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… 



Bees and Peas and Worms- Oh My!

My days are once again revolving around the weather and the garden. I’d been waiting for the perfect night to relocate my growing bee colony to a more permanent place (from atop their temporary headquarters  on top of our camper!), and after several stings and some help from two strong women, the move seems to have been a success. Tuesday night was a full moon with no wind so it was as good as it gets.The little pollinators are now located in a private corner of my yard, surrounded by  copious amounts of blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and blooming butterfly weed with a picket fence to keep curious dogs or kids at bay. I love my bees and my neighbors are  in complete agreement with me having them, so all is well. Thank you again City Commissioners for realizing the importance of honeybees and making them legal within our city limits. Next bee hive: the community garden of course!

It’s also ‘pea-pickin’ time in Tennessee’ and I’ve already picked three pounds of sweet, organic sugar snaps from my 4’x5′ bed, with a couple more pounds to come. That little space makes tremendous use of a discarded and inverted umbrella-style clothes line pole that we string with twine for the peas to twist up and around on. After the peas are finished, the plants are cut off so the nitrogen-fixing roots can continue to nourish the soil, the lightweight pole is folded up and stored underneath my tool shed until the next viney crop needs it, and the bed will be planted to Longkeeper Tomatoes for fall and winter eating. Not bad for 20 square feet of soil!

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In addition to my tower of peas, I saw another neat idea downtown today for a ‘tower of power’. What a great way to grow strawberries or greens in a small amount of space! The perforated pipe you see in the center has a removable cap, allowing the pipe to be filled with compostables, which the worms promptly draw into the surrounding soil, making nourishing castings in the process. The owner of this growing tower bought one like it and realized how easily he could make one himself…I saw the ‘store bought’ one too and it really didn’t look much different at all except the planting pockets were a little wider and he’s growing full sized kale and other greens in them. So, if you’ve got an extra plastic rain barrel laying around…

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Speaking of worms…my new-to-me worm bin has four levels, with a spigot at the bottom for drawing off ‘worm tea’ which I then feed to nearby plants. It fits in this out-of-the-way corner of my patio and I love the idea that the worms are constantly and quietly working to help me grow food, just like the bees…

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OK, so what do honeybees, worms and homemade growing towers have to do with transitioning? They’re all good examples of closed loop systems. Anytime you can create a closed loop system-that is, a system that creates no waste, you will find yourself one step closer to sustainability, a common theme that runs through many of this blog’s posts and is a central tenant of living a lifestyle that is NOT based on constant energy input. These are but three examples of closed loop systems right here on my little urban lot. Using rainbarrels, planting and growing food using open pollinated seeds, building compost bins or even tending a flock of hens that are able to thrive on food that you grow for them or where they have access to wild foods are more examples of closed loop systems. Solar panels and wood stoves that are fed with managed woodlot cuttings or blow downs are yet more examples. I even consider the food that I grow and can sort of a closed loop system since I save many seeds and then reuse the same canning jars and reusable lids year after year, as well as the canning water itself. 

It’s all part of  a simpler way of life that I find more satisfying and creative than one based on consumerism. I love the sense of freedom I have when being in charge of my life-even if just a small part of it- and find the challenges this ‘good life’ presents are far more pleasant than those that require paying for solutions. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s the journey, as much or more than the destination, that feeds my soul. I hope this blog provides you with food for thought as you seek ways to pilot your own ship. 

 



Frugal Friday- May 6th, 2016

I’ve made the transition from country living to city living rather seamlessly. Four years ago we moved to a house “in town” that’s got a walkability score of 76, according to walkscore.com. I beg to differ, because I feel like it’s more like a 97, but I guess that’s just because I’ve tried to center my life around what’s close by: the library, coffee house, the park and our bank, to name a few things. We no longer eat at national chain restaurants that are all located in areas that aren’t walkable anyway, switching to smaller, locally-owned places that are close by (and are also willing to make substitutions when we request them, as well as having generally healthier choices.) So, if you have a good cuppa joe, a great book, and a dollar or two in your pocket, what else do you need? Bees, it turns out. I sold my hives and all my equipment to the buyer of our ‘country’ house but now that my city has passed an ordinance that allows beekeeping within the city limits, I can “have my cake and eat it too”.  

I set up my swarm trap on April 1st hoping to catch a swarm. It didn’t take long-I’ve eagerly watched my small swarm grow into a seemingly robust colony. This morning I hitched a ride with a friend to the beekeeping store (that’s out in the county-not walkable!) and noticed a sign there that said a new package of bees with a queen is selling for $135.00. I don’t have 3 pounds of bees yet but I will by summers’ end, so I figure I’ve saved about $100 already. Michael says keeping bees is akin to any expensive hobby like golfing or boating. Yes we could much more easily and economically buy honey than take care of our own hive, but my focus is really more on helping our pollinators, and that’s another story for another day.

Coming back to this week:

Monday: I’ve recently become aware of a new recycling center on the campus of ETSU that takes metals, including aluminum, as well as #1-7 plastics, plastic bags, cardboard and glass! It’s in  a location that’s quite easy for me to get to (there’s that walkability again) and I wanted to share this especially with my local peeps. I’ve been taking my metal cans to church, where a friend takes them home with her for recycling in her community. This isn’t necessarily a money saver for me, but it DOES offer me an alternative to taking my #5 plastics to Asheville. What’s that old saw? “Time is Money?” That may  be true too, but saving plastic from landfulls (my new word) is priceless! It ain’t much to look at but here it is. All the receptacles are well labeled, making it easy. *Local Friends-message me for directions

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Tuesday: I had an old tote bag whose straps had broken so I stuffed it with an even older pillow and made it into a NEW pillow for my front porch!

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It’s made of a waterproof nylon, had a zipper opening AND matched the seat cushion. Repurposing is so much better than recycling. And funner too.

Wednesday: Went into a nearby thrift store and found something that I’m always looking for in such places, yet never find. OK not ever, because I DID find pyrex containers with tight lids. Retro for real. 99 cents each. No BPA.

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Thursday: Both of the free Japanese Maple tree seedlings that I scored at last year’s annual tree giveaway made it through their first winter and seem to be thriving this spring! I went back to this year’s giveaway and picked up another Japanese Maple sapling as well as a Redbud. Now both of them seem to have made it through their transitions after being planted and hopefully will thrive too. Potted Japanese Maples sell for about $50-$75 each and will soon be beautiful additions to my landscape. Savings for all four? About $175 I’d say!

Friday:  About 5 years ago I donated my Troybilt tiller to the community garden. It seems as though it needs constant repairs to keep it running smoothly and with little to no operating funds, those repair bills have been a challenge. If I’d only known that all I had to do was to formally donate the tiller by writing a handwritten letter stating that the tiller is now the property of the Parks and Rec Department, I could’ve saved our money and sanity in having ‘volunteers’ (that’s a misnomer if there ever was one!) conduct the repairs. Some changes in the department have put me in direct contact with the person in the know. As I write this, the tiller is being repaired at no cost to the gardeners by the city’s repair shop guys. I also went to pick up my personal Mantis tiller from the repair shop a few weeks ago and willingly paid the bill for having the carburetor rebuilt. After starting once, it wouldn’t start again so I took it back to the shop where they then told me it needed a new carburetor-another $59.95. I complained and they agreed to replace it for free. Savings: $59.95!

Just as a matter of course, I did a number of things this week that although none were spectacular or special, all helped me to keep more money in my bank account. I hung out clothes to dry instead of using the dryer, dried fresh herbs from my garden, added my shredded documents to my compost bin rather than bagging them and sending to the landfull, used my electric pressure cooker to make oatmeal for breakfast (3 minutes) and Katmandu Stew for supper (15 minutes), took a free yoga class at the park, and planted Roma beans that were given to me by a friend. Lowering my carbon footprint on the earth, saving energy, helping honeybees, eating and living a healthy lifestyle, growing my own food-PRICELESS!!!!

Remember: “Thrift is liberation rather than deprivation”.

Have a great weekend friends!



I Swear It’s Not Too Late

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365 days in a year. That’s a pretty big block of time you know. Just because you were too tired, busy, or hung over to make some resolutions on New Year’s Day doesn’t mean that less than two weeks later, on this second Monday of the new year, that it’s too late. And you know what? Even if you DID manage to resolve to lose 20 pounds or quit smoking or to stop biting your nails, you can work on those resolutions AND resolve to begin the transition to a way of life that is more outwardly simple yet inwardly rich. Talk about PEACE in the new year! I swear it’s not too late.

Where to begin? Before we get into the how’s, let’s consider the why’s first…

Do you have any debt? Do you depend on electricity or some other source of fossil fuel to heat your home and water, cook your food, or power your car, computer, lights and phone? Do you eat? Do you have good health? Do you have good healthcare? We all deal with these issues and many more in our lives, and chances are, we won’t be able to resolve all of them in 2015, but what we can do is to set aside time to put into learning skills that may prove useful, particularly in a long emergency, a crisis or even a grid down situation. (You’re not still holding on to that same, tired argument that ‘it can’t happen to me’ are you?)

 It’s common knowledge that modern grocery stores have approximately a three day supply of food before their shelves are empty. From storms to truckers’ strikes, the nation’s food supply is precarious. It’s also common knowledge that honeybees are responsible for every third bite of food we take. From colony collapse disorder to mites, beekeepers are worried about the future of their hives and our food supply. We are also aware that our new Republican-led Congress is going to do everything in their power to prevent immigrants from entering the United States (who will work in our farmer’s fields?), repeal Obama Care and approve the Keystone pipeline. And that’s just this week. Do we really need any more reasons to begin our personal transition to a better way of life that is not based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being?

OK, so I’ve convinced you. Now what? Just like with any other big project, you’ll need to take small steps. If food insecurity concerns you, start a compost pile.Today. Put all your kitchen scraps and yard waste in a bin or corner of your yard, and with no help from you, eventually they’ll become rich compost that you can then use to grow something that you love to eat fresh! If personal health issues concern you, see the same advice above…we are what we eat after all, and healthy bodies begin with healthy food. Now, when spring arrives, plant some fruit trees or bushes. They will take several years to produce fruit, and in the meantime you can still be working on resisting biting your nails or getting organized. The activities of planting and taking care of your new fruit or nut trees and your compost pile will improve your health tremendously.

Are you concerned about job security? Why not learn a new skill that would provide you with a new career that could support you in a collapsed economy? Making moonshine comes to mind, as does training to become a knowledgeable herbal medicinalist, firewood or biodiesel supplier, small engine or bicycle repairman or computer repair person. Solar installers, bakers, gardeners, beekeepers, soapmakers and seamstresses do too. You get the idea. All of these ‘second careers’ take time to develop and perfect, but remember, you’ve still got 323 days left of this year alone! And if the economy doesn’t collapse? Great! You’ll still have more money, better health and barterable skills to use. I’ll trade you some of my honey for some of your soap. I’ll trade you some of my corn for some of your moonshine too 🙂 .

If financial insecurity is your yoke to bear, get out of debt. Completely. That way, if you lose your job, you’ll be able to live off the  unemployment checks you’ll receive while you look for another. Maybe you can use the time you’re not looking for ‘a job’ to work on those skills we discussed above. And if you don’t lose your job? Great! Getting out of debt will then enable you to start putting more money into your retirement fund and savings. Just one more car payment? Continue paying that same amount each month to your credit cards or other obligations, then learn to pay cash for everything. It’s the most liberating action you can possibly take to blow your world wide open and allow you to have options available in your life that may not have ever been open to you before. Ask me how I know. The quiet peace of being financially stable and having a source of healthy food is actually deafening at times.

To everything there is a season. THIS is the time for us to collectively plan and act early enough so that we can create a way of living that’s significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. I swear it’s not too late.



Transition Matters

I’ll immediately apologize to my readers that don’t live in my town, for this post is strictly about events and groups that are inherently ‘local’. Feel free to move on, but I hope you’ll keep reading anyway- I’ve tried to make it interesting to everyone, really.  Remember, that the modern industrial capitalist economic and social system, based upon cheap oil and resources, is unsustainable, making a major restructuring of economy and society imperative, and inevitable. Transition contends that citizens and communities need to act proactively and positively at the local scale, in a process of ‘Transition’ and ‘powerdown’ to build localized and resilient communities in terms of food, energy, work and waste. Hence the blog name, Tennessee Transitions.

1. Shopping for Christmas? Check out these products, from Naked Bee! They’re affordable, all natural personal care products AND they’re made right here in our fair city! They produce hair care products, lotions, soaps, lip balms and candles and you can find a store nearby by clicking on this link. If you’re going to buy Christmas gifts, please try to support local businesses. If you  buy these products, you’ll be supporting both the manufacturer AND the retailer. Not to mention the gift recipient. Win-Win-Win

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2. Tuesday, November 18th, is the date for the bimonthly Livable Communities group meeting. We’ll be meeting at the downtown offices of Insight Alliance, located at 207 E Main St at 5:30 PM. A report has been prepared for us with the final results of the survey that was used to gather information concerning the possibility of a natural foods store in Johnson City. That alone is worth coming to hear about. We’ll also move forward in our plans for continuing the work begun by the Southside Neighborhood Organization (SNO) in placing Little Free Libraries in neighborhoods across town and fill you in on other positive things that are happening in our region.

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3. Another meeting? I know, I know, but this one is so important to our current and future abilities to provide food for ourselves. C.O.O.P. (Chickens On Our Property) will hold a short meeting Thursday Nov. 20, 5pm at Willow Tree Coffeehouse (216 E Main Street) to discuss what our next steps should be to stop updates that are being made to the RESIDENTIAL zoning codes – which right now say “no ‘farm animals’ permitted” but are legally trumped by the city codes for animal control which ALLOW for chickens. Honeybees and backyard hens have now been lumped together as ‘farm animals’. This issue concerns any and all who believe in pet rights, self-sufficiency, and food justice.

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4.  I believe medicinal herbs could regain the prominence and importance they once held in our home medicine chests and first aid kits as we transition to more localized lives. After all, many prescription drugs originated from chemicals found in plants. Bring your brown bag lunch at noon on Tuesday, November 18th, to the Johnson City public library to attend a free presentation :”Herbs and the Natural World.” The presenter will discuss medicinal and culinary herbs and their uses and will offer samples of herbal teas for your tasting pleasure.

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Lean In

When we were kids, my group of friends would always say “Lean in!” when we had something earth-shaking we wanted the others to hear. We all knew it was time  to ‘listen up’ and ‘pay attention’. So, lean in, I’ve got stuff to share. I’m noticing more and more and MORE that average, every day folks are beginning to transition their lives. In some cases its subtle, in others, major. But, as Bob Dylan sang to us 50 years ago, “the times they are a’changing”.

For example, yesterday I read a blog post from an ordinary suburbanite mom that was encouraging her readers to prepare for emergencies by putting together bug out bags for each family member, complete with a list of suggested items to include. In part it reads: “I am not talking fear or panic.  I am promoting intelligent, practical, thoughtful preparation.  I don’t know what is around the corner, but I must admit to a growing need to learn all that I can and adjust my outlook to one of greater self-sufficiency and resilience”.  I totally agree with her, and have had my own bug out backpack for over 10 years now, but her post reminded me that I should recheck and update it. With the extreme weather we’ve been experiencing over the last few years, and becoming more extreme it seems with each passing season, it’s a suggestion that every person should consider. My friend in Pensacola, FL is unable to get to work due this week due to washed out bridges and roads from Tuesdays’ storms, while many in Mississippi and Alabama are devastated and homeless after getting hit by tornadoes. This ‘before and after’ picture is from his Facebook page…

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Are you prepared for such things? Lean in and take heed.

I’ve noticed an uptick in local community gardens and food forests. There’s keen interest in the canning classes I enjoy giving…

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…as well as a renewed desire to learn other kitchen skills such as pie and biscuit making and cooking meals from scratch. Classes are full for cheese-making, bread-making, fermenting foods, as well as making yogurt, kombucha and kefir. Workshops on everything from organic gardening and building raised beds to woodworking and soap-making are sold out. The local beekeeping school had 400 people attend this year, by far the largest number ever, and clandestine chicken coops are all over the city now. I  went to a well-attended lecture Tuesday night at the local college, called “Brightening the 21st Century” given by ‘The Solar Sister’. Her story of turning an old chicken coop located on the nunnery grounds where she lives, into an environmental learning center was enjoyed by the room full of folks that were there. During April, our local university held a month-long calendar of Earth Day celebrations and events for the first time ever. When I left the lecture hall, I saw this out in the hall and wanted to show you too: the ‘Mixed Paper’ and “Cans&Plastic” bins both had stuff in them, but the container on the far right which was marked “LANDFILL” was empty.

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In the two years I’ve lived in my urban neighborhood, the number of red recycling bins I see out on the curb on Monday mornings has quadrupled. (That’s not saying a whole lot, since I had to call the truck drivers almost every week for the first month or two we lived here because I was the only one on the street at the time that was putting it curbside and they would ‘forget’ to stop), but the point is, lean in here, more people are recycling, growing some of their own food, and using renewable energy than I’ve ever noticed. I received an email from a friend just this morning: “I finally ordered my own solar cooker today!” Lean in friends, this is all good news!

People are also learning to reuse and repair again, as well as recycle. The local shoe and bike repair shops have long ‘wait times’ they are so busy. I recently went to a small engine repair shop to pick up new belts for my 23-year-old tiller and  was fifth in the line of customers buying their own parts to repair their own stuff. My youngest daughter has recently begun to renew her long-neglected sewing skills, and the Bernina sewing shop that opened downtown a couple of years ago seems to be always quite busy. Lean in: people are indeed transitioning to a future that is based on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being.

I am thrilled to see the changes taking place! Not only are we taking control of our lives again, according to recent articles I’ve read, we’re also saving more for retirement and carrying far less debt than we were when the ‘economic depression’ began in 2008. That downturn has brought about some rather nice changes in my own life: in response to lower incomes and higher prices, my circle of friends has been getting together for potlucks and cookouts and birthday celebrations more often these days, ending these festive times with board games or music jams. Fuhgeddaboud cover charges or drinks by the glass. We brew our own beer or wine or herbal sun tea and enjoy the comfort of being in our own homes, saving clubs and restaurant outings for rare special occasions. Now there’s even talk of forming an intentional community, right here in our urban area! There’s hope and light everywhere, you just gotta lean in to find it.

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