It's that time of year when we start frantically making our own resolutions or rolling our eyes at other people's resolutions. I'm in the making resolutions camp and proud of it. The darkest day is over, but cold wet days are ahead if you live in the Pacific Northwest. What better way to while away the hours than to eat, wait - no - make resolutions. (It is a better alternative to eating myself into an senseless, grumpy hibernation.) So here are mine:

  • Get back into an exercise routine including yoga class once a week and a cardio class once a week. Get on that bike and get out walking.
  • Cut out straight-up sugars (no packaged, primarily sugar-based treats such as candy bars, pudding, cookies, cake etc.) Save sugar for fruit, and the occasional delicacy (like a homemade gift of a treat or a bubble tea here and there). 
  • Get the garden plans going and get that garden growing this year!
  • Continue to be in bed by 10 on week nights (notice I did not say "go to bed by 10"... that ends up being 11).
  • Budget better for self care including massages every few months and acupuncture once a month. 
  • Plan my next trip to Peru. 
There are a few big surprises in store for this year too that I can't share yet.... So, that's it for now. A few resolutions will have to remain private. 


Oh The Places We'll Go... With Leftovers

I made Chicken Chipotle Chowder Wednesday night (Chupe de Pollo con Chipotle) - one of my old favorites! It's a rich, spicy soup that can work in summer or winter. That said, it is not a week night soup like it is advertised and you will heat up your kitchen. I have Wednesdays off and it's swap night with my neighbor. I wanted to make something special for them as they are always spoiling us with all sorts of homemade treats so spending a few hours cooking was worth it.

The chicken in the recipe gets boiled and simmered with garlic, onions, carrots, celery, oregano and cumin together in chicken broth. It makes for a savory and moist meat addition. I decided this time around to add extra chicken as the chicken breasts are boiled whole in the broth.

With the extra chicken I made an "enchilada bake" that turned out to be an elaborate dip more than a casserole. I'm not complaining though. I cleaned out my fridge and I got several dinners and more to share with the neighbors. I shredded the chicken for the bake, added some whipping cream to each layer, more cumin, cilantro, black beans and black olives. Then I drizzled on fresh homemade annatto oil, which if you haven't tried this before you should. Annatto oil makes a fabulously sensual oil, the color of cadmium red. If you can't find annatto, the prolific Penzy's Spices carries it - it arrives along with directions on how to make the oil. I'm christening the recipe now "enchilada dip."


Ever Growing

Now we have taken up farming teenagers at the Copeland Street House. Our 17 year old nephew has moved in with us and will stay with us for at least the rest of the school year, perhaps longer if he wants. This has already been an amazing experience for us. Farming our little plot is as much about nurturing things as it is for nutrition and sustainability. Now we have another human to nurture. Kalvin is a great guy and I'm looking forward to the holidays around our urban homestead with all the more reason to decorate and celebrate the little moments.

Sunday night was just one of those moments. Kalvin had been at his parent's for a few days and we celebrated him being back with us by baking chocolate chip banana muffins. We put on a little "Pink Martini" and enjoyed the warmth of our newly repaired furnace on a cold November night. There is so much more to a homestead than the things growing outside of it or the selections of food and furnishings one makes. The energy one choses can go beyond the literal way you power your house.


Arty Food Blog

A friend of mine just started a new food blog. She is working on her PhD in Art History, so I think there's potential for a visual and tummy appealing combination. The Artful Kitchen


Call Me Weird, Compost Makes Me Feel Good Inside

What would have gone into the trash if we didn't compost. Instead it is as good as potting soil, but free! I kinda think it's pretty too. 


The Non-Garden

I keep saying I don't have a garden this year. Well, I don't have my normal garden and I really only planted a few things. It is, however, inaccurate for me to say I don't have a garden. Here's what I have:
A garden bed with onions and garlic that I actually planted.
In this same bed I have cherry tomatoes galore, chard and nasturtiums that came up volunteer from last year.
A new bed that we planted this spring that is small but contains four growing blueberries that will be productive next year.
Additionally in that bed, I have four pepper plants that are producing gigantic peppers. My sister-in-law gave me the plants.
Oh and I have rosemary in that bed that I planted this spring too.
We also have chard, parsley, garlic, lemon balm, oregano, mint, chives, and sage in the old garden that came up on it's own. And broccoli that we didn't completely pull up last year that produced small stems of edible broccoli that has since produced seed I plan to harvest.
Up front we have thyme, sage, more chives, and bay laurel.

What abundance we have for our non-activity!



Two cherry tomatoes off the vine today. I ate them before I could photograph them for you!


Dry Spell

OK, it's time for me to admit why I haven't been posting much this year. It's not because I haven't had time or have been so busy with projects or anything like that. The fact is, my little homestead is quite barren this year. I have no garden to speak of this year!

It's the first time since we moved into this house that we do not have a garden. It wasn't supposed to be this way. We had great plans for this year. Unfortunately I kinda blew it. We had planned a HUGE garden with our neighbors in an empty lot next to their house. It wasn't until months and months of wet late spring weather (into the end of June) that I realized my mistake.

After attempting to till the new garden space after a few sunny days in early June, I realized we should have done this last fall.... Ugh. What a realization to have. Especially since the ground could not be worked despite the break in the weather. It was still too wet. I didn't think about the fact that most of the ground around here is really heavy on the clay side. Our own garden had been supplemented and worked for years before we got here.

Our plans had been to let our own garden beds go follow this year and to build permanent raised beds where they are. So no garden. No lovely mid-summer produce to photograph and experiment in the kitchen with.

We have been making due with an abundance of chard, gifts from the neighbor's own raised bed, and such. It has really hit home to me too how much joy I get from being in the garden too. Not just from the produce, but from just being out there and surrounded by the bees, hummingbirds, flowers and smells.

Well, hopefully soon we will get a chance to make those permanent beds and you'll get some reports from about how that goes. Maybe even some winter garden pictures. Oh, and maybe we'll get those beds prepped in the neighbor's lot too.


Volunteer for Local Food

Interesting opportunity for those interested in local food issues in the Portland-Metro area:



Back from a visit to "the farm" for the 4th of July. It was a fabulous visit full of everything a 4th of July holiday should be filled with. Swimming, hours of fire works, home cooking, catfish, paddle boating, silliness with the kids, and even a water park excursion. Yes, it was good! Super hot, fireflies, family time.

Also while there we had the chance to tour "the levee." This is a multi-million dollar levee system along the Missouri River where my dad, brother, and others farm. This year the levee is holding back record flood waters. Not the highest waters in history, or even recent history, but what promises to be one of the longest lasting floods.

Record rainfalls and release miscalculations upriver have created flooding along the entire river system. Recreational interests compete with farming and flood control in cities. Decisions have to be made over what areas to save, attempt to save or give up on. Already waters have broken through smaller levees where my family farms. Fields planted late due to long and heavy spring rains, just starting to produce, appear to be natural lakes or extensions of the river.

The biggest threat in the levee system dad and Aaron farm in is from sand voles and other creatures that like to burrow into the levees. Day in and out, farmers scan the length of the levee for signs of damage to the earthen mound that separates them from total losses. When a lighter sand colored spot is discovered, they rush to begin the process of sandbagging the area, slowly and carefully piling them in order to collapse the burrow. Upriver there's been a break already so the National Guard is there and a twisted form of relief in an outlet for the river creates hope downstream.

In anticipation of a summer of high, unrelenting water levels made by continual water releases from reservoirs upstream, "it is only a matter of time before there's a break," they breath. My brother, along with others that have the means, has moved his entire family to higher ground. My sister-in-law swears she will never return, will never go through this again. Others wait, precious items stored at the ready to move quickly.

While I wax nostalgically about the 4th and all the comforts and serenity of a holiday "at home." While others salivate at the "downhominess" of my stories, farmers and bottom dwellers stew in an exhausting broth of anticipated disaster. There are so many advantages to being an urban "farmer."


Random Connections

Spent the weekend at the coast courtesy of my friend Nani with a group of four other women. We spent the weekend talking about our "career bliss." It was a fabulous, intense, supportive and challenging time.

Two of the ladies I got to know work for the Food Alliance. They are extremely intelligent, funny, and passionate people. One grew up on a farm in the Midwest and, like me, has maintained a strong interest in agriculture. She also has that feeling of being pulled back to the farm and calls the Midwest home still.

The Food Alliance itself sounded fascinating to me. I'm excited to look into it little more.

I am so glad Nani brought us together.


Portland Food Policy

If you are in Portland city limits, you might be interested in the comment period for the city's food policy. This includes policies related to urban gardens, chickens, and bees.



InFARMation Meeting Tuesday at Holocene

This meeting looks interesting - especially as most of us do these urban farm things in our free time after a 40 + -hour a week job:
InFARMation this Tuesday - 21st Century Householding

Tues 6/14 – 21st Century Householding

Preserving, planting, planning, partnering with farmers, buying in bulk, buying locally, gardening, budgets, cooking from scratch, DIY – these are all aspects of incorporating “sustainable” values into running a household, but they all take skills, time, effort, and knowledge. Join the discussion about “householding” and how that fits into the large picture of supporting family farmers and ranchers, but also supporting the bigger sustainable food system and balancing a sustainable life for ourselves and our families. How does anyone do it all with just 24 hours/day and 7 days/week? We’ve got some great folks on tap to lead this inter-generational discussion and lend their experience, tips and advice: http://cnrg-portland.org/content/infarmation-tuesday-21st-century-householding


Spring Cabin Fever

OK, when will I ever learn that fall is the time to prep the garden for spring planting? I'm sitting here wishing desperately that I could plant the starts that are withering away on my back deck. I have access to a big beautifully sited piece of empty land just on the other side of my neighbors' and I can't plant it. It's too wet. We tried to till it a few weeks ago. Normally, after 3 days of sunny dry weather you can till a virgin plot. This puppy hasn't been tilled since I've lived here for almost 8 years and it has had grasses growing on it this whole time. I thought for sure after 3 dry days we could get in there. Nope. Well and it doesn't hurt that it's a lot of clay. The land still just sits there. If we had done this in the fall when things were dry, we could have added some lime to break up the clay. We could have worked in the dozen bags of manure that sit in the back of Jovi's truck, waiting. Waiting.

The up side is that our front yard looks fabulous! The best ever. All the rhodies are in full bloom with lusciously deep purple blooms and vivid pinks. The absinthe green of new growth on the natives lights up the overcast afternoon. Parker Palmer writes about the winters of our days both metaphysically and physically. He says the key is to "get out in it." Bundle up and embrace the season so you don't go crazy avoiding it or waiting it out. There is some serious wisdom to that.


New Babies!

The Copeland Street family just got a little bigger this past weekend. We have added Ponyo and Picchu, two short-haired kittens.

It's been over a year since we had to say "goodbye" to Booger, the Queen B. I didn't really want a new cat after her. We had such a way of communicating and so many memories together. I didn't think a new cat would replace that, I just also felt more that I loved Boogs more than I loved cats in general. You know when you have that special relationship with a beloved pet that transcends them being an animal? They are family, they are your best friend, your witness to life's many changes.

A friend of mine a few weeks ago posted kitten pictures on Facebook and I casually said we should get one to Jovi. Well, here we are again. The litter box, the crazies, the little kitten bites and scratches, I had completely forgotten how much I truly just love cats. I love these little monsters.

Picchu and Ponyo


Important Public Health Announcement

I'm interrupting my normal blog for an important public service announcement:
If you're ready for a zombie apocalypse, then you're ready for any emergency. emergency.cdc.gov


I Stand Corrected

OK, so even without the beautiful, warm sunshine today, if some alien were dropped here right now they would know it is spring. How? The length of the days. Daylight before I wake up and sun setting just as I am going to bed. Fabulous.


Gleaning the Garden

OK, so it's that in between season when I'm waiting for the ground to dry enough to plant some veggies and it never seems to get there. If someone were dropped into the PacNW from space, they would have no idea what season it is right now. Sprinter still? So, I'm gleaning the garden. Little baby garlic bulbs - so many I might as well have some now. Chives are up and aplenty as is the parsley. There is chard again finally and in abundance so we can have greens. Best of all, the mint is back. For a few months we'll have tender, dark mint for tea. Nothing like fresh mint versus dry. So, this morning I made a nearly free breakfast frittata for the family and mint tea (with a bit of lemon balm) for the nephew and I. The eggs were a present from a friend. We also had a broccoli plant that we let overwinter which has sprouted a few tiny fresh growths. I cut those off and the stalks are tender enough to impart a broccoli flavor and some darker green and purple color without the bitterness of an older stalk. 


It's Spring, Today

If the weather's not convinced that it's May, the flowers and plants are. I'm super excited that all of the native plants I put in the rain garden last fall are actually back up now and growing strong! I am determined to get more natives this fall again as they are half price and require NO work throughout winter. If planted in the spring, they require watering to keep them going and they cost twice as much!

Here is a photo of the Soloman's Seal. I've also included a picture of the purple Hellebore a friend gave us from her yard (free!).


Ten Rivers Food Web

Ah, another good site! Ten Rivers Food Web, in their own words "... provides strategic leadership to build a robust and resilient food system in the Mid-Willamette Valley." They are focused on the Cascade to Coast area of Western Oregon and food security. 

Food security, a term that I only heard for the first time about four years ago, used to be applied mostly to developing and conflict-ridden areas. Now you hear about food security close to home. And it's about time.  Food security encompasses everything from food production, soil health and management, to access to food and the nutritional quality of that food supply. As we transition away from a largely agrarian economy to a service economy or information economy (take your pick) food security must become something we are all interested in (and water rights are intrinsically linked to that). 

Don't get me wrong, farmers in the US still produce enormous amounts of food and we have the ability (land, water, chemicals, seed stock, and money) to feed the world. That said, as food production moves into fewer and fewer hands and more and more farms produce grains for export/feed/fuel etc. we have to keep our own food access in sight. I think a good example of this are urban food deserts. Cities where residents must travel outside of the city to buy more than convenience store items and many folks are unable to obtain healthy, fresh foods within their own neighborhoods. 

Check out Ten Rivers Food Web if you live in Western Oregon and test your food literacy! 


Time on My Hands

This is cool. I'd heard something about this a while back, but I just read an article on "time banking." The concept is so simple. You spend an hour doing something for someone (cleaning, gardening, cooking etc.) and you get an hour in the time bank to spend having someone do something for you (acupuncture, massage, cleaning, gardening etc.).

I'm going to look into this and try to figure out what skills I have that I could trade for. I'm thinking weddings, funerals, photo books, gardening, cooking, cleaning. I guess I can write too maybe or edit? I can definitely organize.

I am so into the concept that our labor for each other (the time we spend helping each other in volunteering, care giving for a family member, watching a friend's kids etc.) are undervalued economically (not personally). While writing my thesis, I came across a bit of literature on volunteering and what was considered volunteering in our statistics on volunteerism. For instance, if you go to an organization and officially volunteer that is counted in our stats as an non-profit organization. If you just go across the street and help your neighbor with yard work or take your mom to her chemo visit and cook her dinner, this is literally not valued in our economy. Literally. It's not counted as having any value in our economy. 

Marilyn Waring wrote a seminal work on this concept of "value" in her 1988 book If Women Counted. She explores the world accounting system at the time, which is still our current accounting system, and found that it was based on a work called How to Fund the War. She made the argument then (which was not an entirely new argument) that we have fundamentally changed the concept of the term value to mean only that which is tied into and contributes directly to the dollar system. In this system, acts or things (such as a park) do not have any intrinsic worth on their own. They only have worth when they are sold, items are mined off of them, or they produce a pay check.

In his TED talk, Edgar Cahn describes the motivation behind time banking as being to give back value to our acts of labor for one another. To transform our system so that these acts of labor that are currently not being valued are finally valued. It's a short talk/video worth watching.

If you are in Portland, here is a link to the PDX Time Bank.


Traditional Farm Transitions to Organic

I've just added a new blog to my blog list. *Clinton Lindsey*, a fourth generation farmer at *A2R Farms* in Corvallis, is keeping a blog to “share our experiences as our family works to transition our 800 acre farm from a conventional chemical-using farm to a sustainable organic farm.”

Clinton is going to be at the InFARMation meeting here in Portland - a meeting to connect local urbanites to our surrounding family farms.

Friends of Family Farmers presents InFARMation on April 12th from
5:30-8:30pm at Holocene (1001 SE Morrision Ave, Portland). Free!



Sometimes I drop into a funk of missing living on 90 acres. I fantasize about becoming a hermit and living in a little studio on the far side of the creek. I would magically have built this cabin by myself. It would be simple, clean, austere. The weather would be mostly midwestern spring. Not muggy, not hot, not cold, just right. Just right for sitting out in the evening and watching the sun set on the hill above the cemetery. Just right for listening to the creek cascade over the rough, broken up concrete pass. Just right for the redwing blackbirds to return and the occasional coyote to be spotted in the distance. Just right for the trees to have new leaves. Quiet, alone, nothing to do. 

I madly miss those long weekend days spent doing nothing but reading, listening, walking in the woods. All alone with my thoughts. Wednesday can't come soon enough this week, but I will be let down without my aimless, pathless wander. 

A day in the garden would suffice, but they are calling for three months of rain. 


So very grateful this week.


Garlic Surplus

So the garlic "seeds" I planted two years ago have taken over the garden in little stands of green. I dug them up yesterday and separated out all the little bulbs - each with a green shoot. I replanted as many as I could before I was called in to guard dinner while Jovi ran to the store. I probably planted about 25 and I have maybe 45 or 50 still to go. Not sure if they made it through the night, but what's to loose? I brought some in to cook with. I will chop the greens and use them just like green onions. The little baby cloves I will use just like any garlic. Whatever didn't make it through the night outside, I will do the same with. 



I should be ordering seeds.
I should be planting the seeds I have already purchased.
If I were on top of things, I would tell you that I am planting sweetpeas, peas,  broccoli, spinach and more shallots right now.
I would be planting blueberries.
I would be digging up that damn pile of rocks behind our addition and by the retaining wall. I'd be figuring out that drainage problem.
I'd learn how to use the chop saw and I would be building my own garden beds rather than waiting for Jovi to help me.
I would be finishing the rock by our fireplace.
I would be pruning more of the rhododendrons and camellias.
I would be divvying up the honey to distribute to friends and colleagues.
I would have built the chicken coop already.
These are the things I would be doing if I weren't lazy.


Your Farm in the City: An Urban-Dweller's Guide to Growing Food and Raising Animals by Lisa Taylor - Powell's Books

Your Farm in the City: An Urban-Dweller's Guide to Growing Food and Raising Animals by Lisa Taylor - Powell's Books

Event at Powell's on Cedar Hills this Friday at 7:00 PM.

The Longest Months

And they are here
There's no avoiding them
They are the night before the morning
Clouds before the sunbreak

The longest months.

I curl up by anything warm
Under blankets
By the dog
In a bath
Wrapped in a pashmina

The longest months.

Seed catalogs lying dormant
Lonely garden beds
Worn and depressed clumps of grass
Cold toes

The longest months.

If I were to listen closely I would hear the struggle underground,
Little pods splitting
Roots inching their way upward
Life just beneath the surface

The longest months.



OK, so I'm not completely convinced spring isn't just around the corner... but maybe I'm wrong about it being spring already here in the NW.  :  ) This is what I woke up to this morning:


Honey, I Love You

Who would think that Valentine's weekend would best be spent processing honey? Well, it was! The room we were in was heated to about 75 or 80 degrees to start with while it was maybe 50 outside. Then add the heady scent of fresh hot honey and wax and well, I was in nirvana. Taking the hot knife to gently cut off the sheets of wax caps, watching them slowly peel away and fall into the bucket below, was sensual. Cutting like smooth sheets of butter. The honey would sometimes gush out of the comb once these seals were undone. By the end of the afternoon, I was covered in honey and all the happier for it. It was like I'd spent the day at a spa I was so relaxed. I would do this over and over again. 

This is urban homesteading at it's best. We don't have our own hives, but we have friends that do. After an afternoon of playing with the stuff, we got to take home a gallon of it! Well worth the trade in labor. In fact, I think we got the better end of the deal when you consider we were even fed lunch! 

Pictured above: Me cutting the caps away from the comb. Then Jovi and I at the extractor - Jovi would place the comb in the barrel and then spin it. The heated sides would help the honey to be viscous enough to run down the walls after being pulled from the comb by the spinning. Then we drained the extractor (which had a filter in it) through another few layers of filtration. We also had a little bat friend in the room with us - happy little warm bat. 


Mixed Signals

While the rest of the country has been in a deepfreeze, spring has been popping up in the Northwest. It's hard not to get excited about the daffodils that have sprouted in the back yard and to see them as proof that spring is surely well on its way. Can nature be fooled? Can her little babies be confused?

There are signs around me that this year holds surprises in store for us. I have snowdrops blooming in the back yard. Bulbs I have never planted and have never seen here. Not even in those first springs on Copeland Street, that were preceded by icy winters. We did have a bout of super cold (for the Northwest) winter for a few weeks... We have had an unusually warm and sunny January. I saw bulbs coming up at work too that I've never seen before. The squirrels were super active last fall, digging furiously in new places. Perhaps we're seeing the stashes they never needed?

I like it. I choose to read it as a sign of hope and happy things in unexpected places at unexpected times. If you don't spend enough time just being, just sitting still, these are just events. When I'm being still enough, aware enough, present enough, these are beautiful gifts.


Apologies to my friends in the rest of the country...

Daffodils up.
Garlic, shallots, yellow onions up.
Fresh sprouts of chard dot the garden beds.
Parsley back.
Tell me it's still winter?


Hope in the Post

First hopeful act of 2011: got my first seed catalog for the year in my mailbox this past weekend. Spent a lovely few hours by the fire perusing the pages and reading about plant varieties and planting conditions.


The New Fireplace

We still have to build the mantel and adjoining bookcase (with rabbit-proof doors this time). But here she is for now!