I’M ALIVE: GEORGE MICHAEL’S “WHITE LIGHT”

It was just short of a year ago now that I was rushed to the hospital with unexplained internal bleeding, in need of five units of blood, and sick enough that when the source of the bleeding was discovered – cancer lesions throughout my digestive tract – it was unclear if I would be able to survive the first dose of chemotherapy I desperately needed.

It was all a blur, really. I knew it was serious by the grim looks on the faces of four different doctors who came to explain the situation to me. They seemed to want to make doubly sure I knew what I was getting into when I authorized them to begin treatment. It was only later, after I had pulled through, that my primary care physician told me honestly, “We weren’t sure you were going to make it.”

Looking back, it seems like years ago, not months. I spoke with a good old friend from Los Angeles this weekend, filling him in on all the details of this last year. When I got to the part about being rushed to the hospital I said,

“It was great! My first time in an ambulance and those EMT’s are so damn cute! And I didn’t really know how serious it was so I was just enjoying these guys in their uniforms rushing me to the hospital with lights blazing and the siren droning on!”

Thinking back though, it really wasn’t my first time in an ambulance. Years ago, when I was struggling with drugs and alcohol in Los Angeles, I had an accidental overdose and was taken by ambulance to a hospital near my home. Because of the intoxication, I have trouble remembering exactly what that ride was like, but it’s clear that I haven’t romanticized it as exciting or fun. I’m so glad that I’m sober now. At least that struggle is over.

Twice now I’ve been in the hospital, fighting for my life. Once because my addiction brought me to a point of foolish over-intoxication. And more recently because a cancer that began on my skin had metastasized to my digestive tract, weakening me and making everything more complicated.

Every time I think about this, the George Michael song, “White Light,” featured in this really honest and brilliant video, plays in my mind. I like George. He’s from the 80’s and my youth, and one of the first celebrities I had a crush on (back in the Wham! days). I relate to him as a fellow gay man, and as someone who has also struggled with alcohol and drugs. I respect that he’s been honest enough to talk about all these things, both in his lyrics and in interviews and public statements.

Not many people know that in the midst of his struggle, while on tour in November 2011, he had to be hospitalized in Vienna for a viral infection that turned into a deadly pneumonia. It was touch and go for several days. He was treated in the intensive care unit, spent time in a coma, and underwent a tracheostomy. Finally released on December 21st of that year, George Michael made a public statement thanking the staff of Vienna General Hospital for saving his life.

This song was released in June 2012, just months after Whitney Houston’s cocaine-related death. The lyrics allude to both Amy Winehouse and Houston’s deaths, and George’s fear that it “could have been me.” This lyrical honesty gives credence to rumors that the problems in Vienna were drug related. The video is haunting because it is so brutally raw, so honest, and I’ve been there. It catches my breath every time I see it.

Having just come home last week from the hospital after my own struggle with pneumonia, I thought I’d post this video tonight. As George sings,

“I’ve got so much more that I want to do
Was it music?
Was it science that saved me?
Or the way that you prayed for me
either way I thank you

I’m alive”

My thoughts exactly.

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THE WORST PART IS OVER, OR IS IT? (this is a cancer update — but read on, the news is good…)

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So this is me, in a photograph taken yesterday by my brother as we were both celebrating our birthdays to come in Oak Glen, California. I turn 44 years old tomorrow. My brother turns 41 on the 22nd. I don’t look like a guy who has spent the past year fighting cancer, do I? 

On September 10th they biopsied several areas where I had cancer. The pathology results came back negative for cancer, meaning that I don’t have it in those places anymore. Further tests to explore me inside and out also confirmed that there is no apparent cancer present at this time. Five chemotherapy treatments and things seem to have been cleared up for now.

So in that sense, the worst part is over. But it isn’t either. Because I still have to do “follow up” chemotherapy to try and make sure the cancer doesn’t come back. I did my first “follow-up” a week ago, and I have to do two more doses, the first week of November and the first week of December. I don’t like chemotherapy, and I’ve had a real easy time of it. I’ve kept my weight on (I’m a healthy 164 now and never dropped below 158 during this whole process). I haven’t lost any hair in obvious places but did lose a small amount on my legs that no one but an obsessive me would notice. I still think that I lost some of my lower eyelid eyelashes but I never counted them so I can’t be sure. And the top ones seem to be all there. But did I mention that I don’t like chemotherapy even though I’ve had an easy time of it? It just tires me out. Really tires me out. For days that drag on into a week and then two. But then I feel good again with lots of normal “Tim” energy that I try not to spend  dreading the fact that I know I’m going to have to go down chemotherapy road again. As Charlie Brown says, “Uggghh…”

But who’s complaining. It’s kept me alive. I gotta keep going. And I’ll have energy for Thanksgiving and Christmas and maybe 2014 will be cancer AND chemotherapy free.

Thanks for the prayers, well wishes, love, support, listening, encouraging. I swear that medicine worked more than the chemicals they pump into me at the Cancer Center. But I need the chemicals too. So here’s to two more treatments, and the beautiful fact that I’m alive to celebrate another birthday. What a joy it is to be alive. What a joy it was to celebrate that fact with my family yesterday in a beautiful place where they grow apples and pumpkins and sell fresh pressed cider and candied apples and apple and pumpkin pies.

Oh. And I almost forgot. My mom and dad gave me the best birthday present. The piano that I grew up with and learned to play on. They gave it to me!  It’s being delivered to my place so that I can play it again every day as I did when I was a child and young man.  I owned another piano in Los Angeles, but sold it when I moved to the Coachella Valley in 2012. I haven’t had anything to play in almost two years. And this isn’t just any old piano. It’s MY old piano. It helped raise me.

Thanks mom and dad for the keys – to life, and the black and white ones. You’re the best and I love you much. Besides being alive, this is the best birthday present ever.

GO SECOND CHANCE SHOPPING: Some Recent Thrift Store Finds

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 Here at Second Chance Homestead we furnish our home with previously owned items that need a second chance. Shopping “second-hand” is sustainable living at it’s best: Taking home used items saves them from landfills; buying something old instead of something new saves the energy involved in the production of new items; and spending money at thrift stores benefits the local non-profit organizations who run them. It really is one of the best ways to participate in your community. And it saves you money.

But it’s not all environment and economics.

Don’t forget about the THRILL!  It’s like going on a treasure hunt and finding gold. You make your way through shelves and racks and suddenly stumble upon the most amazing find!  For example, I recently came across two handmade Portuguese plates (In the 1990’s I lived in Portugal for a year and a half and have a love for the country and it’s crafts). I was ecstatic! And I didn’t even have to go overseas to get them!

 Here are some recent thrift store finds:

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How Now Brown Cow. This cow is actually a “piggy” bank. $1.50.

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Used baseballs add a nice decorative touch when stacked atop a plate handmade in Portugal. (baseballs 75 cents each; 2 handmade plates 75 cents each. The other one sits under the cow)

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An antique adding machine (with period paper receipt roll). $12.00.

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A retro ceiling light fixture cover in glass and wood. Fits in perfectly with SCH’s “rustic ranch” look. $3.00.

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Morton’s Salt vintage tin. $3.75.

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Handmade ceramic “mini” milk pitcher. $1.50.

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Dancing Plates. Set of four. 75 cents each.

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Metal and Glass “lantern” covers for votive candles. Set of 3. $2.25.

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Vintage Candlestick holders. Glass. Set of two. $1.50.

TOTAL SPENT: Just 33 dollars.

Have a good weekend! I hope you take time to do some “second chance” shopping of your own! 

 

IF THESE WALLS COULD…

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When I moved into the modest farmhouse that sits at the heart of Second Chance Homestead it had seen much better days. The bathrooms smelled like human piss, the sinks and toilets had leaks, and the corners and cabinets had mold. Not to be outdone, the dogs of the previous renter had marked their territory several times over throughout the house. As if this weren’t bad enough, windows were broken, screens were bent and torn, the heating didn’t work, and the bedrooms had something stretched across the floors that vaguely resembled carpet. But all this had nothing on the WALLS…

The walls were so dirty they just couldn’t speak – it was like someone had stuck a sock in their mouths. Or perhaps they were just too ashamed to say anything. A conversation with my dad revealed that they probably hadn’t been painted in at least 15 years or possibly twenty. You don’t say?

I’d wanted to do the painting myself but with current health challenges was looking at a wait of a few months at best, several months more likely. I continue to respond to cancer treatment, and my strength is improving every day, but my energy comes in short bursts, and I often wake up convinced that I can take on a laborious project – only to find, shovel or paintbrush in hand – that I’m all wiped out and in need of a nap after only 45 minutes.

Just as my health has improved, so have things at the Homestead. Windows and screens have been replaced. The bedrooms have new carpet with recycled padding underneath (I insisted). All last bits of pet pee have been scrubbed away. The heat is back on. 

But we had waited on the walls, thinking I’d have the energy to roll out of bed and roll some coats of new paint along the vertical planes of my home. We both thought my cancer treatment would be less taxing – but after learning it had spread to my digestive tract things became more clear. I wouldn’t be painting anytime soon. My date with the paintbrush was set well into the unknown future.

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So just weeks from before Father’s Day my dad, who should be giving me a list of possible presents he’d like on this special day, has turned tables and instead given ME a gift: he’s hired professionals to come in with their guns and spray nice thick coats of paint on the walls of all the common areas in my home. In fact they are at the Homestead right now. And they’ll be there again tomorrow to finish and clean up. 

Consequently Phoenix and I are away from SCH.  When we get back I’ll take some photos of the sparkling new walls and share them with you. And I promise to reveal any tales they tell. 

Special thanks to a generous and kind father who finally was as fed up with the dirty walls as I was.

 

 

 

LATER ‘GATOR: MAKE YOUR OWN ‘ADE (Save Plastic and Money)

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DROWNING IN SPORTS DRINKS

I’m taking a number of medications right now that require me to drink enormous amounts of liquid every day. Though I’m not usually one to consume drinks like Gatorade, ever since starting my cancer treatment I’ve been drinking liters of the stuff. When you are taking in that much water you need it to have a little punch (no pun intended).

THE PROBLEM WITH PLASTIC (including credit card plastic to pay for the drinks)

What has been troubling me tho’ is all the plastic. I know these bottles are recyclable but the gas I use getting them to the recycling center isn’t, and a lot of energy goes into getting all of the plastic from the recycling collection site to the Recycling Factory where it takes more energy to sort and convert it all into new and exciting products. Has anyone done a cost/benefits analysis of the recycling of a Gatorade bottle? I betcha the numbers work out that we’d be better off if the bottle just never existed.

And then there’s the price. That involves a whole other kind of plastic: my debit card.  I can usually find these”sports drinks” at around $1.00 each, but when I’m drinking three a day that’s almost $100 a month I’m spending on colored sugar water wrapped in a plastic receptacle. One hundred smackers on punch. But what’s a poor boy to do?

THE GREAT EPIPHANY

MAKE MY OWN ‘ADE. The idea came to me like a stroke of genius. I was at a local supermarket and had already placed a bunch of Powerade bottles into my cart when I found myself passing the Kool-Aid section. I experienced a quick dose of childhood nostalgia followed by the realization of how cheap it was: just fifteen cents for a packet of unsweetened generic Kool-Aid by Kroger.

  WHAT? You mean I could just MAKE my own ‘ADE at home with a little sweetener and water? For fifteen cents?!? And aren’t Gatorade and Powerade and Vitamin Water and all those other H20 drinks really just tricked out Kool Aid in disguise?   I grabbed a packet of every flavor I could find and threw those Powerade bottles back on the shelf.

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GLASS SAVES YOUR ASS

Once I was at home I started to brainstorm my little ‘ADE factory. I knew I didn’t want to reuse empty plastic bottles to store my finished product. The ethos at Second Chance Homestead is to phase out as much plastic as possible, so I decided to go with glass. Healthwise you can never be too sure when you re-use plastic. If you wash it with a particularly strong detergent, or leave it in the sun for even a short period of time it starts to break down and the chemical components of the plastic begin to leach into whatever liquid you place in it. And if you put a hot liquid into it you’re just accelerating the process. Remember that the next time you rinse out and refill that plastic water bottle of yours.

THE FACTORY

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I regularly buy Mexican cola and soda because the bottles they come in are made of glass in a sleek and sexy design. But I don’t just like the packaging.  You can’t beat the FLAVOR —  because these drinks are sweetened with REAL SUGAR – not High Fructose Corn Syrup. The Mexicans have got it sooooo right. So I always have a few bottles around. And they are usually empty. They would work perfectly for my ‘ADE.

I gathered a few more things I knew I would need: A measuring cup (for water and sweetener) and a funnel to help get the finished product into the bottles. Some waxed paper (more on that later), a sweetener, and…

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RUBBER BANDS! These are the rubber bands my newspaper comes in every morning and I’ve been holding on to them, not just because they are a beautiful green, but also because you can never go wrong with a rubber band, even if it is just to pull it back and send it flying across the room towards a cat. Paired with waxed paper, they would provide the necessary seal my bottles would need.

LITTLE BLACK RAINCLOUD

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For sweetener I chose honey, not only because I thought it would go nicely with the Strawberry flavor, but because I’m also a Pooh Bear at heart. This honey is raw and pure, harvested by local beekeepers whose bees have probably visited a flower or two on my property. It could make anyone impersonate a little black round rain cloud just to get a taste. Sure, it cost almost $17, but that’s 3 lbs of honey. And with all the money I’ll be saving on sports drinks…

THE MEASURE OF A SECOND CHANCE MAN

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A typical Kool-Aid unsweetened packet makes two quarts of finished product after you combine it with water and ONE cup of sugar. Honey can be pretty sweet, so I used just a half cup to make my two quarts. It was more than enough.

To get the honey to blend, I melted it down in the glass measuring cup — putting it into the microwave for exactly one minute. Then I stirred it slowly into the water. Finally, when the water and honey were perfectly blended, I stirred in the Kool-Aid packet and watched with delight as the whole thing turned bright red. I was a kid again. And suddenly very thirsty.

STOPPERS THAT WAX POETIC

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You can just pour the finished product into a pitcher and call it a day, but the whole thing with products like Gatorade is that most people drink them on the go. I’m no different, which means I need a STOPPER to keep the liquid from going stale and/or spilling all over the place. I thought about corks, but since I don’t drink I just haven’t got any lying around. I thought about these plastic cap things my mom used to have for glass bottles but plastic is on the way out at SCH. And where would I find them? I decided to experiment with one of my favorite things: WAXED PAPER.

Two small squares of waxed paper placed over the mouth and secured with a rubber band do the trick as well as anything else you could try. And they have that funky “made on the homestead” type look. I guarantee you they DO NOT LEAK (see photo below). Image

WHAT’S IN THIS STUFF, ANYWAY?

I decided to take a look at the ingredients in my final mix versus the ingredients in a typical SPORTS DRINK. After all, I’m not just interested in the health of the planet, I’m interested in the health of ME. Oh, and of course…you, my readers. Yes. You. I haven’t forgotten.

TIM’S ADE

Below is the list of ingredients in TIM’S ‘ADE. There are just seven, and I recognize each one. Artificial flavoring and food coloring aren’t the greatest but I can live with them, given what I’ve been drinking up til now.

INGREDIENTS:

WATER, HONEY, CITRIC ACID, ARTIFICIAL FRUIT FLAVORING (in this case Strawberry), MALTODEXTRIN, ASCORBIC ACID, RED 40

TYPICAL SPORTS DRINK

NOW – Here is the list of ingredients in a typical Sports Drink.  I recently drank this stuff (I won’t tell you the NAME of this product, but it’s manufactured by Coca-Cola and it’s makeup is very similar to all the alternative brands out there):

INGREDIENTS:

WATER, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, CITRIC ACID, SALT, MONO-POTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, MAGNESIUM CHLORIDE, CALCIUM CHLORIDE, GUM ACACIA, NATURAL FLAVORS, GLYCEROL ESTER OF ROSIN, VITAMIN B3, YELLOW 5, VITAMIN B12, VITAMIN B12, ASCORBIC ACID, CALCIUM DISODIUM EDTA

Sixteen ingredients, but the ugliest one is the High Fructose Corn Syrup. It’s nice that they have the B vitamins, but I can just take a B supplement alongside my own ‘ADE. And I can avoid the plastic, the cost, and the HFCS. And I get to have the fun of MAKING MY OWN ‘ADE IN MY OWN LITTLE FACTORY. For me it’s a no brainer. I’ll be making my ‘ADE from now on.

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MAKE JOSHUA TREE YOUR TARGET: Shopping Local

The Jelly Donut

When a community gets all up in arms because a General Dollar Store wants to move into town, you know you’re dealing with a different kind of crowd. That’s Joshua Tree. A granola mix of nature lovers, geriatric hippies, artists, musicians, freaks and carnies — they all manage to get along with a mainstreet without even ONE corporate retailer, chain supplier, or franchise restaurant.

But they all have to shop somewhere. This isn’t Burning Man. So what do they do? The LA TIMES answers that question in a great article detailing the menagerie of restaurants, art galleries, vintage clothing retailers and badass thrift-stores that have sprung up along one hip stretch of Highway 62 at Sunset Road. All locally owned, they are loved by their customers. And there is a distinct anti-“big box” vibe on the street.

READ ON to link to the article, link to a photographic slide show of the local area, or link to a map of the area (businesses in the TIMES article notated). Just don’t forget to pick me and my wallet up on your way into town.

READ THE ARTICLE at http://www.latimes.com/features/home/la-lh-joshua-tree-ca-shopping-20130530,0,1154436.story

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VIEW a SLIDE SHOW that really captures the scene at http://www.latimes.com/features/home/la-lh-scout-joshua-tree-shopping-photos,0,4868625.photogallery

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CHECK OUT a MAP at http://guides.latimes.com/la-hm-joshua-tree-shopping/

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BLUEBERRY’D (blue buried?) TREASURE…

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So I was digging in the yard and found these two beautiful blue berry colored tiles. It is amazing what you can find in the desert dirt. It’s not a wasteland. It’s a treasure chest.

I take pleasure in small things and unexpected finds. These two work perfectly as coasters to protect the antique suitcase I use as a nightstand next to my bed.

Reminds me of the plot of my favorite Swedish children’s film from the 1970’s. No, it’s not one of the Pippi Longstocking yarns. It’s DUNDERKLUMPEN!, a mixed animation/live action (think Roger Rabbit) written by and starring Beppe Wolgers. He’s the guy who played Pippi Longstocking’s father, so there is a connection. I guess the world of children’s film in Sweden circa 1974 was small after all.

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Beppe’s son Jens has a treasure chest which gets stolen by a lonely old man named Dunderklumpen. He also steals some of Jens toys which come to life and call out to their pal to rescue them. So Jens and his father begin the chase. Dunderklumpen hightails it out of the woods and all over Southern Sweden, never having time to stop and open the treasure chest which he is convinced must be full of money.

[SPOILER ALERT : I REVEAL THE ENDING BELOW]

When at last the chest is opened, those looking on find only the treasures of a child: a feather, a dandelion, and a rock. Those are the kinds of things I’d like to keep in my treasure chest. And those are the kinds of treasures (and simple pleasures) I like to find. 

You can catch the trailer for the film at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KzdSLN-Dmrk

SHAVING IS FANTASTIC WITHOUT ALL THAT PLASTIC

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Phoenix poses next to the new tools for shaving the mug at Second Chance Homestead (also suitable for armpit, head and leg shaving – and if you are a hobbit, for foot shaving)

One goal when I moved to the Homestead: CUT DOWN ON PLASTIC. And if you shave in the modern world, you know just how much plastic can be involved.

 I’ve got a brother who is blessed with a mug that sprouts a bit of scrub about once a week. For him to try and grow a beard is an unbearable chore. He’s got enough hair on his head and chest to not get too depressed about it, but he can get by on one shave a week if that. So he doesn’t contribute too much shaving plastic waste to the local landfill. But he does his part.

 I on the other hand, am built like my father, which means that the scrub you shave off this morning is looking like a pretty strong shadow this afternoon. In short, if I want to look like a respectable gent with a clean-shaven face I need to take a razor to my cheeks and chin at least once a day. I’ve even had to shave twice when going out later in the evening if I wanted that “clean” look.

 What did this mean? Plastic, plastic, plastic. Five amazing blades wrapped in disposable plastic. Four blades if that is your style. Blades that pivot, rivet, and even sit Shiva if you want them to.  All of them encased in plastic. And you buy them in packaging made of plastic. You buy them OFTEN, because they don’t stay sharp too long. And that is just the BLADES. Then there is the razor (the part that goes in your hand).  If you’re like me, you are constantly replacing razors because you bought the wrong blades which don’t fit the razor you bought last time. Gilette has it’s own system and it’s own systems within systems and it is all so complicated. So if you buy the Gilette Super Plus it won’t fit the Superior and so on and so on.  And then Schick has got a whole other scheme. And Target and Walmart have their knockoffs. After years of shaving you’ve got a drawer full of razors and an empty wallet. And you don’t even get a really good shave.

 The cream that goes along with shaving also comes in plastic just in case you were worried you weren’t using enough. Or non-recyclable cans of gel. Take your pick.  You still end up a guilty litter monster in the shaving department.

 For the truly decadent there are the  “Disposable” one-time “”disposable” razor/blade combinations that come in packs of 10 and 20. What a WASTE of plastic. But they are CHEAP, and if you live like I do they are a BIG temptation to a SMALL budget.

 But when I moved here to the homestead I decided to do the right thing. I made a decision to switch to old school shaving.Yep. Razor. Blade. Brush. Soap. Re-useable. Wow. What a concept.

Now, you can’t go to Walmart or Target or any drugstore and find anything that will help you make this switch. I know. I tried. The only source I could find was online. Perhaps in a bigger city at an old-school pharmacy you might be able to find a nice shaver, a bowl, a shave soap bar, and a brush – but good luck tryin’.

 Luckily I’m not the only guy who has shifted back in time when it comes to a good, clean (and green) shave. There is a MOVEMENT out there. It’s called VINTAGE SHAVING. Seriously. There are all these sites that sell antique refurbished razors that are amazing – and pricey. But you got to admire the effort they make to restore these things. Many sites have before and after pictures. You can’t believe the transformation. Some even have history on the shaver itself. There are rare ones, gold-plated, “once owned by…” – you name it – all with commensurate price tags. The guys at http://www.razoremporium.com/store/ have a great selection and take restoration and shaving seriously. But there are loads of options – just Google it and see.  And at SCH we really like the idea of giving these old razors a second chance at life.

 Remember – a USED razor gets a NEW blade put into it. So the part that mows your “face grass” is brand new, clean, hygienic. Don’t be scared off by the fact that the device that holds your blade is used. It’s been cleaned. If you don’t believe the guys who sold it to you, boil it in water or send it through a dishwasher cycle. There. You’re guaranteed a germ free shave. No need to be paranoid.

 I do aspire to own an amazing one of a kind refurbished several hundred dollar razor one of these days, but for now I had to stay within my low budget. You can do this LOW budget. But steer clear of “vintage” sites and hit up Amazon.com.

I bought a great shaver through Amazon made in Egypt by the Lord Company and it works just fine. Even better, the English language packaging had me bowled over with laughter:

 “LORD PREMIUM. The Art of Shaving. LORD brings you the smoothness feeling. LORD sterling Razor is made according to high standards to give you a premium shave you can ever get. It’s durable metal parts hold the blade at the perfect angle to the face. This critical angle along with LORD Blade makes your shaving smooth and close all days long.”

In SoCal we’re always talking about Spanglish. Now I know Egyptlish too. You can find the Lord Company at http://www.razorslord.com/

Lord sells blades too, a pack of thirty for under ten bucks. Contrast that with the four lousy blade heads you get from Gilette or Shick at around $14.00 per pack.

 To complete the package I needed a brush, a shave soap, and a ceramic bowl to be able to get the foam just right. Luckily Van Der Hagen Enterprises at http://vdhent.com/ could outfit me with a set that would work just fine (save the plastic handle of the brush – but hey – I’m going to keep this brush for a long, long time).

I don’t really like to just run the tap and then wet and clean my razor in between strokes. It wastes water and I I feel that the tap never gets hot enough. So I like to have a second bowl of boiling hot water to sink my razor into in between strokes. I went to my local thrift store and found that really cool green one you can see to Phoenix’s left. It set me back $1.00 and works just fine.

I used to always cut myself shaving. I have the used styptic pencils to prove it. But using this old method I have only cut myself once when I was trying to get the angle right. Once you understand how this old-school method is done, it’s like a dance with your blade and face every single morning. I love the ritual of it. Boil my water, fill my ceramic water reservoir. Ahhhh….look at the steam rise. Dip my brush in to get it wet, then swirl it around the ceramic soap bowl where it lathers up and cools just enough to not burn my face.  Then transfer the lather to my face with sensual brush strokes that feel great and really lift and lubricate each hair. It’s like masturbation of the jaw. And you’ve never gotten such a clean (green) shave. Trust me.

 

WAIT A SECOND…CHANCE? HOMESTEAD?

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Phoenix, part Chihuahua, part Terrier. Chief four-legged Executive Officer of SECOND CHANCE HOMESTEAD. Expert in digging, following scents, stealing cat food, chasing quail, and barking.

Several months ago I was reading a column in the back of the UTNE READER, that good old alternative standby to Reader’s Digest. The author was ERIC UTNE, and he made reference to an old Chinese proverb that often inspires him: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” (read more: http://www.utne.com/environment/what-gives-you-hope-these-days.aspx#ixzz2MQfmQQog)

Right then and there a branch broke off that tree and hit me right between the eyes.I had an epiphany (or a slight concussion). In either case I saw stars but also thunder and lightning. I couldn’t tell if I was in awe or just terrified.

“Tim,” I told myself internally, “If you keep on waiting for the RIGHT time…–whatever and whenever that is – nothing will ever happen.”

It was a very sobering thought.

Some of you know (and others will come to find out if you continue reading this blog) that I haven’t always had the easiest time of it, adjusting to this world. After 43 years I still fight everything and everyone including myself – tooth and nail. I have lots of reasons I don’t always fit in – I was born left-handed, gay, uncoordinated, creative, with a tendency toward the dramatic. I’m a recovering addict/alcoholic.

If there was a hard way to get something done then that was the way I was going to do it. “Yes, I know you said not to touch the stove because it’s hot, but I’m going to do it anyway — with my right hand. And now that I’ve burned that hand I’m going to touch it one more time with my left hand just to be sure.” That was me. And even though I hoped to grow out of it that little stubborn tyke is still with me.

Life was hard, and not always because I made it so. I took some punches in my childhood and adolescence and tried my best to roll with them. But I wasn’t always to blame. By the time I was in my twenties and thirties, I was the one throwing punches, at myself and others, at the establishment, at  life, at the unfairness of it all.

Despite all my anger and frustration I was able to hold down a job and even made my way through college courses at night. I was what they like to call “high functioning.” Because behind the scenes I was nursing a nasty addiction to drugs and alcohol and it was beginning to spiral.  Like every good addict, I convinced myself as long as I could  that I had things under control. In reality my chemical dependence was taking me down and under long before I admitted it.

Eventually I made it into recovery and established sobriety through fits and starts and an awful recession that made me question everything I’d ever known about this country I live in and the people who run it. I finally had some hope for my PERSONAL LIFE, but PROFESSIONALLY I felt adrift in a sea of disillusionment (mine and everyone else’s).

One thing I knew for sure: I didn’t want to find myself in another cubicle. Never again for the rest of my life. It killed my soul and made drugs and drink look that much more attractive. And though I had enjoyed teaching in my early twenties, the condition of the schools – with ever larger class sizes and “teach to the test” approaches emphasized – seemed to be worsening with every state budget crisis.  I just couldn’t get excited about earning my credential and becoming “Mr. Hane” in some overcrowded high school language arts classroom.

A good therapist helped me process through a lot of the pain and mistakes of the first four decades of my life. If you want to know what therapy is like, take a look at the T.V. show IN TREATMENT. It’s deep and intense and it can go on forever. Luckily when I seemed stuck in an overanalysis my past this therapist threw me a life line. After months of me sitting on his couch and  going over my feelings and foibles and fears and frustrations again and again he had the courage to interrupt me.

“Ahem…” he said, clearing his throat. “It seems like you’ve got a pretty good handle on the first half of your life. But what do you want to do with the next half?”

That was the best session I ever had with him.

Going forward I want to plant a tree. Maybe one I should have planted a long time ago.

I want it to take root in the desert soil and in the same light of the Southern California sun that formed me. And I want to be an integral part of the life sustaining process — to recover my sanity by living, breathing and working the land.

I want to begin and nurture a sustainable life, challenging the way I live, act and think about myself and the world around me.

I want to do it on a manageable scale, where half an acre and a two bedroom farmhouse is ENOUGH. I want to be satisfied with what I create. I don’t want to become obsessed with visions of “growth” and dreamy expansive ideas about a “bigger” and “better” and “brighter” future. I want to be okay with my half acre farm and the life that comes into being there. I don’t want to ask “Is that all there is?”  Hey, I’ve been in cubicle nation.  if that’s all there is I’ll take it.

Most importantly I want to do it now, in real time, not tomorrow, and not next year, and not in my head or on some proverbial drawing board.

And so I’ve broken ground. Or should I say “we” have broken ground. Because in the beginning of February I moved on-site along with my wonderful dog Phoenix and my two cats Diogo and Sophie. The three of us are in the process of renovating the farmhouse (and learning to “poop” outside). Soon it will be time to till the ground and plant our first crop. We’ll be raising organic agricultural product in raised beds, and producing fresh organic eggs from a gaggle of hens in their chicken coop. But rest assured, there will be no cubicles here.

Come along for the journey. I invite you to follow this blog and improve it with your comments.  Together we can see what a second chance can look like.

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