Friday, January 26, 2018

Winter Bike to Work Shirk

Busyness and laziness commingle in this clammy stretch of winter. New Year's resolutions never even fully formed in my mind dissipate into the freezing fog, leaving an indeterminate yen. The dark and cold outside sap my energy; I need more than a concerted effort to haul myself off of the couch. And yet, somehow, most evenings and weekends I find myself away from home, fulfilling some obligation. I am too busy and too lazy to do anything.

Today was Winter Bike to Work Day. Chicago's Active Transportation Alliance hosted a rally from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. Hooray for those cyclists who don't let cold or snow stop them! There were sponsors and freebies!

I didn't go.

I could have gone. And I have decided my excuse is pure laziness.

It's true I didn't know about the event until this morning, and Len has a cold, and this has been a busy week, and we're tired. But if I really wanted to, I could have made it happen. We have balaclavas and winter layers. It's not even super cold today. The ice from two mornings ago is (mostly) gone. The high will be in the 40s! Pink sunlight is on the eastern horizon when we leave the house and lingering in the west when I leave work—and besides, we have bike lights.

We even received reflective ankle cuffs for Christmas this year.

Does the busyness make me lazy? I'm sure of it. I'm also sure that's a me problem, and a solvable one.

The silver lining: Today appears to be just the ATA's annual Winter Bike to Work Day. An International Bike to Work Day is on the horizon (like the slowly expanding daylight hours).

It's Friday, February 9, 2018.

I just clicked "Commit to Ride."


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Weekend Homesteader Ideas, April-June

This is a continuation of my review of my weekend homesteading ideas and goals inspired by The Weekend Homesteader by Anna Hess, as well as her and her husband's blog, "The Walden Effect."  I haven't looked at this list in five years. Let's see if I've accidentally achieved any of these goals. My original notes are in italics.
Our back patio, planting day.
From "Containing the Garden," June 2016.

Find room to homestead - check. We had the community garden for a few years but eventually conceded to nature in the Battle Against Weeds. For the past few years, we have been working toward maximizing our front and back porch gardens.
The sweet corn in strawberry pots worked!
But the ears only grew to six inches or shorter.

Survey your site - um, check? Front porch, back porch. There it is.

Plan your summer garden - improve. Still a problem for me: reconciling the ambition of what I want to plant versus the reality of what I will be able to grow and grow well.

Kill mulch - huh? Look into this. Having not ever looked into this, I did just now. Oh! It's not a command to kill the mulch, it's a kind of mulch that kills. A component of no-till "lasagna" gardening in which you add a layer to help prevent baby weeds from popping up. We have not done this. But, I learned about some no-till gardening on a recent visit to Heritage Prairie Farm, and I'm interested.

Plant your summer garden - check. We always do.

Watermelons and winter squash in hanging containers grew
vines and baby fruit, but ultimately nothing harvestable.
Nutrition - hm. "Discover what types of food make your body happy and healthy," the book says. Um, all foods.

Mulch - hm. We add compost to our garden (oops, I see that's under June), but that's not what this is. It's hay or other mulching materials to help keep weeds at bay and protect the moisture of the soil around the garden plants. I have thus far been too lazy to bother. But I think it would help the garden.

Teamwork - check. Yep.

Compost - check. Last summer, Len completely emptied our compost bin and filled five five-gallon buckets plus a wheelbarrow-full with "finished," soil-like, ready-to-use compost. It was awesome, and we smothered (not literally) our vegetable garden with it. I think it may have been two full years since we'd used any compost, so that could explain the abundance. But, we do compost more than the average two people—there's our huge load of apples each summer, with plenty of peels and cores going into the compost, and we find extra veg scraps where we can. Like, when we see jack-o'-lanterns wilting on our neighbor's porch, we (Len) will ask the neighbor if we can have them for our compost bin.

Worm bin - well... We have the outdoor compost, and worms thrive in it. Why do I need a worm bin indoors?

Seasonings - herbs? Improve. I would like a more comprehensive herb garden. It's slowly growing (not at this very moment; it's January) as I experiment and try not to be lazy about nurturing the plants.

Your real hourly wage - hm. This is about the true value of your time. Is your job is really worth the time you put into it? How much are you actually being paid per hour? I understand the concept and think it's worthwhile to a degree, especially if your job makes you unhappy and the take-home pay barely covers the expenses that are caused directly by having the job. A good example is the parent whose entire salary is eaten up by childcare expenses—worth it if the parent loves the job and/or the job furthers the development of a desired career (or if the job is the only viable source of health insurance), but not worth it for a dead-end job that provides no security, joy or sense of purpose.

On the other hand, I think you shouldn't necessarily look at it that way, because you can run the numbers in a variety of ways, and when you have bills to pay, even modest ones, it's difficult to put a fair monetary value on your time and happiness. It reminds me of how my mom often responded to my creative hobbies, "You should start your own business!" But I would have to sell whatever craft I made for way too much in order to net more than $2 an hour. And, I'd have to spend way more than 40 hours a week crafting, which would destroy the joy in it and still not cover the mortgage.

I have to quote from the book here, because it gets a little extreme—at least, for me.
Start with those 40 hours in your cubicle, of course, but then add in the hour you spend grooming, your daily commute, the mandatory downtime you use vegetating in front of the tube to wind down after work. Do you have to study or take classes to stay up-to-date in your field? Do you end up spending a week in bed because you're so run-down...? ...
Next, sum up your work-related expenses. These include the gas and upkeep on your car, those fancy duds you wear to the office, every meal or $5 cup of coffee you consume away from home because you're too busy to pack a lunch, the six-pack of beer your drink while winding down after work, the massages you pay for to wipe out the work stress, and the money you give other people to do your household chores (day-care, house cleaning, lawn upkeep, etc.), since you don't have time to do it yourself. Don't forget to include your taxes. (The Weekend Homesteader by Anna Hess)

While those time and money expenditures may describe some people and their jobs perfectly, there are several things that I cannot in good conscience include in my tally.

The "hour" I spend grooming is not even close to an hour, and even if I wasn't going to work, I would still practice daily hygiene. Most of the time.

My fancy duds often come from Goodwill.

I make the time to pack a lunch (usually leftovers from dinner the night before), and we do all our household chores ourselves, which means they just don't get done if we don't have (i.e. make) time.

I unwind not with a six-pack but by flopping on the couch in front of the TV, which "costs" time, yes, but not money. Unless you start counting electricity usage, and if you do that, we have to go back to the time spent getting ready in the morning and factor in electricity for that—I'd be less inclined to get up and out of bed while it's still dark out if I didn't have to be at the office.

See? There are so many ways to complicate this if you really wanted to. Is that worth your time?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Weekend Homesteader Ideas, January-March


As usual, January's relative un-busyness (oh, it's still busy! But relative to the rest of the year...) has led me to daydreaming about the garden—always too ambitiously—and perusing old blog notes. And, what's this? An old list?

Five years ago, inspired by a book called The Weekend Homesteader by Anna Hess and her and her husband's blog, "The Walden Effect," I made a list of weekend homesteading ideas and goals. Let's see if I've accidentally achieved any of these since. My original notes are in italics.

Soil test - need to? Still haven't.

Baking bread - oh please. check. Hm, we have not been baking a ton of our own bread lately, but that reminds me of a different post I'd like to write... but first some side research.

Media consciousness - hm. I couldn't remember what this meant, so I flipped back through book. Essentially, it's being aware of how your media consumption affects you; i.e. you should voluntarily consume less of it. Er, nope. We do watch (and yell at) the news every morning and often listen to talk radio in the car. And we subscribe to newspaper delivery a few days a week.

Turning trash into treasures - you betcha! Improve? Oh definitely. We continue to salvage and repurpose. Len has just recently built several pieces of furniture and home decor out of discarded wooden pallets and even sold a couple of items, plus given others as gifts.

Our raspberries sprawl more
heartily every summer.

Planting berries - well... I failed twice at planting blueberry bushes. I'm certain the aforementioned soil test (and then appropriate soil amendments) would remedy that, but I am only mildly scientific with my garden. Our strawberries are hanging on year to year, but could use some TLC to boost output. Our two varieties of raspberries thrive, though. We have ordinary red raspberry plants purchased from Home Depot and an heirloom black raspberry plant that is progeny of bushes from my aunt's yard, which came from bushes in my great-grandma's yard.

Stocking up on dried goods - look into. I don't remember why I wrote "look into." We do buy some dry essentials in bulk—flour, sugar, sometimes beans—and we are always in a position to cobble together a meal out of our pantry and/or freezer. I feel this has been the case for a long time, but maybe it wasn't so five years ago. Or else I believe I shouldn't have written "- check!"

Backup lighting - other than flashlights and candles? We have flashlights and candles, what else is there? Solar lighting, I guess. We don't have that unless you count a few little solar-powered yard lamps.

Setting homesteading goals - yes, let's! I suppose that's what this list was, but it didn't get farther than that.

Originally a Bed Bath & Beyond item,
our mini greenhouse is second-hand.
Spring planting - get on this, improve! Len built a cold-frame out of a papasan chair skeleton, and we picked up a tiny greenhouse at a Savers thrift store. We do use these to get seedlings going before spring truly begins, but we still could improve quite a bit. (It's back to that only mildly scientific thing—my seed-starting and spring planting could use more science, really.) 

Growing edible mushrooms - maybe later. Yeah, maybe later. I've seen mushroom log kits you can buy. They don't particularly seem worth the cost and effort versus just buying mushrooms at the grocery store.

Bees - attract more! Ok, I saw bee houses (meant to attract and house wild bees) at Menard's, and I want one. The problem is, where to put it? Not in the apple trees—we'd just tick them off when we tried to pick apples. On the side of the porch, where we can show them off to guests? Possibly not. Just across the sidewalk in the park that is technically not our property? Maybe.

Learn to enjoy what you've got - when it's better, I will. Geez, that seemed cynical. I think I do enjoy what we have, though I admit there is always a nagging desire to grow even more of our own food in what little space we have.