Tag Archives: Sail&Sea

Our Little Patch of Plantation

image courtesy of urbanhomestead.org

The current buzz-word for this practice is Urban Homesteading, but “urban” doesn’t quite describe us. Our little place isn’t within the city limits of any town (and if it were, even Idaho’s capital city barely qualifies as “urban”)… Perhaps in our case we should call it “backyard homesteading,” or just plain “turning-a-regular-home-into-a-mini-farm.”

Whatever you choose to call it, that’s the idea behind the Urban Homesteading movement: creating a self-sustaining lifestyle wherever you already happen to live. Or if you’d like a more “official” definition:

Urban Homestead.n. The home of a family living by principals of low-impact, sustainable self-sufficiency through activities such as gardening for food production, cottage industry, extensive recycling, and generally simple living.

People are undertaking Urban Homesteading in cities, in towns, in apartment blocks, in suburban backyards… In short, they’re Homesteading wherever they live. (And many of them are blogging about it!)

Keoni & Christian working on our chicken house

When Keoni and I talk about our plans to move back to Hawai’i and build a Bed & Breakfast on our Big-Island acre, we always envision that establishment as fully self-sufficient, but for some reason it hadn’t dawned on us until recently that we don’t have to wait for that venture before we start taking strides toward that lifestyle. For the B&B we picture starting from scratch with sustainability in mind—water-catchments, solar panels, composting toilets, fruit trees and garden, fishing-boat… We intend to live entirely off the grid (except for an internet connection). But we realized recently that it doesn’t have to be an “all-or-nothing” project, and we needn’t wait until we can do ALL of that to start doing some of it. The real point of “Urban” sustainability is making do with what you have, where you are.

Christian learning some new tools

If we all waited until we could afford to spend thousands of dollars on solar panels, we might never get started at all. So we’ve been asking ourselves what we CAN do now to live more sustainably… And we’re surprised by the lengthy list. Our little trailer-court plot is on its way to becoming a VERY-mini Homestead. Some of this won’t be new to you Regular Readers, but there’s something satisfying in looking at it all together…

  • We’re building a chicken coop for laying-hens. This is a project that began with our son Christian’s disclosure of his long-standing wish to raise chickens (who knew?!)  and it was in the process of researching “backyard chickens” that we began to come across references to Urban Homesteading… Seed of an idea planted!
  • a giant home-grown zucchini—too heavy to lift?

    We’ve been practicing “kitchen chemistry” in making our own household cleaners and personal care products. This, too, was a project that pre-dated the Homesteading idea, and stemmed not from noble environmental leanings, but from lack of money… Still, it got us thinking more along the lines of sustainability.

  • We’ve been sharing our neighbor Bill’s vegetable garden, and started growing our own kitchen herbs. And getting creative even on some little things… When sunflowers started sprouting beneath our bird-feeder, we transplanted them along the fence—hopefully by next summer we’ll be able to supply the bird-feeder ourselves.
  • I’ve written here about our habits of bartering and scrounging—we’re turning the practice of getting-stuff-for-free into an outright art form! Just yesterday we were over at one of the trailers in our neighborhood that was due to be demolished, pulling out some paneling (for use on the chicken house) and a ceiling light (for our living room) and a bunch of mirrors (I have Pinterest-inspired projects in mind) and some other odds-and-ends… We have always practiced recycling (we’re fortunate to have curb-side pick-up, and our Recycle bin is usually more full than our trash), but until recently, we hadn’t explored the practice of UPcycling.

pulling some paneling (and a vent) for chicken-coop construction, from the neighborhood trailer about to be demolished

  • We joined the Freecycle network, which provides a venue for members to give away (and pick up!) used items. We’ve posted a number of items as we’ve been sorting through and cleaning out our two sheds (we moved in such a hurried jumble that most of this stuff hasn’t seen daylight in the year since we moved here), and we have picked up several free items ourselves… Last week we picked up a partially-built dollhouse for Elena Grace (she’s uninterested in the chicken coop, but feeling left out nonetheless—hopefully this will serve as a parallel project with her), a couple rolls of chicken wire for the coop under construction, and materials to build…
  • garden helper

    Elena Grace fertilizing plants

    …a compost bin! Next summer we’ll probably graduate from garden-sharing to breaking ground on a plot of our own. I’d like to learn canning and drying, and we’ll see how much of a dent we can make in our grocery bills. The composter will be a help in fertilizing the growing-goods, and will materially cut down the amount of trash we’re sending to the landfill.

  • We do practice some small-scale water catchment, which we use for watering our plants. Truth be told, though, there’s not a lot of rain to catch in our high-desert Idaho climate (annual rainfall here is around eleven inches)… We’re happily situated on an island of the Boise River where the water table is barely below the surface, and we’re living on a well. We have a little timer on our water hose and run the sprinkler regularly—and with very little guilt, knowing that the water will seep right back in to the water table rather than being “wasted.” Our focus here is making sure that our water returns clean, particularly given that whatever seeps into the water table here will be showing up next in our well… Our natural composting (contrasted with store-bought chemical fertilizers) and home-made cleaning products will definitely be a “plus” in this regard.
  • small solar charger

    something like this could keep the internet up when the power is down..

    I would love to be able to switch to solar power (we certainly have enough sunshine here to make it feasible!) but that’s an expensive project. So we’re coming at this one from the other end, and working on cutting our power use. This summer’s project-list (after the chicken coop and the compost barrel) includes an outdoor clothesline—the clothes dryer is the single biggest power-suck in the house! We’re also looking at some serious weather-proofing before winter, because our power bill jumped ridiculously high last year when the cold weather set in. I’m actually looking at a small solar charger that can be used to power small items like phone and iPad chargers, and our internet router. We actually lose power out here with ridiculous frequency—it seems every time there’s a thunder storm or snow storm, we spend a few hours in the dark. The rest of the family doesn’t mind—the kids go straight to books and Legos and other no-power-needed activities—but it can wreak havoc with my writing deadlines when I can’t get online! There are a number of small solar chargers on the market for thirty bucks and under—I might be giving one of these a try.

Elena Grace getting creative with a planter…

When I was a kid, I used to make a game of pretending my bedroom was a houseboat, and that it was going to float away from the rest of the house on some exploring-adventure. I’d try to set up my houseboat-room so it would be entirely self-sufficient for my imaginary journey. I wasn’t allowed to have food in my room, but I’d stock up on plastic food from my sister’s grocery-shopping set, and put a can in my closet to serve as a (pretend!) chamber pot, and make sure all my favorite things were in the room with me, and stock up on maps (my dad’s old triple-A triptychs)…  I don’t remember actually pretending any of the journeys–it was the preparation that kept my interest, the idea of rendering my space entirely self-contained so it could float away on its own…

“I’m a chicken in my chicken-house!”

That childhood game of mine comes to mind again as we fiddle with improvements to our place, make do for ourselves, and work at cutting down outside costs. Truth be told, I hardly ever leave our little plot of yard—my writing-work is here at home, and we don’t Go Out for entertainment purposes or have a lot of errands to run… I could pretty well play my boat-game here, with the yard-boundaries of our “Homestead” being the deck-rails of the houseboat, everything our family needs contained within its small borders… I’m ready to cast off the mooring lines and float away in my imagination. I just hope the chickens don’t get seasick.

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Summer, Synchronicity, Sewage, Stones, & Super-Powers

My “Radio Silence” over the last week is (I’m happy to say) the result of having been quite thoroughly engrossed in the activities of a first-week-of-summer-holidays with the kids…  I started to write a few times, but never got as far as hitting “Publish,” so here it is, all at once…

Christian's 6th grade graduation

Our freshly-minted Junior High Kid!

Sat, June 2: Summer Holidays, and Synchronicity

On the list of things that make me feel old (for just a moment–and then I go back to just feeling like ME again)… We only have one grade-schooler left in the house, as of yesterday’s sixth-grade “graduation” ceremony for our son Christian. He’s now officially a Junior High Kid. And it’s now officially Summer Vacation!

In typical enthusiastic kid-fashion, the mugwumps have been trying to cram an entire summer’s worth of celebratory summer activities into the first 24 hours of freedom–we’re all having fun!

painting spors

Our front-porch summer craft spot… Painting pots for Keoni’s kitchen herbs

First project: Keoni is starting to grow kitchen herbs to use in his cooking, and he asked everyone in the family to paint one of his pots. Christian helped me carry one of our coffee tables onto the front porch, so we’ve established our summer craft-spot–which is already covered with paints, beads, spills from sand-art, and wood-shavings…

3 whittlers

three story-telling whittlers (our three youngest kids): Christian, Elena Grace, & Kapena

The wood-shavings are due to the fact that we gave each of them a pocket-knife to kick off the summer–both of them hand-me-downs with a history. Elena Grace has the Swiss Army Girl Scout knife, which my mother bought for me when we visited the international Girl Scout/Girl Guide center in Switzerland. And Keoni cleaned and sharpened a knife of his for Christian–rather a fancier model than mine, with more gadgets, and with inlaid polished wood panels along the handle.

first pocket knife

first pocket knife (and a shirt signed by her classmates on the last day of school)

We don’t have the budget to buy them new things very often, so I’m tickled by how much Christian loves this knife. It fits perfectly in his hand, he says, and its dents and scratches from previous use “just go to show that it’s not the kind of knife a person would throw away.” He often refers to himself and Keoni as “peas in a pod,” due to their similarities ranging from shared pack-rat tendencies to shared humor, and Christian’s uncanny ability to finish Keoni’s sentences. Particularly given how often he feels neglected by his own dad (Today’s comment: “Sometimes it feels like a lie when Dad says he loves me”), I’m grateful to see him bonding so strongly with Keoni. When Keoni hugged him goodbye before heading out to work today, Christian wouldn’t let him go! This from the kiddo who tends to be the most reserved of our seven…

Elena Grace is pleased by her knife as well, and has been wearing it clipped to her belt loop (as I used to when we went camping!) since we gave it to her. It’s her first pocket-knife, so she got the full safety-lesson before picking out a stick from our woodpile to try her hand at whittling. The point on that stick is positively scary, and she’s talking about trying her hand at spear-fishing in the lake by our house…

swimmers

swimming in “our” lake this afternoon

Today’s walk to the lake, however, was for swimming! And some play with Christian’s remote-control boat, which he bought last month with his yardwork-money…  And yet another example of Synchronicity striking in our lives… But for this story I have to back up a bit.

When we owned our Hawai’ian BBQ restaurant, there were four couples from Hawai’i who “discovered” us in the first couple weeks, and who became close friends: Joe & Adele, Tedi & Larry, Wally & Esther, and Jeff & Val.

launching the boat

launching the boat

Joe worked for Honolulu Police Department the same time as Keoni’s dad, so we put him on the phone with Dad the first time we met–they’d worked different divisions, but had a lot of cop-friends in common. Tedi’s maiden name was Ka’anapu, the same as Keoni’s mom, so we put her on the phone with Mom the first time we met, and they puzzled through the family tree until they found the connection–yes, they’re related. Wally is Portuguese-Hawai’ian, and his cousin makes Portuguese sausage from their great-grandpa’s recipe (a Hawai’ian favorite, and the same type Keoni grew up with); we added their sausage to our menu, so Wally & Esther would sometimes show up with sausage in the morning and we’d all have breakfast together before the restaurant opened. Jeff crafts wakeboards, and gave us one (autographed with thanks for the food & Aloha) which took a place of honor on the restaurant wall.  We have stories and memories with each of these couples, but haven’t been seeing them in the year and a half since our restaurant-days. Until the last two weeks.

Our phone numbers have changed (my cell used to be the restaurant’s number) but Joe decided to track us down a couple weeks ago, used his cop-connections to find our new phone number and gave us a call to see how things are going. He stopped by the house  and we shared Tahitian Lanai banana bread and hugs and “talked story.” The very same day that we got Joe’s call, we ran into Tedi & Larry, shopping for the materials to make leis for graduating grandchildren. A couple days later Jeff pinged Keoni on Facebook to ask if he could cook for Val’s graduation-celebration. Her party was today, so Keoni was up at four this morning, cooking. By the time I woke up (thanks to kids climbing into bed with me, followed by Keoni with a very welcome cup of coffee) the house smelled amazing. It smelled like our restaurant.

trampolineWe took all three kids to help with set-up (though when they discovered their services weren’t needed, the younger two accepted Val’s invitation to use the backyard trampoline), and Keoni sang a traditional Hawai’ian song for Val before we had to head out so he could get to work.

The kids and I packed our beach bags and ambled down the short stretch of country road toward the State Park and the lake, when Wally and Esther pulled up alongside us, waving like crazy.  Turns out–as if to complete the quatrifecta (is that a word?) of reconnecting with these friends–they too had decided this week to track us down, tried our old numbers (they’re not Facebookers), driven around our neighborhood (they knew we lived right by the Park, but Keoni had already left with the KANAGRL license plates that would usually mark out our home), and decided as a last resort to inquire at the Park if I were still working there. They were pulling away from the Park-entrance, deciding they might be out of luck finding us, when Wally realized he’d just passed red hair and a dragon tattoo walking along the roadside, and turned the car around…

To put this timing into perspective, I haven’t walked to the Park since my last day of work there in September, and it only takes us about four minutes to walk that stretch of road–so the fact that we were ON that stretch of road while they were there specifically seeking us is nothing short of Pure Synchronicity. My favorite kind of story. :) I’ve had a warm glow all day–all these reconnections with old friends!

Mon, June 4: Super-Powers

swimming at the lake

Goofing Around–a family specialty

With Keoni off work today and the weather hot and sunny, the family (minus 16-year-old Kapena, at his first day of Football Camp) spent the day at the beach! Though it’s easily within walking distance, we also have the gift (from my parents) of an unlimited State-Parks-pass stuck to our windshield, so we happily loaded folding chairs, snacks and picnic, inflatable inner-tube (bought on sale after last summer) and other “beachables” into the car.  We stopped momentarily to chat with Lareen (with whom I worked last summer) in the entrance booth–noting that this was the third consecutive day she’d seen us, she wondered if this would be a daily meeting. “That’s the plan,” we all grinned–Family Time is precisely why I’m not in that entrance-booth this summer, as voted unanimously by the three kids…

marooned

Pushing Keoni to the island–Marooned!

Here’s a moment that any parent will recognize… When a pair of siblings, usually squabbly purely out of habit, have a moment of instantaneous and wordless communication with one another and they’re suddenly “in league”… You’ve seen it, right? It was one of those moments today, when Keoni decided to try out the inner-tube…  Christian and Elena Grace had one of those connecting-moments, and with matching shrieks of maniacal laughter, the pair of them started to tow him across the small lake to “maroon” him on its island. (Pirates of the Caribbean has thoroughly pervaded their consciousness, as evidenced by Christian barking at someone on the beach, “Oy! No littering, you Scabrous Dog!” I swear I’m not making that up.)

Over Keoni’s own laughing objections that they couldn’t maroon him without at least a pistol and a single shot, I heard Elena Grace taunting him teasingly, “Where’s your kitchen NOW?”–which only goes to show that she has correctly identified the source of his Super-Powers… The Kitchen!

swimming at the lake

looking forward to a whole summer of this!

Wednesday, June 6: Symphony and Stones

This evening’s thunder-and-wind storm didn’t arrive in time to break our consecutive string of days-with-lake-visits, at least for Christian and myself. While Keoni took Elena Grace to Karate class (where she did not, at least today, cause any boys to cry), and while Kapena was finishing up Day Three of Football Camp, Christian and I walked once again to the lake. Too chilly today to tempt Mom into the water, but I sat with my writing-notebook and iPod and watched him–or his feet, rather, given his apparent interest in the lake-bottom today…

poling

he’d intended to pole himself across the lake–but after an accidental puncture (of the tube, not the child) he turned to surveying the lake bottom instead…

I’ve been corresponding this week with a Boise composer who is working up a program with the Idaho Dance Theater, and looking for poetry by Idaho women (preferably about Idaho and its rivers) for use with a vocalist as part of the current project. He had come across my earlier mention in this blog of an anthology of Idaho women poets and contacted me to see if I knew where it could be found. Sadly, the only place I’ve seen it in recent years is on my own shelf, so I offered him the loan, and listed some other anthologies and Idaho writers that might bear looking into. I used to teach an “Idaho Writers” lit course–so in my enthusiasm, it grew into rather an extensive list… He also kindly stated that he’d be interested to look at some of my work if I turned up anything that might fit the theme.

So I was watching my swimmer in this Idaho lake, and musing on my children’s Idaho roots (I was the first in my family to be born in Idaho, but they’re sixth-generation Idahoans through their paternal grandmother) and I ended up with pages’ worth of poetry… I’m still letting it simmer in my beach-bag (I usually find it’s a good idea to leave new poetry alone for a few days after it first hits the page) but I’m still mulling over an odd bit of synchronicity. Maybe it’s because I’d just finished Mrs. Dalloway and still had Virginia Woolf on my mind, but whatever the reason, my mind kept wanting to add a pocketful of stones to my son as I wrote about him. Not in the same morbid fashion as Mrs. Woolf, and I couldn’t figure out why the thought was so persistent, but it worked into what I was writing and I let it stay… An hour later when I beckoned his blue-lipped form out of the lake, he emerged, emptied his swim-trunks of a whole pile of rocks, and announced happily, “I’m collecting stones!” Hm.

The wind-storm began to kick up as he and I walked home, so we arrived (rather breathlessly) at our front porch–he with his swim-goggles donned against the wind, and his beach towel streaming behind like a Superhero’s cape.

Fri, June 8: Sewage Moat

readers

Our go-to Rainy Day activity…

Rain and wind continued through yesterday and necessitated a break from the lake… But I’ve always enjoyed a stormy day when I can stay cozily curled up with a book–AND a couple cuddly other readers…

We woke this morning to find ourselves possessed of a landscaping feature that’s not common in this neck of the woods…  A Moat.  Unfortunately, it has a strong smell of sewage, and appears to be connected with our septic system.  (This is one of those days when I say a prayer of thanks that we’re renting!) Of course, sometimes the difficulty with renting is getting any action from a landlord, especially in our case where the actual landlord lives in Arizona, the delegated manager lives a couple towns away, and the on-site fix-it-guy (our favorite neighbor Bill, with whom we’re collaborating on a vegetable garden) isn’t empowered to make any decisions that involve spending money.

chairback reader

this Monkey will drape herself anywhere with a book…

We’ve already run into trouble with this septic–as the weather warmed up in late April and the potty-smell around our place went from occasionally-noticeable to overwhelming, we called the manager to say the septic probably needed to be pumped. (A side note for those of you across the Big Water: “potty” here in the States means toilet, rather than crazy–I have to mention this after the hilarity of a British buddy some years back when I expressed delight that my newly-trained toddler was “going potty”…)

Four (smelly!) weeks later, a guy finally came to pump out the tank. Said he used to do the rounds here twice a year, but hadn’t been called in for almost three. Three years, that is. Come to find out, the pump was broken, water was flowing into the tank even though nothing was running in our house, and the grass around the tank, he told us, was “saturated” with…  Ew.

Well, the pump got replaced, the tank got emptied, and here we are two weeks later with a full tank again, and a suspiciously smelly moat.  We won’t be hosting any badminton tournaments till this gets sorted out!


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