Friday, January 9, 2015

buy less, make more

2015 got off to a bit of a rocky start for me -- I got food poisoning on the night of the 2nd. I'd never had the full-blown experience before, the fever and shakes and convulsive voiding of the whole GI tract by any available means. Now that I have, I think once was enough. I was mostly wiped out for the rest of the weekend and only started eating actual meals again on Monday. Food is still making me kind of nauseous most of the time, as my colonies of carefully selected internal symbiotes struggle to recover from the purge. I have been carefully applying small doses of kombucha and live-culture yogurt to encourage them. I miss my symbiotes. :(

This weekend, though! This weekend I'm going to sit down for real and make a plan for the garden. I think the rule is that I have to make a basic list before I open a catalog, so that I'm then shopping only for varieties instead of completely impulse buying. There are just too many beautiful things from Baker Creek otherwise.

Also this weekend, or later this month, making a plan for the front yard: the street-facing 1/3 or so of the yard is on a slope, which makes mowing it absolutely awful, so it's first on my list for replanting. I recently made a commitment to actively study and practice Druidry, and as part of that commitment I took a few vows to do things this year that would lessen my impact on the earth and improve the health of my environment. One of them was to rework that area from lawn (which supports very little wildlife) into a stand of native shrubs and wildflowers (which will support birds, bees, squirrels, butterflies, all the tiny unappreciated fauna that live in and around fertile soil....). I'm looking forward to the transformation so much. Even the part where it's going to take a lot of digging and grubbing in the dirt and digging some more.

Also also, I wanted to mention my one resolution for this year: buy less, make more. More and more, I find that consuming passively doesn't give me much pleasure, whereas the time and effort involved in making things to meet my own needs are immensely satisfying. Learn, make, thrive: the good life.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Planning season

There isn't really an off season for the garden, is there? It's actually a prepare-for-the-next-growth season.

The Baker Creek seed catalog reached me this week, which means I'm now swooning over pages and pages of full-color photos of beautiful, unusual vegetable varieties. Currently I'm mostly in the ridiculous wishlist phase (what if I tried amaranth again!) and only just starting to consider more practical considerations (early snap peas in the bed near the strawberries sure would be nice).

I'm thinking a lot, though, about how to manage seedlings' light needs. I want to be able to do tomatoes again, because they're such a staple in my kitchen. Given how late the warm season starts here, that means giving them a good long indoor stay to bulk up; last summer, the plants I got substantial production from were ones I bought from a nursery, and they started their seedlings in January or February.

They also almost definitely used grow lights to get theirs going, which I fussed about back in May. I'm still committed on principle to minimizing the external energy inputs I use for the garden, though, so I'm wondering about what I could do with our existing solar power. I've been thinking about trying to set up a reflective/mirrored screen to set behind the seedling trays, so it could bounce back sunlight from the window to give them a second shot at it. Ideally, that would give them extra light and heat to encourage growth without taking constant infusions of electricity. In a worst case, it just fries them. Maybe I'll set up a control group so I can actually measure what difference it makes.

Much later in the year, I think I'm going to want to start my fall seedlings outside this summer, instead of leaving them in the spare room (where honestly I think they probably baked). If I can get the cold frame done early this year, which just means getting off my lazy butt and doing the job, then I'll have a nice set-aside space; I can leave the glass top open and rig some kind of screen to filter the south and west sun, so they get some light but not enough to overwhelm them. Bonus, this minimizes the amount of hardening off they'll need when it's time to move them out to the beds.

Friday, December 12, 2014

la grisouille

My dad, who lived in Seattle for a few years before moving back east, emailed me recently to tell me the French have a word for Seattle winter: la grisouille, the chilly damp darkness that seems to go on forever. Okay, actually it's a word for Paris winter, but we have a lot in common, with the high latitude and large water body to the west affecting the local climate. We are deep in la grisouille right now, though I at least take a late enough train that the sun is up (somewhere behind the clouds) before I leave the house. This morning, the storm was over and the weather was clear enough for the crows to be commuting at the same time I was—there's a substantial crow population that roosts down in Renton and flies into Seattle in the mornings to do their daily scavenging, just like people. I find them so charming every time my schedule matches up with theirs.

And of course we're almost to the turning point already, the hinge where the dark stops getting darker and the sun is reborn. I'm going to make it. This winter, like all the winters before it, won't undo me. I'll see la grisouille melt, the first daffodils pushing their way up through the earth, the first buds turning to blossoms on trees. The wheel turns. We're headed that way soon.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Note to self: first frost at the house this year was on November 10.

The Dark Season is well and truly upon us, which means there's little to no time for doing chores outside on weekdays; the sun's rising as I leave in the morning, and well down by the time I get off the bus home. But I found a warm red coat in the by-the-pound bins at Goodwill last weekend that probably cost me about $5, and now I am considerably more visible in people's headlights when I'm walking home in the dark.

We're currently having what passes for a cold snap in Seattle, the very edge of the freezing Jetstream produced when the remains of Nuri stormed into Alaska. Of course, "cold" around here means the lows are around freezing, which really shouldn't feel like a big deal after almost ten years in/around Philly and one terrible winter in Denver. That was practically a lifetime ago, though. Sometimes I wonder if anyone I knew back then would grok what I've become. The guy I moved to Denver with probably wouldn't. If anyone would, it's probably the Badgers; I hope they're doing well. Jimmi O'Badger, if you ever google yourself, we went to school together and you knew me as Lilith - drop me a line.

The me from back then was more brittle, I think, and also trying a lot harder to front about it. I was a surly little rivethead, who would have embraced news about this "internet of things" concept out of a sense of nihilism: if you can't fight the dystopia, you might as well take grim satisfaction in seeing it coming. Now I'm... well, maybe slightly less nihilistic. Still doing optimism wrong, because now I look at that and think, "It won't be able to last, between the people who refuse to be so intensely monitored and the increasing number of people who just can't afford all those toys. And they're depending on a lot of finite resources to build and sustain that stuff anyway." Which is more comforting than living in the consumer panopticon for the rest of my life, at least.

Plans for the rest of November: pick up the pace on making solstice presents for people; haul tomatoes and peaches out of the freezer and can some stuff now that it's cold out; mow the damn lawn one more time if it's ever dry on a weekend; jury duty; friendsgiving.

Monday, October 20, 2014

back on the post horse

This morning on the way to work Skrillex's "Breakin' a Sweat" came on my phone and it was this moment of "yep, that's my life": taking transit to work, knitting, listening to a dubstep riff on Jim Morrison. I don't know. Something about the collision of disparate elements there.

I'm going to try to get back in the habit of posting here, on the theory that doing so will help me stay motivated to keep doing the actual things that get posted about. So here we are in the second half of October: I need to pull out my last tomato plants now that the wet is setting in, and bring in their unripe fruit to ripen in a paper bag. The fig tree is having its second crop after all, which I'd worried wouldn't ripen, so we need to harvest those also and figure out what to do with them. The south-end bed has purple barley and fava beans growing on one side, both of which are thriving, and garlic planted on the other, which is starting to sprout. I botched getting my early seedlings started for winter veggies, but a few of the kale might make it, and maybe I'll cave and buy a packet of starts from somewhere. Fortunately the chard from last winter appears not to have gotten the memo that it's an annual, and after I cut down the flowering stalks this summer the roots started sending up new leafy growth. So we can keep eating that for a while.

The corn-and-beans patch this summer was an absolute bust, and I suspect the culprit was just plain old low-quality dirt; that was a spot that had been lawn previously. Yesterday I dug the top shovelful under, with the plant matter intact, so it can rot under there over the winter (I did spot a couple of nice big earthworms, so at least I have a little help on this front). I'm going to add more actual finished compost and plant it over in a cover crop, probably field peas, for the winter.

I might do the same thing down front where the daylilies kind of got a hold but the pumpkins did nothing of substance; there, also, I'm dealing with recently ex-lawn. Generally I probably need to remember to be less impatient about getting things into the dirt in places that aren't ready -- spend an extra day on soil amendment and avoid wasting a whole season, self.

I did make a small order from Raintree before the winter set in, to get things into the ground and let them establish roots now, so they're ready to get going in the spring. I have a Camellia sinensis, better known as tea, and a King James mulberry, named after the fellow who planted the tree's progenitor in London a few hundred years ago (the original tree died in the Blitz, but enterprising horticulturalists managed to propagate enough shoots to keep its lineage going). #plantnerd

Another day, another chore. Tonight I need to clean out my kombucha operation and see if the poor mother is still in good enough shape to start a fresh batch. Also maybe see about taking samples for a soil test, if the ground isn't soaked (hah).

Friday, October 17, 2014

"when the zombies come"

I'm pretty sure zombies have infiltrated pop culture more thoroughly than any other monster figure. They've gotten their teeth into literature. They organize flash mobs. They get runners motivated. The military plans for them. They have a lot of mojo right now.

Which is what makes "when the zombies come" such a powerful charm. Not to summon them, of course; not to bring on the apocalypse or anything of that nature. It's a ward against skeptics. It's an answer to questions that doesn't leave the speaker vulnerable. "Why would you bother to learn to [hunt/forage/smith/hand-spin]?" goes the question, with the implied "that's so time-consuming and obsolete." And a wry "When the zombies come, you'll be glad I can [find food/repair our tools/make new clothes]" soothes the skeptic, tells them It's okay, I'm like you, I believe in the same world you believe in, I'm just indulging in play. Sometimes of course the framing goes the other way and they're the ones asking for reassurance: "Can't hurt when the zombies come, huh?" as a reaction to someone learning a forgotten skill. Elaborating on the usefulness of the skill in the zombie scenario finishes the charm.

Because oftentimes answering that question seriously leads to a conversation that's exhausting and awkward. "When a pandemic scare breaks down social services" or "If the drought leads to food shortages" or "When fuel costs make it too expensive to ship cheap goods halfway across the world" are uncomfortable contingencies. They sit in that nasty place where people don't want to believe in them, but they are believable. The zombies are a "safe" disaster, the one we know won't arrive. Looking at the possibility of other disasters occurring (or worsening) and planning for them makes people uncomfortable. Why are you so pessimistic? Come on, they'll think of something! God, you're not some kind of prepper survivalist weirdo, are you?

I don't know. I'll cop to the pessimism easily. We are living, as they say, in interesting times. Climate change is an ongoing disaster all over the place. The global financial system is made up of a terrible baroque assemblage of mechanisms to make numbers get bigger, without a care for how they affect the standard of living of billions of people. The US has committed itself to repeated military engagements in the Middle East, spilling blood to ensure we retain access to oil. I don't have a lot of faith in The System to keep things running smoothly. Learning hands-on skills to take care of my immediate needs makes me feel a little better about my situation.

I have a three-hour class on spinning with a drop spindle tomorrow: one more step toward knowing how food and clothing happen without capital-I Industry. You know. In case the zombies come.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

I promised you a knitting post

A million years ago. Whoops! I actually wound up making a version of it over on the author blog, but I think I still need to make a slightly different one over here.

Because it's not just that knitting is a method of soothing the part of my brain that is comforted and calmed by doing simple repetitive tasks, though that's definitely part of it. It's not just the accomplishment of having those tasks result in a tangible reward. That's part of it too, obviously.

But it's also part of the same project as figuring out how to get tomatoes to grow in a Seattle season, and nailing together a compost bin from scrapped pallets with my own hands. It's about having useful skills, about connecting my time and labor more directly to the sources of my sustenance and comfort. (There's nothing like "working" in front of a computer for eight hours to make me go "...this feeds me how, exactly?") Being able to create a garment directly from twisted threads is good for me right down to the soul. (Being able to twist the threads in the first place would be even cooler; I'm signed up to take a class on using a drop spindle this coming Saturday.)

One of my current projects is a set of densely-knitted slipper socks from Andean Folk Knits: Great Designs from Peru, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador & Bolivia, by Marcia Lewandowski. Who is just as white as she sounds, and occasionally the book veers into using-your-culture-for-tourism territory, but mostly she's pretty aware of the tendency to do that and tries to avoid it -- pointing out, for example, that no matter how romantic she finds the idea of indigenous women hand-spinning, she can't argue with their desire to save time by using commercial yarn when she herself relies on her washing machine, dishwasher, and microwave to make necessary chores move faster. So that degree of self-awareness was nice to see.

Anyway, the thing I meant to say about the book: one of the things that's been neatest for me about it is the details about how working with fiber gets integrated with other things: herders working with drop spindles while they follow their animals. Men sharpening the ends of salvaged bicycle spokes to make sets of double-pointed needles. Colorwork designs being improvised to fit the garment as the knitter works. It's a very practical making approach (which doesn't mean it's dreary in the least; the colors and patterns built into these useful items are glorious).

In contrast it feels a bit like USian knitting culture has a strain of, well... consumerism to it. Acquire the best brand-name yarns! Use the most perfect exotic fibers! Stash a monstrous hoard of yarn you will never have time to use! Follow celebrity designers and rely on their technical expertise! Buy individual patterns! Use a vast array of needles in minutely varying sizes! It's a seductive approach that I am definitely not standing outside of -- I've spent more money than I should have on yarn in the last season. And there are some absolutely lovely finished objects that come out of this stuff-focused style. But I really want to try to remind myself that there is a full suite of skills here, not limited to following patterns; knowing how and why a piece is put together a certain way are crucial. Those are the parts that would let me improvise. That knowledge lets a craftsperson produce work that is more than the sum of its inputs.

And that's a goal I'm actually reaching for.