To Dream The Ever-so-Possible Dream:Letting Change Become The Habit

Winter has arrived early here in Virginia as we have our first ice storm/snowfall of the year, being the first time to snow in October since the late 70’s (according to a Va native).  The beautiful colors of our east coast fall are still vibrant as the changing leaves do their best to hang on for dear life while the wintry weather gusts try to take hold of the season.  We sit here nestled in our lil ‘suburban homestead’ falling victim to the urge to break out “Let It Snow” considering it the perfect song for what we are experiencing, nevermind the “No Holiday Music Before Thanksgiving” rule I try to abide by.

We are getting a fire going with our “burnables” trash.  My mother sits making dolls for the upcoming holiday craft fair we’ll be vending at this year.  Any “normal” person walking into the scene around me right now would consider us taking the wintry weather a little too far.  Yes, any normal person would think this, but my family and I are anything but normal (truly, who is?).  We’ve been considered “those hippies”  from California for as long as I can remember – from my mom trying to implement her all-natural lifestyle choices in the new suburban frontier her and my dad settled into to raise us kids.  She made our clothes, preserved food and maintained a garden for years until she began a career in teaching.

The truth of the matter is, eventually the homemade clothes became less and less as my siblings and I begged for the cool name-brand clothing that we believed to be so popular at the time. The garden was let go of with less time to maintain it and along with it the canning and preserving went too.  The only thing I remember remaining a constant was the compost bucket.  That stinky, old plastic ice-cream tub that sat just to the right of the sink we re-used for collecting kitchen scraps.  I remember being told to dump into our pile that sat at the edge of the woods, but never did anything with. I never questioned why we did this, nor did I care at the time either.  I was just a kid obeying orders, most of the time. To be honest, when I moved to the Northwest and began work on a farm, I took pride in knowing what compost was, all because of that damn ice-cream tub operation.  Anyways, the composting seemed to be the life-line to the vision my parents had shared as young kids in love. That one constant of an organic lifestyle not so far off, just further down the road… because as life would have it, we became accustomed to the modern comforts and convenience of the suburban lifestyle.

Currently, my father is in his last year of work before retiring from a government career  that took him and my mother overseas to Germany and Austria for the past 6 years.  With his retirement from a 30 year run on the horizon, my parents are revisiting their dream.  They have decided to head back to California where they have property to realize the old homestead they once held dear in the hearts as a younger couple with their whole lives ahead of them.  Some would consider this a dream long gone and no longer attainable as though it’s too late.  But the compost bucket is still kickin’ and has spoken – my parents may be attempting the dream many years later than what they first imagined, but still have the same youth in their hearts that’s been driving them all along.

Meanwhile, in our years apart, I’ve grown to have a similar dream – living “off the grid,” building a self-sustainable homestead. Currently, I committed to helping my parents with their homestead sharing the knowledge and experience I’ve gathered from living in the Northwest.  As you know, I’ve been experimenting this summer while care-taking here at the home in Va until I went off to travel a bit more.  I returned 2 weeks ago from my travels to meet my parents here and get to work renovating the house to prepare for selling/renting.  Although the experiments fell to the wayside while I set off on my travels,  they laid the groundwork for nowWhat can we do now to begin making the transition from our industrialized habits of comfort and convenience to sustainable practices of comfort and convenience.  We have to rethink our traditional mentality and unlearn habits to begin making different choices that become “new” habits.  And so the transition process goes – “we must be patient with ourselves while learning something new.” (Elizabeth Gilbert, writer)

Some might say, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”  or to make these’ greener’ lifestyle changes within a suburban or urban atmosphere are impossible.  My response?  Nothing is impossible – be open, give something different a try and you never know, it just might snow in October 😉

Breakfast at Aux Marguerites – An Adventure Awaits…

“So, where are we staying tonight?”  I ask as we drive back from the shores of Normandy, France to Giverny.  “Not sure yet.  We’ll figure it out when we get there.  I’m sure there’s something available.” My dad replies with his usual optimism (which I inherited) that usually allows him to get by without planning ahead.

I hear my mother exhale in a way that comes from years of experience traveling with my father and learning to adventure forth with him when planning ahead has simply been “forgotten”.  To be fair (and my mother would argue), his approach hasn’t always turned out the best results.  However, I think we could all agree, they’ve been adventures…

As we arrive in Giverny, it is obvious everyone else had the same thought some weeks or months prior, asking themselves the question of where to go for their summer holiday? – “to Giverny it is!” and of course booked they’re accommodations soon after.  As I ooh and aw at the crowds along the only street in the tiny village, my mother reiterates the fact that it being a mid-summer weekend in France, “of course everyone is in Giverny.”  The packed parking lot, crowded cafe’s and the busy street show us she is right.

Pulling into an empty parking space left miraculously open for us , my mother and I share a knowing look that can only be known within families who’ve shared years of experience doing annual family vacations.  But maybe the empty space was a sign of our fortune to come.

We head for the information center and are greeted by 2 young, cheerful women happy to help us with our cause.  One phone call after another – full, FUll and more FULL – our odds aren’t looking so good.  They decide to send us off while they do the hard labor of finding us a place for the night.  “Check back at 5, there are some no shows for a reservation from yesterday and the hotel is holding it until then.  We’ll continue looking for you though in the mean time.” They say smiling at us with the same optimism my father shares.

We’re off to join the crowds and first find an outdoor organic, botanical cafe.  Here my mother and I (being vegetarians) are finally able to find something other than bread and cheese in the meat heavy cuisine of France.  The cafe serves fresh breads and pastries, of course, but also a variety of mixed salads, soups and grain bowls.  After the leisure lunch, we head for a stroll through Monet’s gardens where we are met with the usual euphoria that enables worries to discretely disappear as if they never existed in the first place.

We enjoy the regular floral fashion show and when it begins to rain, retreat quietly under one of the many large trees here that are so full and voluptuous right now they can keep us dry for hours if they have to.  We stay until closing, soaking up the magnificent beauty, peace and calm that generates here.  We leave the gardens embodying the same acceptance and relaxation you find in people walking away from a full body massage – ready to face whatever destiny awaits them.  So, what’ll it be?  Hopping back into the car to drive until we find a place or staying here?

Hopping into the car it is! Only for a few short minutes though. Five at most.  The two lovely gatekeepers of our nightfall fate found us a place in the next village over, Gasny. And so the adventure continues…

A large, wooden gate opens, and a long, shaded driveway greets us.  A beautiful,  two-story cottage peeks out of an opening in the trees.  A woman steps outside the front door, “Bonjour!” we all say with big smiles to ease the language barrier.  My dad knows just enough french to get by so we look to him to start or keep any conversation flowing.  We introduce ourselves and Madame Baduel of “Aux Marguerites” invites us to have drinks around back before settling in.

Peering around to the back patio, I see laundry hung to dry.  A hammock and a few toys strewn here and there with a young boy and girl playing together in the yard.  And it hits me, we are staying in someone’s home!  Turns out, Madame Baduel, with 3 empty rooms and a bathroom upstairs, opened up her home to travelers and Giverny guests just 2 months prior to our arrival. The experience is what American’s might call “Bed and Breakfast,”  but here in Europe, it is typical to receive breakfast along with the bed.

During drinks at Aux Marguerites

Sitting down for drinks, Madame Baduel, immediately apologizes for the presence of her grandkids. Our stay was unexpected, and she had agreed to take them for the weekend.  We assure her it was more to our delight than burden.  On top of staying directly in her home, the children made us feel more like family rather than people just passing through for the night.

After drinks, she leads us upstairs to show us the rooms and I’m in awe of the elegant, yet cozy, decor.  It is here that I’ll leave you with the pictures to speak for themselves …

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you find yourself traveling, in need of accommodations and have the money to spend on a hotel, I recommend using it on a stay more personal.  In Germany and Austria, they call them Zimmerfries (free rooms), in France Chambres d’hotels. They are rooms available in the comfort of another’s home where you are welcomed in as an invited guest.  Contrary to the experience of a hotel, it is here you may not know what experiences you’ll stumble upon when you arrive – You may find kids playing and giggling in the night serenading you to sleep. You may find laundry being done or a living room actually lived in. A dog that wants to play.  You could even find friends of the host dropping by.  Who knows, one things is for sure though, you’ll have an adventure…oh, and breakfast too 😉

Happy Travels to all.

If you find yourself in or nearby Giverny, France – For reservations you can email Madame Baduel: christianebaduel@gmail.com or go to her website www.auxmarguerites.com

***The following is an eco-travel recommendation***

From Farm to Table – Pizza Machen

Tomaten

One of my dreams has been to make and share a big meal with others that is strictly from the Farm to the Table – using as many ingredients as possible (if not all)  from my own garden or farm.  The baby steps for this begun last summer while I was interning on the farm in Washington.  My fellow intern, Mara, and I would bring home the fruits of our labor and turn them into meals that dazzled our friends eyes and taste buds.  This was just the beginning though.  Most of the ingredients were not homegrown – just the veggies.

After a while, I began buying as much food from the island co-op as possible and relying on the farmers markets for my edible needs.  I finally came to a point where I was no longer shopping at the island super markets. I was relying solely on the farms and the co-op which pulls as much food as it can from local farms and companies in the Northwest.

After relocating back to VA and awaiting on my own little garden to produce, I upheld this ritual I had grown fond of – relying only on the weekly farmers markets and a couple natural food stores. Preparing meals this way, my dream, still on the horizon, but feeling one step closer to fruition…until now.

I am currently abroad in Europe.  Yes, I left the lil homestead and my garden to do some traveling abroad this summer. Not to worry, it’s been left in good hands.

Garden 1

Marienhof garden of veggies and flowers

I have been spending some time on Marienhof Bauer (Farm), where my German friend, Daniel, is currently interning.  Here, is where this dream felt more like a reality than ever.  I am closer.  The dream, no longer on the horizon, but feels like I’ve floated to that mysterious place in the middle of the ocean. No land to give bearings of a possible destination.  Just the sky and the sea all around me – that special place where the horizon no longer exists in our minds eye because we find ourselves floating within it.

Pizza Veggies

The beloved veggies we harvested for the pizza

With this being said,I’ll leave you with the pictures to tell the rest of the story as Daniel and I spent the day in the garden resting, working, playing and eventually harvesting veggies and herbs for our pizza dinner.  The cheeses we used were made on a nearby farm that uses Marienhof’s own fresh milk from a trade agreement they have together.  The flours for the dough are also from surrounding farms in the area.  The only ingredients not from farm or another close by: salt, olive oil and thyme, olives and an italian seasoning.

You can see the photo story here. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Previous Post




In the Heart of a Transplant – Lies a Lesson in Growth

Having neglected the garden all last week, weeds were in their operation take over mode.  I finally muster up the courage to face them and look over the potential damage.  To be honest, my weed problem, just happens to be tomatoes.  I know, it hurts me too to even call these wonderful, delicious fruits – weeds.  In my garden, they are.  Thanks to the compost.  It’s either that, or you can just call me the tomato farmer.  They are everywhere and part of my neglect is because I didn’t want to face the terrible reality that these tomatoes need to go.

You’ve got to understand, having lived in the Northwest, it was really hard to grow tomatoes.  It’s simply too cold for them, unless you have a greenhouse, and even then, it’s still a toss up.   Last years Tomato crop on the farm, from their lack of ripening, we had to make them directly into a sauce.  So, coming here and not only being able to eat Tomatoes right now, but to have them in over-abundance in my garden – I needed time to get used to this.

Now that I have, I look over my garden and face another harsh reality.  I not only have to weed out the tomato take-over, but I have some extra space and I am going to transplant some of the tomatoes into these areas.  So, it’s my job to choose who lives and who dies.  It’s a garden task I’m not really prone to -Thinning – used mostly when planting from seed in large quantities.  After germination, you have a nice row of small seedlings, it is time to thin.  Thinning creates nice spacing  between the plants so they produce a good size fruit/vegetable.

One must go through the seedlings and any that are too close to one another -it’s do or die time – one must be pulled. I was taught it’s best to pull the smaller of the two, but let’s be honest people, that’s not always the case and you literally have to play favorites with these little guys. Hmmm, playing favorites – not really my cup of tea;)

As I pick one by one, choosing the bigger, stronger ones, I can’t help but think about the potential of each one and “what if.”  Why does it always have to be that bigger equals stronger?   I don’t agree.  By nature, I always support the underdog, no matter what.  I dunno, maybe it’s  because I’m so small and throughout my life, many have judged my strength by my size.  However, anyone who knows me, knows – I may be small but I’m strong. Some of that strength, is my stubbornness, I admit, which I  actually like to think of more as perseverance 😉 but based on my own experience, the little can be mighty too.  So my heart goes out and I choose some of the little guys for transplanting just to mix it up…and be fair.

I’m in a rhythym and am feeling good about my diplomatic choices for transplants, when I hear two little voices from the yard next door.  “Hey, it’s the neighbor lady!”  Looking up, I find them running over to the fence toward me.  It’s Jade and Lily.  Two adorable little girls from next door.

 “You look like Dorothy today.”  Jade says,

commenting on my long braids and dress.  Taking it as a compliment, I say thank you.

 “What are you doing?”  They ask.

“I’m just weeding.”

“Can we watch?”

“Sure.”

Lilly runs into my yard over to the swing hanging from a tree. Jade is still behind the fence watching and an idea comes to mind.  Just last night,  I was talking with my friend, Guisepi (Free Tea Party!) who was saying I should get some pictures of what I’m doing.  I told him there’s no one else around for help like that and what do you know, help shows up the very next day.  Just how Life works. 

I call Jade over and ask her if she wants to help with a very important job.  When she finds out it’s taking photos, she’s totally down.  After showing her how to use the camera, she begins snapping away and of course, Lily wants in as well.  When Jade is done with her job, she asks to help in the garden too.  “Of course you can!” 

Lily and Jade help me weed the tomatoes and transplant.  From helping her grandpa in his garden, Jade is pretty knowledgeable and knows the difference between what she calls “a real plant” and a weed.  Lily on the other hand, accidentally pulls out one of my watermelon plants after Jade tried to stop her.  It was too late.  Without me noticing she went right for it yanking the poor thing out.  We talked to Lily about the difference between a weed and a “real plant” and I think with time, she’ll get it.

The girls picked the perfect day to come over. The next task in line is building a cob wall and decorating it with large glass chunks that had been smoothed by a river in Germany. I’ve been hauling these around hoping to find a use for them.  I pour out the bag of river glass.  Their eyes light up as they pick through the shiney pieces with their muddy hands.  I tell them to have at it.  It was my turn to snap some photos.

Lily and Jade building the River Glass Wall

When we finish, it’s time for lunch. I thank them for their help and they promise to come back later to continue.   I think I’ve just taken on two interns.  It’s nice to have some kids around to play in the dirt with me.

From Jade and Lily’s unexpected help and company, it’s one of those days in the garden, I want to last forever.  I walk away feeling deeply happy and inspired by the experience.  It makes me question whether or not to leave all this and go to Europe for the summer as planned.  I know my questioning is just out of fear that I may never have days like this again or that I’d be missing out on something here if I choose to be there.

Isn’t that just life though? …

Making choices means you decide one thing over another and sometimes just for the time being.  There are no lost opporutunites, just what fits for now. Just like choosing the transpants – you got to trust the choices you make.  You can’t think about the “what if” or “what might’ve been.”  You make a choice and see it through. Some choices might bare you many fruits, while others may not bare you much at all.    But you still learn and just like in the potential of each transplant you choose, whether big or small – maybe it’s not always about what they bare or how much they bare, but how they bare it – growth.

My first sign of squash!Baby Tomatoes!!

The Great Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergent … or Determent?

So it’s one of those picture perfect beautiful, late Spring days.  The kind that are hot enough to take a dip, but cool enough to be outside in the sun and not roast.  It’s been a much cooler week here.  When an opportunity to spend some time sunbathing in the beloved Vitamin D I’ve been missing out on over the years comes, I take it. An old friend invites me to hang at her pool, so of course my yard work responsibilities go out the window.  The truth is, I’d been slacking on my duties most of the week. So, in an attempt to feel like I accomplished something before I go, I choose to do laundry as I’m on my last leg of the “necessary under garments.” Might as well utilize the day I’ll be spending in my bikini…a perfect trade off 😉 I think.

Like I said before, I’m here experimenting with myself, finding out what sustainable practices I can implement and find I will live with and what I won’t.  Now, when it comes to laundry, I’m not at a point of washing my clothes by hand or anything so I still use the regular old washer.  If eco-friendly detergent was available I woulda used that. Promise. Instead, I grab the “#1 Pediatricians Pick” detergent left behind by the previous residents, my brother and his family.  It’s either this or some off brand detergent.  Somehow I justify the Pediatrician Pick to be “better” for the environment than the offbrand, gotta love marketing schemes, right?  Could I be anymore well trained?  Just to make me feel better I toss in some of my beloved baking soda (my favorite all-natural, all-purpose household product).  If any of you have seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,”  I am about my baking soda the way the father is about his Windex.  Trust me, it works for everything, the baking soda, that is.

Anyways, I say a quick sorry to the earth for not having bought another detergent by now.  It balances out with the fact that I I’m not using the dryer though, right?  hmmm… maybe, but probably not . So let’s make up for it:  I turn the cycle to the shortest, filling it with cold water and in my clothes go.  Geez… why does something as simple as washing clothes feel like such a moral dilemma?  I guess it’s the nature of the age as more environmental awareness and practices rise to take precedence over our consumerism and convenience we’ve so comfortably grown up with.  And so is, the nature of my experiment as well.

20 minutes later my clothes are ready and waiting for their own dosage of Vitamin D.  I get them out and put them on the line one by one to dry in the sun.  Why is it that a task so domestic feels so right and so good?  Feels like a task thats gotta be in the genes by now.  Maybe it’s the image of all those damn Downy commercials of perfectly white, bright, sun-dried linens blowing in the gentle breeze.  Or,  it’s just the fact that I know the outcome of my “hard days work” will give me a solid wardrobe again.  Either way, after I hang each piece, I sit back and take a look at the picturesque day with the sunlit clothes hanging so neatly on the line.  All the colors lit up from the sun’s glow look like my own little rainbow.  Aw … how perfect.  I take it all in.  Downy’s got nothin’ on me right now.  With a satisfied sense of accomplishment and semi-attempt at good will, I head out with some friends for a day at the pool.

One of the things I love about Northern Virginia spring and summer is no matter how hot it gets, we can always count on a late-day thunderstorm to cool things off for a bit.  So, while I’m enjoying good company, conversation and pool time, the voluminous, dark clouds begin to roll in around us.  At this point, my laundry was the furthest thing from my mind.  As the wind picks up and the thunder crashes around us, we call it a day and head off on our way into the dark sky.  Somewhere between the pool and town, the deeper blue and darker grey colors hovering over us suddenly remind me I need to get home.

The rain begins to fall the closer we get to my house and by the time I arrive, it’s pouring.  My friend Kristen and I race around gathering my clothes that once had been hanging so perfectly on the line were now strewn about all over the ground – casualties from the storms brewing winds.  Damnit… Downy’s got one up on me now… as the commercials always fade out focusing in on a cloudless, sunny sky.

Laughing hysterically at the irony of the situation while becoming just as soaked as the casualty clothing, we run around gathering it up.  If I’ve learned anything in life, it is this:  Life has one big fucking sense of humor –  and so can we. So … Laugh, take it in stride, enjoy the ride, do the best you can at the time and work with what you have.  Oh the how I love irony – so much for trying to help the environment on this one, into the dryer they go.  Maybe next time…

To Be or Not to Be … A Dirty Hippie

Today is one of those days where you look outside and you can see there’s a thick cloud in the air.  You figure it’s humidity, but you’re only 1/2 right. The humidity in the air just sets the mood for the cloud you’re seeing…

My garden has full shade until about 11.  So with any heat advisory, I try to get out early and break for the day when the sun hits.  Normally, I’d work in the sun as I love how it feels upon my skin. Let’s be honest people – what the sun does for my skin too.  Four years of being Vitamin D deprived in the Northwest, you better believe I’m gonna soak it up now.

It’s only 8:30 and the heat is laying itself on thick.  Even in the shade.  I am sweating just standing here.  Regretting my decision to leave the cool NW climate?  Hell No.  I work my way building a rock wall around one of my garden beds.  I can barely keep my eyes open because gnats are swarming all around my head.  One literally flies right into my eye on a suicide mission getting itself smushed inside.  Took me outta commission for about 5 minutes to see clearly again.  At this point, I notice 3 flies buzzing around my head.

What the hell is going on here?  Am I that ripe?  I take some whiffs of myself.  No, not any more than my usual vapors I’m given off when I’m out here.  What is it then?  I wave my hands around and demand they leave me alone.  What’s with all the bug action?  With the question in mind I try to think of a possible explanation and find myself rest on one: Are bugs naturally attracted to patchouli?  I noticed after buying my new shampoo bar the other day that it had patchouli in it.

Now, I know what you’re thinking…Patchouli?… ha, typical hippie.  Right?  Wrong!  I hate the stuff.  Never where it.  Never want to.  And to be honest catching light whiffs of it in my hair for the last day has turned my nose up each time. When I bought the bar from a woman at the farmers market, it was in a desperate attempt to find something completely natural and homemade.  After all, I’d been washing my hair with my own homemade brew of what I thought was clay, but turned out to be sand, but that’s another story;)

So, I’m sitting there feeling a bit embarrassed wondering if I’ve crossed the line now between cute lil hippie lady to dirty hippie woman who needs to get a clue about her own stench and stop trying to cover it up with patchouli.  You see, as I’m out here creating a homestead right smack in the middle of suburbia, experimenting with my creature comforts, the line between an alternative lifestyle and dirty hippie is a fine one.  While I’m walking it, learning what I will and will not live without. What I really do or do not need, there’s going to be many moments of harsh honesty in confronting one’s own wildness.

These gnats and flies hovering around me were all to reminiscent of the same hovering I saw around the cows at the farm I moved from.  Right as I was about to get lost in the thoughts of an identity crisis, I caught my reflection in the beads of sweat on my arm.  Completely motionless, I’m dripping sweat. I look around and see swarms of gnats and flies  hovering like a dense Seattle fog all over the yard  –  hmmm, I think the excess bugginess has to do with todays extra mugginess.  Not me.

Soaked with sweat and smattered with gnat juices, I leave the garden with a mission to shower and find solace in an air-conditioned cafe for a good day of writing… making a mental note to self –   Research potential effects of patchouli on insects, specifically gnats and flies.

(Written about June 9, 2011 Thursday)