Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

I went to my first swap this past April. I had heard of swaps but didn’t find one in my area until a friend found this one on a MeetUp page and told me about it.

Swap July 2013

Swap July 2013

The organizer set up a few guidelines and the rest is history. She holds it once a month.

There were a few guidelines to follow:

  • No money was allowed – this is all about the trade and bartering with what you have for what you want/need.
  • Items should be sustainably-minded. Something you have grown in your garden, something you conned/cooked/brewed/baked/preserved/dried, etc. Something your animals made (goat milk, hen eggs, lamb wool, etc.) Something you sewed/knitted/re-purposed, etc. Items to do with sustainable interests are also good (Mother Earth News magazines, cookbooks, cooking/camping gear, etc)
  • The items you should leave at home: this is not a garage sale, items should be about sustainability. Leave the knick-knacks at home.

Once we set up, we were allowed 15 minutes to walk around and check out the items other people brought so we could see what we were interested in.

Lemon pickles, Dill pickles, Homemade Teriyaki sauce

Lemon pickles, Dill pickles, Homemade Teriyaki sauce

Each month I have been posting about the swap over on my personal blog. About a month ago I realized that I hadn’t posted about the July swap and I thought it would be a good topic to post here. I have known the swap and barter system is out there and alive, and I realize that there may be others out there that are interested, but don’t know were to look or even how to get started.

Here are the other swap posts I have done”

Here are a few places to look to find swaps in your area: Note: I will add additional information to this post as I find it or as people comment. (updated 19 Sept 2013)

Would you go to a swap if you had one in your area?
Are you participating in a swap in your area?

Please use the comments to let others know about how to find a swap. If you out there participating in a swap, please comment with the general area you are in and add a link to the swap information.

Sincerely, Emily

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Things he now has to do for himself:

Make the bed

Wash the dishes

Write a budget

Call friends

Pay taxes

Balance the checkbook

Go grocery shopping




Find a plumber (and an electrician)

Plan entertainment

Water the plants

What would you hate having to learn how to do, or do without, if the housekeeper your spouse wasn’t around anymore?

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I grew up in suburban Philadelphia, back when suburbs were leafy and dense, with public transportation connecting them to downtown.

But my hometown is Urbana, Illinois, where I went to high school and college.

You can’t imagine two places more different. My Brooklyn-bred parents never acclimated and my mother eventually homed back on the city and moved to Chicago. My father is still there, but it’s never felt like a natural fit to me, despite the fact that he passes for a native, corn-fed wife and all. The landscape is flat. There are no rocks. Public transportation hits the edge of town, if you’re lucky, and turns back around like there’s a force field preventing you leaving.

Eventually, of course, most everyone leaves. The diaspora from my high school graduating class stretches from Chicago to Texas to Manhattan to California to Tasmania. I left with a man, homing in on Chicago, his hometown. And now, I suppose, more than 30 years later, I’m a Chicagoan.

Growing up in a college town comes with a strange dissonance, because millions of people your age also “gorw up” there, so that having conversations with people about your hometown often ends with “oh yeah, I lived there. That’s where I went to school.” They think they know Urbana, but they don’t remember when there was a movie theater in downtown Urbana, assuming they can even find downtown Urbana. They don’t remember when the Courier Cafe was actually a newspaper office, complete with printing presses, which was my secret source of giant endrolls of newsprint. I used to bring it to the art department when everyone else was buying it at the art supply store. Because I was from Urbana and knew where to go. Even those of us who stayed home to go to college think of ourselves as “town” not “gown”.

As has happened with high school classes across America, mine reconnected several years ago via Facebook. So many years after graduation, you find that the petty issues of high school are gone. The cheerleader and the freak are friends. The freak discovers that the cheerleader was probably a cheerleader because she’s so damn friendly and nice, and the cheerleader discovers the freak was a freak because she’s so quirky and creative. And everyone discovers this bond that is the hometown. “I know what you know” is a powerful glue.

I homed in on home this week, because the man that I left here with, 30+ years ago, left our home today.  I couldn’t bear to be there to watch him strip away half my life so that he could start a new one. And as I drove down I57, through the cornfields, past the familiar towns, and turned onto Lincoln Avenue I realized that you carry your hometown with you, and no one can take that away.

There really is no place like home.

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I usually try to stay away from politically charged issues. I’m a terrible debater, and I tend to start to sympathize with every heartfelt argument I hear. But we recently lost readers on the blog because of a political position and I feel it needs to be addressed.

I’m not writing this in support of either side of any issue, and I don’t want to see polemics in the comments. Rather, I want to talk about how to get along with and listen to people whose outlooks seem wrong, even abhorrent.

Controversial issues don’t go away because someone slings mud at the other side.  You don’t convince people of either your position or your righteousness by listing facts, especially if those facts come from suspect sources, or from sources with a clear agenda. Even more so when they’re accompanied by name-calling.

Murder doesn’t stop because it’s illegal; wars don’t stop even if they never solve anything. I’m very very liberal politically, and grew up in a household that shunned organized religion. I’m about as different from the mainstream as it gets. And yet I am close to many, many people on the religious Right, and with whom I violently disagree on nearly every political issue. (Yes, I said it–some of my best friends are conservatives. sigh) I have come around to some so-called conservative viewpoints because I’m not afraid to listen, and because I simply don’t argue. Speak your piece, but don’t hit me over the head with it. I listen better when I’m conscious.

I believe in Sisterhood. Brotherhood. Community. I believe that taking sides means you stop listening. I believe that the great issues of our day–war, gun violence, epidemic disease, environmental degradation, poverty, racism–have solutions. I even think that everyone knows what the solutions are, and that we all pretty much agree.

But we allow ourselves to be co-opted into a system that rewards the people already insulated from all of these issues. We let the system define liberals as naive and conservatives as ignorant. We allow ourselves to be convinced that the “other side” is “evil” and often by the very people who are robbing us of our treasure and our freedom even as we drink the koolaid they are offering. We refuse to read what the other side says; we refuse to acknowledge that any part of what it says is valid. We even change positions if the “other side” starts finding common ground. We let a system that doesn’t exist to support, if I may, the 99%, divide us with wedge issues rather than helping us deal with root causes.

I am your sister, whatever my beliefs. We live on this earth together, and it’s the only one we have. If you’re going to fight, make sure you’re fighting with the person who wants to hold you down, and not just with the one who disagrees with you.

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What makes a matriarch?

Is a matriarch the oldest female in the family, or the wisest, or simply the one who usurps the role? We often conflate age and wisdom in our society, possibly because no one ever feels quite “wise,” but it seems safe to assume that age confers wisdom. I think my own mother would have resisted the role of matriarch; it would not have appealed to her sense of the ephemeral. My sister in law’s mother made a classic old-world matriarch, but probably just because she was Old World right down to the accent, the home-cooked Hungarian meals, and the house dress persona. We all try to shoehorn my mother-in-law  into the role, but she also resists it. This leaves me or my sister in law. Or really it just leaves her, because I think she covets the role. Which is maybe what makes a matriarch.

The matriarch is the unanswerable Mother, the person with the final say. This is the appeal– that someone can say, “Stop”. Someone can say, “Don’t”. That someone actually has the final answer and the right to an expectation of obedience, or at least compliance. It is this expectation that confers the power of the Matriarch, and by extension the wisdom. It’s a feedback loop that reinforces the power– if I give you power over me, I need to justify that with a belief in your wisdom, which gives you power over me.

But it’s not the only role available to old ladies. The witch-woman, the Crone, the Crazy Old Lady, also has her place alongside the Matriarch, in fact without her the Matriarch is too powerful. Like the King needs his Fool, the Matriarch needs her wise woman who basically doesn’t put up with her bull. The matriarch sustains the status quo and provides continuity, while the witch woman provides the potion that turns your world upside down. The matriarch offers stability and the witch-woman passion.

The concept of the matriarch, the Powerful Old Lady, is very appealing. I am too young for this role, and at any rate, I’m headed straight towards Crazy Old Lady. I also don’t have enough of a satellite system, so to speak– no young ‘uns, and not much of an extended family. (Which brings up the other question of how large your tribe needs to be before it even requires a matriarch.)

The world needs both– the Matriarch to provide the base, and the Crone to blow it up. Tradition and Innovation, Wisdom and Passion, Power and Magic.

Is there a Matriarch or a Crone in your tribe?

My mother would have been 90 this month Thursday. She died more than 30 years ago, so we’ll never know if she would have been the matriarch, or the witch woman, or if she would have been simply mom. Are you Matriarch, or Crone?

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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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Obligatory Title

Not Dabbling has been on my daily browsing list for quite some time now. I will admit that I am a lurker. Always reading – Never posting.

I grew up in rural Tennessee on a 150 acre farm. In the late 80’s I ran a small poultry operation. I used a recycled box truck bed as a coop, experimented with no-till farming to feed the birds, and used the bird manure in the garden. I didn’t know what organic was back then, but by today’s standard, both the eggs and meat produced would be pretty close to organic. In the early 90’s I moved to the city and left my farming life behind.

Today, I am a technologist by trade. I don’t consider myself a true computer geek, but I suppose most people would. I am the guy with the smart phone, laptop, busy schedule, project deadlines et al. My life today is VERY plugged in. Needless to say when my wife suggested getting into poultry, I was the consummate skeptic. I didn’t think we had the time for birds because I remembered all the DIFFICULT things about it, I also wasn’t sure Jennifer was really up to the task.

I couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

As Jennifer went down the path of poultry husbandry, I followed right behind with a watchful eye. I was tasked with housing, and was able to tap into latent abilities learned on the farm many, many moons ago. I began to remember the REWARDING things about caring for birds. I began to connect with dormant parts of my history.

Now that Jennifer is 100%, certifiable bird crazy (read that any way you want), I continue to find other connections in her blog. I also connect to what all of you do. At one point or another, I have been reminded of the person I once was by every Lady on this blog. Your writings and photographs clearly relay the passion that each of you has for Not Dabbling in Normal. That passion helps me unplug from time to time. I stop to appreciate the beauty that surrounds me.

Thank you Jennifer. Thank you Ladies of NDIN. You all have a great thing going on here. I will continue to lurk as long as you all continue to write.

– Cody


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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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Last week I talked about homemade gifts for the holiday season.  It just so happens that my oldest son is getting married on New Year’s Eve.  I have wracked my brain for something unique and handmade as a wedding gift.

I have already got them a set of their dishes but I want something more personal but just as useful.

Here is my idea…

After being married almost 27 years I figured maybe hubby and I might  have some pearls of wisdom we could pass on to the young soon-to-be-married couple.

I have decided to take all my best advice and make it into a pretty little book that I’ll have printed to give them on their wedding day.

This is where you all come in!

I figure I am not the only one that has something constructive to say making a relationship work through the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, you know the ups and downs of staying together through the years!

I am going to compile the best advice I get here and on my own blog and add it to the book.

The only catch is that I just thought of it and I will need to compile it quickly and get it sent off to be printed.

So go ahead and lay it on me…what is some of your very best advise that either you have learned from your marriage/relationship?

Something that you wish someone had told you back at the very beginning!

And thanks…I know we have some the wisest readers on the web so I can’t wait to hear what you have to share!


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Reflect upon your present blessings, of which everyone has many.

~Charles Dickens

When I was trying to think about what to write about last night, I saw this quote somewhere. It’s so fitting this time of year. As we get into December and things start to get hectic we often forget about the things that truly matter most and we fail to notice the blessings that we have. We can get caught up in the race to buy the most, best, and biggest gifts, forgetting that it’s really about the person you’re giving to and the blessing of having them in your life. Sometimes simply spending time with someone is the best gift you can give. Mr Chiots and I aren’t big gift people, we don’t give each other many things. Instead we like to spend time together during this season, drinking hot cocoa and looking at Christmas lights, listening to Christmas music, or simply sitting and relaxing by candlelight. Make sure you take some time to reflect upon you blessings during this busy month, it will help you enjoy the season all the more.

How do you like to relax and take time to reflect during the holiday season?

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

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