The Mountain Mouth

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#LiveLikeJulia @mountainmouth55 September 14, 2013

#LivingLikeJulia Week Two – Empire Strikes Back

I love that girl Karen Karbo. We are not close friends though, and I am old enough to be her maiden aunt, the one that works at the DMV and has gross lip wrinkles like Marge Simpson’s sisters.

K2 has awesome dimples, and an un-fancy, honest way about her.

Having met her is right up there in my life with passing Michael Jackson in a hallway, flirting with Dustin Hoffman, and answering the phone for Diane Keaton one day to take a message for Al Pacino.

When I got to hang with Karen, she was one of the first working writers I’d met since I realized that was what I wanted to be.

POND SUMMER 09 014

As we sat by the edge of the pond she told me a little of her life: and that a magazine column each month paid her mortgage. I still think: How amazing that she shared that, making my own goal somehow tangible.

I have written four novels, several screenplays and many newspaper articles that have never been read, or if sold, never paid me enough for a sushi dinner.

For a while I got paid $25 bucks a newspaper article, plus $5 for a picture. In one year I wrote almost 200 headline stories for the local paper. Some months I made almost $250.

But I keep bumping into people who seem to keep me from slitting my throat over such things: Karen – so approachable and encouraging. The incomparable Jane Smiley, and Janet Fitch, Deanne Stillman, Carol Walker, Terri Farley – none whom I know well but all have been so helpful to me, amazingly so; that it seems that the sisterhood that I envisioned as a 17-year-old member of National Organization of Women buoys me to this day.

I write because I can I write and because it amuses me, and because people I respect, and who turn me on, encourage me and challenge me.

I believe Julia Child wrote and cooked and went on TV for the same reasons.

Julia embraced who she was; and my challenge is to live for a month under one of Julia’s rules. It’s without any sort of ego I have got to say: I always have. I am short, my hair is like a baby’s, but I swear like a sailor.

Julia had money, but I had the pride of being different. The lure of the Disney princess never called to me. I was the barefoot, bareback hoyden trampling Midwest farmlands and deep rivers, my kaleidoscope eyes  absorbing  the moon landing, the sixties, rock and roll rebellion…when your family is composed of generations of  liberal democrats, actors, activists and musicians… your rebellion has to be really wild, man!

Julia Child adored being different.

I, too, had a big old bug up my ass. Having scored a scholarship to a fancy women’s college, I left with the first guy going west. The fact that he was a dead ringer for Cat Stevens and wanted to be a forest ranger, okay, that didn’t hurt. My dad cried as I packed up my childhood room and I remember him pleading with me to stay in school. I reasoned with him, we did not yell; even so, as I drove away in the truck with Ferrucio, tears fell hot and I felt my heart being ripped from my body.

But it was soon after that I first tasted food. Endive, sea bass, sushi, avocado. Margairitas with anejo tequila, lime and Cointrueu. Al dente handmade pasta with olive oil, garlic and anchovies. Cracked Dungeness crab, sourdough bread, smokey chardonnay. Cake made with butter and sugar, a French chef’s cheesecake, still puffing hot from the oven. A burrito as big as a baby’s head with real simmered pintos and quesa fresca and fresh jalepenos that blew off the top of your head.

Leaving the Midwest was an intellectual journey, but the journey of food was one I had never imagined. Korean Barbeque. Dim Sum. Sake. Lobster on the grill with a pound of melted butter and a bowl of lemons. Croissants, bagels, yeasty sticky cinnamon rolls fresh and hot from the oven.

I was not a foodie, yet I got to eat some great food – in Oregon, and San Francisco and LA, Chicago, New York and Central America. Along the way I became unafraid to throw in some tumeric, or fish sauce, cilantro, cumin, coriander, dill, or lemongrass; sprinkle on some basalmic vinegar, or fresh ginger, or roll stuff in Panko.

In Illinois, in the 1960’s, talking like this might get you a weekend in the lockup with Sylvia Plath.

Thank god we women have helped each other evolve. I don’t have kids; neither did Julia. But with a little help from our friends, we all can make a memorable story, or a meal or two, that some might remember, and pass on.

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#LiveLikeJulia Emperor #1 August 30, 2013

                       I love food. I love cooking. I love life. I am Me, and do not conform.Image
That’s why, this month, I want to talk about Julia Child.
I met Julia Child on TV, but in the heat of adolescence, forgot about her, and food, until Dan Akroyd’s parody. I still pee my pants watching that.
I learned about food as an adult in the hippiefied atmosphere of Ashland Oregon, in 1976. Discovering sex and vegetables at the same time might explain my preference for a tomato from the garden versus a Big Mac to this day.
I met Karen Karbo, author of “Julia Child Rules” in my backyard, which at the time was a house five thousand feet up a mountainside in Kern CA. Karen had been visiting The Rankin Ranch since she came as kid, with her Dad. It was 2008 or so… K2 was there with The Man of the House, and a bunch of kids and cowboys whose legs, always encased in Wranglers, gleamed like a glaciers in the unfiltered Arctic sun.

 

My life appeared to be amazing. Acres of forest, a deep, clear pond, mustangs and chickens, shiny SUV’s and a two-story house that crowned the mountaintop. But I was caged, abused. I was a ferret that wished it could rip out its’ own throat. I had a “boyfriend” that was psychotic, a gun totin’ excitable, paranoid, faux survivalist; a narcissistic, controlling man-boy who could not tell the truth about anything.
I was thrilled to meet Karen but at the time was paralyzed in despair. I’m not worthy!”. But as others fetishize sport teams, fashion, music or whatever, I have a THING for writers.
So imagine my pure joy when Karen Karbo included me in the experimental group blog, #LiveLikeJulia.
Last Friday I was riding Reno, then I wasn’t. Down by the lakeshore, I fell hard, he galloped off – but came right back, and before the pain hit, I “got back in the saddle” and rode home.
Tonight I type bent over & whacked on pills, due to some broken ribs. I am stuck in a chair, for a while, so I might abuse this privilege with a tsunami of words.

 

 

Kids Go To Court for Dad June 27, 2013

RODDY MAC postcardMy Dad, as “Roddy Mac”

Kate MacDonald

Editor, writer, director

Kids Go to Court for Their Dad

Posted: 06/26/2013 6:00 pm

Imagine waking to an unfamiliar hospital-looking room. You recognize no one; you can’t remember how you got there. Everyone you ask lies. No matter how logically you ask, they will not tell you why you’ve been imprisoned; but from the looks on their faces, you begin to fear you will never get out. You will die here.

This is not a Kafkaesque torture scene. It is happening here in America, to my 87-year old father. He, and five and a half million other Americans, has Alzheimer’s.

Growing up in Rockford, in the ’50s and early ’60s, my Dad, Rod MacDonald, was well known in his trademark red beret as TV personality “Roddy Mac.” The popular kid’s show was just a side-line for Dad, as he also wrote, produced, and sold television and radio ads at WREX Channel 13; he was also an actor, a musician, a WW2 veteran, and typical Dad who did lots of chauffeuring and dispensing petty cash. He worked a lot, as all Dads did then, and he and our mother Virginia MacDonald were for decades, until Ginny’s death of cancer in 1987, a driving force behind the inception and success of the Rockford theatre scene.

After Ginny died, Dad remarried and seemed happy. He and his wife continued to act, and travel occasionally to New York and Chicago to visit theatre friends and see shows. But his memory problems began to become apparent; he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

For a few years the disease did not seem to make that much of an impact on his daily life, although he did quit driving and later, going to the gym. Then a year ago, my sister began getting paid to stay with him during the day, while Dad’s wife worked. Sarah and Dad did crosswords, drank coffee, sang songs, and took naps.

Then I heard Dad’s wife was talking about putting him in a nursing home. My sister and I both offered to take dad home with us and care for him, but were told that wasn’t feasible.

Within weeks, Dad was on the waiting list of the Illinois Veteran’s Home in La Salle, Illinois, about two hours from Rockford. Sarah initiated a tour of the facility, which was not the awful B movie nightmare they’d imagined; the staff seemed caring and the facility modern and adequate. We were told Dad would adjust. We were told there were no restrictions on visiting: we would be able to take Dad out for a walk, a sandwich on a park bench, even on vacation if his doctor agreed.

But he was adamant he didn’t want to go, he wanted to be with his family.

They all said leaving him there was awful. “It was the hardest thing I ever did,” said his wife. “Don’t leave me here, please,” Dad cried.

Scott was shaken to the core by this scene. He thought back to helping to care for dad’s own parents, in Madison in the 1970s. And Ginny, during her eight-year battle with cancer. Scott decided to step up.

My brother offered to quit his job and take Dad. We phoned and emailed with detailed plans for Dad’s care. This is when I first heard that Dad had signed a POA — or, Power of Attorney, giving the power of healthcare decisions to his wife.

What sounds like a perfectly reasonable idea has turned our dad into a virtual prisoner, a man with an ankle bracelet, a “resident,” who is not allowed to talk to his own kids; a disenfranchised, income-producing ex-person, a man with no room of his own, who wonders what has become of his family; whose identity is gradually wiped away along with his civil rights.

In theory, a POA entrusts someone with one’s healthcare decisions if you become incapacitated. In theory, your POA has your best interests at heart, and is bound to act in your behalf. But in our reality, we have found out that a POA can be a concrete wall,isolating patients from all contact with friends and family.

We were told to wait a few days before calling Dad. I waited a week, but in the meantime, talked to the staff. Dad’s social worker said something I thought strange, something about the family problem. I told her I wasn’t aware of any problem; but soon found out that the staff considered my sister’s call’s to dad a “problem.”

From the very first, every conversation we had with Dad, he begged to be released from the VA Home. We would try to change the subject in creative ways, but he would have none of that.

“Not another night in this place,” he’d suggest hopefully, and when we would dodge that question, he would ask who wanted him to stay there. “I’ve already done four weeks in this joint,” he said to me on June 1. “I’m ready to go. I went to war with these guys, why do I have to live with them now?” We would explain he had Alzheimer’s. He’d say, he knew he had “memory problems” but still couldn’t understand why he had been committed to an institution. “Don’t I have family that will take care of me?”

It became more and more difficult to dodge that question, and explain his wife’s position because by the time I visited at the beginning of June, communication had broken between my siblings, me and our stepmother.

When Scott offered to care for Dad, I questioned his commitment and motives, but after a few lengthy phone calls, was satisfied it would work just fine. Scott and Dad could live on Dad’s social security income; Scott’s is a first floor apartment, with a fenced backyard. And like before, Sarah could help out.

But Dad’s wife replied it was “unacceptable.”

I made plans to visit even before Dad went into the VA Home, and managed to get a couple days off at the end of May. The rain, endless construction on the toll roads, vivid greenness and humid air — I was home. We drove to LaSalle the next day. Dad cried when he realized we were not all there to take him with us. He looked a lot smaller and thinner but he was still Dad — a confused, lonely version, but no zombie. I was so relieved. We stayed several hours, but Dad didn’t want to leave his room, unless it was for good. We were there several hours, and he never let go of the topic of going home although we tried lots of diversions.

The staff was friendly, but when we broached the topic of taking dad home to live with Scott, the smiles faded. Sarah was taking video of Dad when one said, “That’s enough. We’re not going to have any more of that.”

The next day we saw the director. He spent over an hour listening to our concerns about dad, and seemed sympathetic to the idea of Scott living with family, but said “we are bound by the wishes of the POA.”

We were about to find out what that meant. We tried to take dad out to dinner. They made a call; permission refused. It struck me that he was wearing an ankle bracelet, and the near-constant beeping that was giving me a headache was caused by the residents straying too near a door. The Alzheimer’s ward, behind a locked door, consists of twin dining rooms, a circular nurses’ station, a sort of sitting area next to the locked outdoor patio, and twin hallways off in either direction. There is a locked “nourishment room” that Sarah had already found for making coffee. The resident’s rooms are hospital-like, with personal touches, except for Dad’s. The pictures Sarah had put on the wall were gone, he was packed. Ready to go.

He was happy to see us, and had spruced up for our visit; he’d remembered we were coming back. We cajoled him into the dining room and sang songs. Dad belted out verse and chorus to “Old Man River.” The other residents gathered slowly for their dinner, and soon were clapping along. Dad laughed at our dumb jokes and danced a soft-shoe to show us he was fit enough to go home. The next day, he did four pushups. (“See? Nothing wrong with me that hugs won’t fix.”)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kate-macdonald/kids-go-to-court-for-thei_b_3505944.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false

 

Zombie Apocalypse July 14, 2012

Dear Neighbors,

I’m writing from town these days but am still the Mountain Mouth; because the girl can leave the mountain but the mountain won’t ever leave the girl.

It has been an easy transition mostly because even though this place is in town, it’s still a little bit country. The dogs, the chickens, the garden; and mainly, the horses.

They should be running free, but at least they’re here with me.

 

I still write a big check for hay before I fill up the propane tank and briefly wonder about my priorities. I know quite a few people whose pet food expenses do not exceed the human food budget each month. But the twinge is only momentary. There is something about taking care of these animals I have stepped forward to adopt (in one way or another!). They are my kids, and if I had human children, I can see saying, “No ice cream this week, Princess Fleabag needs medication.”

Humans have weird powers over the animals that share our world; we worship some of them. We buy our dogs monogrammed jackets, fluffy beds and toys; and cats get an inside toilet! But some animals are just food and others are abused and denigrated.

 

Most weird to me is the continual battle of the government versus the wild horses.

The BLM plans to round up herds of foaling mares again this summer. The justifications are bogus packs of outright lies and manipulations of obsolete statistics.

Would it bother you if you knew that perfectly healthy herds of wild horses were being destroyed so some corporation can make profits from poisoning government land (YOUR land)? Would it bother you to think about day-old foals, being run for miles in the desert in mid-summer, until their hoofs shatter and they are left behind to die? How do you feel about spending your tax dollars to feed fifty thousand horses for the rest of their lives when they could have been left on the range to graze for free?

Horses are planned for removal because of “drought conditions” Really? Then why is it okay to replace them with cattle and sheep?

 

Then there is the zombie apocalypse. A huge group of flesh eating zombies want to normalize horse slaughter and put a horse burger in every fast food restaurant, school cafeteria and on your barbeque. These zombies want you to believe that slaughtering horses is just the same as say, slaughtering a cow. When was the last time little Cindy begged for a cow for Christmas? When was the last time the Derby was run by milk cows? All brides dream of a heifer-drawn carriage, right? Let’s not forget our mounted police, oh so intimidating (and crowd safe) atop their calves. The cowboys sure did ride cows. And let’s not forget the many beeves that sacrificed their lives in our wars and in opening our frontiers. Let’s not forget the loyalty, the breathtaking beauty, the courage, the athleticism and the companionship of America’s cows…

Come on. Horses are extremely sensitive and there is no humane slaughter option.

Horses are family oriented. Their herd – their family – is very important. They feel emotion; the feel grief and fear. Imagine being able to hear death, to smell it and to be forced towards it. What has any horse done to deserve that end? Being born in America?

Then there is the issue of many common horse medications, which once ingested by the horse, remain in the tissues and are known carcinogens for humans.

If America had a catastrophic food shortage; if the cows and pigs and sheep and chickens suddenly vanished, along with all the edible plants and horses were the only thing left for humans to eat, to survive, would I jump on board? Sure… unless there were any humans around that looked tasty!

As I say, beware the coming zombie apocalypse. Horse flesh-eating monsters may live in your own state, in your own community! You can tell them by their soulless expressions. If you have any doubt, put on the movie “War Horse”, or “Flicka” in their presence. They will explode, shrieking hellishly, into a flaming, goopy mess.

 

If any of this disturbs you, welcome, human! You can contact your representatives and tell your friends about the round ups and the slaughter plants being planned. There are a lot of excellent people more knowledgeable, informed and calmer then I. It is not too late to halt the summer round ups, it is not too late to ban horse slaughter in America.

Begone, Zombies!

The Mountain Mouth

 

Goodbye, my mountain May 27, 2011

Filed under: Blogging,Food,Gardening,Horses,Nature,Off the Grid,Outdoor Adventure,Wildlife,Writing — themountainmouth @ 4:16 am

                                                             Find my house in this picture!

Dear Neighbors,

Writing’s a tricky thing. Writing, especially about one’s life, becomes more challenging as Life itself becomes more challenging. I always want to report good news and fun times, and I even aspire to make you chuckle once in a while, if not LOL. But there are times I struggle with finding the humor, the message, the uplifting, and the significant in my daily grind. With amazing swiftness four weeks go by and it appears there is nothing to report but the latest Daily Disaster. We are talking failing equipment, falling fences and escaping equines, unexpected expenses, dangerous weather and yada yada. And so sometimes I feel “if you can’t say something nice, it is better to say nothing at all”.

But that’s not the real reason I didn’t write last month. It’s because I didn’t really want to tell you the news. Which is: I am leaving.

Yep, the Mountain Mouth is going to move to town. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but you can bet your sweet corn it will be before next winter. I am feeling very good about this decision which will put me within reasonable distance from my job. And since cheese (that ever reliable economic indicator) has not been free in a while, I figure I better keep my job. Please don’t think I wimped out after only nine years off the grid. It’s not the effort required to make power. It’s not the lack of phone service – no cell, no land line. It’s not getting up in the dark and wiping a foot of snow off the car and getting  down in the mud messing with tire chains. It’s not even the road, which has deteriorated to the point of absurdity.

It’s none of these things. It’s just time to move on!

Things I am going to miss: the solitude, the silence. The incredible views. The chickens running to greet me, the horses lifting their heads and nickering when I come into view. Riding down the mountain road on my mustang. Letting the dogs have their run of wherever. The flawless night skies; the full moons rising over the mountain. Jumping into the pond at the end of a hot summer day. Red Lodge filled with friends, laughing, eating, loving life. The color of my walls.  My gardens. The smell of summer rain. The way the mountain critters and I have a perfect truce.

“It’s a magical place”, Rockford Jim said as he left a couple of weeks ago. He’s right. People are drawn here and there are few things I love more than making them feel at home. People who come here want to come back. We’ll all remember this place. Overrun with dogs cats chickens and horses, clean, messy, growing, beautiful.

It’s not easy to let go.

I have lived in many amazing places. I have lived at Muir Beach with gardens stretching to the Pacific, on a high hill in San Francisco, in a classic greystone building one block from Central Park in New York City. In a little hut on the beach on the Carribean Sea. In a quaint farmhouse in Ashland, Oregon and in an old schoolhouse in upstate New York. On a big old wooden boat in LA. In a strange, beautiful old house with lush gardens across from a river: where I grew up in Illinois. Of all these, and more, once I was someplace new I have never wished to go back. Fish don’t swim backward. Neither should humans. I soothe my soul with this mantra.

But letting go of a house, even one this amazing, is not really hard. It’s letting go of the lifestyle. Which, for me, has been one of such freedom. If you want to have a rock band in your yard, if you want to laugh loud into the night, if you want to run around in your birthday suit there is no one to object. I worry whether Lily the “Wild Girl” and I can adjust to the social confines of having neighbors that are closer than a couple of miles. But we will. Because to do so means we grow.

The hardest part of letting go is of course, the mustangs. The chickens can easily be sold and maybe my best girl Sookie will raise a few for FFA. The three remaining cats are all spayed and can come to town where they will be just as demanding as they are now. But the horses! Even thinking about it made me cry; it still makes me cry.

Mustangs leaving the mountain... forever

When I adopted my first mustang Jackson and brought him up here it just changed my life. What a great thing! The realization of a childhood dream, to have a horse in my front yard! And the years since, with five more mustangs and two mules, has been as tragic as it has been rewarding and ecstatic. Frankly I don’t know who I am if I don’t wake up and go outside and see my horses. It is exactly like having to give away your children. It does not even matter – well, yes it does, but it doesn’t help – that they are going to a good home. It is not my home. Our home. But I can feel ok about the horses I’ve adopted and saved and who have lived here. I took pretty good care of them, I think. And I’ll continue to be an advocate for horses and for mustangs. For all time.

Red Lodge, this mountain home, was not even my idea, but it has become part of me. It has shaped who I am. I have seen things I never expected and met people I never imagined. I have made so many absolutely angelic, outlandish friends (and you know who you are!).

I have even met a great man, who is my rock, and also my roll! So all I can say folks, is, it’s all good. Life goes on. As do we.

Meanwhile I am absolutely loving this well-deserved Spring on the mountain. It is simply breathtaking.

Always,

Your Mountain Mouth

“The Mountain Mouth” copyright 2010 Kate MacDonald

*The content of this column and the opinions herein are the sole issue of the author and intended as entertainment only. The Fence Post, its affiliates and assigns, the Rankin Ranch, the Ford Motor Corporation, the cities of Rockford, Illinois, New York, San Francisco, Puerto Viejo Costa Rica;  the author, her relatives, friends, and contributors, and anyone mentioned or not mentioned will not be responsible for any use, non-use, or mis-use of any of the information or opinions contained herein. Always consult a doctor before adopting any new diet or exercise program and eat least six servings of fresh fruits and vegetables per day. This means YOU Carol!