The amazing story of two 40-something women on the path to matrimonial bliss

It just keeps getting better...

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Birthday Squared

Today is Teri's birthday.  It's a big deal and not just because it's a fun, celebratory day, and not just because our birthdays are exactly one week (and two years) apart and hers come first, and not just because it commemorates the anniversary of her mid-1960's birth.  Teri's birthday (and the week and a half preceding it) is additionally poignant because she is an identical twin.

It took me a couple years into our relationship for the light to go on around this one.  It just took a while for me to break down how a woman who absolutely loved her birthday could also have a really rugged time around it--and not for any of the reasons I recognized. This whole twin-ness is new to me; there aren't really any twins in my immediate family and while I had some twin friends while growing up, none of them were identical.  It's no big deal and it's some big deal--all at the same time.  Birthdays are tough.

Teri kind of kicks it around every year too.  After all, she explains, she's probably spent more birthdays on her own than in all the childhood years where she and her sister shared their day (which often meant a shared cake!)  She likes having pieces of the day to herself and having us all make a fuss, but that doesn't seem to erase the reality that for a week or so leading up to the milestone, there are complicated emotions and the need for strong, daily connections and conversations with her sis.  It is beautiful, awesome and painful all at the same time.

In the first couple years of our relationship, I thought my job was to dazzle and distract.  I'll just lay it out here that it can be tough to know what to do with dynamics one doesn't understand. Now, I know my role is simply to make room and support the process.  I make the cake (or chocolate cupcakes as it was this year), take care of little birthday celebrations and commemorations on this end and step aside.  Unlike other relationships, where partner or parent preparations took center stage, for Teri--she needs room to experience her birthdays by paying attention to the shared ties, the unexplainable connection, yearning, and pangs of absence that all come up each January.  Most of the time, I don't really think about her being an identical twin, but when birthday time rolls around, it is hard for either one of us to think of anything else...

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mornings Around Here

I am not really one to ease into a morning...I tend to hit the cold wood floor a minute or two after the alarm goes off with a head full of tasks to accomplish before I toss my work bag over my shoulder and head off to work.  I don't have the luxury of lingering over a second cup of coffee--the remnants of my first cup usually end up in a travel mug that I heat up when I get to work. By contrast, right now, Teri gets to sleep in...

Mornings find me doing up the last dishes from before-bed tea and any snacks we might have had, making coffee, feeding the cats, checking the hummingbird feeders, setting the chickens free and changing their feed and water and tidying their nest boxes, emptying the compost pail, checking emails, writing blog posts--and those are just the usual little bits of must-dos.  Yesterday morning, I was up early to do all that and spend a few hours writing a grant proposal before heading in to my 8-hour day job and this morning, I needed to make cupcakes for our family dinner/birthday celebration for Teri tonight.  As soon as those little chocolate cakes cool, I'll try to get them frosted.  Let's see, I've got 40 minutes before I need to be heading across town...

Alas, there are only so many hours in a day and I confess, I've been getting excited each morning when it seems to be light a little earlier and each evening when it seems more and more daylight is left as I come home from work.  Soon, I look forward to having evenings to do outside chores and just feel like the days are long enough to get all the things done I want!

Lately, I have been thinking about going to 4 ten-hour days for my work week, instead of working five days, but I am wondering about the logistics--does that mean I'll have to get up at 5 am every day to take care of all the morning chores and tasks in order to get to work by 7?!  Sheesh, a gal might as well not even ever go to bed...

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Adventures in Bee Hives

We've been fussing about this bee hive business for nearly 2 years.  First we had to read about it, then we had to chat with other people who actually have bees.  We went to Beekeepers' Association meetings, talked to urban farm experts and made plenty of notes before we took the plunge!

With the help of the very adorable Jeremy at our nearby Lowe's, we have the raw materials to build our very own Kenyan Top Bar Bee Hive. We were pretty tickled he was willing to cut our pine lumber into 44 inch sections for us so that
the biggest cutting is out of the way. Our fabulous friends, Lynn & DT, are loaning us their small circular saw, so we can cut the ends and all the top bar sections ourselves.  The plans for our hive box come from a book that is quickly becoming our beginning beekeepers' bible: Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health (Les Crowder & Heather Harrell). When we unloaded the lumber, the wood glue and the nails into our gayrage, we were grinning with excitement. We're actually going to do this!
 We settled on the Top-Bar hives, and in particular, the Kenyan Top-Bar hive, because it made the most practical and earthy sense to us.  The hives are created to most resemble a hollow log, encouraging bees to live as naturally as they would in the wild.  If all the books and experts are right, our bees will have a better chance of being healthier, disease free, and live out their lives like their wild cousins.
Our Lowe's helper, Jeremy, had never heard of these hives and he actually had a good time asking us questions and playing his part in the creation of project.  I have this theory that the lumber yard folks actually like to see the lesbian couples with our books and measuring tapes--it spices up their day and adds a bit of colorful variety. We told Jeremy that, if we are any good at this hive building business, we just might be back and build some more; I think he thought our optimism was jaunty.
Our plan is to start our building today--all that sweet pine lumber seems to be calling to us from out in the gayrage...stay tuned!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Zombie Apocalypse

My sweet partner is convinced it is inevitable.  Just between you and me, I think she has not-so-deeply-buried yearnings for just such a dramatic catastrophe.  And to hear her tell it, she thinks she's beat the inevitable disintegration of life as we know partnering with me.
I don't know if you've heard much chatter about the zombie apocalypse?  It is a bit of a pop culture phenomenon; a feral threat of biology run amok as infected humans die, destroy, and, as far as I can tell, all hell breaks lose as humans self-destruct.  I'm not so hip on all the details since Zombies just haven't been my genre.  But, Teri finds it all quite appealing.
As she tells it, her biggest fear is that I might somehow get the face-melting, flesh-chomping bug and she'll have to cut off my head with one of our sharpened Cutco knives and, as she adds, that would be a darn shame since she figures if she can keep me alive, we've got it made with our canned goods, the homemade bread, and my skill for making a gourmet meal out of 1 cup of rice, a can of olives and a jar of fig preserves.  Truly, I can throw down with a leanly stocked pantry. 
I'm learning to work this whole Zombie Armageddon to my advantage, even though I think we're likely to blow ourselves up or torch the earth with chemicals and seeping plastics before any sort of march of human dead-eaters takes control.  When Teri balks at my purchasing 3 more dozen boxes of canning jars, or tries to put her foot down when I mention learning how to dehydrate cherries, I tell her it's all part of our survival strategy.  Although, I sort of suspect if we have to head for the hills, we won't be traveling very lightly with two tons of canned tomatoes and applesauce strapped to the roof of our P.T. Cruiser...

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Quest for Milk & Meat

Warning: This is NOT the blog post for all you passionate vegetarians and vegans out there...

As Teri and I have been becoming increasingly passionate about local food, real food, organic and sustainability, and supporting local small farms and farmers, we are moving along a predictable path.  While we manage to grow a fairly bountiful garden in our little urban lot--enough to share, preserve and give us plenty of produce for the bulk of the year, there are some gaps in our little chink of the food chain.  We decided we didn't need a traditional monthly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscription, but maybe we could find something that we did need! We've been chatting about wanting to switch to locally grown milk and meat, and we've started our quest to find the right match.

So, we delved into researching the different nearby small farms--what sort of food they provide, how they do it, how they manage their relationships with "customers," etc.  It all seems rather folksy and nothing like how I learned agriculture supply and demand worked when I was a kid.  It's a delightful combination of new school and old school--we're conversing via email and web sites, and we're using new-style terms like "predator friendly" and "biodynamic," but we're embarking on a choice to actually have a relationship with the folks who grow and produce our food.  We may even be driving out to the farm to pick it up!

Now then, we've decided we'd like to make the switch to goat milk, maybe make our own yogurt, and maybe even go so far as to head down that slippery slope of folksy cheese.  We've talked about what a diet of locally sourced meat might be like for us too.  It seems radical and hopelessly old-fashioned all at the same time. We know that we're not going to grow all this food ourselves, but that doesn't mean we have to continue to buy it wrapped in plastic wrap at the supermarket.  We have choices and options and there are farmers and food growers right here in our community who could use our support.

We've been exchanging emails, getting on waiting lists, and trying to find just the right farmer for our scene. Stay tuned for how the quest unfolds...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Is There a Book About That?

You've likely heard me use words like bumbling and stumbling among the lines of this here blog.  It's true, I do. While I have a strangely irrational competitive streak that pops up over the most random things, I have no impulses to be an expert on topics, industries and subjects.  I tend to think of myself as the perpetual and eternal student.  Years ago, I think it was my parents who were giving me a hard time and teasing me about my tendency to want to read up on anything and everything before I attempted it. I genuinely like the process of learning, exploring and investigating more than I need to be in the know.

Lucky for me (or maybe there was some intentionality to it?), Teri is a perpetual student too. She tends to be more of a serial student--she'll start out reading about one thing and that will quickly lead her into other subjects, other articles and other books.  I tend to be more of a devourer of everything I can find on one thing and not so likely to take detours. We both really love to ponder, chat about, and problem solve our way into unlearned territories.

I think if you were to ask folks who chat with me regularly, they might accuse me of a few go to phrases:
  • I'm going to attempt to...
  • I was reading about...
  • I read an article about...
  • Someone told me about this thing...
  • What do you know about...?
  • We'll see how it goes!
  • I'm trying this new...(recipe, tool, process, etc.)
  • This year/season/month, we're going to try...
  • I'm a little scared, but...!
I know, it doesn't exactly exude confidence or a vast stash of knowledge.  I suppose it even sounds a little noncommittal.  You probably picture a woman with a book in one hand and a hammer in the other (and that, in fact, is a pretty accurate image.) With a book in one hand, I've tripped and stumbled into all sorts of things I've learned and love: brewing beer, gardening, baking, marketing, parenting, knitting, and a few things it's probably better I don't mention! It has been a method that has sort-of worked for me on some levels.

In this clip-clop modern world of swirling opinions, it seems everyone has to be an expert. There seem to be millions of best ideas on surefire ways.  That sort of approach just doesn't turn me on.  I'd rather read a few conflicting articles and books and clomp in with a bumbling heart and an open mind.  After all, what's the worst that could happen?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

This Working Life

I've likely said it before, I am a person who is never really bored. Life is a pretty packed, pretty stimulating, pretty busy sort of experience.  Except for brief periods, I have worked at all sorts of jobs officially since I was about 16. I've been lucky, I've had some pretty awesome jobs (not all of them, but many) and I've been able to support a household, a family, a few creatures, and, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, make enough "to keep body and soul apart." With all that said, I still wish I could do whatever I wanted to every day!

My work-for-pay work is generally creative, complicated and mission-driven, and I know I am very fortunate to have been able to do this work.  That doesn't entirely make up for the fact that I have a zillion projects, plans, ideas, and creations I would and could do if I didn't have to make a living!  Strangely, the older I get, the more I fantasize about what it would be like to have unlimited time to work on learning how to graft roses, building furniture, taking a pottery class, or starting a pie bakery. And while I know I've got a good thirty years left of this working life, and being a Generation X-er, I'll like never see any sort of retirement, and I genuinely love the work that I have been able to do in the world, what I could do with days and days of unrestricted time!

I'm a little envious of those folks who have this time and, here comes an honest confession, I get cranky when they talk about being bored, wandering around the house with nothing to do, or complain about daytime TV schedules.  Seriously?! Why aren't they starting a home-based business? volunteering at a local nonprofit? Learning to knit, bake, make art, grow things, speak another language, build, sculpt, make soap, or myriad other stimulating treats this life has to offer?!  Yeah, yeah, I know the grass is always greener on the other side of the time clock, but, seriously, if someone wants to send me a monthly stipend with which to pay the bills, I will gladly be the most creative, inventive and busy retired slacker on the planet!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

For Better or For Worse

It isn't easy to impart perspective on things as they are happening.  Often, it is only in time passing and looking back that one has the ability to see things for what they are--without the desperation, emotion and intensity that immediacy brings.  Teri and I joke about wondering whether we'll still like or even know each other when we get to the other side--the other side of this big, exhausting recession and the other side of menopause--as we have been plodding through both of these life-altering realities since we met each other!

As we like to say, we are so going to rock for better...

Of course, this just may be the way things stay for a while.  I was in a meeting a couple months ago and someone said something about my being at my peak earning years.  Oh my, I thought, that would suck. I suppose that while I make less now then I did just 6 or 7 years ago, this may just be true; this is the world we live in now and I know I am not at all alone in my experiences of the economic side of things.

While I may have doubts about where things might be headed on the worldly scale, I have no doubts that the world finally led me in the path of the right partner for me. As I have told many people, there have been no red flags--only negotiations and speed bumps.  This is not to say that we are always ooey gooey and in complete agreement.  For every day that we are finishing each other's thoughts (as Teri likes to call it), there are as many days where I'm not even sure we're communicating in the same language. There are other days when we can manage to delight and annoy each other all at the same time!

In the time since we have been together, we have seen several other couples come together--all awash in gooey glow--and split apart in either great adolescent drama or an unsavory thud. We also know couples who have been unhappily and stubbornly together for decades (being around them is like having to watch a reality road show of bickering couples' therapy.) Honestly, we don't want any of it.  We'd rather just be two committed friends who genuinely, openly, and realistically adore each other.

This cold, cranky week in January is the anniversary of the day Teri and I met and it has us trying to define and describe the ease and challenge that keeps us together.  To tell the truth, we don't really know; there are days when I just know I love her and I have no idea or explanation why.  All I really know is that my life changed for the better when she walked across that funky coffee shop and introduced herself--despite the times and trials we happen to be living through.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Revolution Laundry

We've decided to tackle some BIG stuff this year, but we're trying to take it in doable chunks.  We want to detox our home--this means detergents, plastics, soaps, shampoos, etc. The more we learn, the more we want to cut back and cut down on the icky stuff, but the more overwhelming it feels!  Let's face it, it isn't just a matter of education and making the decision to change--it means a complete overhaul of how we are used to keeping house.

I thought maybe we'd start by task or room.  Maybe start with laundry and move on to the kitchen and the bathroom.  We already do some decent, healthy, frugal things--wash in cold water and hang our laundry to dry whenever possible; but we have been clinging to some comfortable habits without thinking much about how healthy they are: for starters, using store-bought detergents and dryer sheets (even though we have tried to choose ones that claim to be safer and more eco-friendly.) But, we've decided it is definitely time to make some changes!

This past weekend, we made up our first ever batch of home-made laundry detergent:
  • 6 cups Borax
  • 4 cups Washing Soda
  • 4 cups Baking Soda
  • 2 fragrance-free Ivory soap bars, grated
  • 2 Tbspns Lavender Essential Oil
We mixed it up in a big bucket and I tried to make it as appealing as possible.  Going so far as to make a little tag out of a recycled greeting card and clipping it on with a clothespin: Laundry Soap: Use 2 Scoops! The cost of the ingredients tallied up to about $9.50--more than I would spend for one box of conventional laundry detergent, but this made about 2.5 gallons of powdery goodness and at only 2 Tbspns a load, we'll see if it ends up costing us less in the long run. Of course, for us, it is about making a switch to something that is healthier, eco-friendly, and affordable. Both Teri and I feel strongly that sustainability has to mean cost-effective, as well as useful, practical, and ecological.

We'll see how it goes--it took a little extra time to grate the soap and mix up the detergent, but it wasn't hard or laborious, by any means. I definitely felt better when I scooped it into the washing machine knowing I knew exactly what went into it!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Cabin Fever

It's not like we haven't been outdoors or out and about, it is just that it isn't very fun!  We are in the midst of some sort of weather phenomenon here in the Willamette Valley--I think it is called a high pressure inversion or some such thing.  Basically, there is sun and clear skies above us, but for the past week plus, it has been holding down stagnate, cold, foggy, smoggy air.  Nothing is moving, the temps are cold, and it looks downright dismal.

Ordinarily, it is rainy.  We got excited at the original weather reports which showed a nice break in the rain and promise of sunny skies.  Not happening.  We run outside for half-hour stints to try to do some early spring gardening, chat with the chickens or hammer some boards together and end up clomping back in with frozen fingers and sour dispositions.  For the past week, I've gone off to work in the morning in the thick fog and returned home in the dark in the thick fog.  Teri shares a story of a walk last week where she saw an enormous, loud flock of geese fly over while she was walking in the wetlands, only to watch them eerily disappear into the fog only seconds after she spotted them overhead.

We've got a toasty house and we know we're lucky--but there is something about an entire day where the light never changes that makes a couple gals feel as stagnate as the air here in the valley.  We have things to do: books to read, bread to bake, craft projects to complete, closets to clean, and plenty to keep us busy--but that doesn't seem to be lifting our spirits.  I think we have what is commonly known as cabin fever. Even though we don't live in a snowed-in cabin (rather a fog-socked house), we've got the fever...bad.

Supposedly, we only have a couple days left of this and things should start to stir and change by Tuesday.  Of course, this means there is rain in the forecast!  I never thought I 'd hear it, but yesterday I heard Teri tell someone she'd take the rain any day over this cold, dismal, grey fog!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Organic Obsessions

We have both been bitten by the bug.  Actually, it has been evolving for years for both Teri and I in different, parallel ways; and now, since we've come together as a couple, our two individual roads are becoming a super-highway of dirt, vinegar, herbs, and eggs...

I imagine we are fairly ordinary and not the slightest bit unique.  We've gradually become more and more educated and aware--whether it is about chemicals in our food; or the cost in gas and pollutants for shipping food and items from far away; the politics of water; or health effects of stress and an overwhelming schedule.  In the past decade, I've become an active advocate of public transportation, started riding a bicycle or walking whenever possible, and gradually felt my psyche pushing back on plastic packaging, disposable everything, and the super-pacing of modern life.  Teri spent nearly a decade as a vegan--reading and informing herself on ingredients and health choices, and backpacking throughout the Pacific Northwest.  Now, that we're together, our accidental quest continues.

We are not driven by a self-righteous craving for perfection.  In fact, we're pretty honest about our bumbling attempts and questionable knowledge base.  I still crave the French fries once in a while and indulge in a scrumptious bag of Sea Salt Kettle Chips; Teri has a weakness for dark chocolate anything.  Increasingly, however, I find myself reading labels, steering toward the bulk foods and the blemished organics, and choosing local restaurants where I know the food is either locally sourced or organic.  The simple fact that I use terms like "locally sourced" seems a bit of an odd evolution for me.

I know our little lives can seem like an episode sketch on Portlandia, but I suppose that is what makes the show hit home for so many of us. We really are becoming a bit obsessed with slowing things down, fermenting something in a big glass carboy, or learning how to save our own heirloom garden seeds.  Last night, as Teri and I walked through the local Good Earth Home & Garden show, we strolled past a cute, but impractical, little chicken coop/tractor with 2 or 3 hens inside.  It dawned on us that a year ago, we were just getting excited about the possibility of the backyard flock and we knew nothing. In one year's time, we could name the breeds of chickens in the coop and comment on how impractical the coop was as it lacked real shelter from any sort of weather. A year ago, I didn't really know that there were so many different breeds (I think I thought they were all varied colors of a few main hybrids--if I thought about it at all!) or know the difference between a chicken coop and a chicken tractor. 

Our journey is an organic one on many levels--organic in that it seems to be a meandering path of learning, making choices, taking chances, and asking questions; and organic in our growing yearning for simpler, more authentic, better tasting, healthier, and, well, earthier experiences.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Psst! I Know You're Bumbling Too!

I don't have very many pet peeves I choose to make public. In fact, I have this annoying personal characteristic of being able to see most things from multiple perspectives and sides (just ask those who have gotten cranky at me for the tendency to play "devil's advocate" how annoying this is.) I just can't hold back any longer on this one, however, so here goes...

You don't have all the answers and I know, for a fact, that you haven't got it all figured it out!  There, I've said it. I don't really feel a sense of relief and I do understand I need to explain myself. The advent of social media has taken the Self-affirmation Movement (I'll just call it SAM) to a whole new level. Where people used to tape little Stuart Smalley statements to their bathroom mirrors ("I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and Doggone it, people like me!) they now post them all over Facebook, Twitter and other world wide inter-places. I want to invite all the self-helpers and self-righteous, my-sunshine-happy-healthy-day-is-better-than-yours folks over for a nice, spiked cup of cocoa and say "Pssst! We know you are stumbling and bumbling along on this messy life's journey too and hey, that's where the connections happen so lighten up!"

I know I'm a We'll see, I'll try and I'm learning as I go along person--even though I honestly thought I'd have it more together by the time I got to be my age--so this likely clouds my appreciation for other people's quotes about their inherent awesomeness and providence-given divine perfection. I want to cluck, Oh yeah? Well I know you spill your coffee and put your sweater on inside out, too!

I've read the books; I've heard all the very wise directives as to why I should think positive, imagine myself wealthy and all that other good wiseness, but here's the thing--I actually like being an ordinary, bumbling sort stumbling along here with all my other very human compadres.  I'm drawn to other folks who are giving it their best unpretentious shot too. I would rather not see other folks' soul-searching, illumination-seeking journeys splayed out in self-righteous splendor for me to climb over while I'm looking along for photos of delicious-looking meals, adorably naughty kids and pets, and tales of aggravating work days and attempts to make things--just sayin'!

Saturday, January 12, 2013


The clever title eluded me this morning as I sat down to try to focus my thoughts about Winter.  We are having some atypical freezing weather and I think that has me Winter-biased and a little confused.  Sure, we usually get a cold day or two, but the clear skies and hard frosts are not generally our Pacific Northwest way.

Teri has been out in the sunny, frigid garden the past couple days while I have been working long hours.  For her, spending the day in the rare mid-Winter sun was more important than the layers of clothes she needed to keep her warm.  Besides, as she weeded the herb beds, packed straw around plants to protect them a bit from the cold and worked on cleaning up some recycled wood we hustled, her report is it kept her warm enough to make it worth it.  Besides, the outside critters truly enjoyed the company!

The cold has found me in a different place.  Since I am unable to play outside, I've been reading gardening, organic and urban farming magazines and grumbling about how my healthy January diet is making me feel extra cold.  Yay for the delicious home-baked bread and soup, but, sheesh, a hamburger would likely keep my old parts warmer!

Since I am the first one up on Winter mornings, I get to do the "farm" chores, so I do get a bit of the seasonal connection to our earthy lifestyle attempts.  This morning, (since we were out late at a work event last night and we forgot to bring them all in), I brought in all the frozen water/liquid receptacles and cleaned all the ice out, washed and filled them with fresh and warm.  The chickens, the outdoor cats and, even the hummingbirds, now have warm beverages to keep them going.  I admit, I felt a bit studly as my slippers scrunched across the frozen grass while I fed, fluffed and watered everyone.  Not so studly when I nearly slipped on the frosty deck. My furry red robe would have been less than appropriate covering had I ended up "ass over teakettle" (as my mother used to say) on the back porch!

So, it's almost time to start the indoor seeds; we're really trying to get a couple new garden beds built; we know we have to get our bee hive built; and it will soon be time to prune the fruit trees. We know Spring is only weeks away and yet, it is tough to see the Spring for all the Winter we are living right now. It still gets dark hard and fast too early every night, it is tough to creep out of bed into dark and grey mornings, the ground is frosty and the air is cold.  Gloves, scarfs, hats and boots are not exactly what one imagines to be the optimal gardening costume. Still, time is turning, the sun is shining and Winter will soon shake off her frosty cape and we need to have ourselves ready to slip sloshily into Spring!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Compatible Gardners? TBD

This morning, we have a bit of a drizzle--I imagine it is to be expected after the glorious sun and nearly 50 degrees we had for weather yesterday.  Teri spent the bulk of yesterday out weeding in the garden.  This morning, at daybreak, I was out rummaging and sorting through the wheelbarrow to rescue all the hard-grown perennials, biennials and herbs she'd ruthlessly deemed weeds.  The chickens and I were out there in the grey drizzle trying to poke the ones with some root structure back into the cold ground.  Maybe...maybe they'll survive--which might be more than I can say for the compatibility of our gardening styles.

Here's the thing--Teri likes clean lines, symmetry and a great deal of homogeneous order.  She loves to weed and clip and prune and cut, leaving piles of clippings and "weeds" in the wake of her industry.  This can be a good thing, indeed, an awesome thing, as she removes dead leaves, keeps the bush roses happy, and cultivates the dirt in the garden beds.  I respect this and I often appreciate it, but there are those other times when it seems diametrically opposed to my approach.

My gardening has evolved over several decades and I realize that I garden somewhat like I parented--going for health, versatility, diversity and embracing the chaos a bit.  I've learned that beds of slightly-crowded, diverse plants suffer less from pests and disease so I mix herbs and vegetables and cottagey flowers like calendula, poppies and nasturtiums in and around everything.  They self-seed and crowd out weeds if allowed to establish themselves.  I let things go to seed for the good of the order and prune at different times, depending on what's best for the plant instead of what looks best.  It's definitely not THE way, it is just A way. I'll transplant and divide before I'd ever just rip up and toss something. Do things have a tendency to get a bit overgrown in my garden world? Yes.  Yes, they do.

To me, the whole garden is my little ecosystem play land.  Plants gone to seed attract birds, who then nest in our fruit trees and eat bugs.  To Teri, plants gone to seed are an eyesore and potential problems--creating more weeding work later on.  To me, low-hanging leaves or weak plants that the bugs are eating serve a purpose--giving them something to eat so they will leave the good and healthy plants alone.  To Teri, those slug-eaten holes are unattractive and need to be removed!  I like the way nasturtiums and calendula have a tendency to spill over bed edges and come up in surprising places while Teri wants things to stay where they are planted or risk brisk removal.

We haven't really figured out our co-creation yet.  Teri wants to feel empowered to do what she thinks best and enjoy a good afternoon of tidying and tilling, and I would like to avoid the sinking feeling of panic I get when I come home to find her beaming in her work gloves by a full wheelbarrow.  Dollar signs go off in my head when I calculate how much money and time it is going to take to replace those hollyhocks I've grown from seed since last spring. I clench and want to throw myself down, arms spread, to protect my babies from her sharp and ruthless tools.  I can only imagine she views the untamed bed as spoiled offspring in need of some sound discipline.

So, we continue our negotiations.  I know that it is possible for two gardeners to create together, just as it is possible for two cooks to share a kitchen.  It just takes some effort, ongoing communication, and a willingness to give in and let go occasionally.  We'll just have to see...

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Planning for Spring

This morning, we wake to a gorgeous, frosty, Winter wonderland.  With an overnight low of near twenty degrees, every tree, rooftop and blade of grass looks like it has been dipped and rolled in sugar.  It has its crisp beauty and the sunshine is quite nice, but it doesn't stop our plans for Spring!

The seed catalogs have been arriving in the mailbox and I have been pouring over online resources as well.  We've made our list of what we want to grow and Teri is pulling all her warm workwear to the front of the closet in preparation for her mid-January return to the wholesale nursery where she works. Despite the fact that it feels as though Lady Winter is just getting started, we are feeling the need to get ourselves ready for the Spring...
With gloves and hats and frozen noses, we crafted the new two-bedroom nest box for our little urban chicken coop on New Year's day.  We have circled the February date on the calendar when the Welsummer and Dominique chicks are set to arrive at the fancy farm store and we want our hen house to be ready.  While our current flock is on laying hiatus for the Winter (we lifted our last egg out of the nest box on Christmas day), we are promised by those wiser and more experienced than us that come February, things will pick up again so it made sense to us to make our improvements while the platform was unoccupied. 

Our big planning and building project is looming: the creation of a top bar bee hive.  We've read our books, we've taken measurements and poked around other versions, we've been to the lumber yard to scope and measure and price supplies and in the next week or two, we'll embark on the Building of the Box. We are feeling a bit of a pressure crunch since we're told February/March is when we can expect to be on standby for the acquisition of a local swarm.  OR, we will need to go the less romantic route of ordering our starter bees from afar. We keep telling ourselves, we can do this and it will probably be a bit of fun in the process.  Besides, the $30 price tag for materials seems more reasonable than the $300+ cost of a professionally built one.

So, as we warm the nectar in the hummingbird feeders and chip out the ice from the hens' water, we are also stirring warm compost into waiting garden beds and drawing diagrams of where the tomatoes are going to go this year.  While it might seem as though the world of nature stands still in the depths of Winter, that isn't necessarily true.  Early spring bulbs are pushing up through the crunchy ground all around the garden, the fruit trees wait poised with their tight buds, and we've got a lot to do in the next two months!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What the Almanac Tells Us

Last year was the first year Teri ever picked up an issue of The Old Farmer's Almanac. Historically, she's a pretty urban, East Coast sort of person.  But, with our bumbling quest to grow and raise more and get on board the Self-sufficiency Train, it seemed the appropriate thing to do.  So, it probably comes as no surprise that the newest 2013 version of the "Sun, Moon, Stars and Planets" is sitting splay-backed on our coffee table.  The perfect reading material for the first day of a brand, new year!

If you've never thumbed through an issue of The Old Farmer's Almanac, you may not know that it is a kooky American trail mix of weather forecasts, how to plant by the moon's phases, ads for conservative Christian publications, Tarot reading offers, and tips on everything from saving the world with vinegar, to parenting advice and sheep-sheering strategy.  It is something!

You can order choir robes and sausage grinders from the Almanac, but you can also access several dozen spiritual healers, future tellers and psychic readers.  It has everything a person might be to plan and predict for the next 12 months. Some of this information is darn useful: who doesn't want to the sunrise and sunset times by day and month?  Some is a bit questionable: does one in 10,000 female chickens really spontaneously change sexes to become a rooster? Regardless of how trivial, banal or perplexing the information is, it surely does make for some folksy reading and it somehow makes a person feel a bit optimistic for what the coming year might bring.

So, as Teri and I try to figure out when the days might be long enough for our hens to start laying again, or when the last anticipated frost date will be so we can plant out our tomatoes, we are also dangling our feet in the waters of Americana: a little history, a bit of folklore, some mysticism and superstition, housekeeping advice, a recipe or two, and darn, if there isn't medical and first aid suggestions as well! Since New Year's day is traditionally a bit laden with superstition and folklore, what better way to spend a little first-day-of-the-year reading?

Here's wishing everyone an informed, useful, entertaining, and connected year!