It’s mid-April and I’m roaming my property like a fat land baron, bending down to sift the gold of our soil through my fingers, cackling at my riches. Actually, I’m really doing this. I just called Dan out of the root cellar to witness how you can knead your fingers into the silk of our carrot bed without hitting so much as a smidge of obstructionist clay.
It all starts with good soil
I am freaking out a little bit over this soil. Full disclosure: I *have* been investing in it for 14 years.
If you’re lucky enough to farm some river bottom loam, rich in mineral deposits and friability, well then, great, go toot your horn in the Easy Farming Parade. However, if you garden on a sea of packed clay, like myself, then, congrats!, you get the pleasure of building your own soil.
Everything I’ve learned about creating good soil, I’ve learned from the forest, which is always quietly building its most precious resource. It takes a village: ants and centipedes push embedded minerals to the surface. Leaves fall and are slurped by webs of fungal mycelium. Billions of microorganisms go about their invisible lives, sipping nitrogen and dying in the arms of hungry nematodes. Deer, birds and foxes perish, leaving their remains to nourish plants, and in turn their own relatives.
The local forest floor doing its thing: Candytuft (edible wild mustard) surrounded by leaves and sticks and fir cones, which will break down into next year’s surface layer of soil.
Every thriving plant starts with good soil.
How do you build good soil?
Organic matter. The end.
I just did a search on my blog using the word “manure.” Thirteen entries; my fave.
Manure. Leaves. Grass Clippings. Kitchen scraps. Compost. Straw. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I follow no more exact recipe when making soil than I do when making soup. Soup is the result of what’s in the fridge. Soil is the result of what organic matter is freely available. Often it’s goat manure from up the road, sometimes horse or cow if we get a good lead, and one year it was a truckload of little rabbit pellet stink-bombs from an octogenarian who went by “grandma,” all free for the taking.
Well-cured manure (lots of it) goes in the garden, dry things (leaves and straw) go on top of the soil as mulch, and anything that still has a scent (kitchen scraps) goes in the compost pile. In my yard, there is always a pile of something decomposing, because I’m partial to the notion of doing absolutely nothing while trillions of microorganisms spin scraps into soil.
Notes on soil building:
* Protect your soil. Cover with straw, leaves, dry grass clippings. You have neighbors who will thank you for taking these off your hands. Every year, we cover our soil with dry organic matter, and by spring it disappears, incorporated into the matrix of soil.
* If manure is “finished,” having sat for a year, add it directly to your soil.
* Don’t despair over clay soils. Clay is great at holding water, but not oxygen. Plant roots need both. Lighten your soil each year with organic matter.
* Tend a compost pile. There are a million ways to do this. A little article I wrote on making compost.
* If you have chickens, put dry fall leaves in their coop/run; they will shred the leaves and mix them up with their poop, creating the perfect ratio of nitrogen to carbon for decomposition.
Tween chick. (I promise to remove these words if it brings all sorts of Googling weirdos to my site)
“Chicken camp” on the Oregon Trail, a direct result of studying Pioneers and the Oregon Trail in homeschool co-op. Though, I can’t explain why some of the pioneers had British accents.
* Be patient. My oldest garden beds are insanely luscious, but the newer ones still contain curse-worthy proportions of clay.
* Try to layer organic matter rather than dig. Digging and tilling disrupts the underground networks of fungal mycelium, which feed nutrients to your vascular plants. More on that here.
Any ideas to add? Questions?
Linking with Simple Lives Thursday
I believe you can grow a lot of food on a small amount of land, harvesting edibles from April through November. I’ve been putting my ideas to the test for 15 years, learning how to work with the challenges and blessings of the high altitude Southwest and am now offering on-site consultations for edible landscapes, in which I help you with:
* Identifying, and plotting on a timeline, your goals for the growing season.
* Tailoring your goals to the microclimates and niches of your specific piece of land.
* Best watering practices for roots, fruits and leaves.
* Which plants thrive at 6512 feet, and when to plant/harvest them.
* Making the most of our short growing season.
* Which seeds to start indoors (or buy from nurseries) and which to direct sow.
* Assessing your compost set-up.
* Identifying the weeds growing in your garden; which are edible or medicinal, and how to control them without pesticides.
* Improving your soil.
* Methods of chemical-free plant fertilization.
* Assessing your space for adding chickens.
* Answering all your gardening questions to the best of my abilities.
Time: One hour
Cost: $30 (price increases for on-site visits more than 5 miles out of city limits)
Interested? Contact me at: sanjuandrive(at)frontier(dot)net
Attachment Parenting is so tiring.
Happy Friday Everyone,
First, giveaway winner of the painting/writing super set is Nancy Walters. Email me with your address and I will send, forthwith.
Second, ever since I was asked to contribute to the website, 3 things for mom, all my thoughts are coming packaged into Tips and Truths, including: A pot of beans equals dinner! Or, those first carrot sprouts, flashing their green, 2-fingered peace signs in the sun mark the official start of garden season. Which, I realize, may only be truths to me.
The carrots! They’re here!
I did want to share a tip which is helping me immensely. I recently read that children laugh 200 times a day. 200 times! (Adults: a paltry 15). A fair portion of my kids’ laughter surrounds fart jokes and the post-dinner mosh pit of wild careening of bodies, both of which crinkle my forehead up. But now, I remind myself: they have a laugh quota and I’m not going to stand in their way of reaching it!
What are your Truths and Tips?
I like to surround myself with inspirational people, with mentors in my various disciplines. When I visit flourishing gardens, it inspires me to love and care deeper for my own. When I attend the talks at the Durango Dharma Center, I am reminded of my own potential to wake up. Many of my mentors don’t know me, like author, Anne Lamott, who, in her 500-word Facebook posts, manages to be both completely human and completely uplifting. I count her among my spiritual and writing advisors.
I have a circle of parenting mentors as well, of course. I constantly stand on their shoulders to get a clear view through the trees of parenting. Kathleen Hennessy of PeaceWorks Coaching is one of them. Dan and I took her Positive Discipline Workshop last fall, which was a powerful, hands-on experience of practicing the parenting philosophies I’d been delivering in 2 minute soundbytes to Dan as he’s falling asleep. (FYI: the real practice works so much better than the soundbytes. Also to break it down: this workshop provided some HUGE insights into my kids’ particular style of getting needs met, which can look like misbehavior, and how to address these needs/behaviors in a healthy way).
Positive Discipline is my parenting language, or at least the language I am trying to become more fluent in daily. The reason this style (de-emphasizing praise/punishment, emphasizing cooperation and personal responsibility) resonates with me is not just because it works, but also because it feels better. Of course this is hard, it’s a muscle that needs exercising, which is why I am grateful for opportunities like this workshop.
PeaceWorks Coaching is offering 2 workshops and a free talk in May in Durango:
Talk: The Top 10 Tools for Raising Responsible Kids: Friday, May 3rd 7:30 – 9pm FREE
Workshop: Why Children Misbehave and What to do About It: Saturday, May 4th 1-5
Workshop: Expanding your Positive Discipline Toolbox: Sunday, May 5th 1-5 (this is an advanced course, for those who attended the workshop last fall, or are familiar with Positive Discipline)
Cost: both workshops are $55/individual $85/couple
* 10% off registration if you register by 4/22
* An additional 10% off if you type in 6512andgrowing into the “promotional code”
All workshops taught by Kathleen Hennessy, Certified Positive Discipline Educator. They will be held at the Rocky Mountain Retreat Center, 848 E 3rd Ave. (Except the advanced class, location TBA). Appropriate for parents of children up to age 18.
The tools and concepts of Positive Discipline include:
- Mutual respect. Adults model firmness by respecting themselves and the needs of the situation, and kindness by respecting the needs of the child.
- Identifying the belief behind the behavior. Effective discipline recognizes the reasons kids do what they do and works to change those beliefs, rather than merely attempting to change behavior.
- Effective communication and problem solving skills.
- Discipline that teaches (and is neither permissive nor punitive).
- Focusing on solutions instead of punishment.
- Encouragement (instead of praise). Encouragement notices effort and improvement, not just success, and builds long-term self-esteem and empowerment.
For more info and/or to sign up go here and click on the orange E.
See you there!
And if you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to ask!
And have a very lovely weekend!
There’s a house finch singing outside our window, sounding like the very ambassador to spring. Sometimes she says, “holy holy spring, kneel down and kiss this earth.” Other times, it’s “get your ass out of bed and water the 3000 seeds you planted last week, woman.”
How Rose sees spring:
How I see Spring:
First dandelion salad!
Everything about spring is coming back to me, how it feels a little like jailbreak from winter, like don’t look now but we’re riding bikes to the park while our snowsuits hang cartoonishly limp at home. Chimes of freedom ring in my ears, except when Rose and Col conduct their sibling competitions while riding bicycles in the street and every nerve in my body feels like it’s being strummed by an insane guitar player. Twaaaaang!
But, I’ll tell you, parenting outdoors is so much easier. It feels like we’ve all shed some sort of arcane shackle we’ve dragged around all winter, just to be able to play outside again. Yesterday I announced, “I’m going outside to play,” and the kids trailed me into the yard wondering exactly what this meant. When they realized I was simply planting more seeds, they tried to bust me. “You said you were going to play!”
This is how I play, little ones.
When I tell my writing students that there are 2 major components to writing well, they wait expectantly for me to part the Red Sea of Writing so they can sashay in before it closes. I smile and tell them the 2 most important things I know about writing:
Read a lot and write a lot.
Then we spend the next 8 weeks talking about metaphor and opening lines, about the importance of a likeable narrator, about showing not telling, about omitting needless words and listening like a writer. But if you’re not reading and writing a lot, the rest is just theory.
But really, this news is exciting, because anyone can read and write a lot. And this translates to whatever discipline you seek (art, cooking, gardening, not yelling at your kids, forgiving your parents): practice a lot, be willing to stumble, get up and practice some more.
New 6512 and growing sponsor, Amy Bogard, is an artist and art teacher, who has decided to make one small sketch everyday for a year. She too knows that practicing your craft daily is key to improving. But that’s not all. She says, through the act of drawing, we learn to slow down and really see what we are experiencing. This is exactly how I feel about writing, because most of us will earn approximately $.000374/hr writing, but slowing down to really see what we’re experiencing? Priceless.
This is practice; practice is everything. Follow Amy’s sketch-a-day on her Facebook Page
Amy Bogard is offering you 2 things today. (the first is an invitation, the second a giveaway)
First, a spot in her June 2013 Taos, New Mexico 3rd annual sketching and journaling workshop.
In Amy Bogard’s words:
A few things happen in this workshop. With just a few days’ practice, you begin to fill up a blank book with images YOU have made. Many of us have picked up a lovely handmade journal only to tuck it in a drawer, almost afraid of it. I know I used to! With practice, I’ve learned that with each drawing, I create a time capsule of my days walking this world.
By Amy Bogard
We live in a very frenetic world. I have found that drawing in a sketchbook is the key to this escape, even in my own day to day. The Taos trip is a shot in the arm to get this process started. Taos, NM is full of interesting and beautiful things to capture the imagination and the spirit for the experienced artist, as well for those new-to-drawing. With the simple tool set of a small watercolor set, a pencil and pen and a book with some nice paper in it, you can open the door to this process for yourself .
I remember walking under December grey Berkeley skies with Dan 3 years ago, shakily pep-talking ourselves through the latest parenting trial, which was that Col was moving slower than a brick wall during the bedtime routine.
We gave cheery warnings, “5 minutes until teeth brushing!” We repeated cheery warnings, “2 minutes until…” We gave information, “You’re not listening and I’m feeling very impatient now.” We shamed, “Rose is already done with teethbrushing, in pj’s and ready for a book. We are all waiting for you.” We threatened, “if you don’t get in here to brush your teeth now, you will miss out on book reading.” And finally, we yelled.
Eventually everyone was tucked in bed and ready for sleep, but my feelings of regret (for having shamed, threatened and yelled) lingered like a bad hangover.
Walking to Peets Coffee (Vine St.), I told Dan about this parenting style I had been reading about, this er, parenting with empathy, or peaceful parenting, or parenting without yelling like a banshee, or…something, where if your kid is non-compliant about teethbrushing you swoop them up playfully and carry them to the bathroom while tickling them. It’s about building connection, discharging power struggles and letting the kid save face for the sake of unity, and please could we start trying this?
Dan caught on quicker than I did because apparently nursing small grudges about non-compliant children is my particular anvil to drag across the desert, whereas he wipes the slate clean every minute.
But here’s the thing. Three years later I can say that parenting without bribes, threats or rewards is its own positive feedback loop. Even if you start with practicing your lines of empathy (you don’t want to brush teeth, you hate teeth-brushing) like an actor desperate for work, it becomes natural. And receiving compliance through kindness and respect always feels better, even if doesn’t seem as effective at first as the swift sword of a threat. But it is.
If I write here about peaceful parenting, people often say, “I can’t do it…working mother…challenging kid…won’t listen to me…too hard…just naturally a yeller…” And I just want to say that with practice, encouragement, intention and well, more practice, encouragement and intention…peaceful parenting becomes your first language so that when you wake up to situations like this (she turned in the empty wrapper and collected the reward, people) you know instinctively how to work with situation while keeping everyone’s dignity in tact.
Natalie and Nathan are offering another round of their popular 6-week e-course called, Parenting on the Same Team. If you don’t know these two through their coaching work, blogs or toy business,, allow me to introduce them:
She speaks the same language as Alfie Kohn, who wrote Unconditional Parenting (a parenting game-changer for me), but in a softer, feminine, more “I hear you sister,” way. I’ve become best acquainted with Natalie’s work through her parenting phone consults, in which she’s helped me numerous times (including, but not limited to The Funky Sock Disasters and The Sibling Battlefield). Natalie is fantastic at suggesting a pathway which illuminates my own blind spots and leads me to the sanest, most effective and compassionate trail through the trees of parenting.
With Nathan, who is a Certified Life Coach, they are raising three daughters, inspiring people and spreading the good word.
The Awesomeness of this E-Course (all the details here):
* you can take it alone or with your partner.
* Natalie and Nathan will present ideas and parenting strategies weekly (over 6 weeks) and you will have the opportunity to discuss, inquire more deeply, receive feedback and seek help transposing these ideas into your particular family situation.
* you can participate as much or as little as you want.
* you can participate from wherever you live, at your own pace.
*Natalie and Nathan will be available for unlimited e-mail support during the 6-week course.
*you will learn and grow.
Dan and I took this course 2 years ago and loved:
*the momentum of practicing (and practicing, and practicing) your parenting ideals in a community.
*the homework which provides opportunity to catch old patterns and practice new ones.
*Natalie and Nathan’s availability, deep listening and idea-generating for each participant’s particular situation.
*how in learning to treat your children with empathy, you learn to do the same for yourself.
To win a spot in the upcoming E-Course, Parenting on the Same Team, leave a comment below. For an extra chance to win, share this post on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, or your community and leave a second comment.
Giveaway ends Monday 4/08/13 * I will announce the winner here.
Guys, Natalie and Nathan are touched by all the heartfelt interest here and have decided to pick 5 winners! Please e-mail Natalie: natalie(at)feeleez(dot)com asap and she’ll get you signed up.
#11 Andrea (mother byrd)
#14 Mindi Clark
The course starts today! And for everyone else, there is still time to give yourself the gift of participation. Go here to sign up.
* In 2011 The New Yorker published a lovely article on coaching, written by the surgeon/author Atul Gawande. Gawande explores the benefits of employing a professional coach. The results (for teachers, doctors, musicians, singers, athletes) are impressive. Why not parenting?
First, you guys are the nicest people ever and I appreciate you reaching out through your computer screen to grab my hand and squeeze it. I felt that.
Second, on wanting: I want a lot of things I can’t have (a full-moon butt), and a lot of things that wouldn’t be good for me (the glowing sun of praise to always shine on me). Instead of throwing the tarp of shame and faux-asceticism over my pile of wants and trying to roll them into the Closet of Secrets, I say, “oh wanting, it’s you, again. Let me hold you and rock you and when you’re ready, I’ll set you free.” (repeat, repeat, repeat). And while seeking endless praise will net me as much as the dog chasing its tail, if I continue to show up with my pen and paper, there will be some really excellent hours writing on the first floor of the library, which is way better than actually catching that tail.
Third, some of you asked what my homeschooling plans are for Rose, given my understanding that she needs something different, something more. For now, my plans are to rise up to meet her needs in our little homeschooliverse. And also, to allow her to get to know her wanting. Part of the reason I homeschool is to give my kids the gift of choosing their own adventure, even if it starts out looking like a regular Wednesday morning with all the same old characters and plotlines. (Remember this post? I believe in my kids’ ingenuity and imagination) And I trust that if we show up with our shaky hope and courage and willingness to grow, we’ll get what we need.
Fourth, what do we do with dandelion pesto? I like it on crackers, as a dip for carrots and also to humbly bring to potlucks. Oh, this? Just a little wildcrafted nutritional power slam. Enjoy!
Fifth, thank you for your interest in online writing classes. Wow. My biggest reservation is concern that I wouldn’t be able to serve students well in an online venue. But, if and when I figure out how to make it work, I will let you know. And, YES to the editing and writing coaching. I have already been contacted by a few readers about this. If you are interested in one-on-one (online and phone) editing and writing coaching, please e-mail me.
Okay, does that cover everything?
ps: Supah special giveaway here tomorrow.
pps: Next batch of piñon salve going out today. I’d love a quickie e-mail to know when you receive yours.
I’ve been outside planting seeds like a large, semi-verbal toddler trying to regulate a bad mood. If I were a cartoon character, you’d see this black cloud trailing me through the garden as I mutter: put seed in ground. Cover seed. Water seed. Do again.
My mind has been this scary, thuggish place lately – slightly dangerous to inhabit after dark. Full of tripping hazards, broken items needing fixing, and shadowy characters hissing from behind gaping, leaking refrigerators.
Every time I crack open the laptop to write something here, to show you the greenhouse pulsing with life! or baby chickens growing so fast! (so fast in fact, that they’re flapping out of their baby-house onto the bathroom floor, to fulfill all their escapist dreams, which is to say: pooping and sleeping outside of baby-house), everytime I go to write about this it all seems sort of ridiculous, what with the heap of broken, jagged furniture back in the corner.
And sure, there are some…transitions, happening here in real life. Namely, Dan is getting laid off sometime in the next couple months. Which is don’t-forget-to-breathe exciting because we have all these radical income-producing ideas, and scary because every idea needs approximately 10 well-connected cheerleaders (preferably with trust funds and boundless energy) to pull off.
And when fear arises in the mind, it’s so intimidating that all the rational and cheery elves that usually keep everything somewhat polished and orderly, scurry away. And the next poor, hapless thought to scrabble across the tundra of my mind gets immediately heckled by the bullies, who seem to be in an interrogating mood.
And so, I go outside and plant another row of lettuce seeds.
Part 2 – What I learned from being a parent
Meanwhile, or maybe in perfect synchronicity, Rose has been going through her own funk. It manifests as not wanting whatever is happening in the moment, and wanting lots of external feel-good entertainment. It sounds like this: “I want a barbie, I want gum, I want dessert, I want mac’n’cheese, I want to watch a movie, I want a snack, I want a friend to come over…” (She usually chooses one thing at a time and works this angle for most of an hour…or the next 24. This is not a strong, decisive voice. This is a whining, pleading, desperate voice). Occasionally she’ll pause, losing her place and start her chant up again with the saddest refrain, “I want…I want…SOMETHING.”
I’ve had enough practice, to know that for children, bless their unsophistication, the external mirrors the internal. And that Rose must be dealing with some serious internal turmoil, which she’s doing her 5-year old best to shake off by seeking quick and easy pleasure. I ask if she wants to talk about what’s underneath the wanting, if the hard shell of desire for these ephemeral things were to break open, what might lie underneath. “More barbies,” she sniffles.
I’ve also had enough practice to know that as wearying as it is to be presented with the steroidal version of my child’s daily wants, the answer is not: shame her for wanting, convince her she is lucky to have so much already, give in to all her wants, or punish her for whining and demanding.
And so I listen, “come here sweetie, tell me about it.” I empathize, “you really really want mac’n’cheese, huh?” And then I gave her information, “tonight’s dinner is already planned. It’s not mac’n’cheese. We can buy some next time we go to the store.” Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Meanwhile, I summon all my earthly patience. I call on the collective wisdom of all my parenting mentors, I call on a few early afternoon beers, I call on a lot of outside time and playdates. I give Rose lots of cuddles and tickles and as much availability as I can. I also tell her she can’t wear me down by pleading; I will stay by her side but I won’t change my answers.
And I listen for what is unsaid, for what a 5-year old can’t express. As some of my weariness wore off, I heard that Rose needs more stimulation and daily structure (whereas Col and I like rambling agenda-less days at home). She needs more playdates, more academic challenge and more physical activity.
Part 3 – Parenting myself
I realized that, though I didn’t understand all the causes of the girl-funk in our house (mine and Rose’s) we were having similar experiences and needed similar medicine. Instead of wanting barbies and mac’n’cheese, I wanted: things to be easy, to never feel worry or doubt, to be certain that I’m on the right path.
So, just as I listened to Rose, I began listening to my own voice. I became secretary to all the disgruntled thugs, taking notes on their grievances while giving myself truckloads of empathy. If the thugs said, you suck at homeschooling your kids, I’d grit my teeth, lean in and say, “okay, tell me why.” I’ll tell you, this is as fun as dancing on hot coals. I’d much rather watch Berenstain Bears while eating mac’n'cheese, so I can see what Rose was getting at. But sometimes if you can get the bullies to use their words, there is a kernel of truth that is worth noting.
After planting, oh, 12 rows of greens (except we all know I’m not much for rows), letting the bullies speak, and returning the pooping chickens to their baby-house, I started hearing what was unsaid in my own mind. You want to do a really good job homeschooling your kids, and you have other work that calls to you. Okay, now we have something to work with. I am open to change.
Rose has come out of her spell, and holy mother-daughter connection, so have I. It’s been five days (which as my friend Natalie astutely says, is a long time in blogging hours) since anyone has uttered the word “barbie.” I still have fears about our transition, but I also know that my mind (having returned to its slightly neurotic though courageously optimistic state), like my children, is still growing up and needs a lot of care.
Oh, and would you like to see my greenhouse, pulsing with life?
Suspiciously headed for the front door?
I hope your Easter was great.
Apparently, this is not the first time we’ve been in this predicament. Sigh.
p.s. The topic of the annual Spring Education Series of 6512 sponsor, Namaste Health Clinic is Sugar, Sex and Stress: Supporting the Terrain
Tues 4/2 event: Evening with the Practitioners
“We will be discussing the power of our terrain when it comes to self-control of our vices and self-healing
After a panel discussion on the topic, there will be an open forum for questions, discussion on any of the info presented thus far.”
6:30 pm at the Durango library
We’ve got 7 new baby chickens and it’s a little like an all night frat party around here. Someone’s always lying in someone else’s bodily fluids, someone seems to have fallen asleep standing up, again, and there’s always a crowd playing Twister (put your beak on her tail), and then passing out mid-spin.
Chicks skyping with Baba and Nana
We’ve had various backyard chickens for the past four years (and have even eaten a few, though we’d never killed them ourselves) and then, well, that thing happened which happens with chickens, which is they stop laying, because they make a finite amount of eggs, and the gig is up, and your laying flock is now a bunch of sweet, voracious pets, and you’ve got some decisions to make.
Life Cycle of a Chicken, by Rose
The job of killing our last flock went to Dan, because I can’t even kill a grasshopper camped out on my chard without a convulsive shudder; also, he’s not coming right off the couch, so to speak, when it comes to providing meat for dinner. So, one night in bed we watched this video about humanely killing chickens, like date night for murderers. And then we put off the killing for 3 more months.
Next, it started snowing, which is a chicken’s biggest insult. It was time. I am simultaneously embarrassed, proud and perplexed to say Col and Rose were completely OK with the plan. (Rose had a moment of protest which was eclipsed 2 minutes later by outrage that Col got to carry the bag of pecans Lianne gave us for Christmas). While we hosted a homeschool co-op meeting at our house, Dan, in green apron, ghosted through falling snow from chicken coop to shed-turned-abattoir, a chicken cradled in his arms. Watching this from our upstairs windows, my heart squeezed shut.
We’ve eaten 2 of those 3 chickens, which is a stretch of the imagination, considering that we also loved them, and a stretch of jaw-power, considering their age.
And now we move on.
The inevitable set up
It’s great fun to have babies in the house again. They live in the bathroom and make us all talk in ridiculous high-pitched voices; even Dan said, while the hens were entangled in the latest game of Fowly Twister: “this is a really above average group.”
I’ve advised the kids not to name these new babies, though we compromised on one name for each breed.
With backyard chickens, there are endings and beginnings. I am glad to be on the beginning side this spring.