Sunday, February 27, 2011

A brief word from your sponsor...


No, seriously, I'm freaking out over here.  Rainbarrelrainbarrelrainbarrelrainbarrel!


Go HERE for to see it!  So pretty... my precious....

Have many blog posts floating around in my head (if you're a blogger, you know exactly what I'm talking about).  I'm hoping to say some interesting things soon about education, and raised beds, and french fries.  Stay tuned!

Monday, February 21, 2011

I am an urban homesteader!

[If you're reading this post on Feb. 21, 2011 (or thereabouts), and you do not instantly know why I'd be posting this today, then please click here to go to the Facebook page "Take Back Urban Homesteading" and see the (perfectly absurd) backstory.]

I am an urban homesteader.  Er.  Well, sorta anyway.  Um.  Okay, so where I live is only urban in the sense that the USDA does not consider it rural (barely, too--in fact, I haven't seen the recent census numbers yet--mayhaps we're rural now!).  We live on a city street, though, with a double-sized lot, which gives us around 60' x 140' total footprint.  On that footprint is our house, a detached garage, and a fairly sizable concrete patio/driveway in back (hey, it wasn't our fault, it was like that when we bought it).  So do the math yourself if you want to, but I don't think we even manage to crack the 1/10th of an acre.  So I'm calling it urban; or at least, sure as hell isn't 40 acres and a mule!

And we homestead.  Of course, most people wouldn't consider what we do homesteading, but I think that's the beauty of urban homesteading.  It bends the concepts of homesteading into a huge panoply of shapes, and really demonstrates the inherent diversity in such a term.

The core of homesteading, to my way of thinking, is self-reliance.  So are we self-sufficient?  Hell no.  Are we aiming for self-sufficiency?  Not on a bet.  In fact, I don't even think it's a particularly desirable goal.  Urban homesteading forces one to confront the simple fact that, unless you live on a piece of land that has enough room for all of your food crops, food animals, a salt mine, some iron ore & a forge, maybe a way to create baking soda, etcetera, you are not, were not, and will never be truly self-sufficient.

Self-reliance simply must mean something other than "can meet all of one's (or one's family's) needs without external aid", and by extension, homesteading--particularly urban homesteading--must mean something other than this, too.  Given that we will probably never even meet our family's food needs on our own land (much less things like medical tape, cookware and shoes), what distinguishes what my family does from anyone else who gardens and, perhaps, keeps some animals for food?

I think the core for urban homesteaders is not the method one uses, or the end results (i.e., how many animals you've crammed into your life, how many pounds of produce came out of your 4'square bed, how solar-heated your water is, etc.).  Rather, it is the emphasis--the whys of what you do.  Why garden?  One perfectly reasonable response is "Because I enjoy it."  Another is "Because I want to make sure we have organic vegetables."  A third is "Because it tastes better when it's fresh from the garden."  Those are great answers!  But those aren't urban homesteader's answers (or at least, they will be only part of the urban homesteaders answers).  I think an urban homesteader's answer looks a little more like this:  "Because I want to use the land/space I have in productive ways that help support myself/my family."  Obviously there are lots of ways one could express this, but the core (to me) is that we are moving ourselves back into the role of primary food provider and householder.

Years ago most people, and especially ones in the cities, ceded the various roles of householder to others--farmers and food manufacturers and grocery stores and housekeepers and accountants and electric companies and so on.  We stopped being the ones who grew our food (any of it), or cleaned our houses.  We relied exclusively on various power companies for heat and light, and trucks to bring us nearly everything we want.  We stopped being the ones who did and made, and started being the ones who paid others to do those things for us.  (And, often, started being the ones who did these things for others so that we could be paid so that we could pay others to do those things for us.  It's like the frickin' capitalist circle of life.) Urban homesteading is the conscious act of taking some of these roles back.  Maybe not all of it, and often not even half of it, but that isn't the essential feature of urban homesteading.  It's saying "I can play a role in being a primary provider for my family, even if it's just some hot peppers and tomatoes from my garden boxes on the patio, and line-drying our clothes."  We are moving ourselves into the role of producer.

Of course, this also makes one very aware of one's dependence on others.  I think urban homesteaders have an even higher awareness of our dependence on others than those who really do have a higher dependence on others--who wouldn't know how to grow a tomato if their lives depended on it and who have no idea what to do when their dryer punks out on them.  And we are aware that this dependence is necessary, and probably desirable.  Working together in community to maximize one's own self-reliance (as it were) is part of the core methodology of urban homesteading, and that's convenient, because we urban homesteaders have a lot of community around us to deal with.  Why cut oneself off, trying to do practically everything by oneself?  Maybe you live on land that can't grow tomatoes for shit (ahem) but you have a lovely flock of laying hens.  You have a neighbor with prize-winning tomatoes but no eggs.  There's an obvious solution here.  And so you rely on each other, and build ties, and now both of you are more secure due to this relationship.  That's nice, and you aren't wasting 50 square feet trying to grow tomatoes for yourself on your limited ground.

Most people regard urban homesteading--if they regard it at all--as either an eccentricity or an oddity.  Some probably think it's deviant.  But anyone who's here has probably already started to realize that those attitudes are shifting.  So think about your own role in how you manage your household and family.  Can you move yourself into the role of producer, even just a little?  Can you do it consciously?  Can you commit to producing some of the food you eat, saving some of the energy you use, strengthening some of the community you live in, with an aim of using your land/space in productive ways?  Then claim the title proudly, and tell others.  It's hard to think of an activity as deviant or eccentric when you are friends with the person who does it.  (Okay, in my case this isn't strictly speaking true.)  Put a face on it for others, let them see what the lifestyle is like.  Give them exposure to the many ways that one can be involved in the sustenance of one's household, and tempt them down the same path, just from your pride in accomplishment.  And know that, come the zombies, your community will be better off for your work.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The best Valentine's Day song evah

Enjoy, and then spend the rest of the day humming it, driving your partner/SO/spouse/friend/fwb/neighbor/passersby nuts.

My family "celebrated" Valentine's Day yesterday, mostly by fixing a special meal and then proceeding to enjoy it around the table--as opposed to our more normal dinnertime shenanigans (that involve a lot of saying "stop doing that and EAT.") My youngest son has a special girl, for whom he made a special valentine's card, complete with extra heart insert. It would seem that this is requited, as he got an early, equally-handmade valentine from her on Friday that said, and I quote "A kiss for you". They. Are. In. Kindergarten.


Hope everyone enjoys the day, and remembers the most important advice ever given, from Harris Telemaker: "There's someone out there for everyone - even if you need a pickaxe, a compass, and night goggles to find them."
Uh oh... Robyn's been messing about with her design settings again...

Monday, February 7, 2011

A glimpse of plate

Near the end of last year, I was careening towards a colossal case of burnout. I had so many things to do, so much to remember to do, so many things that I cared about doing, that I could no longer keep it all straight. Things that matter to me--really, really matter, like the co-op and our cowshare--were falling through the cracks. Every time I received an email about the co-op, I wanted to cry or hide under the couch, even if it was a simple question like "So, when do you think you'll be opening?" Very reasonable requests were being unfulfilled--hell, they weren't even being remembered. I was doing more damage than good to the things I care about. I was putting my job ahead of my volunteer activities, which is fine and right in many ways, but I had nothing left over. I tried to keep space for my family, and while in the most technical sense I succeeded, I can't help but notice that even when I was home, I wasn't really there. I was glazed-over, and not in the good way like honey-baked chicken. I needed a break! But no break was forthcoming.

I didn't really need a break, though. I needed to let go of some of these duties. And so, for the past month, I have been steadily doing exactly that. Fortunately, I work and volunteer with some of the best, most understanding, and above all tolerant people in existence, and I think they could all see that Robyn was going to break soon if something didn't give. So I put out a plea of "help!" and many, many people stepped up to the plate.

And then yesterday it really happened. I got the email that said "Nope, it's already done, you don't have to worry about that any more!" I told my husband, and he said, "You just got your first glimpse of plate." Huh? "Plate. You know, your plate? Which has been far too full for far too long?" Oh! Yes! I can see a bit of plate!

Of course, this has been slowly happening for some time now, but it's only hitting me just how much I have managed to clear off. Here's a short list of things that I used to do that now other people do:
  • tracking and placing cowshare orders
  • collecting cowshare payments, making deposits, and paying all relevant people
  • writing the co-op newsletters
  • maintaining the co-op website
  • maintaining the co-op member list
  • ordering, picking up, and distributing print jobs for the co-op
  • compiling mailings for the co-op
  • managing the email list for the co-op
  • running the Children's Religious Education program at my church
That's what I can remember off the top of my head. And do you know what else this means? It means that I am surrounded by wonderful people who are willing to share the burden of doing this stuff, because this stuff matters as much to them as it does to me. Lucky, ain't I?

I still have a pretty full plate, and naturally I keep refilling it. But my refill looks a little saner, I think. Like, caring for the chickens, or starting my seedlings (two kinds of onions, leeks, cabbage, broccoli, and kale, all in their little plugs ready to sprout!). I think a month or two of a drastically reduced volunteer load will help me regain my balance a bit.

Of course, my job is also in mega-ramp-up mode. Next week I start a marathon battery of intern candidate interviews, quickly followed by hosting an alternative Spring Break troup from an Ohio university, then it's on to the Earth Day Celebration (which is a Big Deal(tm) out here), before we get full swing into planting season, shearing for the alpacas, and our 15th Anniversary Farm to Fork benefit dinner. So please don't misunderstand me, I'll be busy. But with some of the volunteer tasks spread out more amongst others, I think I might be able to hack it.

Now if I could just kick this bloody cold....