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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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-August 21, 2015
August 21, 2015, 9:38 PM
Filed under: Frugality | Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve just finished my third week of working full time, and just as I expected, I feel like I’ve been ‘too busy’ to write blog posts. But I did want you to know I’m surviving and have a renewed appreciation for all the folks that are able to hold down jobs, take care of families, and yet still somehow find time to volunteer, attend church and other meetings, exercise and sleep each night! Hats off to you!

One interesting result of my working has been that I find I’m not spending ANY money, other than the gas it costs me to go to work. My new office offers free coffee, tea and soft drinks, and because I take my lunch each day and wear the same casual wardrobe that I’ve collected piece by piece from thrift stores over the years, I go to work, come home, have supper and collapse relax. I don’t want to go anywhere else once I get home, and since Michael is doing our grocery shopping and most of the cooking, as well as running all the errands that I used to do, I’ve had the same three dollar bills in my purse for these three weeks.

We continue to be thrifty here at home by hanging our laundry on the line to dry, using our fans rather than the AC, cooking our meals from scratch and eating as much as possible from the garden. We walk and ride our bikes daily for exercise, and sleep really really well at night.

I haven’t had much time or energy for much else though, until this week; I guess I’m beginning to get ‘into a groove’ with this whole job business! I’ve been reapplying fresh pine mulch (that I get delivered free from my local power company) to my blueberry beds, and yesterday evening enjoyed picking organic Concord grapes  from a friend’s back yard-she was giving them away because she had so many! Remember how I wrote last fall about finding a brand new steamer/juicer at a thrift store for $3.49? I used it to transform this huge batch of grapes, from this…

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…to this…in about an hour!

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And so I am ‘hooked’ on the ease of steam juicing and will probably be arrested at some point for stealing fruits and berries from backyards all over town in order to feed my new addiction! But never fear, tomorrow is Saturday,  I’m OFF! and I have enough tomatoes on hand to make V8 Juice!

You know what I always say: “When the stock market drops 553 points in one day, make juice!”. Enjoy your weekend folks.



Frugal Friday- June 19, 2015

So, we’ve eaten very well this week, completed a couple of home repair projects, ridden our bikes, went star gazing and night hiking, attended church, swapped books with friends, played music and made a bit of money doing so, and enjoyed a simple and impromptu supper out with friends one night, spending less than $20 the whole week. We have resisted the urge to turn on our whole house AC, even during this heat wave, and have found ourselves matching our activities and our pace to that of the sun. Cool showers at bedtime, with a fan blowing on damp bodies is positively chilling and a lovely way to enjoy open windows on summer nights! It was a week of pleasant surprises and some unexpected bonuses…

Monday:  I had loaned my pressure canner to my neighbor, who had gotten some fresh antibiotic-free, no-growth-hormone chickens from a farm in nearby North Carolina and wanted to try her hand at canning them. When she returned the canner, she brought me two humongous frozen breasts that she had vacuum packed herself and a pint of shredded chicken meat that she canned! I’m saving the breasts for a special occasion dinner, and the pulled chicken for a cold night when chicken and dumplings will be most appreciated. Anyone else wanna borrow my canner?  😉

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Tuesday: The outer door to our root cellar was rotten and in terrible shape. I forgot to take a picture of the old door before the new one was assembled and shingled, but the replacement was built entirely from repurposed and scavenged lumber, then covered with new roofing shingles that were given to me by a friend a year or so ago, and topped off with the original handle. All we had to buy new were some screws because we had the roofing nails left over from building a chicken coop. Total cost? $2.00 for a sheet of plywood we bought at the thrift store and about a dollar’s worth of screws.

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Wednesday:  You just gotta love Freecycle! A nearby church posted an offer for a  load of gravel. I responded, but got no reply. So I waited a few days and responded again, telling the poster I had a truck and would come that day to get the gravel if they still had it. Bingo! Turns out the first two responders had been offered the gravel, but neither showed up. I simply waited until it cooled off a bit and drove the 3 blocks to the church in my trusty 25 year old truck about 7:30 PM. Bingo again! There were 3 teenaged boys inside that came out to offer their strong arms and backs to help load it, then they offered to help with the second load if I could get back before 9 PM.  I’d been wanting gravel for our way-in-the-back parking area for a couple of years but since it wasn’t a big priority, just couldn’t justify the cost. Patience always pays off when it comes to frugality…

Before…

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After…

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Thursday:  During a free yoga class Michael had attended recently, the sponsor handed out coupons for Free Lunches for Two at a nearby former-hospital-turned-luxury-senior-living-apartments. Hooray for free yoga classes and free lunches that are also near enough to walk to!

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Friday: I harvested the last of the spring-planted kale, broccoli, cabbages, cilantro, lettuce, cauliflower and peas and now have my little summer dorm fridge full of green goodies. Planting the lettuce in the shade of the squash trellis turned out to be a good move, keeping it from bolting as early as usual. Live and learn…

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My personal transition to a lifestyle that strives to live well on less has become a game for me, even though I am fully aware that my privilege in life allows me to play the game to begin with. A frugal life is not seeing how little we can get by with—that’s poverty. People living in true poverty don’t have the luxury of playing this game. They don’t have choices like most of us in the developed world do. Yet, so many of us have two (or more) incomes and are still broke. Buying less, using less, wanting less and wasting less leaves me with an unshakeable certainty and a deep peace that I’m on the right path, regardless of what happens in this uncertain world. And though trite, it’s true: “Transitioning is not so much about the destination as the journey”.



Plant Seeds of Understanding

After a full day of hearing a sermon about social injustice, singing and hearing songs about it, and then watching a documentary about the problems immigrants to our country face, I felt compelled to ‘do something’, beyond writing my legislators- yet again. This post is the result of this emotional day.

It’s occurred to me that, like the Earth, the 2016 Presidential race is already heating up too. In anticipation of the differences of opinion I’m sure to encounter during the next 17 months, I have already set my intention to refrain from becoming crass or nasty with anyone, regardless of their political persuasion, during the upcoming election season. With the increased use of social media and internet availability, I suspect that my personal exposure to mud slinging could result in getting some mud in my own eyes. But ‘an eye for an eye’ won’t change anyone’s beliefs, so I’ve come up with a plan that I’d like to share with my readers. Feel free to use it in any way you like…

In order to stay true to my personal mission of spreading peace and (food) justice in the world by sharing gardening with anyone that wants to learn, (even Republicans haha!)  I’m making up some seed packets to share whenever tempers flare or voices rise. I’m calling them ‘Seeds of Understanding’ and I hope that the packets will serve to temper those differences with their gentle humor and a shared love of natural beauty. This isn’t an easy task for me because, as you probably already know if you’re a regular reader of this blog, I’m opinionated at best, and  ‘right’ at my worst.

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The packets will be light enough to carry several in my purse or easily mailed for the price of a stamp. Heck, I’ll even give you one whether we disagree or not, as long as you’ll promise to plant your own ‘seeds of understanding’. May the best man, or woman, win.

“Every time I plant a seed, He say kill it before it grow, He say kill it before they grow”~ Bob Marley




Nothing New Under the Sun
March 28, 2015, 9:18 AM
Filed under: Adapting to Change, Resilience | Tags: , , ,

Each year by April I’m threatening to quit gardening, to start buying canned beans at the grocery store and to throw my vegetable trimmings into the garbage can instead of into the compost bucket. I’m a week early this year. Those long, lazy days of winter are but a memory now and have been replaced with long days of ‘getting the garden in’. But because this cyclic turning guides my life and keeps my spirit buoyed, I guess I’ll be gardening in the courtyard of my nursing home eventually.

Even when work awaits me, there’s something about the warm sun and the greening of Earth that calls me to ‘come out and play’. I get so caught up in it that before I know it, I’ve overdone it. This feeling of being physically tired is a renewed sensation in my body, and one that feels good at the end of the day. I’m sure you can relate, whether you’re a gardener, or a ball player, a golfer or a biker.

Sometimes pictures tell a story faster and better than I can so I think I’ll just give you a pictoral of what we’ve been working on this week…

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The ‘Fall Grower’s Mix’ that was broadcast as a cover crop was thick and lush and needed to be trimmed before it could be turned under with the broadfork…

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This “Meadow Creature” Broadfork is our new favorite tool and has finally helped us reach a new level of sustainability by not having to till! With long steel tines, its’ silent, human-powered operation prepared a deeply prepared bed in no time, perfect for planting the potatoes…

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As well as a bed for  transplanting the cabbages and bok choi into…

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…which I then had to cover last night to protect from the impending cold snap!

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The weather was so beautiful that I was inspired to start hanging out the clothes again, which helped opened a conversation with a neighbor concerning ‘building a new model of living’. I like that phrase and you’ll likely see it again in this blog.

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The neighborly conversation has left me reflecting on the whole concept of resilience. It is often defined as relating to somehow “bouncing back” from a crisis, a somewhat silly notion in the context of the ‘New Normal’ of climate change, energy scarcity and the impending end of the age of economic growth. We can’t ‘bounce back’ even if we wanted to.  Resilience is defined as: “The capacity of a system, enterprise, or a person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances”. 

Growing food and hanging clothes out to dry is nothing new under the sun. But isn’t it wonderful that those ‘old’ ways of doing things still offer the same promise of good health and resilience in 2015 that they have for centuries? See you in the garden!



Winter of Wellness
January 19, 2015, 7:48 PM
Filed under: Healthy food, Wellness | Tags: , , , , ,

Almost everything I do has some element of compromise in it. Each time I get into an automobile, buy a new pair of shoes, or even fill up the bathtub I am contributing to the great unraveling. One thing I will NOT compromise on though, is my health. To that end, I’m stealing the name of a series of ‘webinars’ that I’m beginning tomorrow and calling this my own ‘Winter of Wellness’. (if you’re interested in the webinars too, here’s a link to free registration: http://2015.winterofwellness.com/program)

Some of you may know that my husband Michael has recently finished an 18 month long battle with colon cancer, and won the war! But having a front-row seat to that battle has profoundly influenced me to not take my own good health for granted. I’m working hard to remain healthy. I may falter occasionally, but believing that we are what we eat, encourages me to eat healthy to stay healthy. And not coincidentally, I also believe that the hard work of transitioning to a way of life that’s not based on cheap oil, but on local food systems, sustainable energy sources, and resilient localized economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being will demand that we have good health and well being. I try to remember that if none of those things ever fully develop, maintaining good personal health will always be part of the solution to any of life’s problems.

And so, after what seems like only a couple of weeks ago that we planted our raised beds to a winter cover crop…

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the cycle of growing my health begins again. We ordered our seeds…

20150114_135159They’re non- GMO and organic which I feel is a good beginning, but planting them is the REAL beginning of this winter of wellness. Onions have just broken the surface with the help of grow lights and heat mats (there’s that compromise again)

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…but the parsley will take much longer to germinate. That’s ok though because parsley is a super food AND a biennial which means we don’t have to plant it every year. Some swallowtail butterflies use parsley as a host plant for their larvae and will feed on parsley for two weeks before turning into butterflies. Bees and other nectar-feeding insects also visit the flowers. Birds such as the goldfinch feed on the seeds. I think parsley is really underestimated as a powerful food source. It dries easily and I like adding it to all my winter soups and stews.

I’m enjoying experimenting with some of the endless recipes available on the internet. Trying new dishes like “Spicy Tofu with Sweet Chili/Lime Sauce” served over a bed of quinoa and fresh kale from the winter garden, or “Red Thai Curry” over Basmati rice makes it really easy to eat health-fully when they taste so delicious. The fact that they are so inexpensive is of course, and added plus. But again, we’ve decided to not compromise on the foods we buy, any more than we would on food that we grow. Organic foods have really become comparable to conventionally grown foods in the last year or two, and I like knowing we’re avoiding the chemical baths most of the time. 

In addition to growing, cooking and eating healthy foods, we’re increasing our daily exercise as well. That can be the most difficult part of staying healthy for me, but I won’t compromise on that either. Some of my family members that were here for Christmas took a short run (casual observers might’ve called it a ‘forced march’) with me on the new hiking and biking Tweetsie Trail that’s nearby. Our motto is: ‘The family that runs together has fun together’. Whatever…

Xmas run

Plenty of rest, a few dietary supplements, a wonderful ‘world-wide-web’ of supportive friends and family, and an ever-deepening reserve of inner spirituality, combined with healthy food and exercise…SURELY those are the things needed for wellness. Am I missing anything?




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