Archive for the ‘REAL life’ Category


January is a suspended month.  The poets describe the month as forlorn, though Hal Borland quips that “there are two seasonal diversions that can ease the bite of any winter.  One is the January thaw.  The other is the seed catalogues.”

This year we’re actually, oddly, waiting for winter, which seems reluctant to even start. The shrubs, also waiting, are confused and have started to bud. I’m waiting for my amaryllis to bloom, timed, for once, to properly bloom on my birthday next week, which is what I was shooting for. I planted winter greens this year, two types of arugula, and I wait for them to sprout and grow, wandering casually past the seed station several times a day to see if maybe they’ve gotten tired of waiting and have decided, instead, to suddenly be mature and ready to eat.  I planted basil too, and found a new marker to wait for–there’s a point at which they start to smell like basil.

When I was a young mother I used to wait for my children to sleep so I could get, something? done. I can’t remember anymore what that was I was trying to do. While I was waiting, they went and grew up. We wait each day for the sun to hang around a little longer,  as “imperceptible as the growth of a child.” I count the days until I can pull out the seed starting mix and plant the early crops, and then the tomatoes. But I won’t be satisfied after I’ve gotten there and done that; I’ll just start waiting again, to be able to take them outside and harden them off, and then to plant, and then to grow until the cycle comes around another time, with me, still waiting.

Gardeners and cooks spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting for the spring, for the sprout, for the fruit, for the harvest. Waiting for the bread to rise and the milk to scald, and the foam to settle. Waiting, even for the dishes to be washed or the table set.

I would have included a photo with this post, but I’m waiting for the camera to recharge.

As I write this, I’m waiting for a cake to bake. Getting impatient, I whipped the left over egg whites for meringue cookies, not thinking that they would need to sit for an hour, and then another hour while the oven cooled down. In the meantime, they slumped, and then separated, and I had to throw them out. I guess I should have waited.

What are you waiting for?

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Recently a new friend remarked that I had “a lot of rules.”  This was in response to my statement that I don’t read the gossip magazines anymore, triggered by the death of Princess Diana, but supported by my belief that we are too susceptible to bread and circuses and that it interferes with our ability to live a mindful life.

Susy wrote about this same phenomenon last week, regarding people who feel like your choices are a direct insult to them.

But what I’m trying to do is not so much “have a lot of rules” as to be true to my internal political and moral beliefs.  You cannot state that you understand global warming and support the reduction of our dependence on fossil fuels, and then sit in a loading zone with the car running, or drive an SUV.  You cannot put a sticker on your car that says “reduce, reuse, recycle” and then walk out of the grocery store with 14 plastic bags, especially if you have resusable bags in the trunk of your car. You cannot complain about Big Ag if you get all your groceries at the national chain, and seldom cook from scratch because you don’t want to devote the time.  You’re not supporting the local food system if you’re eating at chain restaurants. If you believe that privatization of the commons is a bad thing, then you shouldn’t be parking at the privatized parking meters, or driving and paying a toll on the privatized road. A little inconvenience is a small price to pay,.

The political is personal. Your political beliefs should inform your life, not just your vote.

When people first meet me, I’ll warn them, I’m different. They will inevitably poo-poo this, stating that I’m just fine (as though I’m looking for reassurance). And then after they know me a little while, they’ll start to realize that in fact, I am different. I choose to live my life in a consistent way, even when it adds cost or inconvenience to my daily existence.

The personal is political. Small actions can lead to major change. Live your life by the rules you set for yourself, and mighty empires fall.

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Summer is the season of cookouts. You can spend almost every weekend at a cookout if you want to. It’s a danger zone for those of us that are REAL foodies though, all that CAFO meat and heavily processed food. How’s a REAL foodie to survive the cookout season without looking like a food snob, making others feel guilty or simply making yourself crazy?

First: relax, you don’t have to worry about eating all REAL food all the time. Simply go, eat what you want and enjoy yourself – and don’t feel guilty. Of course if you’re going to a cookout every weekend you’ll want to have few other survival strategies.

Second: take some time to make a game plan and learn what foods are the safest choice. A hamburger is less processed and has fewer preservatives and additives than a hot dog. Plain potato or tortilla chips aren’t chocked full of artificial flavors or dyes like cheese puffs and other flavored/colored snacks.

Third: take food. I’m not saying take your own meal for yourself, take some REAL food to share with everyone. I have found that this is the best method for converting others to joy of eating REAL food. Cookouts are usually laid back events and it’s not weird or uncommon for people to bring food and most hosts are very appreciative when you bring something that you’ve spent time making. You don’t have to go out of your way to take a bunch of food, but a few key dishes will give you more than enough to fill your plate. I often take homemade burger buns, who can resist homemade rolls? People are usually so thankful when I do because let’s face it, store bought rolls usually leave a lot to be desired. Often I’ll take some ground venison for burgers as well, so people can try some game meat. Most of the people we know have mentioned that they’d love to try it someday, so it’s my way of providing us with some good meat and sharing with others something they’ve expressed interest in. Perhaps you can take some ground pastured beef and say you just wanted to share because it was so good. When you deal with issues this way you don’t come off as a food snob, you come of as someone that’s excited about something and wants to share it with others.

Then when people talk about how great your ___________ was, you have an opportunity to tell them about how you made it and why it’s so good. I’ve noticed through experience that people are usually amazed when they eat something homemade and will usually make it a point to come talk to you about it. I always tell them how I made it and why. More often than not it starts a wonderful conversation about REAL food. Even if I don’t convert people to eating REAL food, I’ve gotten a lot of people to spend a little more time thinking about where their food comes from.

Taking a plate of homegrown vegetables is also a great idea. I have yet to meet someone who isn’t excited when they see me bring a few freshly picked tomatoes from my garden to a cookout. Usually they’re oooing and ahhhing over the lovely color, the shape and the smell.

You may find however that eating too much processed food after eating mostly REAL will wreak havoc on your body – especially your digestive system. After eating REAL food for so long my body does not tolerate processed food at all. I end up with a processed food “hangover”- headache, stomachache, nausea and generally feel pretty terrible for the entire next day. If that is the case, eat before you go, then you can only eat a small amount. Taking some activated charcoal before and after you cookout meal with also help, it will help your body get rid of all of the toxins from the processed foods. If this is the case, be honest. Since most of my acquaintances read my blog, they know my food stances and they understand when I tell them “my body doesn’t handle processed food very well any more”. Usually they say “Oh, I can imagine”.

What tips do you have for surviving the cookout season as a REAL foodie?

I can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, maple sugaring, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Ethel Gloves, Simple, Green, Frugal, Co-op, and you can follow me on Twitter.

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It’s been great meeting all the men, and their cheerful willingness to be exploited. All that fresh food must have gone to their heads.


The week did NOT start auspiciously. I (Xan) was having trouble firing up the lawn mower (a 30 year old dinosaur of a gas mower, way out of proportion to the amount of grass). Out comes Wei– “is the spark plug hooked up?” Well how helpful! YES the damned spark plug is hooked up. mutter mutter How about you just come over and DO this for me (mutter mutter).

He did offer to help, and in the inexplicable logic of women I wouldn’t let him, because of the “way you asked.” Everybody wins! I’m still struggling with the mower and he gets to go back in the house. Why do we do this to ourselves? He did however, construct a nice little fountain with our old ceramic fish, and fixed the downspout so that I don’t have to haul water INTO the rain barrel anymore (I may have mentioned how pathetic I am at DIY.)


Usually my Hubby, Cody, leaves the digging part of gardening to me. He allows me the freedom to choose which crops we’ll plant for the year, how to design the gardens, and what project and critter dreams we’ll chase for each season. Not always willingly, mind you.


Like when I brought home turkeys and guineas (SURPISE!) without much forthought about where they’d reside. This small bit of acting on impulse (oh, they were so cute!! And the thought of our own heritage turkey for Thanksgiving dinner was overwhelming) caused poor Hubby to spend all of his spring weekends working on building poultry tractors for all of our new birds.

Not half-heartedly either. He’s done an amazing job and put many of his skills to use. He spent many weeks just researching and deciding how to build the tractors before we even bought the first piece of wood. Just like when he built the water barrel system.
I’m the dreamer and he’s the builder of those dreams. I’m the whimsy and he’s the planner. Yes. I’m very lucky indeed because I couldn’t do any of it without his help.
put the camera down and help me


What do your fellow travelers do in your garden?

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One of the hardest things for some gardeners to do is to let people in to help. Since I’ve been teaching about gardening in the last couple of years, I’ve gotten better at this. After all, the plants know what to do; someone’s “mistake” in a garden is not going to have that big an impact.

For someone so grouchy (who, me?), I seem to have accumulated quite a community centered around my gardening. It’s rather a pocket metaphor for how one’s life changes with time. In the past I had only brought people into the garden once a year or so, for a garden party we give each year at the flowers’ “peak,” around mid to late July. Now I’ve got friends helping me with tasks through my Hipster Supported Agriculture project, community gardens, and a huge online community of mentors and friends that is growing and developing daily.

This month we’ll be writing about our gardening communities, if you can describe thus the men that we corral into the heavy lifting. I have two semi-reluctant gardeners in my life: my son (call him Jay), and my husband, (call him Wei). (There’s a third one as well, my daughter Jee, she’s a little more reluctant and a lot better at resisting me.)

I think they’re fairly intimidated by the green things, except when it comes to eating, but can be convinced to build things– a pond, paths, patios, trellis, rain barrel systems, potting benches, fencing.

Wei is also very much into critters. Fish. Birds. Worms. He’s always goading me into getting chickens, and I’m pretty sure he’d like a hive, not to mention worm compost. We have binoculars at the kitchen window so he can spy on the birds.

It was the animals that finally got Wei into the garden, and got me to understand that it is, in fact, our garden, not just mine.

One summer day last year, Jay burst into the kitchen to exclaim that “the garden is just teeming– there are so many things alive out there!”  A garden is just the not-so-quiet center of life; it will touch all your communities, large and small, if you let it.

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While I hate grammatical errors like the one I made in my title, it seems to fit colloquially. Heh.

Tanglewood Here! I was supposed to have almost an hour to write this blog post. I had it scheduled into my day perfectly. My husband is set up (exhibiting) at the local comic book convention this weekend and I am his sidekick, so I won’t be getting a whole lot done around the farm. That’s where I came from earlier. I dashed home shortly after 3 to do a bit of work around the farm, walk the neighbor’s dog and write my blog post. Apparently the chickens had other plans. Sometimes… okay I’ll admit it… sometimes I totally HATE chickens. It’s true.

So instead of what I had planned to post, I give you this: my mad dash to make myself presentable after spending three hours working out in the garden and farmyard. I try to use just plain old hot water and scrubbing as often as possible but dang! Three hours in the sticky humidity will wreak havoc on an otherwise composed individual!

So I came inside after chasing chickens around the yard for forty minutes and my clean up went a little like this:

  • Scrub hands and nails with hot hot water and a hard brush. Luckily shearing sheep left my hands soft with lanolin. BONUS!
  • Hot washcloth to the face, followed by all natural anti-shine powder.
  • COLD washcloth to the neck, arms and face. Holy cow my face is red.
  • All natural deodorant, followed by a makeup brush full of baking soda to each armpit (Yes, I am stinky. the natural deodorant doesn’t cut it alone!)
  • Quick brush of the teeth and an inspection for bits of green from the spinach I munched on while gardening
  • Tousle of hair. I try to go for the whole so-messy-it’s-GOT-to-be-intentional look. It’s very “in” right now. 🙂
  • Donning of “nice clothes” which really aren’t that nice, but at least they aren’t covered in sheep manure!
  • Scrubbing of hands again because -dang- that dirt just don’t come out of the cracks on my fingers.
  • Glance at the clock
  • Run!

Tada! Now I am off to dinner with my husband, some friends and some other comic book professionals. I apologize for the crazy post. You can take it up with my chickens. They like to fly 10-15 feet in the air, directly over my head, rather than being caught and cooped up. Ugh.

Do you have any awesome quick and natural clean up methods? Is it me or does gardening always run a little behind schedule?

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