Tennesseetransitions


Slowing Down to the Speed of Life

Transitioning to a way of life that is easier on the planet, easier on my digestive system, and easier on my pocketbook gives me reasons enough to make the effort but it’s also become increasingly clear to me that it’s also become a way of life that is simpler, and even slower, in many respects. Part of that may very well be due to the fact that as my body grows older it’s physically slowing down on its’ own, but I honestly feel that I owe most of the magic of slower living to the deliberate choices I make daily, rather than to an aging body. I’m still perfectly capable of getting worked up into a full blown frenzied melt down…it’s just that now I recognize what’s truly important to me and that cramming more activity into my days doesn’t tend to make me any happier. 

I wrote here recently about my new hive of bees I’m honored to be caretaking. I am here to testify that nothing, absolutely NOTHING in this world makes me move more slowly or purposefully, nor be more aware and more mindful than when I work in my bees. 15 minutes with them  is worth an hour on the meditation cushion! And I may have cancer but my blood pressure is perfect these days. I owe it to taking time for things like this; to slowing down enough to finally ‘see’ what I’ve been looking for.

I had a raised bed in my garden that was contaminated with  nematodes: years ago I would’ve applied an overnight chemical solution that would’ve not only immediately killed the nematodes, but would’ve destroyed every other living organism in the bed too. I tried to re-mediate the problem last summer by growing a special marigold in it that supposedly is toxic to the microscopic buggars there. A slower, but much healthier, solution. But over the winter my daughter’s cat decided to use that same bed as a litter box so I knew I’d have to leave it fallow again this summer in order to overcome the health risks associated with that. Enter the bees…

bees 2When life gives you cat shit, plant buckwheat!

Not only is buckwheat a primo crop for honey-making, it’s also a good green manure crop that will not only offer the bees plenty of nectar during the dry summer season, but will also add lots of organic matter to my soil in this troubled bed once I turn it under. I could watch these little pollinators ‘work’ this grain all day, buzzing slowly, yet methodically, through the pretty stand of white flowers. Symbiotic relationship is a biological term used to describe the relationship between two species that depend on each other for survival. I love the symbiotic relationships going on here between myself and my bees. Spending time with, and as a part of, nature can certainly help our transition to a lower-energy, slower-paced, world.

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The bees have already increased my strawberry, blueberry, blackberry and elderberry crops four-fold over previous years, and now they are making honey for my bread and pollen for my allergies. Watching their gentle buzzing lowers my blood pressure and encourages me to grow beautiful flowers for them, all to be enjoyed from the kitchen window while doing the dishes. Un-bee-lievable!

But it ain’t just the bees that have helped me slow my life down. Redefining prosperity for myself has boiled down to this: buying less, using less, wanting less and wasting less has resulted in a simpler, slower life too. A simple life isn’t about seeing how little we can get by with-that’s poverty-but how efficiently we can put first things first…When you’re clear about your purpose and your priorities, you can painlessly discard whatever does not support these, whether it’s clutter in your cabinets or commitments on  your calendar. People sometimes tell me that de-cluttering is really hard for them. Yeah, it can be, for sure. But it’s true that when you set your values and priorities, that process becomes much easier. And the side effects are nothing short of miraculous. 

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 Fishing at sunset off the shore of Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans just last Monday…slowing down to the speed of life… 

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It Starts at Home

These mid-winter days offer me time to ponder the meaning of life, gaze lovingly at my navel, and cross long-carried-over-to-do-items off of my to-do-list. I’ve even cleared out my sewing basket which I think has been on the list for a year now!

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January was National Radon Awareness Month and since I have lung cancer I’ve been thinking a great deal about the dangers of RADON-a leading cause of lung cancer. So, I orRdered a free home test kit here:  https://tdec.tn.gov/Radon_Online/frmRADON_Online.aspx and I hung it for 6 days for testing, mailing it back to the state yesterday.

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It’s precise but simple, and did I mention it’s free? It also comes with a prepaid mailer to return it in! Now be aware…if you find  your home has radon, you’ll need to be prepared to remediate the problem if you plan to ever sell your home, or  you’ll have to at least disclose it should  you sell. But I would hope you wouldn’t wait to sell to alleviate the problem should  you show a high reading. I understand the average remedy costs about $1,000-$1,500 if someone else does the venting work necessary to move the radon out of  your living area. It could probably done much cheaper if you do it yourself. How hard can that be? haha don’t answer that, please.  I’ll let you know when I get my test results back..we’re hoping of course we don’t have any problems.

I’ve also been making lots of soups and canning soup stock, using frozen bags of onion and carrot tops, mushroom stems, celery tops and other trimmings that I save for just such purpose. Last week I made 10 qts of organic broth, and at today’s prices, that equates to at least $20. My time is certainly worth that, and on cold days it helps to warm the house and add humidity by simmering that stock for hours. The resulting golden goodness is good for making soups obviously, but also for cooking rice, pasta, potatoes or beans in too. 

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Speaking of good food and cooking from scratch… I’ve had so many readers ask me for vegan/vegetarian meal ideas that I’ve been writing down what we eat for supper each night, always making sure there’s enough left for lunches the following day. It’s an easy process once you get used to it. I’m sharing this oh-so-exciting information with you, my readers, because maybe you’re one of the ones that have asked for ideas. (If this bores you, just go to the next section.) So, for the first week of February, here was the Jones’ menu:

Week of February 1st,2016

Monday: Good Shepard’s Pie-potato topping made with soymilk and Smart Balance vegan spread-filling contained beans, broccoli, corn, kale, green peppers, tomatoes, carrots, onions, bay leaf, dried basil, and srirachi sauce. (This is called GOOD Shepard’s Pie because a GOOD shepard doesn’t eat his sheep.)

Tuesday: Fried Rice w/peas and carrots in peanut sauce, roasted brussels sprouts

Wednesday: Aloo Gobi over Jasmine Rice with Fusion Slaw and Rolls

Thursday: Bean and Potatoes Burritos w/Guacamole, leftover Asian Slaw

Friday: Kale, Mushrooms and Potato Bake w/Salads and Whole Grain Rolls, fresh pineapple chunks

Saturday: Grill Cheese Sandwiches w/canned soup, with pickles and fresh fruit (bananas, pineapple and red grapes)

Sunday: Pad Thai w/Naan and Salad

Looking at the lengthening days and the calendar I’m beginning to think about spring planting of course. We ate our last Longkeeper tomato last week…

20160206_170333[1]...so the goal is to grow more of them and get them in earlier than we did in 2015 so that hopefully we’ll be able to grow enough this year to last the whole winter next year!  When planning  your own garden, perhaps you can find space to plant a “ROW” for the “Rest of the World.” Because I live in the city, all I have to do to share that extra produce is to set it out on my front steps.

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If  you aren’t in a high walkability area you may need to load it up and take it to your nearest food pantry or church. Please consider this one little addition to your garden this year…it can make a big difference and won’t cost you much of anything to provide good food for someone who doesn’t have it.

I’ve long advocated that we use our homes as a place of productivity, not simply a center of consumption. There’s a LOT of trouble in this big world and so I feel compelled to do what I can personally to feed and clothe and keep my family as safe and healthy as I possibly can. I share this blog with you in the hopes that it may inspire you to become more self sufficient in any way you can too. It’s my unpaid job but more satisfying than any other position I’ve ever held. It helps me to feel as secure as I possibly can given the state of things. The stock market has crashed again (no surprise there) but since I’ve not been in good health we aren’t driving much (except to doctors’ appointments!) so we’re hardly spending anything on gasoline these days. I love that we can walk to almost every place we need to, giving me an extra layer of assurance that ‘all will be well’. I need that assurance in order to BE well.

In order to create resilient and prosperous households and neighborhoods, it starts at home with me, with you, and you. 



Radical Home Economics

Back in about 1967, (you know, when dinosaurs walked the Earth) all 7th grade school girls were required to take “Home Economics”, while boys had to take “Wood Shop”. I still have the sturdy footstool by brother made for our mother but I happily no longer have the ugly red dress I had to make-with darts and a zipper! At the time I resisted the sewing and cooking skills taught to us by Mrs. Fuller, but the concepts stuck with me, and for most of my adult life I’ve been able to sew a complete wardrobe- from a Barbie dress to a wedding dress- or cook a 10-course meal from appetizers to dessert. Too bad  most folks don’t still consider those valuable skills, but with yard goods now costing more than many fully-made, store bought garments, and convenience foods costing less than many food basics, I can understand the reasoning-if pure frugality is the only criteria. Having raised four daughters, sewing and cooking skills were invaluable to our family.

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Now that I am beginning to see the light at the end of my chemo tunnel, I am reminded anew that those skills and more are part of me now and frugality is not the only criteria. I just don’t know how to live my life any other way. Michael and I deliberately chose to live a life of voluntary simplicity when we took early retirement in 2002-I at 49 and he at 55, a decision we’ve never once regretted. Sure, we’ve had to make choices, but those choices were often very agreeable ones: did we want 150 channels of Cable TV or could we be satisfied with a roof top antennae and a converter box? The extra time not spent watching so much television opened the door to many other pleasant activities, like playing music and volunteering, gardening, writing this blog, joining a church and other organizations that hold similar values to ours. Over the years we also discovered that using our house as a center of production vs using it as a center of consumption fit right in with a simpler lifestyle, all while enabling us to live lives that feel very rich indeed! We’ve had to make some concessions recently due to lingering health problems and increased medical expenses, but  growing and preserving food, reusing and repurposing, all while making the house as energy efficient as possible still allows us to live comfortably in spite of the increased expenses. My grandmother used to call it “Pulling in your horns”. I prefer ‘radical home economics’ because the former makes it sound like a temporary situation, but radical homemaking is truly a way of life.

I recently read a blog post about how some middle class folks just like us are buying older, smaller homes in well-established neighborhoods and using every inch of available space in the home and yard to increase the home’s productivity: some are renting an extra room out, others are converting former garages into home office space or workshops. Others are tending small flocks of hens and beehives; but what about rabbits? When my daughters were  young and involved with 4-H projects we started with a buck and two does and within 6 months had 32 rabbits! A quiet, high protein source of meat that could easily be grown, harvested and prepared for the freezer was the idea-far easier than chickens, pigs or cows, for example. 

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Radical? not really. But I digress…

Many are converting front-yards to raised beds for growing fresh food and back-yards to clothes lines, compost bins and rainwater storage barrels.

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These conventional, affordable homes are being converted to radical  home economies and are substituting beautifully for the large homesteads that were so eagerly sought after in the ’70s and ’80s. AND these homes can often be paid for with the proceeds made from selling their former McMansion or McSpread. It’s heartwarming to me, especially during this cold spell we’re experiencing here in NE TN, to know we are not alone.

What are  you doing to make your home productive vs consumptive? This first month of this new year is a good time to think about ways you might do that in 2016, then share them with the rest of the readers in the comments section. ElmStreetLogo

 

 



We Have the Tools We Need

grandmaThis blog is mostly about ways to create resilient and prosperous households, neighborhoods and communities, or, as implied in the picture above, ways to “do stuff”. I wrote a post earlier this year on ‘redefining prosperity’ and I’ve been reminded of it several times this week while listening to lunch break talk. As you probably know, stock markets around the world have taken a beating since last Friday, and folks, from economists to retirees to my workmates are worried. Call me crazy, but I’m not worried, even though we lost a lot ON PAPER due to the plunge. I try to measure my personal prosperity based on how wealthy I am in non-tangible ways rather than on what the monthly statements tell me. Of course I hate to lose money, even if it is ON PAPER, as much as anyone. But I don’t feel any real sense of loss. I’m not going to sell out now, I’m going to stay the course and let the blue chips fall where they may. In the meantime I intend to continue doing whatever I can to make my home and family and community more resilient, so that when the economic crashes and recessions occur-and they will!- we’ll still be standing.

On a personal level, that means staying out of debt and paying cash or doing without. It means using what I have on hand, before buying something, whether it’s a jar of our home-grown tomatoes or a bottle of shampoo. It means continuing to grow as much food as I can, saving my own seeds and making small mountains of compost so that I can return what I’ve taken from the soil, and then doing it all over again next year. It means keeping my body as strong and as healthy as I can through healthy eating, regular exercise and sleeping 7 or 8 hours each night. It means repairing rather than replacing, putting food up for the winter, hanging the sheets on the line to dry, using the fan rather than the AC and driving the car less. I have the tools I need…

Resiliency and prosperity is different for each of us though. Perhaps for you it’s working through debt, learning a special skill that might be useful in bad times, or starting your own small business. For ALL of us, it really does mean having a local supply chain, just like our grandparents did during the Great Depression. When China’s economy collapses (and according to recent NPR reports that’s not as far fetched as you may think) that familiar ‘made in China’ supply chain will break and we’ll be dependent on what we can produce right here at home. And if that chain doesn’t break, doesn’t it just make SENSE to supply ourselves with our own stuff, right here at home? We need the jobs here-badly. And by the way, I’d advise China to do the same. Did you know that last month the USDA gave the OK to ship our LIVE chickens that were raised here to China for processing, then ship the meat BACK to the US for our consumption? What would our grandparents have thought of that hare-brained scheme? Would they have raised their own backyard chickens and sent them away to butcher? In direct contrast, check out the message on this poster that the USDA produced during the Great Depression:

Feed YourselfOur recently re-activated neighborhood association met with the chief of police and the sergeant  assigned to our district Monday night to discuss ways we can keep our neighborhood safer and free from July 4th fireworks that go on throughout the month. Working side by side with neighbors on issues that affect all of us is a sure way to get to know one another and be part of a more livable community. There were 33 people at the meeting, with plans to have block captains, neighborhood watches and to be represented in this year’s Christmas parade! That’s the start of better resilience for sure. I’m hoping at some point we’ll begin to talk about public gardens,orchards and vineyards, bike lanes, Little Free Libraries and “Safe Houses”, health clinics and more. We have the tools we need…

And finally, on a larger community level, resiliency and prosperity might mean outlining a detailed plan for community food security or supporting a community-owned energy system, municipal composting facility or ride sharing plan. It may mean a leaner and slower way of life for some, but also a healthier, happier and more peaceful world for us and future generations to enjoy. We have the tools we need… What we do with them is up to us.

hard times to dance



Frugal Friday- May 29, 2015

I consider having the time to hang my laundry on the line or bake my own bread as a luxury, not a drudgery.

I was hanging my laundry this morning and two of the three female attorneys that have their office next door came out on to their back porch as I was doing so, laughing and chatting. After a minute or so, I noticed it had gotten mighty quiet over there, so I glanced over towards them and almost with embarrassment they said they were “wistfully” watching me hang the sheets. These are both women much younger than me, but they said they “don’t have time to hang laundry” and wish they could because they love the smell of air dried clothes so much. They remembered their grandmothers doing it. (I guess that makes me old enough to be their grandmother). Anyway, I offered to let them hang up my wet laundry anytime they wanted, but I had no takers. However, when I offered them some just-dug oregano one of them jumped on the offer as though I’d offered her home made chocolate chip cookies! I was pleased to share a bit of my philosophy of simple living with these two hard working career women and hope we can have more conversations this summer over that clothesline.

It’s been a meaningful and productive week for me. And even though productive is really just a euphemism for ‘working my ass off’, it’s been pleasant. We enjoyed out of town company over the holiday weekend, but when they left Monday morning, they not only left us with some fond memories, they also left some fresh avocados, cherry tomatoes and a container of leftovers from a schwanky Asheville restaurant in the frig.  So naturally, it was my civic duty to not let it go to waste.

Monday: We enjoyed those leftovers for lunch, and then for supper used one of the avocados and tomatoes to make guacamole, which we enjoyed with fresh corn tortillas and a Mexican Quinoa/Spinach salad, made with stuff I already had on hand and in the garden. We also took our car for a free deluxe car wash and vacuum job-they give them to all veterans on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day! Su-weet deal, saving us $10 IF we’d had to pay for it. But of course, we normally wash and vacuum our own car so we didn’t really ‘save’ $10 but it really was a nice little gift to get it done for free on that hot day.

Tuesday: With the warming weather I could tell my spring-planted lettuce was going to bolt, so I harvested bags and bags of it, donated most of it to One Acre Cafe, and and then enjoyed a huge veggie salad Monday night, adding leftover red onion, beans, hard boiled eggs, sunflower seeds, carrots, green pepper strips and the rest of the avocado to it, again, using stuff I already had on hand or in the garden.

Wednesday: We enjoyed the monthly Wednesday Night Supper of veggie quiche, fresh salad, with strawberries and ice cream for dessert at our church for just five dollars each. This monthly dinner always has great food, is well worth the price and we really enjoy the chance to share some extra time with our church family, and of course, take a break from cooking!

Thursday: Earlier in the week a friend that Michael had played with at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning dropped by with a bag of 2 huge tomatoes, 2 lbs of new potatoes, a large sweet onion, 4 crisp apples and more as his share for playing that day. Our small market only pays a tiny cash stipend for playing, but all the vendors are then asked to contribute something for the musicians. We didn’t expect all that, but once again, enjoyed the windfall! I made curried potato salad which we enjoyed with veggie burgers topped with fresh lettuce and thick slices of sweet onion and tomato. Another day I used the other tomato to make fresh pico de gallo to scoop on top of cumin black beans and rice. Ad nauseum, all made with ingredients I already had on hand.

Friday:  If you think all I’ve done this week is cook and eat, I’d say, “not quite”. I go through spurts when the garden is pumping out fresh food almost by the hour and I really do enjoy trying new recipes and making old favorites that take advantage of that bounty. So yeah, there’s been a lot of that this week. Once you get over food needing to be fast, easy and cheap, it makes a big difference in what you can produce.  But one night we played a gig that was quite fun (and earned decent money as well as a great free meal), we’ve gotten both our gardens almost fully planted, we’ve taken some great walks and enjoyed the new public art that was installed at the nearby park, had time to savor a good book, watched a Netflix movie or two, and met a friend for coffee. Can you say “contented”?

I hope these occasional Frugal Friday posts inspire you to make space in your life so that you too can have time and money to enjoy the things in life that make you happy. As we transition to a lower energy lifestyle ( and YES I definitely believe we’ve passed “Peak Oil”) , we’ll all need to adapt to a smaller energy footprint. Whether that’s growing some of your own food, solar drying your laundry, riding your bike to the library, cooking from scratch or learning to use tools ‘like a man’, those activities will become necessary skills, rather than ‘romantic notions’. I hope these posts give you even a small inkling of how sweet that “lower energy” life can be!



Back to Basics
May 6, 2015, 9:39 PM
Filed under: Back to Basics

Sometimes I have to relearn old lessons-important lessons that I thought I’d never, ever forget! In the case of my own health and well being, I think I got so wrapped up in curing Michael’s cancer that I let my own health slide. A year ago, exactly one year into his two year cancer odyssey, I began taking cholesterol-lowering statins and blood pressure medication. And they worked very well-except the effects lulled me into thinking “I am safe and healthy now”. About the same time, Michael wasn’t healing well from his multiple surgeries, so doctors encouraged him to get a meat form of protein into his diet, rather than the fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains that had kept us both in excellent health for almost 10 years. So, we started with a bit of chicken, and placebo or not, he began to heal very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t just jump on the meat bandwagon right away! We tried protein powders, protein shakes, protein bars and more before we tried the chicken, but doctors said when our bodies are under severe trauma (as in colon surgery) that a ‘more powerful’ form of protein is needed, and that the only form of that is via eating meat. Now, a year later, he’s healed and been declared cancer free, as of 2 weeks ago. Funny thing though, now he’s become seriously B-12 deficient. So deficient that he’s taking regular B-12 shots. The very vitamin that he’s deficient in, comes from, you guessed it, meat. When we ate a mostly vegan diet, he was not B-12 deficient. These truly are what I call “things that make you go, “hmmmm”.

Lately I’ve been feeling serious muscular pain in my neck, shoulders and upper arms, so I find myself taking Tylenol for it. I’ve also noticed in the last 3 months an irritating and worsening ability to remember common words. Like at supper tonight, we had mango salsa on our fish, only I couldn’t remember the word mango. And in that first paragraph, I couldn’t think of the word placebo. Earlier today my daughter asked me if I could remember how much niacin her doctor had advised her to take to clear some of her own mental fog and coincidentally, help lower her own cholesterol, (even though her level was quite acceptable). I went to some of my usually reliable online sources for medical advice, and one link led to another and another, and I began to read more and more about the possible side effects of statins. Can you guess what they are? Muscle tissue breakdown and short term memory loss, for starters!

So, what lesson did I forget? To take personal responsibility for my health, rather than relying on a doctor that barely knows me and makes recommendations based on one simple blood test.

What other lessons have I forgotten? 17 years ago I took a 6 week course called “Voluntary Simplicity” that quite literally changed my life. I embraced the ideas and practices of leading a simpler life, and in doing so, established a profound sense of purpose, direction and joy in my life. Somehow these last two years of cancer-fighting found me putting aside some of the very values and principles that I know I need for my own continued good health. I’ve compromised myself a lot, by taking on too many projects, abandoning my spiritual practices of yoga and meditation, and letting clutter creep back into my personal space, for starters. I even started buying the damn paper towels again!!!  Sometimes conveniences seem necessary. But then they can stealthily become ‘needs’, rather than ‘conveniences’, and before  you know it, you’re buying the damn 6 pack because they’re so much cheaper per roll that way!

define necessity

Another example: last night was the first of this season’s monthly garden classes for the community gardeners. I forgot it completely, and I’m sure it’s due to the fact that I’m juggling too many balls in the air~and the statins seriously affecting my short term memory! My life isn’t simple anymore. I’m not having much fun either because my days are ruled by the ‘To-Do List God’. I’m not eating as healthy. When I find that I’m buying paper towels again, it’s a sure barometer of ‘not enough time’.

So, I’m getting back to basics again…I started this evening by dropping a bag of stuff off at the thrift store when I walked the dog. Donating excess stuff feels good and helps somebody, somewhere, I’m certain. I cooked a delicious, healthy meal from scratch, and mostly from the garden, for supper. I’m weaning myself off the statins beginning tonight, and  I will meditate before I go to bed, so that I can begin to lower that blood pressure back to P.C. levels. (That’s ‘pre-cancer’ levels.) I’m going to follow my own advice to ‘just say no’ to anymore obligations for a while. I’m going to read more, nap more, write more, plant more and spend a lot of time on the porch this summer.

porch sitting




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