Sunday, April 24, 2011

Knee Pads

My mom celebrated her 84th birthday last week. We all celebrated by taking her out for sushi and watching how I can't handle my sake. It was a blast. I think.

But my mom is a child of the Depression. A war wife (Korea) and 50s housewife extraordinaire. Her parents were homesteaders and had chickens, chinchillas and veggies on one Minnesota acre. Which is why I'm guessing, my mom wants NO part of this grow yer own self sufficiency experiment I'm immersed in. She'll listen, sure. She'll even water the tomato plants I put in for her last week. Maybe. But even if they fruit I'm pretty sure she'll drive to Publix and buy some.

But she makes no apologies about it. She says 'I've come a long way and if I've got it, I'm gonna spend it. If we still have gas, I'm gonna drive it. If we still have electricity and plumbing, I'm gonna use it.' She finds my thrift to be ridiculous and I'm guessing, more than a little irritating. I was, as an aside, the kind of kid who HAD to have Calvin Klein jeans the hot minute they were released. The kind of teen who had a sportscar at 15 and 3/4 years. The kind of 20something who spent $50 on tequila bottles and a 30 something who traveled like I had a magic carpet in the back yard. So I know it's freaky that in my 40s I'm eating dandelion greens out of the yard and learning to make wine out of its flowers but I feel like I have some catching up to do.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Good Farming Makes for Bad Blogging

Most of my day finds me behind the wheelbarrow, not the keyboard. But the rains are upon us so here I peck. The lushness and promise of bountiful late Spring and Summer harvests has me running back and forth from compost pile to chicken coop. Trading old dirt for rich organic matter that has been cooking for a year is oddly rewarding. The turning of manure and churning of leaves may not seem like much of a sexy pastime but trust me. When the colors burst forth in my kitchen garden I am filled with lust. Almost enough to forego the boyfriend search for the warmer months. I'm more of a winter beau kind of gal anyway. There's frankly too much to do right now to worry about man pants.

I'm doing exactly what I want this season. The last three years I have been schooling myself on gardening. Listening to others. Trial and error. Planting in rows (old man suggestion) The square foot garden (which with 7 acres I have no idea WHY I was building little boxes everywhere...duh) was a silly adventure more suited to a child with a science project. Last year the Guatemalan was all about beans and corn, beans and corn. Which is fine...for the chickens. Another year I planted over 50 tomato plants and thankfully I was managing a farmers market in Atlanta so I could sell them before I got nightshade poisoning. This year I've built something off the kitchen in the round like a wagon wheel to divide the veggies. Beans will trellis up the crape myrtle fence, heirloom corn will grow up the "teepee". Sunflower sprouts are harvested daily for my own consumption and everything from chard to amaranth goes in the other "spokes". I'm planting for visual appeal. I'm planting for color. I'm planting for me.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Want for Fabulous?

My neighbor told me that she'd pay for me to go see her hair stylist to get proper highlights.  So I'd know what it could do for me. I suppose I get it (even if it wasn't the highest compliment of late) she knows I'd see paying for highlights as frivolous and continue to drop box color with decidedly the wrong box number on my head and hope for the best. Maybe she's sick of looking at my one dimensional color. Dunno. But it's not something I'm going to follow up on. First of all, I'm 43. Second, that's what head scarves are for. It's not like I don't know HOW to spend $150 at a salon, I used to live in that world. It's the WHY I forgot about.

So to ask, Is It Sustainable? My litmus test of things that Matter to Me Now---Hair doesn't make the cut. My rogue friend James just shaves all of it off with the Number 0 blade. Am I there yet? Ummm. Not quite.  But I'm surely not wasting time, resources and chemicals worrying about my wig. In fact I'm thinking about buying a real wig, so when I have to have good hair, I just pop on the Chelsea and I'm outta here.

But I still want to be cute, right? Not ShabbyChicBohemianNuevoFarmer$400overalls poser cute, just not I forgot how to smell good and put lipstick on cute. My priorities these days are how to harvest rainwater and earthworms--not fool someone into thinking that my hair is blonde. And trust me, the chickens could care less.

But I used to be a creature of luxury. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't appreciate all the stuff left over from my previous life. Nice mattresses and good sheets and well...real estate, but a lot of stuff just doesn't occur to me. So what is luxe to me these days?  To me there's money Well Spent and Dumb Dollars.  Painting my hair and having it fade in 5 weeks? Dumb. Going out to dinner? Dumb. Buying extremely well made (and expensive) shoes that don't hurt my feet and will last for years? Well Spent. Going through the effort to make my own bacon from pork belly from a naturally raised and humanely slaughtered pig? Delicious Dollars. But department store makeup? Really? $30 for mascara that will dry out before I even wear it 3 times. Gonna have to pass.

I'm reading the very interesting 1979 chapbook Possum Living --a no nonsense guide to self sufficient living on the cheap...I'm learning a lot. Making your own moonshine,  er, distilling small batch gin, for one and my favorite...why spend your weekend mowing the lawn that could be a respectable garden that could feed you. Some people say gardening is too much work. Weeding and bugs and the deer and can have too much rain and lose a whole crop of beans (financial loss invested $3) or a late April cold snap that puts your tomato harvest back 2 months, but is there anything more mind numbing than cutting grass? Even if you find that a virtual pepper pot of excitement, the return on investment is very, very, low. And the $3000 machines required are absolutely NOT sustainable. I still haven't figured out the lawn debacle. This year I may in fact be getting a mule. Goats are too destructive. More on that later.

I'm trying to expand my mind and not push my gross out button, but I'm finding the Possum Living DIY aesthetic a little too hard scrabble for me. Do I want to raise hundreds of rabbits in the cellar?  Nah, that's too Silence of the Lambs for me. Ditto, bonking creek turtles over the head for a soup. I'm going to go a bit more French countryside with the notion. There's Pastoral and then there's Feral. I'm into the rabbits as a clean and prolific source of delicious Provencal protein, maybe a Lapin a la Cocotte? It's all in how you look at it. The reason so many of us like Tuscany is that it's rustic but with a heightened sense of opulence somehow. But I'm just fooling myself. What's the difference in that and my Mexican neighbors shooting squirrels and grilling it over an oil can fire down at the trailer park? Talk about locally grown! I guess I just have better lighting. But as one pal commented the other day, 'whoa, you have gone SO country.' Whatever. I'm a survivor. And you're all welcome to my bomb shelter of a house at the end of times and we'll laugh about how "country" I've gone...but bring yall's yuppie check books. Er, cash.

So how can I let go of frivolity without completely going off the reservation. Can I live off the land without my house looking like an outhouse? How many chickens on the porch are too many? Do I have to move to Napa Valley to make this a viable lifestyle choice?

I guess it's all in semantics. All this slaughtering and toiling and tilling and vermin and sweating and sowing and composting and's what it takes to put food on the table. And if you've got the cash you can go on down to Whole Foods and buy it in a picnic basket. But the process is all the same.