Thursday, May 17, 2012

moms & gardening

Since we just passed Mothers Day, I've been reflecting on the moms in my life, and on my own status as a  mom. (Here's me with my mom and sis last weekend!)

For the record, I wish that Mothers Day was Women's Day or something (and Fathers Day changed likewise), because I feel like it means we only celebrate those who have kids, as if only parents are valuable members of adult society. Having kids doesn't make us somehow whole or better, and it is not only our parents/grandparents who've shaped us. Why not celebrate all the women and men in our lives who have influenced us into being who we are today?

Anyway...growing up, I lived on 5 acres a few miles outside of a small town. (That is NOT me in the photo at left--this is my eldest last weekend when we went to the Bloom Festival at Tryon Life Community Farm.) Our 5 acres had a forested canyon, wide open fields and a huge garden. It was mostly my mom who grew vegetables, raspberries, kiwi, blueberries, rhubarb and strawberries. I remember my own little section of a bed one year in which I grew nasturtiums and cucumbers, but I wasn't really much of a gardener. My parents paid me 5¢ a hallek to pick berries, but other than that I was mainly tromping around in the canyon or inside reading books. My mom spent hours out in the garden and she enjoyed growing things, for reasons I couldn't really fathom as a kid.

My mother-in-law is a very talented landscape designer and she is also an excellent gardener. She and my father-in-law have transformed their .91 acres in town into a beautiful space that also produces a lot of food for them. They work together: my mother-in-law creating the plans and using her wealth of plant-knowledge to grow things, my father-in-law doing a lot of the weeding and harvesting, as well as picking fruit from the trees and drying it. We all worked together in the last 10+ years to create a trail that winds through the yard and a brick patio just outside the back door, but it's my mother-in-law who had the vision and could make the plan. Through her vision they've created a sanctuary back there that is beautiful, kid-friendly and lush, meditative and fun, practical and exotic.

(My step-mom has taught me a lot, too, but I've talked about her influence before, and though what I've learned from her has been similar in terms of creativity and the importance of doing things that are literally life-giving, her influence has been on slightly different topics. Many, many of the novels I've reviewed on this blog have been ones I've received from her. She's taught me a lot about what it means to live art, to cultivate and honor feminine spirituality, and to love dark chocolate and tea!)

My mom and my mother-in-law are very different people, but they both find joy in growing things. They, like the physical spaces they create, are beautiful and practical, joy-filled and in-process.

This year, we're putting a lot more time and effort into our little suburban farm. It's interesting, because I really don't like the concept of land ownership, especially since we took this land from Native Americans. It bothers me that this land is "mine" (at least it will be once we pay off the mortgage). It helps somewhat that it's not just mine, but it's my husband's and my mom's and it also belongs to my kids--we live in community, we bought this house and the lot on which it sits together. I struggle with the idea that we can "own" land.

And yet, having a sense of "ownership" for this land has been really helpful, too. We're learning to care for a physical space in a way we never have before. We're making it our own, but we're also attempting to make it beautiful and functional in order to better sustain life here and around the world. We have our own chickens, as I've discussed before, and we have a small garden this year. My mother-in-law made us an absolutely beautiful landscape plan for the back yard, which we mainly implemented last summer and are still working on this year. Incrementally, the space is coming together. And little-by-little, I'm learning to grow green things. In our garden we have raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, various lettuces, carrots, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, squash and pumpkins, peas, and we'll soon plant beans.

We also joined a community garden this year. We have a bit of space but not tons of space, so it's good to be part of a community of people who are growing some more things. Each individual or family is in charge of a bed, growing a particular thing. We meet for a few hours on Wednesday nights to weed, plant, harvest and share a meal together, and then we tend the garden when we can throughout the rest of the week. We're in charge of the peas and beans, and EP wanted to plant some flowers, so he has a little bed where he planted sunflowers. Hopefully it will turn out a little bit like the sunflower house pictured here. I'm excited to be part of this community! I want to learn what others know, experiment together and build community in the process.

I reviewed the book Dirt & the Good Life a few weeks ago and I'm excited to start putting this into practice in my own life. I'm grateful for the moms in my life who have cultivated me, even when it's messy and tedious and takes years and years and doesn't always go as planned and feels more like an experiment than something about which we have real expertise. By now they're "expert" moms, though, and I can go to them for advice not only about actual gardening but about growing up kids!

(By the way: another backyard project right now is the clubhouse that Joel's building for the boys! This blog post wouldn't be complete without some pictures of that! We also built a raised bed. By "we" I mean I cleared the space and measured things, Joel and Mom built it and I took pictures. There are also some pictures of us clipping the chickens' wings.)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

book review: the hunger games (& american politics)

I jumped on the bandwagon. I had emphatically decided I wasn't going to jump on this one, due to what I'd heard about the books' theme of children killing children in a Roman arena-like setting. I didn't want to support that. Even when I heard that the hero is actually a heroin and even when several of my friends read it and liked it. I also kept hearing stories on NPR, of all places, in the weeks leading up to the release of the first film: about the explosive popularity of the sport of archery, especially among girls; about women archers training for the summer Olympics; and of course buzz about the movie. (Warning: if you haven't read these books and plan to, go read the books first so I don't spoil anything for you!)

Then my husband threatened to go see the movie with or without me.

OK, OK, I'll go see it with you--but wait till I've had time to read the book first!

That was on a Saturday night. We watched the movie two days later on Monday night. And I'd finished the first book that afternoon, between taking care of kiddos (mine and my niece), prepping for and giving a lecture, doing my normal Sunday routine including meeting and an evening worship group which we hosted and for whom I made dinner. I got the whole trilogy on Kindle, which meant a) I didn't have to wait to buy the book at a store or have it sent to me, and b) I got the whole trilogy, which meant that immediately after I finished the first book I wanted to dive into the second book! I tried to show a little more restraint on the second one, but I started it Tuesday and finished it Thursday that same week. That's when I put my foot down and decided that I had to save the third book for the end of the semester, after I'd finished all my grading.

So as you might have guessed, I found these books extremely addicting, in a good way. I don't know that there's anything particularly amazing about the writing style in itself, but the story is compelling and the plot development is excellent. It's told in the first person from the perspective of the heroin, Katniss Everdeen. (Katniss is a cool name, by the way! If I had a daughter, and if I didn't think that name will soon become too popular, I'd totally name her that.) The world in which the Hunger Games books are set is a dystopian version of the future United States. It's no longer the United States, but it's set in the land where the USA is now. The government reminds me of the one in 1984: a centralized government  that has eyes and ears everywhere due to technology as well as human informants; theme of escape to the wilderness for respite; attempted control of the people via specific work assignments not based on aptitude but on location, etc. In The Hunger Games, the government is run from "The Capitol," and there are (or were) 13 districts, each in charge of certain things needed: agriculture, coal, weaponry, seafood and so forth. Each year they have what's called "the Hunger Games," where two contestants are chosen at random from each district to fight to the death in a human-made arena, but it's made to look natural (i.e., it's in a forest or whatever). Thinking about these Games defines the lives of most in the Districts (and in the Capitol): teenagers can get extra food for their families if they put their name in more times for the lottery. Watching the Hunger Games on TV is mandatory for all. In this way, the Capitol keeps its subjects...subjects.

Obviously, Katniss ends up in the Hunger Games. If you've read it, you know how--if not, go read it. The author, Suzanne Collins, created an interesting world where the contenders in the Games have to play to the crowd in order to have a chance at winning. As a reader you end up hating the people from the Capitol--but there's that point in the story where you have to realize, "As an American, I'm from the Capitol." We watch other people's struggles for existence on TV, and if their story captures our imagination it's possible that we'll send little gifts into the "arena" of life to give a little edge over competitors. This is "entertainment" for us and nothing more. As a middle class, educated American, I can spend my life learning about wars and conflicts, perhaps, and I may be genuinely sad when favorite "contenders" die, but I move on, happily raising my kids in this safe zone where they'll never have to fear becoming a contender in the real-life (life-or-death) Hunger Games.

And then there's the issue of politics and "spin." Katniss recognizes she's being used as a peon in a political game by everyone possible, and she (rightly) resents this. First she's used by the politicians of the Capitol to continue their game of subjugation through fear and degradation of the human spirit. When she later becomes the symbol of the rebellion of the Districts against the Capitol, she realizes she's being used again. She's willing to be used as a symbol--but only so long as this symbol is a rallying point for changing the political landscape into something that is more fair and equitable for all. When she realizes the politicians of the new order are going to reinstate the Hunger Games against the people of the Capitol (and several other inklings before this), she can't stand it anymore. She knows the political system that is going to be put in place will have exactly the same result as the former government did. The people at the top will be different, but there will be a "top" and there will be a "bottom." The system will remain the same, though the individuals will be shuffled around a bit.

This is what it feels like in our country right now. I vote, but I vote without a clear conscience. I vote for the least of two (or more) evils; I vote because I think this is the best system we human beings have thus far come up with--but I think this system is broken. Or maybe it's us who are broken--maybe it's me. We're so broken that it really doesn't matter which party is in power; we're going to bomb Iraq, Afghanistan and who-knows-how-many other countries almost daily. We're so broken that most politicians in both parties are cozy with Wall Street tycoons, special interests and lobbyists. We're so broken that if you get down beneath the rhetoric of most politicians, everything they do seems just about the same.

I believe there are good people in positions of political office, but we and the other lawmakers are making it pretty much impossible for them to get anything done that is actually good for anyone (or anything). We demand that they not change their mind, that they hold an extreme viewpoint on everything (either extreme right or left), and this makes it so no legislation can pass--and if it does, it's bogged down in loopholes or special interests. It doesn't matter who's in power--these things occur.

This brings me back to the Hunger Games. I guess I'm excited to see if this book catapults us into thinking about government differently. Can we see ourselves in the people of the Capitol? Can we see the obvious critique in the text of a simple change of hands of the same old power? Can we begin some kind of revolution to change what's going on--and do it in a way that will usher in something truly different rather than more of the same? Will Friends lead this charge, or back off until it becomes trendy?

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

bike experiment results

Last week saw the end of our self-imposed, month-long biking experiment, so I thought I'd share our results and my reflections on the experience. The experiment consisted of my husband, Joel, and me trying to bike (or walk) as much as we can and trying to drive less. We kept track of the number of miles we biked, walked, drove our car for fun or necessity, drove our car for work, carpooled in our car and carpooled in other people's cars. So first off, the numbers (based on 20 mpg and $4/gallon):

Miles biked: 189.3     (saved about $38 and 9.5 gallons of gas)
Miles walked: 10.6     (saved about $2 and 1/2 gallon of gas)
Miles carpooled: 270.9     (saved about $54 and 13.5 gallons of gas, since otherwise there'd be two cars driving that distance)
Miles driven for fun/necessity: 527.7     (spent about $106 and 26.4 gallons of gas)
Miles driven for work: 333.5     (spent about $67 and 16.68 gallons of gas)

So...we didn't do all that well, by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, we certainly biked more than usual, and saving $94/month and 23.5 gallons of gas is SOMETHING, but it's not huge. At the same time, if we did this every month, that would start to feel a bit more significant. That would be close to $1200/year and close to 300 gallons of gas. What if every family in the United States did this?

A few things that stand out to me: first, there was only one day in the entire month that I didn't ride my bike. I rode an average of 4.4 miles/day. But if you average out all our driving, we drove an average of 36.52 miles PER DAY! Ouch. Some of that was for work--Joel had a couple work trips and several photo-oriented shorter trips. Even if you take out all the work and carpooling, we still drove an average of 17 miles per day for fun or what felt like necessity at the time.

Partially, this experiment was just humbling. I don't tend to think that we drive that much, but keeping track for a month really made me aware of how much we just randomly decide, "Hey, let's go do such-and-such," of an evening or weekend, and we just go do it. This month we even kept ourselves from acting on some of those impulses because we were trying to be more intentional about not driving as much. Sometimes we tried to combine trips so we only had to go once instead of a number of times, so that was good. Imagine what a normal month looks like where we AREN'T being that intentional!

This month was also strengthening. It was physically strengthening, in that my muscles are much stronger. I noticed a huge difference from the beginning of the month where I could hardly drag my two boys up the last hill to our house, to the end of the month where I could do it without being too out of breath in a higher gear. It also reminded me of how much I enjoy biking and being outside. I really enjoyed the fact that I got to be outside a ton more this month than usual. It's spring so I noticed things budding and leafing out. My resolve for biking in the rain was also strengthened. I had my rain gear all organized and ready to go at all times, so it wasn't hard to just pull on the rain gear and be on my way just as if it were sunny. My resolve for biking in general was also strengthened. I plan to keep working at this and try to increase the number of miles I ride each month, at least for the summer (or maybe do better on the ratio of walking and biking to driving.)

Biking every day became a habit. At the beginning of the month my then-16-month-old would often ask me, "Go? Go? Go? Car? Car?" By the end of the month he'd changed it to, "Go? Go? Go? Bike? Bike?" He hated wearing his helmet at the beginning, but now it's just normal. The boys do get a little frustrated if I forget to bring snacks for them to have in the bike trailer, though! (Fruit leather, string cheese, cheddar bunnies...)

This experiment brought me face to face with my own sense of entitlement. I had a hard time knowing when I should sacrifice what I or my family wanted to do and when it was OK to drive somewhere, just this once. I felt entitled to go hang out in a coffee shop in the next town with some friends on a Saturday afternoon. I felt like it was necessary to meet a couple for whom we're doing premarital counseling in locations 40+ miles away more than once this month. Sometimes we "had" to drive to meeting because we had to get our two kids plus a guitar there. Sometimes I drove because I was late. I felt entitled to drive to another city for date night. It was really interesting hearing my internal justifications, and noticing how I set up my schedule and my expectations around assuming I'll be able to drive. One thing I didn't even TRY was public transportation. We have a new system of public transit in town and I have yet to set foot on it, though I think it's great. But if I'm honest I must admit that in some ways I think I must feel entitled to not have to take a bus.

Overall, this experiment was a good experience. I probably showed up places a few minutes late and overly-bedraggled and sweaty, but hey--my conscience was relatively clear!

So I'm going to keep working on this. It's kind of exciting because I recently heard about something they're doing in our little town called the May Walk & Bike Challenge. They've been recently promoting biking a lot more: there's a new bike map and some new bike symbols on the side roads. There's going to be a summer bike festival! So it's cool that our little town is really trying to do something to promote this healthier way of living--healthier for each of us and for our world. I'm going to participate in this Walk & Bike Challenge, and I hope many others will, too!