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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AT THE HOMESTEAD: LET’S MAKE SHAMPOO!

So what do we do at Second Chance Homestead when we need a fresh and minty head of hair? Most store bought shampoos have creepy chemicals, dicey dyes, freaky fragrances, and long lists of ingredients that you can’t even pronounce or recognize! But not us at the Homestead. We like it lean and serene. To keep it clean, we go GREEN. We make our own natural shampoo out of natural ingredients in just three easy steps!

Join the SCH beauty revolution! Watch this 4 minute film to find out how you TOO can make shampoo with built-in conditioner and nothing nasty added using Second Chance Homestead’s secret “nothing to question” recipe. It’s even PEPPERMINT SCENTED!

Your scalp will thank you!

44 YEARS OLD TODAY and SO FLIES THE COOP (from a guy named Michael’s place over to mine)

It’s nice to have a birthday, especially when I’ve gotten such an interesting birthday present from a complete stranger. While browsing the “FREE” section on CRAIGSLIST (something I do on a regular basis to search out finds for SCH) I came across the interesting photo below:

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A fellow named Michael had built this structure out of pallets, and he and his wife Hilda were using it to protect their vegetable garden. You see, out here in the Morongo Basin, if you’ve got a garden, all the local squirrels, jackrabbits, mice, rats, birds, etc. think it’s a nightly buffet. So you have to protect your investment. Michael built this structure with panels that went one foot down in the ground all the way around and covered all the rest of the open space with chicken wire so that no animal could get in and spoil the garden fun.

They’ve had a good run or it, but Michael and his wife are moving on,  so they were looking to give this lovely structure to anyone who was crazy enough to come over and disassemble it. To give it to someone completely free of charge.

“Hey! Over here! I’m JUST crazy enough to give it a shot! Pick me! Pick me!”

They did.

I really like that word FREE. And taking something that had been given a second chance (wooden pallets) and made into a garden structure — and then taking that garden structure and giving it a SECOND CHANCE over at my place as two new structures (more below) — well, that’s what my whole Second Chance Homestead philosophy is about. It’s about as close to birthday nirvana as you can get!

So I talked my friend John into helping me take this thing apart.

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My friend John V. stands ready to mount the demolition.

It’s a good thing I’ve still got my pickup truck. Because it allowed me to move all the pieces from Michael and Hilda’s place over to my very own plot of Second Chance Homestead land.

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 The pieces of the puzzle stacked not so neatly in the northwest corner of my backyard. (above and below)

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SO WHAT AM I GOING TO BUILD?

Two things actually.

A chicken coop. And a greenhouse for growing things in a protected environment just like Michael and Hilda did.

Of course the “greenhouse” will actually be an orange house because that’s the color they decided to paint all of this wood, and since they gave me two free gallons of leftover orange paint I think both the coop and the “greenhouse” will stay orange.

I’m finally getting my energy back and can’t wait to get busy building. Hammer and nails here I come.  I’m 44 years old and I and these blood orange walls are not going anywhere but up…UP…UP!

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! 

 

FARM FRESH TUNA: THE PRICKLY PEAR CACTUS

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Ripe “tunas” or “pears” from the Prickly Pear Cactus (courtesy of Desert Sun)

The fruit of the Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia polyacantha) are known as “Tuna’s” in Mexico where they are a delicacy, used in everything from jams to salsas to juices and even margaritas. Maureen Gilmer, who writes for the Coachella Valley based DESERT SUN newspaper (visit them at http://www.mydesert.com), has an excellent article discussing the various uses of the plants edible parts, including younger pads called “nopalitos” which are used in a traditional recipe with eggs.

We’re preparing to plant a handful of Prickly Pear Cactuses in hopes of a harvest next spring.

Read Maureen’s great article which provides online resources for recipes as well as information on nurseries that carry the cactuses in the Coachella Valley. You can find it at http://www.mydesert.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013305310010&nclick_check=1

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Ensalada Nopales (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

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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THE FURTHER DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION

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We have two dumps in the area, which are run by the county and city respectively and both charge fees for dropping junk off at the landfill. In the Morongo Valley (the larger region of the hi-desert that Joshua Tree is a part of) many people avoid paying these fees by just driving a few miles down a dirt road and dumping their unwanted refuse in the middle of the desert.

Take a look at the photo above. Those are roofing tiles that were obviously refuse from some construction site. And whoever didn’t want them thought they would do just fine down a dirt road just a few miles from my place.

I could lament the further decline of western civilization, but instead I go out hunting for trash that needs a second chance with the hope of giving it one at Second Chance Homestead. I’ve been loading these tiles into my truck, taking them home and breaking them into much smaller pieces with a hammer (I can work out a lot of anger with a hammer and both my arms are getting a workout as I take turns pounding). I’m going to use the small pieces which have a lovely color and texture as ground-cover on my property. I’ll post a pic when the project is done.

Further signs of the decline of western civilization: look off in the distance in the photograph. That huge monstrosity of a building? It’s the new Super-Walmart that is opening July 17th.  I expect several local family owned retailers to be put out of business over the next year as Super-Walmart becomes the “vendor of choice” for people who value low-prices and convenience over EVERYTHING else.

Did you know that Walmart workers are attempting to organize and striking at Walmart stores across the country? There is a movement of Walmart workers building. They are asking for three simple things: Full-time hours, benefits, and a minimum salary of $25,000 per year for that full-time work. Walmart is notorious for keeping people’s hours at part-time levels so they don’t have to include benefits in their compensation. And working part-time, many of their workers live below the poverty line. Yes. Seriously. That’s how those prices get so, so low.

If you’d be interested in signing a petition in support of these workers please click on the link that follows and sign a petition to show your support. Representative workers are heading from across the country to Arkansas to deliver the petition to Walmart execs at the annual shareholders meeting this June 7th. Add your voice to their plea at http://action.changewalmart.org/page/s/stand-with-strikers?source=20130530_rfr_em_2Image