Thursday, April 23, 2020

IDC-Week 3

I told myself I was going to do these weekly on Tuesdays. I did the first one on a Tuesday. Then, the next Tuesday came and then the next, so here I am three weeks later reporting an IDC on a rainy, gloomy Thursday.

So, here it goes:

Plant Something: Oh, so many things planted! Several types of calendula, nasturtium, winter squash, sunflowers, daisies and echinacea seeds (greenhouse); sage plants and more onion sets; marigold, zinnia, basil and cilantro seeds (direct); potatoes; dahlia bulbs; two types of clematis rootstock; black hollyhocks (roots); transplanted the goji berry shrubs to permanent locations. I am sure there are lots more, but my record keeping skills need improvement. Hopefully I can be more accurate and specific next IDC update.

Harvest Something: Just a few cuttings off of the Egyptian onion patch to use like scallions.

Preserve Something: Nothing really much to report here either. I did freeze some extra veggie burgers I made. Does that count? I also froze a portion of winter squash chunks and another of puree for future cooking projects. 

Waste Not: I am really trying to make portions to feed 2-3 people (depending if boyfriend is eating with us or not) and not more than we can eat reasonably. I hate wasting food. Same goes for buying produce and bread: buy what we can use only. I compost all veg scraps and coffee grinds (we eat vegan at home primarily). I recycle what I can (and am reminded by my son that recycling still has a huge carbon footprint. I explain that is why we focus on reuse and reduce whenever we can, but he is right and I need to improve here). I used scraps of wood from other projects to complete recent house projects. Saved some cardboard for miniatures projects (another hobby of mine). Line or rack drying clothing (I don't have a dryer). Reuse jars for other things, wear clothing more than once, hang up towels, reuse things for potting. I used scrap wood (including some really high quality oak obtained from a cooper for free) to build a new raised bed at Terrain Vague. Used pots I have scavenged to plant seeds and potatoes in (including big tree pots...if you can find them, they are perfect for gardening in pots). Picked up some cinderblocks abandoned on the sidewalk. I will use them for raised beds and plant in the holes.

Want Not: BF helped me move some awkward washer plumbing lines in my old 1880s Shotgun house. I now have a laundry room! I bought a washer with the stimulus money and for the first time in nearly 5 years I do not have to go to the laundromat. I was so grateful and happy for the help. I am not shopping much (like most people), but I still have some improvement to make in that area too. It took the strength of mental elephants not to buy a fab pair of Sex Pistol Doc Martens online. I am really only going to the grocery store, hardware or Dollar Tree (not many other places to shop anyway), and these trips are only for necessities. I already decided a Pantry Challenge is going to happen in May because I have more than enough to sustain us for months.  I recently cleaned and inventoried the pantry and I can do quite a bit with the stockpile. I guess in some ways it is a blessing I am not a minimalist despite my serious attempts in the past few years. I am also going to include shows, books, music I am engaging in in this category. I am watching (or re-watching the first season to catch back up) Ozarks on Netflix, Vegan as Fork and Homegrown Garden on YouTube, and listening to Wye Oak and Blond Redhead on Spotify. I do not want for entertainment for sure. I guess I should mention I found TP and bought a pack. I miss the library and thrifting and will never take either one for granted.

Frugal Five: I decided to add this category because it is another thing I used to participate in and enjoyed. I want to be 100% debt free and am working towards that goal. Now, more than ever, I see the importance of getting out of the rat cycle of debt. It's helpful to see ways I am saving money and putting it towards my future freedom.

1. Make my own coffee 
2. Paid off my last divorce debt/loans (the big one) :)))) 
3. Reading through my stack of library books (checked out before the big Shut Down in March)
4. Cook and bake from scratch including breads.
5. Barely driving anywhere these days, so gas is lasting for two weeks in my car.

Eat the Food: Making all sorts of new or favorite things at home. In the past weeks, I have made Turkish bread (and then again to use as pizza crust); lentil soups (two types); cabbage rolls; and various others soups and stews to make sure what veg I buy does not go bad. I also cut up a monster heirloom pumpkin I bought cheaply at the end of the farmer's market season last fall and made curry with it. For Easter I made a carrot cake from soft carrots in the refrigerator. 

Community: I respect 6 ft social distancing. I wore my mask while working in the field. I have to say the second one here is really hard for me. It makes me feel claustrophobic to wear a mask, but I have been facing my discomfort for the community. I also sent fabric and money to someone I know to make customized masks for son, BF, co-workers and myself. I wish I could sew myself. I go to stores with little traffic or late at night (before closing which many are doing early here...way less people around). I wash my hands often and use sanitizer. I shared some extra onion and garlic sets with a neighbor. I let another neighbor borrow my weed whacker. I up-graded my Netflix to include another TV so someone unemployed I know can watch too. I heart a lot of Facebook and Instagram posts. Sent a fun care package to a family member.  I bought a $5 Dollar Tree giftcard for a stranger I watch bullied by another customer (yeah...I wanted to say something to the rude person, but decided to just quietly let the victim know I saw what happened. It's BS!) 
I support my state's governor and his decisions and listen to his updates via NPR. I support the library.

Skill up: Watching tons of YouTube and reading books on cooking, gardening, witchery, cemetery symbolism, and building ponds and sheds. I am also focusing on basic haircutting tutorials as my 13-year-old wants me to cut his hair. Yikes. I also learned many new skills from the BF while we were moving the washer lines and other major house projects he is helping me with this month. I am also getting ready to download and learn many different apps the library offers and I haven't taken advantage of before now. Other things I would love to focus on: German language, Spanish review and practice, reading nature signs (I did order a book about this subject), rocks and fossils, and building a outdoor bread oven. #foreverapolymath

Naturalista Activities: I decided to add this one as well as it pertains to my major goal with Terrain Vague (create a wildlife refuge in the city and being a naturalist in general). Eventually, if I ever commit more to the blogging, I would like to do a weekly post about just my naturalista activities. Until then, I have been working in the garden and have observed many animals there such as sparrows, doves, robins, Dekay's brown snakes, 5-line Skinks, many insects, stray cats, and a raccoon! Animals at Terrain Vague No. 1 makes me so happy! I also found some interesting rocks I am working at identifying (this could go in Skill Up too).
Son and I also have been spending time at the riverside which has been a welcome relief to being at home. We also completed the shape of the wildlife pond. Now to just collect rocks and buy a liner (sadly, the price of the latter skyrocketed due to not being essential).

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Independence Days Challenge 1/2020

Hello April 2020!

I guess I should start out by mentioning I survived the breast cancer. I didn't even realize I left it hanging here on such a sour note. I feel like I pretty much lost most of 2019 to a very rough medical ordeal, but I came out of the fog with no evidence of disease (and a new set of boobs). I am still progressing on Terrain Vague No. 1 and I have many ideas for blog posts to get to soon, but I wanted to jump in with a quick challenge.
So, now we are here: April 2020. And, unless you have just checked out completely, you are aware of the pandemic. I mean The Pandemic. In some ways, with the uncertainty and the connection directly to our health, you are experiencing a much greater version of my crap cancer year last year (without the awful pain, of course). It’s not fun, it'll cause your life to miss some beats, but we are strong.
The other day I was talking with Kristine and we were reminiscing about our old homesteading days. We both used to blog about our experiences of trying to raise babies, keep up with homesteading acreage, pursuit careers, tend gardens and learn skills to make us more self-sufficient. We were both pretty passionate about it, but it was a constant learning curve! Then, life meandered onward and a decade passed us by. Our babies grew, we both followed careers, we tended much smaller gardens, planned less, blogged less. It came to both our surprises when we realized we had no extra TP in our houses when the crisis hit.
Back in our younger blogging days, we both participated in a challenge created by the intellectual Sharon Astyk called The Independence Days Challenge (IDC). Here is a link to her original challenge and why she created it: 2008 IDC.
She brought it back with new and improved categories in 2012: Here
The main goal of IDC was to prepare yourself and your family for more dire straits by preparing and planning slowly. It was to create a sense of self-reliance, so that worry  and need would not be a crutch when and if bad things happened. It is not quite as extreme as preppers or survivalists, but it does require forethought and planning. Her philosophy was that every small action adds up to a bigger collective of actions to help us be more independent from the system. It is designed to make panic buying an absolute unnecessary act. And, oddly enough, despite it's name, the IDC created a huge community of like-minded (mostly) women. 
With the current events and all of the rush to buy out stores, I couldn’t help but think about my old IDC days. I still prep a bit out of habit, but on a much lesser level. My kids are teens, I am now divorced and I moved back to the city some years ago. Even my diet has changed to whole foods plant based. In fact, almost all of my needs have changed to less.
I wanted to start doing a weekly IDC again. I want to see a record of my actions that will help me prepare for challenging times. I want to feel a sense of independency and know I am ready for the worst (or best!), I want to start living a bit more intentionally again. Actually see in writing my accomplishments and how they help make life a bit more stable. 
So, here is goes, IDC week 1:

1. Plant something: It is spring here in the north south USA and I have been planting a lot. The garden beds are full of cooler weather crops like red cabbage, cauliflower, onions, potatoes, garlic, broccoli, and kale. I planted from seed radishes, spinach, more kale, lettuce and beets. I have seedlings in the greenhouse of peppers (several types), tomatoes (several types) and eggplants (mostly Asian varieties). I also started more cabbage from seed. I’ve also planted bulbs and root stock of several flowers: peony, clematis, lilies, and ferns. I planted two climbing rose bushes.
2. Harvest something: The only thing I have harvested was some dandelion leaves from a lovely plant I yanked for a bulb I wanted to plant. I also harvested some of the roots of the dandelions I sacrificed. I found a large collection of turkey tail and took a tiny amount (it was too beautiful to destroy).
3. Preserve something: I do keep a bag of veggie scraps in the freezer to make broth. I think that is all I have preserved lately. Oh, I guess I did start drying the dandelion root and turkey tail mushrooms I picked last weekend to make tea.
4. Waste Not: Planning meals around veg in the refrigerator or around the house. I still have a cache of pumpkins from fall to start using up. Veg scraps go either in the freezer for broth or to the compost pile. Coffee grinds go to the compost pile. I am using up older canned goods after doing a rotation of the pantry staples. I used old wooden windows destined for the landfill to make the greenhouse. I planted seeds in old mushroom containers.

5. Want Not: I ordered more seeds. I built a greenhouse from old windows  at TVNo1 (blog post coming soon on that project)! My son and I are working on a wildlife pond (also at TVNo1). I did not buy anything extra to stock during this crisis except a pack of lentils because that was all that was left at the store on the day I went. Fortunately, my pantry was already well stocked. I did keep an old habit of buying a bit extra to store away here and there, so I have many cans of beans, dried goods and jars of produce I put up last year (mainly from my own peaches and tomatoes I grew). I did buy an extra bag of dog food. I did not buy TP or hand sanitizer because I had some already. I also bought Kristine's excellent book Herbalism at Home and another book called The Wildlife Pond Book.
6. Eat the Food: I made stir-fry, black beans and rice, and tonight we are having kale and potato stew. Last weekend I made a Big Salad that included the dandelion greens I picked at TVNo1.
7. Support Local Food Systems/Community: An anonymous ministry group brought all the houses on my block a box of restaurant produce. I wasn’t home so the neighbor got me one. I live in an underserved area because I bought an old, abandoned Victorian era house to fix up some years ago in that neighborhood. I am not in need of vegetables, but I received one anyway. I ended up passing on half of it to others, but decided to keep a little to use. We ended up with broccoli, kale, mustard greens and tomatoes. So far, I have a use for all except the tomatoes (I am sure they will end up in a future IDC under preserve something). Because we have orders to #Stayhome right now, I have been doing just that as much as possible (I still work now). I wash my hands regularly and use sanitizer. It is the best I can do for the situation we are in at the moment.

8. Skill Up: Watching a lot of YouTube in allotment gardening in UK. I learn a lot from them on how to utilize space on a small lot. I also watch vegan cooking channels and videos on small wildlife pond building. I have been reading library books on carnivorous plant rearing and greenhouse gardening. Of course, I have read every government resource on Corvid-19.
Please feel free to join in here or somewhere on your own format!
Old photo from my old community garden plot. It's sadly gone for development now.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Good Creature/Bad Genes

I feel like I am racing against a clock. It's exhausting and a bit exhilarating, but it's working.

Terrain Vague before the fence build

Now I don't mean the literal one or even the proverbial one we often talk about, but the one that ticks when you have big aspirations and a timeline that suddenly bends and tangles without notice, with just one phone call.

Unfortunate necessity is a fence, but I am also a private person who needs a secret place to garden.
I left a gap at the bottom so the animals that explore this space can still come in. I am trying to be a good creature to other great creatures.
This week's phone call was one that Hallmark movies can make a lot more dramatic. I was kind of expecting it anyway, so it wasn't like I was shocked. I wasn't surprised because I come from a long line of maternal genes that tend to misbehave once the body reaches the 40th decade. I am three years older than my mother was when she received her news, five years older than the age my grandmother died from it. I have always been a late bloomer.

Not 100% pleased I had to use treated wood, but I guess this fence will be around for awhile.

So, it seems I have breast cancer. I get a pink ribbon. The better news is that because I knew I have this family history and because I live in a time when computers can see better than a human, and I am blessed with good insurance (unlike others), I was meticulous about getting my mammograms. It's very early in my naughty cells' ardent revolt. Well, ironically, I was a bit late this year by about half a year and I was reminded by my primary physician I was overdue. Also, ironically, I joked with my sister that this would be my year because I was late (secretly, between you and me, I was going to skip it this year because I was thinking I had dodged the bad gene bullet...I think there is a lesson in here to pass on). 

A cat likes to visit the lot
So, I am racing against a schedule that will include surgery in the next few weeks. I have such big plans for Terrain Vague this spring and I hope I am not going to be down too long. But, because I am in the dark on the recovery time at the moment, I am working double time to get some logistical items completed. Particularly items like fence building that uses a bit of muscle and grit. Today, I managed to build part of the fence (I would have finished it, but I could only fit 15 pickets in my clown car). Next week, I plan to transport the other 15 pickets I need and build a gate. I also have a few fruit trees already here with more to come (nectarine, figs and a plum) to get in the ground and raised bed boxes to build. I have compost and soil being delivered soon. I have plans to build a greenhouse from old windows I have scavenged. I need to do all of this pre-surgery.

I am also speed reading because, this week, all of my long waitlisted books came in at once at the wonderful public library in my city. I love the library. I support the library. I am a Friend of the Library. Currently, my three favorites out of the giant stack of books are:

  • Veggie Garden Remix by Niki Jabbour
  • How to Be a Good Creature by Sy Montgomery (p.s. read her book The Soul of the Octopus)
  • The Nature Fix by Florence Williams*
So, Terrain Vague should be dramatically altered in just a few weeks, not Hallmark movie dramatic or anything, but enough that I can escape and breathe when the fear of anesthesia and anger with my bad genes overcomes me. A place where I can plant some seeds, water them with tears and hope something grows.
*Unbeknownst to me, again ironically, I saw Florence Williams also wrote a book called Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History which is absolutely going on my next hold list.

Sunday, February 3, 2019


Terrain Vague No. 1 Winter 2019
The beginning of 2019, as it should in the Northern Hemisphere, has looked like winter, felt like winter and smelled like winter. If I tasted the snow that lies across Terrain Vague No. 1, I am sure I would say it even tastes like winter. And winter, on this 62nd day of January, keeps reminding me that I can't play in the dirt just yet.

St Brigid, the Imbolc goddess

But what I can do is scheme and draw crude little pictures of what Terrain Vague No. 1 will look like if all goes as planned this spring. My library book pile consists of keywords like permaculture, urban farming, and green witch gardens. I've been creating lists of seeds, fruit trees, berries and flowers like a kid picking out toys for Santa. I've been drooling over Instagram gardens and making vision boards full of ideas bigger than the square footage of the lot itself. Winter, fortunately, also keeps me from getting ahead of myself. It is a time for list making, for dreaming.

Bricks from former vacant house
This weekend, just in time for Groundhog Day/Imbolc (it's also my late Bohemian grandmother's birthday), winter is going to take a brief respite from its dark, dank and dismal attitude and tease us with some warmer temps (50-60 F). I have big plans to start some seeds indoors and make a straw St. Brigid doll to bring springtime Imbolc blessings to my life, community and garden. I also plan to can vegetable broth from saved scraps and forest berry jam (remnants from a recent freezer excavation) and maybe dig some holes outside or seek out driftwood and ice clouds at our nearby river island playground, but the main thing I hope to accomplish is to just enjoy not feeling so winterish.


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Nod to the French

This story begins with a lot.

In truth, it will also contain a lot of bullshit and memories, sadness and joy, gain and loss, courage and cowardice, learning and growth, opportunity and crime, deconstruction and reconstruction, history and renaissance. And, yes, this tale is definitely about a lot of beginnings and ends, tears and laughter, heartache and love, greens and blues. There will be a lot of characters to meet, both heroes and villains, human and animal and plant. And throw in a lot of discovery about new things and the self and community, plus a little soul and spirit. There will even be a lot of music and food, DIY and secret gardens.

But, to be specific, this plot starts with just a lot, a vacant lot to be exact. 

The French , never one to shy away from a beautiful expression for even the messiness of life, coined the term Terrain Vague to describe the hidden edges of the urban landscape, undefined areas like trash-filled alleys, the weedy space along a railroad track and or the forlorn vacant lots. Roughly translated into our too concise English it becomes "wasteland" or "vacant lot" without the mention of earth or ambiguity.  The Spanish Architect Ignasi de SolĂ -Morales expanded upon the French expression and used it to describe how these spaces are a sort of contradiction to the lucrativeness of urban capitalism. He proposed that these transitory spaces were unquantifiable and escaped the logic of traditional urbanism and that this very absence of contemporary metropolitan value gave a Terrain Vague it's own freedom to be whatever it wanted to be. Later this concept would be borrowed by artists to describe the feeling of a blank canvas before it becomes a work of art.

And here we shall begin the tale of such a lot., another blank canvas. It was purchased for a miserly sum from the city because it's purpose no longer had value in a contemporary metropolis. I saw the freedom in this space, daydreamed about what it could be. It stretches lazily north to south, a yawning gap left after a decrepit house was demolished by the claw of a bulldozer. It is two doors down from the formerly abandoned house I call home, also a Terrain Vague in its own right. Jurisdictionally, it belongs to a neighborhood that has also lost some of its former definition and value, a place of deep historical roots and the trauma of time and politics. And now it now belongs to this woman; I have also known the trauma of time and politics.

So, let's begin this tale about a pretty little lot named, with a knowing little nod to the French, Terrain Vague No. 1.
December 2018