March, Vigils, and Beginnings

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.

Qi-gong, a new practice

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.

8 Pieces of Silk Brocade Form

  • Warm up: Deep Breaths
  • Warm up: Swinging Arms
  • #1 — Two Hands Upholding the Sky
  • #2 — Pulling the Bow
  • #3 — Crane Stretching Wing
  • #4 — Looking Backward / Wise Owl
  • #5 — Left and Right Swing / Bear
  • #6 — Up and Down Stretch
  • #7 — Diagonal Knock
  • #8 — Heel and Toe Bounce
  • My addition: Mountain Pose — Centering

Simplicity: Emergency Bag

Simplicity >

March 2, 2012 at 3:30 pm.

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.

My Secondary 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.

Simplicity: Possessions

Simplicity > Essential > Possessions

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.

  1. Living at Home
    1. Bed: frame, mattress, bedding, duvet in winter, cotton blanket in summer, throw blanket for extra warmth or napping, 2 pillows
    2. Dresser: cabinet my dad made with 3 shelves + baskets for underwear, bras, socks, Fountain pen supplies, home only clothes, and movement clothes.
    3. 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).
    4. Bookshelf: 2 shelves of my favorite books, 1/2 shelf with farm resources, and 1/2 shelf with Welsh books.
    5. Fan — cannot sleep without the white noise
    6. Chair and sheepskin . . . Where I can be found when I’m sitting down.
  2. Transportation
    1. Schwinn GTX3 with Ibera rack and trunk, bike helmet, cable lock, tire pump.
    2. Shoes — Merrell vapor glove (barefoot shoe)
    3. I don’t drive
  3. Movement
    1. LL Bean UV bike shirt + puffer vest when cool
    2. Yoga: Manduka Pro yoga mat
  4. Learning and Spiritual Life
    1. A5 learning journal
    2. Fountain Pen — TWSBI eco blue + ink bottle
    1. NOAB (Study Bible)
    2. Welsh notebook (simple spiral bound)
    3. Kindle Paperwhite (with case and charger)
    4. Welsh learning books
  5. Food and Kitchen
    1. Bowl
    2. Snack plate
    3. Mug
    4. HydroFlask, 12 oz olive
    5. Utensils: spoon, fork, butter knife, serrated paring knife, chopstick, silicone straw
    6. Blue soup mug for food storage + Stainless steel lunch tiffin
    7. Cloth napkin
    8. cutting board
    9. tea infuser
    10. kitchen washcloth (1) + towels (3)
    11. Pantry— filled with glass jars holding staples (+stuff to make snacks) and bowls holding produce (shared)
    12. Mixing bowl for making bread, making big salads (shared)
    13. Glass jars and bowls for storing cooked food in refrigerator (shared)
  6. Leaving the House
    1. Tom Bihn Everyday Carry (Mars red)
    2. Inside Everyday Carry: Tom Bihn ghost whale organizer (super-mini, island blue) = wallet + pouch with travel spork, napkin, collapsible straw, hand sanitizer + pouch with mask
    3. Tom Bihn Luminary 12 (dark blue) which holds everything for a long day out including water bottle, everyday carry, with room for a sweater and hat)
  7. Traveling
    1. Tom Bihn Yeoman Duffle (Mini, Verde)
    2. Tom Bihn 3DOC Ultraviolet + clear (3-1-1 bag)
    3. set of packing cubes
  8. Technology
    1. iPhone + case
    2. IPad + solar keyboard
  9. Emergency Bag
    1. Sleeping bag
    2. solar charger for devices
    3. USB fan
    4. Jasper extra leash, food dish and water bowl
    5. spare glasses
    6. One outfit (in case there isn’t time to pack a separate bag with clothes)
    7. List of things to stuff in when tornado warning is issued.
    8. I can be out the door in 5 minutes.
  10. Clothing — simple, small, and comfortable clothes

Simplicity: Simple and Small Home

Simplicity > Essential #5 > Simple and Small Home

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.

Stability: Cynefin

Stability > Welsh. Simplicity > In knowing

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.’

Simplicity: Clothing

Simplicity > Essential #8 > Clothing

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.

  • 5 long-sleeved t-shirts
  • 5 cardigans/sweaters (2 are at home only)
  • 3 flannel shirts (1 at home only)
  • 2 big sweatshirts (at home only)
  • 5 short-sleeved t-shirts (summer farm shirts/winter “apron shirts”)
  • 2 short-sleeve shirts + 2 shells
  • 2 yoga pants (at home only)
  • 3 jeans
  • 1 trousers
  • 1 skirt
  • 2 pair shorts (at home only)
  • 1 pair trainers, 1 pair boots, 2 pair loafers, 1 pair sandals, 1 pair flats
  • Everyday Carry purse + backpack
  • A few pieces of jewelry
  • 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.

Simplicity: 8 Essentials

Simplicity > Essentials

I believe that if we each just took “enough” for our needs then their would be “plenty” for all.

Clean and beautiful environment — Our shared home is truly a marvel. We all have a right to enjoy her beauties. I believe Federal, State, and Local parks should be funded by taxes and free to visit. I also think we should be expanding our park system and striving to provide green spaces and community gardens in every urban environment.

Clean water supply — There are calculators out there that will tell you how many gallons of rain water your roof can “catch” per inch of rain. Combine that “catch” with your average annual rainfall and you have a number for the maximum amount of water you should use in a year. Some of us live in reliably wet places — for instance we average 48 inches of rain per year here, although lately that number has been more like 60 inches of rain per year. If you choose to live in a desert area, it will be harder. This is one reason why traditionally very few people live in actual desert conditions. Our modern exploitation of ancient waters and an intensive use of electricity is the only thing that allows for so many people to live in desert areas.

A clean and balanced diet — To quote Michael Pollan, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” To quote myself, “Eat what you grow and grow what you eat.” Local, organic, fresh/frozen . . . The sliding scale of best choices in my opinion. Michael Pollan also defines food as 5 ingredients or less, food your great-grandmother would recognize, and with words any beginning reader could pronounce. That is a guideline that is easy to remember!

Basic clothing — Clothing appropriate for your weather, your job, and always ethically sourced. I maintain a very small wardrobe, in colors I like, and most importantly are comfortable. I also choose natural materials.

A simple and small home — 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.

Basic health care —If Covid teaches us one thing I hope it is that we all deserve adequate, accessible, and affordable health care. All. Of. Us.

Simple communications — At a minimum a functioning Post Office, a phone with texting ability, and internet even (and especially) in rural areas. I also think if we all said what we meant and meant what we said, we’d be a lot better off. I have stopped reaching for showy words when I write and instead choose the word that accurately and easily says what I mean.

Well-rounded education — Reading, writing, maths, and logic at a minimum. Free public libraries, teachers paid well, resources and skill sharing libraries . . . But also an understanding that a degree does not mean you’re smarter, wiser, kinder, or a better person than the less educated neighbor.

Simplicity: Choices

Simplicity > Choices.

Many of my choices have already been made: I will remain on this land (stability) and I will take care of this land (sustainability). That already narrows down so many choices like “Shall I buy the cheap chicken grains or the organic chicken grains?”

If I am staying here and taking care of here, then I can only buy the organic grains. Why? I want my chickens to be the healthiest they can be, I want any grain that sprouts to be a true seed (not some hybrid that won’t breed true), and I don’t want to introduce any pesticide or herbicide residue into my soil.

So my first two vows make my third vow easier. Then taking my previous post about cycles and rhythms, you can see that I don’t have to make too many choices about my days. The rhythm of the year and the day will lead to a simple day. I move through my days without thinking too much about “should I’s”.

My main choices these days are about how to use our resources when bringing things onto the property or removing things from the property.

A Case StudyThe Laundry. The washer broke on 5 September 2020.

  • Fact 1: We already made the decision not to have a clothes dryer.
  • Fact 2: We already have a clothesline (for outside) and drying racks (for inside).
  • So — we are used to thinking outside the standard American box for laundry.
  • Query: It is 25 days to payday. Do we go to a laundromat ? Do we hand wash the small things and save heavy items for the laundromat? Do we put a washer on credit?
  • Considerations for Query: In 2012, an EF-4 tore our house apart and pulled the utility poles straight out the ground. We were without a washer for 3 weeks while we waited for the electric to be reconnected. I did laundry in a bucket. It was not so bad, just chaotic because, no roof, tarps for walls, etc. . . .
  • Considerations for Query: How much water and electricity does the washer use? How much water and electricity will it use to do laundry by hand? How much will a load cost at a laundromat? How much will a new washer cost? Are there non-electric options or low-electric options I am comfortable with?
  • Exploration: I did laundry in buckets for one week. It was not bad. I even was able to do sheets and jeans. Sweatshirts would have been more difficult and autumn and winter are on our doorstep. The biggest issue was wringing out enough water before hanging. In this summer-y weather, I could simply carry them out and hang them on the line. They watered the grass. In cold weather, they would have to drip all over the house. Not great.
  • Exploration 2: We purchased a small “spinner”. Washing the clothes continued as we’d done for a week. Wring out the clothes and place them in the spinner. Each spin cycle takes about 2 minutes. No dripping mess and clothes that could hang indoors in winter.
  • Exploration 3: A basket in a bucket system for washing, a second basket in a bucket for rinsing, and the spinner.
  • Conclusion: A mostly non-electric system that can handle all our laundry, takes 5 gallons to wash a day’s worth of laundry, takes 5-7 gallons to rinse a day’s worth of laundry, and 2 minutes to spin each load. It is an easy system, and it is a pleasure to use.
  • Conclusion 2: The old washer was taken apart. The metal will be used for roofing either the chicken arc or a new rabbit hutch. All other usable parts were cleaned, labeled and store. The things that can’t be reused will put in our garbage for the week. It will nearly double the week’s garbage, but it could be worse.

Financial costs + energy costs:

  • Spinner (a gift)
  • First Levario/bucket + basket (a gift)
  • Second Levario —$130
  • Water per day — 10-12 gallons. This is a savings of 30-60 gallons per day.
  • Electric usage — Our daily usage dropped 6 kWh/day.

My washing system:

I begin by putting less than a Tablespoon of soap in wash water. Into the basket, I place clothes that go next to the body and are relatively clean. The basket is closed and “agitated” 15 times, then the clothes soak for 10 minutes, then they are agitated for another 15-20 times, then the basket is removed from the water and left to drain for 10 minutes. Then I squeeze out as much water as I can by hand.

I do 1) relatively clean clothes that are next to the body, 2) relatively clean clothes like sweaters, trousers, and hand towels, 3) kitchen towels, 4) dirty stuff. Potty wipes are soaked all day in a bucket that lives in the shower. Those get washed in their own bucket.

Meanwhile, I have gathered 5 gallons of clean water into the rinse bucket. The load is then moved from washing to rinsing bucket. I agitate it 20 times and leave it soak for a bit. Then I lift the basket out of the bucket, drain, and squeeze.

Finally, things are layered into the spinner. It takes just 2 minutes per load for them to be “indoor hangable.”

Simplicity: Rhythms

Simplicity > Rythms

If Harmony is my abbey then stability, sustainability, and simplicity are my vows. — Me

I define simplicity, in the context of my vows, as the quality of being plain, beautiful, and slow. It means a life where I am living in a rhythm with the seasons and daily rhythms of prayer, work, reading, and rest. It means a life where I am not fatigued with so many choices. It means a life where I have identified the essentials and eliminated the rest. In the words of Austen Farrer, “Simplify your life, do fewer things, and do them well.”

Living a Life in rhythm with the seasons — Being privileged to stay home and tend the farm, animals, and home means that I have freedom to tailor my year to the seasons with ease. Our seasons look more like Celtic seasons — the solstices and equinoxes are more the center of the season rather than the start of the season — and generally mark times of transition. The Autumn Equinox has passed. The six weeks following the equinox means the garden harvest is winding down. It is time to think about cleaning up the garden beds, mulching the bare soil, cleaning the seed starting pots and garden tools, and winterizing the rabbit hutch and the chicken ark. It is time to visit a local orchard and get our yearly supply of apples. By November 1, we will have switched to checking on the food we have stored so that we can use the things that aren’t keeping well. We’ll be busy in the woods carrying sticks back to the house for kindling. Meals will be more soups and stews and less salads and raw foods. Winter, for us, starts when laundry can no longer be dried on the clothesline, sometime in November, lasts through December, January, and much of February. We are hunkered down with blankets, candles, and fires. March 1 brings a flurry of garden preparations: seeds must be checked and reordered if I wasn’t able to save enough, tools must be checked and sharpened, seed starting soil must be sterilized and put into pots. The Spring Equinox is when I start some seeds in pots under a makeshift greenhouse. April 1 is the real start of the gardening year because greens and brassicas can go out in the garden. Peas too, as soon as it is mild enough. May, June, July, August, September, and October are all the furious rush of gardening season. I try to keep the Solstices and Equinoxes and the Quartering of the Year days as mini-holidays. Days to remember, days to observe, and days to be grateful for a chance to step outside of the normal work.

Daily Rhythms of Prayer, Work, Reading and Rest— My daily life follows a rhythm. I move from task to task, alternating between physical and mental work. I rise before the sun, do some stretches, recite my morning prayers, and then head out for a walk. Breakfast follows the walk, as does a tour of the house and the yard/garden/orchard as I assess what needs to be done that day. In the warm months, the outside work gets done first, in the cool months the inside work gets done first. That work is followed by Welsh time. Lunch follows along with strength exercises, the indoor/outdoor work gets done, and then some time reading non-fiction, and then fiction and then some more Welsh. Dinner time is followed by Evening prayers, a short spurt of evening tidy up, a short walk, and then more time reading or chatting with family. I try not to use lights in the evening so that my body is ready for sleep. I am early to bed, with an audiobook, and early to rise.