Watering the Little River


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At the end of our road, and across the next, there sometimes runs a little river. The winter waters kindly left us a beach, and we pay thanks by visiting often. This is a fine place to watch the greening of the land, and to water ourselves.  This river can always use more water, and my children happily come with their watering cans to oblige. Our hearts, too, can always use more softness and hope, and I find that those seeds in me are well watered here. This is the place I come when I feel the tides of my despair rise.

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You see, I live in a very special place, a place where it is almost too easy to forget that we live in troubled times. Our little river was long ago dammed, but in recent years has received “environmental flow” to water the willows and create a commons. There is no fracking for hundreds of miles. Our last mayoral election was a heated battle between two highly progressive gay candidates. Yes, we drink plutonium tainted water, but there are plenty of watchdog groups keeping an eye on that particular fly in the ointment. New Mexico, I’ve heard, is one of the best places to survive a zombie apocalypse.

I find that it is easy to rest in the comfort of hope. As my awareness grows, so does my commitment to finding solutions and living a life that reflects them. I imagine that if I and my friends and the readers of Orion Magazine are doing that, then surely everyone will and all will be well. And then some choice pieces of bad news gets through my filter, and I realize this is a story that we are not writing a happy ending to until a fair amount more drama takes place. I lift my gaze from all the good and hopeful things, and wake up again.

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Last week I signed an online petition asking Monsanto not to sue the state of Vermont, and the full absurdity of our times hit me. If that hopeful act doesn’t seem absurd, then bless you. You should move to Santa Fe. It’s usefulness was not in getting Monsanto to change its mind, but in helping me to examine mine. If not a petition, what? How shall we live, my friends?

This little river here, it is running because for twenty years scores of dedicated people did whatever they could to fight for it. The biologists did studies and wrote reports, the citizens picked up trash and planted trees, the poets wrote poems, the elders told stories, and the politicians listened. In time, a dying river came back to life in the hearts of a community, which brought it back to life in its dry little channel. Which is a good thing, because the river’s future and our own are the same.

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I believe most days that my work in service to the earth begins where I am. That I am accountable to what is before me–my home place, my community, my family, and myself.  From there, we grow and expand, we ripple out, we strengthen the grassroots, we trust in the healing that we are directly engaged in. We try to stay awake as best we can.

Pete Seeger said the world would be saved by people saving their own homes. So dig in, friends. Do the work that your place needs to have done. Go often onto the land and fall so in love with it that you cannot breathe unless you are taking steps to protect its wholeness. Work to serve others. Sign those Facebook petitions, and write your own. Go spend a day working on the farm that grows food for the needy. Speak on behalf of the land, join the neighbors that need your solidarity. If you don’t have time to hang your clothes on the line, then for goodness sake make some. Clear away whatever clutter keeps you from knowing yourself and living according to what your heart knows is true.

And keep watering those little seeds, that trickle of water, this good thing we call life.

Postcards from La Jara

In April, my friend Arina and I were recruited to run the kitchen for a motley crew of Hippies and Old Order Amish as they built a house on our friend Colin’s off grid farm in southern Colorado. Here are some glimpses of our time at the “frolic” in La Jara.

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I’ve always said, I can’t resist a trip to the olden days, so here we go, to a house raising in the boonies. After weeks of planning menus and grocery lists, Arina and I and our three children head north to see what’s for dinner. We arrive to a spotless, empty kitchen: two pies on the table, a cauldron of borscht on the wood range. Our children fill the quiet home in no time, jumping on the old loveseat and kicking up a cloud of dust the likes of which you’ve only ever seen in a San Luis Valley windstorm. There isn’t anyone about; all are working on the House. It’s for the House that we’ve come, to cook for all those who are here to build it. We stoke the fire on the cookstove, tie on our aprons, and arrive.

April 8, 2014

IMG_0822 Folks have traveled from across the country to help Colin build the house (it’s that tall pitched roof in the background, behind the Spanish Villa chicken coop). His old friends, colleagues, and neighbors come in a regular stream, staying for a few days or a week, someone always arriving, departing. The house will be for the Yoder family, who have just moved to the Valley, leaving their community and dairy farm in Wisconsin to join their kin that have settled out West. The plan is that they are taking over the running of the farm, the raising of the sheep. The Amish men and boy-men are wicked fast with the nail guns. Arina admires the cut of their pants, asks the mother, Lydia, if she makes her own pattern. “This is what’s been handed down to us,” she answers simply. She comes in to help us cook. We watch carefully as she makes pie crust, she looks over our shoulder at Moosewood cookbook.

April 9, 2014

IMG_0859I am in love with this kitchen; for it I came. My friend and I, joined by an occasional neighbor, by Mrs. Yoder, by my own mother, cook all the day long. The huge meals created on the wood burning cook stove are like a puzzle to put together. I wake in the night realizing just what the leftover pot of beans must become, how to stretch two chickens to feed twenty. Each meal a feast in its own right: braised lamb, baked beans, corn bread, salad, cole slaw, pies, cakes, cobblers. When we set the table for the midday meal, the construction crew of Buddhists, Sufis, Amish, and mystical Christians takes their seats. After the silent blessing, they eat, try to fathom one another.

April 11, 2014

IMG_0948 Nobody knows quite what to call the House, so that’s what we call it. But it is really something else. Nobody can say quite what the destiny of this building will be. Is it for a family? A community? Like a life just beginning–an unborn child–it is a Being that demands to Be. The beams and wood, windows and tile are all salvaged from the departed Beings of the Valley, barns and courthouses, old farmhouses. There are stories everywhere, some reclaimed, like all those building materials, some remembered around the table as Colin’s reunion of old friends tell tales about their wild days, and some emerging with each day. We are part of all of them, it seems.

April 13, 2014

IMG_0892 The kids make the rounds each morning on the farm, from cow to draft horses (Maida calls them Giraffe horses), 200 Churro sheep and lambs, wild turkeys, lamas and donkeys (who guard the flock when out on the pasture), and carefully keep tabs on the progress of the building. When they get to rub up close to the Amish children–the girls in their blue dresses and head scarves, the boys in their charming pants and suspenders–it is a bit like meeting a slew of storybook characters (Laura and Mary and Almanzo times many siblings). They are shy and curious and a little in awe. Which isn’t to say they don’t make us blush with embarrassment from time to time. For some reason, when everyone files in for lunch they leave their quiet, heart warming play to jump on those dusty chairs, make noise, and ask loudly “Why do all these guys have funny beards?”

April 13, 2014

IMG_0969 Palm Sunday brings snow, rest, a big pancake breakfast for my own newly arrived husband, whose birthday is upon us. He gets suspenders, of course. After tea and a long morning around the table, Elliot and Colin head out to smear clay on the strawbale walls. The girls settle into a game of mother and baby, and we in the kitchen try to catch up with the gallons of milk we’re indundated with each day (Arina calls it Chinese Water Torture, the twice daily arrival of Hannah’s fresh milk, which we are otherwise grateful for). Cooking here is like a retreat in which service, meditation, bewilderment, labor, laughter, nourishment are all mixed together. We lick fresh cream from Hannah off our lips, and start plotting the next meal. There are daily miracles, and finding something to make a feast out of from our dwindling stores is not least among them.

April 15, 2014

  IMG_0849In leaving behind my home, my rhythms, my very sense of self, I was able to return to all of that with clearer eyes, and a warmer heart. The world outside our knowing is waiting, and sometimes we manage to answer the call to step outside ourselves. As ever, the land takes us in with its goodness. As ever, there is the gift of giving ourselves over to service and its fellowship, of saying grace around the table, silently, lovingly. And then sharing the meal, seeing what will come of it. There are friends waiting to be met, open spaces within us waiting to be discovered, and always, a few more dishes to wash, another floor to sweep.

May 14, postscript

It turns out the Yoders found a farm of their own nearby, which I mention just in case you have dreamed of living in an off grid strawbale palace in paradise, of raising heritage sheep and running a farm with draft horses and a kind mentor next door. I happen to know just the place, and would be happy to introduce you.

Casting the Net

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We did have one lovely snow in February. Now the fruit buds are threatening to open, and we’re heading south to go camping. 

I’ve been thinking of late about the broken world, and what it means to repair it. Casting my net in search of the great solution. Is it in the world, or in the home? Is it my spirit that must be intact, or the entire web of life? Sometimes my focus drifts from one of these to the other, seeming to separate them, but when I am in my wholeness, they are all one.

I came across this wonderful interview with Larry Littlebird, an Indigenous storyteller whose people have seen climate change in this region a time or two before, on “The Benefits and Blessings of Climate Change.”

March Choyt: How can we find a new direction, or home?

Larry Littlebird: I believe that we are collectively attempting to rediscover this starting over place. One people’s starting over place is all too often very different from another people’s. Whatever you are caught in is greater than you are, but you are in it at the same time and part of it.

The starting-over-place, or what you call home, is discovered in the chaos, when everything is blown apart and you are grabbing at planks—and finally there is just a relinquishing. You let go. And that is where that first inkling of, “I have to do something” begins.

It is so simple! You are being tossed in this ocean and a wave flips you way up in the air for a moment and you see something in greater trouble than you. Something within you says,

“I have to do something.”

The chaos brings you in relationship to a place where all our needs are always met – a place between what has happened within and the contact with the need that will provide a starting over point.

Have you reached that point in your relationship with chaos? And what, then, is it that you do? What does your net bring up?

A Few Favorites at Candlemas

It’s Candlemas time. Roughly forty days since the re-birth of the sun, and forty days till the spring equinox. A cross quarter day and threshold  where we can feel the earth begin to breathe out again, the light surrounding our days just a hair more. The sap is rising in the trees, and there is renewal and expansion in our own spirits. For me, this is the time to work diligently and lay the foundation for the year that I have until now been mostly contemplating. Meanwhile, some of those nearest and dearest to me have been busy all through the winter bringing their creative vision into the world, and I want to celebrate these good works today.

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I’ll began with my mother, Lia, for that is where everything began for me. Here she is, alongside some ragamuffins she picked up somewhere or other. This year she is celebrating her 38th anniversary as a practitioner of Classical Homeopathy. In that time she has skillfully cared for many hundreds of clients and taught courses on homeopathy to groups ranging from roomfuls of mothers to auditoriums filled with nurses. This course is now available to take online, my friends, and for a very good price. If you have used homeopathy before, but with varying degrees of success, if you can’t remember which remedy is for which color of mucus, or if you simply want to understand just what those little sugar balls are and why they are indeed medicine and not placebo, check it out. Fluency in homeopathy 101 is a skill we should all posses.

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Now for nourishment and healing of the heart and spirit. My friend Brenna has offered a gift to the world by looking up from her knitting and urban homesteading and homeschooling and general pursuit of beauty and heart and begun a blog. Storymama is a golden needle in the haystack of the blogosphere. Brenna is soulful and reflective and masterful in a way that encourages our own soulfulness and reflection. Waldorf Homeschoolers in particular will swoon in ecstasy when they discover her, but I think we all should give ourselves the gift of Storymama and the tonic of her wise and thoughtful ruminations on life. I hope you read all the way back to her very first post, which is not so far back, and don’t forget to introduce yourself!

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For me, February means it’s time to do a whole bunch of seedstarting. I plant by the stars, in the Biodynamic way, and use my friend Erin’s calendar, “The Gardener’s Year: Planning Your Plantings 2014″ to tell me what to plant (leaf, roots, fruit) when, and where (indoors, outdoors, coldframe, etc). In other words, instead of just telling you that it is a leaf day, Erin’s calendar tells you that February 3 and 4 are the time to start mache, spinach, and parsely indoors. The calendar is also a wonderful manual for year-round gardening practices and inspiration. And, it’s beautiful.

Here’s one more friend whose creativity spilled over this winter: The Salt, a book of poems by Adrie Lester is so fine. Here’s my amazon review: These collected poems nourished me like a feast made from heirloom recipes. Adrie speaks of real things: of hard work, the earth beneath her feet, tools and capable hands, love and blessings and struggle. Her words are like prayers, asked and answered. They are treasures from the hearth of a fine baker.

Now tell me, is the sap rising in your body? What sweetness will you make of it? What buds will soon be breaking open in your days?

The Road to Homefire

“Knowledge is not obtained exclusively with our brains; it is gained through our hearts and by reconnecting to life, a source of wisdom. Makers of things are in a position to understand and change the world.” Wendy Jehanara Tremayne, The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living

IMG_9550It’s been four years since I started this blog to document our journey of living with less waste, and more joy. What began with a four month plastic fast became an immersion in life-learning, skill growing, community building, culture reclaiming, and creative, imaginative living.

I like to think of those years as my PhD program in homemaking, which I define as the making of a life, a family, and a community in balance with its home-place. It has also been a nifty capitalism recovery program.

IMG_9671When I set out on this road, I had instincts and good intentions and not much of a clue. I couldn’t imagine ever being able to make wool long underwear for my kids without a pattern, or growing a garden all winter long, or for that matter going a few months without plastic. Truth is, I often struggled to place my personal revolution into a broader movement for change (but mostly because I over think everything).

Fortunately, I have not walked alone. There is the internet, of course, which has been the stand-in for a capable great grandmother and conscious collective. There is my husband, with his true-north moral compass. And there are my motherkin, the friends reclaiming skills and knowledge and connection in their own beautiful ways.

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Together, we have helped each other trust that the work we were doing in our homes would ripple out, would be a force of change in our community. And lately (by which I mean over the last two years), we’ve been looking up from our children and canning pots and gardens and jobs and around at each other and the world to see where we might direct our creativity and skills next.

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With a half-dozen children underfoot at “meetings,” over late night phone calls and many cups of tea, a handful of us began shifting our work of reclaiming skills and lifeways into that of rebuilding a community that reflects those values.  Just as cooking leads to gardening leads to preserving, manifesting change on a (teeny tiny bit) larger scale is the logical next step for us. We created the Santa Fe Harvest Swap, which just held its second glorious exchange. Incredibly, we have a website, and on November 10th we will host a whole new venture we are calling the “Homefire Retreat,” a day of workshops meant to inspire, empower, and connect us more deeply to ourselves, our community, and our commitment to the earth.

I hope you come to the retreat if you can, or start something like it in the place you call home. Something as simple as a few friends skill-sharing while the kids play, or as complex as a week-long regional gathering (I do like to dream).

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Let’s celebrate our individual journeys by stitching our work of reclaiming and rebuilding into a big crazy-quilt that encompasses our diverse lives. Let’s get together for a quilting bee, if you will, and put our bits together into something whole. And then call the beauty that comes of it our dissertations, our revolution, our world.

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PS, go ahead and read Shannon Hayes article on the three R’s of Radical Homemaking: Renouncing, Reclaiming, and Rebuilding. It has been a helpful guidepost to me along the way, and I gratefully acknowledge her language and ideas borrowed here.

An Elegy for June

For every plume of smoke rising like a storm form the mountains, for every beloved place we witness in flames and for every burned place we have never walked, nor seen, nor imagined.

For the memory of monsoons and green sagebrush mesas, of hollyhocks bursting from the sidewalks, of the smell of sweetness in the air.

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For the green forest. Have I sung often enough of the powdery white beauty of aspen skin? Of the fireweed blossoms spiking into bloom? Of the light that shines through the canopy, against rock walls, shimmers in the brief laugh that is the stream? What of the deer and her child drinking in that same place at dusk, with those eyes, that grace? What of all that is unseen, unknown?

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For the dry acequias that once irrigated our valleys, and the fields they watered, the lives they sustained, the past they connected us to. For the gardens unplanted and the rivers that are dry, but should not be.

For an entire culture, a tapestry of lives and histories, stories, beliefs, and dreams that are sustained by this place. For all the love that is rooted in this land, the lives that have been shaped by it.

For all we are losing, and fear losing.

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~::~

In his beautiful interview in The Sun this month, John Elder says that because of climate change we are “at the point of active relinquishment…of things we don’t know whether we can do without.” It is strange to grieve in June, but it must be done, my friends. What else is there for when the plume of smoke pops back up, when the old trees on your street are dying, when you begin to realize it’s not one bad year, but the beginning of the future.

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A recently published report claims that in fifty years New Mexico’s conifers will be gone, and with them life as we know it. Maybe, maybe not. But I do know the forest closes on Monday, and that is enough to grieve for now. By the time it reopens, I’m pretty sure web worms will have eaten every green aspen leaf, no more to twist and tinkle in the breeze.

So, an elegy for this glory we are graced with, have walked amongst for these many good years, for this beauty we have been shaped by. And will never stop singing praises to in our thousand different ways.

::      ::     ::

Speaking of praises, I have a little story to tell about the tiny but mighty town of Mora, New Mexico. Poor as dirt, dryer than hell, and nowhere near as liberal as most Northern New Mexico towns, Mora recently became the first county in the country to ban fracking.

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Way to go frackers for bringing the ranchers and environmentalists together!

We drove through there last week on a camping trip, and I choked up at the sight of each and every ordinary person walking down the street. At the little grocery store, it was all I could do to not tell the teenage girl ringing up my groceries how grateful I am, how proud I am of her town.

“Thank you,” I said from the heart when she handed me my plastic sack with chocolate milk and four plums in it. But I didn’t say, “Thank you for being a part of the story of how the world could be saved by people saving themselves. Thank you for reminding me that in a day in which it seems nothing is getting better and ever more obscenely and horrifically worse, we are not lost. You have shown the world beauty and reason and hope, and for that I thank you.” Maybe I’ll write a letter to the town, instead.

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While we were passing through a neighboring village, we stopped at a backyard junkyard my husband has been monitoring for almost twenty years. Under a tarp, in between a Datsun Honeybee and a Toyota Tercel, sits a rusty old 1965 VW 21-Window Deluxe. It’s kind of like the holy grail for Volks like my husband. Mr. Old Recipe visits every five years or so to see if the owner might be persuaded to let us tow it home. Last week he knocked on the door and tried again.

As usual, the answer was no.

“I’m gonna be buried in that bus,” the old guy, bearlike with a long pony tail and beard, said. Standing in the rotting doorway of his dilapidated home, surveying the junked cars and detritus of his yard, the man added, “A while back a couple came up from Santa Fe and offered me $25,000. I told them I don’t need money. I love that bus.”

And so it sits, and will someday be returned to the earth.

On our way out of town I commented that the attitude of the old guy who won’t sell what he loves was likely the attitude that saved the town from frackers. Money? What do we need money for? This is the land our families have lived on for two hundred years! We don’t need your money, we need our water.

Show us the way, Mora, show us the way. And may your waters run sweet and clear.

 

 

Get Real :: Educating the Littl’uns

The real education teaches us to

be whole human beings.

Be concerned with this: that you,

your marriage, and your home

teach health and balance

and truth.

Any further discussion merely

augments this basic course.

–Vimala McClure The Tao of Motherhood

We supplement this core homeschool curriculum with three days a week of Pre-K for my 5 year old. Next year she’ll go full time. There are days when I am filled with gratitude and relief to drop my daughter off at her cozy classroom and know that it’s not my job to memorize Briar Rose and lead the watercolor activity. And there are days when I mourn this, and wish that the responsibility fell squarely on me. I’m someone who thrives on purpose and intention, and so I sometimes feel like a slacker mom for letting someone else bring forth all those riches on my behalf. But mostly I feel liberated. 

Serendipity opened up the door for my daughter to attend her school (my husband also teaches there). But I admit I also read one too many French Feminist Critiques of “natural mothering.” While they mostly piss me off big time, something in me around my willingness to homeschool shifted. Nothing big, just a feeling that it might not mean I’m an inadequate mother if my girls go to school. I wouldn’t be surprised if some phase of my children’s education ended up being home based learning–
I myself was unschooled for high school. As we navigate this journey, I’m going to pay close attention to all the signs and arrows pointing us in unexpected directions along the way.

There were a few years there when I planned to homeschool, and in fact did homeschool in the eager way of a new mom. If only I knew then that my two year old didn’t need circle time or painting time or enrichment beyond the good life we led: taking care of the home, taking time to be outside, taking time to play. Rather than focusing on my child’s education, I slowly learned to focus on my own. For no matter where our children spend their days, it is who we are, and what we bring them in our day to day lives that nurtures them as they grow into themselves. 

A few favorite posts from the blogosphere for fellow over-thinkers on the school question:
I love this post from Beth on How I nearly lost my shit trying to keep my kids in the ideal school. I forgot to mention in my You Know You’re Really into Waldorf When post that if you work three jobs and live in a basement to afford tuition, or opt out and homeschool your brood, then you’re REALLY into it. And that’s okay, if that’s what makes you feel good. But you know what, it’s also okay to send your kids to a less than ideal school. They all have problems. Channel your inner French Feminist and just do what you gotta do.

So You Can’t Afford Waldorf School? Ah, even if you’re into it, it might not be in the cards. There is so much you can still do! Eileen lays it all out.

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This is the latest installment in the Get Real series, in which a handful of bloggers reflect on different aspects of their homemaking and mothering and life. I am looking forward to reading their insights on education, and their own paths on this journey. One more week still to come!

http://plainandjoyfulliving.blogspot.com/
http://www.shivayanaturals.com
http://www.hullabaloohomestead.com/
http://ourashgrove.blogspot.com/
http://oldrecipe.wordpress.com/
http://thisblessedlife-aubrey.blogspot.com/
http://www.localgrain.org/fieldsandfire

Get Real: Work Edition

What is the work I do each day, here in the life I have been given to live?

There is one task that guides all others: to create in my home a microcosm of the world I wish to inhabit. And so each day I take up the jobs of nurturing children and self, husband and community. I strive to use resources wisely, and reverently, and to give thanks and offer prayers to the holy ones.

I work to sweep and wash, so that there is order and beauty all around us. I work to make small things from scratch: a meal, a dress, a poem, a song, so that we are nourished body and soul. I work to understand the mysteries, and to honor them. I work to listen to the inner glimmers of my inspiration, to let them gestate and, in their time, be born. I work slowly, each year with stronger faith in the eventual unfolding of my dreams and destiny. I work with a compass in my hand, following it in the direction of wholeness.

And how do I do this work?

I do it by trusting in the cycles of life, which sometimes guide me to rest and be still, and sometimes move me to create and build and work harder than ever before. I do it by eating eggs for breakfast, and by getting a good night’s sleep. I do it by being curious, and by following one interest to the next, even when it brings me back to the place I started from. I do it by letting go of my ambitions to be the best, or famous, or rich, and exchanging them for the ambition to be present and in my integrity. I do it by being a little on the type-A side.

I do it imperfectly, with many small failures that, when I persist and practice, yield unexpected success. For though I have faith, I a still delighted when the spinning wheel gives yarn into my hands, when I don’t lose my temper, when the seeds I plant take root in garden soil, when the children follow my guidance, when my beloved community of friends gathers at night and our laughter fills the air.

My tremendous sense of purpose as a homemaker–a human being blessed to be employed almost entirely in bread labor, or work that is essential to life, but not necessarily paid–comes from a feeling of having both a responsibility and an opportunity. I am given the gift of living this good life, and in return I work to do it justice.

And so each day, the world I make, and that you do, too, becomes more and more the world we all seek to live in.

*** 

This is the latest installment of Get Real, a series of posts being written by a group of amazing women bloggers. Each week, we visit a different topic related to homemaking and how it is we do it “all.” The collected wisdom that has been generated from our different but similar vantages has been such a joy to read, and I’m honored to be among them. Please do visit their posts this week!

http://plainandjoyfulliving.blogspot.com/

http://www.shivayanaturals.com

http://www.hullabaloohomestead.com/

http://ourashgrove.blogspot.com/

http://oldrecipe.wordpress.com/

http://thisblessedlife-aubrey.blogspot.com/

http://www.localgrain.org/fieldsandfire

 

 

 

 

Get Real :: Housekeeping Edition

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I can’t think of any other work in life that is more like Tai Chi than housekeeping. The home is a body, animated by all this energy flowing around in the form of people, movement, stuff, and the elements. There is a constant interplay between order and disorder. My job as head housekeeper of this joint is to engage with all that moving energy, and use my own life force to keep the energy of the house balanced. It is a constant ebb and flow.

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Something important is happening here, and I know better than to disturb it.

I’m not a natural at this. I love caring for my home. I consider it a spiritual practice and am deeply fed by the rhythms of it. And I also get tired of it. After all, it is endless. I’m philosophical about housekeeping because I know that while my idea of bliss is two hours to clean with no one underfoot, it will look like nothing happened within minutes of my family’s return.

Our house is as much a living entity as all the people who live in it, and it’s natural flow is towards disorder. While I work daily to maintain a certain amount of order, I do not delude myself that we aren’t just one very fun afternoon away from disaster at any given moment. No matter how constantly I clean, I am trailed by two busy little children, a husband, and of course myself, and together we undo all that is done. It is the ultimate in impermanence. I am at peace with this.

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As clean as it gets. No matter what I do, there’s always a mason jar on the counter with unidentifiable contents.

But enough musing! I have two time tested and much beloved secrets to keeping this ship afloat. In fact, I’ve already written about both of them, so I’ll just give the links and cross my fingers that you’ll indulge some Vintage Old Recipe. It’s good stuff!

As my friends know, I am religiously devoted to my housekeeping rhythm. I’ll update the original post only to add that last fall I got super angsty and wrote up a day by day breakdown for the month that tells me exactly when to do which job that might otherwise get forgotten in the general upkeep: mop on the second Tuesday of the month, organize the toy shelf on the fourth Wednesday, clean the fridge the first Monday, and onward ad nauseum. Those jobs sometimes happen when my calendar tells me they should, occasionally I do them early or skip them for a month. Sometimes the fridge get’s a little funky before it’s day to be cleaned comes, but for heaven’s sake, who cleans a clean fridge?

My other secret is the revolutionary Clean House 1-2-3 technique, which you can read all about here. Basically, less stuff equals less mess. Give it a go.

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How nice that you can’t see the collection of dusty ephemera on top of my dresser (out of frame). Or the collection of banjo and mandolin cases behind the chair.

In parting, I just want to mention a cautionary tale told by my friend’s mother who related to me with dismay that she spent most of her life “pledging the furniture.” Is pledge some kind of polish? I think about Dee when I feel not inspired but enslaved by the constant cleaning. That’s when I stop, make a cup of tea, watch the kids play without following them around with a sigh and a broom, and do some knitting.

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Where do you keep stray balls of handspun and seeds and, um, what is all that stuff?

The truth is, while we need our homes to be well cared for, we also need to plant the garden, make things with our hands, read stories to our children, go for walks, indulge a burst of creativity, visit a friend. The house will wait, life will not. I try to remember to live it. My home is most beautiful to me when it is filled with the good things we do in it. We live here, I remind myself. This glorious mess is a sign of all that our love is capable of.

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If mama wants to sew and the kids want to play, why on earth would I stop them? 

Get Real is a series of posts by a group of amazing women on a variety of topics related to homemaking. Please do visit the other blogs in the series!

http://plainandjoyfulliving.blogspot.com/

http://www.shivayanaturals.com

http://www.hullabaloohomestead.com/

http://ourashgrove.blogspot.com/

http://oldrecipe.wordpress.com/

http://thisblessedlife-aubrey.blogspot.com/

http://www.localgrain.org/fieldsandfire

Get Real: Garden Edition

I garden because my mother taught me to, and because it is one way I know to live well upon the earth, nurturing the place we call home by keeping it fruitful.

I garden because of all the things I do with my hands, tending seeds and nurturing soil is the thing that feeds me body and soul, while honoring all that is holy in this world.

Hello green tribes. Can't wait to see you again this year.

Hello green tribes. Can’t wait to see you again this year.

My garden has a life of its own. At this time of year, it feels as if it is springing forth as if of its own accord. Yes, it is my efforts planting seeds and preparing beds and dreaming that will manifest it, but these things flow through me rather than because of me. I am a servant to the seeds.

And so I can begin humbly.

Humility is good when you garden in a little barrio in Santa Fe, capital city of the dusty, dry, windy state of New Mexico. It reminds you to put your labor into cultivating a few patches of rich earth, so that, as my friend Erin says, they really sing. Humility teaches us that to get that song in the right key all we need (all!) is patience, persistence, and passion. Humility reminds you that though there is indeed a bright area under the clothesline that would, if tilled and watered, quadruple the size of your arable land, it might be wise to wait. And wait.

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Humility is its own kind of seed, and it’s fruit is called grace. At this point, I can say that is the main crop in my garden.

Over the years I’ve slowly shifted away from ambitious plans to “grow all our own tomatoes and greenbeans and kale so I can be a survivalist and sock it to the man,” and towards something more holistic: I’m going to make this garden as healthy and fertile as I can, because that is healing to me and the planet.

The rain does come.

Last summer was probably one of the greatest fruit years in New Mexico I will ever see. It came in the midst of devastating drought, at a time when most of us were despairing of ever again seeing a decent harvest from our fruit trees. Watching it unfold–the blossoms and green fruit, the waves of ripening cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, and apples all summer long, the harvesting and preserving that brought my community together in a spectacular way–I felt myself to be in the midst of a favorite dream, the kind where we really are able to be self sufficient based on the gifts of this high, dry land.

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So I know that it comes, but I know not to take it for granted. For now, I’m grateful to have these years of apprenticing myself to this particular patch of land and the gifted gardeners whose experience guides me. Because I’ve got a long way to go.

This year, my garden reflects my growing understanding of Biodynamic practices. I’m planting seeds according to what sign the moon is in. My mom and I spent an hour this spring mixing up the famous horn manure potion and using a juniper branch to “spray” it on the soil. After a period of no-till gardening, I’m double digging my beds again. My main fertilizers are compost and fermented herb teas  (while we have an impressive bin of biodynamically prepared compost in mid-decomposition, we were, as usual, about six months too late for it to be ready this year).

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Right now I’ve got beds with cover crops on them, beds with sheet mulch, beds that overwintered greens, and beds that exist only in my imagination. Maybe I’m hoping that one of these will prove to be the golden key to abundant harvests, or maybe I’m just not sure what I’m doing. When I figure it out, then it wil be time to build those new beds under the clothesline.

This is the first year that I’ve been serious about starting seeds inside. I was convinced by a friend who demonstrated how much easier it is to germinate and establish tiny seedlings in flats rather than in huge beds that are impossible to keep moist and protected from spring winds. I don’t have a greenhouse, which seemed like a deal breaker, but then I realized I could just bring the flats in and out each day. While I’m hoping my puny tomatoes and chiles beef up by the last frost date, it is the thickets of greens that are most fun to nurture this way.

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I’m getting better at refining my succession planting, and intercropping. My goal has shifted away from having enough garden space to grow everything in one explosive season (in New Mexico, explosive seasons usually refer to forest fires, and a big summer garden means big summer water bills), but rather to have small, well tended areas for year round gardening.

And so I’m always wondering: How much do we need? How can I work with this land to provide it? Will rain ever come and fill our cisterns? Should I just get a CSA? Work at the farmer’s market in exchange for food? Move to the Northwest? Stay tuned, friends. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, if you’d like to share any of the secrets you’ve gleaned from your own garden and efforts as a gardener, please, please, do.

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If interested in Biodynamic gardening, I recommend this book, which takes something that can be virtually incomprehensible and makes it beautiful, simple, and irresistible. If you want to give the cosmic rhythms a chance, get yourself a copy of the Stella Natura calendar. And lastly, if you live in the Southwest, I recommend taking a summer long hiatus from any blog outside the four corners region where an unwitting glimpse of the harvest basket or pantry will make you want to throw in the trowel and cry. Instead, subscribe to Seeds and Stones and 6512 and Growing. You will still get annoyed at what these chicas pull off, but at least it’s to scale. Since it’s still early in the year, I’d say it’s safe to read the other posts in this installment of Get Real. Prepare to be impressed.

Plain and Joyful Living

Shivaya Naturals

Hullabaloo Homestead

Our Ash Grove

This Blessed Life