Spring Manifesto

Inspired by The Art of Seeing Things, I’ve written a spring manifesto:

::  be kinder to myself

:: yell less

:: plant a flower garden

:: open my heart

:: trust

::  take family walks a few evenings a week

:: pause when my body tells me to pause

:: be grateful

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T-11 days until spring

Because I live in Sacramento, counting down to spring isn’t a huge deal. It’s been spring–on and off–for the last few weeks. Margie–who’s from the Midwest insists that there are only 2 seasons in Sacramento–summer and spring.

Nonetheless, the official start of spring is approaching. Spring-inspired picture books (for the kids…ahem) have been requested from the library and more time is being spent outside prepping for spring planting and growth.

Our sheet mulching project seems to be doing well. The 3 piles of manure, newspaper, and leaves are smaller and flatter than they were a few months ago when we created them, telling me that some amount of decomposition is happening. We plan to build 3 raised beds around the mulched areas. We’re hoping to find some less expensive wood at the local Habitat for Humanity store to keep the cost of these beds down.

I’m feeling a renewed commitment to creating a cut flower section to our garden. The kids enjoy making bouquets and I love having fresh flowers in the house. This project has moved up on garden checklist and I hope to prep the area in March, as well.

I also want to plant a thorough herb and tea garden. I don’t like to spend money on herbs and loose leaf tea, especially when it’s so easy to grow your own. If I can figure out the watering system (or…rather, if Margie can), we’ll be good to go.

One thing that didn’t happen this winter, which we had planned to do, was the planting of many fruit trees. We did plant a blood orange tree, which seems to have survived the few frosty nights we experienced. We had hoped to plant a couple of kiwis and a satsuma mandarin as well, but they never quite made it into our budget. There’s always next winter.

And now…off to order seeds. Garden prep days have been scheduled for the last two weekends in March. We’ll build our raised beds and shovel in lots of top soil. The kids (and Margie and I) will be eager to plant as soon as the infrastructure is in place.

Confidence in my values

To keep me company last weekend while driving to and from Mendocino alone, I picked up a book on tape at my local library. I wasn’t terrible excited about it but had heard of the book and decided to take the risk.

The book, No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process, follows one man’s (and his wife and child’s) efforts to live without a negative biological footprint for one year.  I’ve largely stopped reading books like this. I’ve become tired of the whole one-year experiment, get a book-deal thing. But…it’s what was available at the library.

The book turned out to be really well researched and thought out. It was a bit sappy at times, but it took an honest look the planet and the actions we take for granted on a daily basis. What struck me the most, however, was how hard it is to live this way. And not how you think. It’s not difficult to stop using plastic, to compost, to ride your bicycle everywhere. No. That can be managed. What’s difficult is living outside of society’s norm. This is something that I’ve been struggling with and listening to this book helped me put a finger on it.

You see…for the last couple of months I’ve been researching opening a fabric shop. I love fabric.  I’ve always wanted to run a business. And I’ve been wanting to find a role for myself besides mom and wife (see previous post).

So…fabric store. Our favorite, local store just closed, and I thought, “Hmmm…I could do this.” The thing is, opening a store totally doesn’t mesh with how we want to live right now. Margie I and value locally and seasonally-based home cooked meals eaten together; spending time out of doors; being with our children; fostering creativity; living without too much waste.  We also try to limit our spending. We have to think before we make our purchases and decide what else we won’t be buying.

It would be one thing if both of my kids were in school full-time and I had a bit more time to spend at a store, as well as cooking meals, cleaning the house, and being home with the kids when they weren’t in school.  Or if Margie was no longer on furlough pay. But my kids aren’t in school full-time and they won’t be for another 3-4 years…and we can’t afford to be mass consumers.

This fabric store idea followed closely on the heels of my last great idea, which was to turn our backyard into a little homestead (see this post). Yeah…a store doesn’t really jive with running a homestead, either. So, why this store? Why now? Why not be content with my previous, awesome, value-supporting plan?

A fabric store—a business—is mainstream. I’m putting money in the bank (well…after a few years, hopefully). It’s not granola. It’s not counter-culture. It’s economy-enriching. It’s material based (literally and figuratively).

Turning my yard into a homestead with a flourishing and productive garden, chickens, fruit trees, composting, water saving, and the like isn’t mainstream. It’s doesn’t pump money into the economy. It doesn’t support industry. It places me more in the fringe.

Listening to this book made me realize that I have some unresolved issues with this. I don’t know why. But now that I’ve identified the real motivation behind the store—not to be different—I’m at peace with not opening the store and focusing on my homestead. I’m okay (at least tonight…sigh…I won’t always be) with being granola. With living frugally and sustainably.

I grew up at a time when our society didn’t understand the ramifications of waste and over-consumption. That was also a time of economic growth and relative wealth. Things are different now. We know that there’s too much plastic in the world and that way too much petroleum and coal is being pulled from the earth—from both resource depletion and climate change perspectives.  We also know that middle class families like ours can’t spend money with abandon. Not if we want to keep roof over our heads and send our kids to college. And my kids need to know and understand these things.

My actions and my families’ economic decisions may be only one drop in a very large bucket. But…I don’t care. I feel better about myself for living this way. And that’s all that matters.

For now, I’m going to try to be content with not being a consumer. And with not encouraging other people to be consumers (by opening a shop). Some days this will be easy. Other days—when I really want some new fabric or a great pair of shoes (which, umm…is right now…I have a couple of dress-up functions coming up)—it won’t be. And one day this may all change, and I’ll open the store. But, for now, homestead, here I come!

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I could go on in this post to discuss the negative impacts of commercialism, media, and industry. At some point I might. But for now, this is enough.

Spring garden prep :: sheet mulching

We started working on our spring garden last weekend. Yes, spring garden. Our winter garden is an absolute failure. Nothing has grown. We think it’s the soil. But maybe the sun. Who knows. What we do know, is that our garden has to move.

When we moved into our house just over 4 years ago, we placed our garden around a cherry tree that didn’t seem to be doing anything. The spot was contained, it was easy to clear, and it was right outside our back door. Over the course of the past few years, we’ve learned a few things, namely that the cherry tree is indeed alive and well, and we want an even more contained garden. We want raised beds.

We have a good size backyard. There’s a wide border along the perimeter that is overgrown because we have 2 kids and lots of other things to do besides maintain every inch of it. We considered placing the garden in the border because it was contained. But, decided that this space was better used for fruit trees, cut flowers, berries, and well…weeds.

That leaves the lawn. We have lots of lawn. More than the kids need. More than we want to mow. So…we decided to convert part of the lawn to the garden. To do this, we need to get rid of the lawn. Not wanting to rent expensive equipment to remove the lawn, or dig out the lawn ourselves, we are trying sheet mulching.

Sheet mulching invites the grass into the process. It uses the good stuff that the grass contains–as well as the top soil it grows in–to help develop healthy growing conditions for vegetables. As the name implies, sheet mulching includes layers–sheets, if  you will–of other healthy, good for the earth stuff. We chose a layer of horse manure, a layer of cardboard or newspaper, and a layer of leaves or straw.

We had a yard and a half of horse manure delivered to our house last weekend and got to work.

Me, reading the Sunday paper before donating it to the sheet mulching cause.

If all goes well, these three layers will compose together and develop a nice base for adding top soil and raised beds. We’ll do the raised in a two or three months, as we get closer to planting season.

We really hope this works.

We also planted a blood orange tree. We visited the nursery and Bennett really wanted a blood orange. Margie and I were hoping for a seedless mandarin, but once Bennett saw the blood orange tree, there was no arguing. We plan to plant a kiwi and a peach tree this winter as well, but these other two will have to wait until next month.

(As you may or may not recall, we’re attempting a no spend month. We had already planned on some yard projects for January–things that had to happen in January in order to move closer to our vision for our yard this spring and summer. Although we spent money on the manure and fruit tree, we stayed within our home repair budget line item for the month. This is a good thing.)

Winter

I really appreciate winter coming in with dark clouds, wind, and rain. Despite growing up in California and having more memories of sunny Christmases than not, I can’t help but crave cold and dark weather with the change of the season and the end of the year.

The kids and I spent a lot of time outside yesterday afternoon. Earlier in the week we had made bird seed cookies as a winter solstice present for the birds. With much excitement we hung the cookies from tree branches. With a break in the rain, the kids enjoyed time outside without rain coats and I cleaned up the yard a bit and pruned hydrangeas. We also picked oranges and lemons.

We spent the rest of the solstice playing inside, knitting, lighting candles, eating pea soup, and decorating oranges with cloves. It was a good day.

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With the New Year coming, I’ve started making a list of the things I want to do next year. I have the list divided up into categories: house, yard, yoga, writing, etc. It’s a good list. Very do-able. I’m struggling, however, with reflecting on this year that’s about to end. This isn’t something I generally do, but I’m feeling called to do it this year. I struggled—a lot (and still do)—with being home full-time and with not having enough time to myself. Part of me feels that if I just took the time to reflect, I’d find the answers I so often feel I need. And part of me knows that’s bullshit. Contentment, happiness, peace, and joy are right here, I just need to let them in. Oh my…

Excitement and gratitude

Some things I’m excited about:

  • Sheet mulching. Yeah!
  • Pruning trees. I love hacking trees. I don’t know why. Perhaps a sense of accomplishment?
  • Gardening blogs. So many. So little time.
  • Gardening books. I do wish, however, that the library carried more of the 0nes I want.
  • Homemade Christmas decorations. I should really post a picture of our advent calendar. It’s suppose to look like this. It sort of does.
  • Holiday baking on Sunday. For neighbors and friends (if we don’t eat it all first).
  • Holiday music. Non-stop. In the car, too.
  • My daughter is napping. She hasn’t napped all week. I’ll take it when I can get it.

Food for thought

My, how time flies. When I last posted, it was not quite Halloween. Now Thanksgiving is over and we’re well on our way to Christmas. November was busy for my family. Lots of traveling, with a stomach flu thrown in for good measure.

Being busy, however, wasn’t really what kept me from this place. My absence was primarily due to an uncertainty in the direction of this space, as well as a lack of confidence. I had lost sight of my mission (oh my, I haven’t used that word since my non-profit days; but still so relevant, if slightly wonky sounding), and I simply started wondering, “Who am I to write in the place?” Seriously…who really cares. It turns out that the better question is, “Who am I not to write in this place?” And…I care. If someone doesn’t like what I’m writing about or my writing style (or lack of grammar-check), she won’t read this blog again. I enjoy using this space and that’s all that matters.

With crisis in confidence over (for now…it rears its head often), and a reconnection to my mission for this space, I’m ready to start writing and posting again.

When I first created this blog, I had some, somewhat grand plans of making it a clearinghouse–of sorts–for urban gardening. Or–at least–a resource for people new (like me) to urban gardening. This is still what I’d like to do. The impetus for this re-connection with my initial plan is my strong desire to turn our backyard into an urban homestead. I really like the idea of growing most of our fruits and veggies and having chickens.

As I’ve posted many times, I struggle with being a stay-at-home-mom. I’ve been contemplating getting a job outside of the home, but nothing is calling to me. It’s become clear, however, that I need something that connects me to more people and ideas, and to subjects that extend past my front door. So…our backyard, and more specifically, our homestead. Yes, this is family-oriented, but it serves another purpose, as well. It will provide fodder–compost, if you will–for this space, which will help engage in broader topics for which I have a great interest: sustainability, simplicity, suburban ag, conservation, and community.

Over the next month, I plan to fine tune my plans for the yard as a homestead, as well as my specific goals for this blog and the resource I want it to become for myself and others. Very little hands-on work will be occurring (it is December, afterall) and I may not post much (but, maybe I will). Come January, however, I plan to begin work in earnest–both in the yard and in this space.

Just as I am

I recently finished reading Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes.  Using a couple of dozen case studies, Hayes argues for a return to a more traditional home life that doesn’t depend on two incomes, over-scheduling, and consumerism. Instead, she encourages a re-thinking of needs—financial and material—that—as a result—honors the environment, increases self-reliance, and better fosters a sustainable economy.

I love the idea but struggle with it on a day-to-day basis. As a society, Americans have become far too disconnected from the food chain, buy more than they need simply to spend money (myself included), and equate stuff with happiness. As a family, we try to eat in a sustainable matter, purchasing roughly 90 percent of our food locally. We use the library in lieu of buying every book we need. We garden, bake our own bread and make our yogurt, limit our children’s television viewing, and strongly limit the types and number of toys our children have in our home. We develop a budget at the beginning of every year and again at the beginning of every month, and we track our spending almost daily.

I’m not writing all this to make myself sound good—or feel good—but to try to understand the right balance given the society in which we live. I’m also writing this to try to start understanding how to reconcile this type of lifestyle with the one I always thought I’d have.

I never thought much about having kids—until I had them. I never thought much about home ownership—until I owned one. I never thought much about domestic arts (despite being exposed to many of them while growing up)—until I started doing out of necessity and interest.

I thought about traveling, a lot. I thought about buying all the clothes and shoe that I wanted and liked. I thought about having an interesting career with business lunches and work travel.

But now, here I am. A 35-year-old stay-at-home-mom (SAHM).  I knit. I sew. I bake. My family and I are living a quasi-radical homemaker lifestyle. With two kids and a spouse that works outside the home full-time—and travels for work—I can’t imagine a different lifestyle. As I’ve posted before, my rhythm and my family’s rhythm wouldn’t work so well if both my wife and I were working. Despite that, this SAHM, radical homemaker rhythm doesn’t put me completely at ease either.

It’s hard to forget about the excitement found in planning and going on a trip somewhere. Or the joy from finding a fabulous pair of shoes, the perfect skirt, or an intriguing novel that must be read immediately.

It takes constant reality checks and reminders of how good I have it to keep the balance. Perhaps these sound like the musings of a former spoiled child just now learning to live within her means. There is some truth to that (although not spoiled while growing up, I wanted for nothing).

Although I’m proud that we live within our means and are debt –free (other than our mortgage), it’s still hard not to be disappointed every once in a while that I don’t know when I’ll next leave the continental United States and that I have to consult my budget to determine when and if I’ll be able to buy a new dress for an upcoming fundraiser.

I read a couple of things recently that helped me put some of this in perspective. From Pema Chodron, “Practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is you and me or whoever we are right now, just as we are.”

And from Cyndi Lee, “When we recognize that the fight we are engaged in is only a fight with ourselves then we understand we can take responsibility for creating our own happiness.”

For ease of mind and feeling like I belong somewhere, I’ll keep trying to accept where I am right now—quasi-radical homemaker or not. I’ll keep trying to simply be where I am right now. To stop thinking about what I else I could be doing. To create my happiness here and now.

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Upon completing this post and re-reading it a few times, I realized how incredibly whiney and spoiled I sound. I’ll accept that and post this anyway. I know I’m not the only one that feels this way from time to time.

Traditions

For the past few years, we’ve joined my mother and her 5th grade class in making scarecrows at Winterport Farm, just outside of Ione.

Field o'scarecrows.

 

The farmers–Dan and Sue Port and their daughter Carina–provide straw, stakes, and old clothes (if you’ve forgotten to bring some like we did), and let the kids create all sorts of scarecrows to decorate their pumpkin patch. The kids always have a great time and Bennett and his younger cousin Chloe are finally old enough to really help create a scarecrow.

After the scarecrows are completed, the kids look at some of the animals on the farm and receive a pumpkin from Dan, Sue, and Carina. It’s a great way to start the autumn and Halloween seasons.

Winterport offers a self serve pumpkin patch. Pumpkins of all shapes and sizes, gourds, and corn stalks pre-picked and underneath an awning waiting to be selected. There’s a tin for payment, based on the honor system. Winterport is also where we purchase our beef and melons (there are still some left!). If  you’d like to visit, Winterport is open every day through Halloween (and perhaps longer). The farm is located at 2690 Hwy. 104, just outside of Ione in Amador County.

Autumn equinox

I’m so glad it’s autumn. I love summer, but there’s something about fall that the introvert in me absolutely adores.  It feels like a time to withdraw a bit, cover up, enjoy a more even number of daylight and moonlight hours, and appreciate a new season of food.

To help welcome the new  season, the kids are doing a few autumn-related crafts. We’re making a fall banner using fabric paints, and autumnal colors and an acorn wreath for the front door. I’ve also been making chicken broth using a chicken carcass we’d stored in the freezer for just such a use, and roasting a new chicken for dinner tonight. Red quinoa-walnut cookies are baking (from here). Yes, the house smells very good right now.

We’ve been enjoying pears from my mom’s orchard for the past few weeks and we’re looking forward to a trip to Apple Hill and the Winterport Farm pumpkin patch.

Fall-inspired books are being checked out from the library and added to our rotation (more on this, soon).

Our corn is done producing. The stalks are waiting to be picked and set aside to dry. We hope to use them to decorate our front porch as we get closer to Halloween.

And the fall garden. Summer vegetable plants are slowly being removed and the ground prepared for chard, peas, carrots, lettuce, and a few other cold weather plants.

What are you doing to welcome fall?