Archive for the ‘Hermit-Stead’ Category

Howler Monkeys, Gallo Pinto and Nica Time.

November 28, 2012
A year ago, I documented my first impressions of Nicaragua and how it changed my perspective of preparedness, living with not much and sustainability in Living La Vida Nica. Here I am now, about a year later, relaxing in what feels like a cavernous house while waiting on pork chops to finish baking in the oven, while sipping hot apple cider that is laced with immuno-stimulating herbs and pondering a good hot bath later on, having just returned from my second trip to Nicaragua. For most of us, we simply don't realize how GOOD we've got it until you've got nothing but a hammock in between you and the great unknown howler monkey in the dark (are they hungry? do they eat people or just poop on them?) and a belly ache from drinking not-quite-good-for-you water. We spent 9 days in Nicaragua, 5 of them going into a remote village named La Uva, to bring herbal medicine and self-sustaining water purification to the good folks that live in a village that doesn't have little modern conveniences like cars, electricity or phones.
check out my ride

check out my ride, ya'll!

  Better yet, imagine if you will, hesitating outside the latrine (called a pon-pon) at night because you KNOW once you open the door, either a bat is going to fly out at you, or, even better, once you remove the new lids on the cement toilets, you're going to hear some ominous fluttering, some wings beating, some comin-your-way-right-now noise from the depths of the pon-pon to invade your personal space. the pon pon of my nightmares Yes, you have it good.  You've got it good because you can walk to your faucet and turn it on for a glass of water.  You've got it good because you can eat something other than rice and beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner; you have a stove to cook food on instead of a fire that will fill your house with smoke that will coat and corrode your lungs;  and because you could, if you chose to, see a doctor, an herbalist, an acupuncturist or a magician, if that suited you.  You don't have to stand at a well to give yourself a sponge bath, wash your clothes AND trot home with a bucket of (contaminated) water to drink and cook with.
outdoor washing machine

A Nica washing machine named Mark. From Texas.

  So I had some observations on this trip.  Since there are other blog posts about the herbal clinic our group did and the water purification our team introduced to the community, I won't repeat it.  This is more of the hermist-eye-view of a land that was dunked head first in a vat of color, heat rash and gallo pinto. Hermist Obervations. 1. Gallo Pinto.  Speaking of.  The most common Nica staple, you'll be seeing it breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you are wearing your lucky socks, you may see fried plantains with it. After Day 2, you will wolf those plantains down just like Walmart shopper that takes out a small child in the way of a doorbuster sale tv.  Some people can't get enough of it ... others?  Well, lets just say for some, rice and beans won't be on their plates any time soon....
nica dinner time

Hey, whats for dinner? I dunno. Nooo idea.

2. You need livestock.  The Nicas have this one figured out.  Everywhere we went, we were either tripping over a pig, a chicken, having a cow suspiciously give us the stink eye or we interrupted a steady stream of ducklings, chicks or piglets squealing after their mama. Entire families of fowl, fur and cluck lined river beds, minding their own business, guarded by skeletal family dogs and eating bugs. The Nica in this region do not have refrigeration, so when they harvest an animal, its a community thing and everything down to the bones, pelt and fat are used right away.  Up here in the good old US of A, if we used more of these basic homesteading and community concepts, we'd be on our way to some sort of food self-reliance instead of a full panic every time there's a hurricane that rolls through.
nicaragua backyard homestead

No, this pig is not part of a misguided airline idea.

  3.  Older Nica men are the bomb.  Trying to figure out how to drill into plastic without a drill?  If you've got a match, a stick and a nail, you're about to be schooled by a total bad-ass named Don Luis -- who, before you can turn around, will have a fire started, a nail hammered into the end of a stick and that heated up nail neatly slicing through plastic like a hot knife in butter.

Don Luis. There is nothing this man can not do.

4. Pinata parties are scary.  Hand a stick to a small capable child or an excited grownup, and then make sure you stand back because there are going to be flying Hello Kitty body parts pretty quickly.  Are they an excuse to bash the living daylights out of cartoon creatures, a creative way to get a lollipop or a way to blow off steam -- who knows.
nica pinata party

Yeah buddy, you'd better stand back there...

It is pretty obvious that more than just the kids relish the carnage though. It brings out the delight in all ages.

I think they enjoyed the disembowelment of Mickey Mouse a little too much...

Just sayin'.  See this guy? I don't think he was even aiming for the pinata. 5. Nica girls get to wear the BEST dresses.  It makes me wish I was 8 years old again.  Of course I was just a mess of band-aids on both knees, mud from the garden in my hair and ... awww hell. Dressed in their Sunday best, these little visions somehow manage to stay clean, crisply ironed and have totally cute hair even while running around decapitating pinatas.  And our group?  We looked like someone had pushed us off a ravine with a mile to fall.  And that was after we woke up and got freshly showered and dressed. How do they do it? 6. The Nica are a beautiful people.  Whether they are young or old, they have a certain simple and quiet grace.  To be around them for our trip was a treat. They found happiness just by being around eachother, without cell phones, video games or other distractions.  Its a sweet addiction. Nicaragua, so much about your rough and jagged edges makes me walk the edges but the more I watch and learn, the more I want to return and step closer. Until next time.  

The Adventures of A Hermit: Year 1 Retrospective.

January 6, 2012

We should be just about done with all the ''Best of" and Top 10 Most Spectacular Vomit Moments of 2011  that clog practically every newspaper and magazine in the land. But I wouldn't be a contributing member of blogger-society if I didn't put the Hermist's fondest adventures on record.

I've come into myself this year, owning up to the role of the Hermist, and no longer trying to force the social butterfly bullshit that simply wasn't me.  Once I did that, I found, much to my surprise, a feeling of relief and also an abundance of good things.  Let's look, shall we? 


A new and entertaining friend, Cheffapetta came to visit the wilds of Austin from the Land of the Sophisticated Palate (Denver), so I had to show him a thing or two about gritty-Coke-In-The-Glass-Bottle-With-Yer-Brisket barbecue.  Wood paneled walls, duck decor, plastic plates and a roll of paper towels. You've been schooled.

they wish they had something so divine in Colorado as the Smokehouse.

 This was the year of canning. I canned practically anything I could get my hands on, from boozed-up strawberries to grilled corn to watermelon rinds and lime-slapped kiwis. I actually killed my nice stove in the process and never had so much fun. The highlight of all that sweating and domestic syrup were the get-togethers with my hermitty friends who weren't afraid to step into the kitchen with me. Now, I'd post photos of the gooey leche quemada, the swimming-in-whisky strawberries and the rows of jeweled fruit in jars, but there are other sites that do food porn so much more justice.   
Can it.
Here was our first canning party, with myself in a feverish state, surrounded by my beautiful domestic-lovin' friends. God love ya. I barely remember anything thanks to that penicillin, what a hell of a party!   

Bringing the world together around a pressure cooker...

 Part of my hermit transformation was learning a lot about how to fend for myself.  And part of THAT includes a pressure cooker, which I was afraid of, and now, am only slightly afraid of.  Just a little bit.  Thanks to David Alexander, for the story about his grandmother blowing up her stove top/roof... but that is another story.  *Do take a special note of the Mistress of Ceremony, the lovely Milan, parked directly in the center of all the quick-paced and high-energy action in the kitchen.   She knows who's in charge.

Too much canning can only lead to drunken moments like this... (drinking cold stew)

Here's Russ. The man makes an excellent elderberry wine, which he creates himself of course, along with above-pictured beef stew, and can fully stock his own larder single-handedly.  The man has amazing potential for  Hermit status...   

Where The Wild Things Are.

My role this past year was the designated wielder of the knife and spatula, cooking up outdoor meals for the people crawling through bushes, being chased by zombies, and living the primitive life.  My inner hermit got much joy out of witnessing moments like these.

This wood elf will find you. Track your ass down and find you.

I loved watching the process of Human Pathers evolving into crafty, independent diy-ers who weren't afraid of getting dirty, doing it from scratch and taking care of themselves.   

Girl kicks man's ass soundly.

  Honestly, and I know everyone agrees on this one. There is nothing better than a girl who can kick your ass.  

No, I promise you I am totally normal.

When we hosted the 1st Annual Zombie Apocalypse this past October, it was an awesome experience to watch how zombies can really put a crimp on carefully planned disorder. 

Zombies and the People That Love Them.

Plus we got to witness zombies who barely stumbled, barely moved, barely accessorized. Zombie baby, zombie kid, zombie bride, zombie gung-ho dad.  And one zombie, who was a streak of darkness, running after pathers in the pitch black.

The Fastest Zombie We've Ever Seen.


A Drill. A Vat of Glue. And An Apron.

One of my outward expressions of happiness is to create textile installations.  Its a surreal Dr. Suess meets The Stepford Wives world, with my alter ego, the Kitchen Goddess.  Somehow, working with fabric and lots of laborious applications of string, stick-pins and nails, has become my defining mark.  My college art professors would be so proud. (probably not)   

Noche De Recuedros with my buddy Rick

  Here is the floating altar, year two, that Rick and I set loose in the Woodlawn Lake.  After an intense summer drought, 'setting loose' might not be the right term, as it grazed the murky bottom of the very low casting pond.   The highlight of the year for me was the day I could step out of Vi's hair salon with my hair sprayed so fastidiously into a beehive that it took me almost a week to get it out.  I stuck two shellacked forks in my hair, put on my pink flirtin' gloves and my favorite blue chiffon apron, was handed a never-empty glass of wine and out I went ... the kitchen goddess.

There is nothing more divine than a kitchen goddess that knows her place. In the home.

 Who says art can't be fun?  With the indispensible Rebecca Coffey fronting the kitchen lines, we opened up a alternate reality of frozen housewife smiles and pickles on a stick.  View the exhibit photos here!  
The Kitchen Goddess, April exhibit

Are You There Dog? Its me...

Not a day goes by that I don't have the company of my dogs; constant companions, artistic consultants and snuffler-of-ears.  We fostered 3 dogs this year and all found great new homes, mostly with other pathers.

Fozzy Leo.

It is a great life, living out here on the hermit-stead with these fine beasts.  This final image though, is my favorite.  It has been exactly 2 years now that Milan came home with us on the day my beloved dad-in-law Joe died.  She came broken down and tired.  Since then she's slowly recovered and is now our elderly dragon-growling matron, the mascot of the hermit.  Milan the Beautiful.

Sam brings Milan up from the pond at the quarry to help her make the trip.

Happy New Year to all of you.  May good things happen. Eat good food. Pet your friends and hug your dogs.  Live that life with intention and gusto.
-The Hermist.

In Hermit Shoes…

October 14, 2011
The backroads home are pitch black.  Its just me, driving home half an hour after the sun officially tucked in, with only a stain of pink left in the sky, paused and then erased into black.  There is only the occasional set of red taillights that I encounter as I drive, sailing over the curvy hills too fast, with a whoosh as the Blazer cushions back to road.  Earlier, I tried on the shoes of a woods scout and I liked it.  When I run, its me chasing something obscure away.  Before dawn or as the moon is rising at twilight and one foot after another; I follow the pavement hills, avoiding the ditches and counting off the steps.   But there in the brush, now that was something different.  Instead of skirting around all the obstacles, we went straight into them and worked with them in a flow, like a dance.  I am fresh from a long weekend in Liberty Hill where a sudden furious rainstorm dumped enough water on our outdoor classroom and field kitchen to double for WaterWorld.   I had laid my running shoes out on the porch to let them dry out.  They were caked in about an inch of mud-sludge, inside and out from my mad dash up the hill pre-dawn as the flash flood warning went out.  I was told there were sirens, but I didn't hear anything.  Of course, the rain was so loud on our tenty/tarp that machine gun fire could have also gone undetected.  Today I looked at my shoes skeptically, all that mud now solid and hard --- the ultimate camoflauge.  Standing amid the ashe juniper trees with 5 others, we discussed using the trees to increase flexibility, strength and agility.  Sounds great.  The ashe junipers are great trees, pretty friendly, and thankfully for short hermits like myself, low enough to the ground for us to just hop into. We all started stripping the dead branches away so that we could make our own tree obstacle courses.  Climbing trees was a favorite pasttime when I was a kid, but its been more than one summertime since then.   I cursed myself, thinking even those AMAZING MOROCCAN TREE CLIMIN' GOATS were doing a way better, way more elegant, and less bleeped-out job than I. But then that falls away, and as the bark smooths out under my gloves and I get the hang of swinging around the trunk without drawing blood from my legs or donking my head on the overhanging branches ... well, I get it.  Quiet and shry, there was only the sound of the birds, the occasional snap of a dead branch as one of us cleared it, and the thud of those vibran 5-toe shoes as one of the scouts descended from the tree back to the earth.  Moving slower and slower, I hung from the branches to stretch out my arms and shoulders until a deep ache set in.  A good ache.  The kind of ache you get when you are working and everything wakes up.  I watched some of the other scouts dashing through the underbrush to slide through the trees, scale them in a flash, swing over like a monkey and drop silently to the ground. They resembled wood sprites as the sun was escaping, with only a smudge of light left.  I could get to like this for sure. So now I drive home, pondering the difference between gliding in the trees and through the woods instead of running past it.  And I can't tell you what a difference there is.  This is a pair of shoes I rather like.

Sustainability 101: How To Be Your Own Hermit

October 14, 2011
hey everyone! just wanted to share this blog post that i found to be worth sharing. Its a state of mind.  Check it out... Living a self-sustainable lifestyle does not mean you have to have 139,674, 987 acres somewhere in the middle of nowhere! Off-grid, self-sustainable living can happen no matter where we are. In fact, I believe that self-sufficient living has more to do with our mind-set rather than our surroundings ... read the full awesome blog post here

How Does Your Garden Grow?

September 19, 2011
Outside my window at this moment, a fantastic storm cloud is looming, looking a deep grey-purple shade of scary, rolling up its sleeves for a bit of leery ass-kicking.  As any person that lives in drought-stricken south Texas will tell ya, its a welcome sight. Bring it on, slap us around a little bit with a storm. Knock out the power.  Make my roads impassable. Just rain.  Rain hard.  The running spate of triple-digit days seems to be running out here in South Texas.  Scalding heat is gradually being replaced by an occasional cool breeze, a hint of clouds skittering across the sky, and recent rain yesterday left our barren landscape flush with hope and energy and color Its been so long since its rained that I forgot which side the windshield wipers are on Sam's car, forgot to carry my umbrella to the farmer's market, forgot to roll up my windows ...  I relished getting drenched during my pre-dawn morning run. If it would stop the ominous crawl towards an dust bowl, I'd welcome a year of daily downpours like that. This summer's drought left our terrain utterly parched, bleached of life and color and crumbled, roughly scraped clean of vitality.  Wildfires have screamed across the state, leaving devastation and blackened reminders behind ... think you're in control? Nature is the one in control. You can't make it rain. You can't snap your fingers and make that fire stop.  You can not make the springs flow once they've dried up or make that snowstorm stop its path to ice if thats what its got on it's mind.  I've struggled to grow anything at all this summer. I was so excited to get a cantaloupe that I nearly went on a Squirrel Hunt when I discovered these teeth marks in my solo melon in the garden the morning I went out to harvest it.  I was not happy with Shrimpy the Squirrel after he decided the melon wasn't to his taste and left it behind after all.   Trying an expermint with bag gardens, I wanted to see if I could eek something from my garden.  The tomatoes had already packed up and left town, promising they'd write from someplace cooler and less ... Hades-like.  Even the tomatillos were not speaking to me.  After two weeks, I'd already seen great progress. Cucumbers were considering residency and new shoots were arriving each day from gourds, pumpkins, and squash that'd stopped by.  And today, we're 2 weeks into September, with parts of the country already talking about the first frost, about closing down the garden.  Here in Hades? No, I think we might linger a bit. I have a Baby Radish Forest that will soon, very soon *(rubbing hands together) overtake the world. 

I love you, oh tomatillo....

Those reluctant tomatillos have stopped giving me the cold shoulder and are now making lima-bean green chinese lanterns of loveliness.  I fantasize about the sauce I will make for tamales very soon.  During the worst drought this state has seen, I look for any opportunity to find beauty in nature.  I leave fruit rinds for the thin deer, water baths for the birds and seeds for those damned squirrels.  A trickle of water runs for my wildlife friends who have only bone-dry creeks and a crispy terrain with no nutrients left for them. Each time I go into my garden, I thin the plants in the bag gardens and leave the greens for the animals. They are always gone before I come back to hang the laundry. 

Coming in from the garden with a clutch of things I grew myself is an amazing feeling.  The taste of the food is so bright and deep.  Supermarket food just doesn't taste like this. We eat the radishes, we put the greens into our salads, and the House Bunnies eat the stalks. Nothing goes to waste. 
greens an' beans ...

greens an' beans ...

Now weeks into the bag garden experiment, I am starting a new bag each week.  The greens and beans container garden I started two weeks ago will soon make room for a roots garden box of carrots, potatoes and onions ... all things that do well in south Texas winter gardens.  Drought is a good instruction tool.  We shouldn't take prosperity and the bounty of nature for granted.  Life, whether a fragile squash blossom or that of a deer that can not survive without its native land to nourish it ... is tenacious, unpredictable and beautiful, all at once.        

Home Is Where Your Hermit Is!

September 1, 2011
I'm half pre-occupied, with the smells of corn relish coming in from the kitchen. I'm trying something new and hoping that I can put up these jars of grilled corn on the first try. But I also want to go out in the back and work on our fledgling chicken tractor that soon, will house some cluckers and hopefully, one day, eggs. Which means pancakes. 

shut up and give me pancakes.

I just returned from a quick trip over to a friend's house, around the corner and up the hill.  They've got the right idea.  A little homestead of sorts, tucked away in a sweet little neighborhood.  They've got their brick-red stucco house tucked away amid a forest of ash junipers, spiraling pathways, mulberry trees, winding gardens and chickens galore.  Every time I go over there, I think wow, I wish my little place was like this.  I want chickens!  And cucumbers! 

Nothing could be better than chickens AND cucumbers.

Once a thriving city girl who biked everywhere, loved GWAR, the boutiques, dive bars and thrift stores of the underbelly of my chosen cities ... somehow I've ... changed over the years. 

woo hoo. wilder days.

The desire to be surrounded by people and sound and music and cars has been replaced by a different need.  Now I'm up before dawn, running on the hill country roads in my area, with the yipping of coyotes just out of range, and occasionally, the dart of a golden pair of eyes, just past my path.  My fingernails get lined with the dirt from the gardens, a never-ending loop of watering, weeding, thinning and goading.  My seven trusty dogs are my closest companions from the first time I trip over them at 6 am until we're tucking away late at night. 

Milan and I. Present Day.

I discovered recently, with a little bout of surprise, how happy I am out here, in my little neck of the woods, out in Hermit-Ville.  I don't have many aspirations to be wildly popular, a social butterfly and present at every art opening. I do like to get out; I do love my vietnamese lettuce wraps with mint and good fish sauce, and I still love combing through the those flea markets and garage sales ... but now I feel content.  When I've got a wide open afternoon that includes some sort of food preparation, whether its from the nearby farmer's market or a new recipe I want to create ... the prospect of working on a piece from my ongoing kitchen goddess art installation or stretching out under the beautiful big oak trees in the yard ... this for me, is happiness. 

It rained here once. Observe.

Home is where the hermit is and I'm perfectly pleased to be here with you.      

Never Quite Ready …

August 11, 2011
When the lights went out, it was unexpected. Probably the product of our blistering drought and huge taxing demands placed on the power grid here; one Sunday night recently, the system sputtered and plunged our area into darkness. At the time, I’d been sitting in a warm tub of water, trying to soothe the effects of a recent brown recluse spider bite.  When the windowless bathroom suddenly became still and dark, I opened my eyes and waited for the power to return.  But it didn’t.   I could hear my daughter fumbling around the house, knocking into a chair, and the sounds of rooting under the sink for the requisite flashlight. I closed my eyes again and thought to myself, ‘what if the power doesn’t come back on?  what then?’  Having seen countless sci-fi movies that start out this way and end with human entrails splashed on walls, ceilings and the camera lens as happy aliens and/or mutant zombies engage in an all-you-can-eat buffet, starring you … all the way to ones where Mad Max scenarios take hold and toothless irradiated survivors kill eachother Gary Oldman-style, for books, cups of tea, food or the pure fun of it. As our world, and on a smaller scale, our country’s stability seems to become as wobbly as teetering on the top of an unstable ladder; thoughts about preparedness have started to crowd my thoughts more frequently.  If something were to happen, would I be ready? I sat up in the tub and instructed my daughter on where to find my box of candles.  Years ago I had started buying the 7-day candles at local grocery stores. Only a buck and a half, I used them for everything from art shows, outdoor lighting, emergency backup to ambience for a day of the dead altar. Over time, I’ve accumulated a nice little stash.   Nice to have on hand when the power goes out too.  Within minutes, the house aquired a flickering glow from candles set throughout the house.  With the power out in our entire area, I noticed the eerie silence. No refrigerator humming, no computer whirring in the background, no air conditioning…. No air conditioning.  Or fans.  Out of the bath, I began to notice how … warm … the house already was and my mind flashed to our freezer and the fridge I had just stocked that afternoon after shopping for the week.  Would I be ready? The simple answer was no. As I thought about my recent canning sessions I had done that same week, and plans I had made to store a longer supply of staples just in case, those plans weren’t complete.  The water jugs I’d meant to buy were still at the store.  The canning was half complete, with a pressure cooker for preserving vegetables still on the way in the mail to the bags of flour sitting in the open on my pantry floor, not yet canned.   I suppose you could always be more ready than how you are today, but I felt like I hadn’t even begun to lay the anchor supports.  As the minutes stretched out into hours and the power remained off, I thought about how, as a society, we are so dependent on the power/comfort structure of modern life. Take that away and you strip people of the ability to cope with discomfort and absence. Without power, the food in my standing freezer and refrigerator would spoil within days.  With the heat wave as severe as it has been, with days on end in triple-digit heat, it might be less. Without power, the filtered water would cease to flow from the fridge spout, the computer would never come back on (without a generator) and the temperature in the house would continue to rise and rise. I went outdoors to listen.  Silence.  Every home within at least a mile if not more, was dark. No cars moved, no transformers or AC units hummed with the white noise we’ve all grown so accustomed to that we barely notice it … until it’s gone.  In contrast, the night sky in our rural area was ablaze with stars. I sat outside under my porch awning checking out the stars and thinking about my own lack of perparedness. That was a minor blackout — only lasting 5 hours before, in the middle of the night, a blast of freon-kissed air shot over the bedroom and ALL the lights came on at once.  But with area schools about to switch on their systems in one of the worst droughts and heat waves in our state’s history, blackouts are expected on a regular basis as energy useage is off the charts. Since that night I have developed a small but steady plan of preparedness that includes buying a new candle with every grocery store trip to upping my usual annual canning sessions to reach beyond ‘fun’ jams and include more practical staples to have on hand.  I’ve checked into water catchment systems that are so simple to install that even I could do it.  My pantry has undergone an overhaul worthy of a TV show.  I’ve learned the shelf life of a bag of flour sitting on the pantry floor vs. canned in an oxygen-deprived can.  While my efforts are not even on the scale with some families that have aquaponics units in their pool or others who have 10 years worth of toilet paper stockpiled in the guest room, I’ve made a modest start and perhaps you should too. Just ask the simple question, am I ready?  Maybe ‘ready’ will never mean anything beyond needing an extra candle on the table when company visits or extra walnuts from the pantry when your everyday stash runs out.  I’d rather be ready though, than nurse any feelings of fear or being caught unprepared.