Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bye-Bye For Summer

I'm going offline for the summer (well as much as possible anyway ~ I still have to download bank transactions and such).

I want to take a step backward and just hang out with my family, to give us all the gift of time, especially my time.  If I turn on the computer for anything more than a basic task I want it to be either to communicate with people I actually know, or to write.

Last night there were songs swirling around in my head.  Real songs, my songs, not just rearrangements of others' songs.  That hasn't happened in a long time.  The night before that snippets of poetry were popping up ~ my poetry.

I think I know why it is happening, and I'm excited.  But I have to capture the creativity, and not let it drift away while I read another message board post or make another blog entry.

I need this gift of time, but I think my children do to.  We need to be creative together.  Just the other morning J-Baby and I ate our breakfast on the front porch, and I realized it was something that he had never done before.  Out back, yes, but never out front.  Some of my best summer memories involve breakfast, sitting out front, cantaloupe, and chocolate ice cream.

I love summer.  It's hot yes, but the days are long.  We go to bed later and sleep in.  Playing games until midnight is delicious.  So is reading a book under a shady tree, making fruit ices and lemonade, painting on the carport, sitting under the stars listening to a concert, walking our evening farmer's market in bright daylight, singing songs while crickets chirp, and so much more.

And so I embark to give us all the present moment, and my presence in it.  Togetherness, laughter, love.

Because I like neat tidy goals, I've decided to pursue this (mostly) unplugged lifestyle from the summer solstice to the autumnal equinox.  This is the longest break I've ever taken, and it is both exciting and daunting.  But really, if you are going to dream, dream big.  Make grand gestures and set high goals.  I know I am.

Pondering a Move

I have to say that it is really hard to know what a person should do if they live in Southern California and want to reduce their ecological footprint.

We're doing pretty well already, especially since Papa doesn't have a commute.  We are, however, stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Even with the falling housing market we can't afford to buy a large piece of property close to where Papa works.  Where we are we aren't zoned for livestock.  We have about 1/6 of an acre total, with 1700 square feet of house on that, plus a garage (and bonus room), and a large concrete driveway.

Another issue with where we are is that while we have every suburban store and restaurant you can imagine (within reason ~ we don't have Whole Foods), we have to drive quite a distance to get out in nature.

For some time now I have considered another option.  Not suburban living, not rural living, but mobile home park living.  I know, I must be crazy.  But you know, mobile home parks get a bad rap.  The one my ILs live in is clean, family friendly, rent-controlled, and only 3 miles via bike path to the beach.  They have a strong neighborhood community.  The adults know the children, and the children roam around by foot, on bikes, and by scooter.

They are also less than a mile from an Amtrak/Metrolink station.  When I think of coastal Southern California I think of wide highways and crippling traffic.  before my ILs moved I had never considered that people were going car-lite in densely populated such as Orange County, San Diego, or Los Angeles.

My ILs have a smaller garden that we do, but they do have a garden.  They don't have a large yard (and the tiny patch of grass they have now they are considering replacing with edibles), but there are common lawn areas.  Their water usage is low.  They aren't in the heat of the IE, so their cooling bills are also low.

I wonder about what it would mean to move down there.  There is a thriving organic farm and CSA.  There is a farmer's market, a homeschooling group, and an outdoor nature school.  They have summer concert series.  The beach is literally 3 mile walk or bike ride away.  We would be right there, with family.  My boys would be able to spend significant time with their grandparents.  We'd have trusted child care.

Papa would have to change jobs.  I looked into that, and Orange County has a lot of job opportunities for computer programmers.  Not only that, many of these jobs are a quick train ride away.

These are uncertain economic times.  It is a little frightening to imagine leaving a solid job and starting over.  The housing market is down; we might have to take a low offer on our home or rent it out.

At the same time, this is our life now.  How long do we wait for things to improve?  What do we want right now?  Where would we be happy?

I've stopped thinking that we have to find a forever location, home, and job.  Situations change. We could make changes now, and do it again in 5 years.

What do we want?  Train access and bikes trails, certainly.  Local, organic food.  The beauty of nature and the ability to be in it easily.  Less air pollution.  Community.  Family.  Arts and culture.

Last year I was able to really see how the ocean was a calming force for T-Guy.  Both boys love the beach and water, but T-Guy thrives in it.

I can't tell you how I long to hear my children say "I'm going over to see Grandpa."  I would love for the to have that kind of accessibility.

We may not make a change at all, but right now I am staying open to all possibilities.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Moving Toward Sustainability With Little Capital and a Tiny Lot

I saw that an online friend was posting about homesteading, and I almost joined in the conversation.  I stopped short, however, because we aren't homesteading.  We live in the used-to-be-small-citrus-town suburbs, a city now bustling with 65,000 residents.  Our lot is not quite 1/6 of an acre.  We aren't zoned for animals and can't have a well.  We will most likely never be able to support ourselves on this postage stamp piece of land.  I wouldn't even say that we are trying.

Sustainability means different things to different people.  Many people want to produce their own food but have no intention of giving up electricity or municipal water.  Some strive for energy self-sufficiency but happily participate in co-ops and CSA.  Some want it all ~ being totally off grid, growing 100% of their food, and making a living from the land.  No one, I think, can truly be self-sufficient outside of a community that has enough resources and skilled people to produce everything needed, and for those that choose newer technologies such as solar electricity there is the need to reach out into the greater manufacturing world to get necessary components.

I'm not exactly sure what sustainability means for us.  Certainly we have put in motion the procurement of local foods.  We've reduced our gasoline consumption, our electricity and natural gas usage, how much water we use, and how much stuff we buy.  In terms of the Riot 4 Austerity we're now at around 30% of the average American when all categories are weighted equally.

I think, perhaps more than self-sufficiency, we need a model of interdependence.  Together sustainability is an achievable goal.  Relocalization is happening in small pockets across the country, and even across the globe.

Anyway, we're trying to figure this out without a trust fund (no judgment ~ if you have one, great), and without raiding the HELOC.  We have modest accessible savings that can help us with the small stuff, but that won't cover going off the grid or completely redoing the house in terms of windows or insulation.

The cash flow situation means smaller steps taken over a longer period of time.  We've been increasing our food storage.  I ordered a water purifier.  We're committed to growing some food year round, rather than letting the fact that we've not yet set up large gardens be a road block.  Once every couple of months we can tackle a medium-sized project, or we can wait 6 - 12 months and do a bigger project.

I finally did post on the homesteading thread.  I decided that the world needs urban homesteaders every bit as much as it needs rural homesteaders.

Happiness is Berries and Empty Beds

We picked about a pound of blackberries off the vines Thursday.  We can't expect much more; the gardener cut the plants back again last year, despite being asked not to.  The bed is a mess, so we may pull everything, amend the bed, plant pumpkins, and then put in new berry vines with trellis support next spring.

The boys loved picking berries.  It took only 15 minutes, but it was fun, and after I washed them (the boys and the berries) the boys devoured the whole bowl.  Oh wait, we estimated how many there were and counted them first (124).

Wednesday Papa pulled the mother of all tomato plants, our Early Girl from 2007.  It was actually putting our fruit like crazy, but since we had never trimmed it we had bug problems and accessibility issues.

I got out there and pulled all of the tomatillo volunteers, then spent an hour and a half pulling grass from half of an 8 X 2 bed.  Carefully, slowly, trying not to break the runners.  I'm sure I'll be weeding that bed regularly now.  So much for 5 year weed cloth.

Once the beds were empty I added compost to bring them back to 6".  We're set now for our next planting.  Oh, and did I say the beds were empty?  Empty of plants, perhaps, but teaming with pill bugs and worms.  It is so cool to realize how alive the soil is.

The plan is to put in a low key herb garden with additional plants/flowers to attract butterflies and bees.  We're late to start any summer crops as the seedlings wouldn't survive the heat.  I'm going to see what we can put in the lettuce bed once it fully harvested (next week).  We'll bide our time until we can plant chard and other cool weather crops.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Go Buy This Book!

Deschooling Gently

Okay, don't buy it just because I said so.  Take a look around Tammy's blog, Just Enough, and Nothing More.  Read her posts on Fearless Homeschooling and The Real Cons of Homeschooling.

Tammy and I met last year at the California Homeschool Network Family EXPO. It was a serendipitous meeting: Papa and I had gone to school with Tammy's husband, and he and Papa had been in the same program and had considered themselves friends.  The spotted each other, introductions were made, coincidences marveled at.  We played and chatted in the Keva plank room all weekend, and had the opportunity to have lunch together.

I found out that Tammy was a presenter at the EXPO.  I'll be honest ~ I might not have gone to one of Tammy's presentations (actually, I went to two) if we hadn't met in the Keva plank room. I had a narrow definition of what deschooling was, and didn't think it applied to my family as my children had never been to school.  I went to that first session partly (Deschooling Gently) out of curiosity and partly to be polite.

I sat there and realized that the it was Papa and I who needed deschooling, not my boys. Tammy also shared other insights; in particular I loved that she talked about how much she loved to plan things out, and how life didn't really seem to work that way, so she would make her plan and put it in her back pocket.  She felt safe winging it knowing that the plan was there, just in case.  I totally related to that.  Another gem Tammy shared was that spending a lot of money on a curriculum has the potential to create an emotional/financial attachment to the curriculum, whether or not it is working for your family.  That was the seed that eventually saw me move away from the Enki Education Homeschool Curriculum (a beautiful curriculum that worked for us for awhile, and whose philosophy informs our living to this day).

I went to Tammy's second presentation, Fearless Homeschooling, because Deschooling Gently had been so amazing.  Not because Tammy and I think or homeschool exactly alike ~ we don't. No, what I love about Tammy (whether she is writing or speaking) is that she shares her truth but she doesn't expect it to be your truth.  She is unfailingly open and respectful, and she is fearless (or at least she tries to be ~ she'd probably be the first to tell you that it is a practice).

So here I am, telling you to buy Tammy's book ~ and I haven't even read it yet!  I only learned today that it had been released.  I am itching to get my hands on a copy.  I am, however, confident that it is fantastic.  Check out her blog and decide for yourself.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Dream Big

Once upon a time  (2005 - 2006) I had a blog I called Sustainability in the Suburbs.  This was before I had a garden, an indoor clothesline, or a plan to get the heck out of Dodge.  I deleted it in a fit of simplification one day (but reregistered the name with Blogger many months ago, just in case I decide that one of my current blogs needs a catchier name).

So now I do have a garden and an indoor clothesline.  My plans to leave town have dissipated, in part because of the real estate market, but mostly because I've come to realize how connected I am to this part of Southern California.  It is my place, my community, my habitat.

We all like to dream.  When I thought we would really leave (back before my mother died and I did a serious life inventory) I imagined coastal Oregon, a small house, berries and big pines. When job possibilities opened up the possibility of a move to Maine I found a tiny house on a huge lot (40 acres or so), and pictured myself curled up in quilts next to a big wood-burning stove.

But we aren't leaving, at least not that we know of and not anytime soon.  That doesn't mean I can't dream.  I know that being completely off the grid is probably not possible for us, and self-sufficiency will elude us like rain and blue skies.  Perhaps the blog should be titled Semi Sustainable in the Suburbs.

These are long term plans, the kind that you come up with long before you have the money to make them happen.
  • Metal roof
  • Better insulation, including rigid insulation when we do the roof
  • New windows throughout (major expense as I'm not willing to compromise with vinyl or aluminum frames)
  • Water catchment system
  • Replace front lawn with native plants and edibles
  • Solar-powered attic fan
  • Solar hot water or an on-demand system
  • Solar electricity
  • More food garden space, better designed
  • Chickens (despite what the city says)
Plus, lots, lots more.  A laundry room remodel or possible overhaul of entire kitchen/laundry/pantry area.  Tearing down the deck and creating a more organic outdoor space.  A workbench and tool storage in the garage.  Wood refinished replaced in the two rooms that still have carpeting.  A secret garden.  Something different done with the formal dining room.

Green choices throughout.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Car Lite Successes

Our gasoline consumption is now down to 20% of the American average (or a little less).

We've been really successful lately, using our bikes to get around town and turning down some of the opportunities that have come our way that require a lot of driving.

It is now completely possible for us to bike any errand in Our Town.  I can't quite get to the botanical park by bicycle; well, I can, but that is exercise enough and once there I would have no desire to walk the trails.  We simply haven't been going that often.

I've bike to home play dates and our weekly park day, and I am committed to continuing as long as we can.  When home play dates are too far for biking we are carpooling.  I drive on those days, so haven't yet determined how to figure the mileage.  I don't think that it is worth giving up play dates that aren't within biking distance, because other group members still have to drive, and we are a community and I think that sharing the miles is the right thing to do.

We've said no to family gatherings, even when they sounded fun.  We have to choose the most important ones and let the others slide.  We aren't visiting the grandparents quite as often. Luckily, my father-in-law was able to take the train to come visit us.  On his end he was able to bike to and from the station; we however had to drive 24 miles round trip to pick him up and return him to the station.  He felt badly about that and intends to investigate taking the bus from the station to Our Town.

We're combining errands that we use the car for, attempting to eek every bit we can from the miles we do drive.  Procrastination is a big key as well; we can't have the attitude that we can pop over for whatever we want or need whenever we want or need it.  We save errands for the weekend.  Whether driving or biking, we try to think of everything we can do in that area.

Even last minute trips can have usefulness squeezed out of them.  A friend asked us to pop over last weekend to help move a piano.  The need was immediate, so biking wasn't an option.  We drove, but we made sure to stop at the Mexican market for tortillas on our way home.

And yes, we've listed the trailer for sale!

We've talked about going car-free.  I know it takes small steps, so we'll start with a car free week pretty soon.  Having this as a possible goal helps whenever we are making the decision to use the car.

A Hodgepodge of Blogs

Bear with me while we undergo construction.

A lot of my more recent natural living posts are over at Sunshine Alternative Mama.  I'm hoping to start moving things this week, so that they are easier to find.  This blog has more posts overall, so I think I'll move most of those posts here.

I have two home learning blogs as well (and some home learning posts are here at Red Dirt Life). Since Holistic Learning is so large, I will probably leave it as an archive, and all new home learning posts will be on Learning Without Borders, unless they end up here.

June Gardening

We've yet to get back on track with our garden.

We're getting most of our produce from the CSA and the farmers markets, but we are growing some.  We've had lettuce in our garden for a few months, but I think it will bolt in the next few weeks.  The Limestone (bibb) and Red Sails are doing the best, however, the Simpson and Sierra will be done by the end of this week.  We're past harvesting individual leaves, and have been eating 3-6 heads a week, plus what we get from the CSA.  J-Baby is looking forward to the end of lettuce season.

We have tomatoes from last year's vines.  We have oranges and boysenberries.  I lost some of my herbs in the heat wave (my fault for still having them container planted), and the basil starts in the freak hailstorm that hit right before Memorial Day.  The neighbor has plenty of lemons to share, which is nice.

I checked last year's garden journal, and we planted this same upcoming weekend last year.  We put in corn, acorn squash, fennel, zucchini, yellow crookneck, cucumber, lettuce, chard, and watermelons.  The corn, acorn squash, and zucchini did the best.  The fennel didn't germinate, and it was too hot for the lettuce and chard.

So I think we'll plant again this weekend.  Not corn, which was too water intensive for what we got, but definitely zucchini and winter squash, and some larger tomato starts if we can find them.  I'm going to try chard again, in a cooler, shadier spot (we grew it successfully in our late winter 2007 planting).  We have to try cucumber again, this time with a trellis.

I have to admit that the CSA has dampened our incentive to grow more of our own food.  At first we were working hard to cope with what we got each week.  Now that we have a good system going we find that we're not getting enough, so we hit the farmers markets regularly. So we'll try again, and hopefully have a good harvest.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Monday Is Our Reset Day

One of the things that has carried with me from our days using Enki Education is the idea that keen observation of natural rhythms can be helpful when creating plans.  Not just lesson plans, but life plans as well.

Weekends can be busy, so I like to slow down on Mondays and breathe deeply.  I realized a long time ago that Monday isn't the best day for us to have out-of-the-house plans. I like a day free of obligation; I sleep in and have a really gentle morning.  I usually do the laundry and tidy the house.  I write, answer email, and read.  I generally make a more involved dinner (slow food, not fancy food).

The boys, too, seek something different on Mondays.  Weekends are exciting for them, even if we haven't done much.  Just having Papa home is wonderful, and they naturally try to cram in as much as they can in terms of basketball, bike rides, and belly laughs.  Sundays are our family nature day, and we usually get out and walk, bike, or hike, preferably in a more natural setting that our little house in the suburbs provides.

Mondays the boys tend to seek out projects, such as building huge Lego train layouts or constructing forts in the backyard.  Having had Papa as a playmate all weekend, they reconnect with each other as best friends.  Their imaginations run wild and they often have a narrative running through the day, a story that builds sometimes phrase by phrase with them taking turns picking up the plot and moving it forward.  Later in the week they will seek more from me, but Monday is their freedom day.

Late Monday afternoon feels wonderful.  I'm rested and rejuvenated.  The scent of delicious food is usually wafting down the hall, and Papa gets a whiff out front before he ever sets foot inside (tonight it is chicken-vegetable soup, with a gluten free Irish soda bread).  Papa has been gone long enough (4 - 5 hours after lunch) that we are starting to miss him.  I patiently await the feel of his embrace and that first kiss of the evening.  For 30 seconds he will be mine, and then he'll be pulled away to see the layout, the fort, or to shoot hoops.

Some times I am heading out on Monday right after dinner, for a moms' night out, a book club, or a natural parenting group.  So we sit together and form our family circle once more as we eat dinner and share our days with one another.  Monday evening is as joyful as Friday; a week in front of us, full of potential and promise.