Progress!

Remember this?

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Last week, we rented a tractor, carried away a ton of debris such as old moldy mattresses, concrete rubble and rusty poles, plowed under the weed jungle, handpicked another mound of smaller scale litter (old plastic bottles, beer cans, ancient shoes), and started preparing the space for our future garden.

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The place now looks like this. There is still a slab of concrete in the middle that was too difficult to remove, but we figure we can use it as a foundation for a chicken coop or a greenhouse.

I’ve already marked some beds and planted beans, squash, and peppers. I know it’s unorthodox to plant at the end of October, but I figure there are plenty of places where the summer is about as warm as our winter, and people still report being able to grow tomatoes and peppers there, so what have we got to lose? One thing is certain – outdoor work is a lot pleasanter in winter around these parts.

Stay tuned for more news about us and our work to make the most of this little urban homestead-in-progress.

Puttering around

Once in a while, my phone puts together these little videos for me, and the one above is a pretty good representation of what we’ve been up to in the previous week: puttering around the yard, doing paper art, and hair art.

There is still a lot to do, but now that the big unpacking frenzy is more or less behind us, I have more time to devote to something I’ve been itching to do: working on the small abandoned plot of land next to our yard. This week, I’ve moved whatever junk I could lift, raked huge mounds of fallen leaves, and did some digging to break up solid clods of dirt and let the ground breathe.

We were promised some major rainfall today and tomorrow, so hopefully after that the ground will be nice and soft. I’m then going to get to some planting. This will be rather an experiment, because it’s our first winter here – it’s supposed to be very mild around here, without even any frosts, so hopefully many things can be grown year round.

I will let you know how we progress.

Clutter: the perennial problem

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A few short months after we were married, I already saw the clutter beginning to accumulate. It has the most sinister ways to creep in. Old newspapers and bills, empty plastic bags, a few items that were lovingly given to us, but are of little use… it takes a time to sort through it all!

In addition, I soon discovered a slight difference of attitudes between my husband and myself when it comes to stuff. I see anything that isn’t useful or beautiful as superfluous, and will gladly throw or give it away. My husband will stick to anything he thinks we might ever use, someday, somehow In a house with very little storage space, this usually means piles of clutter.

Here’s what happened one night shortly after we were married. My husband came from work, holding two unrecognizable metal objects in his hands.

“Aren’t they nice?”  he asked enthusiastically.
“What are these?”
“Well, I don’t actually know. But aren’t they cool?”

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining. I have a creative and resourceful husband who can take what others would label as “junk”, make a few tweaks here and there, and produce excellent and useful items. Our very first living room table was found abandoned on the curb, and restored just a few days before our wedding.

Most of our furniture was either found and repaired, or we got it used. It saved us a good deal of money, and is very useful. However, we also have much (too much, in my opinion) stuff that gathers dust on our shelves, taking up limited storage space. Not that I think having more storage space is a solution! Rather, it tempts you to hoard more and more stuff if you have such a tendency.

All our house moves were seen by me as opportunities to get rid of unnecessary clutter. Moving is the perfect time to do that, because you are forced to go through all your things and decide what is important enough to be wrapped, put into a box, and taken with you to your new home. Often, you will find things you even forgot you had – and ironically, even though you hadn’t used them for years and didn’t miss them at all, once you see them you are unable to say goodbye.

There is a certain box that has been sitting with us, unpacked, through two house moves. I figure that if we could live without thinking about its contents for four years, we aren’t likely to ever need it. My husband begs to differ. I have learned to let some things slide, however.

I think that once in a while, I will just pretend we are moving again, and simply let go. Let go of unnecessary items and simplify our life. It feels good.

New homestead, new goals

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Now that things are a little less messy and a little more settled around here, we can start working, bit by bit, on new projects, which can be summed up this way: it is possible to live sustainably anywhere; it is possible to homestead anywhere. Simple living, making things from scratch, recycling, reduced consumerism, foraging and growing food are practices that can be implemented by anyone.

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“I knew that homesteading and sustainability are not just for those who can do remote off-grid living. It’s more about mindset than circumstances. And so I started to look into urban homesteading, and discovered inspiring examples of food production people have managed in tiny spaces. Container gardening, vertical gardening, urban chickens, community plots and other cool projects made me ashamed of doing so little with what we have had until now. Rather than needing more land, it transpired, we just needed to make better use of it!”

First projects around the new place

In between unpacking, rearranging and painting, we are finally able to poke our noses out a bit and start getting a feel of what we can do around the place. I’m still majorly bummed out about all the concrete, but somewhat comforted by the empty plot the town council allowed us to use.

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The fish tank. Gambusia fish for mosquito control were close to the top of our priority list, so here they are, thriving despite the humble look of their habitat. The tank looks somewhat weather beaten, but I intend to camouflage it with potted plants all around until we can work out something better.

Some garden photos. There is a bunch of plants waiting to be replanted, and a few others already in their permanent place. The soil here is very heavy clay with a strong tendency to retain water, so we’re adjusting our plans accordingly.

I look forward to posting more updates of our work on making this place homey and inviting.

Environmental sci-fi book giveaway

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Short promo break: if you are into environmental sci-fi, The Last Outpost, first volume in my Antarctic saga, is free on Kindle until the end of the week. Features a global war, dark secrets, government conspiracies, and prehistoric monsters frozen in ice. From the description:

Scott “Buck” Buckley, an environmental scientist, accepts the position of general overseer at the McMurdo Antarctic research station. After signing a secrecy declaration, Scott becomes privy to the existence of Geyser Valley, an area with a unique warm microclimate, which is home to the mysterious indigenous Anai people. In an outrageous conspiracy, the world governments are keeping the existence of these people a secret, to avoid limitations on the division of land for natural resources.

I love writing environmental sci-fi because it allows me to explore my favorite premise: humans don’t own the world, and if they get too arrogant, nature might just have to show them who’s boss.

So if you’re looking for a weekend read, go ahead and snag a copy while it’s free.

Children and chores

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“One day another mom told me that the only reason I have time to teach my children how to do chores is because we homeschool. She explained why her children were not required to help around the house. ‘With soccer, the tutor and dance after school each day, I couldn’t possibly ask them to do chores.’ 
 

I explained that I am completely certain that with our genes, our children will likely not be professional soccer players or dancers. They will need to wear clothes and eat, though, so it seems appropriate to train them to do laundry and cook.”
 

– Rose Godfrey, The Pig in the Pantry.

I fully believe in pursuing one’s dreams and developing one’s talents, but not at the cost of shedding all responsibility for the basics without which a family can’t function. An individual, no matter how talented, will not likely grow into a pleasant, hardworking adult if he is never asked to lift a finger around the house or be a productive part of family life. Entitlement isn’t a good attitude.

Now, chores and the running of a home are the primary responsibility of the parents, and no more than is appropriate should be heaped on the shoulders of a child. A child can do much, but the childhood years, and even the adult years lived at home, are supposed to be a time of training, not endless drudgery.

Having said that, the inclusion of children in basic chores – and in the whole process of life – is not only important in the way of teaching how to run a household, but can be a tremendous learning opportunity in many other ways. Every day, I see more and more how kindergartens and early grades of elementary school must artificially create that learning environment which is so naturally and readily present at home. Reading, counting, measuring, matching, dividing, shaping and so much more are all a part, if one doesn’t rush and presents things in the right way, of laundry, cooking, dishes, and other such basic chores (“good, now give me three eggs. No, that is two. I want another one”). Of course it’s easier to just grab those eggs myself, but there’s an opportunity to learn!

It is important that a child has time and space to develop his inclinations. I believe it is one of the most important things, and the most easily accomplished ones too, in learning at home vs. regular schooling. But it shouldn’t be an all-exhausting effort. I don’t think any of us is “too important” to participate in the daily mill of  life. For children, it is especially important. Children need a lot of seemingly empty time, time to just be; a very rigorous schedule of school and extracurricular activities leaves no chance for that. So what is the result? Talents may be pursued, and later paraded and made much of, but at what price?

Irritable, tired, restless, cranky children; children with enormous learning difficulties; listless, idle, or on the other hand, unnaturally ambitious, test-results-obsessed children; much of this, I feel, finds its roots in the abolition of calm, orderly, nourishing (physically and mentally) home life. Working alongside each other – not in an artificially created environment, but really doing those simple chores that can be shared by a 3-year-old and a 33-year-old, such as watering the plants or sweeping the porch – can be a time of bonding, shared conversation, and an opportunity for a child to feel like an important member of the family, contributing in real ways. It makes them so proud, and really isn’t that difficult to achieve. And of course, lending a hand means that time is freed up to do something fun, like reading a story or taking a walk together.

So what do we need? Primarily time. A life that is always lived in a hurry is no fit environment for little children; for any of us, as a matter of fact. We just weren’t created to live at a crazy pace. It stresses us out and makes us sick. To be healthy and happy, we must slow down and make time for all that counts – nurturing real relationships, building real homes, cooking real food, living real life that is happening all around us.