This ‘n That

This ‘n That  will be a regular feature of this blog-just updates on previously mentioned topics or stuff I think you might like to know about:

  • Well, you may not give a damn, but I just wanted to show off  our very first ripe Stupice tomato of the 2012 growing season: Michael and I shared it on our lunch sandwiches today. And so the cycle continues…

Small is Beautiful

  • C.O.O.P. continues it’s efforts to convince our city council to allow its’ citizens to have a small flock of backyard hens. Last night’s council meeting simply exasperated us. They voted to ‘defer’ voting on the proposed zoning hearing until they understand it better. Here it is councilmen: Keep it simple. Allow JC residents to have 6 freakin’ hens. No roosters. No running at large. We don’t need to change every zoning code in the city. Just change the wording of the CITY CODE. If you’re one of the many that would like to have a small flock of your own, if you see this as a right as valid as having dogs, please support our efforts by planning now to attend the next meeting. I’ll try to let you know with a minimum of 48 hours advance notice, but they’re always on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month. I KNOW you’re busy, so am I. But having chickens in my backyard, providing my gardens with compost and my table with eggs, is a big step in being more food self sufficient and in helping my family be more resilient in the face of looming adversity. I KNOW too, that when I write things like that last sentence it sounds like Chicken Little’s cry of “the sky is falling! the sky is falling!” Well, the term “the sky’s the limit” is sooo 1950’s. Maybe the sky IS falling! (More on “Peak Everything” soon in this blogspace)

  • More Johnson City news: At the same council meeting last night, they approved money to be spent to study the feasibility of constructing a permanent farmer’s market site: http://www.johnsoncitypress.com/News/article.php?id=100366  (But can’t we have chickens and fresh eggs to go along with all those locally grown fruits and veggies?)
  • My beehives are thriving. Even the one that swarmed last month! The queenless hive immediately raised another queen, and they are busy, well, as bees! filling their honey supers. I’ve found the hard way, that the less I mess with them the better off they are. They surely know more than I do about what’s best for them. Now, if we can just get Bayer to withdraw their agricultural chemical, imidacloprid. Read the latest study here about the newly discovered cause of Colony Collapse Disorder: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120405224653.htm   I’m moved enough to find an alternative to Bayer when I get a headache, and I’m going to write the company a letter. Not a love letter either…
  • The Carver Peace Garden has all the available plots spoken for PLUS an extra one that was tilled up to accommodate a nearby family that heard about us at the last minute! I’ve been recently contacted by two different local TV stations that want to do stories on Community Gardens in the TriCities area. I’ll let you know when it will air. Also, word has it that the Tree Streets Community Garden still has a few plots left and you don’t have to be a resident of that area to be part of the fun! Contact Lyn Govette if you’re interested at: lgovette@charter.net The good news about this year’s gardeners is that we are such a diverse bunch. Not so much plain white bread 🙂
  • I’m still trying to practice ‘bread labor’ (see post from April 14th). I get a lot accomplished when I don’t let distractions divert my attention-a lifelong problem for me. There have actually been a couple of days recently that I didn’t feel that I had to devote even that four hours to bread labor because I was caught up enough with that damn to do list to go to the zoo and music festivals, read more and even take a coupla naps. That’s about to change soon though, I’m afraid. More on that later too!
  • After reading my post about ‘Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes’, I have several people helping me fold origami paper cranes to be sent to the Japanese memorial in August. Care to fold a few with us? I’ll teach you-in about 5 minutes.  Let’s have a party! I need 1,000!

This I believe: Small changes in daily life add up to something important and there are thousands of small things we can all do. Are you doing something, no matter how small you think it is, to help society transition to a lower-energy, more localized world? One that runs on trust, cooperation and human power rather than oil? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Post your comments below.

Blackberry Winter


According to Wikipedia, “In the South,  Blackberry Winter is referred to as a period of cold weather as low as 20 °F in late spring when the blackberries are in bloom. Prior to technological advances in meteorology, farmers would use such terms to know when to plant certain crops.” According to the wild blackberries that are blooming all around the edges of the woods that surround our cabin, and according to our outdoor thermostat, I’d say “we’re there”.

Sometimes it amazes me how reliable some of the weather terms are in this part of the country! ‘Dogwood Winter’ is another uncannily accurate occurrence, as is “Full Moon, Frost Soon”. I love learning about our region’s sayings, folklore and wive’s tales (or, as a young friend of mine calls them “Wise tales” which is often closer to a truism than the standard ‘wive’s’ tales.) Regardless, it was cold enough to have a farewell  fire in the wood stove today. Tomorrow I’ll  apply a good coat of stove black to it and clean the glass window so it will be ready for fall’s first frost next October. I decided to take advantage of the unexpected  free heat this morning and baked some foil-wrapped potatoes in the coals to go with our supper and simmered 2 gallons of homemade vegetable stock on top of it.

After the broth simmered for hours and hours, I strained and canned it, then fed the warm, soft veggies to the worms and the chickens. ‘The girls’ loved the special treat, and I loved not having any waste!

This unexpected ‘winter’ day offered us plenty of bread labor, as well as personal time-Michael went to the library and the feed store, then made a crock pot of oatmeal and transplanted all the tomato seedlings to larger pots -freebies that a friend that is downsizing her garden gave to us. The tomatoes will go into the main garden around Mother’s Day. I did my canning, wrote some thank you letters and caught up on some other correspondence, mixed up a fresh batch of laundry detergent, and finished the book I’ve been enjoying: “See You In A Hundred Years”- the true story of a modern-day couple and their young son that decided to spend a year living as one would in 1900. The author writes for National Geographic’s “Adventure” magazine, and decided to have an adventure all his own to write about. And boy, did he! It’s in the library if you’re interested. I can honestly say today was busy, but precious. Hope you’re enjoying your Blackberry Winter too!

This ‘n That

This ‘n That  will be a regular feature of this blog-just updates on previously mentioned topics or stuff I think you might want to know about:

  • C.O.O.P. continues it’s efforts to convince our city council to allow its’ citizens to have a small flock of backyard hens. The local newspapers reported our appearance at the April council meeting as ending in a 3-2 ‘victory’ for us. We wish. It was actually just a vote to keep the current wording of the city code, then changing the zoning regulations to match that code. Once the zoning rules are changed, THEN 3 of 5 council will have to vote YES at  3 separate public readings! We have a way to go, but with the positive publicity we’ve  already seen an uptick in requests for us to offer more Urban Henkeeping classes. Stay tuned…

  • One of my beehives swarmed on Saturday, but those that remain seem to be raising a new queen already. I love that they take that ‘leap of faith’ and strike out with their old queen to find a new home-not knowing where their new home will be, nor where their next meal will come from. Seems careless, but is very very fundamental to their survival in nature.
  • The Carver Peace Garden still has 2 extra plots available: 15′ x 20′- $15.00 for the year. Water and tools furnished. If interested, let me know or pass this along to someone that might be.
  • Earth Day festivities at Carver Park include workshops on composting, monarch butterflies, vermiculture and a program about ‘Marakwet’-a clean water project in Africa. It begins at 10 AM, with lunch offered by the Rotary Club at noon, followed by the annual interfaith ‘Blessing of the Garden’ being performed by my own minister, Rev. Jacqueline Luck at 1 PM. After our plots have been properly blessed, those that want to, will begin planting. Come early, stay as long as you like!
  • Yesterday was the first day of practicing ‘bread labor’ (see post from April 14th). I got a lot accomplished and wasn’t tempted at all by diversions (because all of my work was outside). Michael and I prepared our beds and paths in our Community Garden plot, then I came home and planted out all the flower transplants that were getting too scraggly in their tiny pots. Zinnias and cosmos and nasturtiums, oh my!
  • After reading my post about ‘Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes’, I have several people helping me fold origami paper cranes to be sent to the Japanese memorial in August. Care to fold a few with us? Let’s have a party! I need 1,000!
  • New research suggests that the more stuff we buy, the unhappier we become. And the more unhappy we are, the more we go shopping. Bummer. I’m happy to report that I’m happy 🙂

Bread Labor
April 14, 2012, 7:58 AM
Filed under: Creating Community | Tags:

I recently finished reading a book, written by Helen and Scott Nearing in 1954, called “Living The Good Life”.  This was my third reading of their book and each time I’ve been struck by their chosen lifestyle. The Nearings were well-known American back to the landers who wrote extensively about their experience living what they termed “the good life”.  They were devoted to a lifestyle giving importance to work, on the one hand, and contemplation or play, on the other. Ideally, they aimed at a norm that divided most of a day’s waking hours into three blocks of four hours: “bread labor” (work directed toward meeting requirements of food, shelter, clothing, needed tools, and such); civic work (doing something of value for their community); and professional pursuits or recreation.

Helen and Scott began their simple life on an old farm in Vermont during the depths of the Great Depression. Due to the publication of their books, and to their open-house practices regarding guests, the Nearings’ approach was emulated by thousands of people who wanted a life that afforded play and contemplation in addition to work. Their off-grid lifestyle, the completion of  19 stone buildings built on their two different farms, and their strict vegan diets were certainly austere compared to my own lifestyle, but I find myself magically drawn to that whole ‘bread labor’ concept. Turns out Gandhi and Tolstoy promoted the concept too.

What do these four people have in common? They all yearned to find a deeper meaning to life, they all made major social impacts during their lifetimes, they all followed a discipline of non violence and they all managed to stay healthy and strong well beyond the modern-day retirement age of 65! Tolstoy ‘ran away’ from home at age 82, to ‘spend the last days of his life alone and in silence’, Scott Nearing decided at age 100 to simply stop eating so he would not be a burden on Helen or society, and Helen died at age 91 in a car crash, as she drove home from giving a talk on “Living the Good Life”. When Gandhi was assassinated at age 79, he lived very modestly in a  self-sufficient community. Hmmm… might it be possible for me to also find deeper meaning in my own life by submitting  4 hours a day to bread labor, 4 hours to social activism and 4 hours to personal pursuits? Perhaps. But more importantly, might it be possible for a whole community of like-minded folks to find meaning, purpose, peace, resilience and health, as well as be able to provide for all of their basic needs, with such a guiding principle? I expect so, but I can’t find much evidence that such community building efforts work-oh, unless you count the monasteries, nunneries, the Findhorn Community in Scotland, the Shakers, Quakers, the Puritans, and last but not least, The Farm Community, located since the early 60’s right here in Tennessee; (this last group had undoubtedly read “Living the Good Life” too!) All of these  successful communities use  some form of bread labor as the basis for their chosen lifestyle. It seems that this old World War II poster was asking the whole United States to do their fair share of bread labor as well -lessons from the past are oftentimes worth relearning.

As I continue my journey of introspective work, I find that I want, like Thoreau, “… to live deliberately. I want to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die discover that I had not lived.”  I find that I get distracted from the goals and projects I want to accomplish-with the internet, phone calls, and my own wandering mind. Even though I’m retired,  I often feel as though I’m working all the time! If I were to truly devote 4 hours to those things that I want to complete on any given day, leaving the distractions for a more leisurely block of time, I believe I can accomplish much more than I normally do,  in a fraction of the time.  I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, don’t call me between 8 AM and noon -I’ll be  doing my bread labor.

%d bloggers like this: