Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Hippie Halloween - Cool Costumes But No Sugar!

One of the best times of year growing up in my family was Halloween. Cool costumes...happy cider...banjo playing by big bonfires.

But wait. No candy!

You see, my parents didn’t allow us to eat sugar back then.It was a time filled with mixed emotions for me. An exciting jumble of anticipation and superhero dreams. But at the core, times like Halloween also presented complex challenges more scary than the ghosts and goblins of the Day.

On these monumental days of tradition and consumerism, I became increasingly aware that my life was very much different from that of many of my friends.

Occasions like Halloween offered stark contrasts between the way my parents did things with the way some of our neighbors and classmate’s families did them. Don't get me wrong: being different wasn’t the challenge. The challenge was with the little things, like not getting to eat sugar on Halloween, or with costume malfunctions.
My mom was an expert at helping us design funky handmade costumes. They were cool and all, but I must admit I was always a little envious of the other kids who got to wear store-bought masks that looked more real. Take my Spiderman outfit when I was 10. It was a rustic patchwork that included loosely fitting dark blue tights featuring unevenly finger-painted stripes. I wore a black cotton ski mask and a red sweatshirt with embroidered spider-like shapes stitched across the chest. Looking back it worked out ok, but back then I used to imagine having a costume that really looked like the comic book hero. I would dream about the store-bought plastic costumes my friends got to wear.But the costumes were hardly the main thing me and my brothers were envious about. While lots of the other kids from our school were filling up bags with juicy candy, my parents had a different trick-or-treating route planned for us -- one a little more natural to say the least. The houses on my parents' route gave us fresh apples, hot cider, and bags of dried fruit. Instead of chocolate bars, we got carob bars and popcorn sprinkled with honey. Apparently, none of the homes on our journey used sugar in anything!

Let's be real. Even hippy kids want to trick or treat for a little sugar on Halloween.

But all in all, besides the funky costumes and sugarless treats, Halloween was full of good times. And I didn't realize it then, but it was many of those little differences at the time that have made me stronger and healthier today.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Hippie Kid Names...

Maybe it's the water in Iowa, I dunno. But many of my friends from childhood also have interesting and different names. Perhaps that's one reason why I never considered the name Unity as being out of the ordinary.

Here are some names of friends and family to give you an idea of what I mean:

Silas Starr
PatrickSpirit (bro)
Cayenne (bro)
Gardenia (sis)
Vadra (sis)

It should be an interesting study to see what all of these people name their own children one day...I will keep you posted.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Mom, Who Are The Bald Men In Orange Robes Chanting In Our Living Room?

All sorts of interesting people used to visit our farm when I was growing up.

I will never forget the morning I awoke to a strange noise humming from our living room which was located just under my room in our old creaky house. The sound was slow and steady and ebbed and flowed in a continuous but warm pattern. Even though the noise was barely audible, it managed to seep through the floor boards to surround me upstairs. I wasn't quite sure what the noise was and had never heard such an amazing sound before.

The sun hadn't risen yet, but the sky was on the cusp of turning light. I peaked out my window and saw orange streaks burst through the darkness. It was much too early for me to wake up and it was cold outside of my covers. But I had to see what could be making such sound from below. I pulled myself out of bed and tip-toed down the stairs.

The humming noise grew more powerful as I walked toward the living room. I peaked around the corner to see what was about. What I saw were a group of six friendly looking bald men dressed in beautiful orange robes sitting in a circle with their legs crossed and eyes closed. No one seemed to notice me at all and I tried not to let the floor creak beneath my feet. I just sat and listened from afar with one eye peering around the doorway. I must have stood there and watched the men chant for twenty minutes before seeing anyone of them make a movement. They all sat totally still, amidst fumes of incense sparkling on our woodstove.

The sun came up and the men in robes started to move. Before they noticed me, I skedaddled up the stairs and jumped right back into bed wondering what the heck was going on down in my living room so early in the morning. The ominous sound seemed to keep me warm though, and I fell right back to sleep no problem at all. Later that day I asked my mom what was going on. She simply explained that we had some friendly monks visiting us from Asia and that they were praying for world peace. Ok I said...

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Mom and Pop, Grant Wood Style

I love this image for many reasons. It tells so many stories. Mom, probably just in from her garden, wields a pitchfork with grace and style. The late afternoon sun glows red off Pop's ZZ Top beard. And one of my parent's friends contemplates life off in the distance. Everyone seems happy and content, relaxed and at ease on the farm...
Copyright Unity

Friday, September 24, 2004

Dumb Dumb Daycare

The first school I went to was called Dumb Dumb Daycare.

I don't remember much about the place, except that it had a big back yard and it is where I met a great group of friends, many of whom I still hang out with to this day.

What I remember most about Dumb Dumb is how it was named. Basically, the story goes like this:

The founders of the school decided that the children should be in charge of naming the place. After all, it was as much the students school and their school. So just before nap time one day, the teachers convened a meeting with all of the kids to tell them the news. They told us that the first words one of us blurted out would become the new name of our school.

One of my friends immediately said: That's Dumb Dumb.

The founders stuck to their word, and taught us all a valuable lesson: be careful what you say!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Food Club And Never Running Our Of Peanut Butter

I don't remember our family going to the grocery store much when I was a kid. I guess that's because we had Food Club.

What's Food Club you ask?

Well, basically Food Club was a small group of my parent's friends who would get together every so often to order hard-to-get organic groceries and dry-goods at a discount.

That's right, many years before there was a Wal-Mart in our neck of the woods, my parents and their friends were buying 5-gallon buckets of peanut butter, slats of yogurt, and 10 lb. bricks of cheese. Naturally, it was ALL natural.

Here is how Food Club worked. Someone, (I'm not quite sure who, because the process never seemed that structured), would organize and host a Food Club approximately every month. At the meeting, each family would submit their wish list of groceries. A certain amount of bartering and shuffeling would occur, so everyone could get the types of food and quantities they wanted. Then, as a group, Food Club would place one massive order for the next month's delivery.

The second part of the meeting was the fun part. The food from the previous order was divvied up and taken home. I remember a good vibe at home on Food Club day. The house always seemed to warm up when we were flush with food. And the first few days were great because my two bros and I didn't have to ration our stashes as much. You see, each of us boys would get a certain number of Sasporilla Sodas, or Bags of Bandito Corn Chips, or Carob Bars to last us until the next Food Club gathering.

By the end of the month though, pickings were slim. I remember eating lots of grilled cheese sandwiches, and lots of things made from pinto beans.

And no matter how hard we tried, we never ever ran out of Peanut Butter...

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Motorcycle Toy

I don't remember too many fancy store-bought toys growing up -- I did get to play with motorbikes in the front lawn, though, for hours on end.
Copyright Unity

Friday, September 17, 2004

Strollin' In Our Blue Panel Truck

Before my brothers were born, my parents and I lived in a Blue Panel Truck.

Today it sounds a little crazy. But, back then it was good livin'. We had all of the ammenities, including a stove, a big comfy matress, and a cooler for food. We even had a spice rack rigged up along one of the inside steel panels. I guess you could say it was the hippie version of an RV -- just a little smaller.

From pictures I have seen, the blue truck was a really cool looking mobile -- something you can imagine ZZTOP driving today -- except their's would be cherry red and have lots of chrome sticking out of it. Ours was more of a dull faded blue, with rust and steel mixed in.

I'm not quite sure why we lived in a Blue Panel Truck, but it seemed to work out for us at the time. My father would weave handmade belts from a loom he had made; my mom would make large macromay pieces and work on upholstery projects.

I guess, I just pretty much lounged around as babies do. But instead of a stroller to take me around, I had my own Blue Panel Truck...

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Family Portrait

Every winter mom would gather up the family for the annual holiday portrait which would usually invovle some wacky photo shoot, like the one above where we all had to stand in the cold and eat snow. Not certain we were all so keen on the idea...Any guess which one is me?

Copyright Unity

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Milking The Goats

Have you ever had to milk the goats?

That was one of my daily chores growing up. From the age of 8 or so I had to milk the goats once in the morning, and once in the evening. Iris, Blackie, and lots of other goats whose names escape me right now, all had to be milked twice a day, so that their teets wouldn't grow sore and so that we could collect fresh milk for homemade cheese and such. (My parents didn't allow us to buy store bought milk you see).

There were many challenges I had to overcome during my years of goat milking. At the beginning, the hardest part was being much smaller than the Nubian dairy goats I was to manage. I was a lilly white blond boy and these were sleek beasts that never liked being told what to do. Just to get them into the milking stall, I would have to lure each goat toward me with hay or grain. Then, I would have to push, pull and prod them until they would leap up onto what we called the milking platform. I would coax their head between two wooden slats by tempting them with more grain, and then quickly fasten a latch to hold them in place.

The fun part was the actual goat milking. My forearms and hands eventually grew strong and I developed milking routines to efficiently squeeze out a few gallons of milk each day. Pull, sqeeze, pull, sqeeze, pull, squeeze...and on and on and on. Back and forth, from teet to teet, until the old plastic milk buckets we used to use filled up. My parents had hooked up speakers and an old radio in the Goat Milk House so we could listen to public radio while doinng chores. I used to change the station when I was a little older so I could rock out to Men At Work, Tina Turner, and Tears for Fears -- and whatever else the local rock station used to play back in the day. Another fun game I used to play was to try and tag the cats with long sprays of goat milk. They loved it. They would gather excitedly around at my feet and open their mouth wide so I could spray warm milk right down their throat straight from the source itself.

The worst part about milking the goats was straining the milk and preparing it to be refridgerated. We used these special white filters my parents would buy at the local farm store and strain the milk into glass jars my mother used to save. This is where I would notice all of the little hairs and crud that would have dropped into the milk during the process of milking. While the strainer did a great job of separating the milk from the junk, somehow that direct understanding that goat shit had been in my milk never quite settled with me.

Even though the chore wasn't so bad, to this day I don't drink goat's milk or eat goat's cheese...

Monday, September 13, 2004

The Sunshine Farm

The Sunshine Farm was my mother's farm just near Trear, Iowa. This is where I spent my first year in life, and where I was brought home after making my mother miss Bob Dylan's first concert in several years on account of me needing to be born. I don't remember living on the farm, but I have an assortment of memories about this magical place from photographs, old 8mm films, newspaper clippings, and stories from others who lived there.

If you are unfamiliar with this part of the country, it is stunningly beautfiul. While the land is farily flat, the sun glimmers off of slight rolling hills and mixes well with the top-soil to grow some pretty amazing things.

My parents decided that they, too, wanted to grow some pretty amazing things, so they borrowed land from my grandfather who was a very well respected farmer from the Old School. With that land, they created The Sunshine Farm and developed a once thriving community for musicians, artists, and writers, to live and grow organic crops.

All sorts of great things happened on The Sunshine Farm, although I often wonder what my grandfather secretly thought about that place. I guess he just loved his little girl, my mother...

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Rubber Stamp From Mom

Stocking stuffer from mom when I was 2.
Copyright Unity