So last night I came up with my list of chores for today. And it was a nice list, too. And I really would’ve done those things (and I will get them done, but stealthily, speed-gardener style, this upcoming week) but when I was out and about, I recognized a distinct odor in the air. Oh, yes, spring’s coming to this valley.

How did that happen? Where did the winter go? With so much left on my to do list, and winter running out, there was clearly only one thing to do.

Take the girls to see (and play in snow) for the first time in their lives. Lately, I’ve been reminded that it’s not just winter that’s too short. My oldest child is starting kindergarten this fall, my youngest is flirting with the idea of potty training. Forget winter — where have their babyhoods gone?

Isn’t it funny how time gets away from you? There you are, minding your own business, just kind of getting through life and the next thing you know, six months have gone by.

Um, oops. What can I say? I’ve been busy.

So anyway, there’s been all sorts of brouhaha lately because it seems like some people got a little bit confused as to whether they invented a certain term. Now, I’m not going to name names. Far be it from me to call anyone out by name, or sling mud. I won’t even sling compost.

But I do need to say one thing: I am an urban homesteader. Got that? Urban homesteader. I may not be as effective or competent at it as others are, but the fact remains that as I do not live on acreage, and I do garden, can, keep chickens, etc and so forth, well, then I guess I’m an urban homesteader.

Trademark that.

So, the other day I was perusing an ad on our local (or possibly a semi-local) Craigslist, at which I arrived after not searching for goats, or anything goat related. However, one of the things listed was a goat, specifically a particular breed of goat they were selling. Their description of the goat was its milk was not goaty. Oh, that’s interesting, I thought. I thought all goat milk was goaty.

But I’m not getting a goat.

My interest was sort of piqued, though. A goat whose milk isn’t goaty? I still remember the look on the co-pilot’s face last summer when he tried a sample of goat’s milk cheese. It wasn’t pretty. Actually, at the time, I was really relieved that he didn’t throw up on me, the kids, and the people selling said goat cheese. But if I could have a goat whose milk didn’t taste goaty…well, that’s fewer trips to the grocery store, which is always a good thing. I hate going to the grocery store. Of course, it would mean a few more trips to the feed store, but that’s all right. I much prefer the feed store to the grocery store.

But I’m not getting a goat.

I couldn’t remember the name of the non-goaty goat milk giving goat, though. So I did what any modern person would do: I Googled “goat milk that doesn’t taste goaty”. And then spent the next couple hours reading up on, yep, you guessed it: keeping goats.

I am not getting a goat.

I really can’t have a goat. For one, the co-pilot has been more than accommodating to my little…shall we say lifestyle changes, but telling him I want to keep goats — and keep them here — would probably be the last straw. Even though every single time we drive by the goat dairy on the highway where they have the homemade plywood “GOATS 4 SALE” sign, and I’ve said “I want to buy a goat,” he hasn’t argued, but that’s only because he knows that I don’t really want a goat. (I do say that, though. But it’s more for luck than anything else. Long story.) So even though he always replies, “So get a goat,” I shouldn’t take that as actual support for keeping goats. Keeping them anywhere. Much less in our backyard.

I am not getting a goat!

For another thing, there are the neighbors to consider. They, too, have been accommodating to my chicken keeping, and I really shouldn’t push them any further. On the other hand…they really like getting free eggs. Who’s to say they wouldn’t also like some non-goaty goat milk?

No. I am not getting a goat.

I don’t know how to milk a goat. I don’t have time to learn how to milk a goat, much less doing the actual daily (or twice daily? See? I don’t know anything about goats!) milkings. And even though I would love to learn (and actually plan on learning this winter) how to make cheese, this is not a reason to get a goat.

So to let me say one more time, I am not getting a goat. No way. Nu-huh. Nope. Nyet. No goats for me…

Have you ever had a grape tomato plant get away from you? Say you weren’t able to cage it, stake it, or somehow contain it, and it sprawled out so much — and produced so much — that you eventually quit picking the tomatoes? Or maybe you keep on picking, but because of the massive sprawliness of the plant, you can’t help but miss some. Maybe they’re too far out of reach and you don’t want to trample on the plant. Or maybe it’s just such a jungle that you can’t even see the darned tomatoes through the foliage. It happens.

Now imagine you have not one, but six unstaked, uncaged, unconfined in any way, grape tomato plants. Imagine that they take over such a large part of your yard that you secretly start praying for an early frost to kill the buggers. And when that frost doesn’t come — you give up picking and just hope that some uber-gopher will come and rip them down an uber-gopher hole.

None of that happens, of course. Finally, though, there is a frost severe enough to kill them, and you spend a gleeful afternoon clearing out the undergrowth, nose streaming in the cold, hacking and yanking at dead tomato plants with a homicidal fervor. “Take that and that, you rotten things!

They heard you, you know. And in the hacking and pulling and yanking and throwing…a few ripe tomatoes fell to the ground. But you don’t see them. You’re too busy going all Braveheart on the tomato plants. If you could see them, though, they’d be making faces at you and saying, “just you wait, lady.”

Fast forward a few months. You notice a few little tomato seedlings in various places, and you’re not sure if you should move them or just pull them. You’re busy, though, and you leave it for another day, then another…until finally, they’re not seedlings, they’re plants that are too big to move. And they’re blooming. And setting fruit. So you leave them be. You even take the time to cage them, not knowing that their super sprawly tendencies will quickly topple over the cage.

And the little buggers try to take over the garden again. Ladies and gents, I give you: free range tomatoes. (No, really. I’m going to be giving you tomatoes. They’re going to be exploding with fruit pretty soon, and I don’t think even my little tomato hounds will be able to keep up. So if you’re local, and you don’t like grape tomatoes, lock your doors.)

So after the first couple of meetings with the City, they had suggested a possible location for the community garden. A location that pretty much had everything you would not want in a community garden. Or any kind of garden. I could list all that was wrong with it, but that would take too long. So I’ll tell you what was right with it: it was not on fire. Though perhaps I exaggerate just a little.

Long story short, another alternative was found, and here it is. It’s got a few problems — the fact that it’s a former industrial storage site being one of them — but it has a lot of things right. It has bathrooms. It has parking. It’s on a bus line. And of course, it also is not on fire. As for the possible soil contamination, that can be dealt with. Hopefully.

But can you see it? That concrete footer to the left could possibly be a small play area, or possibly a berry patch. I can see the plots laid out, the plants growing. I’d love for there to be some sort of seating area where people can take a break, and storage lockers so that no one has to lug their tools around town. One of the other gardeners suggested that we have a plot specifically for the food bank, to help provide them with fresh vegetables, and I can see that, too. I can see it so clearly, I have to keep reminding myself that it hasn’t actually happened yet.

As I’ve said before, gardeners are nothing but optimism wrapped in dirt. So maybe this project is just an overflowing of (misplaced) optimism. But I really, really hope not.

So I’m in a little bit of a holding pattern right now. Waiting for the chickens to figure out that it’s really better to lay eggs in their nest boxes, as opposed to…anywhere else. Waiting for the tomato plants to get into full swing so I can start putting up tomato sauce. Waiting for the apples to finish off so I can…well, eat them! And last but not least (and really, not even last if you think about it) waiting to hear about my latest and greatest what-have-I-gotten-myself-into project: the Community Garden.

Let me say this: I love community gardens. I think they’re just about the neatest idea ever. I love the idea of people not just growing food, but growing an actual community. And as much as I appreciate the ability to tell my husband to go take a long walk off a short pier (or other, less G-rated things) without having to fear being thrown out into the street with nothing, to pursue the career of my choosing, to have money and property in my own name, and all those other good things brought to me by the women’s movement, I feel a little sad that women’s role as community builders has been, if not lost, then definitely put on the back burner.

But this is not a post about feminism, post-feminism, or anything like that. This is a post about how I. Am. A. Freakin’. Lunatic.

Because for years and years, I said to myself, “You know, this town needs a community garden.” And then one day, for no good reason, really, other than my kids were keeping the noise level down to a low din, and I could almost hear myself think for a second there, I heard my voice saying something: I Am That Someone. Of course, in retrospect, I might actually have been thinking I Want Some Gum. I’ll never know for sure, because by the time I realized I may have misheard what I was thinking, it was too late. I’d placed ads in various places, looking for others who think that community gardens are good, and I was off.

And after two meetings with the city Parks & Recreation Department (at one of which I was required to stand up in a public forum and *gasp* speak on behalf of our group in front of an audience — albeit a very small one) here I sit, waiting for the final yay or nay from the city, and all the while, what my mother calls my contingency chromosome is about to go critical. If the city approves, then I have plans to go ahead with fundraising and more outreach. If the city says no, I have a mental list of vacant lots scattered throughout town, and the phone number of the county assessor’s office to start doing title searches.

Gentle reader, you may be asking yourself how all this makes me a lunatic? All this makes me a lunatic because before I started this project I had, on average, 43.78 free seconds a day. And now, I have none. But I may end this up with more dirt to play in, a new set of skills, and a new set of words to define myself: community organizer. I can live with that.

But still, next time I can hear myself think, I’m just going to get a piece of gum, and see if the voices go away.

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The dog days of summer are here, and it’s not pretty. It’s not pretty at all. I’m persistently perspiring, and the co-pilot is about to melt. He’s really, really not happy with this current experiment I’m running: this year, despite the fact that we live in a desert area where the temperature frequently flirts with triple digits (and sometimes walks right up to them and gives them a big kiss), I decided that we’re not turning on the central air this year.

Instead, to keep the house livable in the heat, we’re relying on a window-mounted evaporative cooler that we bartered a TV and DVD player back in January. Which work great in our dry, desert climate, for about 20 hours of the day. Now, the other four hours…those are the tough ones. The ones where the livingroom temperature creeps up through the 80s, until around 7:30, when the outside temperature starts to drop, triggering a chain reaction of cooling that brings the temperature inside back down.

I can handle this. I was born in the tropics and raised in a desert that’s much hotter than this one. I’m good. The kids don’t seem to notice much one way or another, pretty much like I didn’t when I was a kid. The co-pilot, on the other hand? Well, like I said, he’s not happy. How could he be? He generally looks like he’s about to either melt or catch fire. Sometimes both, as improbable as that sounds.

And I sympathize. I really do. It’s hard enough to suffer for convictions when they’re yours. Suffering for someone else’s convictions, however, is pretty miserable. And yet he hasn’t broken. He hasn’t rebelled. He hasn’t shut the windows, and defiantly returned us to the glories of central air. He’s been a little grumpy, but he hasn’t flipped his lid, or the switch.

So here’s to you, dear co-pilot, builder of worm bins (and partial chicken coops), wrangler of chickens. Thanks for melting with me, and melting my heart.


This morning brought both welcome and unwelcome surprises. The welcome surprise were the first of our eggs, of which there were two. The unwelcome surprise was that the chickens did not lay them in the lovingly crafted* nest boxes that my amazing co-pilot installed this past weekend.

No, my darling girls apparently chose to lay their very first eggs on the trapdoor that leads out of the coop, which meant that when I opened it, the eggs fell down into the run. The two-foot-high run. The two-foot-high run that I was not going to crawl into after the egg that rolled almost all the way down to the other end. (I ended up easing it onto the blade of a shovel and dragging it gently out of the run. It still ended up with a cracked shell. I don’t know if it happened due to the shovel or if it happened when it fell into the run.)

So now I’m about to start studying up on ways to get chickens to lay eggs in nest boxes. I knew there would be a learning curve with all of this. I just never thought the chickens would be on that curve with me.

*translation: slapped together out of scrap wood and adding that final and oh-so special touch of scavenger chic to my post-apocalyptic looking chicken coop.

No, there’s not. If you don’t have enough to can, you can eat them. If you have too many to eat, you can give them away. It’s pretty easy to find a home for extra tomatoes. But should the unthinkable happen (as in the world as we know it has come to an end and there’s no one around to take your lovingly tended, homegrown tomatoes) you can dehydrate them, juice them, even feed them to your chickens if you’re really desperate.

My mom read a story once about a teenage girl who planted Too Many Cucumbers. The upshot of the story was that their neighbors started locking their car doors, because the nascent gardener, when people started refusing to take cukes from her in person, had taken to slipping them into their cars. I can’t imagine that ever being a problem with tomatoes…although last summer, my neighbor was garden sitting for a friend, and started leaving boxes of ‘maters on my porch. He’d sneak up in the morning, leave the boxes on the doorstep, and slip away again. You’d think he felt guilty about it! Or maybe he was just trying to commit a random act of kindness.

So the tomatoes are coming in faster and faster. It won’t be long now… I hope.

Could it be?

There are signs of good things happening in the garden. And by good things, I mean: Stuff I Can Freakin’ Eat.

Okay, okay. These tomatoes are not my first produce of the season.    True, I got behind on planting (and picking!  I lost my first planting of corn by leaving it too long.  The chickens have been really enjoying it, though), so there’s been a bit of a dry spell.  However, I’ve had peas, lettuce, spinach — your basic winter crops.  I even grew some Hakurei turnips, which were a particular favorite of mine back when we had a membership to a CSA.

But still, I’m really excited about the tomatoes.   Not just for the “homegrown tomatoes are better than just about anything else on the planet” thing, but because I haven’t been able to successfully grow any quantity of them since…well, it was before my oldest daughter was born.  And she’s four now.  Now, that has been a long, discouraging dry spell.

Two years of gopher damage, one year of severe heat combined with being pregnant, and one year of the dread blossom end rot.  A rational person would have just given up by now, I think.

Good thing I’m not usually rational.

And to be honest, I don’t think most gardeners are.  Gardening, at its very heart, requires elevating irrationality to an art form, and mixing it with dirt.  What rational person would willingly spend their time fighting insects, wildlife, weather, soil deficiencies, drought — the list goes on and on — to produce what can be so cheaply bought?  How is continuing to plant tomatoes, year after year, defeat after defeat, not the epitome of irrational behavior?  There are a million reasons to not have a vegetable garden.   Sometimes I look out over my (normally) wreck of a garden, where I’m always behind, always struggling to catch up, and always getting my but whupped by something, and I ask myself why I keep trying.

There are all kinds of answers to that question.  There’s a desire to be as self sufficient as possible.  A desire to remove a link from the chemically-saturated, planet-destroying food chain.  There’s the desire for that rarest of jewels:  a homegrown tomato.    So maybe there are a million reasons to garden, as well.

My mother always says, “Little boys are nothing but noise wrapped in dirt.”   And maybe gardeners are optimism wrapped in dirt.  I think I’m okay with that.

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