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. 

 



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

 

 



Making Choices
“When I was a little kid, growing up on Martin Drive, Dr. Spock’s book, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, which had first been published in 1946, was making the rounds. It was being passed from mother to mother on Martin Drive and it came to our house and my  mother read it.Among other things, the book suggested giving your child choices so that your child would learn how to make decisions. So my mother read that and thought it made a certain kind of sense, so she started giving us choices. She would tell us what to do, then let us choose between doing it or getting swatted on the rear with Dr. Spock’s book.” ~ Philip Gulley, author of ‘Grace Talks’
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I have an internet radio in my kitchen, opening up the whole world to me while I chop, stir, cook and can.  Today I listened to news about civil rights and social activism in Missouri, elephant killings in Africa, war-making in the Middle East, and  came to the conclusion that ultimately, every choice we make affects others. Examples abound, but here are a few simple ones I came up with: if I buy a $5 tee shirt from Walmart, perhaps made in Bangladesh, I’m supporting sweat shops and factories without fire escapes. If I buy Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, I’m supporting their use of GMO wheat in their pastas, while contributing to a culture of discontent amongst their employees. If I eat a Hershey’s candy bar, I’m condoning child slave labor on the cocoa plantations along the Ivory Coast. If I purchase anything made from ivory, it comes from a bull elephant. (not that I buy anything made from ivory but evidently it is a HUGE trend in Asia). On and on, ad nauseum. I get it. We vote with our dollars, so by making wise buying choices that will make things better? Maybe. Maybe not. Will my refusal to buy an occasional Hershey’s bar really stop the exploitation of children? It’s just not a simple ‘either/or ‘ choice like Mrs. Gulley made with her children in the opening paragraph, is it?
So tell me, how are we to live? How can we make the best choices that will benefit our lives without creating misery for someone else?And what does this have to do with transitioning to a way of living that’s significantly more connected,  vibrant and  fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today? This blog’s “ABOUT” statement has said since Day One: “Now is the time to take stock and to start re-creating our future in ways that are 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.” Maybe I will reword that to add: “…while considering others everywhere.”
I sure don’t have the answers folks. I’m searching for them every day. Listening to the news from around the world on the internet radio has made me ever more aware that we’re all interconnected, we are all one, and that we all share this earth. But I have to keep in mind that I can’t change anyone or anything, but I can change me. I can make better consumer choices, better environmental choices and better health choices.
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I sometimes get lax and begin to slip back into patterns of consumption that I thought I’d left behind. I’m buying paper towels again for crap’s sake! I haven’t bought them for almost 14 years, and suddenly, I have a 3 pack under the sink. (It’s really Michael’s fault but I’ve cut him some slack while he’s been ill, but as of today, he’s declared cancer free so now he’s going to have to go back to a life without them 🙂 ) Pick your battles. I also realize that not buying paper towels or Roundup or styrofoam plates won’t change the world but those are things that I feel good about nevertheless. So what else can I do? Well, I can follow the lead of my church association and divest my savings investments of fossil fuel companies and Bank One holdings, and instead, invest more in renewable energies and local banks.  I can grow more, sew more, walk more, and give more. I can choose a life of simplicity. I can create peace in my personal life and my home, knowing  full well that peace in the world really does begin at home. I can even choose to turn off the radio.
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Frugal Friday- June 13, 2014

It’s Friday the 13th AND a full moon! Seems like an auspicious way to begin post number 2-0-1- on this blog. Since returning from my trip to Ohio, I’ve been distracted with gardening and meetings, and festivals and meetings and shelling peas and meetings and out of town company and oh yeah, did I mention meetings? This week I’ve really tried to concentrate on eating from our garden every day, as well as walking and biking as much as possible to get where I need to go. When I left town to travel to Ohio, I filled up for $3.32 a gallon, but when I got there, gas was $3.99 a gallon! If that’s not incentive to park the car, I don’t know what is, yet the city where my family lives just had bumper to bumper traffic everywhere! Before I get on to my personal efforts to live fully and frugally beneath my means, I wanted to show you a picture I took in downtown Columbus of a new ‘car rental’ system they have there…

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The Car2Go system is brilliant for use in a big town. A one time membership fee of $35 gets you a swipe card. The card readers are on the dash of the car. Swipe your card, the doors unlock, then the reasonable pay by the minute-mile-or hour fees are charged to your credit card. Park it when you’re done in one of many many spaces allocated for them. They’re perfect for one, they’re fuel-efficient because of their small size and as  you can see, you can park two cars in the space that one car normally takes up! Talk about frugal! The only bad thing is having to live in a big town to take advantage of this. No thanks, I’ll just walk.

OK, before I get started on ‘this week’: a few of my close friends have said, from time to time, “you didn’t do such and such on Monday, it was Wednesday!” Whatever. The point here is not to give you a play by-play rundown of my week but instead, to simply show that every single day there are opportunities in our lives to save time, energy and resources. Living well on less is a way of life. Even on Mondays. Or Wednesdays. Just sayin’…

Monday: We had two compost bins but wanted to start a third one so we can be sure to have enough compost made this fall and next spring to add to our garden beds. The two bins we already had-and love-were $75 each last time I priced them (that’s them on the right, below) but with graduation gifts and travel expenses this month, there’s simply not enough money right now to buy another. But-we had a small section of wire fencing that we’d used several times to trellis growing vegetables, so we rolled it up, stuck it in the corner beside the other two and said ‘good enough’! It works fine and didn’t cost us a dime. And, as  you can see, it’s already filling up!

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Tuesday: Speaking of graduation expenses, or special gift giving occasions: I’m always on the lookout for the perfect gift for such events. A few months ago I was in my favorite thrift store and found this little gem for 50 cents:

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It had a lot going for it, from my point of view: it looked brand new, but no new resources were used for me to purchase it used, I wrote a personal note to put inside with the $100 bill I gave my graduating granddaughter, so no card had to be bought and then thrown away, nor did I need any wrapping paper. AND she’s got the little box for as long as she wants it to store ‘stuff’. Cheap? Nah, Sweet!

Wednesday: With summertime comes mosquitoes. I was hopeful that Michael’s chemo treatments would make him less desirable to the biting buggars but that doesn’t seem to be the case so it was time, once again, to mix up a batch of my infamous ‘Bug Potion #9’. Here’s the ‘recipe’: it makes 2 cups and usually lasts all summer. We keep it in repurposed spice jars, along with some cotton balls, in the camper,the car, the kitchen and the bathroom!

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1 cup witch hazel
1 cup rubbing alcohol
8-10 drops peppermint oil

Shake well, store in a tightly capped container so that alcohol doesn’t evaporate. Applying this with a cotton ball as soon as possible after being bitten results in better effectiveness.

Thursday: I signed up on-line to join the Adult Summer Reading program at my local library. Just for doing that, when I went in to the library today, I received a free tote bag, bookmarks, and a book of my choice! And for each book review I post on their website, my name will also be entered into a weekly drawing! Does your library offer such sweet deals? Check it out-pun intended.

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Friday: I invite company over at least once a month so my house will get cleaned. (oh surely you do that too! 😉  This week we had an out of town band stay with us overnight and the upstairs guest quarters were looking, um…kinda shabby. The night stands and table belonged to my grandmother and looked as old as she did-hey! she was 101, and she deserved to display all those years proudly, just like this furniture does:

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  I spent $40 on new knobs and paint, a few pleasant hours on the patio and think the 3 pieces look pretty nice. I’ve also got enough paint left to do another small project so I’ll be on the lookout at yard sales this summer for a scuffed-but-solid table or stool to use it on- perhaps as a Christmas gift for my daughter? I just don’t know what to do with the paint cans once they’re empty. Any ideas?

 

I hope you’re carrying the ideas of Frugal Friday with you throughout your week, and that you’re inspired to make the best use possible of whatever resources present themselves in your life before looking ‘elsewhere’ for the things  you need. Enjoy the weekend-frugally of course!



Redefining Prosperity (and a Spring Recipe)

There’s nothing I love more than spending time with my family and gardening. I’ll be going to Ohio in a couple of weeks to watch my granddaughter graduate from high school, so in the meantime, I’m getting my garden in. This is consuming my days, not leaving me with much time to write, which is why blog posts will be scarce as hen’s teeth for a while. There’s always much to do: weeds to pull, seeds to plant and water, beds to mulch and so on. For me, this time spent on my knees at my weedy altar will pay off all year in the form of lower food bills and many, many meals on my table. Growing food is like printing my own money. And if that’s not reason enough, last evening, right at dusk, I spotted a male and female American Goldfinch sitting on the top of nearby tomato cages and suddenly, all my tiredness and the worries of the world simply slipped away…

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This week we’re enjoying bushels of fresh spinach, along with lettuces, broccoli, kale and cilantro. I’ve finally mastered the secret to cilantro: I let it reseed itself so I don’t have to monitor and water and baby it like I did when I was planting it myself. Once you get it established you can treat it like a perennial.  Soon we’ll have  bok choy, new potatoes and sugar snap peas and strawberries to go with our daily salads, all the while continuing to eat the canned, dried and frozen foods from last year’s harvest. Tonight for supper we’ll enjoy a dish that we love when we have the needed ingredients growing in the garden-I’ve included the recipe below-(I added some leftover Italian turkey meatballs to simmer in the sauce-yum!) and corn on the cob I had in the freezer. That’s it below. The next picture shows how much food can be grown in a very small space-less than the footprint of a compact car in fact. That bed has 40 heads of garlic, 8 heads of cabbage, 10 bunches of cilantro, 6 heads of broccoli, and enough spinach to make me give it away by the bagful. Soon it will all be harvested and will then be filled with peppers and tomatoes and more.

 Potatoes with Spinach in Cilantro-Red Chili Sauce  IMG_0342

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
6 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
6 dried red Thai or cayenne chiles, stems removed, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup water
1 pound new potatoes, scrubbed and halved
1 large tomato, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
1 tablespoon firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
8 ounces fresh spinach leaves, coarsely chopped

In a medium saucepan over medium-high, heat the oil. Add the cumin seeds and cook until they turn reddish brown and smell nutty, 5 to 10 seconds.

Immediately add the garlic and chiles. Saute until the garlic is lightly browned and the chiles blacken, about 1 minute.

Sprinkle in the turmeric, the carefully pour in the water. Stir to deglaze the pan, releasing any browned bits of garlic.

Add the potatoes, tomato, cilantro, brown sugar and salt. Stir once or twice, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover the pan and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are fall-apart tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Add the spinach, a couple of handfuls at a time, stirring until wilted, 2 to 4 minutes per batch.

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This blog is all about finding new measures of prosperity in our lives. Many folks define prosperity by how much money they make, how big their house is, or how new their car is. I adopted new measures of prosperity when I went through my mid life crisis 15 years ago and began to simplify my life. Now,  my personal measure of prosperity is based on how much food I can grow, along with having no debt and owning a car I may never replace. Life is good, very, very good.



Blue Boat Home

Hello readers! Do me a favor, and listen to this beautiful song while you read this post. Just click on the link below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtZUM0JhLvc

I’m sitting in the sun on my front porch as I write this, on December 5th, 2013. The temperature is hovering at 70 today. As much as I’ve enjoyed a long walk with a good friend, and working in my garden this morning, all while dressed in a tee-shirt, I know it’s ‘not normal’ for this time of year, although I honestly am not sure anymore what ‘normal’ is on this beautiful planet we call home. I read today about a new study done by some of the world’s top climate scientists that are now saying that “this 2 degree C target that everyone seems to accept now is actually a recipe for disaster.” The study recommended that “fossil fuel emissions should decline by 6 percent per year starting immediately.” http://reneweconomy.com.au/2013/study-debuts-ipcc-calls-severe-emissions-cuts-80088 

Today’s news also informed me that Al Gore has joined his former boss Bill Clinton at the table and has gone to a vegan diet. http://grist.org/food/al-gore-is-a-vegan-now-and-we-think-we-know-why/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=Living%2520Dec%25205&utm_campaign=living 

According to the article, the former VP’s reasons aren’t due to health, (although I’m pretty certain  he’ll end up healthier because of his new plant-based diet), but because of his very real concerns about how bad raising meat is for the environment, which really is an inconvenient truth for all of us omnivores, isn’t it? Then, to add to my environmental angst, a friend sent me a link with video of freakin’ glacial caves! That’s right, caves that are being formed UNDER the glaciers as they melt and run away. The photography is stunning and the reality of what’s happening will make you weep, but maybe you need to see it too: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/03/mendenhall-ice-caves_n_4374019.html 

Can you find the two people in this shot?Image

I could go on and on and on about the environmental crisis we’re all a part of, but I’m pretty certain I’m preaching to the choir here, so I won’t. Hearing of the death of that icon of social justice, Nelson Mandela, has added yet another note of sadness to my day today. I’m sure you choir members have already recognized the strong connection between environmental degradation and social injustice and inequality; use Mandela’s life as a model, and use this ‘season of giving’ to make a difference in the world, in your life or in someone else’s life. Please consider embracing simplicity, reducing your consumption of everything, eating a plant-based diet and reducing your personal waste during this time of consumption and spending.  Let’s do what we can to turn this ‘blue boat’ around.




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