MN PUC Rejects Line 3 FEIS as “Inadequate”


Well, the headline sounds more exciting than the actual outcome…

They only rejected the FEIS (Final Environmental Impact Statement) as Inadequate on a few points.  However, the fact that it seems they are recognizing Indigenous Rights is a major breakthrough.


The vote on the motion to assess the Line 3 FEIS as Inadequate was 4 to 1 with Commissioners Chair Nancy Lange, Vice Chair  Dan Lipschultz, Matt Schuerger, Katie Sieben all supporting the motion to declare the FEIS Inadequate.  Commissioner Tuma voted against the motion calling the FEIS “Adequate”.

You can watch the entire proceedings at the MN PUC website.  [If you hover above the December 7 event, you’ll see links to Part 1 and Part 2 videos.]

Below I have summarized the proceedings.  Meanwhile…

G.E. Cuts Jobs as It Navigates a Shifting Energy Market

The announcement is an acknowledgment that the company has not been properly positioned for where the energy market is headed. Oil and natural gas markets are dealing with a glut of supply and companies like General Electric have been forced to cut prices on their services. The long-term demand for renewable energy is growing globally, even as the American political climate damps its short-term prospects. And G.E. faces a raft of competition from international rivals in all those areas. …

G.E. also recently merged its oil-and-gas unit with a fellow services provider, Baker Hughes, to strengthen the business during the worst slump in the industry in more than two decades.

Now, Baker Hughes is underperforming rivals. And analysts said that G.E. may be looking for ways to exit the marriage.

And… the Valve Turners trial in Bagley (scheduled for 12/11/17) is now on hold until the Appeal can process.  The use of the Necessity Defense is being challenged before the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Summary Details:

OK, before we start, Dan says I need some definitions…

  • SA-04 is the imaginary route alternative that would flow down from Clearbrook and along the I-94 corridor.  Enbridge says they will not build this route.
  • DoC – Department of Commerce
  • CoN – Certificate of Need
  • FEIS – Final Environmental Impact Statement
  • PUC – Public Utilities Commission – they are responsible for approving or denying Enbridge’s petition for building the Line 3 “Replacement”.  [Note: it’s not truly a replacement as they plan to leave the existing pipeline in the ground and add a NEW pipeline, much of which will be in the original corridor but which also creates a new pipeline corridor through grounds which do not currently have a pipeline.]
  • MEPA – Minnesota Environmental Policy Act (The legislation that dictates the requirements for the FEIS.)

Parties Represented in the Meeting  

Enbridge: Represented by Eric Swanson & Christina Brusven

Mille Lacs Band: Represented by David Zoll

Scott Strand, Environmental Law and Policy Center, representing the Friends of the Headwaters.

Department of Commerce: Represented by Bill Grant along with Louise Miltich from EERA.  [Note, YES, this is a relative to our friend Anthony Miltich!  It’s his niece and she has a Masters in Geological Studies.  By the way, Anthony recommends Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming…  and you can learn more Here.]

Leili Fatehi representing the Sierra Club

Sara Von Norman representing the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa

Paul Blackburn representing Honor The Earth

Brent Murcia & Akilah Sanders-Reed representing the Youth Climate Intervenors

The Opening statements started with a brief rundown from Bill Grant of the MN Department of Commerce on the scope, MN code, and the DoC process.  They believe Administrative Law Judge Lipman was accurate in assessing the FEIS as Adequate.

Enbridge reported that the three questions to answer in the evaluation of the FEIS are as follows:

  1. Have the potentially significant issues raised in scoping been addressed?
  2. Has the FEIS responded to the substantive comments?
  3. Has it been prepared in compliance with procedures set forth in Minnesota rules?

It was made clear that arguments that fall outside these three questions didn’t apply to the day’s hearing.  Eric Swanson stated, “The purpose of an FEIS is to inform your decisions on this proposed project… what lies down the road is not applicable.”  He quoted from MEPA Code 4410.0300  “Environmental documents shall not be used to justify a decision, nor shall indications of adverse (environmental) effects necessarily require that a project be disapproved. The rule states … Environmental documents shall be used as guides in issuing, amending, and denying permits.” Thus the FEIS needs to provide information, including on alternatives, to make comparisons that will guide the final decision.  The FEIS is not to make a decision, determine merits, or make recommendations.  He concluded, “We don’t believe any reasonable person looking at this document can say the agency’s failed to take a hard look at this project. … We join in the staff’s recommendation that you find the FEIS Adequate.”

I was especially impressed with the opening statement by Sara K. Van Norman, Attorney for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, an Intervenor in the Line 3 fight against Enbridge.  She argued that the work on this project has failed to adequately address the Indigenous People’s Cultural Heritage as a factor in this question. She noted that the Alberta Clipper project was far better in taking care to conduct Tribal Cultural Resource Surveys and the work on this project is a huge backstep in including the Tribes in the process. The resulting risk is another event like the disaster that occurred this past summer in Duluth where human remains were disturbed in a well-known Ojibwe Burial Site during construction of the Highway 23 project.  The cemetery was desecrated because MNDOT had not made any effort to involve the Fond du Lac Band in the 5-year planning process, in contradiction to the organization’s own policies. Although construction was halted, the incident could have been avoided with proper protocols.

Also impressive was the lengthy opening statement by Scott Strand, Environmental Law and Policy Center, representing the Friends of the Headwaters.

  • To begin, he argued that the question of Scope should remain open until the final decision because if this is not the case, nothing that might be determined to be within scope based on findings can be considered. (see more on this in Blackburn’s testimony below)
  • Assigning the DoC to the environmental review is a conflict of interest. Because there is a potential impact on the tax base, the Department of Commerce is potentially more conflicted than would be an independent Environmental Committee drawing up this documentation.
  • Lack of inclusion of the recent comments of concern from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources and including their analysis of the alternatives to the proposed route is unacceptable. These comments were given to government units behind closed doors but not provided to the public for their review in making commentary on this issue. This is an important part of the Environmental Review Process as the public advocacy is an important part of the discussion.
  • He noted Environmental Impact Statement is a misnomer. The documents are for evaluating alternatives and identify mitigation that can reduce the environmental impacts for planning purposes.  Purpose and need in this FEIS was, by Enbridge’s definition, to deliver oil to Superior, Wisconsin. But this is not the true need and purpose and this greatly restricted the alternatives that could be evaluated.  The evaluation of alternatives should have been based on the actual goals of the project.  Federal courts have addressed that the narrowness of purpose drives alternatives to exclude those which should be considered.  He charges that “the FEIS assumes Enbridge’s view of the need for the project”, limiting the alternatives to this assumption. (again, more on this from Blackburn and Murcia below)
  • It is critical that the FEIS include not just listing of mitigation factors but assurance that they are fully funded. FEIS listed mitigation information but failed to capture and discuss an accounting and analysis of how mitigation will be paid for and that it will actually happen if needed.  The Federal EPA has been saying for years that we need, in environmental review documents, not just a listing of mitigation possibilities but also to show how they will be enforced and funded.
    • One expert wrote a proposal for this concern in the FEIS for the DoC.  However, there was no evidence for other alternatives or even a review of Minnesota past experience of the best methods for assuring financial accountability will be addressed, whether that be trust funds, insurance, other financial vehicles.  And in what amounts they will be set.
    • He referenced the speed at which an industry can change, noting how the coal industry was flying high a decade ago but now they are looking at bankruptcy.  Kalamazoo cost $1.2 B and Taxpayers are on the line for this if the responsible company is unwilling or unable to provide the needed resources for mitigation.
  • The FEIS did not have a site-specific discussion of what will happen if oil spills as required, just a generic discussion that could be given for any oil project.
  • Easements for Enbridge are expiring soon and the Tribal Bands are taking a stand that they will be opposing renewal. Thus we have a foreseeable consequence of a request for additional routes and this new corridor is very likely to include additional pipelines, which should have been addressed in this FEIS but was not.  Finally, there is also no evaluation of the environmental impacts post Superior, Wisconsin processing.

Mr. Blackburn presented on Scoping.  The requirements under Minnesota Environmental Policy Act 4410.2800 subsection C states: “The final EIS shall be determined adequate if it: … was prepared in compliance with the procedures of the act and parts 4410.0200 to 4410.6500“… which is essentially ALL of MEPA.  Note that the final section there, 6500, discuses who pays for the EIS process.

Breaking this down, Scoping is included in 4410.2000, which means that Scoping must be considered in the Certificate of Need and Routing Permits.  The Sunrise Powerline Case in CA was reviewed as an example which reviewed consistent alternatives but the Line 3 FEIS does not have consistency among these three areas (FEIS, CoN & Route Permit).  Since this EIS is based only on Enbridge’s purpose and need, it violates MEPA as there are no other considerations of the underlying need.  It just assumes Enbridge’s information is accurate and current.  MEPA 4410.2300 G states (emphasis is mine):

Alternatives: the EIS shall compare the potentially significant impacts of the proposal with those of other reasonable alternatives to the proposed project. The EIS must address one or more alternatives of each of the following types of alternatives or provide a concise explanation of why no alternative of a particular type is included in the EIS: alternative sites, alternative technologies, modified designs or layouts, modified scale or magnitude, and alternatives incorporating reasonable mitigation measures identified through comments received during the comment periods for EIS scoping or for the draft EIS. An alternative may be excluded from analysis in the EIS if it would not meet the underlying need for or purpose of the project, it would likely not have any significant environmental benefit compared to the project as proposed, or another alternative, of any type, that will be analyzed in the EIS would likely have similar environmental benefits but substantially less adverse economic, employment, or sociological impacts. Alternatives included in the scope of the EIS as established under part 4410.2100 that were considered but eliminated based on information developed through the EIS analysis shall be discussed briefly and the reasons for their elimination shall be stated. The alternative of no action shall be addressed.

There are a couple concerns which can be addressed in litigation should this Line 3 be approved:

  • The alternatives that were considered (truck and rail) were not REASONABLE (is it truly reasonable to have a truck leaving North Dakota every 21 seconds for Clearbrook?) thus violating sentence 1 in the clause above.
  • Alternatives that were reasonable, i.e., expansion of existing pipelines, were not considered in the FEIS.

Blackburn then presented a summary table of alternatives and whether or not they are being considered in the FEIS.  With regard to System, Routing, CoN, Routing alternatives… if no party has put evidence against an alternative (besides the requesting party), it cannot be considered in the CoN.  Since no information was put in for trucking or rail (both deemed unreasonable, so why would anyone waste time on that?), they cannot be considered.  Since SA-04 (the imaginary alternative route that all parties agree will never truly be implemented) wasn’t included as an alternative for the Routing document.  Alternative Pipelines were rejected by the FEIS… so also not considered.

Also, a potential spill into Lake Superior, Duluth Harbor, or St. Louis Estuary were not evaluated and no other place in the FEIS gives a description that could be categorized as comparable to a spill of these types. Thus, they were not fully evaluated.

The DoC says that the FEIS responded to all Substantive Comments from the Public as required by MEPA 4410.2800 Subpart 4b. However, Honor the Earth put in 150 pages (more than any other party) yet there is no response to them in the record.  It does not exist. It appears the DoC prepared responses but they are not in the record.  This is another area of incomplete and thus inadequate work by the DoC.

Mr. Zoll of the Mille Lacs Band had three exceptions:

  1. Failure of FEIS to incorporate the substance of the Department’s testimony regarding need for this project.  No consideration of how to fulfill current need with existing pipelines. Though there is commentary the indicated if an alternative is found, it WILL be evaluated. However, the FEIS reports that it wasn’t clear these pipelines could support this – though their expert testified that it was potentially possible.  While addressed in the Evidentiary Hearing, it is not addressed in the FEIS.  Even MEPA 4410.3000 Subpart 3.A.2 denotes: “An RGU shall prepare a supplement to an EIS under any of the following circumstances: A. whenever after a final EIS has been determined adequate, but before the project becomes exempt under part 4410.4600, subpart 2, item B or D, the RGU determines that either: … there is substantial new information or new circumstances that significantly affect the potential environmental effects from the proposed project that have not been considered in the final EIS or that significantly affect the availability of prudent and feasible alternatives with lesser environmental effects”.
  2. Failure to conduct a Traditional Cultural Property Survey as part of the FEIS.  There has been no survey completed.  It’s underway but not incorporated in the FEIS which would allow the PUC to best consider the properties along the preferred route.  FEIS states they provided all information that can be “reasonably obtained”.  However, the information from the surveys is reasonably obtainable.  He noted that this work was not started until the FEIS was essentially complete.
  3. Failure to distinguish between corridors with the existing pipelines and greenfield corridors where no pipelines currently exist.  Comparative analysis does not take into account the greenfield vs. current pipeline corridor differences – eliminating a review of the increased risk of putting pipeline into a non-pipeline utility corridor.  The public cannot comprehend the risks unless this is clearly presented in the EIS.

He noted a request for option A4: Direct the department to prepare an adequate EIS.

Leili Fatehi presented next for Sierra Club stating that the FEIS is incomplete and “places the public rights far behind those of Enbridge and its financial interests”.  In 2014, there was an attempt to make a decision on two new pipelines without any environmental review… until a court challenge required them to do a FULL EIS.  Reasonable alternatives and environmental and socioeconomic alternatives have not been addressed.  This is a product of a rushed/flawed process which is missing basic tenets of MEPA and its regulations.

She noted that this is not a procedural step to “get out of the way”. It is the Commission’s responsibility to assure a “hard look” at this project.  MEPA 4410.0200 Subpart 65 defines the Project.  In this case, Enbridge’s need to move oil was the sole subject for consideration in the EIS as opposed to the government actions, which were more appropriately the purpose and need.   ASSUMING the need to move oil from Alberta to the Midwest requires that the actual need for this project is NOT evaluated.  Rather than looking at alternatives, this is the alternative being evaluated.  Enbridge has controlled which alternatives are included in the FEIS.  The public interests are not given consideration.  No Action alternative SHOULD have included a review of renewable energy options.

Every agency (including the Department of Natural Resources & the Pollution Control Agency) has submitted comments and concerns. There are many indications that SA-04 is a less dangerous to the environment than the company’s proposed route.  EIS can take years but this has been a rushed project.

Youth Climate Intervenors Brent Murcia presented last further agreeing that the timeline was rushed.  Comments on the DEIS were due July 10th (after 22 public meetings – more than there were on the CoN and Route Permit) and there were many people in the process left without their voice being heard as some public meetings ended before all parties could be heard. Yet on August 17th, the Final Environmental Impact Statement was issued, less than one month from getting the public comments which were all to be addressed in the Final document.

“Your comment was considered in the development of the FEIS.” was a frequent response on many of the comments submitted.  These were not properly addressed, indicating not enough time was allowed.  On August 3rd, there was a proposal to extend the timeline by the Commission but it was declined, apparently indicating the DOC-EERA had plenty of time to complete their work.

What’s Wrong and Needs Improvement per the Youth Climate Intervenors? (Keep in mind that these kids are potentially fighting for their constitutional rights to clean air, water, a liveable planet – and a similar defense presented by kids has in the past been successful).

  • The EIS is supposed to address the direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of the project and compare the project with reasonable alternatives.
  • Impacts of spills, effect to known cultural properties, and the impacts of climate change – NONE are adequately addressed.  Even Enbridge agreed that spill data should be protected as trade secret as every site is different and some would be worse than others.  There was not a full assessment of each type of site and the impacts a spill might have.
  • DOC-EERA looked only at a 30-year window for operational impacts including the impacts of climate change.  They chose 30 years to match the economic life of the project, which Enbridge indicated.  However this is the minimum life, not the maximum.  Line 3 is 50 years old. Enbridge has 60-year-old pipelines in operation. Thus, adding 30 years to the operation of Line 3 would have extensive impacts to climate change, yet this is not addressed in the FEIS.  Costs of burning the oil for an additional 30 years is a part of the impact. DOC-EERA responded to a comment on this concern saying, “… extending the timeframe and redoing the analysis doesn’t appear to add any value in this comparison.” But extending the timeframe is the ONLY way to understand the impacts which will more extensively affect the generation of the Youth Climate Intervenors.   The fate of the line is an impact of the project and that was not considered or evaluated.
  • An EIS is supposed to consider “reasonable” alternatives.  Truck and Rail are not reasonable.  REASONABLE Alternatives like SA-04, in-trench replacement, expansion of existing pipes, or a No Action alternative are not adequately addressed or not addressed at all.

Sara Van Norman further noted that the impacts are not considered adequately in light of past projects.

These opening statements were followed by hours of questions – like 5 hours of debate. One of my favorite areas was watching two women debate this issue:

Ms. Van Norman raised the issue of the Cultural Property Survey.

Ms. Brusven testified that the scope for the CPS would be only the applicant’s preferred route.  She says the recent calls on the issue have noted that the agreement would be for the 200 miles and doesn’t understand why the Fond du Lac Band is not aware of this.  [I’m just taking a stab in the dark here, but I’m guessing Indians don’t trust the Government so would like to have it in writing… not that getting it in writing has been perfectly successful in the past…]  She then noted the consultation started in 2014 and that some meetings were scheduled and then cancelled, though she was “not implying fault”.  100% survey may not ever be achievable due to the nature of private property.  She also noted: December 2008 was the Clipper decision.  April 2009 had a change to run through the Fond du Lac tribal areas and the CPS work was not indicated until May and June of 2009.

Ms. Van Norman responded that it was not until this summer, of 2017, that the tribes were included in this process.

Hours into this discussion, Commissioner Lipshultz put forth a concept of a motion, reminding everyone that the EIS is not the only tool that will be used by the PUC in making their decisions moving forward, but that a clear and complete EIS is needed for that work and that adoption of the modification by the ALJ will be included:

Find the EIS Inadequate and supplement with the following things:

  • Clarification of how far the SA-04 would need to be moved to avoid the Karst Topology, including an updated impact assessment in this new location.
  • Clarify that quantitative representations of route alternative impacts do not necessarily reflect the actual qualitative impacts of those alternatives. (For example, acreage of HCA drinking water sources impacted by SA-04 might be less than HCA drinking water sources impacted by other routes.  [This was a big part of their discussion during the debate.])
  • Clearly identify the extent to which resource route alternatives in the existing Line 3 corridor are or are not additive and how these impacts are affected by adding a new Line 3.  (Basically, denoting what is affected by the current pipeline situation and how a new Line 3 will change things, which was not clear in the current FEIS submitted.)

They discussed for a time further and then broke so the Commissioners could consult with Counsel on the various legalities regarding the motion alternatives.

In the Part 2 video, there was a final hour of discussion on which motion should be made.

Sara Van Norman asked if there could be an inclusion in the recommendation for a request that has been brought up by all the Intervenor parties, which is a to add a statement that requires that the Traditional Cultural Property Survey be done before the Certificate of Need and Route Permit can be issued.  This would address part of the concern, including the many public concerns.

Scott Strand then also clarified the difference between judging the FEIS as Adequate or Inadequate noting that calling the FEIS Adequate but in need of x, y, and z creates confusion.  He believes that Inadequacy assessment gives clarity to the administrative process and also assures the PUC has all it needs to make their decisions.

Bill Grant noted that the DoC would agree with Enbridge that the FEIS should be deemed Adequate. [Well, duh!  We wrote it like you told us, so it’s awesome!  Right, Enbridge!?!]

Commissioner Tuma noted that Public Comment could be added to the process even if the FEIS is declared Adequate.  Bill Grant noted that,  with an Inadequacy assessment, the revision would take 60 days while, with the Adequacy assessment, it could allow them to make their own schedule and possibly complete their work in 45 days.  [Which totally makes no sense to me.  If you’re allowed 60 days doesn’t that also allow you to finish in 45 days?? Sheesh!]

Christina Brusven for Enbridge added a revision to Van Norman’s request noting that the Cultural Property Survey should be completed prior to the “start of construction” [which we have seen, oil companies like to start early…]. She noted that, at present, Enbridge does not have access to all the property needed for their project but once there is an issuance of a Certificate of Need and Route Permit, then they would be allowed to pursue Eminent Domain to secure access to the needed property.  Until the PUC determines the route, the survey needs are not identified.

Commissioner Lipshultz noted that if they went with Adequacy, he would need to add about including a public comment period and the more clear move forward would be to assess the FEIS as Inadequate, which would include the public comment requirement.  He also added item “d”  to his original motion that would require the Survey prior to construction beginning.

The Youth Climate Intervenor spoke up to testify that the language on this inclusion of the Survey does not allow for public comment and does not allow this to be considered for the ALJ decision (pending from Judge Ann O’Reilly).  Blackburn for HTE also noted that the Survey needs to be required in the record PRIOR to the consideration of the decision for the PUC.  Having the survey done prior to construction is not sufficient for a full consideration of the alternatives.

Commissioner Lange suggested that the available survey results could be included for consideration.

Sara Van Norman noted that there has already been a summary of the information in the earlier proceedings, however, without agreement for more than the current 66 miles – the applicant’s route and which disregards the over 200 miles being considered as alternatives for the route – this survey work would not be complete.

Blackburn noted that the way Enbridge has managed this process with the Army Corps of Engineers, who’ve been pretty silent about what they are doing in this process, has allowed for the concerns on the Cultural Resources issues to “slip through the cracks”… even though they were brought up as concerns by Indigenous People as long ago as 2014.  Without including this information earlier than “before construction begins”, there is no possibility for public comment or review with regard to any briefings that may be required.

It wasn’t clear from the commentary on what the final motion was exactly, but the minutes will be out soon and perhaps that will make it more clear.  Regardless, there is some comfort in getting an “Inadequate” assessment which indicated that, at least in part, this FEIS was not what it needed to be.  I foresee many lawsuits to come…

12/15/17 Update from the PUC:

In the Matter of the Application of Enbridge Energy, Limited Partnership for a Certificate of Need for the Proposed Line 3 Replacement Project in Minnesota from the North Dakota Border to the Wisconsin Border
In the Matter of the Application of Enbridge Energy, Limited Partnership for a Route Permit for the Proposed Line 3 Replacement Project in Minnesota from the North Dakota Border to the Wisconsin Border
PUC Docket Number: PL-9/CN-14-916 and PL-9/PPL-15-137
NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN that at its December 7, 2017 agenda meeting, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (Commission) found that the following four deficiencies in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Line 3 Replacement Project must be remedied before the FEIS can be considered adequate under Minnesota Rule 4410.2800:
1. The FEIS needs to include additional information to (i) indicate how far and where SA-04 would need to be moved to avoid the karst topography it would otherwise traverse and (ii) provide a revised environmental-impact analysis of SA-04 specifically to reflect the resulting relocation of that alternative.
2. The FEIS needs to clarify that quantitative representations of route and system
alternatives do not necessarily reflect the actual qualitative impacts of those alternatives. For example, the acreage of HCA drinking water sources impacted by SA-04 may be less than the same acreage of HCA drinking water sources impacted by other routes based on the nature of those water sources.
3. The FEIS needs to clearly identify the extent to which resource impacts of route
alternatives in the existing Line 3 corridor are or are not additive—i.e., the extent to which that route alternative would introduce new or additional impacts beyond the impacts of the existing pipelines in that corridor.
4. The FEIS needs to clarify that the traditional cultural properties survey must be
completed before the start of any construction pursuant to any permit granted in this
The Minnesota Department of Commerce shall submit the information identified above by February 12, 2018. The Commission will then reconvene to evaluate the adequacy of the information submitted.


Meat Processing 101


Some of my FB friends may recall a recent post I made:

“Never dreamed this is the kind of thing I’d be doing once I moved to the North Woods…”

11-17-17 Jeff & Angie Carcasses

You can see in this shot, not only the array of deer carcasses from a local processor (two that we were going to use for bird feeders and the remaining that our friends were going to use for pig food), but also a small pumpkin and buttercup squash I would process later and a deer hide that I’d scraped earlier than evening.  I am kind of amazed at the Homesteader I’m becoming.

Jeff and Angie Ness of Split Oak Farm have taught me much, including how to process a deer into venison.  The deer in this video is the one Jeff shot while hunting with Dan in November.  Jeff is a Retired Navy Medical Chief so has ample knowledge of anatomy which helps in the process.  I’m a SLOW but steady learner.  He would start with a section, like a shoulder, and I’d have the opposite section and he’d walk me through how to best utilize all the meat from the bones.  He truly gets as much meat as he can from his kill.  I appreciate that.  I was MUCH slower than him due to my unfamiliarity (I can’t even venture a guess at how many deer Jeff has processed over the years).  But I was also amazed that I could handle the processing when years ago I was barely willing to cut up store-bought chicken breasts for dinner!

Jeff explained how to remove the silverskin and tendons, which are tough,  He advised on removing the fat which gives the a distasteful flavor if too prevalent in the ground meat.  [I had some cabbage rolls Angie made from their deer this past weekend and I believe we did a good job as you’d never know it wasn’t beef.  Well, this untrained palate recognized it as familiar enough anyway!]  He was a thorough instructor as I made my way through the muscle, connective tissue, and bone.  We ended up with 25-30# of sausage, two bags each of tenderloin and backstrap steaks, and several roasts.  It’s a lot of meat and will carry us through this winter well fed.

I have been slowly making my way into these new skills.  Recently Jeff and Angie had a friend looking to downsize his flock of some old layers and so we gathered the seven hens and processed them into food.  These ladies were much smaller than the birds we’d previously processed for Split Oak Farms – running just over half the size.  And, due to age, they were much different physically from birds I’d processed in the past, which were usually chickens that had been raised for meat and were thus only a few months old.

When we’d processed birds a few months earlier, Jeff did the slaughter, while Angie and I cleaned the birds.  Once the process got going, Angie moved to final clean-up while Jeff and I continued with the processing.  She focused on the precision work of cleaning all the last tiny feathers, removing the bits that most people don’t like to see on their store-bought birds.  It’s been eye-opening for me, from the first processing I did at Dancing Rabbit with the Critters, to the processing I continue to do, to learn more and more about what real chickens look like as they go from feathery frolicking creatures to what we put into our ovens and crock pots.  It is tedious work to make a chicken look ready for cooking; removing anything that might remind people of the previous life the chicken lived, of its previous animation.

I was the one to take five of the birds from the cage to the killing station.  I thanked each bird for her life.  I held each gently as I could and tried to make her last walk to the garden a calm one.  I did my best to carefully put each bird head down into the cone.  I watched as Jeff slit the throat of the first bird.  He had asked if I wanted to do the kill but I wasn’t quite ready.  To be honest, I hadn’t considered that taking a bird’s life might be a part of the day for me.  But realized it was probably a hurdle I was ready to try to overcome.  When I brought the next bird to the cone, I knew I’d be the one to take her life.

It was an experience I cannot fully explain.  I was overwhelmed with a feeling of responsibility.  I felt like I was finally being fully accountable for my food.  That was empowering.  But it still chokes me up to think about it.  While I did my best, I don’t think I did as well as I could have.  I was inexperienced but I knew that practice would improve my technique.

I was also the one to take the final hen to her death.  I did it alone.  I pulled her from the cage, talked to her calmly, thanked her for her life, put her gently into the cone, and prepared to make the cut.  I found this second kill to be very poorly executed.  I took what felt like a full minute to break through and reach the carotid artery and jugular veins.  In all likelihood, it was probably more like 3-7 seconds but it felt like a very long time.  I apologized over and again to the hen.  I was visibly crying.  Jeff and Angie were processing birds a dozen feet behind me and didn’t say anything but I felt horrible for the botched job.

I grabbed the chicken from the other cone that Jeff had killed minutes earlier by its feet and took it to the water pot in the garage.  I assured the temperature was adequate (we want it at 145°F or a bit more, but not too hot) and dunked her in the water several times to release the oils and feathers.  I took her to the plucker and Jeff joined me as this was his part of the job.  I headed to the processing table to begin again with that work.  I was pretty introspective as we finished the work.

Earlier this same day, Alex from H&S Meats had come by to slaughter four pigs for Split Oak Farms.  One of the pigs was for Dan and me.  As Jeff and I drove to H&S to discuss the processing for those animals, I told him that I felt I’d done a terrible job on the last bird.  He reassured me by explaining that sometimes, no matter how hard you try to do it well, the knife can get caught on the quill of a feather and can be very hard to break through.  While it helped to know this, I still felt conscience-stricken.

Today I cooked one of the chickens from that day.  It may well be one that I killed.  I felt great reverence for this bird as I added onions to the body cavity that I had cleaned.  I felt love and tenderness for this hen as I tucked garlic between her skin and flesh.  I took care as I salted and arranged her in the crock pot.  I felt lucky to have this good food.  And I felt responsible for bringing this well-processed meat to my family table.

Oh, and those are potatoes Dan and I dug at Merry Gardens Farm!

I’m changing a lot as I become a North Woods Homesteader.  It’s a contemplative process and I know it’s changing who I am as a human being.  I work to be compassionate in my endeavors and I know I’m much more accountable for my sustenance than I have ever been.  I know it is making me more resilient and self-supporting but I also believe it’s making me more considerate.

Standing on the Right Side of History



Things are heating up here in the North Woods, literally and figuratively.  Climate change has made for a strange Fall turning to Winter as we’ve had frigid, colder than normal, weather for most of November.  However, we have also had some unseasonably warm days here and there.  [Most recently we used these warm days to process trees and chickens.]  And in December a trial begins in Bagley, Minnesota that could mean big things for the Climate Movement.  Climate Warriors Emily Johnston and Annette Klapstein, along with co-defendents Ben Joldersman and Steve Liptay, shut down the Enbridge Tar Sands pipeline on October 11, 2016 in Leonard, Minnesota.  They will be presenting a Necessity Defense and Dan & I will be there to cheer them to victory.

This past Wednesday as most people were preparing their turkeys for roasting, I sent my second and final comment to the Public Utilities Commission regarding the Line 3 FEIS (Final Environmental Impact Statement).

Dear PUC,

I am not sure if there is really any point in writing and that is a sad feeling for a constituent to have in writing to their government.  The government is supposed to serve the people.  But these days it appears the government and law enforcement are supporting Corporate needs over the needs of Citizens.  Which, if you read history books by Howard Zinn, is apparently the way it’s always been.  I just wish we’d learn more from our history as we proceed through this time of the sixth great extinction, largely caused by and definitely accelerated by man.  If we could, we just might save mankind.

What is the source of my hopelessness?  In part it is because it seems, based on several factors, that the public comments are not truly given full consideration.

  • The FEIS was ruled “adequate” by Eric Lipman even though MANY of the public comments from the DEIS remain unaddressed.
  • The environmental factors in regard to climate change appear to be deemed outside the scope or not relevant.  How can concerns about climate change be not relevant to a decision that would affect climate change?
  • The document in some part reads like a commercial endorsement of Enbridge.  It’s pretty evident that much of what Enbridge reported was included without critical evaluation of its validity.  If this is truly an Environmental Impact Statement, it should include a scientific evaluation of the information presented by the requester, not just a reiteration of it as fact.

It seems that the PUC has already determined that this pipeline CoN will be approved, it’s just a matter of getting through these pesky public meetings.  Oh, and this Evidentiary Hearing process.  It also seems disrespectful that the Tribes have not had a true place at the table.  The US has violated Treaty Rights over and over.  But this needs to end.  It is past time when the voice of the Natives of this Land should be heard.  If we had listened to them long ago, we would likely not be in the mess that we are.  They watched as the Colonials came into their land and raped and pillaged it.  The piles of buffalo skulls, the massive culling of trees, the destruction of wetlands – they watched as the largely White population destroyed in a short time the land they had inhabited for centuries.

And we continue to focus on energy products that destroy our world.  From the poisoning of the land where Tar Sands are extracted to the leaks that run from the inadequate pipelines fouling the waters to the burning of fossil fuels that pollute the air, we continue to walk a path of destruction.  It is high time we stand together for a focus on renewable energy; plant energy, wind energy, solar energy, and those yet to be discovered because we lazily stay the path of fossil fuels.

And we see spill after spill.  What a simple little word that is to describe something so destructive.  The latest “spill” of 5000 barrels, over 200,000 gallons, in South Dakota should be a red flag to Minnesota’s PUC.  There must be a consideration of the dangers of pipeline leaks, something inevitable with Line 3, which even Enbridge admits.

If the PUC approves this Certificate of Need and Permit Route, it does so at the peril of not just Minnesotans but all people of the world.  The Fossil Fuel Industry is a DYING Industry.

Please be a force of good on the right side of history and DENY the Certificate of Need.

Jami Gaither

Alida, MN

I also sent a card to Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly.

Unfortunately, we continue to see Government working in favor of the Fossil Fuel Industry, most recently in Nebraska.  I posted recently in FB regarding the spill they experienced in South Dakota on the Keystone XL Pipeline:

Worse than we thought… and it may not affect today’s decision on the XL Pipeline. A state law passed in 2011 prevents the commission from factoring pipeline safety or the possibility of leaks into its decisions. [When they passed the law, legislators argued that pipeline safety is a federal responsibility and should not factor in the state decision.]

I think it’s incredible that the media reports “An aerial photo released by TransCanada on Twitter that the company says is of the spill, shows a darkened area on flat agricultural land. There do not appear to be any waterways or towns nearby.” I can clearly see the drainage ditch in the photo feet from the leak. Where do they think this water goes??

The Crow Creek drainage ditch is a small tributary to a major water supply for South Dakota taking the snow melt to the east into the James River.

I read a comment recently that the Navy has a saying about how one drop of oil in a ship’s water supply is deadly. I talked with a Navy Doc friend of mine and he regaled me with tales of what oil does to the body. Basically, when the body encounters it, it forces the body to flush. So then you need clean water to re-hydrate. You can see the problem, no? Where does the crew get fresh water if their supply is contaminated?

As horrible as this is, I am hopeful that it is one more nail in fossil fuel’s coffin.

Indeed, it turns out Nebraska approved the new Keystone XL Pipeline with a vote of 3-2 (all Yeas were Republican Male votes) citing the need for rural tax dollars – apparently oil is worth more than water in Nebraska.  The motion OP-0003 was moved by Commissioner Landis and seconded by Commissioner Johnson (and supported by Commissioner Schram) but the best part of the meeting was the commentary from Commissioner Crystal Rhoades who voted “NO” on the motion.  She cited several reasons for her opposition including:

  • Due Process rights for 40 landowners along the route.  These residents were not informed that their land was in the path of the newly approved pipeline route and thus may not have been following or commenting on the issue.
  • Federal and State agencies did not study this new route.
  • This route continues to run through fragile soils with a high probability of landslides.
  • The mainline alternative route crosses the Ogallala Aquifer.
  • TransCanada has shown no positive evidence of an economic benefit to Nebraska as they have no contracts with any NE Labor Union or Contractor and there is no evidence that any construction jobs will be given to NE residents.  Short term tax payments will not offset the losses to the value of the land through which the pipeline runs.  Furthermore, the NE Department of Revenue could not conclude a positive tax impact for NE.
  • TransCanada admitted it had not spoken with NE Native American Tribes.
  • Another corridor exists but TransCanada did not “prefer” using their existing corridor.

Commissioner Mary Ridder also voted against the motion.  Yea for Women!!  Another fine example of why we need more women in government.

There are also Activists fighting in opposition to the pipeline.

“One thing we’ve learned through this whole process is we take our victories as we can get them, no matter how big or how small,” Randy Thompson, a Nebraska rancher who has been among the most visible pipeline opponents, said on Monday. “And this today is another victory for us because the damn pipe is not in the ground, and they said 10 years ago they were going to have it in the ground.”  ~ NY Times article (linked above)

It could be a tough fight for TransCanada and I sure hope it is.  Even the Economist reporting was bleaker than I expected.  And South Dakota might be getting serious about holding TransCanada accountable after this third leak in a year.  None of this is helping TransCanada in a time of cheap natural gas (oil prices have dropped on them from $130 to $58 a barrel) and while they are seeking new Shippers – turns out they’ve seen a “reductions in volume commitments by other shippers.”

Meanwhile, here in Clearwater County we gear up for our own Climate Change Activism.  In the little County Seat of Bagley, Minnesota (population 1400 per the 2016 census, though the local sign still says 1574) we will be hosting the trial for Climate Activists Emily Johnston and Annette Klapstein, on which Emily recently wrote for the Guardian.  She said:

We knew we were at risk for years in prison. But the nation needs to wake up now to what’s coming our way if we don’t reduce emissions boldly and fast; business as usual is now genocidal.

In shutting off the pipelines, we hoped to be part of that wake-up, to put ourselves in legal jeopardy in order to state dramatically and unambiguously that normal methods of political action and protest are simply not working with anywhere near the speed that we need them to.  ~ Emily Johnston

Dan and I attended their arraignment hearing back in August and the courtroom was filled with Water Protectors supporting these four defendants… Valve 1and one Enbridge employee – their local cheerleader, Cheryl Grover (previously the County Assessor).  Cheryl brags about how she “retired one day and was working for Enbridge the next”.  While the original arraignment was a fun day with lots of friends, we have seen some not so great outcomes in the trials for the Shut It Down Activists to date.

Ken Ward (who planned to use the Necessity Defense in his actions against the Brayton Point power plant in Somerset, MA until the DA dropped all charges) had a relatively good outcome in his Washington State trial – basically time-served along with community service and supervision.  Michael Foster was tried in North Dakota, a strong supporter state of the Fossil Fuel Industry.  James Hanson and other Climate Science experts were barred from testifying.  Michael faces up to 21 years in prison.  His sentence will be announced in January.

More recently in Montana, Leonard Higgins was convicted of  felony criminal mischief and misdemeanor criminal trespass.  He is looking at a possible 10 year prison sentence and up to $50,000 in fines.  His sentence will be announced January 2, 2018.  If you want to donate to the defense fund for these Climate Warriors, please click here.

Emily gives me some hope as she writes in her article:

“I’m heartened by the way the law can be supple—not a thing that, once set, holds that exact shape forever (or we’d still have slavery, and I couldn’t vote or marry), but a thing that responds—slowly—to our evolving understanding of what is just and true.”

Do they have a chance?  Ted Hamilton and Bill Quigley make a strong argument that there may well be reason for hope in this little courthouse in Bagley in their article Do Climate Activists Have a Legal Justification for Civil Disobedience?  They describe the Necessity Defense where one can break the common law in order to obey a higher law:

“The common law — the collection of precedents, norms, and legal traditions that originated in medieval England and which forms the fabric of our legal system today — has long allowed for some wiggle room to justify lawbreaking.

For example, a ship captain may destroy precious cargo to prevent capsizing in a storm, and a prisoner may escape from prison to avoid being raped. The logic of such cases is simple: sometimes you need to violate the law in order to prevent a greater harm, and you shouldn’t be punished for making the right choice.”

A year ago, an Oregon Federal Judge ruled in Juliana v. US that “there is a fundamental right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life’.”

“If the government has a duty to protect the atmosphere and other resources effected by climate change, and if there is a clear gap between this duty and the government’s conduct in aiding and abetting the fossil fuel industry, then major changes in energy funding and extraction permits are required.”  ~Hamilton-Quigley article (linked above)

And as more of us stand up, the Powers-that-Be are going to have to start listening.

Dan and I will be there December 11th in the Bagley, Minnesota courtroom to support Annette and Emily.  I feel like we will be a part of history… and standing on the right side of it too.


My First Year at the Harn


, , ,

I’ve just had an anniversary – well, a couple, come to think of it.  On the 13th, I celebrated my 24th anniversary of becoming a mom.  Can’t believe our boy is all grown up now…  I’m also celebrating my first anniversary of moving to the Harn.  It’s been a year since I made the transition and I still think moving to the woods in November 2016 was a fantastic idea.  While I initially made the move on my own, it’s been nice for the last seven months to have Dan here with me on this adventure.  [Oh, he got me a lovely foot massage unit for the anniversary and we’re now enjoying relaxing with that after a long day of work outside.  I think he’s wanting to keep his “frontier woman” happy.]

I’ve told people that we’re giving it 3-5 years to see what we think and so far, it’s good.  There were several things I wondered if I could handle in making the transition to the woods but all the things I had concerns about have ended up being either non-issues,  aren’t as bad as I’d expected them to be, or are things I’ve really come to enjoy.  I still say it’s lovely, even in below zero weather, to sit on the porch and have a poo while a woodpecker sits not 5 feet from me, pecking on the suet.  Even if there is no woodpecker, to sit in the middle of the woods is far superior to the sterile porcelain environment that many of us find to be commonplace.

So… what have we learned?


We’ve learned (again) this year that we need to be careful with the water system.  The first flush diverter on the East downspout came apart last week in the frigid cold, in part because we didn’t pull the caps to allow all the water to drain… again, and the result was a huge PVC icicle that fell to the ground. The issue this winter was that we got a first snow and thought it would melt off in a day or two but… it didn’t.  It just kept snowing and staying frigid cold.  So we didn’t get to removing the caps before things got really frozen.  But at least we DID drain the garden cistern and rain barrel system on the south side of the house so they should be OK.  [If you recall, last year our previous garden cistern cracked down the side mid-winter after becoming too full of ice.  Last year it was having such a mild early winter that we kept getting more water accumulation every time we drained the cistern and we should have just emptied it completely every time – like we did this year.]

Gardening and Food

We’ve learned that our forested acreage is REALLY wet.  And that slugs LOVE it.  We built hugle beds (wood and soil piles where the wood acts like 1) a sponge, keeping the garden bed moist, and 2) a compost pile, breaking down over time to provide nutrition to the soil) but found that we really need to build them about three times bigger.  Our beds should be almost like raised beds – 3-4’ high is not too high.  So that will be a project this coming spring.  We have lots of old wood and should be able to build up on the hugle mounds we’ve already got in place.  Though we may have to reconfigure the bee yard a bit for the bigger mounds…

We’ve also worked for friends on their farms and learned a lot about raising veggies and animals.  I will say veggies are easier to wrangle than goats.  We did have a heck of a time with our goat sitting this year but I can now recognize, and cull from the pack, a horny male goat amidst a herd of females.  I also am learning more and more vegetables, though I still struggle with knowing some.  I’ve cooked lots of new dishes as I harvested at the farms and we have an abundance of food in the form of potatoes and squash.

We also did some foraging this year and learned a bit about edible (and non-edible) mushrooms and berries.  We gathered choke cherries and made jelly, and also crabapples (thanks, Diana!) to make preserves and syrup.  The syrup is SO GOOD on pancakes – which we’ve been eating of late with the cold and Dan’s hunting schedule.

Oh, another skill in development!  Dan started hunting on Deer Opener (November 4th – it’s like a national holiday up here) with a buddy who can carve up a deer leaving almost nothing in the way of meat on the bones.  He’s borrowed a gun and tree stand and is getting a feel for what he thinks.  Last year deer hunting time was unseasonably warm – so warm that hunters worried about their meat spoiling before they could get it into a cooler.  This year, not so much of a problem.  It’s been in the single digits for some of the time he’s spent out there with most days staying under freezing, and often with nasty winds.  No worries about the meat getting too warm, more worries about your fingers and toes staying warm enough to avoid frostbite!  I’m guessing it’s kind of like having a baby though… once you get the deer, all that misery is forgotten.  We’ll see.

I’ve learned a bit more about bees this year too; mostly that they know what they are doing and man should pretty much just leave them alone for best results.  I had one colony die after never really getting started and a second die due to a lost queen that was not replaced in time for winter.  It was a devastating blow to not be able to winter over a colony, but we had quite a harvest of honey. Nonetheless, I still grieve my bees.

And we have a bounty of other stored food in the form of canned green beans, tomatoes, tomato soup, and applesauce.  I’ve got some marinara from Sylvia, some grape jelly from Char, some beet pickles from Jill, and some squash from Connie.  Lots to keep me busy cooking this winter.  I think canning may be one of the best things I’ve learned and I only wish I’d been able to do more.  We have invested in a propane burner and massive pressure canner/cooker for outdoor canning on the porch next year. And we have a few canning jars ready to fill.

Heating: aka Adding Cob to the Rocket Mass Heater

Having the proper mass on your stove is crucial for creating a “mass” heater that radiates to warm the home.  We still have much mass to add to our stove and continue to lose heat through the chimney.  But we added several buckets of cob to the stove this fall 11-1-17 (14) and we’re getting closer to enclosing the final run of exhaust tubing.  Once that is complete, it should allow us to pull more of the heat from the exhaust before it leaves the building.  The goal is to have an exit temperature on our chimney of about 100°F.  This would mean the heat is flowing into our mass where it is stored to radiate out later.  The Rocket Stove is typically burned for just a couple hours a day meaning much of your heating is a result of the mass releasing its heat into your house while you are not burning.

We also realized that having the windows all the way closed and locked down is pretty important too.  Yes, we found the kitchen window was slightly cracked letting in loads of cold air the last few weeks.  Gzeesh!  House is staying much warmer since we remedied that!

With attendance at the Rocket Mass Heater Innovator Jamboree last month (Yes, I’m going to blog about it soon…) I learned much about making cob and earthen plasters from Erica Wisner and Chris “Uncle Mud” McClellan.  I confirmed that cob making is an art, and a pretty forgiving one at that… thus much of what I’ve done to date has been okay.  But I did find that I’m using lots more clay in my mix than needed.  Since clay is the hardest component to secure, the buckets I’ve mixed will be extended with additions of more sand and straw.  I also found that I can add as many rocks as I like to take up space.  We added 4 buckets of cob earlier this fall and, with the new tricks, I’ve added almost as much mass in the last week or two with about one bucket of cob as I did with those four buckets.  That’s a big savings!

Speaking of Savings… Money and Stuff

It’s kind of strange to live without an income – well, I make a bit here and there with Hostel work or writing for the Farmers Independent (the local paper).  This was the aspect I feared most in the whole “retire early, live simply, and be sustainable” plan.  But to not have a steady income and still be able to get groceries, buy gifts for people, eat out occasionally with friends – it’s kind of surreal. The Dogma in this country is all about making money, as much as you can, or you’ll be homeless, destitute, impoverished.  I guess we did a lot of that making as much money as you can for some time but we didn’t buy into the second part of the capitalistic method – spend what you get.  Saving all those years means we have some funds to live on now.

And we make the funds we have go far.  I shop at thrift stores but you wouldn’t believe the deals you can find.  I spent $8 a couple weeks back and got a like-new Hippie top (adorbs), a Columbia fleece jacket (super warm) in great condition, and a new (tag still on them) pair of yoga pants.  My friend Angie got a pair of winter boots (Sorels no less!), two shirts and a pair of pants for her $8.  Can’t beat that.  Plus I have way too many clothes anyway.  I have t-shirts to last me until I die and probably some jeans that need to be donated as they are too big now.

I find up here in the North Woods I pretty much can wear the same clothes all the time.  I mean, there are weeks when I wear the same clothes for days in a row.  Or I’ll wear an outfit and then hang it on my wall rack – that place where clothes go when they aren’t dirty enough for the hamper yet – and wear it again a few days later.  And another key is having lounging clothes and work clothes – that way the work stuff keeps getting dirtier while your indoor stuff stays clean longer.  I do SO MUCH LESS laundry these days – another savings and sustainability factor.  I figure as long as the clothes are not muddy or stinky, they can take another wearing.  [I do change the underwear and socks a bit more frequently than the other clothes…]  Oh, and I’ve discovered the joy of bralessness.  What a freedom.  And I don’t think anyone has even noticed!  [Oh, Danny says he has…]

And we’re finding that you use things to completion as best you can.  As such, I’m tanning the deer hide from the deer shot by our friend Jeff.  I’m also going to tan the smaller hide from the road kill deer we salvaged from the ditch this past weekend for his wife since I find I like the process of de-fleshing so much.  And we’re taking the deer carcasses and using them to feed birds in the yard – have two this year, up from the one last year, and way ahead of last year, getting this one in place a good month before the one I put up last year.  Here’s a video of the process.

Going with the Flow

I think one of the most fun things about being at the Harn is that we own our time much more than when we were in the rat race.  When committed to a job, it’s hard to stay up until midnight finishing a movie you decided to start at 10 PM.  It’s not an option to sleep in when you have to be at work by a certain time.  It’s hard to join a neighbor on an adventure if you have to factor it into a workday.  Take last Sunday, for instance.  I was working on the blog and writing some letters, taking a call from Mom, when a neighbor texted and asked if we could help him move a wood stove to his basement.  Sure.  We headed over and then came back to get ready to go to the Symphony (using a neighbor’s ticket that otherwise would have gone unused) to see another neighbor play violin.   I know, everyone is free on Sunday, right?  Well, what about the Friday before that when I was able to just head out to visit the neighbors on a whim.  I chatted with Connie and Bill, stopped by to see Ada and chat with her (the 89 year old “Queen of Alida” who lives with her cat Molly in our closest “town”), introduced myself again – it’s been years since we first met – to another neighbor Sandy and met her dog Molly, and then headed down to Char’s for some eggs and a quick visit.  It was a fun couple hours just sharing and laughing with friends.

This past week we were able to take a day to hang with our friends at Split Oak Farms tanning my deer hide, watching a deer get processed for pig feed, cooking a couple meals to share, roasting peppers for a Thanksgiving dish, and watching a movie.  The cat didn’t even seem too peeved that we were gone all day.

And when I get going, like I did on a little sewing project the other day, I can work until I finish it or find something else to distract me and then go back to it later.  I love this going with the flow and enjoying the opportunities as they arise.  Of course, it’s not always like this – sometimes we have to pick between sleeping in and going hunting… And sometimes we commit to one thing and then can’t do another.  And sometimes we have to wash the dishes!  But it is nice not having to give a bunch of hours, drive-time, and energy to a J-O-B.  We’re working for us now.  It may be harder work physically than we ever did in the Rat Race but WE are getting the benefits of all our efforts whether it’s harvesting food, making something for a friend, or chopping wood.  Speaking of which, I better get on that!  And that reminds me of a great Dillon Bustin song about cutting more wood…

Realizing our Genius

Sometimes we see the brilliance of our decisions (mostly the result of happenstance or dumb luck).

For example, this spring we pulled the deadwood that had fallen in the area around the Harn.  We cleared small and large trees and branches in the 50’ area surrounding the Harn and piled them in the east end of the clearing south of the Harn, hoping to process them into firewood during the summer/fall.  [We would rob this pile when burning summer bonfires in our outdoor fire pit – benefit #1.]  Well, with everything else we did, we didn’t get that wood processed.  However, it’s been a nice benefit this winter to be able to go to the pile and gather as much kindling as we need to supplement the larger wood we have prepped in the garage.

We’ve also been happy to find that the pile of trees we made back in 2009 is still usable!  It’s worn wood but very seasoned and good for burning hot fires – and very easy to process compared with the more green / larger stuff we have.  And also full of kindling since it’s all sizes of trees.

In the sequence of events that is our life, we’ve been lucky to meet people who could use our services on their farms.  As such, we’ve been able to secure access to good, wholesome food in exchange for our help.  Good and healthy farms always have an abundance of food to what can be used or sold and lucky for us, we get part of the harvest when we’re willing to be part of the labor in making it happen.

And sometimes it’s little things.  When we run water for washing dishes – it takes a minute for the hot water tank water to get across the Harn to our kitchen sink – rather than letting the water go down the drain, we fill a gallon jug with this water.  This also helps lessen the emptying of the bucket under the kitchen sink drain…  We then use that water to fill the Berkey system we use to filter our drinking water.  No Waste!

I guess the good news is that we are learning.  We are discovering new ways to live here at the Harn that hopefully result in less waste and a more sustainable life.  Since we are a long way from true sustainability and zero waste,  we will keep on with the experiment!  At least for a couple more years…

Lyme and Herzheimer – Two to Avoid



Hey, Everybody!! I’m back with the living!! Thank you for all your prayers, good energy, love and well wishes.

This was my preamble to a blog posting the morning after I thought I had almost died from a drug reaction.  OK, if you know me, you know that’s a bit dramatic.  But I will say it’s as close to dying as I hope to come anytime soon!

So here’s the sequence of events in my Lyme’s Disease experience, as best I can recall.  Some of this is remembered in hindsight and is tainted by my poor memory.  But I’m hopeful it might help someone else going through this, especially the end part on the Herxheimer Reaction.

On or about September 28th, I noticed a large red diamond area on my right inner thigh.  It appeared to have a bite in the center – I assumed a spider bite – and over a period of a couple days, it turned dark gray or blackish in the center.  I was a bit shocked by it and  put Lavender essential oil on it.  It was a bit itchy and felt a bit like a bruise.  But it wasn’t showing lines like I associated with an infection moving through the body.  I have this recollection of a story that if the line from an infected area reaches your heart you die.  But no lines, so I thought I’d wait to see what happened.  It seemed to get a bit worse in color but I had lots going on and the itching lessened and it didn’t look like it was getting too much worse.

I was dealing with LOTS of stuff in life at the time – farm sitting for one friend, helping another farm friend, canning with Connie, friends visiting for the weekend, making corn cob cordial, getting ready for a big trip to Missoula and Colorado.  Since the bite seemed not too bad, it was easy to just keep putting oil on it and waiting to see how it progressed.

I also had a couple other weird things at the same time, one that got my attention, one that was background noise.  The one that had my attention was a sore left calf.  I know that this flared on September 29th because I was canning with Connie that day and asked her for some of her essential oil mix that helps sore muscles.  I attributed the soreness to the goat wrangling that we’d been doing the previous couple days.  I figured the oil mix would help and tried to forget about it.  But the oil didn’t do the trick.  The calf kept feeling tender and actually swelled.

The thing that was background noise was that I had several days of headaches.  I think I probably attributed them to an oncoming menstrual cycle as I often fight migraines around my cycle, especially when I’m stressed and I was juggling a lot of balls at the time.  I used peppermint oil on the back of my neck to fight the headaches and that seemed to work well.  I also had two instances where I felt like I was breaking a fever.  I had a sweaty face on waking in bed – though I didn’t feel like I had a fever prior to that.  This happened for a couple days as I recall in hindsight.  I didn’t think too much of it as I had been hanging out with a friend who was sick and I attributed that to my body fighting off and not getting her cold.

Oh, I also had all these little rashy areas, diamond shaped, across my chest and back and buttocks, and on my legs.  They were not itchy or painful, just numerous.  So all this is happening as I prepare to travel to Missoula and Colorado.

When I arrived in Missoula, I felt fine but I noted that I get very short of breath when I hiked up the hill.  After a day I realized, “Oh! I’m at elevation!”  We were at about 3400 feet.  I felt a chest pressure that seemed like what I thought a mild heart attack might feel like but I didn’t have any other issues except the heart rate and pressure.  I knew I was going to the doc in another couple weeks and decided I’d ask him about it then.

By the time we got to our son Tom’s place in Denver, we decided I needed something to fight what was happening.  I got some Benedryl and, at Dan’s direction (he’d gotten this advice from a medical professional at some point in the past), I took 2 Benedryl to start the regimen.  There was no need to imbibe in the local offerings as the Benedryl definitely made me feel pretty good.  Who knew?

Later that evening in Tom’s apartment, I had some wine as we waited for him to get home from work.  I took more Benedryl as well.  I got pretty loopy and at one point took a green marker and drew around all the red diamond areas on my legs, reportedly “to determine if they are growing or shrinking”.  This was October 11th.

We got home October 14th and I was scheduled for a Doctor appointment on the 23rd so I kept an eye on my rash, bite, calf and chest pressure.  I continued to take the Benedryl for a few more days and I slept on the couch with my left calf elevated and I noted the calf seemed back to normal after three days.  The rashes continued to dissipate.  I did notice that the chest pressure was also associating with a racing heart rate on the 19th and 20th – both episodes in the middle of the night.  On the 22nd, I had a brief bit of chest pressure without racing heart as I walked into a friends’ home mid-afternoon.  I felt fine otherwise.  No headache, no fatigue, no achy joints, no fever or chills.

So, the 23rd I visit the Doc for an update on a medication I take and I addressed the other weird things I’d noted since scheduling the appointment a month earlier.  He seemed concerned about the bite and decided we needed to check for Lyme’s.  He also said we’d schedule a stress test for that Friday the 27th to check out the chest pain.  I was less concerned about the blood test as I hadn’t had any Lyme’s symptoms and had not had any bullseye or tick bites to my awareness.  I was more concerned about the stress test as I’ve always thought I’d die of a heart attack and assumed we’d find a bunch of clogged arteries to be cleared or monitored.  I was dreading the elimination of cheese and ice cream from my diet.

This was an initial visit, it being the first time I’d been to the doctor since moving to the North Woods, and the Doc wanted to confirm my allergies.  I told him Gantrisin and Lomotil and that “my Aunt Dee said I was allergic to Sulfa drugs”.  Since I didn’t have recollection of any effects from Sulfa, he did not note it in my file as I thought was prudent.  Well….. turns out that one I am allergic to (and I imagine had a horrible reaction to as a child fighting bladder infections and Aunt Dee heard all about it) is Gantrisin, a discontinued drug which has generics today and IS A SULFA DRUG. SO… I think we need to denote that I cannot have Sulfa.

Anyhow.  I show up at my stress test Friday morning and, when I go to get on the treadmill, the Medical Tech, John, tells me the Doc wants to talk with me.  I ask him to get Danny from the waiting room and then he comes in and gives me his cell phone.  The Doc explains that I tested positive for Lyme’s and he has called in a prescription for Doxycycline Hyclate.  John and the Radiation Tech Todd both provide their feedback on Doxy – one says it’s horrible on the gastrointestinal tract – nausea, stomachache, diarrhea – and the other acts like it’s not that big a deal – he’s been through Lyme’s treatment twice now.  Great.  I pass my stress test with no indications of any issues – WHOO HOO! – and head to the pharmacy for my Rx.

After taking the first Doxycycline at 1PM, having a baked potato for lunch and heading home, I was wiped out and laid down for a nap. I awoke 2 hours later at 5:15 and felt… not right. I had achy muscles and just didn’t feel normal. So I went to the couch to sit by Dan in the living room and soon I was really chilled.  I pulled the blanket over me and tried to get warm.  I then spent the next 2 hours convulsing in chills, breathing my hot breath (as I was actually really hot) into the covers to warm me and wondering if I was going to die. At about 6:15, Dan called the Bemidji Walmart (all the local pharmacies had closed) and the Pharmacist said, “That doesn’t sound like an allergic reaction to the drug, it sounds like you picked up a bacteria or virus.” She recommended to keep taking the Doxycycline.
About 7 PM (I think – I was pretty much out of it), Dan called the Bagley Hospital who gave him the Sanford Nurse number and he called and talked with her. I think he was getting pretty scared as he’d been watching me, looking like I was auditioning for the role of “Detox Patient in DTs” – I was just convulsing and shaking and shivering for too long. He had been researching online and read that the drug warnings for Doxycycline said: “Call your doctor at once if you have a serious side effect such as… fever, chills, body aches, flu symptoms, swollen glands, rash or itching, joint pain, or general ill feeling” Yeah, I pretty much had all of that.  PLUS, he also read on the “most important information” you should know is that, before you take Doxycycline, you should tell your Doc if you’re “allergic to sulfites”.  Uh oh.
The Sanford Nurse said that we needed to get onto another drug immediately if I couldn’t take this one. [Remember this for later.] She also asked what my temperature was.  We hadn’t thought to check this but did and it was 99.8, which is high for me as I run about 97 normally. She advised Dan, if my fever hit 104 to take me to the hospital (which I didn’t know until I was finally going to sleep that night and we checked my temp again and it was 102.1).

SicknessMy chills had dissipated while Dan was on the phone with the nurse. I’d begun doing Reiki on myself as I realized I couldn’t keep up the convulsing… Thankfully I had the sense to try something! I’d done the first symbol on my shoulder about 40 times and all the while could feel the chills ebbing. Then I did the healing symbol a half dozen times and I started feeling warm. Eventually I started feeling really warm – the fever kicking up. By about 9PM I was finally feeling somewhat normal again in most aspects.  But I was feeling pretty warm.  When he put me to bed, Dan got me a cold cloth for my head since I was still in fever. I planned to get up a couple hours later to check the temp again and be sure I wasn’t rising to 104.
I ended up having to pee about 12:30 and when I checked my temp, I found it was back to 99.7 so I could sleep the rest of the night more peacefully. When I got up to feed Lucky (our cat) about 8 AM I felt like a human again. Checked my temp and I was back to 97.

I knew Monday I’d need to check with the Doc about getting another antibiotic since I couldn’t take this one but with it being the weekend, I just would have to chillax for a couple days.  Well, when I called Monday, it got weird.  I talked with the Doc’s nurse, Billie, and she said she would talk with him.  I told her we were heading to Bemidji so they should call the Rx in there, not Bagley.  Well three and a half hours later, we hadn’t heard anything.  I called in to the clinic and was told by the receptionist Sheila, “Things are very busy and the doctor is busy but I’m sure they are working on it.”  Great.  I asked if I was supposed to just hang out in Bemidji all day until they figured it out.  I don’t think I’m making friends with her… I decided we’d get our final shopping done and hopefully it would be called in by then.  Billie ended up calling me as we were waiting to check out at the store.  She explained that the Doc “would not be prescribing another antibiotic”.  WHAT THE F&*K?

OK, I should explain that, while I was ambivalent about taking the antibiotic on Friday, I’d since talked with good friend Lee who explained to me that it was crucial to get the antibiotic during this short window of opportunity to fight the Lyme’s.  While I may not have had a bad effect, if I left it in my system, I’d be at risk of it rearing up later and causing bigger issues.  [I liken it to Chicken Pox and Shingles.  You’ve heard those horror stories, right?]  She’d convinced me I needed a regimen of antibiotics.  And the Doc himself had been pretty adamant that I absolutely needed to take the meds – “at least try a week” he’d urged when I sounded hesitant – and NOW he was basically just saying I wasn’t getting anything different??  Lee had told me there were several antibiotics that could be used and assured me the Doc would prescribe something for me – she said I needed to be on a 30-day treatment plan.

So, at this point, I’m scared.  I had an appointment that Friday with the Doc but I knew my window of opportunity was closing (they say if you treat within a month, you have best results).  I talked later in the day with a Doc friend of mine and explained to him what had happened.  He said it was a “no brainer”; that a different antibiotic should be prescribed as I had tested positive for the Lyme’s.  He was confused as well.  It was 4:50 PM and I decided to call the clinic one last time.

When Sheila answered, she explained that the Doc was gone and she didn’t appear willing to connect me with the nurse.  I explained that with Lyme’s there is a very short window of opportunity and I’d appreciate if she would at least try to connect me to the nurse.  She did.  When I talked with Billie I basically asked WHY the Doc decided I didn’t need antibiotics now when he’d been so adamant before.  She didn’t seem to have an answer for this.  I basically had to threaten that, should I have issues later, I’d have to report that I’d insisted on getting treatment but Sanford had refused… She said she would try to get in touch with the Doc and get back to me.  She called back in 5 minutes to say that he’d called in a 2-week Rx of 500 mg Amoxycillan for me.  WHEW!

Since everything in this small town closes early, I couldn’t get to the pharmacy before it closed but I happened to have some old Amoxycillan from a pre-treatment for dental work so I immediately took a dose.  Then I took another in the morning and headed to town for my Rx that afternoon.

So… my Friday appointment was an anxiety filled time.  I mean, how do I not just go off on this guy?  I decided I’d just ask him what happened.  After we walked through it, it turns out he thought I’d just had the fever Monday.  I told him I was clear that I’d had this experience on Friday when I started the medication – his nurse did a shitty job of communicating or he didn’t hear her very well (my money’s on the nurse).  Apparently, when you have this reaction on starting the antibiotic, they like to wait 24 hours to give another antibiotic.  I didn’t even ask why the nurse didn’t communicate that to me…  But this is the interesting part, and the reason I wanted to blog about it.  It’s a very weird thing that happened to me and it has a cool name: Herxheimer Reaction.

A die-off reaction, also called a Herxheimer reaction, can occur when treating the Lyme germ, some co-infections, and yeast. It occurs as bacteria or yeast die during antibiotic treatment. It is common to have Herxheimer die-off reactions when starting herbal anti-microbials or antibiotics when treating Lyme. These reactions can also occur when new antibiotics are introduced into a treatment.

AHA!  It appears that, when I took the antibiotic, I didn’t have an allergic reaction to it.  Instead my body released toxins, proteins, and oxidizing agents that created a rush of inflammatory cytokines.  Most Lyme’s Disease symptoms are excess inflammatory cytokine symptoms so… while I hadn’t initially felt any Lyme’s symptoms, I was SURE feeling them now!!

So, I’m back to liking the Doc – who I really LOVED after my first visit.  He’s a friendly, smiley, knowledgeable dude and I was uber happy with his thoroughness.  And I was happy with his explanation of the reaction I had.  He noted that the bands for which I tested positive were not those that require Doxycycline to treat and the Amoxycillan should be fine.  He did say we will do a 30-day regimen.  Thank goodness.

So, if you are faced with Lyme’s, I hope this experience is helpful.  But I hope even more that you won’t have to deal with Herxheimer Reaction or Lyme’s!

Oh, and what about the chest pain and racing heart?  The assumption is that I picked up Mountain Sickness while out in Missoula and Colorado.  Hopefully the symptoms will continue to wane until they disappear.  And I’m still eating ice cream and cheese.  🙂

How are we to act?



A male friend on FB recently posted this: “Ladies, when I’m walking by you on a street, or in a hallway, what is your preferred protocol? Eye contact? Avoid? Smile or no smile? Etc..”

I replied:

I always like eye contact and a smile. But I believe there is sometimes the truth of intention that sneaks out… so if you’re feeling something inappropriate in the contact, keep it cool.  They say if you look down, you’re invisible.  Maybe try looking invisible if you’re up to no good.  But you’d never be up to no good, eh?

I just think smiling at everyone with an intention of sharing happiness is the way to go.  I am constantly smiling at people – maybe they think I’m crazy… but sometimes I get a smile back that lets me know it was a good decision.  I think there are many of us who feel alone and sometimes a smile from a stranger can give us a feeling of belonging, even for just a moment.

It seems every day we hear of another sexual harassment perpetrator.  People are coming out of the woodwork with stories. And perps are admitting their faults!  It’s becoming a topic that we’re all discussing and I am hopeful that this communication will lead to a better understanding for us all.

Sexual Assault

Sometimes there is confusion about what constitutes harassment and I think this is worth discussing.  Here’s why.

I spent 23 years in the steel industry and saw quite a lot in that time when it comes to workplace harassment.  One of the secretaries in the steel mill had a sign above her desk that read, “I Don’t Report Sexual Harassment.  I Grade it.”  I kind of love this.  I mean, it puts a spin on the whole thing and (hopefully) let’s people know they need to think hard about their actions… I mean, you’re being graded for goodness sake!   I do believe it can give power to the intended victim.  Simply refuse to take the harassment and instead view yourself as a judge of it.  Give it a C- and let them know, it was a lame attempt.  Let them see that they do not hold power over you.

Seriously, as much as I don’t appreciate someone forcing themselves on another, I think sometimes we just need to talk with each other to help people be aware of what is offensive to us. Yes, some things are pretty common sensical… Don’t kiss a co-worker and force your tongue into her mouth, Mr. Oreskes.

But sometimes the things that bug us aren’t so easy to know.   Most of us aren’t mind readers.  Some of us are not very good body language readers either!  And sometimes people’s actions are completely innocent but still remain offensive.  I think sometimes, before you just run to report something, you should have a conversation to clarify your needs.  For example, if me saying the F-word is offensive, then you need to let me know.  Especially if we’re working in a steel mill where this is standard vocabulary most days.

Yes, this was something that happened to me.  I had two co-workers who reported me to a superior for cursing, never having mentioned it to me beforehand.  [I think it was more a personal attack as many people in the office used colorful language but these two didn’t complain about the other folks…]  I did honor their sensitivity and refrained from cursing in future conversations with them.  But I would have honored their request has they simply spoken up to ask me if I could avoid swearing.  I guess it’s easier to ask someone else to ask me to do that?  OK, this is my point: Can’t we just talk with each other!

Same workplace, same timeframe, different people.  I used to say, “Jesus” or “Oh, God!” at times and I had a couple fellow workers who were strong Orthodox Christians.  They mentioned that this was bothersome and moving forward I made a conscious effort to not use these types of phrases in front of them.  It was a way more friendly way to address the issue and we ended up having much deeper conversations about the whole idea, which enriched all our lives and brought us closer.  I even attended a service at their church!  It was really interesting too.  Isn’t that a better way to deal with this kind of thing?

There are definitely situations where you can’t deal with the person directly, but when you can, I say try it.  If it doesn’t resolve, then you can go up the chain of command. But if it’s something obscure, or something everyone else is doing but it only bothers you when HE does it, I don’t think it’s fair to simply report something without letting the person know what it is that is unacceptable first.  That said, some things are just obviously NOT acceptable.  For example, sticking your tongue in a co-worker’s ear.  [Yes, this happened to me at that same steel mill.  The way it was dealt with was quite interesting too.  But that’s a story for another day.]

So there are a lot of work situations involving harassment, but sexual assault is something that happens in many situations and circumstances.  And I am glad to hear more people talking about what we’ve experienced and how we can work towards better respecting each other in our interactions.

I don’t know what we can do to heal it all and I’m sure it’s different for every person who has been affected by sexual abuse.  I know that my personal story with it is complex.  And while I feel as if I’ve healed, there is always a chance that something remains to be resolved.

Remember that smiling thing I mentioned?  My husband once told me that it might send a wrong message.  And he’s probably right… dare I say especially when it comes to men?  Is it true that a woman smiling at you makes you think she wants you, men?  Like wants to go to bed with you?? I am sure that’s not true 100% of the time.  But unfortunately it’s likely true more than I wish it was.  I’m sure with certain kinds of people, they may think I mean more with a smile than I do.  But all I really mean to say is, “Hey!  Isn’t it great to be alive? I hope you have a happy day!”  Kind of like the human in me reaching out with some happiness to the human in you.  🙂

I know that a smile is not what got me into the sexual assault situation I experienced – at least not the night it happened.  I was with a boyfriend.  He was a few years older than me [which in hindsight was probably not a good decision on my part] and we’d been dating for a few months.  We’d been drinking that night and we were in a house with lots of people who’d been drinking.  But we were in a room alone while most of the others were in an adjacent room.  I won’t go into detail but I will say that I said, “No.”  Multiple times.  He was much bigger than me and he got his way.  Sexual intercourse when you don’t want it is not fun.  I felt like dirt.  The next morning, I couldn’t look at him.  I couldn’t speak to him.  I pretty much couldn’t speak to anyone.  I do recall that we went with a group of friends to a concert later that night.  I wouldn’t look at him or talk with him.  He kept trying to talk with me and I just couldn’t communicate back in any way.  In the middle of the concert, I smacked him across the face.  Hard.  It was the only message I could relay.  Luckily, he didn’t hit me back.  The relationship ended for him in that slap.  It ended the previous evening for me.

I don’t know that I truly processed what it all meant at the time.  I mostly just closed down around the whole thing.  I was a teenager.  I thought I told my parents but it’s been so many years ago now, I’m not sure I can recall correctly.  What I do recall is the exact moment I realized the truth about my reaction to the event.  It had had a bigger effect on me than I was previously able to comprehend.

The realization occurred many years after the date rape.  I was at a new boyfriend’s apartment.  We were disagreeing about something and I decided I was going to go home.  I got up and walked outside and then… I remembered that I hadn’t driven there!  So I started walking up the hill toward my place – about 8 miles away.  It had just started snowing and the boyfriend, who’d  followed me out of the house, now started following me up the hill asking to please let him drive me home.  I was stubborn.  I insisted I could walk home.  In frustration, he wrapped his arms around me from behind, turned me around, and started marching me back down the hill so he could take me home or settle the argument.  And in that moment, I completely lost it.

I literally started screaming.  I came unglued.  In that instant of him taking control to strong arm me into going where he wanted me to go, I had a realization.  I had been telling myself, “Never again will I let that happen.”  I had said it so many times in my head, that I thought it was a given.  In the end, I realized what it truly had always been… a pipe dream.  And that frightened me immensely.

When I screamed, the boyfriend immediately let me go.  He had no idea what was happening.  I was sobbing and walking back the way we’d come, numbly making my way back down the hill.  He quickly followed, trying to ask me what was wrong.  He ran around me and stood in front of me.  I couldn’t speak.  He wrapped his arms around me and told me everything was OK.  He was sorry.  He said we’d fix it.  He hugged me tight and walked me back to his place.

Back in the apartment, the previous argument forgotten, I eventually regained my voice and was able to explain to him what had happened.  He was angry about that other guy.  He asked what he could do but there was really nothing in that moment he could do.  It was something I was going to have to walk through on my own.  Maybe I’m still walking through it.

What I do know is that he was the kind of guy who made sure I knew he loved me.  He was concerned about my feelings.  He wanted to help.  He was never the kind of guy who would force himself on me.  But from that point, he knew to take extra care, to stop if things got squirrelly during sex.  He was patient.  He played a big part of helping me get through my feelings about it all.

My husband is also a kind and patient man.  He knows of my past experience.  He knows how to be aware if I get sketchy – which has only happened a couple times during our relationship and hasn’t happened in a long time at this point.  He knows how to make me feel loved and respected, how to not force his needs if I’m not comfortable.  Basically, he knows how to be a mature, loving man.

I am grateful for these kinds of men.  Those who are thoughtful enough to realize that only when a woman truly wants to be involved with you is it right.  Those who are concerned about how they affect women and are now asking their women friends, “What’s okay?”  {Thanks, Ben!}  And I hope the conversations continue.  Women need to ask men too.  Questions like, “What do you think when a woman smiles at you?”

I know every situation is unique but every time we talk through this, it brings the ideas to our consciousness, and this means we can begin to live more intentionally.  If we keep talking, we can find deeper understanding and act in ways that are loving and acceptable.  We can avoid the discomfort brought on by inappropriate behavior.  And maybe we can even start to solve other interpersonal problems and communication breakdowns.

There’s hope, right?

Let’s keep talking.

Photo credit: Planned Parenthood Action Fund

Oh, by the way!  My lovely friends Rita Koll and Sylvia Luetmer, along with many brave souls in Alexandria, Minnesota, [including my parents!!] were honored last week with the 2017 Courage Award in Minneapolis.  Congratulations to all you wonderful people!!

PP Award

Livingston, Montana!



Life is finally calming down a bit to give me time for a fun blog.  In early October, Dan and I took a trip to Montana for a Rocket Mass Heater Innovators Jamboree and since that is a really long drive, we stopped partway there in a little town called Livingston, Montana.  It was so lovely I knew I’d do a blog on it to give you all a little taste of it.


Our first goal on making this trip was to have accommodations so Dan went on Airbnb and found a great place in Livingston. There are a bunch of places in town but this was one of the least expensive.   Ginger was our host and she was terrific.  The space is cozy and while the bed is really great for many – it’s a nice bed, really – it was a bit firm for me.  Dan loved it.  And she has a bunch of pillows which I loved.  There was a snack and welcome basket with a handwritten note and it just made us feel super special.  I hate to even tell you about all the wonderful things because you know how it is when someone gets your expectations up and then you’re like, “Hmmm, it was good but I was expecting more.”  But I am almost not even worried about this as Ginger does go the extra mile.

She has Netflix on the TV downstairs and, since we don’t have TV and were just pooped after driving for 12 hours+, we decided to watch a little something and found this cute show called Disjointed with Kathy Bates about an L.A. marijuana dispensary.   Here’s a review from a non-drug user at the LA Times that I found to be accurate.

When we’d told our friends Jon and Rita Koll about our trip they explained to us that Livingston is actually a really popular place with the superstars.  Apparently it’s no big deal to see a movie star enjoying dinner at the same restaurant as you.  However, we arrived on a Wednesday night and were leaving early Thursday so I did not expect to see any superstars, figuring they will be there mostly on weekends.


Having gone to bed relatively early, I got up and went for a walk to town while I let Dan, who’d done most of the driving, sleep in a bit.  As I’d been hearing trains go by, I wanted to see one up close so I headed to the Historic Train Depot and Depot Rotary Park just a couple blocks down from the BnB.  Lucky for me, there was some train activity early on a Thursday.    It was crisp at 34°F but I was layered in a couple sweatshirts and did fine – though I wished for some gloves.  I walked along Park Street (also Hwy 89 and I-90) which is the main drag along the railroad tracks through town.  I darted to my right onto Main Street and noted the temperature – missing those gloves now!


There were a bunch of little coffee shops, art/gift shops, galleries, and general town businesses.  I loved that the Montana Watch Store was located in the E. Thomas and Son Building – reminding me of my boy who always loved watches growing up.  I was thrilled to see a couple with their down on their bicycle built for three!  I missed getting a photo (but was able to crop one from the video to open this blog) so they did a U-turn on Main Street and gave me a chance for a video!!  It looks like a fun and quirky community – I was really stoked by their Community Ed poster.

I found two local bookstores.  The Sax & Fryer was founded in 1883 and the building has a beautiful tile entryway. DSCF0065  Warning.  Looks like they are a cash only business.  There was also a smaller antiquarian and used bookstore Elk River Books that had a wonderful sounding speaker that evening, Gretel Ehrlich.  I just wish it was later in the day so I could go into some of these lovely shops and that we were staying another night so I could visit that bookstore event.  Ah, next time.

And, as I didn’t, perhaps you don’t know that Livingston was once the gateway to Yellowstone.  There was a fellow guest at the BnB and he was meeting with family in the park.  Well, had I known how close we were I might have asked Dan to add a couple days on the front end of the trip – though where we’d have found them, I cannot say!  September to October there just are not enough days to get everything done that needs done.

The most interesting part of my walk that morning was when I stopped to take a second look at a building that had caught my eye on the walk east along Park Street.  Coming back to the BnB, I walked a block south to get a closer look and as I was checking it out, a woman pulled up in a minivan asking, “Are you buying that building?”  I explained that I was just taking a second look at it as I wondered what it was – it looked to me like a Nazi HQ.  DSCF0076 She proceeded to tell me all about Livingston, Montana and her family’s presence there since the town was established.  Her great-grandfather had settled in the late 1880’s to work for the railroad.  Her family lived on 6th street.  I noted, BTW that the city of Livingston has identified their streets on each corner.  I think maybe it’s because if the Yellowstone Caldera blows, DSCF0078leveling all the infrastructure, the street names will allow identification of locations even without all the houses and buildings. Anyhow, this lady was one her way to a cleaning job but she spent about 30 minutes telling me all about the corporations that began in Livingston, how the first Yellowstone guests arrived in stagecoaches – hence the hotels that popped up in town, how sometimes there are superstars – and her own sighting of Garrison Keillor in town, and how she often gives tours and she wished we were staying longer so she could give us more of a tour of Livingston.  I imagine she’s a pretty good tour guide as her time with me was pretty entertaining.  I believe this is her family home while growing up – if I followed her description accurately.

While on my walk I’d seen signs for Sacajawea Park and decided that Dan and I would check it out before heading on to Missoula.  I’m so glad we did as it was a beautiful park and a lovely day to see the Yellowstone River.

I’d say that we really enjoyed our short time in Livingston and I can see potential for a longer visit in the area.  Maybe next year we’ll make more time on our way to the Rocket Mass Heater Jamboree.

Enbridge Line 3 Public Hearings Part 2


So I should not have so quickly judged the Administrative Law Judge in the case filed by Friends of the Headwaters.  After attending the Public Hearing in Bemidji this past week, I realize she just has a sing-song voice.  I don’t think it’s an intentional belittling, it’s just the way she talks.  It is, when you see it as a whole, somewhat comforting.  But it was still tough occasionally when it did feel patronizing.  She sounds like a first grade teacher dealing with her class.  OK, I’m still really judging her… but I am giving her the benefit of the doubt that most of the time, it’s just how she sounds.

10-17-17 ALJ Hearing Bemidji

Onto the Public Hearing details…

We attended the afternoon session in Bemidji on October 17th.  The afternoon session (1-4 PM) was going to be the harder of the two sessions with more Water Protectors expected for the evening session (6-9 PM).  Many of them have to work for a living so would not be available during the workday.  But that left plenty of room for all the paid Enbridge supporters at our afternoon meeting!!  They were all wearing green shirts.  Most were employees but some were local landowners, farmers and other concerned citizens.  Many had been bussed in for the event and there was even a party room at the Sanford Center where Enbridge catered in snacks and drinks, all to help their supporters feel more conformable.  I will say that this does mean ALL the Enbridge supporters were compensated for their endorsements of the pipeline.  And I think this is an important point.

It’s easy for someone to be paid to support something.  If I get snacks, a ride, perhaps even paid for my hours and travel time, it’s EASY for me to agree to give my support. On the other hand, if I’m strictly volunteering my time, have to pay my own way to the event, and maybe even have to take time off my job to support Mother Earth in the Public Hearing, I do consider my testimony more honorable.  It’s a sacrifice for me to give of myself for our Earth which cannot speak for itself at this hearing.  But for paid employees or people who are given gifts for their endorsement, I see this as less pure.  It is corrupted testimony.  It is, or at least can be perceived to be, induced or persuaded testimony.

I was one of the first 10 people to speak. Dan and I were only 10-15 people apart or so at the event and I believe we both did well.  Overall, the Pro-Pipeline folks outnumbered the Water Protectors but it wasn’t as bad as I had expected when I saw the crowd on arrival.  Overall, there were about 18 Water Protectors and 27 Pro-Pipeline speakers.

And I will give the ALJ props on her willingness to stay until 5 PM to assure that all the first time speakers got a chance to be heard.  However, I do wish there had been a question posed to each person when taking the stand – “Have you received any compensation for your testimony today?”  I believe knowing this about each speaker would have made an impact on how the testimony was perceived.

I also noted that the process of events was very “white man’s world”.  What I mean by this is that the 3-minute time limit did not allow for the respectful, spiritual nature of the presentations by a couple of the Anishinaabe speakers. Dawn Goodwin, for example, had jars of Water, Manoomin, and other Medicines that she set up for her speech.  She noted that, if one is to speak of these beings, they should be present.  It struck me that the process of the event was not taking into account the way of life of the people to whom we should give most of the attention – those whose land this has been from the beginning.

Whether we will make a difference or not is to be determined.  I was talking with a fellow Water Protector after the event and she noted that the Department of Commerce speaker Bill Grant said that Enbridge had not proved a Need for this pipeline “at this time”.  This indicates they will have further opportunity to provide additional data or information to prove said need.  However, the public comment period ends November 22nd and will be made without seeing any of this additional information.  It would seem if Enbridge is allowed to submit more information, it too should be able to receive public scrutiny.  So we’re not out of the woods yet with Line 3.  While the Public Utilities Commission and Department of Commerce hammer it out, we will remain vigilant.


Note: I did get a response from the PUC on my question regarding Enbridge providing more data.  Here it is: Upon closure of the public hearings, the evidentiary hearings will begin. As indicated by the ALJ the evidentiary hearing process is meant for the official parties to the proceeding. A transcript of the evidentiary hearings and any filings made by the applicant and official parties will be available via the eDocket system for any interested person to review. Once the public portion of the hearing ends on November 22nd, the ALJ reviews all the information and provides the Commission with her report and recommendation.

In other news, Bagley, Minnesota may be the place to watch regarding Climate Change.  The Valve Turner Trials – trials for Annette Klapstein and Emily Johnston, along with their supporters Ben Joldersma and videographer Steve Liptay – have recently been granted permission by the Judge to present a Necessity Defense.  What does this mean?  They may be able to prove that their actions were justified in light of the inaction by companies and governments to protect the citizens’ rights to clean air and water.  Because there has been no movement on actions to mitigate Climate Change, their actions were Necessary to help mitigate Climate Change.  This would mean they are innocent of breaking man’s laws because they were answering to a higher law. press release

I am hopeful that Minnesota, right here where I live, may be the place we make real strides in defeating the Fossil Fuel Industry, in helping to save our planet from the destruction of pollution.  The world is watching.

Enbridge Line 3 Public Hearings


The Administrative Law Judge in the case filed by Friends of the Headwaters against Enbridge is currently hearing Public Comments and our chance to speak in Bemidji happens tomorrow.  So while Dan and I had a really wonderful trip out to Missoula and to Denver to visit Tom and Celia, we had to cut our trip short to be home in time to prepare our remarks for and attend the Public Hearing.  [The blog on the adventures out West will follow this week’s timely topic.]

I decided that my focus for the Public Hearing will be on the fact that we cannot afford to pull any more fossil fuels out of the ground.  We need to leave most of what remains in the ground if we hope to have a planet that is livable for humans in the long run.  Here is what I plan to present:

In 2012, Bill McKibben wrote an article entitled “Do the Math” to simplify the then current situation with regard to fossil fuels on Planet Earth.  He explained that, if 2°C is the maximum we can increase global temperature and maintain a livable planet, we could only put 565 more gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere. At that time we had 2,795 gigatons of carbon in proven coal and oil and gas reserves meaning we were planning to burn 5 TIMES the amount that would allow us to maintain a planet which supports life for humans.

Fast forward to 2016 for Bill’s update article entitled “Recalculating the Climate Math” after a study by Oil Change International in partnership with 14 organizations from around the world recommended three things: 1) No new fossil fuel extraction or transportation infrastructure should be built and governments should grant no new permits for them. 2) Some fields and mines – primarily in rich countries – should be closed before fully exploiting their resources, and financial support should be provided for non-carbon development in poorer countries. 3) This does not mean stopping using all fossil fuels overnight. Governments and companies should conduct a managed decline of the fossil fuel industry and ensure a just transition for the workers and communities that depend on it.

Bill concluded: If we’re serious about preventing catastrophic warming, the new study shows, we can’t dig any new coal mines, drill any new fields, build any more pipelines. Not a single one. We’re done expanding the fossil fuel frontier. Our only hope is a swift, managed decline in the production of all carbon-based energy from the fields we’ve already put in production.

Meanwhile, we’re finding that the effects of increasing CO2 are far worse than predicted.  You may have noticed the increasing ferocity of Hurricanes and Forest Fires which are not only devastating infrastructure but also killing more and more people.  Scientists now agree a more reasonable target for maximum global temperature rise is 1.5°C which will require significantly less fossil fuel usage in order to maintain a livable atmosphere.

The state of Minnesota has been a leader in this nation, more recently with decisions on gay marriage and health care.  As ideas and opinions change over time, in the end, Time reveals what is best and true for our country.  Scientific development often leads the way and the science is telling us the era of fossil fuels is over.  We need to abandon pipeline efforts in Minnesota and focus on the true future of our nation and our world, conservation and energy alternatives. The future is NOT fossil fuels. Every week we hear of another car company vowing to build only electric vehicles in the very near future; another major user marching away from the fossil fuel industry.

Minnesotans already lead in reduced greenhouse gas emissions by having more E85 refueling stations than any other state.  Minnesota is also a leader in wind power generating over 9% of our electricity with this renewable resource.  Let’s keep growing our alternative energies and be a leader in abandoning the dying fossil fuel industry by saying “NO to Line 3”, “NO” to Enbridge.

Dan’s focus will be on jobs.  There has been a lot of propaganda in the papers regarding the number of jobs that Line 3 will provide but we’re finding that Enbridge’s own numbers contradict what is being promoted by Jobs for Minnesotans which is a lobbying group consisting of the MN Building and Construction Trades Council and the MN Chamber of Commerce.  Their website states: “Combining the state’s rich heritage in natural resources with modern technology and workforce expertise, mining and energy transportation projects can significantly increase jobs and economic development for the state while protecting Minnesota’s water and great outdoors.”  However, their focus seems to be on mineral extraction and energy transport with the environment being an afterthought, if truly given any consideration at all.

In fact, there was a study – requested by Apex, a local business booster – and conducted by University of Minnesota Duluth Labovitz School of Business and Economics, that says of itself: “The study… looked only at the economic impact of the project and gave the caveat that ‘this analysis does not consider the social or environmental impacts of the project and should not be viewed as a cost-benefit analysis or environmental impact assessment.’”  So, it’s clear that they cherry-pick the data to give a good economical showing for these projects while ignoring the more important social and environmental aspects.  I believe most citizens would agree that clean water and air and fair treatment of all citizens, not giving some more protections than others, are far more important than mere money… especially when that money is primarily going to big corporations and not us everyday citizens.  Fun Fact: The best part of the Study to read is Appendix C which describes the assumptions used by the software, most of which are not applicable to a real-world economy.

It was interesting to note that Enbridge only claims 1500 construction jobs will be created while local papers quote figures like 4200, half of which will be local jobs, or even as high as 8600!  Regardless, much of the work will be temporary with only a handful of permanent jobs resulting from the pipeline installation (I believe 31 was the final number I saw).  Interestingly, calculations made using Enbridge’s own estimates show ~8300 job would be generated to remove the old Line 3, 5.5X the jobs of construction!  If we also consider the three additional pipelines that will become obsolete in the near term, we can look at 20X the number of jobs in removing the old energy transport infrastructure than we get in constructing the pipeline.  Removal is where the jobs are, not construction.

Stop Line 3

Some say that this is a done deal… that Enbridge has already lined the proper pockets and the PUC will grant the Certificate of Need and the Route Permit so Enbridge can connect the already constructed pieces on either side of Minnesota.  Even though the Department of Commerce has officially  noted that Enbridge has not demonstrated a Need for the line. There is a piece of me that has listened to the ALJ Hearings to date online and has little hope.  To hear the Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly thanking people for their comments, often in a condescending or sing-song type voice, doesn’t seem to convey the respect for the public that she might be hoping to portray.

What gives me hope?  In a 10-9-17 presentation, the following was presented as a Summary of Commerce Testimony:

  • Enbridge testimony indicates continued operation of existing Line 3 if a CN is not granted despite extensive testimony about the risks of continued operation;
  • To date, Enbridge has not demonstrated need for the proposed project;
  • The PUC could determine that Enbridge has not demonstrated that the minimal benefits to Minnesota of the proposed project outweigh the high socioeconomic and environmental costs.

I guess at this point, we need to provide our testimony and then just wait and see what happens in 2018.

Health Care Antics



This week I had one more realization of how our health care system is so broken.

I am starting service with a new clinic and they emailed me an Authorization for Disclosure of Protected Health Information form to complete.  This will give my old clinic permission to send my records to my new clinic.  The new clinic is only requesting records from 9/1/2015 to present which is a pretty small amount of information I believe, since I rarely go to the doctor.

Anyway, so I completed the form and scanned it in and emailed it back to the address from which it came.  I got a return error…


Apparently, this was a no-response email address.

So I called the clinic… first to listen to their answering machine and then again days later when the office was open again as they don’t allow you to leave a message so they can get back to you when they have time.  You just have to call when the office is open.  You still have to listen to a message when you call but if you sit patiently for a while, your call “will be answered in the order in which it was received”.

The gal who answered the phone was not the same one to whom I spoke previously and who sent me the form.  This new gal said I could fax it and I explained that I don’t have a fax machine.  She asked if I wanted to mail it and I said, “No, I’d like to send it electronically, the same way you sent it to me, so you have it right away and can get the ball rolling. I’d imagine your office has an email address to which these kinds of documents can be sent.  This is the 21st century after all.” OK, I know that last part was not really necessary but, for God’s sake, shouldn’t our medical clinics HAVE and USE the latest technology?

She let me know that the person who sent the letter would typically handle it.  So I asked if she could give me her email address.  She then reluctantly and slowly (because she doesn’t know it by heart) gave me HER OWN email address at the clinic.  I sent the document and she said, “Yep, it looks like I got it.  I’ll print it out and fax it to where it needs to go.”


So, yes, in trying to work electronically, the clinic will still use a piece of paper to print this document and THEN, generate another piece of fax paper – are we really still use these things??? – to get the job done.  Why couldn’t she simply forward my message to the gal’s email who had originally worked with me?  Better yet, why didn’t she have that person’s email to provide to me directly?

No wonder health care is so expensive.  This is a lot of steps and I imagine there is some kind of scanning that will then be done to keep a record of the document.  Which could all have been avoided if they simply knew how to use electronically emailed documents in the first place!

I really thought that the ACA was going to help all clinics go electronic, not only for this kind of communication, but also for sending records from one clinic to another.  With this antiquated system still in use, I’m guessing that my paper records may still be in transit when I arrive for my appointment later this month.