Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fall seeding

On Sunday Henry and prepared the garden bed for the fall, which mostly involved weeding bermuda grass (the bane of every central Texas gardener), adding mulch, and creating short rows to help capture water.

I had high hopes when we started the morning that I would be able to get all of the bermuda out by the roots and would never see it again.  What was I thinking?!  Having a raised bed makes this process exceptionally difficult.  The bermuda sets up camp just under the frame so its roots are protected--making it nearly impossible to get the whole plant out (one of the many reasons I never want to garden in a raised bed again).  In fact, in trying to get the bermuda out, you end up breaking the rhizomes, which makes more bermuda (just like a hydra).  I admire the grass for its ingenuity; it truly is a success story of evolution and has perfectly adapted to its environment.  I like to think of it as a "worthy adversary".  Bermuda, you may have one this round, but the battle isn't over.

Another challenge of my plot is the slope of the land.  For some reason, my bed was created on an incline and the construction of the bed was not altered accordingly.  All spring and summer as I watered the garden, the beautiful compost and top soil would wash away toward the left side of the bed, leaving the right side a dry desert of sand.  This season I am trying a new configuration in order to prevent the good soil from washing away so quickly.  Instead of having one large planting space, I created four rows with three swales between them.  I am hoping that these ditches will help to collect water and soil and keep the nutrients evenly distributed.  I know I am losing a small amount of planting space for the ditches, but it will be worth it if it creates a better environment for the plants.

Today I seeded for the fall.  Here's what I planted:

Row 1: Sage (chives and parsley from the summer are also in this row)

Row 2: Early Wonder Beets and Red Acre Cabbage

Row 3: Purple Top White Globe Turnips

Row 4: Fordhook Chard and Big Seeded Mache

I will add cilantro to Row 1 and Five Color Silverbeet Swiss Chard to Row 3.  I also want to add Lacitano Kale and will probably squeeze that in wherever there is space once I see which seeds actually sprouted.  I love watching the sprouts come up (assuming they will) and can't wait to dig into the beautiful cool weather crops.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Greenhorns

Last night I attended a backyard screening of The Greenhorns.  It was just what I needed.  I left feeling inspired, which is something I haven't felt in awhile.

The original plan was that wherever Henry found an engineering job I would look for a year-long internship.  Since moving to Texas, becoming a full-time farmer has become a deferred dream.  My husband and I have decided to make starting a family our first priority, which means a year-long internship is unlikely.  Somehow the thought of pulling weeds for hours on end while in the throes of morning sickness sounds less than ideal.  I'm still working to cultivate my skills as a wannabe farmer through various volunteer opportunities, but I have discovered that I am a homesteader at heart.  When I imagine my future, I do not picture myself with a farming business that generates a livable income; I picture myself with a beautiful backyard garden that feeds my family, friends, and neighbors.

Part of the reason I do not envision a full-time, money-making career farmer is because of Henry.  It is not that he is unsupportive--he goes above and beyond to encourage me and all my half-baked ideas--it's that he does not share the same vision.  He loves his current job and career path and has no desire to trade that in for full-time farming.  Just as he respects my need to not to be in an office staring at a computer all day, I respect his desire to continue the work that he loves.  But a career as a farmer?  You need your partner to be all in.  We're talking hands in the dirt, pulling out weeds, crying over broken irrigation systems, and praying for rain kind of "in".  I don't want to farm on my own.  Running a homestead with the help and support of my husband?  Sounds great.  Spending my days in the field and his in the office while trying to make it work financially and emotionally?  Not so much.

Watching the Greenhorns with a group of young people trying to make it as farmers was exactly the lift I needed.  While I have different goals for my future than many of my fellow attendees, I nevertheless felt invigorated by their energy to keep doing what I'm doing and taking steps toward the future I want for myself and my family.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Feeding my family

The responsibility of cooking dinner is mostly mine these days.  Henry cooks on Sundays, but every other day I'm the one wearing the apron.  There are two main reasons for this seemingly uneven divide of kitchen duty: (1) I have more free time in the afternoons since he doesn't get off work until 5:30-6 and (2) I like to cook.  In return, he cleans up (most) every night.

This agreement came about after several discussions of what is equitable given our current situation (him working full-time, me volunteering with side jobs here and there).  Since I am the one at home most afternoons, it makes sense that the bulk of the household responsibilities falls to me.  In the same breath, it's hard for me to swallow such a "traditional" division of labor where I do all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, etc, while he "brings home the bacon".  I know it is the logical outcome of our circumstances, but that does not make it easy for me to accept.  I have spent my life working to become an independent, well-educated woman who is in an equal partnership with her spouse.  And I am.  But when what's equitable looks like a throw-back to the 1950s from the outside?  It's a challenge.

All of that aside, getting to cook six nights of the week is something I (generally) enjoy.  Of course there are the nights where putting together a meal feels like a task equivalent to scaling Mount Everest, but luckily those nights are (relatively) infrequent.  I believe that cooking nutritious meals form whole, organic ingredients is potentially the most important thing I do for my family.  What we put into our bodies has such a huge impact on our health (both mental and physical), our happiness, and our outlook on life.  My values and ideas surrounding food are continually evolving, but I do know that eating quality meals at home together ensures our well-being in the broadest sense of the word.  So even though I occasionally feel like Donna Reed (minus the jello molds and pearls), I just keep cookin'.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Unlikely friends

Today we saw one of my husband's oldest friends.  They have known each other since kindergarten and became good friends in middle school.  I love meeting and spending time with people who knew Henry before I did; each interaction sheds light on a new facet of who he is.

When his friend left to head back to Houston, I mentioned to Henry that it seems as though they would not have become good friends if they had met today.  He agreed, but also pointed out how valuable their differences were when he was a teenager.  Henry is naturally reserved and an introvert through-and-through.  In middle school and high school, this friend helped Henry become more social and interact with more people than he otherwise would have.  They are still good friends and often have camping/hiking trips in the works.  Even though they are on divergent paths, they have found a way to walk them together.

I love that about friends.  I love how life sometimes seems to choose your friends for you instead of letting you have control, because sometimes life knows what you need more than you do.  From an outsider's perspective two people may not be a lot in common, but something clicks and there's no turning back.  I found that to be my experience in grad school.  The people who on first glance I had the most in common with are not the people I still call on the phone.  In fact, my closest friend from my time in Oregon is my opposite in many respects.  When I first met her I never would have guessed that we would become fast friends.  But we did, and she brings out a side in me that no one else does.  And for that?  I am grateful.  Because who needs a gaggle of friends just like us?  It's much more interesting to be surrounded by people who challenge us and force us to grow into something more, and hopefully better, than we were before we met them.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Weekend getaway

We need to go on a vacation.  Badly.  I need a change of scenery and Henry needs a break from work.  He's been working long hours and hasn't taken a day off since he started six months ago.  Originally we were going to wait until Christmas, but due to recent events (me losing my sanity and the stress of long hours catching up to Henry) we're hoping to take a short weekend trip sooner.  And by sooner I mean as soon as humanly possible.

We've recently decided that we are going to avoid flying whenever possible.  We've done our fair share of flying up until this point (trips to Europe, New Zealand, and Africa included).  While flying is convenient, we feel that it is not compatible with our values or lifestyles.  How did we come to this conclusion?  Well, it started by me suggesting we go back to New Zealand or plan a trip to Hawaii.  (What can I say?  I love to travel.)  We want to travel and see new places (especially ones that aren't in the middle of the wasteland that is Texas*), but are now making a commitment to go by land.

I am one hundred percent behind the no-flying decision, but it does narrow the list of destinations when time is a factor.  Traveling for several hours in any directions leaves us right where we started--Texas.  For our weekend getaway we will most likely either head to the gulf coast or into Arkansas.  Honestly, I'll be happy to be anywhere but here for a couple of days.

*To all the Texas lovers out there, my apologies.  I have been a good sport all summer about the heat and drought, but my patience and positive attitude have dried up.  Maybe they will return with the rain that is supposed to arrive on Sunday.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Visualizing my future

Lately I have been focusing on what I don't like about living in Austin. It comes down to three basic things:

(1) It doesn't rain. Ever.

(2) It is far from my family. Being a short walk from my sister, brother, parents, and new nephew? Priceless. I love my family and I miss them terribly.

(3) It's a big city and we are small town folks. All things considered, Austin is a "good" big city for us (much better than say, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, or Atlanta--no offense to the millions who live there), but it's still a big city. I need to be able to bike out of town in fifteen minutes or less. I need to see nature and not unless subdivisions sprawling into infinity. I need to get out.

I know I don't want to stay here forever, but I also know that realistically we will be here for at least two more years. Neil loves his job. In fact, it's his dream job, minus the less than ideal location. I'm trying to find the balance between staying focused on what will bring me the most happiness (to move back to Missouri or Arkansas), but also not letting that focus lead me into a downward spiral of negativity about where we are now.

It's hard. Especially when I look up houses in my hometown and they are so cheap and beautiful and close to my family and in a land where it rains. Someday, someday.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I need to live in a land where it rains

When we moved to Austin in March we told our family and friends we would stay for at least five years. We figured that would give Neil substantial on-the-job experience and would be far enough in the future that the thought of another move did not make us what to run screaming the other direction (have I mentioned that we’ve moved four times in four years?). I was looking forward to having no move in sight; we’d be able to put down real roots and become part of the community. Six months into life in Central Texas, how am I feeling?


The weather is sucking away my soul. It may sound melodramatic, but it’s how I feel.  I think it has rained for a total of an hour since we moved here six months ago. It’s not the heat—truly, it’s not.  Yes, it has been over a hundred degrees for 75+ days this year (a new record). Yes, I do work outside on farms most of the week in that heat. Yes, this is a real exchange I had with another volunteer on Friday:

Volunteer: It feels so nice out today.

Me: I know! It’s only supposed to be 101 degrees today!

We’re excited about it only being 101 degrees. What kind of place do I live where 101 degrees feels like a cold front? Even so, it’s not the heat. I can deal with the heat. We haven’t even turned on our air conditioning (except for the weekend when my sister and her husband visited).

If it’s not the heat, then what is it? The lack of rain. When I see or hear about rain (on the television, in conversations, in my dreams…) it literally brings tears to my eyes. The environment here feels so… inhospitable… like we (human beings) shouldn’t be living here.

This weather has reminded me of discussions Neil and I last June when I applied for a job in Tucson. We had long conversations about whether it would be the right move to make if I got the job (I didn’t). What would it mean to be living in a land that was not meant to support that many people? In the end, we didn’t have to decide between the job and our environmental/philosophical values, so I’m not sure what the end of that story would have been. I can say that we both feel that there are certain places that people are not supposed to live in the numbers they currently do, and the southwest of this country is one of those places. Austin is not supposed to be in the southwest climate. It’s supposed to be in beautiful Texas Hill Country.

I call bullshit.

I need to live in a land where it rains. Everything here is brown. What’s not brown is disgustingly green grass that homeowners are wasting precious water watering. I can’t stay for five years. I absolutely cannot. This year is supposedly extreme, but it seems that extreme is the direction weather patterns are moving. The last extreme year? 2009. I’ll wait for the supposedly wet winter months before drawing my line in the sand, but if next summer is the same as this one we’ll need to start seriously looking for work in a city where rain is not the rarity that it is here.