I would love to have a circular smartphone

It would work with the dislike of rectangles that I espouse in this blog very well!

http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/12/tech/mci-runcible-smartphone/index.html

What would your world look like if you removed the rectangles from it and replaced them with circles? Or if you quit surrounding things with borders at all? Would you accomplish more if there were no lines in your world?

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Text of the CNN article, for that future day when the link no longer works: 

How a circular smartphone could help us rethink tech
Updated 6:46 AM ET, Thu March 12, 2015

A Californian startup has developed a circular smartphone called “Runcible”
The provocative anti-phone is meant to be an antidote to our obsession for digital devices

(WIRED)Screens are rectangles. Even the 3-year-old playing with your iPad could tell you that. But what would the digital world look like through a different sort of frame? Say… a circular one?

Monohm, a startup based in Berkeley, California, was founded around this very idea. For the last year, the three-person team has been working a circular, palm-sized device dubbed Runcible.

They cheekily refer to it as the “anti-smartphone,” a description that goes for both its form factor and its value system.

The round device is meant to be the antidote to our feed-obsessed, notification-saturated digital existence. It’s a challenge to the rectangular status quo and everything it represents. That’s a quixotic dream, but an interesting one.

Different Rectangles, Different Effects

Display technologies have a long and rectangular history. Before smartphones there were movie screens, TVs, and computers, not to mention paintings and pages of print. And then of course there are windows—in some ways the original glass rectangles.

In each case, the rectangle’s prominence can be attributed in large part to practicality. Whether you’re talking about film or glass or stone, rectangles are easy to make. They don’t leave much wasted material.

As frames for shaping the world, however, different types of rectangles can produce vastly different effects.

In her book The Virtual Window, which traces the rectangular frame from Renaissance painting up through Microsoft Windows, media theorist Anne Friedberg offers an example from the history of architecture, centering on a public feud between French builder August Perret and the preeminent modernist architect Le Corbusier.

Perret was a strong advocate of the traditional French casement window, which was oriented vertically. Its main function, he said, was to let light into a room. Le Corbusier, making use of new manufacturing techniques, designed his buildings around long, horizontal windows, which were as much about framing the outside world as illuminating the space within. The disagreement influenced architecture for decades to come. The simple act of turning a rectangle on its side gave us entirely new ways to think about space.

Rectangles are still subtly dictating our behavior today. Movie screens, chased by TVs, have gotten bigger and wider, encouraging us to sit back and lose ourselves in the spectacle. (In 1930, Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein lamented how the cinema’s “passive horizontalism.” He wanted the screen to be square.)

Smartphones, with their slender, touch-controlled displays, have become a distinctly more active rectangle. Paired with the never-ending vertical feeds that fill apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, they’ve become an irresistible, inexhaustible diversion.

The point is this: Frames matter. They suggest certain things about how we should approach them. They shape the type of stuff that’s made for them. And if just turning a rectangle on its side can make such a big difference, imagine all the interesting things that might happen if you left the rectangle behind altogether.

The Contained, Constrained Circle

Runcible isn’t meant to be a smartphone replacement so much as an alternative. “I think we’ve become really, really good at getting interrupted and creating conduits for interruption,” says Monohm CEO Aubrey Anderson, who met his co-founders during a stint at Apple. “It’s time now to use technology to get a little quieter.”

If miniaturizing the computer is what got us the smartphone, Runcible asks what a gizmo might look like if you started by souping up a pocket watch. And the shape of the device is central to that thinking. A circular frame, after all, is no good for browsing a Twitter feed.

So what is it good for? That’s the question. At this point, Runcible as much a provocation as an actual product.

The three-person team, which has been working with the San Francisco design studio Box Clever on the concept for nearly a year, has some prototype hardware and a crude sketch of an operating system, but they’ve still got a long way to go.

They’ve got a few vague ideas for applications. One is a sort of dashboard that gives you an overview of activity on your social media accounts. Another is a compass-style mapping system that encourages wandering instead of pure A-to-B efficiency. But they’re more enthusiastic about the philosophy behind it all: They want to see applications that distill information and streamline interaction, software that constrains the smartphone experience as it exists today.

All this is easier said than done, of course. Throwing out centuries of rectangular thinking and starting from scratch ain’t easy. Plus, it’s not clear that people really want constraint to begin with. Smartphones are distracting, sure, but they’re also incredibly useful and immensely entertaining and maybe a little distraction is a fair price to pay for all the good stuff.

Still, even as a hint of a possible device, Runcible is compelling. For one thing, the company’s hardware model feels great in the hand (The team’s hardware guy, George Arriola, came from Sony, where he helped design the PlayStation 4.) The model’s curved back brings to mind the very first iPhone—and makes you consider how each successive generation has become a little bit harder to hold. And though unformed, the vision for the software is interesting too.

If today’s interactive rectangles and infinite feeds signal that there’s always more stuff just outside the frame, circles could offer something more self-contained, more complete. Maybe even something actively inefficient. Rectangles are beautiful and functional. Circles are zen.

A circular device would sever the link to the printed page, the TV and the computer, and invite developers to look elsewhere for metaphor and inspiration. Pocket watches and compasses. Microscopes and telescopes. Peep holes, port holes, and wormholes. Dials, buttons, and other circular controls.

If nothing else, the concept could be valuable simply for helping us identify some of the assumptions and habits that underlie our existing devices.

Maybe thinking about circles could help us make our rectangles better.

Starting to Think Outside the Frame

Runcible is just one scrappy, literal attempt to abandon the rectangle. But similar thinking is happening elsewhere. Android Wear, Google’s smartwatch operating system, reconsiders what apps should look like on a tiny circular display.

Apple Watch is in some ways another rectangle, but its real estate is limited enough that it will also encourage new, less rectangular thinking. (Note how its home screen ditches iPhone’s grid of icons for a blob of circular ones. Also note the recent rise of circular avatars over the traditional square ones in apps and interfaces of all kinds).

We’ve seen how sensors can be harnessed to choreograph experiences that happen outside of the frame entirely, as with Disney’s Magic Bands, which usher you through the company’s parks. And then of course there are technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality, where your nose is effectively pressed so close to the glass that the frame disappears entirely.

Here, the screen is less of a window, more of a lens. The only frame is your field of vision.

Rectangles will endure. They’re easy, they’re efficient. But as new components and manufacturing techniques make it easier to experiment with other forms, we’ll likely find people exploring the unique effects they can produce. Just recently, in fact, we saw an instance of a tech industry giant leaving the glass rectangle behind in a very big way.

In a 10 minute video, Google proposed a new headquarters that would leaves boxy buildings behind in favor of tent-like structures draped in glass. These buildings don’t have vertical windows or horizontal windows. They’re nothing but windows, or maybe they’re so radical that the concept of “window” doesn’t even really apply.

Whatever the case, there’s nothing rectangular about them, and Google’s convinced they’re the future.

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How about a resolution to Be Yourself? (a.k.a. – a Proverbs 31 post)

You are more precious than rubies.

You are more precious than rubies

I am reading a new book that I’ve wanted to read for awhile now: A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. I am enjoying it immensely. I avoided it for a while after hearing about it, because I expected a self-righteous written lecture about how to obey all the Old Testament legalities that most of today’s Christians consider unimportant. But it isn’t that at all.

Consider her “Proverbs 31” chapter, where she studies the chapter of Proverbs that begins “A wife of noble character who can find?” and continues with a long (looooong) list of all the things this exemplified woman does in her role of virtuous woman. I expected this chapter to make me feel “UGH”, but to my complete surprise, that isn’t how this author writes at all.

In this time of New Year’s Resolutions, I simply adore how Rachel Held Evans addresses the Proverbs 31 woman. First, she points out that no such woman ever existed. The chapter is not about someone who did in fact “do it all”. Also, in Jewish circles, it is not considered to be a list of things that all women should strive to master. In fact, the only instruction in that passage is given to other people – they are instructed to “honor her for all her hands have done”. Simply put, it is not a to-do list!

You are not blocked from being a valorous woman if you can not sew. You are not blocked from being a virtuous woman if you can not cook. You are not blocked from being a woman of noble character if you are not married. Not at all.

So what if you work, and purchase the clothing you wear from another person? The Proverbs 31 woman had servants, surely she didn’t sew every single item she wore, so if you work honestly and spend your money honestly, you are still clothing yourself and are a valorous woman.
It doesn’t matter if your method of cooking is opening a can of soup or ordering pizza. The point is that neither yourself nor your family is going hungry because you ignore them. So you are still a virtuous woman.
And since our society today does not require a male person to be the sole representative for his family in matters of law or policy, so if you are a single or widowed or divorced woman, you can still can be a woman of noble character without a husband today.

It’s not a to-do list, folks. You can use the strengths God already gave you, to be the best you can be, without trying to copy anyone else. You don’t even have to copy the non-existent Proverbs 31 woman.

So enough with the resolutions to change. Enough with the resolutions to be “good enough”. Enough with the resolutions to be more like someone else – whether that person have a model’s figure, an Olympian’s strength, or the homemaking instincts of Martha Stewart. Enough.

God made you who you are. How about a resolution to Be Yourself this year?

For my part, I ordered a unicycle. Yep. A unicycle. If I were to rewrite Proverbs 31 for myself today, “makes others laugh” would be part of it, I’m sure.

Movie recommendation: Boxtrolls

I have a new favorite movie: Boxtrolls! It has everything – cute characters, awesome scenery, witty dialogue, good music, good lessons that aren’t preachy, and a happy ending. And cheese – lots of cheese! The after-credit scene is awesome. I took our 3 year old to see Boxtrolls four times, and even got my husband to join us for one of them.

It even inspired my 3 year old’s favorite costume:

boxtroll girl

Yep, she’s a Boxtroll. 🙂

Like all movies, it has triggers for some people. It touches on adoption, open adoption, what makes a family, being chased/caught, and fire. (But everything works out in the end. The only one who gets his comeuppance is the main bad guy.)

Keeping in the spirit of this blog, one of the reasons I love this movie is its theme song. It’s Little Boxes by Loch Lomond and you can listen to it here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJEemRtEFjo.

“Little boxes on the hillside / Little boxes made of ticky-tacky / Little boxes on the hillside / Little boxes all the same…”

"Little Boxes" - satirized image

An example of the middle-class housing satirized in “Little Boxes”: Levittown, Pennsylvania, one of the first major post-World War II housing developments in the United States.
(photo and caption credit to Wikipedia)

The original to that song was written by Malvina Reynolds, at age 62.  (Talk about being outside the box! She didn’t even begin composing until her late 40s.) You can listen to her version here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_2lGkEU4Xs.  You can learn more about Malvina Reynolds on her Wikipedia page.

But back to Boxtrolls. It’s great. Hand drawn backgrounds depicting Victorian England. Stop-motion filmed characters. Witty and satirical dialogue. Good triumphs over evil. And cheese.

Interested in buying any of these for Christmas? Here are links to these products on Amazon:

Boxtrolls Movie

Boxtrolls Soundtrack

Malvina Reynolds’ CD containing “Little Boxes”

 

 

 

 

I miss my backyard

I realized today just how long it has been since I have spent any time in my backyard – two months. Yep. That’s WAY TOO LONG. But what’s a mother to do? My priorities are just different at the moment.

But I still miss it. I miss the smell of the grass. I miss the cluck of the hens. And even though I sold the last of my Angora rabbits a few months ago, I’m missing them today too. They went to a great home that will be able to utilize their fiber better than I could.

I’ve hired someone to do some of the maintenance that I have let slip. He’s power-washing the rabbit cages for storage, chopping down the new blackberry vines that keep appearing, and doing some general cleanup. Although I was really happy to notice that last month’s storm did not drop a single tree branch in any part of our yard! That was really nice to discover, given the number of downed branches and entire trees in the rest of the town.

I admired my yard through the window this afternoon as I went back and forth between dealing with laundry and dealing with preschooler tantrums. I will have to make some time to get out there soon. It is so rejuvenating to get into nature of any kind, and nature I can dig my hands into is especially invigorating.

The preschoolers and I planted some seeds last weekend. We had gone to a propagation fair – basically a seed swap with some professional talks. Free admission, free local/organic seeds, free talks, it was great! I picked out some seeds I want to try in my garden this year, and then let the boys each pick out some flower seeds. I got some peat pots and soil that day, and we planted the seeds and placed the pots on the front porch so the boys can see “their plants” every morning on the way to the car. I hope some sprout before the boys lose interest!  I know we’re playing roulette with the weather but the seeds had the boys’ interest so I struck while the iron was hot, so to speak. It’s so rare to get them interested in much of anything.

We still have the chickens, and added a fifth hen to them before Christmas. An opossum or raccoon had decimated a friend’s flock, leaving him with a single  hen. Rather than bring more hens into a coop that needed additional predator protection, he gave her to us. I was pleased with how quickly she was accepted. We placed her on the roost at night in the dark, and she spent about three days being ignored and run off by the others, then everything was fine. No fights, no blood, it was pretty tame as far as introductions go. A beautiful, large, shiny, blue/green-black hen that lays large medium brown eggs.

And about the eggs – I’m glad its winter and the chickens are molting, because I haven’t even been to the chicken coop in those two months! I could have eggs out there and I wouldn’t know about it, but this time of year that is unlikely so at least I’m not wasting eggs. When the preschoolers arrived we realized just how hard everything was going to be for a while, so we opened the coop and run and let the chickens have the run of the backyard. Feeding them now takes 10 seconds in the morning – open the back door to let the dog outside, toss out the day’s ration of chicken feed and call “chick, chick, chick!”. They all come running – five chickens, two legs and wings apiece, no new feathers missing, call it good. Whistle for the dog and close the door.

Although I did get to go in my neighbor’s backyard once! One of the chickens got over the fence. I tossed out the food and only four chickens came running, but I could hear the fifth. Stuck my head out the door and I could see her, running up and down the fenceline. Thankfully I had a guest that morning, someone from the boys’ therapy office, and she was willing to supervise them while I ran next door to catch the recalcitrant hen. It didn’t take long. I opened the gate and shooed her back into our yard where she happily joined the others at eating breakfast, none the worse for wear.

This blog has really undergone some changes in the past two years, hasn’t it? Micro-farming, a crazy amount of pets in a crazy small amount of space, becoming a foster family, and now back to wanting to garden. About the only consistency is that I’m still ranting against the boxes we humans can get stuck in. There is always something else out there that we can see, that tempts us to be more than we currently are. I’m going to get out of my mommy-to-traumatized-kids box pretty soon and get back to nature. It doesn’t mean the kids are going away, it just means that they can no longer be the sole focus of this household, because such single focus isn’t healthy for anyone. Our horizons are going to expand and we will find life outside our current “box”. What box are you going to get out of?

The end was like the beginning

The first month DC was with us, he couldn’t fall asleep. New place, new crib, new faces, it was all so unfamiliar to him that as soon as he relaxed enough that sleep was possible, all the strangeness rushed in and he’d wake up again, crying. I’d go to him, pat his back if that’s all he needed, or pick him up and rock him. Whatever it took to let him feel more secure and more love. Sometimes I’d be rocking and gently bouncing him, sitting on the corner of the guest room bed, for hours.

That was true the first month that DC was with us, back in July. I was up all hours of the night when he would wake up in a strange place and begin to cry.

And that was true again this past weekend, which was DC’s last weekend with us. I don’t know how he knew what was going on, but he was unsettled again, wanting to be held, and crying when he would not fall asleep instantly. Today he moves to live with his uncle, aunt, and cousins. They are the lucky ones who will get to cuddle him forever.

Maybe he knew *I* needed it. I needed those extra cuddles these last few days, too. I needed hours spent on the exercise ball, lights out, bouncing gently, whispering “I love you”. I needed those little arms reaching up out of the crib, asking for a hug.

I will miss being his mother.

God speed, little DC. May you grow strong in the house with your relatives. May you learn to trust them the way you trusted us. And may God bring us new children who need to be loved, rocked, hugged, and cuddled long into the night. You trained us well, and we’re ready for them.

 

When it rains, it pours (aka: the week of teething, and chickenpox, and several other things)

Being a mom is lovely, absolutely lovely. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Keep your corporate job, keep your million dollars, I’ll keep my stay at home with two toddlers life. Seriously. I waited so long to be able to rock children to sleep that I’ll keep it and love it  even during the phases everyone dreads.

Have I mentioned on here that we have two toddlers now? Two boys, 17 days apart in age but worlds apart in development. One walks, runs, and climbs. The other is still cruising the furniture. One is trying out sign language and is very close to talking. The other has the Early Childhood Intervention people visiting because he is not making any strides toward communicating at all. One is 2’8″ and 30 lbs. The other is 2’3″ and 23 lbs. But both have light brown hair and blue eyes, and the most charming smiles!

If you know anything about adoption, you know that artificially twinning children is a bad idea. I would not have done it if this second child were not a short term placement. But he is – he has an adoptive family already identified! They just haven’t finished their training yet, but everyone is waiting for them because they already adopted two of this toddler’s siblings a couple years ago. So adopting him will bring the family of children together again. And that is worth a lot of waiting and a lot of bother. And because he has delays, having a same age sibling to identify with and to copy for a couple months just might help him out. So we agreed to do it.

The good news is the copying theory seems to be working out just fine. Our first child, DittoChild (DC), does something like take a toy and walk off with it, and our second child, Chipmunk, gets upset and starts cruising the furniture even faster in an attempt to catch up to DC and take the toy from him. Good workout for him.

The downside is really just about me. Because having two children the same age means two children going through things at the same time – like teething. Oi! I hate teething. With a passion. One question I’ll definitely have for God when I get to heaven is why he invented it! I mean, our head produces strands of hair without pain, why can’t our gums produce teeth without pain??? I’m sure he has a reason, but sheesh – I do not know what it is! My mom laughs and says I get to experience all the typical parenting headaches on fast forward because of the ages of these two children.

And now it looks like I get to experience a child with chickenpox. It might be hand/foot/mouth, or some other blister-causing virus… but chickenpox is the leading theory. We’ll know more Monday, 3 days after the first of the high fever and spots. So far just two blisters, and a bunch of red pinpoint sized dots. You know, the doctor at Urgent Care hasn’t seen a case of chickenpox in YEARS – all because most children are vaccinated for it nowadays. We went to Urgent Care because Chipmunk got a fever that spiked very quickly to 105.5 degrees. Noticing the blisters was just icing on that cake. At least I left with doctor’s prescription for how to administer tylenol to a child too small for the smallest dosage on the package – stuff like that gets really sticky when dealing with foster children. It’s always best to just have a doctor write it down and then it’s suddenly OK to give it. A recommendation over the phone is not nearly as official.

So by Monday we’ll know for sure, supposedly. Which means Monday I get to call all the professionals we saw on Friday and tell them what they were exposed to – because Fridays around here are “professionals” days. This week we had the Early Childhood Intervention people out, and the CASA rep. I’m sure I’m not the only person to tell them they’ve been exposed to something, though! It’s probably a professional risk they know about all too well.

So Monday’s schedule includes:
calling for a doctor’s appointment,
going to the doctor’s appointment,
emailing Chipmunk’s worker to say what he has,
griping to Chipmunk’s worker about being told he was up to date on vaccinations when I was told at Urgent Care that he’s 6 months behind,
emailing DC’s worker to tell her what he’s been exposed to,
talking to the medical transportation reimbursement people,
calling the ECI and CASA to tell them what they were exposed to on Friday.
And oh yeah – calling my brother to tell him we probably won’t make it to HIS WEDDING this week. (Oi, that one’s gonna hurt. But if Chipmunk has chickenpox, then we can’t bring him and doubt we could find a babysitter OK with it. So it is what it is.)

I can’t find out until Monday whether DC is vaccinated for chickenpox. He should be, but then again Chipmunk should have been, too. I’m not a proponent of the chickenpox vaccine, in my opinion it is still too new to have documented all side effects so parents can make truly educated decisions for their children. But being in foster care, I am not given a choice about vaccines. I must have them done on schedule. MUST. So now we have to deal with a catch-up schedule for Chipmunk as soon as he’s over this illness.

So: Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
may my kids sleep through the night,
and wake up with fevers LIGHT.

Bless mommy, daddy, Chipmunk and DC.
May all involved adults make the decisions for these children that are in their best interests. And may they wake up healthier and happier than they went to sleep.

Amen

What is straw bale gardening?

Several of my friends (and commentors on my blog) have asked questions about straw bale gardening – so here it is: straw bale gardening the Ranting About Rectangles way!

To start with, straw bale gardening is just a different kind of container gardening. It appeals to people who can not – or do not want to – have a traditional garden involving tilling up the soil. It is simply putting straw bales on the ground, and putting plants in the straw bales! There is a little more to it than that, but not much.

tomato in straw bale

A tomato growing in a bale of straw

There are two main reasons I can’t do the traditional garden method where I live. One is the water – there is simply too much of it. My soil does not drain well, and after most rains there are actual puddles in my yard for hours. They would drown any sensitive garden vegetable before they dried out. The other is the number of blackberry vines in my yard. They’re *everywhere* and I don’t have control of them yet. Tilling the soil here only gives them an easier place to grow, and it is difficult to garden when you are concerned with getting stuck with thorns you can’t even see yet. So, container gardening for me.

Next, I chose straw bale gardening because I have good access to the things that are needed for it. Regular container gardening requires containers, and large amounts of potting soil, neither of which I have convenient access to. But slightly differently – straw bale gardening is great for people who have access to large amounts of compost. I’ve been building my compost pile for more than a year now, and much of it is ready to use. Coffee grounds are *great* for straw bale gardening, and I have access to pounds and pounds of them each week. So, the straw bale version of container gardening for me.

I also enjoy the benefit of not having to weed my garden. The straw bales have no seeds in them, and only get the ones I put there, or the occasional grass seed or dandelion seed that’s easy to pluck out. (Unlike soil that has tons of seeds in it all the time just waiting for the right conditions to sprout.)

And straw bales are environmentally friendly; the straw bales last between one and three years before disintegrating. Perfect for someone who expects to live here just two more years, and who doesn’t want to pack up regular containers and put them in a moving truck! Used straw bales can be cut apart, and used as attractive mulch around existing trees and bushes. No waste, and nothing to transport.

And lastly, I like to garden without having to bend and stoop to reach my plants. Using straw bales as containers brings the plants up to a much easier height for me to reach.

Starting a straw bale garden is easy, too. I’ve reduced it down to four steps:

1 – Get straw bales. At my local feed store, straw bales are $5.99 each. I got 20 delivered for an additional $20.
2 – Put the bales where you want them. Make sure the strings that hold each bale together are on the sides of each bale as you put it down, not over the top and bottom. Leave the strings intact.
3 – Condition the straw bales. At a minimum, this means get them wet. You want the insides of the bales to start to compost themselves. This creates nutrients right inside each straw bale. If you have fertilizer or compost or coffee grounds, put some on top of each bale and water it in. This adds additional nutrients and gives a kickstart to the composting inside the bale.
4 – Plant your garden in the straw bales. This is literally as simple as removing some of the straw from each bale, and putting soil or compost in the resulting hole. Then place your plant start on the soil, and fill in around it with more soil.

After that, water it and treat it as a normal garden. A straw bale garden IS a garden, it’s just planted in straw bales.

compost on straw bales

Conditioning the straw bales for the garden

It’s important to keep the straw bales wet. Damp is enough as long as the water is throughout the bale. The water you put on each day carries the nutrients from the soil and compost and composting straw through the bale and to the developing roots of the plants.

There is no (or very, very little) weeding to do. If you happen to get a weed sprout or two, they’re easy to pull out. This means your plants are easy to pull out, too, so be careful about that!

You will need the same support system for tall plants that you would use in a traditional garden. So stakes for vining beans, cages for tomatoes, things like that. And if you are planting something where the edibles are a large part of the root system, you will want to snip the twine holding the bales together so the edibles have room to grow to their full size. This applies to things like potatoes, sweet potatoes, large onions, beets, or other roots of similar size. Not to carrots, radishes, or other thin or small roots.

And now you know pretty much all I know about growing a straw bale garden. Stay tuned to this blog – I’m getting my garden planted and will soon be able to post pictures of more plants than just tomatoes growing in my straw bale garden!

The beginnings of my straw bale garden

I got my straw bales! Yippee! This year I’m trying a straw bale garden, and the first ingredient of that is – obviously – bales of straw. Here they are sitting in a stack in my back yard.

straw bales for my straw bale garden

There are 20 bales there. Added to the four I had already, I will soon have a garden of two dozen straw bales! I had a nearby feed store deliver them, and they are neatly stacked in my yard waiting for me to pull and tug them into position on the ground. This is my first year doing a straw bale garden. It’s a large learning curve to undertake, but it seems to be the best solution to my yard that is overgrown with tiny blackberry shoots. The amount of rain we get here in Oregon ought to be awesome for keeping the bales from drying out.

I’ve had the starts going in my house for several weeks now. The beans are about to outgrow their pots, and the rest are about 3 inches tall. Beets, sunflowers, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, radishes, squash, gourds, watermelon, cucumbers, and many others that I can’t remember right now. And I have purchased starts, too – tomatoes and herbs especially. I don’t know anyone who has started tomatoes successfully from seed. (Although they must exist, or there would be no plant starts in the stores!)

When I can, I choose organic seeds. I know, the organicness of the seed has nothing to do with the organicness of the eventual fruit. But that isn’t my point in choosing organic seeds. What I am looking for is plants that grow well in organic conditions. Ones that don’t need artificial fertilizer to grow, and don’t need artificial sprays to resist bugs. And the best way to get plants like that is to grow the second (or third or fourth) generation of plants that successfully flourished in those conditions.

My garden can not be certified organic. To do that requires that the area not have non-organic amendments used on it for the three years preceeding the certification. Since I have lived here only 1.5 years, I can not know how the grass and soil was kept before I arrived. And since I will spend only four years here, it didn’t seem worth the bother (and expense) to get certified just for one year of being able to sell veggies as organic. So when (if) I sell any from this year’s crop, I must explain that while I grow with organic methods, the vegetables are not certified.

Which do you think is most important – purchasing certified organic vegetables, or knowing your farmer and knowing they grow vegetables organically even if they have not completed the paperwork to become certified?

Regardless of your individual answer, I know that I can only do what I can do.

I read a very inspirational quote the other day, perfect for my very first foray into straw bale gardening. It said that no matter how many mistakes you make, and no matter how slowly you go, you are already miles ahead of the person who did not even try.

I am definitely going to make mistakes with this garden. I might even be setting it out too early – local gurus seem divided on that. I might be using the wrong soil. I might not have balanced my compost 100% correctly and be feeding too much nitrogen or phosphorus or something. I might have grown my beans inside too long and have weedy stems instead of lush bushes. Heck, the neighborhood squirrels might discover the garden and eat it all. My own chickens might escape their coop and help! But no matter the result, I am learning. A straw bale garden is simply the next step on my path to being able to feed my family without relying on commercial groceries. Next year’s garden will be grown at least somewhat from seeds I save from this year’s crop!

Can you tell I’m excited??

So do you have a garden? What type? And do you have a specific goal for it (or your learning curve) this year?

Defining success

I found this image the other day, and was struck by how true it is.

define success

Success is defined as the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.  So in addition to having to decide if you have accomplished your aim or purpose – you have to know exactly what that aim or purpose is!

In my old rectangular life, I was a business analyst. We did all the paperwork, tables, lists, and graphs that would show what was needed in order to accomplish our client’s goals. Then we tracked what was done, compared it to what should have been done, and ultimately decided whether what we had done was good enough to present to the client. And of course in order to even START any of that we had to understand, in detail, to the n-th degree, what it was that our customer was actually trying to accomplish.

Defining what they wanted done often took WAY more time than the client expected. For instance, a client might want to sell more widgets. (It’s always widgets, isn’t it?) That sounds great! So how many do you sell now? They often didn’t know. Too many would be in production, or ready to ship but not sold, or out on consignment, or purchased on credit, or something else not cut and dried. And that makes it complicated to even try to figure out how many they sell now. But you have to know what TODAY is like, and have a way to MEASURE today, before you can begin to figure out how to make it better.

And once the client figured out how many widgets they are selling currently, we’d ask how many more they wanted to sell. They often didn’t know. So we’d say – is selling one more per month enough? Of course the answer is NO. If they’re paying for experts to help them sell more, they want to sell significantly more. But they don’t know what that means to them. Some have a nice, round number in their head, like 20% more. OK – can your manufacturing facilities handle producing 20% more? Do you have enough space? Do you have enough employees? Do you have enough raw materials?

Just the path to figure out what someone wants to accomplish is harder than it seems. Even when that “someone” is you.

And so it is with self-sufficiency. Or homesteading. Or farming. Or whatever it is you call what you are doing that makes reading this blog interesting to you.

What is it you want to accomplish? I wanted to spend less money, use and eat healthier things, and be less dependent on mass consumer products. But have I accomplished that? I certainly hope so! But I have no facts or figures to back that up – yet.

The path to success isn’t linear. My rabbits did well for a while, then didn’t. I feel I have learned all I can from rabbits, and will be dissolving my rabbitry. Is learning all I can a success? Or is choosing to stop a failure? That depends on how I define my goal, doesn’t it? I started a large garden last year with high hopes, but then ended up in the Philippines with my husband instead. My garden died, except for the swiss chard and brussels sprouts. I love swiss chard and brussels sprouts, and got them with no work whatsoever, so is that a success? Or because all the other veggies died, is that a failure? Or maybe my family is my largest goal and so spending 5 weeks with my hubby instead of being separated from him was the largest success possible? This year’s garden is going to be huge, and I might literally run out of room before I run out of seedlings to transplant – again, is that a success because of the size or a failure because I may have overbought?

It all depends on your goals. And an acceptance that the path to ultimate success in anything – farming, self-sufficiency, and even family – is not a linear progression. Ups and downs are to be expected. Shooting off the graph into 3D land can happen at a moment’s notice. Your path won’t look like anyone else’s. It will be unique to you, your current state, your goals, and your road to getting there – and will depend completely on how you personally define each of them.

How much food do you have available?

My hubby and I are embroiled in a “discussion”. 😉 Yep, discussion. On how much food I like to keep available at any one time vs the available space in the kitchen. The food has rather taken over the kitchen, and even taken over part of the garage. I’m not one of those end-of-the-world preppers! But I do believe in buying things when they’re on sale so that I don’t have to pay full price later. But there have been some good sales lately, so everything is rather overflowing with food.

Full Pantry

No, this isn’t my pantry.
But it’s pretty close!
Image from torchlakeviews.wordpress.com.

I have probably 20 lbs of pasta – purchased at approximately 50 cents per pound.
A dozen cans of green beans, a dozen of corn, and 6 of baked beans – purchased at 33 cents apiece.
About 15 cans of tunafish – purchased at less than 75 cents apiece.
Three loaves of bread – free because of a deal with a local restaurant.
About six pounds of fish – purchased at about $1.50 per pound.
Boxes and boxes of couscous, rice, and similar starchy sides – purchased at less than 75 cents each.
About two dozen cans of diced tomatoes – purchased at approximately 25 cents each.
About 20 home-canned cans of pinto beans and black beans – purchased dry at less than 50 cents a pound.

And that’s just an example. I have more food than that. 🙂 And a garden. Plus the eggs from the laying hens. Plus the chickens we butchered last year that we haven’t finished eating yet. So a lot of food.

But that’s how we handle living on a grad student’s living. I don’t know how I’d handle living in a place where the culture said you go to the market each day to purchase just what you will cook for that day. I would HATE paying the going price for everything, all the time.

Also, it’s great to have this much food available for when life happens. If I don’t get to the grocery store when I expect to, it’s no big deal. I can be sick, or have a flat tire, or get a last-minute invitation to do something, and it’s OK. I can run by the store for milk and forget the rest until the next day or so, because I know I have plenty for dinner that night – and the next. I can invite people to dinner with no advance planning. I can attend a last-minute potluck without stressing (and without buying chips or a veggie platter!).

But – storage has become an issue. My idea of clean is – organized, knowing where everything is, and nothing is dusty. Hubby’s idea of clean is – empty. Quite a difference there! So I need to either curtail the sale-shopping, or build some shelves in the garage where out of sight is out of mind.

So what’s in your pantry? How much food do you have available? Could your local grocery store workers go on strike for a week without bothering you much? Where do you store food that you aren’t going to eat right away?

Or in other words – just how far out of the norm am I?

Edited to add – hubby just posted his version on his own blog. You can read it here: http://ishism.com/2013/04/05/my-wife-and-i-are-having-a-discussion-about-f-o-o-d/ Come on, readers, read them both then come tell me I’m right! The inches of storage space may be on his side, but the dollars in the grocery budget are on mine! *grin*

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