Friday, April 30, 2010

You Read to Me, I'll Read to You (Part II)

Here's a running list of books we've read. We'll endeavor to keep it updated in order, but initially it will be what we remember having read. The ones we've found to be exceptional in some way get an asterisk. Ones we didn't finish get a minus.

Living More with Less: the 30th Anniversary Edition by Doris Janzen Longacre finished 2/10/12 -- An inspiration and record of ideas toward simple living. I wish they had a version that didn't so highly praise the original book. This one can stand on its own merits without constantly citing the reputation of the first edition.
Unbowed, by Wangari Maathai finished 11/23/11 -- As the narrative evolved past the first chapter it became more and more incredible to think she managed to get anything accomplished. And if it had been biography instead of autobiography I would have wondered at what point she would be "disappeared". Peris substantiated this sense by commenting that she was the only one who stood up to President Moi, and everyone expected she would be killed. Read this book to see what is possible in impossible circumstances. We learned the sad news two days after dropping Peris and Mary off at the airport, that on that Sunday, September 25th, she passed on.
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë finished 3/15/11 -- Like The Sixth Sense, it has a plot twist plot twist that everyone who's read it will give away inadvertently when you tell them you are reading it. But we enjoyed it anyway.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame, by Victor Hugo finished 11/20/10 -- Dan was disgusted with it. Especially all of the really boring parts, which he would have skipped but Margo said were "part of the experience". It is, however, great writing, and he strings you along to the very end, just like Melville's Moby Dick.
*Shogun, by James Clavell
Tai Pan, by James Clavell
Middlemarch, by George Eliot (actually Mary Anne Evans)
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen
The Continuum Concept, by Jean Liedloff
*Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
- Look Homeward, Angel, by Thomas Wolfe -- Margo loved it, Dan didn't.
- Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley -- Dan loved it, Margo didn't.
Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkein
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkein
Harry Potter, 1-3, by J.K. Rowling
- Harry Potter, 4-7, by J.K. Rowling -- Margo didn't read these.
Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
Don Juan, by Lord Byron
Saving Fish from Drowning, by Amy Tan
The Kitchen God's Wife, by Amy Tan
The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan
Le Père Goriot, by Honoré de Balzac
Dune, by Frank Herbert
Dragons in the Water, by Madeleine L'Engle
An Acceptable Time, by Madeleine L'Engle
Many Waters, by Madeleine L'Engle
Arm of the Starfish, by Madeleine L'Engle
A Swiftly Tilting Planet, by Madeleine L'Engle
A Wind in the Door, by Madeleine L'Engle
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle
The Odyssey, by Homer
The Golden Compass Trilogy, by Philip Pullman
The Mary Russell books, by Laurie R. King
The Complete Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Seabiscuit, by Laura Hillenbrand
Mister God, This is Anna, by Flynn (actually Sydney Hopkins)
Artemis Fowl; The Lost Colony, by Eoin Colfer
The Call to Shakabaz, by Amy Wachspress
Kidnapped! , by Robert Louis Stevenson
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Black Arrow, by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling

You Read to Me, I'll Read to You

One of our favorite activities together, right up there with game playing, is reading to one another. It started with Harry Potter (before the series got a little too dark for Margo's enjoyment), moved on to other series books one or the other of us knew well, and grew to Lord of the Rings proportions by the time we got married. In the past four years we have begun targeting masterpieces. Ones we have never read (or read and forgot) but that we have heard of many times, and maybe feared. Like Moby Dick, which we found very entertaining. Or Don Juan, the epic poem by Lord Byron, which took a little time in getting the flow right, but which was also very enjoyable. Sometimes it's a book that one of us has read and wants to introduce to the other, like Dune or Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Very infrequently we will give up in the middle of one due to one party or the other's objections. Like Mists of Avalon and Look Homeward, Angel.
You might wonder where we get so much time to read. Somehow it justs fits into spaces. Like when I am driving or doing dishes, or when Margo is cooking or knitting. And if the book is very good, we make time.
All this is to introduce our current reading, which I would like to keep updated as we go along with a reference from the sidebar. Once this post is buried under the many to come, that is.
Last month we finished Tai-Pan, by James Clavell. We read it because we liked Shogun so much. It was entertaining, even riveting at points, but not the grand read that Shogun is.
We just finished Saving Fish from Drowning, by Amy Tan. Having read a few others by her we both feel like this one is alright, is entertaining, but has not made us better people or expanded our horizons. This might sound a little foolish, but the latter two are the main characteristics of what we call a great book.
We just started The Continuum Concept, which was a baby shower gift from our friend Dawn. It has the mark of a book that will help us significantly in perspective for child-raising, and will alter the way we look at the world. Needless to say, we are very much enjoying it. Its one peculiarity is that the style is a bit text-booky, in terms of big words and long sentences. This means that I have to be the one to read, because I focus better that way.
And we have a list of all-time greats, which will hopefully grow. It is in no particular order.
Shogun, by James Clavell, was fascinating, enlightening, and held our attention for months. It really helped me understand the samurai origins of Aikido, and what bushido means. It gave us both a better understanding of life and death, and what honor is. In a way. One of the best stories I have ever read.
Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda. I can't say much about it without making it sound lame. It is about saints and enlightened masters, how you get to be that way, and stresses that the capacity for love is the most powerful tool one can have. Besides that, and that it is at the top of our list, there isn't much more I can say to recommend it.
Our advice, if you want to find the best books in the library, is to talk to your librarian. We had great conversations with ours at the Willits Public Library almost every time we were there. One of the highlights was when we asked the head librarian, "Donna, we want to read some Hemingway. Which one would you start with?" Her answer was "None of them! I can't stand Hemingway!" She explained that her focus was the romantics, like Thomas Wolfe. Minimalists just weren't her cup of tea. But she did go on to consult the summer reading program's lists, and came up with The Old Man and the Sea. Which we liked just fine.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Shout Out to Our Peeps

What started out as a rainy day somewhat devoid of promise has ended up a special treat: our chicks arrived! Ok, I should be more specific. They're technically Mom's chicks, but like a new puppy we can all pretend ownership when such intense cuteness is involved.
Mom participates in what I would call an Egg Cartel. Together with a number of other folks in the area who keep small numbers of chickens, she gathers eggs, pools the dozens, and delivers them to folks all over the western Dayton area. For those trying to muscle in? I'm pretty sure there are some midnight visits from The Flock. Chickens seem dumb, but they can be senselessly brutal, let me tell you. Anyone who has seen a frog or mouse get into the hen-house knows I'm not joking. And anyone who has been around chickens much knows they are certainly senseless.
But I'm straying. The point is that Mom keeps a flock of about 40-50 hens around at any one time. After about 3 years they stop laying and end up in the pressure cooker getting canned. After being killed, of course. So every year she gets another batch of chicks.
This year we have New Hampshire Reds, Black Sex-Links, Barred Rocks, and Ameraucana chicks. (If you visit those links and click on the big photo it shows two or three more great pictures, one of them the chick.) Incidentally, we ordered ours from Mt. Healthy Hatchery, in nearby Mt. Healthy, Ohio.
We showed up at the local grain elevator, which receives the orders, and made a fuss. How can you not? Baby chicks are so cute. I'll not pretend we didn't make fools of ourselves. We took them home to the pen that Mom so expertly set up: a foot-tall cardboard barrier, newspaper floor, two one-quart waterers and a food trough, plus three heat lamps. A few rocks, too, to make it interesting. And we put them in, one by one, and introduced them to the water. As Mom pointed out, the huge 5,000 chicken operations must somehow get by without doing this, but it's tradition. Each one must be set in front of the water and have its beak dipped in at least twice. So they know it's water, right? Never mind that they spend all their time running around pecking things, from food to spiders to chicken poop to their own feet. They would probably discover the water. But we don't leave it to chance: it gives us an excuse to handle each and every one of them!
At this point I am going to try a first in my blogging experience, and stick in a video. I read a book recently that asserted that chickens are much more entertaining than tv. Absolutely, I say. But what about chickens on tv?
video

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The First Transplant

As you can imagine, we have been reveling in firsts this Spring. Of course we have the first tick seen, first tick embedded, first chicken trying to eat our seedlings, first dog trampling our newly dug bed, and first blister. But there is the positive, too! First bed marked out and dug, first flatting, first visitors, and first purchase of exciting new tool.

And, certainly, our first transplanting. It has been intriguing to hear folks around here, when we would talk of our late start, say "Oh, yeah, well we don't usually get our garden in until around the end of April or later." In our experience, the garden is always "in". It may not seem as "in" when most everything is dead and the ground is frozen, so our feelings may change on that note. But the fact remains that it is always a garden, and we would have been working in it a month before now had we been here since February instead of off gallivanting on both coasts.
Back to the point: we have been itching to be in the garden, and we figured our most crucially timed crop would be spring grains. In pursuit of that end we flatted them first, along with our solanaceae. I dug while Margo got a start, then we both tucked in to get them done. We are now the proud guardians of 225 sq ft of spring grains: Pika, Musky, and Bamboo Curtain triticale, Schrene barley, and Hard Red Spring wheat. Soon our Kamut wheat will be up (assuming the mice don't get it - flat covers were not the priority they should have been) and heading into the soil.

We broadcast our grains into a flat, wait until they are up and around 2-3 inches tall, then transplant them on 5" centers - all 5 inches apart from their 6 neighbors. 225 sq ft of that is a big job early in the season, so we started at both ends and worked to the middle. That's what we're doing in this picture, Margo 8 months pregnant and baby wiggling all the way!

One of our big challenges right now is water. There is no electricity on site. There is open water a five minute walk away, but we would like something more accessible. Hmm... all of a sudden I feel like a real weenie.

Closer yet, there is an equipment shed with a vast roof and gutters with downspouts, and that is where I have fixed my eyes. We are really excited about a rainwater catchment workshop our local county soil and water conservation district is sponsoring, and we'll come out of that with some barrels and a clue. After that I'd love to figure out some kind of gravity-fed thing...

Today comes another first - potato planting! We got our stock this year from down the road, a huge local nursery operation. While we were tempted to order the organic ones in all manner of variety from Ronniger's in Colorado, we decided that postage would kick our butt. We'll save our own seed for next year.
Here's to months of dirty hands!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cleansing Our Pallets, Part I

As indicated in the previous post, we have a long list of things to accomplish to get our garden off the ground. Some of these are common springtime needs even in established gardens, but many fit under the category of infrastructure. Like flats. And this is the story of our (currently) fourteen flats.

Back in northern California we used redwood for our flat materials, both because it has great anti-rot qualities and was local. Here cedar is the equivalent, but both woods are a little too pricey for us. Not just because they are expensive, but because they cost money. You'll hear it from me often that time is a resource we have in abundance while money is much less so. Anything we can save money on by creating through time and/or expertise is a great opportunity.

Here's where a local business that we frequent comes in: at our inquiry they said they had broken pallets they didn't want, and that we would be welcome to take them away. (When we arrived it turned out they were happy to give us some unbroken ones as well!)

So with seven pallets, a circular saw, table saw, hammer, one pound box of nails, and some time we got fourteen flats, a bunch of broken pieces of wood, and the stringers with nails and things still in them. I went with half-flat sizes, as defined in How to Grow More Vegetables, with interior dimensions of 3 x 11½ x 14", since they are easier to carry and more versatile for us.

Initially I thought I wasn't going to have to buy nails, since those pallets have so many in them already, right? I'll just pull them out, straighten them, and reuse them, just like grandpa would have. This turned out to be much more work than it was worth. These nails are shot in with nail guns, are extremely hard to get out without breaking off their heads, and can't be nailed back in because they don't have sharpened tips. In the process I broke a number of good boards, which would have brought my flat total up to fifteen or sixteen, and got frustrated. I ended up writing off the nails and cutting right beside them with the circular saw.

The boards, of varying sizes and widths, were then all cut to 14" on the table saw (to make things easier). Most were about 3½" wide, so I ripped them all to that width. Then I went through to determine which boards would be best on the long sides of the flats (I used the thicker ones, since they would get all the nails pounded into them). The long side boards remained at 14" and the rest were cut to about 12¾" for the ends and bottoms of each flat. Then I stuck them all together and reveled in flats.

I was sitting there looking at all those stringers, thinking there had to be something useful to do with them. Then I realized that flatting tables would also be really handy, so flats could drain and be above chicken-head level. So after a little more experimentation I built some of those. Pictures to follow.

In the process I learned a few things. First, although I thought pallets were always made of cheap softwood, I found out that sometimes hardwood is cheap, too. It's hard to cut, and even harder to pound nails into when you aren't expecting it. But it looks respectable! Second, drilling pilot holes for nails takes some time, but is worth it when all of a sudden you aren't spending half your time pulling out bent nails. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I found out a bit of information on Wikipedia while trying to figure out what "stringers" were called. That is that sometimes pallets are fumigated with nasty things to keep them weather resistant. Honestly! Can't we have anything fun in life without threat of carcinogens? So my second set of pallet flats will probably be the last, at least until I know exactly where these pallets come from.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

In the beginning there was detritus...

And it was good. Margo and her Mom are in the midst of it.

The past week and a half I have been reminded about the practical advice often given for starting any project: make sure you have read the instructions, and assemble all tools and supplies beforehand.
I usually ignore that advice, often to my own frustration. A project will take twice, maybe three times as long, or maybe not get finished at all.
This time, too, we have failed to heed it, but for different reasons than the usual. First, there are no instructions on how to execute your own unique garden desig
n on a unique piece of land in a unique stage of soil development. And second, some of the tools and supplies have not arrived yet or have not been chosen, and we still haven't figured out what some of them may be and where we will get them.

Let me give you an example of some of the difficulties we face. In order to plant our spring grains, which should go in asap, we need to flat them. But to flat them we need to build flats and make flat soil. But we don't have compost, and we haven't collected much bed soil because normally we'd do that while double digging, which is somewhat further down the list of current priorities. Once flatted they'll need some protection in flat covers or a cage, and a cold frame, which hasn't been built yet. Once they have made it to transplanting size the aforementioned bed preparation must be done, but in order to do that the corn stalks covering the garden must be pulled. Then the exact dimensions of the garden must be determined, calculations made, and beds marked out. But before planting, or very soon after, some kind of fencing needs to be established. Something around 8 feet high for deer and tight at the bottom for rabbits.
Then we'll have it made!

At different points we have looked at each other, with fatigue and stress, and reminded ourselves to have a good time. We are not only founding a garden, but setting the tone for our lifestyles in the coming years. If there is no productive reason to get antsy then we'd rather stay in a joyful and thankful state.

And we have made some great progress.

As of today we have 14 flats and a compost/bed-soil sifter built, we have marked out the bounds of the garden and the beds, and we have staked the fence corners (at right). Margo has planned out the flatting and planting schedule and garden rotation. We have continually been pulling flowering weeds, have pulled almost all of the corn stalks, and have begun a compost pile built of these two ingredients (at left). I would like to note here that the corn stalks are one of the blessings we have encountered. Remnants of the community garden that was cultivated in the same spot last year, they clear one of our big obstacles: what to do about a lack of mature compost material in our first spring.

Also worth noting is my desire to buy as little as possible. Friends have made generous contributions toward our startup costs, and we are interested in using those resources wisely and respectfully. There are things which must be bought, but there are also many things that can be created. Since we have plenty of time and relatively little money we will probably make a number of below-minimum-wage decisions in terms of dollar value per hour. We’ll find out how that goes for us, and put some posts up accordingly :)

Meanwhile, we have at least two other sets of friends creating brand-new gardens, one back in Willits and one on Orcas Island, so I think we're in great company.