Wednesday, December 24, 2014

5 Minutes of Zen, or How the Dog Ate Christmas

If you’re holding your breath right now, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Scovill family Christmas card – along with its clever and humorously presented recap of the year’s most notable highlights – don’t. It’s not that I’ve forsaken the practice; I have half a dozen boxes of cards in the closet (that didn’t get mailed for reasons similar to those I’m about to share), and I sincerely enjoy the opportunity to reach out and check in with friends and family during the holidays. But, here in the land of babies and puppies, finding the time to write, then print, stuff, fold, and lick sixty or more letters is like trying to wipe cheese off a cutting board. (Give it a shot – good luck!)

Long before the baby dog swallowed a sock and lost a foot of intestine, I started editing a manuscript for a writer friend. I figured it’d take me a few weeks, maybe a month. That was mid-July. Later that month, a few days before flying to Seattle for my family’s annual BBQ, I lost my bottom front tooth. While it certainly would have been both appropriate and hilarious, I chose not to attend the Hillbilly Luau without it, so the dentist re-glued it to the wire he’d installed the previous year (to stabilize the two front teeth that have been loose since childhood), handed me a scrip for antibiotics and the number for a good oral surgeon, and sent me on my way.

Roland was scheduled for neutering in early August, a month before his first birthday. We were looking forward to it, because we hoped it would curb his interest in jumping the fence and trying to play with every dog that walked by. For me, the interruptions – stop what I’m doing, grab the leash, chase down the dog, etc. – were merely annoying and counterproductive. The people walking their dogs, however, were seriously not impressed; if two “giant,” “viciously” barking chocolate Labradors sped toward you from across the yard, and the smaller, sixty-pound “baby” hurled himself over the fence and started running toward you, how many layers of clothing would YOU have to change? But, after determining our vet was too expensive, I cancelled the appointment and hopped online to make him a new one at a cheaper facility. Lucky for me, their earliest availability was in October, so I had plenty of time to edit and start the pre-extraction process with the oral surgeon…when I wasn’t chasing down the dog.

Okay, maybe “plenty of time” isn’t exactly right; sometime in the blur of July-August-September, our daughter got a second, part-time job working evenings and weekends. She had a sitter for her day job, Monday through Friday, so I didn’t mind the occasional peanut-sitting duty. (Actually, I like it more than I’m willing to admit.) About a week into her new schedule, she lost her full-time, day job, so she added more nights and weekends. (We haven’t had a Sunday to ourselves in months.) Then, sometime in August, the neighbors brought home a band – as in, they were out and about, ran into a band that needed a place to stay, and invited them to the Campground – and, while I was cleaning the upstairs guest room bath (at around 11pm), I discovered a little, black “caterpillar” growing on the floor next to the shower. I snapped a picture, cleaned it up, and the band had an enjoyable stay, but I urged Scott to take a look at the floor at his earliest convenience.

So, anyway…the black mold issue was the first thing that kicked me out of my office. That was sometime in September. I think. Also in September, Scott and I made a last-minute decision to drive to Raleigh, NC, to attend Farm Aid for the first time and visit our friend, Anita. At home, Roland spent most of his time in the kennel, because no one was here to chase him down. Family visited for a long weekend at the end of the month when we celebrated the peanut’s first birthday. Roland went under for his snip-snip on October 2; he jumped the fence the following day – with the cone of shame. Then he developed an eye infection. Then an ear infection. Then he gave both to Rocko.

I started peanut-sitting 4-6 days every week – minus alternating weekends, except when there’s a Dolphin’s game – but, somehow (miraculously) knocked out that first editing job. Of course, I immediately started another, just before the oral surgeon pulled FOUR front teeth and inserted two implants…seven days before Thanksgiving. I was most grateful for the extension Scott added to the fence, so the baby dog couldn’t clear it, anymore. Once the bathroom floor was “excavated,” and I was convinced the mold was gone, I moved myself back upstairs into my office. It was a blissful two days. Then, the Friday after Thanksgiving, we discovered the dogs had gotten into an opened bag of organic bone meal for the garden. Rocko was a little lethargic, but Roland couldn’t move. I was peanut-sitting and nursing a still sore mouth, so Scott rushed the little boy to the vet; then he transported him to the ER on a stretcher. Our vet and the ER clinic were awesome, but we worried he might not make it through the night.

Amazingly, the baby dog came home the following day, none the worse for wear. He and Rocko were normal, playful, perpetually starving dogs all day Saturday. Then, Sunday morning, Roland ate a sock. It wasn’t his first; we’ve been finding “sock poos” (“glove poos,” “bikini top poos”) in the yard for months. And we didn’t know right away – we learned after surgery on Monday afternoon. He spent four days in the ER. When we brought him home, he had 27 staples, his meds/feeding schedule was crazy, he was required to be on a leash at all times for two weeks, and by NO means was he allowed to do stairs. (That was the second time I got kicked out of my office.) I set up a temporary desk beneath my actual one, downstairs in the East Ball Room, so I could keep working. Two days before his staples were removed, Roland developed a stomach acid problem. We still have to feed him special food, one spoonful at a time, or he’ll throw it up. We’re hoping our vet bills will soon be finished raining down. Which reminds me…

Last Thursday was my only peanut-free day last week, so – since I finished the second editing job the previous day – I planned to (finally!) decorate, shop for gifts, and put together the “Hillbilly Highlights” calendar I started sending the family up north every year. Unfortunately, my plans changed when the peanut’s mommy got called in to work on her only day off. I was near tears with frustration. Then, Friday morning, she got another call, telling her not to go in that day. Can I get a hallelujah?! It was 11:30am, I grabbed my car key, put the baby dog in the kennel, and headed out to shop for an hour, so I could FINALLY be somewhat ready for the peanut’s first “real” Christmas. Picking up Roland’s food at the vet, first (so I didn’t forget, later), I rolled down the windows, cranked up Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways, and basked in the freedom and the cool but sunny Florida day.

Twenty minutes into my first stop, the vet called. They asked how Roland was doing. I said, as long as we fed him small amounts, he didn’t throw up. The tech on the phone asked me to hold while she consulted with the doctor, then she came back on the line and said, “She’s concerned he’s still vomiting, wants to run tests on his esophagus, and needs you to bring him in immediately…” Maybe, if I could get more sleep around here – get more work done, find time to relax, stop feeling like my life is remote-controlled by someone/something else – I might have handled the disappointment better. Instead, I paid the cashier for the few things I’d found, walked to my car, and cried all the way home.

I stay up later than I should at night, because it’s the only time I spend with my husband; I wake up earlier than I should, because babies and puppies can’t be ignored. I had big dreams and good intentions for Christmas this year: wanted to send cards and letters, because it’s been too many years since the last time; wanted to spruce up the yard, because I’d hoped to surround the family with beauty; wanted to get all those boxes of baby things to the post office, because the kids back home can really use them (and soon); wanted to spend time with my son, picking out local and organic gifts, because we like to do that and can’t get our paths to cross much these days; wanted to get that calendar done and really wanted to put something under the tree, because it’s Christmas! But, we don’t always get what we want.

Roland stayed at the vet for testing while I detoured for lunch (and a shot and a beer) and finished shopping at the first place I’d stopped. He wasn’t ready when I returned to pick him up, so I sat in the exam room and waited. And waited. And, eventually, nearly fell asleep. Besides the dentist chair, it was the closest to “peaceful” I’d felt in months. Three hours later, the baby dog and I returned to the Campground. It was 7 o’clock. I told Scott the tests didn’t show any damage to his esophagus, but we still needed to be careful feeding him, and he has to go back if the problem continues. I told him about the “5 minutes of Zen” I’d had, too, before Roland was brought in to wait with me. He didn’t ask why when I started to cry again.

I have another editing job waiting for me after Christmas, and I’m disgustingly far behind on too many things. Until I’m able to dive in, though, I plan to step away from my office, spend time – on purpose – with my family and our favorite chocolate boys, and remind myself how fortunate I am to be wanted and how lucky I am to be able to be there when I am. Yes, the peanut will wake up soon, and I’ll have to stop typing and put on my grandma hat; yes, the baby dog needs another spoonful of food; yes, Scott’s probably whipped up something incredible in the kitchen and stopped waiting (impatiently) for me to walk downstairs and eat; and, yes, I still have to manage one last trip to the store for gifts. But, in the last two weeks, alone, we learned our dear friends from Seattle split after 26 years, a delightful and charming friend left behind a devastated family after an unexpected heart attack, and another friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. No matter how overwhelming my world becomes, I’m reminded regularly that there will always be someone out there with taller hurdles than mine; they need my strength, not my sense of defeat.

In reality, the land of babies and puppies is as wonderful as it is chaotic this year. When our peanut smiles, she lights up the room. Watching the chocolate boys nap side-by-side and run in the yard, again, after so many weeks of confinement and/or separation, warms my heart. And the same family that drives me to drink is the one I can’t live without. This Christmas, I hope you take time to appreciate the many things for which you can be grateful, hope you’re wanted and able to be there when you are, and hope you find your own five minutes of Zen amid the chaos.

Believe there is good in the world – then be the good.

And have a very Merry Christmas.

With Much Love ~


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Go Hate Darrin Willhite

I voted for Barack Obama because he was black. I thought, by electing a black leader, we could end racism. (How ironic – hypocritical, na├»ve – is that?) I thought other countries might see the gesture as progressive and forgive us for being dicks throughout the previous administration. I might have voted for McCain had the soccer mom he was saddled with for a running mate not been an illiterate nut job. I could have punched the hole (again) for Nader, or could have written in Wavy Gravy or Willie Nelson - not that my vote counts; I live in Palm Beach County. But, Obama was eloquent and charismatic and, unlike candidates of color in previous years, he seemed to actually have a chance at claiming The Job. I thought he had courage. He promised change, and I believed him. I also believed, if he followed through with his promises, he’d be shot before the end of his first term. That could have made him a saint – at least a martyr. We all saw how that turned out.

I didn’t vote for him (or anyone) again, because he didn’t change a damn thing. As our country’s first POTUS of color, he certainly had the attention and the opportunity. Turns out, the political “Divide and Conquer!” mentality of R’s and D’s is much deeper, wider, and more convoluted than I thought. Our politicians are puppets at best. All are liars. Some are criminals. Maybe Obama knew, if he made the important, unpopular decisions, he really WOULD be shot. Maybe it was fear that kept him from changing the world. Or maybe the perks of playing along really ARE worth the sacrifice of a nation. Not that it matters; until “None of the Above” makes it on the ballot, I’m considering staying home on election day.

Some say I’ve grown cynical. Personally, I think a more accurate description would be disgusted. Our country is being run (into the ground) by greedy corporate dirtbags, and we just keep slurping our Frappuccinos and gnawing on our Big Macs and Cheesie Poofs and letting it happen. WE, the people, with a little research, ingenuity, and sacrifice, have the power to regain some balance and stability here, we just don’t seem to have the interest. Why is that? Are we truly so self-absorbed with fantasy football and/or busy prepping for “the big one” we’ve forgotten to take precautions to ensure “the big one” doesn’t hit? Don’t get me wrong; I see all the Facebook and Twitter posts about rights and freedoms and Wall Street and Benghazi, so the bulk of you are neither ignorant nor dispassionate. I worry, though, that we’ve taken ourselves – specifically our political and religious beliefs – too seriously, and to everyone’s detriment. For example: While we debate about climate change (global warming, cycles of the earth, whatever it’s called today), ice caps are melting, islands are sinking, snow is falling in the desert, and drinking water reservoirs all over the globe are drying up. Instead of debating its existence, whether because it goes against God or Republicanism, we SHOULD be scrambling for ways to deal with it. Not everything is a debate; sometimes the truth is just the truth.

Here’s another example: We say we love our country, but we keep electing Republicans and Democrats – two parties PROVEN time and again to be narrow-minded and corrupt. As evidenced by that first sentence up top, I’m just as guilty as the next guy, partially due to lack of research (i.e., laziness), partially due to the fact that there’s not often an alternative. As I get older, however, and as I watch our country sink further into the cluster fuck of no return, I’m thinking there’s gotta be a better way. Instead of blindly supporting a color – be it red, blue, or black – maybe it’s time we support our country and its people by electing leaders who won’t cater to whichever special interest group offers the biggest perks and will actually lead us out of the mess we’re in.

“How do we do that?” you might ask. And I’d be glad you did. For starters, you can go hate Darrin Willhite. He’s tons smarter and more informed than I am. He’s also a dear friend and former next-door neighbor who recently started a political blog that’s straightforward, intelligent, and bound to piss someone off. You can also make a pledge to yourself to start using this Internet thingy for more than Facebook and Words With Friends and, maybe once each week, Google a new question like, “Who are my choices for Governor/President/District Court Judge?” or “How can I make a difference in my community?” Most importantly, use your head; look around you, talk to your friends and family, ask yourself what’s wrong, and get involved in the efforts to make this a better place.

Change starts at the bottom - that means it starts with you.

C’mon: Be the change…

~ Dawn

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Get Off My Tractor!

Neil Young is pissed, and you should be, too.

“Why?” you ask. “He’s an angry, old hippie. What is it THIS time? The government? Evil corporations? Is Big Brother coming to get me? Pffft. Whatever it is, it’s all blah, blah, blah.”

Except…it’s not. America really is dying. Look around you. When I was a kid, we used to joke about the worthlessness of Canadian money. Ask a Canadian about OUR money today. We used to pack a lunch and sit down for a home-cooked dinner. Kids played outside and got fresh air and exercise. One paycheck supported a household. The rest of the world applauded us. Water was FREE!

Were “the good ol’ days” perfect? Hell no! There was plenty for Neil Young to be pissed about then, too; racism, sexual inequality, war, poverty, homelessness, and political corruptness were rampant. And I think that’s the heart of it: we’ve taken steps in the right direction, to be sure (women and people of color can vote, whiskey and abortions are legal, the peaks of Washington and Colorado are both literally and figuratively high), but – in our country’s history – we haven’t really resolved a damn thing. Add a crumbling infrastructure, failing public assistance and educational systems, epic dependence on foreign oil, rapidly diminishing domestic resources, and the slow demise of small business at the hands of gargantuan super conglomerates, and you (we) have a BIG problem.

Somebody needs to do something about something.

In 1985, in response to a comment Bob Dylan made during Live Aid, two angry hippies and the poster child for the American Heartland decided to do what they could about an issue that effects all of us, so they gathered a bunch of blues, rock, and country friends and – with only six weeks’ preparation – performed a benefit concert in Champaign, Illinois, to support America’s farmers. They called it Farm Aid. Over 50 bands/entertainers stepped up to help, including Johnny Cash, The Beach Boys, Bon Jovi, John Denver, Foreigner, and B.B. King. Van Halen even debuted their new singer, Sammy Hagar. Attendance was around 80,000. They raised $9 million. Neil, Willie Nelson, and John Mellencamp thought they were done. Turns out, family farms in America needed way more help than anyone thought…(excerpts from

1985: To compete with exponential growth of large scale, industrial “factory farms,” and after decades of advancing technology had already forced them to “trade horses for tractors,” record numbers of family farms reported record amounts of debt

1991: Following a devastating drop in market prices, dairy farmers organized around the country in an effort to survive

1992: Farmer’s Home Administration sent out 40,000 foreclosure notices to troubled farms; every five farms that closed took one small business with them

1993: Heavy rains in the Midwest caused the Mississippi and Missouri rivers to overflow, swallowing entire towns; thousands of families were homeless; eight million acres of crops were destroyed, 20 million acres were damaged [Note: this was also the year the FDA approved the use of rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) to speed the production of milk]

1994 & 1995: For two years in a row, our country lost over 500 farms a week; Ernest Krikava, a 60-year-old Nebraska farmer, was sentenced to prison for illegally selling his hogs during his farm's bankruptcy proceedings – the family had no food for themselves, their hogs were starving, and the bank refused to release funds to operate the farm; Krikava was later pardoned by President Clinton, due in part to the advocacy work of Willie Nelson and Farm Aid

1996 & 1997: A string of natural disasters, including a drought in the Great Plains, Hurricane Bertha in the Carolinas, blizzards, floods, and late frosts dealt substantial blows

1998: Ice storms in the Northeast and drought in Oklahoma and Texas contributed to the most devastating year for farmers since Farm Aid began in 1985; factory farm production continued to foster an enormous inequity in market pricing; Willie Nelson stated, "In rural America, the farm economy is the economy. If we don't pay attention right now to what's happening to farmers, we're not just going to lose them, we'll lose the thousands of schools, businesses, and churches that depend on family farming for their survival."

1999: Farm Aid is held near Washington, D.C., where hundreds of farmers rallied to protest the "Freedom to Farm" bill, in place since 1996; the bill had resulted in record profits for multinational grain traders and big food manufacturing companies, while leaving family farmers bankrupt

I’ll stop there... Okay, one more quote: In 2007, Farm Aid became “the first major music event to serve local, organic and family-farm foods at concessions and backstage. The concessions ingredients were local, organic and/or sourced from family farms. Concert-goers also enjoyed Farm Aid's first HOMEGROWN Village, which offered hands-on interactive experiences with family farmers and sustainable family-farm practices.” In Raleigh this past weekend, I had the most amazing, baked-that-morning “apple hand pie”! Our friend said it was the best food she’d ever seen at a concert. Amen!

I grew up on a small farm, and Farm Aid has been on my “bucket list” since its inception. At the time, I was 20 years’ old, broke, and freshly-moved to the San Francisco area after leaving rural Washington state to “find myself.” A few years later, I moved with Scott to Florida. Because the concert is held in a different city every year, and those cities tend to be near the center of the country, where farming is more prevalent, it hasn’t been a convenient trip. Until this year. You can find reviews online, and a lot of the concert is available on YouTube, so I’m not giving you a play-by-play. But, I’ll say this: for many, it was merely a concert; for me, it was a pilgrimage, a kind of rediscovery or reclaiming of my roots. It felt surreal being there. Some things, I’ll admit, were disappointing (after 28 years, you’d think organizers would have figured out how to open the gates on time). Some things were a surprise (I never expected to enjoy – and want more of – a band called “Insects vs Robots”). Many things, however – especially people – were inspiring; Willie kicked off the event with a welcome song that included Native American dancers; in the grass, we sat next to an elderly man with a walker who’d just lost his wife this year (he shared his all natural gummy bears, we shared our contraband); and Lukas and Micah Nelson sent me over the edge, making it impossible for me not to (finally) fall in love with Neil Young.

My dear friend, folk musician Robin Stuckert, would have been so proud.

It didn’t happen instantaneously. I already respected and admired him, not only because of his history and iconic status, but because Robin loved him and I loved Robin. (Incidentally, Robin despised Kid Rock, but I had him coming around toward the end.) Neil came on late, after everyone had been partying since noon. When he rolled into his rant about family farms and how it was OUR job, our DUTY to support them, I felt the crowd pull away. Seated up on the lawn, a few people were respectfully paying attention, but we were largely surrounded by drunks and young people who’d come for Delta Rae and Jack White and, therefore, didn’t give a shit. There was so much chatter, it was hard to hear him toward the end. That pissed me off. I wanted to tell everybody to SHUT THE HELL UP AND LISTEN! His message was why we were all there, for crying out loud. But, they wouldn’t have listened; they would have called me a bitch, told ME to shut the hell up, their conversations would have continued – only louder – and I would have walked away the bad guy, having tainted somebody’s good time. Instead, I enjoyed the rest of the concert, drove home to Florida, and spent a day on my computer, researching Farm Aid and the plight of America’s family farms. My conclusion: Shit is fucked up and bullshit.

To recap: Every five farms that close take one small business with them; in ‘94 and ‘95, the U.S. lost over 500 farms every week. (I didn’t want to do the math, but I also didn’t think I’d need to.) I skimmed through current statistics to offer you an update, but they were so depressing, I stopped. In a nutshell, large-scale factory farms have all but annihilated the family farm. That matters – to me, to you, to ALL of us – because family farms grew small fields of healthy, ACTUAL food, where factory farms grow mammoth fields of genetically and chemically modified VERSIONS of food. Why and How did this happen? I’ll break it down for you:


Or (for those who need more specifics):


Or (for shits and giggles):

            GARBAGE IN --> GARBAGE OUT

You’re welcome to substitute any (make that ALL) fast food and/or unreasonably large chain stores for McDonald's (like Walmart, for example). With few exceptions, their offerings are toxic. Why? Because they purchase fruit, vegetables, and meat on a scale we can’t fathom, forcing suppliers to produce on an otherwise impossible level. And they’ll keep doing it as long as we keep buying it. Other countries have banned GMO and other chemically treated foods. So, why are WE still sucking it up? Have you checked health statistics lately? Don’t you think, maybe, if we stopped buying and eating foul shit, we’d stop getting sick? Huh? How do YOU feel today?

If you’re still with me, let me share a few other things, too: In 1935, with a population of 127 million in the U.S., family farmers operated 6.8 million farms and supplied nearly 100% of the market; by 2007, with a population of 300+ million, there were only 2.2 million farms; most recent statistics show 1% of the population claims “farming” as an occupation (2% report living on farms); of that 1%, only 45% claim farming as their “principal” occupation; 2% of farms are considered factory farms, and they control 89% of the market; Monsanto controls 90% of the seeds…

I could get all anti-political here and bring up laws our crooked leaders have passed in favor of factory farming, but that’s a lot of research, I won’t like what I find, and I’m already mad. I could dig more into Monsanto, too, and lobbyists and fracking. I could easily tie in the big pharmaceutical companies who keep factory farms in business by helping us “manage our symptoms.” But, if I went too far, I’d disappoint Neil Young and get off message. And the message is this: BUY LOCAL. Make a pledge TODAY to substitute every other trip to the big chain store with a trip to the farmer’s market, the neighborhood butcher, or the corner bakery. If you can’t swing every other trip, try every third or fourth. When you go to the county fair, take a detour off the midway and visit the agricultural tent. Throw money in the donations buckets for the kids in FFA and 4H. Choose restaurants that source their meat and produce from local and/or organic growers. And go to Farm Aid (just be sure to bring your appetite!).

Somebody needs to do something about something. And that somebody is you. Do what you can. Choose fresh. Choose organic. Buy local.

~ Dawn

P.S. To honor the struggle of America’s family farms, I'm challenging all my friends on Facebook and Twitter to share this post. It’s my hope that all readers will consider pitching in any way they can. To all who do, you have my most sincere thanks. ~ D

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Today, I Cry

We don’t cry for the dead. We cry for the living. Specifically, we cry for ourselves. John Belushi, Jim Henson, Madeleine Kahn, George Carlin, Gilda Radner, Jonathan Winters, Robin Williams… They made me happy, made me think, opened my mind to other perspectives, and taught me things I didn’t know I was learning, all while making it all look easy. I never met any of them, in person, but felt a bond or kinship with each of them, nonetheless. They were more than entertainers on a TV screen, they were exceptionally funny and clever entertainers whose influence directly contributed to the adult I am today. Their deaths were painful. Yes, we can watch hours of recorded moments on YouTube, but – once they’re gone – there can never be another next moment. So, we cry.

At least, with entertainers, we have their bodies of work to honor their memory. With ordinary folks, like family and friends, we aren’t often so lucky. Maybe they wrote or recorded a few things. Maybe somebody took an old home movie, somebody else shot a short video. Mostly we’re left with a photo album or two and whatever images and stories we carry within us. Over time, even those disappear. It makes me wonder, then, what it is that we leave behind in this world. We work so hard to build things, raise children, touch lives, and leave a legacy. In the end, it’s not even up to us; the preservation of our memory ultimately lies with those we leave behind. 

Every time I visit a House of Blues, I seek out the “altar to Jake” and down a shot with a friend. I never miss the opportunity to let a Muppet make me smile. Whether entertainers or ordinary folks, my heroes live on through me: I have my grandfather’s dedication to family; my mother’s words echo in my head and out my mouth almost every day. Every joke I share – every story I tell – keeps their legacies alive.

It’s up to you and me to preserve the memories of our heroes. Do them proud. Share the “7 Words You Can’t Say On Television” with your friends and your children. Show them how they can entertain themselves for hours with nothing more than a box full of hats. Teach your girls it’s okay to be pretty AND smart AND funny AND talented AND still laugh at themselves. And teach your boys it’s okay to cry; some heroes are worth a few tears.

RIP, Robin Williams. I hope Jonathan was waiting for you on the other side … with a box of hats.

~ Dawn