Great Expectations. Not.

Today was the winter solstice, that is, the first day of winter.  Here in my part of New Mexico it was all gale force winds and, well, wintery.  I was chilly all day long.  So naturally my thoughts turned to warmth:  Warm layers, cozy fire, and a nice hot toddy.

Accordingly, on the way home from town I stopped in Western Drug and General Store, which really is an amazing place that sells just about anything a human being could want.  My pretense was that I needed to pick up a birthday card (and I did do that, got a nice one) but I also wanted to get some whiskey because it seemed to me whiskey would make a proper hot toddy.

Now here’s the thing:  While I don’t like the stuff, I feel like I should.  Every damn mystery and science fiction book these days seems to have characters who drink single malt and double malt and hey — I love chocolate malts so shouldn’t I like whiskey?

So far, I never have.  It tastes like paint thinner.  Nasty, nasty stuff, no matter how aged it is and how many malts it is.  Whatever that means anyway.  But I had noticed a while back that Western had whiskey in little metal flasks (375 ml to be precise, but as a die-hard non-metricentric, it is little to me) and it was labeled Apple Crisp Whiskey.

Oh wow!  I like apples!  I like apple crisp (that is a dessert, isn’t it?).  How bad could whiskey be if it was Apple Crisp Whiskey?  And on top of that, the label also said America’s Finest.  And a cute, candy-apple red metal flask!

Well, I had to have it.  I had visions of an incredible hot toddy after the evening’s chores were done, the cozy fire blazing in the wood stove, me bundled up in my jammies and bathrobe. But no.

You knew that, right?

First hint:  I could have sworn on the way home I smelled whiskey in the cab of the truck.  And, well, yes, when I picked that flask up in the store, it did stick to the shelf it was on.  But such a cute, candy-apple red metal flask it was, I had to have it!  Probably some other flask had leaked, right?

The seal was still intact on the little tiny cap (so cute!).  And maybe there were some kind of sticky droplets on the side of the pretty candy-apple red side of the flask, but that could have come from anywhere.  At home I gave a moment’s thought to returning the flask unopened, since it seemed that maybe the flask wasn’t quite as full as it might have been but… no.  I was determined to have that damn toddy.  Tonight.  The fire was roaring, I was warming on the outside and I wanted that hot comforting drink to warm my innards.

I opened it.  I sniffed it.  Kind of.. ewww.  Paint thinner with a hint of rotten apple, overlaid with the tang of metal.  I poured some hot water into a cup, added a big tablespoon of honey, and a slug or two of Apple Crisp Whiskey.  Stirred well.  Tasted.

Have I said ewww yet?  I thought maybe I was mistaken.  I mean, I never have liked whiskey or any of its relatives.  So I took another sip to be fair.

But that metal taste.  Really.  Bad.  In the lingering aftertaste I was sure it was less apple and more compost that coated my tongue, compost liberally tainted with steel.  Was this the normal taste for something that claimed to be America’s Finest?

OK time to read the fine print.  Proprietary all-natural recipe.  Estate-grown corn.

Corn?  Where are the apples?

Traditional copper still.  I sipped a bit more.  No, definitely not pennies I was tasting, but steel.  Remarkably mellow flavor and smooth finish… wait, what about the apples?  I read the other side.  Aha!  Corn whiskey infused with apple crisp liqueur.  Whatever that is.

Maybe I’m too picky.  Or maybe I simply have an uneducated palate.  But I think that maybe somebody accidentally put some kind of solvent in that flask and it’s dissolving the welds.  Because I swear, I rinsed the outside off and dried it and there are sticky droplets along the seam again.

So… happy solstice.  Winter has come.  Meanwhile, I’m drinking Merlot, the fire is cozy, and after I recover from the toddy I’ll get my jammies on.

 

 

Do what you love and love what you do

“You’ll do what you have to do to be able to do what you want to do.”

This is what a friend of mine said to me in an email this morning. Not only is it catchy but it’s true.  Except that it’s kind of grim.  Happily, for me what I have to do to be able to do what I want to do is already what I want to do.

Too convoluted? Well, let me give an example.  This morning, for instance…

This morning my eyes opened before the sun popped over the horizon. I have no idea why so early, but it was OK.  The room was chilly but I was toasty under oh, five or six layers of flannel blankets and quilts.  If I didn’t go back to sleep I could just laze around and let my mind wander.  I very much enjoy that luxury, because I’m not a morning person.  Oh, I get up at what seems like the crack of dawn, but a real morning person would sneer at the thought.

So I let some writing and art issues bubble up through the murk of sleep, not trying to guide them or even capture them. What came up might or might not be useful, but the luxury part of what I was doing involved just letting my subconscious do whatever it wanted. Of course, because I was half asleep I forgot most of it, but I figure that if the ideas got that far they really want to come out. Eventually they’ll pop to the surface while I’m awake and and I will capture them.

It wasn’t all that long, though, before my bladder and the cats demanded that I roll out of bed.  First thing after that was to shuck my PJs and get dressed. Why no lounging around with a cup of coffee? Well, for one thing, this morning it was 38°. Inside the house.

Obviously my immediate concern was to get the fire going in the wood stove. That meant clearing out ashes, and that means an ash bucket had to be nearby, so that I don’t have to go outside to get one. It might have been cold inside, but outside it was in single digits. It’s December in the high country, after all.

Once the ashes were removed I piled up the glowing embers and stacked wood around them so they’d ignite. That means that there had to be wood available, mind you, and there was (see ash bucket, above).

OK, fire going, coffee water heating on the kitchen stove while I fed the cats before they drove me crazy. By the time I was ready to enjoy my first sip of life-giving java, the wood stove had heated my little house to a reasonable temperature so that I could remove layers as I checked email.

Whoa! A patron signed up (the friend I quoted at the beginning of this post). Wow! Way to start the day!  (Reminder — support your friendly creator!  Thank you if you already have, and don’t be shy if you haven’t.  Any support is fantastic support.)




I feed the horses around 9 a.m. because generally it has warmed up some by that point. I’m not a fan of doing chores when it’s so cold my nostrils stick together when I breathe. In the summer I feed around 8 a.m. because it’s cooler. Due to Daylight Savings nonsense, from the horses’ point of view they’re being fed around the same time.  This is important because even though they’ve got grass hay available all the time, it’s not the same as those delectable flakes of alfalfa for breakfast.  My stallion, Koko, also gets pellets with probiotics in them, plus any fruit or veggie parts that are left over from my kitchen. He eats it all. You’d be amazed.

So as long as I’m outside, I’ve got other chores to do. First is breaking ice on the water troughs. Koko is always thirsty in the mornings, so I do his trough first. Then it’s time for some exercises — stuff left over from physical therapy for my hips that help keep me limber — and after that a short walk, about a half mile loop.

The walk lets me look out away from myself into the distance.  It reminds me I’m part of a much bigger system. It puts my own problems in perspective for a while. I stay on my own property and that walk also reminds me how wonderful it is that I get to live here, on this land. Each day there is something new to see. Coyote poop (full of barely-digested juniper berries right now), elk poop, horse poop, occasionally cow poop. Tracks of many kinds in the dust of the trail. If I’m lucky — and why I think it’s good luck I don’t know — I’ll see the resident roadrunner, who is a bold bird that is used to me by now. He will move away but not far.

Sometimes I’ll surprise an owl or hawk or a flock of larks or piñon jays.  Sometimes a raven will circle me, speaking to me in raven talk that I can’t quite understand.

This time of year the weeds are brittle and dry. Even though I stick to the trail I’ve made, it seems like every plant has burrs or needles or hooks on them so they can hitch a ride on a passing sock. Gaiters keep the nasty little things out of my shoes.  When it snows I’ll wear the gaiters to keep warm.

Some mornings after I’ve walked I’ll work with one of my young mares, Sonny, Koko’s daughter. She has had very little training even though she’s going to be seven years old next month. Now that I have new hips, working with her is fun.  I think we both enjoy it.

My training is hardly worth the word. Maybe ten minutes at a time. My method now that I’m not a young woman and am perhaps more breakable than I used to be, is to not use any restraints and to not pursue if she leaves me. No stress for her, no stress for me.  How I do this is a whole other story, but the end result is a horse that is a partner, not a slave. Given the kind of riding I do, I need that kind of a horse.

Back to the chores. Once a week I prepare the buckets with Koko’s pellets.  That would be today.  I stacked tonight’s hay in the wheelbarrow and stashed it under the tarp. I like to keep tools out of the sun as much as possible, because at this altitude the sun eats everything up. This particular wheelbarrow is only a year old and so far so good, but I have another that has broken apart to the point where it’s pretty useless now. I’m going to fix it one of these days.  It’s low on the To Do list, though.

A brief break to pet Tux, a stray tomcat that’s been living here for a couple years now. He knows my routines so well that he leads me rather than follows.

It being Sunday, it was time to pump water. I topped off the gas in the generator, then pulled the wagon the generator lives in down to the well. I’ll leave it running till this afternoon. After that, I hiked up to the water storage tanks to see how much had been used this week.

Then it was time to get a load of wood for tonight (see above). I need to order another cord soon, but that depends on my wood guy and my finances. I’m good for a month if it doesn’t get too cold. I’ll bring armfuls of wood in the house during the course of the day, when I’m coming in and out anyway. No point in taking the time this morning when I have other stuff to do.

My last chore of the morning was to add some water to the pans I have out for the birds and other small critters, and then I got to come back in the house and have another cup of coffee and think about getting something to eat and then… finally… writing. Or processing photos. Or sewing.

All those things were, as my friend suggested, what I have to do to be able to do what I want to do. My chores would be a drag, except that I want to do them. I like doing them.  Oh sure, I moan and groan.  But sometimes, weirdly, I find myself giggling while I’m wrestling with a tarp… right after I have screamed curses into the wind. Sometimes I snarl and want to feel sorry for myself when I realize I haven’t finished bringing in the wood and I’m exhausted and it’s already dark, but I shrug and I do it. Then there’s been a couple mornings when I was confronted with a fountain spouting from the frost-free hydrant because I forgot to close it the night before. It froze and cracked the pipe and there was nobody to blame but me. But I fixed it. And I was proud that I could do so.

This lifestyle, this responsibility for my own comfort and safety and for that of my critters, is what I have chosen, not what I am forced to. I could move to a house in town, with a regular job to pay for the easier lifestyle, but I would lose much, much more than I would gain in doing so.

There is a joy for me in living this way. Everything I do matters. Everything I do is fodder for my art — whether it’s writing, photography, quilting, or… whatever occurs to me. When, by 11 a.m., I finally come to the part of my day that others would consider (finally) the creative time,  I’ve already been experiencing hours of a world I want to share with others. I’ve been recording some of it with a camera, I’ve been testing out narrative in my head, I’ve been seeing patterns that would make beautiful art.

It’s all there.

It’s all one big creative act for me.

It’s all what I want to do.