Mr and Mrs Cleaver Don’t Live Here Anymore
August 9, 2014, 9:45 PM
Filed under: Community Building, Creating Community | Tags:


How many times have I discussed ‘community’ on this blog? 20, 50, 100 times? I recently ran into a friend that I seldom get to see and somehow our conversation quickly turned to how difficult it is to form relationships with our neighbors. Often we find others at church, at work, or in groups we belong to that we click with almost instantly, but neighbors?? hmm… Is it simply because with those others, we know from the beginning of the work day, worship service or meeting that we are together for a specific period of time? But neighbors? That’s different, since they’re always there (or presumably so) nor do we share the common bond, other than street address, that we do with other groups we’re a part of.

What can we do about that? I consider myself fairly outgoing, but I find it rather difficult to strike up a conversation beyond “hello” with strangers. Someone that’s rather introverted or shy might find it really difficult. So what can I do? And why bother?

I have so many ideas, but only so much time and energy. Beyond community gardens, I envision a community kitchen/cannery, seed libraries, community owned greenhouses and solar power stations. I’d like to see local food and child care cooperatives, city-wide composting facilities, and local millers, bakers and candle stick makers. You get the idea. Everything that we make, build, grow or cook in our homes and backyards now would be so much more efficiently accomplished if we had the help, talent and energy of many hands. Communes, Intentional Communities and Cohousing are all good solutions to this dilemma, but for those of us that either can’t, or don’t want to be quite that close, our neighbors are the next best thing to safer, more livable and lovable neighborhoods. So, knowing this to be true, why am I so reluctant to form bonds and friendships with my neighbors? My only excuse is that most seem to be transient and I know how much time relationships take. But that’s a cop out. I don’t need to be best friends with my neighbors, just something beyond a “hi, how are you?” relationship.

Here are some ideas I’ve had lately about ways to solve that:

1. I could have a cookout. Post fliers around the neighborhood, pick a time and just do it! Music and badminton and burgers should be enough, right? I don’t know really. Would you go to a cookout where you didn’t know anyone? What if they all bring beer and get drunk and never leave?

2. Hold a ‘Neighborhood Watch’ program, and ask the public safety officer for our neighborhood to help us get organized. Being neighbors is our one common bond after all. I think we need to look at front porches as crime fighting tools, but what about during the winter?

3. It’s the time of year when I have more tomatoes than friends. Sometimes free tomatoes make friends out of strangers, but usually they just disappear (the tomatoes and the people who take them). Should I organize an annual neighborhood yard sale so we’d all have a chance to get rid of our excesses?


4. Speaking of organizing: maybe revitalizing a now-defunct neighborhood association or starting a monthly newsletter might help us all get to know one another better. This seems the best tactic to me.

5. I approached neighbors on each side of me recently to ask how they’d feel about my getting beehives. They both seemed happy about the prospect. Could that be the key to a neighborly bond? Or an eventual lawsuit?

Since many of my neighbors are students and young unmarrieds, with many of the large older homes in this historic district converted to insurance and attorney offices, yoga studios or chiropractors, this whole building community stuff is trickier than usual. I’d love to get some feedback from you in the comments below. Is neighborliness just a 50’s era dream I remember? Do you have a neighbor you can borrow a cup of sugar from? Or am I just borrowing trouble while looking for that cup of sugar?

Feeding Our Future


For those of you new to this blog, I moved to my 113 year old urban house in the summer of 2012 with a deliberate mission to grow a garden and cultivate a sense of community in my new neighborhood. Today my next door neighbor brought over two slices of still-warm lemon pound cake. I suspect she’d spotted my husband Michael a half hour before, trying to increase his stamina with the daily 2 minute walks he takes (still in his sleep pants!) from our back door to the alley and back, and thought to herself: “That poor old man! I should take him some cake!”. Whatever her reasons, we were both happy with her decision to share. Michael’s happiness was with the delicious cake. Mine was in the fact that I’ve FINALLY been able to ‘connect’ with her. (OK, I loved the cake too) All summer I’d left little bags or recycled butter bowls filled with tomatoes, peppers, herbs and more at her back door, picked fresh from our garden. We’d speak in the back yard, just polite ‘hellos’ and ‘how are yous’ but her kind gesture encourages me now to continue to get to know her, and her pound cake recipe! I’ve spoken lots more with her son and his pup than with her, finding out that they’ve lived there for over 6 years, he’s a grad student, and the dog’s name is Pippa. The point is, sometimes it can be difficult to ‘reach out and touch someone’ but almost everyone will eventually respond to small gestures of food and friendship.

Why do I care so much about getting to know the neighbors? Before moving to our urban home, we’d lived quite remotely in the country and I’d missed having neighbors during that 10 years, but it’s become more than that. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know that I am concerned that our country is facing an economic collapse-in our lifetime-right along with depleted energy and water sources and ever-increasing global temperatures that are already affecting everything in our lives from food supplies to wildlife. To that end, I’ve learned how to grow food for my family, can and preserve it, and cook our meals from scratch. That alone has given me much peace of mind, and empowered me to discover other resiliency strategies. I’ve learned to live by the adage of “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”. Our home is stocked with several months worth of food, fuel and water, we stay out of debt and try to  live simply but still yet, I realize there is no hope for any of us outside of a community. We must learn to work with our neighbors in developing sustainable lifestyles based upon reduced consumption and sharing of resources. What good will it do for me to have food and water supplies when my neighbors are hungry and thirsty? How long could WE eat on what I have stored? What if there were bank failures in this country, like the ones in Cyprus this past spring? How would we access cash once the ATM’s were empty? What if there was a massive power failure for an extended period of time? There would be looting and  rioting if folks in the South couldn’t buy their Mountain Dew and Moonpies, I tell ya! How would we pump gas into our cars, light our homes, cook or stay warm? How would we flush the toilets and clean our clothes? Do you ever think about these what if’s? I do, and the only way I can rest easy is by being prepared for those scenarios. That includes making sure that my neighbors are too. Then, if those things never happen, we’ve simply got a well stocked pantry and a productive garden, right along with extra toothpaste and a support system too.

I write often about how these changing times demand that we grow a strong local economy. Michael and I have been attending bimonthly meetings for the local ‘Liveable Communities’ group and are greatly encouraged by the sharing and feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’ that we get from the group, but liveable communities really start right. next. door. This holiday season, why not use the natural conviviality of the season to get to know your neighbors better- perhaps take them a card and some cookies, signed with your name and address so they can remember you later too? (I intend to put the internet address of this blog on the cards I hand out too, hoping they’ll read it and get interested in ‘feeding our future’ as well.)  I left a card for a neighbor congratulating her on the new beehives I’d spotted in the driveway, and later, when we made a face to face connection, she told me she’d wept when she read the card because she had been so worried about having the bees and how the neighborhood might react to them. She and I are friends now, and she tells me she’ll let me work with her in her hives next spring! I’ve begun talking to another neighbor about his struggling bread baking business, brainstorming with him on the feasibility of building a COMMUNAL outdoor wood-fired oven at the Community Garden next spring. (would the city EVER allow that? We intend to find out!) Not only are we working on ways to build a local foods network, at the same time we’re having fun building friendships and feeding the future. This poster hangs in my kitchen. May it offer you some hope and inspiration too:


Forget the Money Market- Invest in Yourself

I had a meeting with my financial counselor recently and asked him where I should invest my small inheritance that I received from my mother. I was thinking a CD, Money Market fund, or some other short-term investment where it could earn a bit of interest, yet not be penalized if I needed to use it. His advice?  Keep it in my emergency savings account because interest rates are so low still that it wouldn’t be prudent to tie it up in anything right now. The assumption is that rates.will.rise. Yeah, and so will the price.of.things.

So I gave a lot of thought to where I might currently get the best R.O.I. for my little nest egg based on that advice, and came up with the some ideas; while CD’s are currently paying less than 1% interest, and mortgage rates are hovering near 5% now, perhaps I could hold a mortgage for someone? Nah. Not unless they intended to buy a tiny house to live in.  The best Return On Investment would come from investing in my household: a new roof, long-term food storage, energy-saving measures or even learning new skills that might prove useful over the rest of my life. Self reliance tools like a pressure canner, a grain mill or sewing machine also came to mind but since I already own those things, I bought a new laptop instead.  My old desktop computer was really outdated, and my daughter, whose computer was even older, can still enjoy the old one. I bought it during Tennessee’s annual back to school tax-free weekend and saved enough cash on the tax to pay for a new wireless printer. Both the computer and printer are tools for me, and learning the new Windows 8 operating system has turned out to be a REAL investment in my brain health (or brain degradation, depending on how you look at it). I don’t have a smart phone, (nor do I feel the need for one and the monthly fees to support its smartness), cable TV, a daily newspaper or any number of available technological wonders of the world. A computer is my tool of choice to stay connected to my family, the world, and to you. Besides, I’m writing the next Great American Novel and long hand is soooo 1980’s 😉

I’ve also decided to invest in a rocket stove and a couple of small solar panels too, so that if the grid goes down, I can charge my laptop and my ‘dumb’ cell phone while boiling the water for a cup of herbal tea, using only a few twigs as fuel. Rocket Stoves rock.

Speaking of herbal tea, I’ve also decided it would be wise of me to invest a bit of money, some time and a lot of labor into a new medicinal herb bed so that I can grow some of my family’s medicines. Learning to grow and use plants like Elderberries for making cough syrups, Comfrey for wound care, Feverfew for headaches, Camomile for upset stomachs, and Hawthorne for high blood pressure should keep me and Michael out of the drugstore, more money in our pocket, and healthier to boot. That’s what I call a really good R.O.I. !


Outdoor clotheslines, a chicken tractor and a couple of hives of honey bees will complete my investments for now. The rest will be saved for when we need that new roof on the house-another good investment in our largest asset, which is our home.

It’s true, you can’t buy happiness. That said,  I’m sure I could be REAL HAPPY with a European vacation -for about 2 weeks. But what could possibly be a more satisfying start to each and every day than eating a fresh egg that I’ve just gathered at my back door, spreading my morning toast with honey from my own hives, and washing it down with a cup of herbal tea, while writing a new book or reading the morning news on my laptop- all while sitting in my garden? Call me crazy, and I’m sure some of you would, but investing in yourself, your health, your home and your own unique ‘good life’ will give you the very best returns. Guaranteed.


What’s for Supper?

As promised in my last post, today’s topic is familiar to everyone.  Since I’m trying to lower my food bills and wastes while at the same time eating a healthy diet, I thought it might be helpful to offer some tips that I’ve found for getting a decent evening meal on the table without a lot of fuss or money. I no longer have young children living at home, nor do I have a day job anymore  (writing this blog is my ‘night job’ 🙂 )  but I haven’t forgotten the challenge of putting together the evening meal. I had four kids and a picky husband that I fed 3 times a day, 365 days a year, for oh, at least 25 years. Eating out happened only once or twice a year back then.

Michael is not picky, except for his desire for our meals to be as low-fat as possible. Since he contributes almost as much time in the kitchen as I do, and since I’ve learned the dangers of a high fat diet to my health, I’m accommodating. That said, my desire for keeping the food budget low so that we don’t have “more month than money” is important to me too. Where do we start then?

Breakfast for us is always crock pot oats (bought in 50 lb bags for $26) doctored up with apples (dried or fresh), raisins and cinnamon. A dab of honey is mixed into the crock at the end of cooking so that it mixes well into the hot oatmeal. A potful is stored in the ‘frig and lasts us 4 or 5 days.  Lunch is always leftovers from the previous night’s meal, so we simply make sure that we prepare enough to provide us with that noon time meal, even if it means stretching it with extra beans or potatoes. Or, if there’s not quite as much left from supper as we’d like, we simply supplement this meal with a salad from the garden, leftover cornbread from the night before or perhaps green beans or peaches that were canned last summer. That just leaves supper to deal with.

Since we eat a plant-based diet, we don’t have to worry about the price of meat. Instead, we spend our grocery dollars on what’s fresh and seasonal. We buy in bulk when it’s cost-effective to do so, doing a monthly (or even bimonthly) shopping trip to stock up on staples. Trips to the store ‘between times’ are limited to fresh soy milk or produce specials.

I believe the one thing that makes it easiest to stick to my ‘food values’ is planning ahead. After a full day of activity, staring into the refrigerator at 5 PM with no idea of what I’m going to cook, is a recipe for disaster.  I like to determine ‘what’s for supper’ each morning by taking a quick peak in there to see what needs to be used first. Then I plan the evening meal based on that. Wednesday I made a big pot of curried split pea/cauliflower soup, because I had a half head of it that needed to be used. We enjoyed the soup with slices of the homemade bread Michael had made over the weekend, and had sweet cranberry/nut bread for dessert, using up the remaining fresh cranberries we’d bought at Christmas. Last night he made ‘Lentil Tacos’ using the lentils I’d cooked ahead and frozen in the 2 cup portions that we need for most recipes. I do this with all kinds of dried beans since it doesn’t take any longer to cook a pound than it does to cook a cup or two. Adding condiments and spices to the thawed lentils gave them a taste and texture very much like real beef tacos. We enjoyed it wrapped in fresh corn tortillas, topped with chopped lettuce from the garden, diced tomatoes, plain homemade yogurt (in place of sour cream) and summer-canned salsa. (I forgot to take a picture of the tacos-from-lentils that he made, but I did take one of the ‘Sloppy Lentils’ and oven baked ‘fries’ that we enjoyed recently. It was yummy too!


Because I had cooked a big pot of brown rice earlier in the day (an everyday staple also bought in bulk) he made a big bowl of rice pudding for dessert that  used up the remaining cup or so of plain soy milk that had been opened for mashed potatoes recently. Adding creamy milk, raisins and spices (bought in bulk too!) like cinnamon and cardamom to the rice reminds me of chai tea. YUM! There’s still enough pudding for several more bowls and tonight’s stir fry will be served over the remaining rice. Like beans, cooking rice in bulk saves time and energy.

For a balanced diet, I try to rotate meals by including rice, potatoes, pasta or beans as the basis for the main entrée, then add sides of salads or fresh cooked veggies that we’ve grown or purchased fresh and on sale at the little grocery store that’s within walking distance of our home. Soups are a limitless mainstay around here, and a great way to use small amounts of leftover foods. Salads don’t have to be filled with exotic or expensive veggies to be good. Letting the lettuces be the ‘belle of the bowl’ keeps costs way down, as does making your own dressings. 


The point is, by planning ahead, growing and preserving what we can (oh! we’re going to miss our bees’ honey when it’s gone!), eating seasonally and cooking from scratch, we’re able to eat on less than the USDA’s recommended ‘thrifty plan’, which is about $4 per person, per day. Not buying sodas and juices, processed or snack type foods keeps our food costs down and our bodies healthy. We drink cups of (bulk) hot tea or water with our meals and snack on a wide variety of fresh or dried fruits, popcorn, sweet breads and muffins, nuts, smoothies and fruit tarts made with little effort. We collect recipes the way most shoppers do coupons and enjoy the cooking process and discovering new ways to use old ingredients! I’ll occasionally use a coupon for the weekly deal at Earth Fare, which is close to our home and sells the kind of food we enjoy, but otherwise, I find they’re just not needed for rice, beans, oats and fruits. 

Having a food system that’s COMPLETELY dependent on oil, huge monocrop farms and globalized transport makes me feel powerless, but sticking to the basics of fruits, grains and veggies enables me to make easy substitutions when those factors that are out of my control affect price or availability. This built-in resilience assures me that the eternal question of “what’s for supper?” gets answered every day.

“Life Skill”: How Sweet It Is!
April 3, 2012, 10:33 PM
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

I went into my bee hives again this afternoon, right there between working in the garden and the big storm. There was no wind or rain and they were so docile I was able to handle them with just a little smoke and no gloves! It looks like they’ve come through the winter just fine, and there’s still some honey left, but this is also the time that many hives starve to death because there’s simply not enough nectar for them to make more. The warm weather is spurring the queens to lay, which means lots of little mouths to feed. About 60,000 little mouths in a strong hive actually. So, I’ve been feeding them a sugar syrup that they are taking by the gallon, with a homemade concoction of essential oils added to it to boost their health at this particularly fragile time of the year.

Beekeeping is a bit of a seasonal hobby, but because I procrastinated all winter in getting my equipment ready, the work has suddenly become very pressing. We caught our first swarm last year during the first week of April, and I kept hoping we’d get so lucky again this year, but I couldn’t put off any longer the things I needed to do to get them ready for a full season of pollinating our crops and making honey for them and me. I had tried splitting a strong hive 3 weeks ago, but the newbees (get it?) never produced a queen, so I had to buy one and install her in her new home today. Along with making needed repairs on the wooden ware, wiring new sheets of foundation into the frames, removing propolis (or bee glue as it’s called) that the bees use to caulk up every available open space, reversing hive bodies to allow more laying room for the old queens, and adding supers (the wooden box where the new honey is stored), it was quite a busy day in the bee yard! When I finished I was hot and tired and cranky and swore I was getting out of this beekeeping business altogether. But, my bee mentor was giving a presentation tonight at the monthly bee club meeting, and I’d promised her I’d come to support her efforts. Damn if I didn’t get sucked right back in to the fascination and challenge of being a better beekeeper!

Things are sure different since I joined the local beekeeper’s club in 2004. Back then, each monthly meeting was a litany of the medications we beekeepers were supposed to apply to our bees that month in order to ‘keep them healthy’. It was definitely a ‘good ole’ boys club’, with only a very few women attending the meetings, with secretary being the only elected position held by a woman. We’d be lucky to have 20 folks show up at each meeting. Now women are visible and vocal and holding responsible positions in the club. The message is no longer ‘medicate’, but instead, ‘wait and see’. As a matter of fact, the speaker at the upcoming June meeting is coming from South Carolina and will be giving a talk on ‘Natural Beekeeping’! We’ve come a long way baby and I’m happy to be a part of such a caring and dedicated group, bent on helping this little creature we all depend on. The numbers are now over  100 at each meeting, and women make up about 40% of the membership, with couples and even families coming to learn about the bees!

It is said that every third bite of food we Americans eat is the direct result of the pollination done by a  honeybee. They are an extremely important and vital part of our food system- the whole web of life in fact. If you garden or have fruit trees, if you enjoy a variety of foods in your diet, if you love that  golden honey in your tea, if you suffer from allergies, or if you simply want to live a more sustainable life that’s a bit more in tune with nature and the changing seasons, you just might consider becoming a beekeeper too. I like to tell my grandkids how important it is to learn ‘life skills’: riding a bike, managing their money, and making good cornbread for example. I’ve added beekeeping to that list.

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