Here we are a year after lockdown started for me. Still in lockdown, still hoping for an end to the pandemic, and still missing those I can’t see in person. There is reason for hope, however, in the fact that we are vaccinating more people than are testing positive.
I received my first dose of vaccine on 8 March from a nursing home that had overflow doses that they didn’t want to waste. I have an appointment to get my second dose on 9 April at the local health department.
March 1 also brought news that my uncle (and godfather) had passed away. It is one of those events that is a blessing and yet the grief is so strong. He was one of those men who loved quietly and deeply. I will miss him and his kind ways.
In the garden we have planted 3 Nanking cherries, 2 Loganberries, and 6 Concord grapevines. We have dug the holes for the chicken yard expansion fence and rabbit hutches, and I have started rosemary from cuttings, elderberry from seeds, and lavender from seeds.
It may be quiet here for a while. There is still one other very hard thing in the near future. I can’t write about it yet, it is hard to even admit it is real some days. . . . Soon though, I will find the words. Soon.
February is hopeful, and yet cruel, month. The sunlight has increased to 11 hours a day, the early plants are awaking, and I long to be outside doing — What I long to be doing is always rather vague. I just long to be doing.
On a very cold day (the 8th), I went out to prune the grape vines. Now honestly, I am not much of a pruner. I tend to just let things grow wild and tame them only when they encroach on other plants. Last year the grape vines were so thick that I couldn’t get to the trunk of each vine and a Robin decided the tangle was the perfect place to raise her young ones . . . I mean free food right outside the nest. Who could resist that?
I decided to bring a few of the twigs inside and place them in vase of water as part of my Imbolc table. I am anxious to see if they will bud. I will be delighted if they decide to root. Each morning I check the water level, check the bottom of the twigs for rootlets, and check the buds for swelling. At the very least, it has brought me joy and curiosity. It makes a great Imbolc centerpiece.
Update Feb 12: No rootlets or budding
Update Feb 19: no change
Update Feb 26:
Along with the grape trimming, we laid out cardboard for weed suppression in 3 new beds: a skinny asparagus bed, bed #16, and bed #17. Bed #17 has t-poles with bamboo sides woven around three sides. This will be the permanent compost bed. It’s divided into three sections. This should make it easier to fill and turn the compost.
I rooted three rosemary plants off my bigger plant. They seem to be doing well so far. I’ve scrubbed seed starting pots, have seed starting soil ready to go. Early next week I’ll start the first seeds.
Michael has started clearing the drainage ditch and the stream beds in preparation for Spring rains. We still need to clean out the chicken yard, but the chicken house will stay heaped up with bedding through mid-April.
_Braiding Sweetgrass_. By Robin Wall Kimmerer. copyright 2013
Sitting with this book, sipping hot cocoa, and watching the land sleep and slowly, ever so slowly, begin to awaken was the absolute best way to begin 2021. This is a favorite book and I have reread certain sections of it many times over the past years. This year, my approach was different. I sat and soaked in her words, her thoughts, and her teachings . . . I sat with notebook (see turtles above?) and pen. I sat attentively watching for the word ‘ceremony.’ I approached it as I do Lectio Divina — and it made such an impact.
There aren’t going to be lists and lists of quotes from the book. You should probably own a copy and if you don’t, I cannot recommend reading this book enough. The audiobook is perfection since she reads it herself and you get to hear bits of Potawatomi language.
Here, in a nutshell, are the principles of ceremony from an Indigenous perspective:
Ceremonies are the way we remember to remember
Ceremonies draw a circle around our family
Ceremonies have the power to focus attention
That, I think, is the power of ceremony: it marries the mundane to the sacred. The water turns to wine, the coffee to a prayer. The material and the spiritual mingle like grounds mingled with the humus, transformed like steam rising from a mug into the morning mists.
Rooted in gratitude and reciprocity
To have agency in the world, ceremonies should be reciprocal creations, organic in nature . . . They should not be cultural appropriations from Native peoples.
To honor the cycles of the seasons
Include human and the more than human world.
Honor the land and our connection to it.
A second time she says: ceremonies are the way we remember to remember
My takeaways from this are nature based, gratitude based, family/community based ceremonies are the most important. I don’t need to keep a running list of saints’ days in my head, I just need to be observant of the Earth and all her rhythms. Those are worth remembering, those are worth gratitude, and those will knit our family/community together around this place.
I wasn’t seeking a new project. In fact, I thought I had more than enough on my hands as it was. And yet, here I am six weeks into a project that has already worked its way deep into my being. It started, as all good things do, in a conversation among companions. We were discussing little rituals that we have and how creating a ritual can help with grief, remembrance, and celebration. A quote came to mind from RWK’s book _Braiding Sweetgrass_ and so I shared it with my companions. The rest of the day I began to remember more quotes from her book and from others. By the next morning I decided to spend this year reading, writing, and creating ceremonies.
The quote that started it all: That, I think, is the power of ceremony: it marries the mundane to the sacred. The water turns to wine, the coffee to a prayer. The material and the spiritual mingle like grounds mingled with the hummus, transformed like steam rising from a mug into the morning mist. _Braiding Sweetgrass_ by Robin Wall Kimmerer, pg 37/38.
My hope is that I will be able to create meaningful ceremonies that reflect the wheel of the year and my own personality.
Imbolc is a Celtic festival day, a fire day. It is half-way between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox — a cross quarter day. In an agricultural sense it is the time of lambing, udders swelling, sweet fresh milk, and adorable little lambs. It is the time when the winter wheat begins to green up again, the woods begin to stir with critters coming out to check the weather, and I find myself anxious and eager to get outdoors among them all.
Imbolc is the time when seeds come out of storage, clay pots get washed, filled with rich soil, and tiny seeds get tucked into the pots. They’ll live with a heating pad under them and a plastic dome over them until they find themselves strong enough to live in sunny windowsills.
Imbolc is a time of growing light, and so I celebrate by lighting candles to help call forth the brightness. It is a time to evaluate the woodpile. Will it make 6 more weeks? Likely not, but we’ll have a celebratory fire anyway.
Imbolc is one of those seasons when the Phos Hilaron seems to joyfully leap from my lips each evening and I mean the words with all my being.
One definition of hope is a confident expectation. When I stand on the porch and see the sun rising just at that utility pole, I know that Imbolc / St. Brigid Day is close. Very close. I have a confident expectation that Winter is waning — no doubt, it will still pack a punch in February though.
This is the time when I feel the urge to clean everything starting at the top the wall and working my way down, every book, every knick knack, every baseboard. This time of cleaning reminds me to hold my possessions lightly and to be prepared to part with anything that I don’t know to be beautiful or useful.
This is the time when I go over the seed list and garden plan one more time. I put dates beside seed names so that I remember when to start seeds indoors, when to start putting them on the porch to get used to the great outdoors, and when plants and seeds can go straight into the ground. I have a confident expectation that Spring will come and food will be grown once again.
I have a stack of Herbal books I am hoping to read this winter. The herb garden planning is coming along nicely with ideas for the beds, pots, fencing, flooring, etc. I am compiling a pretty good list of seeds and plants that would be helpful and that grow well in our area. I am thinking about how to grow those plants that need protection from the cold weather.
One thing I am considering is a small walled garden inside the larger herb garden, likely as one side of the garden. There are many herbs that do well in cool, shady conditions. I could even put some mushroom logs in this area as well. I am beginning to suspect that this herb garden project will take multiple years (5 years, maybe) to come to completion.
The first book I read was The Green Witch Herbal. It was a pretty good introduction and included things like indoor plants, cooking, cleaning, hygiene, and then remedies. She reminds us that most herbs are both culinary and medicinal. I created a list of herbs, spices, and essential oils that she recommends. I really liked that she laid our an herbal medicine cabinet and a traveling herbal kit. Very handy information!
My Qi-gong practice is brand new. From reading, I learned Qi-gong is a moving meditation, slow flowing movements, deep rhythmic breathing, and a calm state of mind. Originally the aim was to promote the movement of Qi by stretching and twisting the three energy channels. The key seems to be relax and breathe.
I started by practicing with 8 Pieces on You-Tube while I learned the breathing pattern and motions. I go back and rewatch her once a week to make sure my practice is staying on track. After two weeks of careful watching and even taking some notes I felt ready to try it on my own. I think 25 years of yoga helped with the movement + breath learning.
Every morning for the past three weeks, I have rolled out of bed, and placed my feet very deliberately upon the ground. I begin with a moment of quiet, just counting breaths, and being thankful I can do this practice.
I will continue practicing this form for as long as possible. I know there is a longer one, but these 15 minutes are still new and feel like sand that could slip between my fingers if I try to move on too quickly.
Our current chicken ark faces due west and is open on that side. I have rugs that hang over the opening, leaving a little gap for the girls to go in and out. Outside the ark, but inside the fence, is an area about 4 feet by 4 feet. This is where we keep their water.
In the summer, I hung an old sheet on the western fence to give them some shade. I was debating about what to do as winter approached. I didn’t want to rebuild this ark since they will be moving into a new coop this Spring.
As the guys were splitting firewood an idea occurred to me. I asked them to stack the firewood around that open area outside the fence. It has created a wonderful windbreak and the girls really seem to enjoy a space without wind. It is convenient for grabbing logs as they are needed too. We have a couple more months of cold, wood burning weather, but hopefully the wall will last until either the bitter cold is over or the new coop is ready for occupants.
I did not take the picture above. I haven’t been to Wales (yet), but I wanted to use it to focus my thoughts on 2021 and what I hope to accomplish. I don’t make New Year resolutions. These are the same four areas I work on every year in some form or fashion.
Wellness — At 54 and on the other side of menopause, I am quite content with my body and my body image. I am not going to diet or work out like a fiend. I am not going to shame myself by using a scale. I am not going to reward myself with food. Been there, done that. Older and wiser now.
There are a few things I would like to change this year to help with my auto-immune anemia and lupus. One: I will be going no coffee, tea, chocolate, and gluten and instead will learn to love turmeric latte, peppermint tea, and homemade gluten free scones and cookies. Two: I have been learning Qi-gong and practicing the 8 Brocade every morning. I would like to continue that and add 22 minutes of additional intentional exercise (following RBG program of 5 minutes HIIT, 8 minutes strength training, 5 minutes HIIT, and 4 minutes stretching). I will still walk, but it doesn’t count as exercise anymore. It is something I do because I love it.
Simple-ness — At 54 and with medical debt, a mortgage, and a credit card, I am not content with this situation. So I am planning on not purchasing anything this year except to replace what breaks and cannot be repaired, books for my Welsh study, and my Spiritual Companion Group. There are some farm projects that will be carried out using stimulus money and our tax refund. I have a budget and a plan, and we’ll see how it goes. The thing with an autoimmune disorder is that you are always going to have medical bills. Always. So I need to be at peace with that and just do the best I can.
I had debated stopping our Washington Post subscription, but it is sanity in a world of Twitter news. So instead, I am maximizing it. I am removing news from my twitter feed — what’s left, not much. I do like to keep up with what my Members of Congress are doing (never anything good) or I would just delete the whole thing.
Favorites —I am planning on a reread of my favorite books, listening to my favorite audio books, and rewatching my favorite tv show — Rosemary and Thyme. I don’t enjoy watching tv or movies very often anyway. I am sure if there is a movie I absolutely must see, Hannah or Michael will make sure we see it.
Welsh tuition will continue because — JOY!
Garden / Herbs/ Animals— I have a stack of Herbal books I borrowed from Hannah and I hope to study them this winter. I’d like to add a fenced in herb garden this year. I saw a really cute design that I think would work well here on our farm. Building it will be my big project this year.
The vegetable garden will get the first four raised beds this year. We’ll be growing potatoes in them as a way to create the soil we’ll need to fill them. I do have a lovely pickup bed worth of homemade compost that we will alternate with chicken bedding in the potato beds.
We will finish a couple more chicken yards so they can be rotated during the grass growing seasons.
I think we’ll add another rabbit too. Ours are both getting a bit old and it might we wise to get ahead of the age game. Their manure is absolutely priceless here on the farm. I’d like to put the new rabbit on the pasture system, so that will need to be built before bringing one home.
Four areas to focus on as you consider your personal carbon footprint: 1) how you move around, 2) what you eat and how it is grown, 3) how you use natural resources in your home, and 4) what stuff you buy and how you get rid of it.
How You Use Natural Resources in Your Home — I am defining natural resources as fossil fuels (and their derivatives), water, wood, minerals, etc. It is a loose definition, but it makes it easy for me to remember. First let’s talk electricity. In my area coal is what most power plants use and therefore it is what you are using when you plug something into the wall. My part of Indiana is 38° north. That means we have four true seasons. I am also in a hilly area with inconsistent winds. Passive solar works pretty well on sunny winter days in the rooms with south facing windows. Solar panels on the roof should, theoretically give you sufficient power on the sunny days. The key to that being true is to minimize the amount of power you require. I read a report that there is enough “power” for each person to use 48 kWh per day.
Our family uses an average of 300-500 kWh per month and we buy green energy that comes from a cooperative of solar fields, wind turbines, and methane burning from landfills. At this time we don’t have solar panels on our home. The start up investment is just a bit much for us right now. Our biggest electric users are hot water, the refrigerator, and in winter the heater (when we use it). Our hot water heater is on a timer so that it runs during non-peak hours and that really helps lower the amount we use. The tank is very efficient and will keep the water hot for 12-15 hours. To keep our usage low we do things like: keep the lights off when not in a room, use smaller & more efficient appliances, got rid of most of our electric appliances (like the washer, dryer, air conditioner, dishwasher, etc), hung insulating curtains in all the rooms (closed during summer days, closed during winter nights, open during winter days, open during summer nights). These are just a few examples. We don’t use any natural gas, propane, kerosene, etc to cook or heat our home. In the winter our favorite spot in the house is beside the wood stove. We burn down/dead wood and never take down a living tree. Our woods typically have 3 or 4 down trees a year and that is sufficient for our heating needs. This year we are not using the chainsaw at all and are carrying up all the branches we can find. So far we haven’t used the wood stove at all, but we have had to run the heater on days when the high is only in the 30s (about 10 days so far). We must decide what to do about getting a new chainsaw for next year.
Let’s see, water usage has already been chatted about a few times. So I guess that is about it for natural resources. Although in some respects, what we buy
What youbuy and how you get rid of it — For me, I try to choose natural materials first. I want everything to either be reusable (to infinity . . . ) or compostable. This eliminates a lot of stuff.
Sustainability > Carbon Footprint > How You Move Around
The Climate Crisis is so big and so multi-faceted that I do not (and could never) claim to be an expert. What I am is someone who cares deeply for this place and therefore for the whole beautiful place we call Earth. I have been making real efforts to reduce our personal carbon footprint to below 50% of the average American since 1997. Since 2020 began, I have been working to shave off a bit more each year hoping to be carbon neutral in our own home by 2030. Along with these personal actions, I also write and call my Members of Congress regularly and speak to my community whenever the opportunity arises.
Four areas to focus on as you consider your personal carbon footprint: 1) how you move around, 2) what you eat and how it is grown, 3) how you use natural resources in your home, and 4) what stuff you buy and how you get rid of it.
How you move around— We’ve all seen the science on driving and flying. I am not here to rehash that. Right now, even if we all drove electric cars, there still is the problem of how the electricity is generated. Living in a rural area means even fewer options until they come up with a better battery (which I know is in the works), a charging station system, and a clean way to produce and distribute the needed electricity. So for now we drive a vehicle that gets good gas mileage, keep it maintained, and plan for errands along the route that is between workplaces and home. For my part, I don’t ask for stops that are off of that route, and I do not drive at all. Secondly, I am transitioning to doing as many errands as possible in the small village that is within bicycle riding distance. I can ride there and back with no issues and plans are in place to allow me to carry a larger load. I don’t travel anymore either. I am content to stay home or close to home.
The average American uses 500 gallons of gasoline / person / year. In 2020, I used 5 gallons. In 2020 , we used 15 gallons to cut the grass. In 2020, our commuters used 1000 gallons. So — 51%
In 2020: I walked — 1040 miles and I biked — 250 miles.
What You Eat and How It is Grown — I feel like I have talked and talked about this piece here on the blog. However, I realize that I’ve talked about how we grow our food and what I prefer to eat. I haven’t really been clear about what I look for when purchasing food. For me, organic is really just the beginning. When purchasing meat I look for organic, grass fed, and humane slaughter methods. This makes meat quite expensive. That is ok with me. I am happy to pay the true cost so that my local farmers are encouraged to use regenerative agriculture methods. We eat eggs that our hens lay or we do without. I cook in a manner that stretches the meat as far as possible. For instance a whole chicken will make 2 pot pies (=8 servings), 1 pot of soup (=12 servings), and a pot of broth/stock (=24 servings). Where I need to do better is with grains and beans. I hope next year to begin growing more of our own dry beans. It will probably take several years to get a system in place and actually meet our needs. It is doubtful that I will ever try to grow our own grains. I can get organic, but have yet to find a regenerative farmer that sells in small bulk quantities.
If you have any leads on the grain front, please leave me a comment.
The weather shifted from far too warm for March to dangerous in the space of just an hour. I could see the storm front pushing in and did what I always do: move anything that could blow around into the shed, tuck the animals into their homes and hope for the best, and check my emergency bag.
Being an USAF wife taught me to be ready to leave my home in 10 minutes if the alarm sounds. I have never been able to set that bit aside. So I always have an emergency bag packed — just in case. It came in very handy on March 2. My. Emergency bag isn’t the kind you could live out of for three days, it is the kind that will give you some comfort while living out of the 72 hour kit.
My Emergency Bag contains: my sleeping bag, a change of clothes, a USB powered fan, a solar charger, a spare charger for my phone, spare glasses, important paperwork on a USB drive, a Turkish towel, and a spare leash/collapsible water bowl for Jasper. My backpack sits ready for any adventure. It carries (in an emergency) a water bottle, snacks, purse, Welsh stuff, Kindle, flannel robe, and my 3-1-1 kit. Oh, and I always grab my yoga mat. I can be out the door in 5 minutes with this set up.
MySecondary Bag — The majority of my seasonal clothing will fit into my travel duffel. My garden seeds also fit in this bag. If I am given an additional 5 minutes, this bag can be packed and out the door too.
Family Kit — One thing I would like to do is to pack a family kit into plastic tote. I think it would work well to pack the tote like a camping kit. That’s a pretty easy way to think about what should go in it. I may start working on this one after the new year.
I have compiled a comprehensive and ever-changing list of the things I consider essential to my living a very small, very good life. I edit it about every three months. It doesn’t number the actual possessions, it just gives me a feel for the “rightness” of my surroundings. I fully adhere to the view that “the root of war begins in our quest for more.” — John Woolman.
Living at Home
Bed: frame, mattress, bedding, duvet in winter, cotton blanket in summer, throw blanket for extra warmth or napping, 2 pillows
Dresser: cabinet my dad made with 3 shelves + baskets for underwear, bras, socks, Fountain pen supplies, home only clothes, and movement clothes.
Closet: wooden hangers that hold all clothes, tote that holds off-season clothes, and other tote that holds my duvet + cover and coat in the warmer months).
Bookshelf: 2 shelves of my favorite books, 1/2 shelf with farm resources, and 1/2 shelf with Welsh books.
Fan — cannot sleep without the white noise
Chair and sheepskin . . . Where I can be found when I’m sitting down.
Schwinn GTX3 with Ibera rack and trunk, bike helmet, cable lock, tire pump.
As I wrote before: I think houses should be smaller so gardens and lawns can be bigger. I think we need less time indoors and more time outdoors. I believe everyone should have a right to hang their laundry outdoors and grow food. The other advantages of a small and simple home are: easier to keep clean, less chemicals required when you can hand scrub surfaces frequently, less electricity/oil/gas/wood needed to heat the home, less furniture (and other stuff) to off-gas into your lungs, less stuff in general, and . . . I am not convinced that we all need super large ovens, stoves, refrigerators, freezers, hot water heaters, washing machines, dryers, etc. I think we should choose the smallest size that works for us, even if that size is not to have one at all.
Our household is four adults sharing a 4 bedroom, 2 bath, with a common kitchen, living room, and laundry facilities, 1400 square foot manufactured home. At times it feels much too large.
My perfect home would include:
12 inch exterior walls, with large southern and eastern facing windows, with small and high northern and western facing windows, working shutters, greenhouse attached to southern wall, and next to it a screen porch with benches for removing and storing shoes.
Rain water harvesting system: roof, tanks, pump, and manual pump delivering water straight into the kitchen and bathrooms. Solar hot water tanks. Overflow pond.
Gray water wetlands and composting system for composting toilets. Septic for black water.
Small kitchen, large pantry. Solar food dehydrator, outdoor bread/pizza oven and grill (wood, not gas or charcoal), root cellar system.
Small solar energy system (or bio-digester). Transitioning to fewer electrical items so the system can be small and affordable. Solar battery chargers for small electronics.
Heat sink/ masonry by southern windows for winter passive heating — maple trees planted in front of house for summer passive cooling. Small rocket stove for heating and cooking in the cooler months.
The coming years will be filled with mini-experiments with each of the above systems. It will allow us to grow accustomed to the ideas and practicalities of working with these systems. In the meantime, as things break I have to ask myself, “Is this what I want in the future? Is this sustainable? Is this simple?” If the answer is yes, then I repair or replace it. If the answer is no, I let it be and we begin putting an alternative in place.
Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) is a flowering plant in the mint family. It grows quite well here in Zone 6b. I just have a couple of plants, but they produce quite enough for our needs.
In the late summer, when it is flowering, and late in the day I go out and pick the leaves. I am always careful to leave the youngest leaves and enough leaves so that the roots are fed and ready to survive the upcoming cold.
The following is how I use horehound. It should not construed to be medical advice.
Use 1: You can dry the leaves and then steep 1 tsp of leaves in hot water for a sore throat.
Use 2: You can mix a leaf with honey and chew on it for a sore throat or cough.
Or Use 3, which is how I prefer . . . Horehound cough drops
Make no mistake, this is not candy. It is quite bitter, but it is an effective cough drop. You can suck on it, like normal, or let it dissolve in a bit of hot water, add honey and drink.
1 cup fresh horehound leaves
2 cups water
Let boil for 20 minutes
Let cool and then strain out the leaves, I squeeze the leaves to release all the oils. I normally get about a 1/4 cup liquid.
Put liquid into a sauce pan, add 2 cups of sugar, and boil to the candy stage. ( I test by dropping a drop in a glass of cold water, if it stays together, it is candy stage. You can also use a thermometer.)
Put a silicone mat in a baking sheet and pour the horehound mixture onto it. Place in refrigerator until solid. You could also use small candy molds (and those are on my wish list for next year)
The next day, remove from tray (or molds), break into pieces, wrap in wax paper, and store in jars.
I keep most of mine in the freezer, but leave a jar or two in the fridge.
Sometimes while learning Welsh, I stumble on a word that just makes perfect sense. Usually it is one of those words that you really can’t simply translate. It means too much. Cyenfin is one of those words and it fits so perfectly with my whole being.
Cynefin: belonging to place, a place to “stand”
Cynefin comes from and leads to understanding that the earth is animate, all life is sacred, and harmony is found in living in the rhythm of cycles and seasons.
Related words are ‘cyfenw’ which we translate as surname, but it really has the meaning ‘place name.’Also ‘cyfeiriad’ which is address or ‘place you are.’
If I own it and wear it, it is one of these colors.
The reality of my pre-Covid life was that I was at home six days out of seven, go to church (where we dress casually), run a few errands, and a book club meeting two to three times a month. The reality of my mid-Covid life is that I am home except for the very occasional trip out. When at home, my tasks fall into a few categories: farming, walking, learning/reading, cleaning, and sleeping.
This makes it pretty easy to keep my wardrobe simple and small.
Rain coat, parka, gloves, sun hat, winter hat, scarf
puffer vest, farm boots, farm coat (at home only)
As you can see, my wardrobe is super simple, super casual, and super comfortable. I have a couple of options that are specifically for dressing up. Honestly though, I avoid that as much as I can. Weddings, funerals . . . That is about all I am willing to be fussy about.