Sunday, June 14, 2009

I'm Growing My Own Food?

You bet your tukas I am, as my grandma used to say (or someone's grandma, anyway.) When I started this garden journey a few months ago, I had very little experience. I raised a small container garden at a rental house a few years ago, but the groundhog ate most of it (I couldn't really blame her, she had a big family to feed), and I was pretty discouraged.

Over the past year or so, as this economy has really started to slide into ruin, I've become focused on how important it will be to be able to support ourselves in the future. A day when the local grocery store and big box store are no longer available is not beyond my imagining, and I want to be able to support my family when that time comes. It's a simple plan, really

Step one, find a protein source. Eggs for protein was my first choice, because chickens are much more affordable than a large farm animal. Eventually, I'd love to have a goat or cow, and I'm debating buying a butchered lamb from a local farm this year. For right now, however, we don't eat red meat (or pork), so poultry seemed the obvious choice. My original flock of 16 birds has been downsized to six, a managable amount for us. They don't cost an arm and a leg to feed, and when we start getting eggs, we'll be getting just as many as we need. Of course, friends keep asking for eggs, and many people assume we will have extra, but selling my farm-fresh eggs is not my goal. My goal is knowing, start to finish, where my food comes from - these girls.

Step two, grow a vegetable garden that can feed us for many months, not just through the summer. This year I started small, since I wanted to be successful. I don't know enough about eating from a garden to know how many tomato plants it takes to support a two person family, but I hope 18 is enough. I'll preserve what extras I have this year, monitor how long we eat from our produce, and plant accordingly next year. Of course, it's June, and I'm already freezing squash and zucchini from the garden, so I may find I've planted too much. It's a learning process.

Step three, learn to preserve the produce I grow or buy. Growing up as a suburban child, I don't remember eating much food out of a mason jar. Jams and jellies we purchased at the local farmer's market, but canned veggies were just that, canned and bought on aisle 4 of the grocery store. When I met POSSLQ, he had grown up canning and preserving food, and each year, MIL gives us lots of extras she has. I've slowly learned how to plan meals around what's already in the cabinet, but this year, I'll have to master that skill, plus learn how to use the pressure canner, and anticipate the flavors we'll crave come winter. Today, for example, I blanched and froze stir-fry bags, and watched as our freezer slowly fills up.

Step four, develop a good relationship with other people in the area who have what I need, but don't (or can't) produce myself. I've been stopping at the farmer's market every week, buying a little from each booth, chatting a few minutes with the farmers. I discovered that the nursery just down the street carries fresh, local produce of all varieties, so I'll be stopping there as well. MIL is over-burdened with cherries, so she's given me tons. I made some cherry jam, and I'm planning to try my hand at a cherry pie or cobbler this week.

Step five, further remove our household's dependance on products we have to buy in the store - plastic bags, paper products, soaps and shampoos, etc. This includes not only sewing cloth napkins and butt-wipes (no big deal, I've been using a sewing machine for years), but also learning how to make soaps and other products from scratch, a skill I've never even tried. So we'll see how that goes. In the meantime, I found a tutorial on using old plastic grocery bags to make water-resistant linings, so I've made a few lunch totes (and a pretty decent dent in our plastic bag stash) using that new skill. Next up, wet bags, handkerchiefs, and a few more canvas grocery totes (so POSSLQ will stop bringing home more plastic bags).

All in all, a pretty simple plan, I think. I'm sure I'll meet challenges along the way, but so far it's going well. Got to eat garden fresh squash for dinner tonight, and we have enough to have squash a few more times this week.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Yes, we D.I.D.

This weekend I was, once again, blessed to experience one of my greatest joys of the year - a festival we lovingly call D.I.D. A coming together of like minds, Darbukastani Independence Days is a convergence of kindred spirits we only see a few times a year, and a chance to reconnect with people we see nearly every day. I sat down each day, scribbled in my notebook, and brought my reflections here.


What an amazing family who readies this beautiful place, harnesses its energy, prepares this piece of Mother Earth to play hostess to a group of people who love this land like their homeland, which it is for many of us. Though we may spend only a few days a year wandering these green fields and dipping our toes in the cool pond, it feels like home when you start down the lane. The greenery closes behind you, enveloping you in the magic, almost as if another world doesn't exist.

It's at these events that I see POSSLQ at his best. The stresses of everyday life melt away, and he gets lost in the magic of Spirithaven. I quietly watch him direct traffic, answer questions, seek out the next back-breaking project, and be free of the corporate harness. He's been here all week, teasing the magic out of the land, and helping prepare it for the citizens who will soon arrive. Any obstacles he encounters are of the good variety, the kind that serve to make you feel like you've affected a change in the world.

And affect change he has. They all have. I've watched this week as they've woken the farm from a lazy spring, readied it for the frenzy of activity. Each afternoon I drive down the lane to a new, beautiful sight. Tall, wild, rain-soaked and sun-fed grass trimmed short to create a soft, natural dancing surface. An inspired new tent organization. Every year, a fresh idea to improve the experience.

Though I wasn't able to throw myself into the hard labor of preparing the farm, I did get a chance to help set up a few big canvases. Trying to stay ahead of the dark cloud looming overhead, creeping over the ridge, we fell into the rhythm of these festivals, throwing stakes, ropes, and tent poles to their proper locations, and quickly taking up the series of tasks required to get the tent off the ground. At one point, we barely had the ridgepole raised when a strong wind kicked up, the raindrops started to fall, and everyone ended up getting soaked in the dashing about to divert small rivers away from the grassy areas. A plush, wet valley at any time, Spirithaven has received an abundance of soaking rain showers in the past few months, making the ground ooze with water as you step.

As campers start to pull in and tents are placed, a hard rain once again starts to fall. Now even the high ground is beginning to get very muddy, and there is a danger of cars getting stuck, or sliding out of control. D.I.D. sees rain every year, but the sheer volume of water already this spring compounds the problem, and Sheque, the Spirithaven Year-Rounders, and POSSLQ had extra work to protect the land and the Darbukastani citizens, including laying last-minute gravel, roping off large areas of the farm, and filling in mudholes. Little Year-Rounder and I stood in the dark and steady rain for more than an hour tonight, supervising citizens and treating our feet to a cool, refreshing mud bath.


As wet as yesterday ended, today turned out quite pleasant. The farm was alive with campers when I arrived after work. Workshops, dancing, drumming, and the simply chatter of catching up contribute to the magic, but the best magic will arrive later this evening.

Two dear friends weren't planning to attend this year, but loads of positive thinking and manifestation have enabled them to drive up for the weekend, and excited simply doesn't describe the feeling of seeing them for the first time in nearly eight months.

I got to spend the afternoon with Little Love Baby and Mama today, playing in the mud and throwing snacks to the peacocks. I do love those two, and LLB gets funnier every time I see him.

As evening falls, the rhythmic chantings of the guedra fill the air, and the CeltHix are preparing to play. The Welcome Concert promises to be a good one. The positive energy in the air is palpable, and soon Little Year-Rounder taps my shoulder and points out a car carrying our friends. Muddy embraces ensue, and we settle in to enjoy the show.

Mud boots were a staple this weekend!

After morning chores and a brief stop at the coffee shop, we headed off to the farm, excited to spend the whole day soaking up the D.I.D. energy. Archery lessons, daisy-chaining, and lazing about by the pond took up most of the morning, and POSSLQ, Hippie Sister, and I took a walk and a swim in the early afternoon. Though the water was quite chilly, it was refreshing to soak in the secluded pool, a hill of daisies to one side, the quiet, damp forest to the other.

Though the sun shone warm all day, the breeze off the pond and light fluffy clouds made the day seem perfect. Small children run around the farm the whole weekend, discovering the joys of rural living. An escape from constantly learning what they aren't allowed to do, they delight in the freedom to simply be children. Though Spirithaven is a working farm, these kids are on vacation in the country, and enjoy the pleasures of spring on a farm without the chores the Year-Rounders are so familiar with.

After dinner, campers headed off for a quick nap, and we lounged a little more under the tree near the pond, awaiting the party. The hafla was more subdued than some years, but still very enjoyable, and the performances were, as always, amazing. POSSLQ and I enjoyed a stroll in the moonlight, then I lay in bed and listened to the drumming continue well into the night, with many citizens hearing the roosters crow before heading to bed.


A quick early-morning trip back home to do morning chores, and back to the farm I go. Today will be spent winding down, packing up, and saying good-byes. After most of the citizens head back, I'm sure we will start to break down the festival site. Though both setting up and breaking down are a lot of work, the pre-festival work always takes more than a week, and breaking down can be finished in a day or so. As Sheque will tell Little Year-Rounder this afternoon, there's an excitement to the setting up, knowing you are getting ready to see friends, share ideas, enjoy music and dancing. Breaking down has a sadness to it, the knowledge that you won't see many of these people for another year. There's a meditative moment when you reflect on the weekend, knowing the energy will fade, but the memory of a good time and the excitement for next year will get you through the daily grind of life until you can escape back to the magic of Darbukastan.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Tale of Two Stories

On my eighteenth birthday, my dad presented me with a unique gift; an ominously large book called Ahab's Wife. He had heard about the author on NPR, thought the book sounded right for me, and wrote a heart-felt inscription on the inside cover. I set out to muddle through what I assumed would be a Moby Dick-style saga, but was pleasantly surprised by the wonderfully descriptive prose written in the voice of Captain Ahab's "girl-wife," Una. I immediately fell in love with her spirit, her adventures, and the characters that Sena Jeter Naslund brings to life through her rich descriptions. Ahab's Wife distracted me at exam time in college, entertained me during summer beach trips, and comforted me when I needed an escape from life. By the time I took the volume to Vermont with me, I was using a rubber band to hold the pages in.

When POSSLQ and I moved in together, the book got lost for a while. In the end, we determined that it got thrown away in a bag that looked like trash, but was actually our "in between houses" stash. Don't ask me what else was in that bag, none of it was as important as my worn, well-loved, and well-travelled book.

For my twenty-third birthday, my dad presented me with a unique gift; a brand new copy of Ahab's Wife. The new inscription is a little sappy, but very sweet, and the gift was so thoughtful. Over the past four years, this copy hasn't gotten to travel as far, but has been read so many times that the binding is starting to show serious wear, and has split completely around my favorite passages.

After my most recent reading, I decided it was time to give Moby Dick another chance. I vaguely remember studying the Cliff's Notes for it in high school, but went to the library to search out a copy, convinced I would find a reflection on Captain Ahab as enjoyable and richly engaging as Una's voice. What I have found, instead, is a heady, verbose story that I think may eventually be about a whale (I'm only half way through), and only passing mentions of the characters I've come to know so well - Mr. and Mrs. Hussey of the TryPots Inn, little Pippin, and, of course, the girl-wife herself.

I suppose the great chase scenes are still in front of me, and I know I should value the symbolism and character studies of Moby Dick, but I can't help but prefer Ahab's Wife. Throughout the course of the novel, she meets many historical figures, some of which, ironically, were Herman Melville's contemporaries. Ishmael visits the same cities and streets as Una, meets the same people, but they are ultimately unimportant to him, where every event in her life deserves attention and analysis. Maybe I identify better with her simply for that fact, or maybe I take notice and analyze every facet of my life because I've been so affected by her story.

In retrospect, I should have been suspicious of a novel that I borrowed from the library, printed in 1979, that looks pristine next to my worn copy of Ahab's Wife. But I got to know Ishmael while reading Una's story, and though he wasn't my favorite character, I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, hear his tale, and listen for whatever quiet wisdom he may have for me.