the bottom of the sheet, showing average scores. I felt like an idiot not noticing it before.


I watched a young lady, who worked out at the same gym as I did, walk in the building. She gave me a shocked sounding “Hi” before hurrying off to where she needed to be. She is around five feet ten inches tall and thin, but athletic. I think she is, or was, a volleyball player.


The advisor came out to get me and introduced herself. I instantly forgot her name. I had so many thoughts going through my head. What kind of questions is she going to ask? Will I need my high school diploma or DD214? Maybe my W-2? How much is this going to cost? It was like a reel to reel projector, at the end of the tape going flip, flip, flip. I followed to her office and sat in one of the chairs facing her desk. This chair was cushioned with a wooden frame and much more comfortable. Her desk had papers scattered across it in some sort of organized chaos.


“What can I do for you?”


“I’m not sure. What would you suggest for old people going back to school?”


She chuckled and said, “It can be difficult for nontraditional students like us, going back to school. What were you thinking?”


 “I didn’t know what to expect when I came in but, I guess an associates of science.”


“Okay. Are you planning on transferring your credits?”


 “I was looking at the online physical therapy assistant at Southeast.” In my mind, this made sense to me. I am a wrestling coach and like to work out. Seemed like a natural connection.


“Well let’s just see what that requires.” She did some mouse clicking and turned the screen for me to see. “These are the courses that are required.”


Suddenly my head felt like it was full of cement. “I will be in a nursing home before I can finish all those classes.”


She chuckled again and said, “No, no, you have to complete one English, algebra, speech, two science and a psychology class. Then you can apply for the physical therapy assistant course. This just lists the classes that will qualify you. You don’t have to take every class on the list.”


 Hearing that was a relief, but I still had a headache. “What is available?”


 “Classes started last week, but there are some that have a late start.”  She did some more mouse clicking and one by one, we went through all the classes that I needed. She answered all my questions and listened to all my stupid comments, with the patience of a special needs teacher. She didn’t seem to be annoyed or impatient with me, but if were in her place, that’s what I would have been feeling. One by one we ruled out classes. This one is full. This one started last week and the Professor doesn’t like late starts. I was beginning to think I would have to wait for the next term. Finally, we found an English Comp class and an intermediate algebra class. The algebra class started last week, but only had one class, so she emailed the professor to see if I could get in. The English class didn’t start for another week and a half, so I was good there.


“How hard are these classes? Remember, I haven’t been in school for three decades. I have taken an online class here and there but haven’t been in an actual classroom for a long time.”


“We have many resources to help our students succeed. Each class will have resources as well and we also have tutoring available. After you start, if you feel like you are not going to pass, you have until April 23rd to drop classes.”  She checked her computer and told me that the algebra professor emailed her back and would allow me to join the class.


This did not boost my confidence at all. I began to wonder if “traditional” students went through some of the same feelings that I was having. “Okay. I will sign up for the English and algebra class, but I have some concerns and questions. I am a veteran and want to know if there are any benefits. I also need to know how to apply for assistance.”


“I will get you with our financial aid advisor, but for now, let’s get you enrolled in those classes.” She gave me some pamphlets and filled out some paperwork.


She had me sign the paperwork, set up a meeting with the algebra professor and financial aid. “I think you will do great. Just be sure to utilize the resources that you need and don’t hesitate to ask for help.”


I took the paperwork and left the building with an equal feeling of anxiety and excitement. The sunlight was deceptive. It was much colder than it looked with a wind that cuts right through my clothes. On to the next adventure in my confusing life.