Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why Do I Live the Way I Do?

I’ve been thinking that I need to write a more reflective post, about why it is that I maintain the lifestyle I do and place such value in gardening, simplicity, and lack of investment in the commercial world. Bear with me, because this is not a short explanation!

I define simplicity a little differently than most people. I think that’s where it starts. When I say simplicity, and what I mean by a simple life, is that one is very in tune with their purpose, their ambitions, and the effects of their actions. It is a conscious decision to live a certain way, and with that comes a simplicity of spirit, a clear understanding of one’s self and a lack of many of the complexities of modern life. Let me elaborate.

A lot of who I am has to do with the way I grew up. That may seem like a very obvious statement to make, but it is very true in my case. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that my parents are simple people (that implies that they are ignorant, which couldn’t be further from the truth) or that their life is very simple (not accurate either- they are invested in many aspects of home, community, and environment). But they have always been very sure of the things they want, of the purposes they are dedicated to, and very aware of how they want to live their lives and the way they impact the world. This has been apparent to me from the beginning. My mom and dad are people of steady spirit, a strong but healthy work ethic, and an unwavering dedication to friendship, advocacy, and goodness in general. That, I think, is the kind of simplicity I’m talking about. It’s being sure of yourself, moving steadily forward while always checking your motivations, and not slipping out of your chosen path simply because society tells you to do so or tricks you into thinking you’ll be more comfortable that way. Simple living is achievement through the small things that add up, not through making an earth-shattering discovery or donating a million dollars to charity (though I certainly approve of those achievements as well!). Dad donates blood every month and goes to Middle Eastern and African drumming classes in Spokane with good friends. Mom teaches new gardening skills to her community and is involved in yoga and Zumba classes at the Kalispel Tribe of Indians’ athletic center. My parents take good care of themselves, are involved in their community, and also put in lots of time maintaining their home and property without buying into corporate America. For more on my upbringing and my childhood homestead, read my article in Mother Earth News magazine here.

In the last year I have made many decisions that all add into my version of living simply. I have chosen to only eat pastured meat, because I know that these animals are treated humanely and are fed their natural diet, which dramatically increases the nutritional content of their meat and ensures them a good quality of life. I buy locally whenever I can, because I believe in supporting my local economy, and because buying locally decreases pollution by fossil fuels used in transporting food. I buy most food in bulk, to save money and also to eliminate waste—by bringing my own jars, containers, and produce bags to the bulk section, I am not paying for packaging that will end up in a landfill somewhere. I make a conscious effort to buy items that will last me a long time or that can be reused or remade so that I can get the most value from them and again eliminate the need to throw things away. I grow as much of my own food as I can, because this increases the health and fertility of the earth, saves me money, and increases my own skills, health, and self sufficiency. I look at the ingredients of any processed foods I do end up buying. If I don’t know what one of the ingredients is (or I do know and I don’t want to eat it), chances are I won’t buy it. I freeze vegetable scraps so that they can be made into vegetable stock, to get as much value from my food as possible. I keep myself on a budget of $400 per month beyond costs of rent and utilities. This enables me to save for future education, housing and traveling and makes me think twice about whether a purchase is really worth it. I mend, sew, and crochet so that I can repair and make things for myself and others, rather than supporting commercial industries. I read about simple living, sustainable homemaking, and do-it-yourselfing on a regular (constant!) basis. I don’t own a car, and Matt and I make efforts to cut down on driving his car whenever possible, or at the very least make sure to carpool, to reduce emissions and motivate ourselves to walk or bike instead.

I just read all that, and it sounds like a giant paragraph of bragging. I really don’t mean it that way. But I am proud of how I live, and my purpose here is to help spread the word and educate about this lifestyle and hopefully encourage others to do what they can. No one can do everything exactly as they wish- we are all limited in some way, but to do what you can and feel good about it is the important part. I can personally attest to the benefits of living simply and always making conscious decisions as a consumer. Since changing my diet away from processed foods and commercial meat, my immune system has strengthened unbelievably. Growing my own garden from scratch gives me satisfaction in knowing that I can provide for myself and that I know exactly where my veggies are coming from. Limiting my spending makes me more aware of what it takes to really live well- friends, music, good food, and not too many possessions, but all of them of good quality.

I encourage you to look around your life and see what you can simplify. Simply put, it will be good for your mental and physical health, for your community, and for the planet.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Matt's Latest

To deviate from my usual garden-heavy blogs, I thought I’d tell you what Matt has been up to lately. Having recently entered into the world of unemployment, Matt has taken up an activity he has always wanted to get into: surfboard shaping! And has proven himself an adept wood worker in the process. He just went for it- bought the Spanish cedar boards, cut and glued them into a blank, cut out the shape with a jigsaw, and did the planning and sanding and oiling to shape a beautiful traditional wooden board! This kind of board is called an Alaia (pronounced “uh-lie-yuh”), it is a very early traditional Hawaiian style, much thinner than modern foam longboards (my nine-footer is three inches thick in the center, Matt’s Alaia is ¾ of an inch thick) and without a fin. This allows the surfer to do “helicopters” and other tricks, turning the board around on a wave without moving your feet. They ride very differently than modern boards and, frankly, are much nicer to look at!

Our efforts to test out the new board last weekend were kyboshed by an inaccurate surf report and terrible weather at the coast-- we drove from sunny, warm Portland and as soon as we crested the Coast Range, we drove into a wall of fog and wind that had blown out all the waves at Short Sands, our favored surf spot. So we drove up the coast a few miles and Matt tried out The Cove at Seaside with his longboard, but not being familiar with the site didn’t want to take out an unknown board.

Here is photo documentation of the whole construction process (done entirely in Matt’s apartment, resulting in cedar dust everywhere but well worth it).

(Click on images to enlarge)
Gluing the blank in his living room

Drawing the shape onto the blank

Cutting out the shape with the jigsaw

Matt sits on the field of victory (to test the board's flex) after several days' hard work with the hand plane.

Done sanding, now cleaning up the kitchen.

Matt went prematurely gray from all the sawdust...

Finished sanding, look at that shape!

End view to show how thin the Alaia is.

And finally oiling with linseed oil.

Finished product, really a beautiful work of art.

As he continues to shape more boards and considers forming a small surfboard shaping business, Matt’s dad is giving him a space in his garage where they will make a shaping room of plastic sheeting (standard procedure to keep sawdust and fumes under control). Matt is committed to keeping his shaping process and potential business as environmentally friendly as possible and is looking into sourcing local wood for his boards. All of the wood shavings from the process go into my compost bin.


Spring seems finally to have sprung with great certainty, according to my backyard. On these warm days (almost 70 degrees the other day!) I can almost believe it is summer. I have tulips, daffodils, lilies, and hyacinths in great abundance in my garden and along the path behind the house. I have brand new screen door (replacement for the one with a giant hole in it, which was there when I moved in) so I can leave the back door open and get lots of fresh air into my apartment without inviting the bugs in.

Matt and I planted potatoes on Sunday afternoon- Yellow Finn, Red Norland, Yukon Gold, and Russian Banana (my favorite). My peas are growing rapidly up the back fence, my onion transplants are growing away, and radishes, pak choy and kale are up and coming along nicely. Under the lights in my living room, my tomato plants are actually looking like tomato plants, and the ones I had to replant (the original soil mix was too dense, so I replanted in a very light mix of potting soil and peat moss) are all up and away.
Tomatoes and marigolds that look like tomatoes and marigolds!

It’s a great feeling to come home every day and find my little sprouts grown bigger and taller, to have my kitchen smell divine from the hyacinths in the vase on the windowsill, to be able to open all the windows and fill the apartment with warm, fresh air. I’m a big believer in the effects of sunshine and fresh air, and I can’t stand to have the shades closed when there is light outside, and to have the windows closed if the air is at all warm.
While enjoying everything spring has to offer outside, I’ve been trying to finish a large pile of sewing projects inside. This has been hampered by my already-in-disrepair sewing machine finally deciding to just up and stop functioning. I actually had a very detailed (and therefore boring) dream the next night about taking it in to be repaired, which I took as a sign. So I finally cashed in and it is currently getting tuned up to the tune of $85. I had been putting off getting it fixed because it costs so much, but my sanity will be the better for having it run smoothly, and Matt offered to chip in in exchange for using it for some mending of his own.

Since buying Nourishing Traditions and reading a variety of other health-related materials, I have been trying to eat more meals that include meat, fish, or foods cooked in chicken stock.
I have been trying to branch out in my cooking, as I have a tendency to fall into a rut of making the same six meals repeatedly.
Matt and I made fried cod with tarragon and scallions, mushroom couscous (ok, that was a Far East boxed one) and sauteed spinach and carrots. Yum!

I made handmade tortillas for the first time in at least a year (how did I ever stop making those- they are SO simple and delicious!) and been trying to work more greens into my diet. So hard this time of year when greens are not in season, but my body thanks me every time I eat some spinach!

From now on I will try to post more regularly, and on more of a variety of subjects! We’ll see how that goes when I am constantly geeking out over my garden….

Flowers, flowers, everywhere!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Catching Up

After a couple weeks with lots of visits from out of town friends and a variety of things keeping me busy, I’m trying to settle into a week of catching up with myself and getting all the basic tasks of my life sorted out- this includes doing some more garden planning, laundry, catching up on sewing and mending, doing my taxes, and getting back into the rhythm of cooking. Luckily most general cleaning is not on the to do list right now, as I finished two straight days of deep cleaning/spring cleaning a few hours before my close friend Lydia arrived from Nebraska last week with her daughter, Maya. I had wanted to make sure I had a spotless, safe apartment for my favorite toddler to run around in, so I went all out, and I feel much better for it. Just knowing that there was dust hanging out on all the trim and the ceiling fan was making me feel gross, and now I know that it’s all been cleaned, and that deep, clean feeling will last for some time.
Yesterday I found daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths all blooming in my backyard, with more on the way! (Click on photos to enlarge)
Daffodils and hyacinths amid drifting petals from the cherry trees...

With a few days of sun, all the flowers have come out, and all my sugar snap peas are up along the back fence.
A tulip and some tiny new pea sprouts right at the bottom of the fence!
(Click on photo to enlarge)

Yesterday I did some small garden tasks, giving my garlic and the pea sprouts a light dose of fish fertilizer, and a very diluted dose to my cabbage and onion starts, which I’m hardening off this week (placing them outside on my back steps during the day to make them stronger and acclimate them to outdoor conditions) in anticipation of planting them into the garden this weekend!
Onion and cabbage starts growing along heartily under the lights!

I’ve also been trying to get back into the groove of cooking- all the circumstances of the last couple busy (but very fun) weeks have meant little cooking time at home. That also means some food in the fridge really needed to be used, so I did some late night cooking last night, and steamed a bunch of carrots that were going soft, cooked up a bunch of wild rice in some chicken stock, and sautéed a somewhat soft green pepper and some leftover onion to add to some black beans for lunches this week. I’ve also started (inspired by a vegetarian friend) keeping vegetable scraps in a gallon-sized ziploc bag in the freezer to use for making vegetable stock. Any ends of celery sticks, veggie scraps, and some appropriate vegetable peels go in, and when the bag is full, it’s time to cook it into stock. I think it’s another good way to get the most value out of the produce I buy.

Another new pursuit is changing my diet a little, as I recently bought Nourishing Traditions, after checking it out from the library to preview it. It is a very good read, a cookbook loaded with research that challenges mainstream diet and promotes returning to the diets of our ancestors, which were heavy in animal fats and whole grains and made use of natural fermenting processes to make certain foods more digestible. I do think it all needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but it is a very hard-hitting piece of work, and is inspiring me to do more soaking of grains before cooking, eating meat a little more often (I’m going to try to remember to eat meat once a week and fish once a week). It also jives with my interests in public health, and provides a huge number of sources of research showing the ill effects of modern American food habits.