Sustaining Life

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Wednesdays are the days I’ve chosen to really focus in on my professional life.  I am working on a masters in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on sustainability.  So, I think a lot about what it takes to sustain natural life.  Food, water, shelter/clothing, health…food in, waste out….and where does our energy come from, not the energy for our cars, which is a luxury, but the energy for our bodies?

Today it is easy to forget where our food comes from.  We feel dependent on the grocery store, which makes us feel dependent on our jobs and our money, rather than feeling dependent on the land and the environment.  Instead of a life based on physical effort, connection with our surroundings and humility about our place on the earth, our lives have become a game of numbers, kind of like gambling.  We make wild choices, betting on the future through credit, thinking we can beat the house, even when the numbers don’t add up.

Above are my friends Lois, Jacob, and his baby Joshua, sustaining life by having relationships with the land and other people.  We can’t all do that these days, but maybe we can do a little better job of balancing the numbers, playing by nature’s rules, humbly accepting less, in order to sustain future life.

Small Living

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I’m thinking about moving this year. While paying my rent for January I was talking about some of my options with my apartment manager. In our conversation, the size of my current efficiency apartment came up: around 300 square feet! I basically have a nice dorm room/bedroom with a small kitchen on the other side of a wall cut out and short hallway with a closet and bathroom at the end. Part of my strategy is to use the outdoor veranda (first photo above) as living space when the weather is nice.

One reason for choosing the efficiency is that I’ve felt like I want to live “more in my community”. In Indiana when I was doing some work in community development I ran into some good books about community space. In the past, and also in other cultures, people haven’t been so “into” having their own private little mansions. People had smaller houses, lived in apartments or with family, had flats, and spent a lot more time at the local pub or cafe, museums, public parks…they actually lived in their communities and consequently felt more responsible for the spaces they shared with their neighbors.

In Indiana I had a three bedroom house on 3/4 of an acre and frankly, often felt overwhelmed at the personal expense and responsibility of maintaining our “little mansion”. Now that my son is grown and I live alone, I’m exploring small space living. I do feel cramped in my efficiency and sometimes downright depressed, but I still think there is value in finding new ways to live small. Maybe some day I’ll wind up in something like I saw in Wired this morning! (second photo above)

Iowa Caucus Night

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I caucused at a local elementary school on Jan. 3. Before entering the school I tried to take some photos of the surrounding area. I live in a mixed area of very nice houses, starter homes and college student apartments. The one photo I didn’t get was of the trailer park where some local Hispanic men appear to live. That may have been significant, considering what happened later. As I entered the school, I was struck by what a neighborhood event the caucus was. The parking lot was full, but many people also walked to the school and even brought their children along to observe. Four years ago when I caucused here, the school was packed with around 300 people attending. 2008 brought around 480 eligible caucus voters and you could tell it was going to be a hot night as soon as you entered the door and saw the line of people waiting to register as first time participants.

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Once everyone got into the gym it became clear that we wouldn’t all fit, at least for very long, and it would be impossible for anyone to move, and so the first surprise of the night was that all the Obama people were asked to move to the media center. Even though I was standing for Edwards, I was rather dismayed at the Obama people being singled out, but as they streamed out of the gym, it did become clear that they had more supporters than any one else. The second surprise – at the end of the first round, someone announced that Richardson only needed two more people in order to be viable..would anyone be willing to move to Richardson…and two people did! The horse trading continued and the Obama floor managers did come in and out to keep track of what was happening. As an Edwards supporter, I think I counted off as number 11 or 12 about four times until the final numbers settled down to the following: Obama 200 something, Edwards 102, Clinton 80 something and Richardson 80 something.

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My Mother’s House

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My mother died five years ago last Saturday..and my father, almost two years before that. What’s that saying…you can’t go home again? For me, that’s true now. I ran across these pictures the other day…I’ve labeled them “my mother’s house”. If you knew my parents, you would know that my mother never liked this house very much, built later in their lives, just the way my dad wanted it, too big for grandparents with no grandchildren near by perhaps. The birch tree, the gazebo, the special stone on the front of the house, these all speak of things my dad loved and enjoyed bringing into being. So why do I think of it as my mother’s house? Maybe it’s because she wound up living there last, or maybe it has to do with what most women know…a man may work and pay for the house, but it’s the woman who usually controls the inside. It’s a miracle marriages ever work. How do two different people raised in two different families ever come to an agreement on how to make a house their home? My husband and I could have lived with each other…it’s was the house that killed us. I thought it was his unwillingness to part with a single thing that was totally unacceptable. Looking back now though, my protestation mess was just as bad. Somehow, my mother and father compromised on their houses. Maybe it was because in their day, they were just glad to have someplace to live at all.

What I did on my summer vacation!

I had a summer vacation…imagine that! It’s been one of those summers that every middle aged woman probably has at least once in her life, but it ended with a nostalgic trip to the east coast with my sister and lots of wonderful green time and beach time. When I was around ten and she was twenty five, we trekked the hundreds of  miles with my mother to visit her sister in Deltaville, Virginia and went back many summers after that. The green on the east coast is very different, very soft, sometimes dry, but laced with lots of water, inlets, marshes, and rivers emptying out into the sea, and of course the crashing waves of the ocean. This August we returned to Deltaville and then went on to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. I loved the tall pine trees, the grasses on the sand dunes, the light houses, the sunsets.

Spring on the farm

It was my birthday a few weeks ago, so I took myself on a special outing! I fell in love with farms a long time ago. My mother always said I should have married a farmer. Instead, I studied soils and plant science and spend most of my time with books.  But, for this birthday, I went wandering in the countryside. Some nearby farms had tastings – ice cream, goat cheese, honey, popcorn, locally made wines- a wonderful taste of green!

May Basket Day

May Basket Day was BIG in my family! Even when we were past the age for making May Baskets, we made them anyway, sometimes out of wallpaper samples, sometimes with DQ containers and crepe paper. We filled them with popcorn, flowers, candy corn, and Mom’s divinity. Have you ever made divinity? Let me tell you, “It ain’t easy!” It’s one of those candies that you cook until it spins a thread. You can also use a candy thermometer, but that would be cheating. Sometimes, if you didn’t do it just right, you wind up with a sticky mess of corn syrup and eggs whites instead of the most heavenly, light, dry white fluff that melts in your mouth. I learned about never giving up from my mom. If she had a batch flop out on her, she just threw it out and started over again. Never, never, never, ever, give up! Get right back in there and try it again!! So in memory of mom, thanks to my sister who sent me this lovely basket of flowers for May Basket Day. Love you sis!

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Green lace

Today was the day….the green lace day! Just before spring’s canopy pops open like an umbrella, you can see the lace, if you look fast. In past years, I have been a little lazy, thinking “tomorrow I’ll get out and take in my fill of green lace, before it passes away”. Sure, I might notice it as I walk past a window, that intricate gossamere that slips out of plump, pregnant branches, the sweetest of light and airy greens, but I never quite “get out there” before the baby leaves grow up into adolescence. Except this year….this year I did it. I am currently unemployed, what a blessing! Of coures it didn’t feel like a blessing when it happened, but now that I am recovering, I am finding time for important things, like green lace. Today I took my Olympus out to see just exactly what these baby leaves look like, scattered in the woodsy understory or high up in the bedrooms of squirrels. Here is just a little taste of what I saw. By tomorrow, or the next day perhaps, the babies will be gone, but this year I kissed their sweet cheeks and looked them right in their little green eyes!