Friday, June 27, 2008

Early summer haiku


The only way to catch up is with a haiku:

Berries. Soap-making
Peas. Urban farming. Chickens.
Life overflowing.

And some pictures

Above is my take from a great day of Urban Farm borage and Egyptian onions, foraged grape leaves and wild garlic. I went back the next day and got more grape leaves and some wonderful shadberries.

And that would be 70 bars of soap, made with JoBeth, mom, fuel cell engineer, and urban homesteader extraordinaire, as well as wife to Outback Brad. They're curing in my garage sale green house, since that's the only place where I had enough shelf space.

The girls can now fly a bit and are able to get into their more cat carrier for them!

And my favorite carrot (and daughter), helping me encourage people to join our South Wedge Farmers Market Friends of the Market Campaign.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Life is good

Too busy gardening, foraging wild foods, soap-making, and chicken-keeping to stay inside on the computer!  Full reports to come soon!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

And now for the knitting revolution

The multi-talented Franklin has something important to say about knitting, consumerism, and beauty. Whether you knit or not, read it for all of us who are minimized or ignored, and for all of us who know the value of creating beauty.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Why Chickens?

Inspired by Heather's DIY discussion at True Stitches, I will take a crack at answering that question.

Reason #1--Chickens=revolution. Heather quotes the anarchist cookbook Recipes for Disaster: "The raw awareness that you have the power to change the world is more important than any other resource -- it is the hardest one to develop and share, and the most essential. Giving your endorsement to political representatives, social programs, or radical ideologies will be of little avail if the fundamental problem is you don't know your own strength."

"Self-determination begins and ends with your initiatives and actions, no matter where you live. It must be established on a daily basis, by acting back on the world that acts on you -- whether that means calling in sick to work on a sunny day, starting a neighbourhood garden with your friends, or toppling a government. You cannot make a revolution that distributes power equally except by learning first hand how to exercise and share power -- and that exercising and sharing, on any scale, is itself the ongoing, never-concluded project of revolution."

Yep, to remind myself that I can do something about the craziness of the world with a little chicken revolution. And by the way, other equations in handcraftematics include:


Growing your own food=revolution


Reason #2--To honor the value of food. Heather quotes Susan Strasser's book Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash, "In cultures based on handwork, handmade things are valuable without being sanctified as art; they embody many hours of labour. People who have not sewed, or at least watched others sewing, value that labour less than those who have, and lack the skills and the scraps that enabled so many women to see old clothing as worthy of remaking. It is easier to discard a ready-made dress, cut and stitched in an unknown sweatshop, than it is to throw away something you or your mother made.

Similarly, we are so far removed from the labor and means of production of our food sources in this country that we do not recognize its true value. We bitch when the prices go up, but the dollars we spend on food represent a miniscule portion of the true value of that food. Much of our food is produced at the expense of the health of animals, farm workers, and eaters, an incalculable price.

My family and I will know the value of the eggs we eat, because we will raise our chicks, feed them, make sure they stay warm and dry, watch them eat bugs, and gather their warm eggs with our own hands.

We will think carefully about how we prepare the eggs, wanting to cherish them because of all the work that goes into them. We will not forget about them in some back corner of the fridge, or throw them out because we got tired of them and didn't eat them before they went bad.

We will also share them with our neighbors as an expression of our gratitude for not thinking we're totally off our rockers for having chickens in an urban backyard. Perhaps our neighbors will cherish those eggs too, just a little bit more than the ones they bought at the store.

In so doing, we will have an impact on those within our realm, who might develop a little more appreciation of their food and its sources.

Reason #3--To subvert the consumer paradigm. In college I had a bumper sticker that said, "Subvert the dominant paradigm." At the time, I thought it sounded cool but I'm pretty sure I had no idea what it really meant. Now I interpret that notion in terms of consumerism. Everything in our country is presented as a consumer choice. We think we live in a democracy because we can buy more consumer goods than ever before. Never mind that in our real democracy, political candidates are bought and sold like so many tubes of toothpaste. I'd rather have a real choice between candidates who really stand for something than a choice between wintergreen or spearmint-flavored toothpaste or gel, with or without whitener.

Did I digress? Yes and no. Why is it that when we have a need, we think we must BUY something? How about if, the next time you or I have a need, we MAKE something instead.

I need a protein source, I choose not to eat meat (for reasons I'll leave for another post), I can't actually make eggs myself. But I can develop a relationship with some animals who can. In return for love and care, they will do what they naturally do, make eggs which I can eat and as an added bonus, create waste that will turn up the heat on my compost pile.

And I get to be, not a consumer, but a facilitator of the production of my own food.

I know I could never produce all of the food needed for my family.  I have a satisfying and meaningful career, and I don't want to become a full-time farmer. But being as close as possible to the origins of the food I feed myself and my family is deeply satisfying, and yes, revolutionary.

Here's to the Chicken Revolution!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Call me chicken mama

The babies are finally home!

Meet Billie (the black one--her breed is Polish), Sarah (gold/red--a Rhode Island Red), and Ella (brown--Aracauna).

We got them not only for their looks, but also for the variety of color of eggs. Billie will lay white eggs; Sarah, brown; and Ella, turquoise. However, it will be a few months before they do anything other than run around the ground in search of good weeds and bugs, that is, except when they're sleeping huddled together.

Here's their whole set-up. We brought them home in the cat carrier, and Jim from Natureberry Farm recommended we keep it out for them to sleep in at night for a little extra warmth. They're too little to climb into the hutch part of the coop just now.

(By the way, if you're local and looking for chicks, Jim is just about the nicest person ever, and he takes great care of them. We paid for them a couple of weeks ago to make sure we got some, and he kept them for us until they were old enough to be out of the brooder.)

Anyway, the umbrella is a regular beach umbrella for shade, and the coop/run is this one from McMurray Hatchery. It was relatively easy to put together and it seems like it will work well.

In another post I'll answer the burning question, "Why chickens?" For now, enjoy the babies. And there are more pictures at my Flickr set.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tomatoes, anyone?

Or perhaps a carrot? That adorable carrot is DD, with her good friend, who spent a couple of hours dancing and screaming at passing cars, "Come to the South Wedge Farmers Market!" "Fresh local produce!" What great kids!

Meanwhile, I'd offered to buy DS some fresh veggies, and he said he wanted some tomatoes.'s fresh, LOCAL produce. So I explained to him that it's not tomato season yet. He was more than happy with the strawberries, though.

Point is, if it's not tomato season in Rochester, I don't buy fresh tomatoes. I freeze and can a bunch in late summer and when those are gone, they're gone. We find something else from the freezer or pantry or farmers market.

I'm not a food scientist. But Homegrown Evolution's thoughts about the origins of the salmonella outbreak seem pretty plausible. Industrial agriculture, shipping tomatoes across the country, industry influence on the FDA...makes sense to me.

There'll be plenty of tomatoes come August. For now, have some strawbabies.

And spread the word, will ya?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Better than ramen noodles

When I was a poor college student, I'm pretty sure I survived on ramen noodles for weeks at a time. Now that my son is a poor college student, I'm hoping to get him on a slightly more nutritious (and sustainable) diet. He's just moved into his own place with a friend, so I'm preparing a care package of foods to make 5 easy meals. In case you're looking for some quick and easy meals yourself, here they are, with instructions that I hope even a new cook can understand.

1. Polenta with tomato sauce (vegan, depending on your brand of polenta and sauce). This is SO easy. Buy some pre-cooked polenta, slice it off, brown slightly in a skillet over medium heat, with a little butter or canola oil. Heat some tomato sauce (I've used various types of spaghetti sauce). Serve polenta topped with tomato sauce. To round out the meal, serve with a green salad.

My polenta and sauce are from Abundance Cooperative Market.

2. Barbecue tempeh (vegan). Another super easy one. Cut tempeh into triangles, rectangles, whatever shape you prefer. Brown on both sides in a skillet (I prefer cast iron, but it's not necessary), with just a little canola oil, on medium high heat. Put in enough barbecue sauce to cover, but not smother, the tempeh. Turn heat down to low and let simmer for 5-10 minutes, depending on how much liquid you like. (This last step gives the tempeh a nice glaze from the sauce.) Serve with rice, or put it on bread, add some lettuce if you have it, and you've got a great sandwich, hot or cold.

3. Egg sandwich (vegetarian). There's nothing like a homemade egg sandwich. Turn your skillet on high, and put your bagel or bread into the toaster while the skillet is heating. Once the skillet is hot, turn it down to medium-low, add a little butter or oil, and add your egg. (This is my trick for a non-rubbery egg.) Over-easy eggs work well for sandwiches. Cook your egg on the first side until there's no runny part left. Turn it over gently and cook very briefly to finish it off.

Of course you can add any condiment you want to an egg sandwich. My current favorite is a slather of chevre cheese and a spoonful of salsa. Messy but yummy.

4. Orzo with feta and artichoke hearts (vegetarian). Even if it's not ramen noodles, pasta is still relatively inexpensive. My favorite orzo is available from Artistic Eats, which you can only purchase at farmers' markets (their website has a complete list). The flavor is lemon-garlic. A half pound of their pasta serves 2 people.

Boil a big pot of water. Once it's at a rolling boil, add the orzo and a few drops of canola or olive oil. Boil 8-10 minutes. Drain in a colander.

Pour the pasta back into the pot, add 2-4 tablespoons of olive oil, quartered artichoke hearts, and crumbled feta, again from Lively Run.

This basic recipe can be altered by adding or substituting chevre for feta, and adding/substituting other veggies, such as steamed asparagus, olives, garlic scapes.

5. Pasta primavera (vegetarian). This is really just a version of number 4. Get some pappardelle, angel hair, or fettucini from Artistic Eats (preferred, but you can use any pasta here, including the basic kind you get at any grocery store). Boil and drain as in #4 (the pappardelle or fettucini will need 12-15 minutes to boil; the angel hair only 5-7 minutes). Pull a packet of chevre from the fridge to warm up slightly, as this makes it easier to work with.

While the pasta is boiling, slice and saute whatever veggies you got from the market in olive oil, canola oil, or butter. Some suggestions: summer squash, asparagus, onions, carrots, peas. They won't take long...don't saute for too long or they'll get mushy.

Pasta primavera usually has a sauce, but in this case we'll just use the softened chevre to add creaminess. Add chevre, sauteed veggies, and a little olive oil to the pasta.

There you have it! Not as cheap as ramen noodles, but better tasting and better for you!

Strawbaby Season

A year ago, I wrote about sending my oldest off to college. Today, he came by to pick up his mending and take it back to his very own apartment. Nevertheless, I can't imagine seeing the first strawberries of the season and NOT remembering the year when he was four and called them "strawbabies."

(I could complain about the mending, but I finally understand why parents do things like that for their adult children; they'll only accept nurturing in certain forms, so we get it in where we can.)

One child out of the nest, strawbabies in. This looks like it will be the first year that I will get some strawberries from my own garden. Critters have always gotten to them before me. This year, just when I saw they were turning red (about a week ago), I covered them with garden fabric (available from Gardeners Supply).

And today I got my first ones...only 3, but there are more to come.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

My kind of air conditioning

Yesterday I was talking to a friend who said that every time it gets really hot (as it has been this week...94 and humid), one of her relatives calls and offers for her to bring the kids and come and sit in her air conditioning. My friend remarked that she and her family chose not to have AC, and she wanted her relative to know that she's doing just fine, thank you very much.

Her story was a good reminder for me. I can become very cranky in the heat. But I too choose not to have AC at home, and this week I reacquainted myself with some of my methods of coping. Method number 1--get in the water.

There are a couple of great places to rent kayaks in Rochester. Today we checked out Bay Creek Paddling Center. The staff were friendly and helpful, the kayaks were stable and comfortable, and the wildlife was extremely cooperative.

I'm not sure what T. was looking at here. We heard or saw the following birds: red-winged blackbirds, kingbirds, kingfishers, common yellowthroat, yellow warblers, mallards, black ducks, red-tailed hawk, mourning doves, several mute swans (pictured above) and a few more I couldn't identify.

We bought a frequent paddler card, which will pay off if we use it just two more times. We will probably also buy a season pass to Genesee Waterways Center, in Genesee Valley Park, just a short 2 mile bike ride from our house. I'll post more about that center next time we go. Those two passes will still be cheaper than the cost to buy and run an air conditioner, and it's a lot better for us and the climate.

So I've vowed not to complain about the heat this year. Being connected to the seasons is an important reality check in our culture, in which artificial climate controls in our cars, houses, and workplaces are leading to a real climate that's out of control.

Share your favorite cooling off trick in the comments...(if you don't have a blogger account, just click on "Anonymous" can sign your name in the post of your comment if you want.)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Babies everywhere

First, my grown-up babies...

The first picture was taken after DD's fundraising recital for her band trip to Europe this summer, with DS. I love this picture; it captures their personalities, right down to the bizarrely tie-dyed shirt and the cute white dress. The second is from the junior prom, with her best friend. (More prom and recital pictures at my Flickr set.)

As for other babies, there's a lot of baby-making going on in our backyard. A few years ago, inspired by the National Wildlife Federation's backyard wildlife habitat program, we decided to do what we could to attract birds, butterflies, bees, and other wildlife to our garden. We planted a lot of native plants, added a water fountain and a birdbath, and put up a couple of bird feeders. It's worked great, and now our yard is a frequent stop of migratory birds, and a regular home to many common backyard birds. Here's some of the evidence.

First, a mourning dove doing some kind of a display. Although it's a common bird which I've seen many times, I was particularly struck this time by the beautiful blues on its head, side, and tail feathers.

A white-crowned sparrow among the lilacs, another migratory visitor.

A white-throated sparrow; we always get several every May, their arrival announced by their song, which sounds like, "Oh, Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody." Hence, T. and I call them the "Sam Peabodies." They don't nest near our backyard though; they move on after a couple of weeks, and we mourn the loss of their clear whistled song.

Although I'd be hard-pressed to call the starlings "wildlife," given the fact that they're a non-native, invasive species crowding out native birds, we're stuck with them, so we might as well enjoy them taking a bath.

These chickadees are residents of our yard. The female (on the right)seems to be missing some feathers from the top of her head, so we can easily recognize her. We know she's a female because we've seen her mate feeding her (during courtship and breeding, male birds often bring food to the females).

And this rose-breasted grosbeak hung around for a few days. We were hopeful when the female and male both arrived, that they might make a nest nearby, but they, too, moved on. Oh, well, we'll undoubtedly have sparrow, robin, starling, and cardinal babies to watch. Not to mention the chick babies which will be arriving to our home shortly (more on that neighbor has dubbed me "chicken momma"...I love it!).

Finally, some baby booties, for a colleague, from this pattern by Susan B. Anderson. They are simply six knitted garter stitch squares, sewn together to shape booties. The yarn is thrifted from a local craft consignment shop, Craft Bits and Pieces. The ribbon is thrifted from my local Goodwill and woven through the stitches, with a couple of knots to hold it in place. I will definitely make these again.

One of my ideas for this blog is to write reviews of local thrift/consignment shops, so after my next trip to Craft Bits and Pieces, I'll write more! And speaking of thrifted items, DD's prom dress was also from a consignment shop, and you can pretty much guarantee that anything that DS is wearing is thrifted!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Adore Your City

Last weekend I participated in a fundraiser bike ride for the city of Rochester. Read about it here.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Crafting a life

"Each of us has the potential to craft our own lives with our own hands--actively, joyfully, and nonviolently, drawing upon the wisdom of our ancestors, striving for justice in the present, and fulfillng our obligations to those who will inherit our legacy."

So writes John Saltmarsh in his introduction to the amazing book, A Handmade Life.

This blog was born from my previous blog, My 45th Year, which documented my progress towards the following goals for my 45th year of life: finishing 45 hand-made objects, completing at least one 45-hour solo retreat, and biking 45 miles in one day. I accomplished those goals and discovered that the creative expression and community fostered through the blog were very fulfilling.

However, the topic felt limiting and narrow at times. Having moved beyond that significant turning point in my life, I now want to turn to expression for a broader purpose.

There is a definite cultural tide towards the handmade, sustainable living, local agriculture, and so on. And thus there are many blogs on those subjects. Many are inspiring and thought-provoking, and I am grateful for them.

However, there seems to me a dearth of blogs for people who are attempting to integrate these principles into their already busy lives, which may involve a 9-5 (or longer hours) job, parenting/caretaking duties, an urban/suburban address, and other responsibilities or constraints. Many of us aren't in a position to quit our jobs, raise our own food, sew our own clothes, and work for ourselves, for example. Not that that is the only way to live sustainably...but sometimes it feels like it is!

Through HandCraftedLife, I will share lessons and struggles as I attempt to craft my own life in accord with my own principles. I work full-time, am a parent of teenagers and partner to the love of my life, am a Ph.D. student, volunteer in my community, and have a rich circle of friends.

Although I now knit, sew (a little), grow some of my own food, can/dry/preserve food for the winter, and bike commute to work most days, I did not begin like that. I also live in an urban setting with a tiny backyard, not a typical back-to-the land homestead.

Please say hello when you stop by, let me know when something speaks to you, when you have another way of thinking about things, or want to share a related website.

Together let's create "a society where people are intoxicated with the joy of making things."


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