Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Mulberries, They Came and Went

The mulberries from our big mulberry tree out back were not as plentiful this year. We were in the beginnings of a 2+ month long drought, and I'm pretty sure that was the biggest reason for the lack of berries. What berries did survive were smaller and less juicy than last year, and the birds were desperate to get at them. One afternoon in late May, however, we were able to glean a small harvest of berries and we sat down for a quick snack! YUM! Yay for foraging in your own backyard!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Darkened Windows

I was just, a few minutes ago, laying on the loveseat in the toyroom, gazing at the darkened window.

In the dark, you can imagine that you are situated in any place.

I could be in the middle of the country, with space, with land. Outside that darkened window could be acres of beautiful land, ready for me to go out and roam into. Staring at a window that is filled with black void lets you imagine the most wonderful things outside.

But, no. The reality is, on the other side of the darkened window is the same suburban landscape I've looked at for 10 years. Houses and tiny yards. Neighbors who don't really know each other.

But does it have to be that way? Is moving out into a rural home really the ticket to the freedom I'm longing for? We drove through some countryside just a few days ago, heading to my cousin's house for a visit. I passed a wonderful property that had a sign in front, advertising an upcoming auction. I craned my neck to take in the simple beauty of the place: a smallish house filled with character, a large shed, a bigger outbuilding with 2 car doors, a barn, a long stable-looking building. A fenced in area in which two horses stood, nibbling the ground. A few large, old trees added character to the view. Nothing looked perfect, exactly--in fact, the buildings looked worn, and the house definitely didn't fit the bill of a 'dream-house.' Yet, immediately, my imagination took off and I pictured myself, my family, puttering around here. Raising food and goats and chickens and keeping horses and living peacefully.

I uttered my daydream out loud: "wow, wouldn't it be cool to live out here." My words were met with an incredulous look that only a 13-year-old can manage--my own teenage son sighed and said..."no, it would suck. There's nothing out here to do. There are no cool neighbors."

My first instinct was to give him a look, and say "You would find plenty to do. You would meet the neighbors. Long days of quiet country life would do us all some good!" I held my tongue, because I knew this was just a way for my teenager to bait me, to push my buttons, and I wasn't going to get into a silly debate with him just for the sake of bickering.

His words made me think harder, though. We are happy here in our humble home. Yes, it's the suburbs, and yes, we are limited in what we can do. We have very little space outside, but our 'outside' is much more than just our property line, especially to the kids. To them, the property doesn't end at our driveway, or where the maple tree divides our front yard from the neighbors--to them, the whole neighborhood is their home. They roam to the yards of dozens of neighbors, and those kids who live within the confines of our suburban lots do the same, arriving at our front door daily. The kids hop on their bikes and that extends the lines even further.

In the same way, my sense of being 'closed in' is soothed by my long walks along the street. Waving or stopping to talk to neighbors. Making real effort to talk to my immediate neighbors every time we are outside together, even bonding with one of them over tomato growing. The better I get to know my neighbors, the more of a sense of community I feel. Most of the time if I begin to discuss gardening, they become very interested. I sort of enjoy it--being the somewhat 'eccentric' neighbor who is a little bit obsessed with her gardens.

Instead of longing for a big space to call entirely my own, perhaps I should be claiming this place as where I'm meant to be. Perhaps I should be looking for the ways that I can grow my own food, dry my clothes on the line, ride my bike to the places I need to be, all while getting to know my neighbors and loving my community. Perhaps this is where I make my mark, even if my soul calls out to the rural landscape.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Facing Changes

The rain that whispered in last night was a welcome relief. Everything outside seems to be finally breathing, and a sense of normalcy is returning.

We've experienced a drought that stretched through more than 2 months--no real rain since late May. Then suddenly, with a wicked, loud, tornado-like vengeance, the storms came. The first storm, on June 25, knocked out the power in much of the city for days. Trees were down everywhere--it looked like total carnage, even though the violence only lasted 15 or 20 minutes. I was attending a parent gathering at my oldest son's writing camp, which met in the basement of Kettler Hall at IPFW. Being in the basement, I didn't get to see the sudden insanity, but we all certainly heard it. We came upstairs to investigate. Looking out the glass doors, we saw the world--dry and crackled just minutes before--strewn with huge trees, the sky green. Patrick and I made a dash to his bike (which he had ridden in the sickly-dry heat just hours before) loaded it clumsily into the van (all the while I was thinking the storm would suddenly rear up again and take us out), and headed home, where a power line draped in front of our house, with trees struck down like a warzone. Miraculously, our power stayed on.

The second storm suddenly rushed through while we were sitting at the table eating supper, about 10 days later. We'd been spared the power outage from the first storm, and I thought "Oh great, now it will be our turn to find freezer space somewhere." Many friends and family were just getting their power back, and we heard all the stories about food lost, laundry needing a place to be washed, and general inconvenience created by not having electricity. I did have to giggle at a facebook status that had a picture of an Amish man, complete with a bemused smile, with a caption that read "Lost your electricity? LOL".

I watched, taking a few slow bites of our supper, at the repeat show outside, trees bending and branches flying. Sure enough, the power flickered out. Then back on. Out again. 3 long minutes passed as I stared hard out the window, throwing an internal temper tantrum..."nope, I don't wanna do it...I love my air conditioning, I love my fridge and freezers...and my computer. Damn it!!!" Power came back on, for good, and I let out my breath, relieved.

Today seems like a normal summer day, finally, and I feel my spirits lifting up a bit, like maybe the warning is letting up. Like the earth has been giving us some hints and clues that there really are big changes coming, but that for now we can have some breathing space.

The strange drought-then-storm summer has made me feel like global warming is putting on a show. I am absolutely certain that many other people are making that connection. Although, the words 'global warming' are so overused anymore, it can seem like a joke. As the drought dragged on during the past months, my thoughts have turned dark and worried.

In the past couple of years, I've read countless books concerning the environment, the mess we are in, and steps we need to take to change it. When I began to realize the gravity of our situation and the lack of concern that most people have, I fell into a deep depression that lingered for months. Lately, though, I've been heading toward hope, thinking that I could take charge of my own life and make some changes. To at least be prepared for a society that will inevitably be different than it is now. However, with that hope I've also maintained a comfortable feeling. I've clutched to a security blanket, a general feeling that there was plenty of time with which to 'get situated'. Sure, let the power go out...permanently! But, wait until I have an idea about what to do! Let the weather turn cranky...but let me have some tools on how to live with wild new weather! Let me build up some kind of reserve! Let me have more knowledge, please! With the weather becoming more like a normal July, I am filled with relief, because if some crazy life-is-permanently-changed-as-we-know-it kind of thing were to happen, I'm absolutely unprepared. Just like almost everyone else.

I'm not one of those people who thinks the world is going to end. I don't truly think there is going to be a sudden change, either. I am becoming convinced that society as a whole is going to have to make some adjustments to a new kind of world where oil is not cheap and accessible, and I truly believe that will occur in my lifetime. Right now I am making very tiny changes in my lifestyle, mostly revolving around the food I eat. I fully admit that bigger changes are going to be very hard for me. I feel guilty at times for continuing on with the status quo and not making a big effort like many people do. I want to hang the clothes out to dry, but don't have a clothesline ( one?). I want to get rid of air conditioning...but not now, it's just too weird, too uncomfortable. I want to do all kinds of things that will lessen my footprint...but it's just so hard. Excuses tumble around in my brain, in a whiny childish voice, as my consciousness bickers with what is real, normal, and absolutely accepted/expected.

Experiencing strange weather like this really, really gets the mind going, however. During the week long power outages, we went to various houses of family members who were roughing it. I wondered, as people got out the generators--and others began making insurance claims on houses and vehicles caught in the path of toppling trees--how hard would it be to let our old lifestyle go? What if we had no choice, and the power wasn't coming back? What if the insurance companies go bankrupt with too many claims, and there is no more repairing the status quo?

I realize that I'm touching on two separate issues here; 1). the depletion of oil and 2). global warming. Everyone has heard, ad naseum, the statistics, the grim explanations. The terms have become so common that the ideas hang around us like an annoying little sibling who just won't go away, when all we want to do is play with our friends in peace. It wasn't very long ago that the terms meant nothing to me, they were just words I'd heard my whole life. Yet, because the ideas have become so ingrained, we also don't take them seriously. They've become hot-button political issues, sure. But politicians are not interested in making any serious changes. Changes take so, so long...and politicians need to focus on things that will show effect in the few years they are in office, not things that won't show effect for decades.

So why do I suddenly care about the issues? I am not really sure when I first started to investigate for myself, but I am gaining awareness with each new source I find. The topics have been discussed endlessly, so there is no lack of resources. I am not living blindly anymore. I am concerned about the path we are on, and I care, deeply, about what state we leave the world in for my kids, and their kids, and their get the idea. I'm just one person out of billions, but I'm leaning more deeply into a new camp...those who want to know, need to know, and are willing to face inevitable lifestyle changes instead of blithely going about daily business with eyes closed.

For now, I'll take the gentle rain showers, but the vicious storms are in the forefront of my recent memory. I admit, with some trepidation, that I think the droughts and storms will continue. Our world is changing, right along with my view of it.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Oatmeal and Wheat Flour Pancakes

These are my personal favorite pancakes at the moment. I have the original recipe, and then my 'veganized' version, and while they offer a little different flavor, both versions are tasty. The original has a tad more flavor, but there are times I'm just not in the mood to use up three eggs to make pancakes. Bottom line...both versions will make your tummy happy, it just depends on your mood.

I have used canola oil instead of olive oil every time I've made them because I was little afraid of the  olive oil's flavor being too strong. One of these times I will try the olive oil.

Oatmeal and Wheat Flour Pancakes

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups quick cooking oats
2 cups soy milk
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1.Preheat a lightly oiled griddle over medium heat.
2.In a large bowl, mix whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt.
3.In a small bowl, mix oats and soy milk. Whisk in eggs and olive oil. Pour into the flour mixture all at once. Continue mixing until smooth. Gently fold in blueberries.
4.Pour batter about 1/4 cup at a time onto the prepared griddle. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, until bubbly. Flip, and continue cooking until lightly browned.

Vegan Version: Follow instructions, substituting the flax seed 'eggs' for real eggs.

1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3 T. brown sugar
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 c. quick cooking oats
2 c. almond or soy milk
2 T. ground flax seed soaked in 1/4 c. water until gummy
1/4 c. oil
1/2 c. frozen blueberries

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Meet the Empty Lot--And My Pipe Dream

The empty lot across the street has been on my mind.
A LOT. (no pun intended, promise ;) )

I wake up each morning and gaze at it out the front windows. It directly faces my house. It's a 50 x 125 ft piece of empty green lawn. It's nice to look at when I'm feeling crowded and claustrophobic--but it's starting to become something much bigger, much different, inside my mind. I'm beginning to see it as potential, a precious piece of land that could be doing so much more than looking empty.

It is owned by Edna, the elderly woman who lives in the house next to the lot. She had once told me that she and her husband bought the lot for 6 thousand dollars, but I'm not sure when that was. She was adamant that no one would buy the lot and try to squash a house onto it, which is what had happened to a few other empty lots along our street. I agreed with her; a house would look crowded there, and I was impressed by her take-charge kind of attitude--"No one's building a house here, and I will make sure of it; I'll buy the damn lot."

When the Joneses lived across the street on the other side of the empty lot, it wasn't rare to see kids there practicing football tosses (yes, we really did have neighbors named the Joneses--and no, we did not try to keep up with them). My own kids have run over there to try and fly kites once or twice, or to kick a soccer ball around. But for the most part, the lot does nothing but sit, empty.

Since I started my teeny-tiny garden next to our house, and have begun to read all kinds of books about growing and preserving food, my daydreams have begun to spiral into a kind of obsession. I feel so strongly that I NEED space, NEED a real piece of land to start tending. My backyard is tiny and for the time-being off-limits, since we use it as a playspace for the daycare. I'm not brave enough to plant a garden in the front yard, and it's shady, anyway.

This large, open, sunny, albeit somewhat sloping-toward-the-back piece of earth has become a sort of pipe dream for me, and I stare at it hard, picturing all the things I could do. Raised beds, regular beds, fruit trees, berry bushes, trellises, some kind of mini-greenhouse, a little shed with rain barrels. I've even dreamed of a little gazebo and winding paths trailing through the various gardens.

Sometimes I daydream about the empty lot so longingly that I get an ache in my veins. That kind of ache you get when you're infatuated with something and find yourself thinking about it at the most random moments during the day...sometimes to get you through the day.

If we are to stay in this house and neighborhood for the long-term, I desperately want a place to start living out some dreams, and that empty lot seems to beckon to me more and more loudly each day.

Would Edna sell it? I have no clue. She's a very intimidating old lady, and I rarely even talk to her (and as she's gotten older I see her less and less). I have a strong feeling she'd be abhorred by the idea of selling it to me. Even less likely seems the possibility that I could just set up a garden there without purchasing it. What about renting it? I don't know. I have a strong urge to need to own it, and do with it what I want, without worrying about Edna looking out at what I'm doing, shaking her head and clucking her tongue. I could assure her I'd never build a house on it, if that's all she's worried about. Perhaps she'd like to see gardens on the lot; I really don't know. I know so very little about my own neighbor, which is sad, but so common. I'd try to make it beautiful, because I'm definitely not interested in creating a neighborhood eyesore. I'd work hard to make it a useful and yet a pleasing place. I'd offer Edna whatever fresh produce she might want. I'd even can and freeze stuff for her if she'd want it.

Wait...Shouldn't I be saying all of this to Edna? I just have not even BEGUN to gather the nerve to approach her with my idea. I've never been a very gutsy, or risky, person.

Craig is totally into the idea. He supports all my crazy dreams. The money? Well, I happen to know what the lot is worth (county appraisal website), and I'm sure we could take out a loan for it). The big obstacle is to actually talk to Edna, to get the whole thing rolling. I could be stopped dead in my tracks, but then again, she could be willing to make a little cash. Or willing to let me garden a hunk of it, even if she doesn't want to lose ownership of it.

I'm sure I'll be making more posts about this dream, because right now it's in my mind very, very often. Or should I say a LOT? ;)

Friday, July 13, 2012

stay tuned

The Little Hands Garden isn't going anywhere, but the blog has this very spot!

We are simplifying the name to little*big*harvest.

If you are browsing here and didn't know there was a site that proceeded this one, the old one is still up and running HERE if you'd like to take a look.

I've been moving posts over, a little at a time. Anything that is posted below this spot is what I've moved over already...and I'm working on downloading pics for several updated posts. I've been spending much more time outside than at the computer...this is a good thing, right? ;)

Keep coming back to see the projects we've been working on, and the veggies that are beginning to spill from the Little Hands Garden.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Southwestern Pinto Bean Burgers with Chipotle Mayo

The flavor of this bean burger is awesome! The chipotle mayo adds great spice to it as well--but I think the burger stands alone just fine. This will become a staple in our house.