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 😉


From Farm to Table – Pizza Machen


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. 

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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)