Saturday, December 30, 2006

Persnickety Chickens and the Law of One Million

When I was a new mother, a more seasoned mom once warned me about the "Law of One Million", which says that if you do something for your kids once, like buying them a lollipop in the grocery store checkout line, they will then ask you to do the same thing about one million more times. Her point was think about what you do, because you may be doomed to repeat it (or at least be asked to).

Apparently, the Law of One Million also applies to chickens. I think I have solved my chicken mystery (the little ladies not wanting to go into their coop at night). I, myself, created this particular monster. One night, it was not quite dark, but I had someplace to go so I wanted them to go in just a bit early. So I did the sensible thing (if you discount the Law of One Million), I bribed them with some cracked corn. Now, they have come to see cracked corn in the evening (as well as the morning) as their rightful due, and are refusing to come in unless I once again show them the goodies. They are as stubborn as a toddler holding their breath until they turn blue in the face, waiting out there in the absolute darkness for the corn that they are sure will come.

I've had to introduce them to the concept of Tough Love. In other words, no more bedtime corn. Eventually, they got the point and they are done being persnickety (don't you just love that word? It's the kind of word my grandma would've used). And next time, I will remember the Law of One Million as it applies to avian brains.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas Lite

My husband had the wonderful idea of spending Christmas in a cabin. My sister and brother-in-law, and my mom also rented cabins in a snowy state park, and we had a very cozy Christmas together. We brought some games to play in the evenings, and on Christmas Eve we made felt ornaments together. In the morning, we unwrapped presents from each other, and then went on a hike at this amazing rock in the middle of the desert (I posted photos on my other blog). The kids played on the bunk beds in the cabin, threw snowballs and made snow angels outside, and we all had a fun time.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Nothing Better Than a Good Thrift Store Haul

I went into my favorite thrift store needing to find snow clothes for my biggest kid, the one who, it seems, grows about three inches a day. Nothing makes my day more than being able to find everything I need without ever having to walk into a mall! So check this out: Snow boots, an awesome jacket, ski bibs, and two fleece shirts, all for $27 - less than what one pair of boots would cost new. And all without anything new being added to the planet. So thriftiness and sustainability and the fun of finding a bargain all came together today.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Car-Free Day

Today was simply beautiful. After a week of freezing weather, it warmed up just enough to feel quite comfortable, and the skies were sunny with big puffy clouds. I biked down to work this morning, and then this afternoon when the kids and I went to go meet our goat milk guy and pick up the milk, we decided to take the tandem/tagalong contraption. Our pickup spot is conveniently just off of the bike path that goes along the creek, so it's a nice ride and we saw lots of ducks, some heron, and nutria on the way.

It is amazing though how much more complicated it is to bike with the kids. First of all, the weather's been so cold and wet that we haven't all biked together in a while. So there's the finding of gloves and helmets and jackets, and panniers, and getting all organized. Then biking with the kids is not terribly speedy, so it takes us half an hour or so to get there, and the same coming back. Something that would take 30 minutes total in a car ends up taking us almost 2 hours. It really makes me appreciate the total convenience that a car gives us to just jump up and go somewhere quickly. On the other hand, if we went in the car, we would've missed the sunshine, the smell of the grass, the herons and wildlife and the fun conversation along the way.

I think one of my goals for the New Year will be a minimum of one car-free day a week. In the summer, we often go days or even a week or more without using the car, but it will be much more challenging in the winter months. Still, a good thing to pursue I think. And then on the days when we do run off somewhere in the car, we'll appreciate it all the more.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Impact of One Choice

I looked at my big half-gallon mason jar of goat's milk in the refrigerator this morning and contemplated all the ramifications of this one small choice we made in finding a local dairy to buy it from.

Previously, the only way we could buy goat's milk at the store was in one-quart cartons. That meant for every gallon of milk our family drank, four containers went into the recycling bin. Sure, recycling is better than throwing them away, but it still takes a non-negligible amount of resources to truck them to the recycling center and actually recycle them into something else. Now, we have mason jars that we return to the goat farmer to be re-used each time. This also means that somewhere in a factory, they do not need to make four more cartons every week and ship them to the large dairy (in gas-burning trucks on interstates) to be used. Somewhere there is a tree that won't be cut down this year to make our paper milk cartons.

Somewhere, there is a truck that won't need to haul four more milk cartons from California to Oregon. There are gallons of fuel that won't be spent in simply getting my milk from the dairy to my home. There is a big homogenizing machine that won't be fired up to heat my milk up to high temperatures, thus killing all the beneficial antibodies in it as well as any harmful bacteria. Because my milk will come to me within a day of coming out of the goat, we can drink it raw.

There is a local farmer who meets me face-to-face and takes my dollar bills directly from my hand. There is a person-to-person connection being made, and money being kept in our local economy. There is a goat farm somewhere that isn't being turned into a subdivision, a dairy that isn't being subsumed by a large conglomerate. There is land that isn't being turned into pavement and Chem-lawns.

The implications of this one decision spiral outwards in myriad ways that I can't even imagine. My farmer is probably buying hay from a local hay farmer, or growing it himself. The CO2 emissions saved in every step of the long chain in this one small decision are undoubtably higher than I would even guess. Having recently seen An Inconvenient Truth, the repercussions of my decision do not seem trivial to me.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Puzzling Chickens

My chickens are acting weird. They're laying eggs outdoors and refusing to come in at night, preferring to sit out in the freezing cold. I have checked the coop for pests, vermin, mites, and anything else I can think of. I changed all the bedding. What are they afraid of? What is going through their tiny avian brains? If anyone has ever experienced this phenomenon with chickens before, I'd love to know it. The guys at the Feed-n-Seed store (normally my source of fowl information) were mystified. It was cold enough last night to freeze the water in their coop, yet they stubbornly sat outside until I bribed them with some corn.

The Great Chicken Mystery is looking for a solution...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Thinking Globally, Buying Locally

I'm so excited, we finally found another local source of goat's milk. Wow, it tastes so much better than the boxed stuff from the store, is raw, fresh, and not trucked 600 miles to get here. One by one, we're changing the foods we eat from factory/far away to organic, fresh, and local. Just in the last two years we've moved to local eggs (our own chickens), meat, veggies from our garden and the farmer's market, and now milk. Now if I could just figure out a way to grow bananas, chocolate, matte' and coffee, we'd be totally self-sustaining! Maybe our greenhouse...

I wish there was some handy web calculator for how much CO2 you're able to reduce by substituting a local alternative for your foods. I'm sure it's amazing!
Phew! Raking Leaves is Hard Work

Just kidding, I did not rake that entire pile of leaves! Our city has a leaf pickup program, which means all you have to do is rake your leaves into the street and the city comes around and collects them. My only complaint about the program is that it creates a serious hazard for cyclists (the leaves being almost as slippery as an oil slick once they get wet.)

The cool part is that if you want you can have them come and dump whole trucks of leaves on your property. We've gotten about six truckloads delivered so far, and I think we will have plenty of leaves for mulching this year! I'm hoping that maybe if we spread them over the areas we've been trying to pull the oh-so-invasive ivy out of that maybe it will help keep it from sprouting back up in the spring.

I didn't get around to planting a cover crop early enough this fall, so we're going to mulch the garden beds pretty heavily too. I've also used the leaves successfully in my perennial beds out front to keep the spring weeds at bay. And the leaves that are leftover have rendered our regular leaf-dumping area into some of the most fertile crumbly soil on our whole property (which tends toward clay to start with). This summer, we're planning on putting in a deer fence and turning that into the corn patch.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Wishing for a Toxic Chemical Ban

I know this doesn't sit well with everyone, but I sincerely wish that all theatres and public places on the face of the earth would ban cologne. I sat through our daughter's ballet performance last night with my nose itching, eyes watering, knowing that I'd suffer worsening symptoms including a massive headache if I didn't pop a Benadryl as soon as I got home. I know that people just love to smell all flowery or whatever, but for some of us, the ingredients in these scents are horrible allergens to be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, in a tightly packed theatre, avoiding is almost impossible.

Personally, I never understood the need to have people up to twenty feet away be able to smell you coming. I think what happens is that once people start wearing perfume, they stop smelling it. Therefore when they apply what must seem like a reasonable amount, it's overwhelming to the rest of us who don't wear any at all. Kind of like those stores that regular people can walk into, the ones with aisles of scented laundry detergent, another aisle of Glade scented air fresheners, and another aisle of aromatic candles and potpourri. To those of us who spend most of our lives avoiding these artificial fragrances, it's an almost gagging experience.

I've got another performance to sit through tonight and I'd like to really be able to enjoy it. So I'm hoping for a nice bland-smelling person in front of me, not a bouquet of toxic ingredients.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Back in the Saddle Again

After one solid month of experiencing your basic American way of life (sitting too much, driving too much), my foot is finally feeling good enough to use a little bit. So I managed to run today for a short while. Even better, I can bike for transportation again. I biked to work tonight and realized how very much I have missed this. The streets that cyclists use are largely quiet and dark, and in our town have traffic modifications such as selective entry areas that keep them from being heavily used by cars As a funny side note, I kept ending up on these non-car-friendly streets when I was driving, because I'm more used to getting around town on a bike. They are very frustrating to car drivers, but I'm still glad they're there because they make biking around town so much easier!

It's true that the American way of life is so bad for your body. I couldn't believe how much worse it felt to just be sitting all the time (my foot began to ache after even a short time standing.) After just a week of this, my back started hurting, I won't go into details but my entire digestive system changed its operating procedures, even my vision (which is normally great) started giving me headaches from staring and screens and books for so long. It's no wonder we are a nation of people popping pills for back pain, pills for stomach upset, pills for reflux and heartburn, using laxatives and hemorrhoid cream to cure all the ills of a sedentary lifestyle. It's hard to believe, but people willingly choose to live like this, choose to feel like this!

The good news is that it doesn't take much to rid your body of all of these plagues. I'm not exercising at anything near the level I was before getting injured. I still can't swim without using a floatie for my legs (I can't kick), and I can bicycle a bit, on flats and around town. I did manage to run one mile yesterday without foot pain, so I have hope for that as well. But just the minimal amount of movement I am now able to do has banished most of my sedentary symptoms. More than anything, I'm happy not to be dependent on a vehicle for even a short trip to the store. It was really eye-opening not to be able to even stroll down to the corner market, and made me appreciate the wonders of my body's basic abilities even more.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Omnivore's Dilemma

I just finished reading this book and, as with all great non-fiction, am champing at the bit to discuss it with people I know. Of my friends in real life, they're all on the waiting list at the library for the book (I was too, but got too impatient to wait). So I'm going to have to pass my copy around and have more patience while they read it before we can talk about it. The Crunchy Unschoolers list promises to discuss in a week or two after everyone's finished reading.

More than anything, reading this book has doubled my own personal conviction to make this a year in which to focus on developing local sources for as many of our foodstuffs as possible. The figures in the book describing how much of our nation's fuel consumption goes to transporting food around the country is definitely a big impetus to go even farther in changing our food buying habits. We already have eggs from the henhouse, and pork and beef from a local, very small, grass-pasturing farm. We can get goat's milk in season locally. I need to find a local source for raw cow's milk though, and make it a weekly commitment to get to the Farmer's market, as well as ordering a CSA box for next season. We're also hoping to expand our garden next year, adding a corn and cucumber plot up in the front of the house in addition to the raised beds in back. We can do more summer and fall gleaning as well. I found a good source for walnuts and hazelnuts this year, but we've already eaten most of the ones we got. Apples, blackberries, and pears are easy to find as well, so I need to get out my canning apron and go to town next fall.

If anyone else out there is wondering how much difference there is between big centralized organic and small local farms, this book is a must-read!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Unschooling has recently been splashed into the national spotlight, with a show on Dr. Phil last Friday, and a fairly positive Sunday article in the NY Times covering an unschoolling family. Of course when this happens, the uninformed masses feel the need to come out of the woodwork declaring that it would be a horror and a shame to not have everyone in the country schooled to some uniform standard that would somehow ensure an educated populace (I don't know if anyone's looked around lately to see that having standardized public education has hardly fulfilled that promise, but I guess that's beside the point).

It all makes me wonder, as I often do, why monoculture is so honored in our society, and diversity, while given lip service, is often ignored. Whether it's a field of perfectly identical genetically engineered corn, with all of its tassels precisely 5 feet 10 inches off of the ground, a "tree farm" (euphemism for "former forest now planted with one species of tree") or a "No Child Left Behind" act that ensures that all the nations children will be able to be tested on precisely the same set of largely meaningless questions, we seem hell-bent on Uniformity Uber Alles.

Nature makes no such mistakes, as we have (hopefully) eventually learned. An ecosystem is a complex interplay of a mind-boggling complexity of organisms. While a pine beetle infestation can easily wipe out a monoculture tree farm, a real live forest rarely falls prey to any one disease or pest, because many species of trees, shrubs, and plants live in competitive and cooperative harmony, ensuring that at least some of them will survive.

Why then, would we want a monoculture of education? The beauty in the diversity of learning that I see among my kids and their friends is that none of them think, do, and learn in exactly the same way. Their interests, their approaches and methods are all uniquely individual. The way they approach a problem, or even the creative solution they end up at might differ greatly from one to the other. Our brains natural follow paths that work best for us, and even something as seemingly simple as how to mutiply 5 by 13 can be done a variety of ways. In a class full of children, all taught the same method, the probability that it will sink in for all of them is low. Some of them will eventually come to call themselves "bad at math", whereas if they had learned in a more organic way that worked for their particular brain and learning style, this concept of "bad at math" would probably never occur to them. I've never heard an unschooled child utter a phrase like this.

The reason these musings are here in my Urban Farm blog instead of over at my unschooling blog is because I see the parallels in nature, in my garden and the species that exist even in my very soil, and the way my kids learn and grow. The diversity I see in the children around me is a thing of organic beauty, like a rich handful of hummusy earth.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

On My Nightstand

The Omnivore's Dilemmma. Actually, it's on my nightstand, the breakfast table, my backpack when I go out... an excellent read so far, I'm about 2/3 of the way through and really enjoying it. I'll give a full review here when I'm done, but suffice it to say that if you haven't read it already you should be reserving it from the library, borrowing it from a friend, or if you're impatient like me (I was number 47 on the library's reserve list, so I figured it wasn't going to come to me any time this year), buy it from a local non-chain bookseller (and then pass it around to all of your friends).

It has definitely given me a swift kick in the pants to get down to my local Farmer's market while they still have it set up. I have so many good organic stores here, from my local corner market to our neighborhood supermarket that I get a bit lazy. But the author makes a very compelling case for even the difference between big organic and small, locally produced foods. Which of course I already knew in a sort of vague way, and we do get all of our eggs, meat, and much of our produce locally, but this was a great impetus to find local sources for the rest of the stuff we eat, with a possible exception for my lovely dark chocolate and mate' and my husband's coffee.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Peaceful Sort of Inefficiency

I'll say right off the bat that I hate leaf blowers, just loathe them. They are pretty darn close to the devil incarnate and something I sincerely wish would disappear from the face of the earth. Last year around this time, I had an hour to go running at a park next to my daughter's dance class every Tuesday. And every Tuesday the park maintenance guy would fire up the leaf blower, belching smoke and a vast amount of noise into the air to blow the same 20 leaves off of the sidewalks, until I would abandon the lovely park with its knee-saving bark trail and go run on the residential asphalt just to get away from it. Some days, he would do this in the rain (I watched him blow for at least two minutes on one wet leaf) and somedays in the wind, with the leaves whipping back onto the sidewalks behind him.

I bemoan the lost art of sweeping and raking. Quiet, peaceful, what is more serene than the image of a shopkeeper sweeping his front step and chatting with the passers-by? Instead, the passers-by are assulted by a veritable wall of sound and flying debris. It's hardly neighborly.

All this being said, however, we are now the owners of several gravel paths, for which I am extremely grateful. Last year, when I went down the slope to the chicken coop or garden, it was a slippery mudslide that I descended. This summer, my husband spent an awful lot of time with a wheelbarrow and a shovel dismantling a large gravel pile and turning it into nice, slip-free paths to which every leaf off of our oaks and big leaf maples is now sticking, wet and stubborn, just daring me to try to sweep it up. As I approach the leaves, they wrap their wet leafy selves around the pieces of gravel, bringing half of the path off with them as I rake. Yet if I leave them where they lay, they will once again turn the gravel path into a treacherous slide. The beauty of mother nature returning everything to its natural state.

Of course, the brilliance of the leaf blower is that it's virtually frictionless. Gravel, being heavy, stays put. Leaves, being lighter, fly off. But I Will. Not. Succumb.

So yesterday I spent the afternoon picking the remaining wet leaves off of the paths and throwing them into our raised beds as mulch, cursing the fact that I know a technology exists to do this so much faster and easier. After awhile though, with the peaceful chickens scratching beside me, I just got into a zen-like state of leaf picking and the task became enjoyable: something that got me outside on a blustery day when I probably would've stayed indoors, something that let me work my body - surely the bending and picking were so much better for me than standing in a haze of two-stroke engine fumes and letting compressed carbon do the work for me - something that gave me time to think and contemplate in the middle of a busy set of days.

Today, I have leaf-free non-slippery paths, and a new appreciation for the simpler ways of doing things. Now I'm off to sweep my sidewalks and wave to the neighbors.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Environmental Jenga

I love the conversations I get to have with my kids: long and often rambling, their insights at such young ages never cease to amaze me. I was talking with M. (10) about environmental issues, more specifically about my current non-fiction read The Omnivore's Dilemma (which I highly recommend, but that's a whole 'nother post), when he said "It's kind of like a Jenga game, isn't it? You can take a piece out here or there, a species or an ecosystem, and it seems small enough and the whole thing keeps standing. But eventually there comes a time when the piece you take out will make the whole thing fall. I think we might be close to that time."

Out of the mouths of babes...

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Path to Friendship

Just outside my back gate is a rough path. It leads across a straw-strewn (covering newly planted clover) former empty lot that is becoming the house and yard of our good friends. Eventually, that path will lead to their back deck. Our children and theirs will run back and forth along it to each others' houses. I can see myself walking along it, trailing steam from an oversized mug of tea, to share a morning moment with my friends, can hear shouted messages at twlight for the kids to come on back from mucking around the creek or throwing a frisbee.

Their house is aiming for to be a "Net Zero" or near Zero energy use house. They're incorporating all kinds of wonderful design aspects, from a huge rainwater catchment basin under the deck to innovative drainfields and solar power. I am really excited to see their design taking shape, and to get to learn from the processes that they are using. We aren't building a new house any time soon, but hope to gradually implement some of these ideas as we add to our existing structure and lot (for instance, a greenhouse addition that we are contemplating might have built-in rainwater catchment underneath its foundation.)

More than anything, I'm grateful that the view from my windows is friendship, community, good neighbors.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Clutter of Doing the Right Thing

I went over to my friend's house the other day and her entire living room was filled with laundry, literally! They moved their laundry umbrella in from outside when it started raining, and the living room is the only place big enough to put it. She laughed and said "don't mind the laundry" while her teenage daughter looked for any mortifying underwear in evidence. And the thing is, I don't mind the laundry, I'm there to see my friend.

We're lucky enough to be in a friendship and circle of friends and community and even a town that supports sustainability, even if that means socks in your living room. I also have re-used glass jars and washed ziplock baggies drying on my kitchen counters, bowls of drying seeds and pods from the garden on top of the microwave, and the laundry rack in our bedroom. I know that in other cities or communities, other suburban cultures, this sort of general untidyness of life would be something to be avoided at all costs. I think of my friends from other times and places with their lovely parquet floors and matching throw pillows and exquisitely framed artwork and I do experience a twinge of something - envy maybe? - at the lovely magazine-cover neatness of it all. But also relief that my house can be more utilitarian than decorative (though it still cleans up real nice for a party, when the laundry is very much not in evidence!)

The bottom line is that when you have a three-tiered compost system on your counter (there's the vegetable scraps for the guinea pigs, other food scraps except citrus for the chickens, and the main compost bin for everything else), your kitchen probably won't win any Martha Stewart awards for decor. And when your dryer only gets turned on once a month, you end up with more than a few socks hanging around. But you also end up with10 kg less of Co2 into the atmosphere from the clothes dryer alone, and that can only be a good thing, even factoring in childhood trauma induced by someone seeing underwear in your living room.

When The Turkeys Come To Visit

A. spotted a whole flock of turkeys on our neighbor's lawn yesterday morning. They wandered through the neighborhood for an hour or so, making house calls. Aren't they beautiful? They make the cutest little noises. I was hoping one of the males would give us a good show of his tail, but it didn't happen. A few months ago we had some come right by our house and the lead male kept puffing up into this impressive display.

I still can't ride my bicycle, but I suppose that's a blessing with the ever-changeable weather. As you can see in the photo, yesterday morning was gloriously sunny and blue, but within a few hours it was blowing and raining like a true Northwest November. I was glad not to be somewhere around town with only my bike to get home on!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I Didn't Mean to Write About Gravedigging Today

I was going to write an eloquent post about how starting to become an urban farmer has brought me out into nature in all its states. I went out to close up the chicken coop in a raging windstorm the other night. Today has me mulching in the chilly fall sunshine. On days when I otherwise would be bundled up inside, I am now compelled to be out tending to garden and animals. It's nice in a way, I think it brings a greater connection to nature that isn't dependent on sunny skies and mild temperatures. It brings me face to face with the way the world really is, which is not climate controlled.

Instead though, I'm going to write about another side benefit (if I can bring myself to think of it that way) of the urban farming lifestyle: being dragged into close contact with nature's lifecycles. We had a mysterious chicken death yesterday. I went down to check on the ladies, and there was Speeder, face down in the middle of the chicken coop floor, looking for all intents and purposes as if she'd just decided to take a late afternoon snooze.

There was no blood around the deceased, no evidence of flying feathers, no wounds, no other indications of sickness (do chickens vomit? I don't know, but I checked for that too). She weighed a healthy chickenly amount, her combs (or "cluckers" as the kids call them) were all nice and pink and not scaly, her feathers are glossy and golden (this photo was taken last week, and you can clearly see that she is a chicken in the prime of her life.) In short, she looks reasonably healthy, except for the fact that she's dead. At only two years old, she's a bit young for a chicken heart attack (do chickens have heart attacks? Maybe I shouldn't have fed them those buttered toast scraps), but my only other conclusions are possible spider bite, or maybe she happened to peck at something like the mushrooms and toadstools that are cropping up everywhere after all this rain.

Regardless, this afternoon saw me solemnly digging a grave, standing beside it with my children and saying a few words about Speeder's life, as well as chicken heaven (somehow, "dog heaven" sounds much more dignified than "chicken heaven".) Then I played Taps on the recorder (ah, the things you do as a parent) and shoveled on the dirt.

This wasn't a pleasant duty, but in a way it also brought me closer to real life. I've read about rigor mortis, but never actually felt it before (the time my mom put my hamster in the freezer so we could bury her in the new house we're moving to doesn't really count.) I've been able to turn my head from death in that peculiar way that we in the Western World are able to do. Like our climate-controlled houses, our reality-controlled lives let us slip past the harsh and often messy realities of birth, death, sickness, old age, dying. Instead, working with earth, plants, animals, getting our hands messy in the dirt of the world, we come face to face with bad weather, bugs and grubs, stricken plants, and yes, dead chickens. As I say goodbye to Speeder and tamp down the earth, in an odd way it feels like a blessing.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Imagine, a Connected Life

One of the things I love about where we live is that I feel a part of an interconnected web. Part of it is the town, which is small enough to know many people. If we go to the library, the farmer's market, the pool, or the neighborhood store, we're very likely to run into someone we know. Part of it is the neighborhood we chose, one in which community is highly valued. We have an "intentional neighborhood" a block or so down the street, but almost everyone in the blocks around us is very community-oriented. Part of it is the circles we run in, which tend to overlap and intersect so we are always meeting people who know people who we know. Unschooling, sustainability, community, music, gardening, these themes that run through our lives bring us in contact with the most wonderful people.

This week, we took a toy bouncy horse that my kids had outgrown to a homeschooling family down the street that we met at the gym last year. They're now taking violin lessons from my daughter's old teacher. The violin teacher emailed me last week about whether or not a "chicken tractor" that she borrowed from us could be loaned to someone else. In turn, I need to call her to ask if we might be able to use her partner's saws to cut some wood for a bookcase. The circles go on and on with people helping, communicating, introducing people to other people until it feels like there is a giant lovely web that we have all somehow built.

I have lived places without this web, and it can feel lonely, isolated, disconnected. I think we are meant to feel this web connecting us - a feeling that if we somehow were to stumble or fall, that other people would hold their threads strong and we would be okay. Without that, it sometimes feels as if there is an abyss below our feet and that if somehow lose our tenuous grasp of things, we will disappear into its maw. I think about the stress that people feel in "modern life" and believe it is largely the stress of complete self-reliance, something we are probably not meant to ever be.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Stuck in a Car

Just whining here... I injured my foot last weekend in my triathlon and now I can't walk, I can't bike, I am basically just limping around. I realize that I've taken this all for granted in the past, this ability to completely get around under my own steam! We tried to take a family walk to the store yesterday and I made it about a quarter mile. My husband had to take the kids while I limped home.

Plus, it's pouring rain today and just blah. [end whine]

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Back To Autumn

Ten days in Florida on gorgeous sandy beaches, lounging by palm-fringed hotel pools - okay, that was totally awesome. I can't complain at all! But by the time we were ready to come home, I was hungry for the seasonal change of my Northwest home.

Fall here is really stunning. Our town lives in a climactic confluence that gives it an astonishing variety of deciduous trees. The entire town turns gold, russet, purple, orange, canary yellow, dark red, umber, and crimson. The pumpkin patches and corn fields fall gently to pieces, and the rains come and go with brilliant flashes of blue sky between.

I'm sure by February, I will be dreaming of sunny beaches, but for now Give me Fall!

Monday, October 16, 2006


My son is really into Dungeons & Dragons these days, and I was recently inspired to look back through some of my old notebooks from grade school and junior high in an attempt to find my old D&D notes, sketches, and dungeon diagrams to share with him. What I found instead was an old writing assignment from 5th grade, when I was about my son's age. It was entitled "Who I Am" and apparently I was to list all of the things I felt with myself in an "I am a...." format.

The list was long, and includes things that no longer apply (though I am still a guinea pig owner and lover and I do still like to cook pumpkin pie). The thing that struck me most, though, was the continuity of purpose and personality in looking 30 years back at this younger me. I identified myself as a cyclist, a gardener, a swimmer, an environmentalist, and a feminist. On my list was outdoorsperson, hiker, lover of animals, and many entries linking me to family, friends, and community. I listed myself as a Democrat and an American. I also found other telling evidence, copies of letters to then-president Jimmy Carter, urging him to adopt Oregon's bottle bill nationally. A poster I drew for a local contest, sponsored by the utility company, my entry was a drawing of a solar house.

Though I have come through much in the intervening years, it's comforting to see how many of my core values are still such a large part of my life today. The things that mattered to me then, matter now. Community, environment, conservation, family, outdoor activities, political activism. Continuity.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Bicycling Summit

Sometimes I just really love my city, and this is one of those days. They're holding a bicycling and pedestrian summit to focus on making our city even more bicycle and pedestrian friendly. They're also hoping to draw more bicycling tourists here, which I think would be a great idea. I have long thought that we've got some of the best hidden scenery in the world. Just on the other side of the hill I live on are miles and miles of rolling hills, forests, wineries, fields. It's just gorgeous out there. All it needs is some little Tuscany-esque cafes and guest houses scattered about and it would be just about perfect. Somehow, sipping a Gatorade in front of a country store while the trucks roll by just doesn't cut it.

In this summer's construction season, our city also redid a large section of one of our bike paths with all-new concrete instead of the cracking bicycle-eating asphalt. And they've put in dozens of new pedestrian crossings with median strips in the middle of the street. I'm excited that our city continues to commit resources to improve bikeability and walkability.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend the bicycling summit, because I have to, well, bicycle, LOL. I only have two long bike rides left before the Ironman, and Saturday will have to be one of them. So I'm hoping to give some input to one of my friends who will be going, and hear back from them on how it all shakes out.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Dance of the Bees

We must have a good couple of wild honeybee hives somewhere in the woods near our house, because the perennials out front are simply chock full of bees. There's hardly any real estate in the flower beds that doesn't have a bee on it. My daughter says with wonder "Mom, somewhere close to here, a bee must be doing a special dance just to show the others bees where our flower beds are. Isn't that amazing?"

Yes, it is.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

More Gleaning

We took a family bike ride on Sunday, a beautiful sunny day, bracketed by rain and drizzle. One of the local running trails goes through an old filbert orchard, and the ground is just covered with fallen hazelnuts. We picked up pounds and pounds of them. Now I just need to get a good nutcracker and we can spend winter nights by the fire cracking open some gorgeous Oregon hazelnuts.

Friday, September 15, 2006


My little corner of the world is fertile, abundant with fruits. They are just dripping off of trees and vines this time of year. Many are lying wasted on the ground, as busy people with fruit trees in their yards simply don't have the time to harvest and process this Autumn windfall. The squirrels, raccoons, and deer are getting plump and sleek as they boldly stroll around our neighborhood enjoying the smorgasbord. We had a good-sized buck in the back field yesterday, but I didn't get to my camera in time, and he wandered off into the woods.

I've made it a habit of politely inquiring of the people I see out and about if they mind if I pick their fruit from trees that are overflowing with it. Some trees around town even have signs giving permission from the owners ahead of time. The kids and I have also been hitting the neighborhood blackberry vines hard, right up until the first raindrop of Fall fell yesterday evening. So I've got 20+ quarts of blackberries in the freezer, and a kitchen full of apples and pears to process. Our housemate/renter has turned our plum tree into batches of double-boiled jam (a pectin-less recipe from Europe, he says).

It's amazing how much free food there is, just here for the taking around town. Which is a good thing, because last night that buck found the hole in our fence and helped himself to our garden!

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Sign Says It All

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Reaping What You Sow

Yes, it's that time of year. No, not time for massive Back To School ads, stocking up on notebooks, binders, and crayons, and catching the big yellow bus. It's harvest time. I think one has to be wary of new rituals. In looking back historically, any time a new ritual is put forth strongly by the powers that be, it's because it is meant to replace an old ritual, usually one that has value and worth to the people who practice it. Christmas and Easter quite susipciously fall on dates previously occupied by important pagan holidays, dates that basically have nothing whatsoever to do with Christ's birth or death. And the ritual of Back To School falls neatly on top of what used to be the harvest.

Does anyone remember when school actually started in the Fall? There was a reason for that. Kids helped out in the farm, or even just in the garden patch at home. Even when I was growing up (not so long ago, for your information!), many kids were working in the fields or off on hunting trips as the leaves began to fall. Not so anymore. Some kids in the U.S. have already been back at their desks since mid-August, is it any wonder that farm families are finding it hard to keep their children in the family farming tradition? The kids are pulled away from it starting in Kindergarten. As a nation and a culture, we have lost contact with the turning of the seasons, the yearly cycles of abundance and lack. Why bother? We have a grocery store just down the road.

Unschooling gives us the opportunity to revel in the abundance of the season. To pick blackberries all morning and eat corn on the cob right off our stalks for dinner, and yes, to pose as The Statue of Cucumber Liberty. We've got applesauce to brew up, plums to dry, and berries to freeze. Also of course, big empty beaches to visit, lakes to kayak, and campgrounds to occupy, now that they're blissfully quiet. And I hear that the huckleberries are just starting to come on at the coast...

Friday, August 25, 2006

What Did We Do On a Friday?

We picked up our Bike Friday Tandems and went for a cruise. To the local chocolate factory, of course! We actually picked them up on Wednesday, and have been biking all over the place since then. The kids love them, and I'm so much happier with them safely tucked behind us, it extends our range to streets that I wouldn't go on if they were on their own bikes, and extends our distance and shortens our time to get there as well!

Now, the only major question is: is it more fun to bike with my kids on a tandem, or with my husband?? We dropped the kids off at their robotics camp this morning, then put the seat up on one of the tandems and took off together on our "bicycle built for two". They say that riding a tandem will either make or break a marriage, but we have already flown an airplane together (and he is a notorious backseat driver, er, pilot) so I figured we would be okay. It was fun, crazy, and a little scary. From the back, I can't see much, and have to rely on what it feels like he's about to do (turn, stop, coast). From the front, I have to keep the balance, which is a lot harder with him on the back than with one of the kids! You have to stop and start, lean, coast, and pedal together, and we were both laughing our heads off just trying to get the thing started. What fun.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

On My Bookshelf

Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners by Suzanne Ashworth

Someone recommended this excellent book to me and it is totally chock full of information you need to get started with seed saving. I have to admit it is pretty overwhelming, when you start thinking about isolating various crops from cross-pollination (especially since many of our neighbors have vegetable gardens) and all the different techniques you need for different vegetables. I got the book out from the library, but I can already tell I'll need to buy it to use as a more or less constant reference. I'm saving seeds this year from a few easy plants - melons, pumpkins, edameme, and I'll try the harder stuff as we go.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

When Bad Things Happen to Good Chickens

This weekend a dog in the neighborhood killed three of our beloved chickens. On our property, right in front of the kids, with me trying to get the dog away and frantically calling for the owners to come get the dog. I can still hear my daughter's voice in my head "Mommy, he's killing Goldie! Mommmmmmyyyyyy!!!!" and like those awful slow-motion dreams, not being able to get there in time to stop this dog. We buried them with a small ceremony on Saturday night, but the sadness won't leave for awhile.

When we got chickens, it was for the purpose of laying eggs - a sort of a utilitarian feature. I was unprepared for how endearing these creatures could be, how they would each have their own personality and quirks, how they would follow me around while gardening, with their soft little "bwaaaks" and squawks, looking for the bugs and worms I turned up. And so I was unprepared for the amount of grief that their demise has brought.

Goldie was our first egg-layer. For reasons unknown, she picked the side-vent of our house as a likely nesting box and laid her first few eggs in there. Afterwards, she would walk around the yard, loudly and proudly proclaiming her accomplishment. It was so fun for the kids to find those first few eggs.

Boudicca the Fierce was the leader of the whole chicken tribe, top of the pecking order (and the most likely to peck at me when she was a little chick). She was fiesty and funny.

And our beloved Dingbat, who was originally named Aphrodite, but renamed when her vision problems caused her to miss the door to the pen and run into the wire on many occasions. She also had a gimpy toe, that probably went along with her poor vision, but she had a very sweet temperament, and was the only chicken to take our new babies under her wing this year and shepherd them around the yard.

These three sweet being brought smiles and their funny silly chicken antics into our lives and we will miss them terribly. I know that out there in the big world people are having much worse days than this. I know people in many places would give their eyeteeth to have a day where only chickens die (or even be happy, because then they would have a decent meal), but for us, we've lost some beloved pets and we are grieving "just for chickens".

RIP Goldie, Boudicca the Fierce, and Dingbat.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Nothing Like Scarcity

We camped in the desert for 6 days this week. There's nothing like having no water around for miles and miles to really make you appreciate the stuff. To savor every drop. To be completely and totally aware of how you use it. I think here in the reasonably rainy PacNW, we forget what a precious commodity water really is. Especially the clean, drinkable stuff. When you're out there in the dust zone, straining off your cooking water into another pot so you can re-use it to wash dishes, and emptying the water from your cooler into your dog's bowl, it becomes much more apparent.

It was a great journey, in many ways. And coming back, I have a new appreciation for the ease at which I can turn on a faucet and get beautiful clear water to fill my glass.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The New Family Vehicle

After a couple of years of deliberation, we finally ordered our new family tandem bicycles today. So far, the Burley Piccolo (tag-a-long) has been suiting us fairly well. I started off cycling with both kids in the Burley trailer, then moved M. to the tag-a-long while A. was still small enough to be in the trailer. When she turned 5, she moved up to the tag-a-long, which meant that M. had to ride his own bike. That works well for the many streets in town that are bike-friendly and relatively traffic free, but it limits us when we want to go somewhere that has more cars or I feel is too dangerous for him to navigate. On a street with lots of traffic and a narrow bike lane, one swerve on his part could be disastrous. The tandem will free us up to go longer distances, faster, and also to go on streets where I feel more comfortable being in control of the whole bike and both kids. So we'll hook the tag-a-long to the back of the tandem and off we'll go! For days when DH is around, we can take both tandems.

Here's the Bike Friday folding tandem I'll be using with the kids!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

New Garden Pics

All the raised beds are in, and things are growing really well. We've gotten a good number of snap peas, and planted more lettuce than we could eat. I haven't bought anything green from the store in weeks! The squirrels have taken all the strawberries (they'll be moved up to planters on the deck). Here's a couple pics of our new garden space. This one is taken from the top deck, looking down into the back.

This is the "shade garden", mostly perennial shade lovers, and I've added in some blueberries and huckleberries into this area:

Monday, July 03, 2006

A Little Bit of Anything Adds Up

I watered my garden yesterday with 10 gallons of water that would've gone down the drain. I've always dreamed of having some sort of graywater recovery system, but retrofitting one into this house would be a major and expensive project. So I decided to do something small to recover just some of the graywater - put a five gallon bucket in our shower, and whenever we turn on the shower to warm it up (which takes awhile on the second floor because the water heater is in the basement), the cold water that's running can go into the bucket. It's a shame to waste all of that clean water just because it's not warm!

After a couple of weeks of trying it, I'll say that the bucket system is working really well. Best of all, when you start looking at saving one little wasteful bit, it really opens your eyes to all the other bits that you're also throwing away. Now when I drain my cooler after camping, I drain it into a bucket. If I don't want to use it right then, I can just pour it into our rain barrel. And when I shower, I'm more cognizant of the amount of water that's being wasted, so I only turn the water on halfway - it still feels like a full shower, but it's using half as much water!

Sometimes it feels overwhelming to think about all of the things we'd like to change to become more sustainable. Making just one small change is easy though, and so many other changes can flow naturally from that. I recently read some wise words: "Walk in the direction you want to be going." It sounds so simple and it's really true. You don't have to get there today, but if you put one foot on the path, you're headed there eventually.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Bambi Vs. Godzilla

I don't know if you've seen this short film, Bambi Vs. Godzilla, made in 1969. You can view it here. It's very simple: Bambi is in the forest, looking around at the beautiful meadows and butterflies and such, and then Godzilla's foot comes down and stomps him flat. I just went to a memorial service (celebration of life) for a friend who was out bicycling in the beautiful meadows and was hit by a logging truck. Kind of like Godzilla's foot, out of nowhere. She was a really, truly amazing person. It's times like this when I wish I hadn't seen so many episodes of Six Feet Under, because it somehow allows a window into seeing the grim reality of death and what it all really means to the corporeal body. I've been torn this week with so many conflicting emotions - sadness of course, and a feeling of tragedy, a life cut way too short - especially such a dynamic life, the memories of the person, the spirit, the life of such a person, the ugly reality of such a death, the fear that you don't always express but is still there when you spend thousands of miles a year on a bicycle, among large multi-ton objects moving twice as fast as you, the feeling that you shouldn't have to feel such a fear, that you just want to enjoy the beautiful feeling of freedom that riding a bicycle can be.

I was on that same road, not all that many hours before she was. Those logging trucks have passed me so many times. Maybe that logging truck. But it's not just that road, and it's not just that truck. Today, bicycling to her service, I had to change lanes in traffic and the guy behind me roared up on my rear wheel and honked. Never mind I legally can use a lane of traffic just like any other vehicle. Normally drivers here are quite used to bicycles and often very courteous. Maybe this guy just moved here from California, along with half our new population, I don't know. Before that, I biked with my kids to gymnastics, and had to negotiate a several-block stretch of busy road with no bike lanes. I hate that bit of road. I hate not knowing if some driver will come roaring too close to my kids. But what is the alternative? Live in fear? Only drive a car? As if people don't get killed in cars every day of the year? Have my kids grow up feeling entitled to drive big hulks of moving, resource-sucking metal because otherwise the other hulk-drivers might accidentally just kill them? God, I hate this feeling. I hate not having a good choice, only the ability to choose between bad ones. Drive the resource-sucking hulk, bike with my kids on dangerous road, tell my kids they can't go to gymnastics because the gym is on such a bad road. Where's the good choice?

I'm rambling, I know. I'm still in some shock that this person is gone. The service was amazing. Totally packed with people, showing the amazing depth and breadth of her influence on the many people in her life. People telling stories about her, about the incredible person that she was, all the dimensions of her life. I'm in shock at her death. I'm sad and scared and also full of the knowledge that this won't stop me from going out on the road either. I biked that road again yesterday, the one with the logging trucks - it's such a short stretch of road, but it connects so many of the local bike routes. To avoid it would be to cut out half the great local routes. My husband is out somewhere on his bike right now, coming home from work, 10 miles away. So if you're reading this and you're a hulk driver (as are many of us, even those of us who cycle as well) please take this moment to reflect that nothing is worth driving in a way that endangers the pedestrians and cyclists that share the roads with you. There's no appointment so important, no moment so big that you might miss that is worth someone's life. Please, drive safely out there.

Friday, May 19, 2006

When I Burn Gas, I'm Supporting the War (and Every Other American Policy I Disagree With)

It seems so simple, but it's so hard to wrap one's head around. Everything presented to us in the media is so separated - this event happens here, this policy happens there, the president does this, congress votes for that. It's difficult to see the direct result of any actions that we personally take.

But the realization has been dawning on me that every single action I take is tied to every action taken "out there" in the political world. The war wouldn't be happening if almost every American wasn't burning way too much gas (and not just in our cars, but with our lifestyles, the things we buy, what we eat, etc.) Going to peace rallies and writing our congressman is all well and good, but if we are going to effect any positive change whatsoever, it is imperative that we stop doing this now. More wars will have to be fought for oil if we continue to use it to fuel our existance. If I wouldn't be willing to sacrifice my kids to those future wars, then I can't, in good conscience, live a lifestyle that will require them to be fought.

So, for personal accountability, I've started keeping a mileage log. My immediate goal is to bring my gas-powered miles below my human powered miles, specifically my transportation miles (not my biking and running for exercise and fun miles). If you are interested in effecting real change in our world, in the policies of our nations and leaders, and in our future, I urge you to give this a try as well. Of course, there are more pieces to the pie than just this. Not buying unnecessary stuff, buying local food, etc. etc. But this is a good first step at personal accountability for what is going on "out there"

Mileage For the Week

Car, Gas: 43 miles, 2.2 gallons
Car, Gas, Carpooling: 21 miles, 1 gallon/2 families = .5 gallons
Car, Biodiesel: 41 miles, 1 gallon
Bike, with kids: 21
Bike, town, no kids: 11
Walking, with kids: 1.5

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

What's a Farm (urban or not) Without a Tire Swing?

My hard-working husband took a break from hauling gravel and putting in garden beds to throw one of my old climbing ropes around this old tire that M. and a friend dragged out of the river last year. It took them about an hour to unstick it from the lovely muck it was embedded in, and figure out a way to carry it between the two of them (which involved using a long stick that they each carried an end of). They arrived back at our picnic spot covered in mucky goo, holding the tire between them on the stick like a muddy caricature of the hunters of yore, and insisting that we had to bring it home to use as a tire swing. Being as I am not as attached to the interior of my car as some might be, we found a way to wrap it in bags and newspaper and bring it along. It has sat in the garage ever since, my son resisting fiercely any attempt by my husband to recycle it, sure it would find it's place as our tire swing eventually. Now the day has come, the underbrush is sufficiently cleared out to have a good swinging spot, and you can see the happy expression on the tenacious tire hunter.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Chick Butts

How could I forget about the chick butts (and do you think I'll get lots of Google hits with a post title like that)? We just got our new baby chickens this weekend, and since we haven't had babies in a year, we had to go buy some starter feed, drag out the heat lamp, and of course I had to resume my role as the checker of the chick butts. Baby chicks are occasionally prone to a condition known as "pasting up" in professional poultry circles, which I won't go into great detail about except to note that I have to check and make sure they don't get chick poo on their back ends which can cause them no end of intestinal problems.

Of course, the chicks do not like this little exercise, and if last year is any indication the chicks will bond to everyone in the family but me. For months to come, even after they've outgrown the tendency to paste up, they will see me coming and take off: "Oh no! It's that crazy lady who wipes our butts!" Run!" This makes me the second least likely person to be able to catch a chicken if it accidentally gets somewhere it's not supposed to be. My daughter, who likes to pick up the chickens and carry them around singing to them, can catch any of them with ease. My son, who has a natural affinity for animals is pretty good at it too. My husband trying to catch a chicken is an act worthy of a vaudeville stage, however, and we have all gotten a few good belly laughs at his expense. Cheap entertainment here on the Blue Skies Farm, almost as good as a greased pig :) Now that I am the person who regularly takes out the kitchen scraps to the chickens, all I have to do is walk outside with a tupperware container in my hand and they will all follow me like the poultry pied piper. Apparently, the memories of the days when I was the tender of chicken butts has finally faded, as it hopefully will for today's chicks.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Elephant in the Room

Today we drove the car to A's dance performance, which was in a biking-inhospitable corner of the sprawl end of town. We haven't driven since Tuesday. The less we drive, the more I notice driving. When we drive all the time, it takes on the feeling of normality, an everyday activity. It's only when I divorce myself from it that I can see it for the abnormality that it is - a blip on the spectrum of human existance, a time when humanity briefly lit the oil candle whose flame burnt fast and furious.

As soon as you start seeing the elephant in the living room, it's there staring you in the face everywhere. It's the guy with the leaf blower at the park, spewing the 2-stroke engine's lovely combination of burning oil and gas, it's the tense faces of the motorists who edge into the crosswalk while you're still in it, trying to shave a few seconds off of wherever they're in a hurry to get to, it's the half-empty buses going by, and the one person in almost every car on the road, and it's in the mirror the next time you pick up your car keys.

We don't want to see that elephant. We are spending so much energy right now not seeing the elephant, it's almost ludicrous. I posted an article from Rolling Stone about The Long Emergency, James Howard Kunstler's term for the post-peak-oil catastrophe we are facing on a bulletin board that I frequent. No one has yet commented on it, or maybe even read it. Meanwhile, Katie Holmes, Tom Cruise, the Duke Lacrosse team, and Denise Richards' divorce from Charlie Sheen have all gotten commentary. Katie Holmes has more in common with ancient Roman gladiators than she will ever guess: a useful diversion from an unpleasant reality.

It's damn hard to look that elephant in the face. I think I'm going to go tune up my bicycle.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A Sunny Reprieve

After all those days of rain, we are into a sunny stretch and getting things done. Four blueberry bushes and three huckleberries are now a part of our permanent landscape. The vertical frames for the garden boxes are done, and just in time since the peas are sprouting like mad (11 days of rain followed by warm weather will do that). We just found out that we are getting two baby chicks from a neighbor whose school class hatched some, but they couldn't keep them. Yay! Two new little peepers. We weren't planning on having chicks this year, so we'll have to scramble a bit for accomodations and see if I can remember how to do this baby chicken thing. We muddled through it last year by the seat of our pants, so I'm sure we'll do fine.

In my head these days, I'm prioritizing the projects that we would like to do and the items we'd like to get over the next few years: Rainwater catchment, building our own wind generator (more for a fun project than in any serious energy-producing capability, but who knows), buying two tandem bicycles for more long range cycling with the kids, building a grape arbor and a kiwi arbor, putting in three fruit trees, clearing all the horrible, invasive ivy out of our woods (lucky for me, with my horrible poison oak symptoms, DH gets that job), clearing the site for the picnic area and the fire pit (I think Friday night summertime campfires with friends sounds like fun, and we've got a lot of scrap wood we need to get rid of that won't fit in our fireplace). It's a lot, and we'll tackle it bit by bit. Whatever the future holds, it can't hurt us to become more self-sufficient and energy-independent.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Heading in the Right Direction

Sometimes the whole environmental catastrophe, peak oil, war, disaster thing just gets to be too much to think about. I can only read or think about it in little bits before my brain feels like it is going to explode or I will descend into a dark depression or something. What works for me is just to find new ways to take steps in the right direction. Today it is planting blueberries. In our ongoing mission to landscape our yard (and thus not to have to weed the vast bark acres), last year I planted rhododendrons, hydrangeas, and azaleas. This year I am planting blueberries and huckleberries. I've determined that most of my landscaping from now on will be food producing. The front yard will still have to be decorative-only because the deer eat anything and everything out there (they even climbed onto our front deck to eat DH's peppers last summer). But the back yard is going to be fruit and veggie heaven.

Last week, DH built our new garden boxes:

Our land is so sloped that this will be the best way to actually be able to grow anything on it. We've been reading Square Foot Gardening, and decided that it's the way to go for us. So we each have a box, kids included, and this will be a year to try it out and start down the path of growing our own food. You can also see our portable guinea pig pen on the lawn (they make great organic lawn mowers) and part of our chicken fencing below.

Friday, April 14, 2006

It's the End of the World As We Know It, and I Feel Fine

Yes, I've probably been reading too many books like The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight and The Long Emergency. I don't buy everything the doom-n-gloomers are predicting, but I buy enough of it to know I want to be moving in a different direction than over the cliff with the rest of the people in this crazy contraption we call our society.

It's not just these two books, or others like them, either. Maybe the journey started a decade ago, when my husband and I read Your Money or Your Life, joined a Voluntary Simplicity discussion group, and decided to change our priorities in life. Most likely, it started even earlier, with my punk rock years of revolt and rebellion, learning to take everything society handed me as truth and turn it on its head, examine it, and decide what I really thought about it. Even before that, I probably have my crazy (I say that in an affectionately good way) family to thank. My co-op shopping, tofu-serving, ERA-shirt-wearing, democrat-voting mom, and my strong-willed, independent-minded, build-his-own-Ham-radio Republican dad.

Whatever it was, the handwriting on the wall about our way of life is getting larger and bolder by the day, and our family has been on a path to become part of the solution for some time, but that path is looking more important as that handwriting gets easier to read. All of our priorities are being re-evaluated from this angle, from whether to plant more azaleas or landscape with food-producing shrubbery like blueberries, whether to invest money in a good tandem bicycle, learning how to raise chickens, turning our sloped lot into a series of raised garden beds, and building community with neighbors and friends. The decisions we make in our every day life matter more than they might've ever mattered in the history of humankind. I think about them every day, and now I get to write about them too. So welcome to the Blue Skies Urban Farm Blog.