Tuesday, July 21, 2009

If we were on Reading Rainbow...

Having finished reading THE HOBBITT, Pat and I have had to find other things to read before turning in each night. We are picking up where we left off before having kids with THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER, but we are also reading this book: THE URBAN HOMESTEAD. Now, Pat says he prefers reading fiction at night before bed, so we continue through the Chronicles of Narnia mostly. However, THE URBAN HOMESTEAD is every bit as fanciful and requires me to use my imagination every bit as much as a work of good fiction. The only difference is that I may be able to bring some of this book to reality in my own yard.

Having read this entry thus far, Pat informs me that I am a poser. However, allow me to make a disclaimer: I am not to the point of considering myself a homesteader* right now. As I said, this book does read as fiction to me. However, the ideas in it intrigue me and I'm willing to stick a toe in the homestead water to see how it is. The authors of this book are intense. I am not ready to have chickens yet or to make my whole yard into a wonderful jungle-like garden. I am not about to re-plumb my house to use grey-water to water my yard. Not there yet. But I am won over to the idea of edible landscaping and maybe having some bees around. I'm down with collecting rain water (once we can afford gutters...). I think home-grown food is vastly superior to the stuff you can get in a store. For starters, you get to brag that you grew it yourself and when you make a meal with it, you can feel like you really made the meal. But there are better reasons than that.

Perhaps the most obvious benefit is financial. Seeds and water are cheap; buying fresh organic produce is not. Gardening is the poor man's (or the wise person's) way of obtaining organic produce so that you don't have to worry about what someone else may have done to the food. No concerns about whether the person growing my eggplant is a good steward of the land. And I don't worry about what kind of stuff designed to kill other animals was sprayed on it or what effects might come from someone having done whatever to "help" nature out. I try not to think about that too much, though, since we have to buy most of our food right now and can't afford organic. "Organic" is expensive (not to mention that it has become associated with snobbery). "Home-grown" is simply what my parents and grandparents have done all their lives. Yes, it's organic, but it's also just plain practical.

And it's a great activity to do with kids. Israel, at less that two, can recognize tomatoes and associates both beans and strawberries with 'those things in Steve's garden." He eagerly picks out the raspberry plants to find the "ra-beezies" on them. Israel knows where food comes from and already knows that God made the earth such that we are intimately connected to it. It's hard to convince people who think food comes from a grocery store that it matters at all what kind of stuff we put into our dirt. But when you garden, you know that you have a relationship with the dirt and that you can either help or frustrate each other. Israel will also value life -- even the lives of things like spiders and ladybugs -- and will know that something that small can be of assistance to us. The kids from the neighborhood benefit as well. I have one boy who is learning patience as he waits and waits (and asks and asks) for the jalepenos in the pot on our front steps to be ready to eat. (I really don't know why. I tell him there is no way he just wants to pop one in his mouth and I'm having a hard time convincing myself to waste one of them on this lesson.) Kids learn there are rewards to tending and caring for something as small as a plant. We become more aware of the weather. I get to spend mornings doing nothing but holding a water hose and watching the plants grow.

So, while I am no homesteader, I am ready to get behind this book. I encourage you to read it, to take from it what is useful, and to enjoy reading the parts you don't use. Now, for something rare: Pat would like to post something on this entry as well, and he is much more of a homesteader at heart than I, so I'll let you see what he has to say.


Thus far in my life two books have utterly changed the way I see the world. The first to do so was "Diet for a New America" by John Robbins. This one changed the way I saw food and what I eat. A few years later at my sister's behest I read the Gospel of John which introduced me to the most life changing figure to ever exist and thus changed me and my life forever. This book I am now adding as the third book I've encountered that has caused a tremendous paradigm shift to occur within me.

Until now I had always thought "Man, it sure would be nice to have a farm somewhere outside of town -- raise all of your food, and maybe some animals. Too bad you would have to move out of the city though. Maybe some day we'll retire from this city work and go retreat to the country." You know these sorts of day dreams. Reading this book has made me see how much we can actually do with the space that we have. I've just always seen the "yard" as some sterile plot of grass to be maintained and weeded so that the neighbors don't get annoyed. Now I see it as potential sustenance for my family. My backyard that could maybe host a small bonfire and perhaps a dinner party is now seen as a place where my kids could learn to raise chickens and tend bees. Instead of a yard that needs the weeds pulled we have a lot of potential crop space that the kids can pull bugs and worms out of and harvest food for us to can for the winter. All of a sudden this old house that needs a good paint job and a new floor is a 90-year-old farm house, and that thought itself makes me so much more appreciative of my house (and its history) as it is. Instead of being a place is always in need of my service that I need to fix, my little parcel is a plot that gives to me that I get to tend and make fruitful.

That farm that I used to dream of - it was probably more than I really could have handled. In my saner moments I was forced to admit that to myself. But this small farm that I've been given is totally doable - complete with plenty of challenges and room to dream.

*Homesteader: (according to Lezlie) One who does things like raises their own food, tends their own land, makes their own stuff, and is not very dependent on outside help to make it in life. Some even go so far as to associate this with living "off the grid." Usually, homesteads are farms. (According to Pat) One who sees their parcel as something to tend and make fruitful.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Some friends have told me that God is especially gracious with mothers of young children. I think it's also in scripture somewhere and I'm fairly certain I've looked it up just to make sure. After all, it seems a little too nice to be true...like a "Christian" bumper sticker. But I begin to digress, and you don't want to hear what I think about most bumper stickers. Suffice it to say I remember having found it and, even if I had not found it, I would know that it is true from experience. (But wouldn't you know I can't find it today!)

While time to be quiet is nearly impossible to come by, I have had a lot of little lessons come to me by way of my kids lately. They're the sort of peeks at real insight that let you know you haven't mastered the lesson yet, but they're just enough to remind you to keep learning. And they cause me to marvel at how vast and intricate the Being who created this place must be.

As you have gathered by now, I live in a neighborhood where people's problems are all too apparent. I know most people's lives are messes. But here, I KNOW most people's lives are messes; it gets broadcast from front porch fights and shown in preschoolers roaming the streets without their parents knowing where they are. Here, the alcoholism is public and I know the moms who do drugs because they don't bother to cover it up very well. The problems many people keep to themselves are public knowledge here. I think there are certainly pros and cons to this out-in-the-openness, having grown up in a place where people keep their issues to themselves. Here I digress again, when I merely wish to point out that sometimes I get overwhelmed by knowing people's business. Sometimes, I'd rather not know and would rather not feel the burden to be involved. Victories are hard won around here and sometimes even when someone wins their own battle, I can become discouraged. I mean, look at all the work that one victory took and then you think that there are people with similar issues living in half the houses around here (the other half are abandoned...) and you know each situation would probably require that much personal effort and that much support from others and suddenly one hard-won fight can seem like small change. You have read me talking from the middle of such sentiment before.

And I have also written of singing to Israel. We sing the song, "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." I started singing it to reinforce what he learned in Sunday School one particular day, but have kept singing it every day since. Israel always asks to put certain people's names in the song and it is no small miracle that no matter whose name he brings up, it is true that God has them in His hands. Of course, I have no idea what that means in each case and I could easily become overwhelmed again trying to figure it out. I mean, does He really have the neglected kid in His hands? I suppose if He didn't, the kid would pop out of existence, so God surely has tabs on him. But sometimes it certainly seems from my vantage point that God is uninvolved and I wonder how it is that the One who can keep the whole universe going without planets and galaxies getting off-course can manage to let the affairs of one person's life go so awry. But if God is not the one ultimately holding it all together, who is? Me? Even if I could forget about my own moral failings, the dog hair that collects every day in the corners of my house would cry out that I cannot keep things together. And if I can't control the pet hair population in my living room, surely I can't control weightier matters. So, for all the finger-pointing I might find to do, it is certainly a good thing that I am not God. Things would get awfully hairy. (Sorry. I can't resist a bad pun.)

So it is that I sing this song to Israel every day. And every day it can become an act of faith on my part (unless I'm too busy rushing my child to sleep). I put the names of the kids we know in the song. I put our names in the song. It's my way of letting go and putting us all in God's hands. It's me admitting that, even if I could try to fix their problems or mine by myself, I would likely just create other problems. It's me admitting that, for all my complaining, I really am not the one who knows best. I sing it twice a day to Israel and some days that's not enough. I need reminded constantly, or else I try to hold on to things that aren't mine and get bent out of shape over things I cannot control.

He's got Israel and Eden in His hands.
He's got Judah and Naomi in His hands.
He's got Nay-nay and Schaivon in His hands.
He's got the whole world in His hands.

He's got the mommies and the daddies in His hands.
He's got the grandmas and the grandpas in His hands.
He's got all the little children in His hands.
He's got the whole world in His hands.

He's got the young and the old in His hands.
He's got the rich and the poor in His hands.
He's got the people near and far in His hands.
He's got the whole world in his hands.

He's got the moon and the stars in His hands.
He's got the sun and the rain in His hands.
He's got the beginning and the end in His hands.
He's got the whole world in His hands.

He's got you and me, brother, in His hands.
He's got you and me, sister, in His hands.
He's got everybody in His hands.
He's got the whole world in His hands.

Friday, July 3, 2009

how our garden grows

Even though none of us are in school, the summer schedule has been more relaxed and we've had good times just being around the house, watching things grow.

We have finished the project of planting a garden in our back yard (and while we were at it, we threw in a small front vegetable garden as well). I have been enjoying taking the kids out most mornings to do the watering while we're all still in our PJ's. (Wow. Who knew having a privacy fence would be so nice?) I can't really say how much I like gardening in my own yard. If you happen to be nearby, chances are I will drag you behind my house to gaze upon it. While it has yet to produce the first edible thing, I still love it and am excited to watch the blooms appear on the plants. The beauty of a flowering eggplant plant never ceases to surprise me and the promise offered by all the flowers on the pepper plants and tomatoes makes me nearly giddy. We have a cucumber that is nearly a whopping one inch long! It happens every year I garden: I work at it, and then when the fruit appears, I am surprised and find myself asking the plant, "Now what did I ever do for you that you give me food like this?"


Israel and Eden have been enjoying the whole process as well. Pat has taught Israel that there are "good plants" and weeds. From time to time, he comes over while I'm watering, pats the leaves of a few plants, and says, "Good plant." Eden enjoys being outside and looking up into the branches of a tree or watching me fiddle with the garden hose. When the sun is out, I try to show Israel the rainbow made by shooting water in the air. I can't help but feel a bit of superstitious luck that my son tells all the plants they are good while a little girl named Eden watches over our work. Israel smartly prefers our neighbor Steve's garden, though, and has fun searching for cucumbers hiding under leaves and helping to pick the green beans. He likes eating the broccoli while still standing beside the plant. Last night, when we told him it was time to come in, he looked up at me from the green bean patch and, wanting to stay, said, "More beans?"

Pat and Israel "working" in the garden
We have been eating from the bounty of our neighbor's garden, which words cannot describe. We have had many, many meals already that include his heads of broccoli and bell peppers and green beans! There are few things that make me feel so blessed as eating free produce grown about 10 feet from my own house. (Though 10 feet puts that produce in my neighbor's yard; do not be confused.) When you move to a neighborhood "with a reputation" where houses are so close together that you have nearly no yard of your own, the last thing you expect is to eat green beans picked minutes ago from right outside your window. But eating is believing, and it reinforces my assertion that we have the best neighbor of anyone we know!

Of course, the vegetables are not the only things growing around here. The kids are growing as well. Israel is making all kinds of verbal leaps and bounds as words take more of their true form. Just this week, "strawberry," went from "bee..." to "taw-beezie" and "banana" went from "diza" to "ba-nee-na." He loves to talk about events and people and is learning to sing songs. Eden has been working very hard and just today made it from her back to her belly on her own. This means she can now roll over and over and over, making her way across a room. She likes to push herself by doing full-fledged sit-ups and already loves to play while standing in the exersaucer. We expect she'll be crawling next week, just to have something new to do.

Our little cabbage patch kid
(Cabbage patch provided by Steve.)

Israel was actually VERY HAPPY in this picture and excited about making the water go everywhere. That's our raised-bed garden in the background.