Seed Library Update

Isn't it cool how seed packets fit perfectly in the old card catalogues? (Photo by David Woolley)

Old card catalog file turned into new seed library! Brilliant! (Photo by David Woolley)

 

About two and a half years ago I wrote a post on our first local seed library. It was installed at the public library in Manitou Springs, Colorado by David Woolley and Natalie Seals.

Here’s the replay on what a seed library is, if you haven’t been to one yet:

“. . . it’s a place where you can check out packets of seeds–flowers, vegetables, and herbs—to plant. In return you’re asked to donate seeds from your future harvest; usually twice as many seeds as you checked out. To some, having to harvest seeds may sound intimidating, but it really isn’t difficult. Many seeds, such as tomatoes, peppers, beans, radishes, and quite a few species of flowers, are easy to save . . . and one tomato or sunflower can produce enough seeds for many return seed packets. (If you’re still unsure, there is a lot of information online and in books on seed saving.)

What is exciting is that people begin saving and sharing their locally grown (and hopefully organically grown) seeds. It makes for stronger genetic stock that is adapted to local growing conditions. It helps people who can’t afford seeds to grow gardens, and it creates diversity, because if the library is successful many, many people will participate and share. Probably the most exciting aspect is that we can reclaim the power of owning our own seed stock and won’t have to re-purchase seed every year or be dependent on outside companies. There are myriad other benefits, but these are the ones that come to mind first. Viva la backyard farmer!”

Now for the update:

For the last three growing seasons I’ve enjoyed this library. I’ve “checked out” seeds, grew them in my garden, and returned seeds from my own harvests.  I’ve made it a point to return at least triple what I took each year. This year I brought in almost 40 packets of seeds from heirloom tomatoes, snapdragons, calendula, lettuce, hollyhock, Italian flat-leaf parsley, garlic chives, and more. Everything I bring back is organically grown and local, and that makes me feel great about being a part of this.

How’s the library doing? Well, I haven’t been able to have an in-depth talk with Director David Woolley, though I did speak with him briefly after a very well-attended talk on backyard gardening a couple of weeks ago. Woolley said the seed library was doing very well. There were many people coming in and getting seed packets. They were excited to be gardening. “Were there any problems?” I asked. Yes, he said, they are struggling a bit with getting in enough donations. There are too many who take out seeds and don’t bring back donations.

I told him I’d be happy to help, to send a few emails out to seed companies and ask them for donations. He said it was a little more complicated than that with the big seed companies, as you have to fill out paperwork, and show that the seed is going to a nonprofit. (Always, the bureaucracy!) I haven’t been able to connect with him yet to move further on this, but I wanted to get this post out today, to ask readers if perhaps they had connections with any seed companies (or perhaps seed from last year that won’t be used, or home-grown seed) for donations.  I imagine there are a lot of backyard farmers who would love to share.

A gentle reminder to those who might have forgotten to repay this service with a donation—free seed libraries will only work if we all pitch in. I know it can be intimidating, saving seed for the first time, putting them in packets and labeling them, but trust me, it’s easy! And once you do it, it becomes pretty fun.

If you haven’t yet, I hope you’ll come and check out the library. You don’t have to live in Manitou Springs as it’s open to the entire region. You don’t even have to have a library or an I.D.! How cool is that?

Check out their website for full details. There’s a wonderful FAQ written by Natalie Seals that details the process.

See you at the library!

—Sandra Knauf

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Alex Wrekk (Author, Entrepreneur, Gardener, Singer) & Her Stolen Sharpie Revolution

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Alex Wrekk - Writing Revoluntionary

Alex Wrekk – Writing Revoluntionary

 

Today I’m hosting an interview with Alex Wrekk, author of Stolen Sharpie Revolution, a D.I.Y. book on zine making. (If you don’t know what a zine is, it’s a handmade, self-published magazine.) Zines are important to me as they were my first independent foray into self-publishing. I published Greenwoman zine for a couple of years before tackling a more traditional magazine form, and it was the perfect way to test the waters. It was also empowering and thrilling to produce something “real”—a publication that I could hold in my hands, holding stories written over the years that hadn’t found a home in traditional publishing. I first heard about zines through Ariel Gore’s book, How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead (great title, don’t you think?). In essence she told writers, “Just get your work out there, make a zine!” I didn’t know what zines were, so I researched, read many of them, and learned about their history. I am still  fascinated with this personal, authentic art form.

Wrekk’s book was one of the first I sought out to help me with the nuts and bolts, so it’s a pleasure to have her on this blog. In my research, I learned Alex is an avid gardener in Portland, so of course I had to ask her about that, too. I hope you enjoy the interview!

—Sandra Knauf

Book Synopsis

Since 2002, Stolen Sharpie Revolution: a DIY Resource for Zines and Zine Culture has been the go-to guide for all things zine-related. This little red book is stuffed with information about zines. Things you may know, stuff you don’t know and even stuff you didn’t know you didn’t know!

Stolen Sharpie Revolution contains a cornucopia of information about zines and zine culture for everyone from the zine newbie to the experienced zinester to the academic researcher. Stolen Sharpie Revolution consists of thoughtful lists and step-by-step how-to guides on everything from definitions of a “zine,” where to find zines, why they are important, how to make them and how to participate in zine culture.

This book has everything you need to get started creating your own zine, or to figure out what to do with the zine you just made. Stolen Sharpie Revolution serves as both an introduction into the wide world of zine culture and as a guide to taking the next step to become a part of it.

* * *

Flora’s Forum Interview

First off, Alex, congratulations on your latest edition of Stolen Sharpie Revolution: A DIY Zine Resource. I am so impressed with the success of this book—26,000 copies, and on it’s 5th printing—it’s a huge success! I was thinking about how many writers and artists you’ve helped through the years, taking that first step in expressing themselves through zines. That has to be incredibly gratifying.

Now, on to the questions!

Flora’s Forum: As you’re a veteran in the self-publishing industry (zinesters were self-publishing way before Amazon and other companies made it easy for the mainstream) I guess I’d like to start with—what are the big changes you’ve seen in around 20 years of self-publishing zines and books?

Alex Wrekk: In general; technology. Digital layout is more accessible, photocopiers print crisper, and the internet has changed the way zine creators and reader can interact with each other. There was this whole “blogs killed zines” thing that people kept saying and it really bothered me for awhile. Blogs and zines aren’t mutually exclusive. If anything, I think blogs have made zines better. The people who wanted the quick outlet to say something could use a blog. Those that wanted to sit down and craft something physical could make a zine. If you really want to make a zine you have to spend time to do it from the writing, layout, getting yourself to a photocopier, and finding people to actually read it.

I’ve also seen a growing connected zine community. It is easier to find distros and new zines. There are also a lot more zine fest and it is easier to find out about them. [Ed.—I highly recommend Sweet Candy Distro as a great place to buy zines.]

Flora’s Forum: Making a zine is a very tactile experience. It’s a craft and an art. Even if you design and print out a zine on your computer, you still have to put them together with folding and stapling. If you’re artistically inclined, you go a lot further, with collages, drawings, and other artwork, special bindings. Can you talk a little about how this experience differs from, say, sharing your art and/or writing on a blog?

Alex Wrekk: I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I just see them a different medium or vehicles to convey ideas. I can’t exactly explain how I come to the conclusion that something is meant for a zine page or for a blog page, it just seems like the idea is already settled when it comes to me. I know that when I write something for a zine I think if it like a letter where I’m sending it to a person and that person is going to hold it in their hand and read it by themselves in their own space. It creates a direct line from creator and consumer, often that line is blurred because the reader is also frequently a writer of zines as well. Who knows how many people could be reading a blog at the same time and if they will ever even touch the same handrail I have touched? I just love the tangibility of zines. Sometimes I even see layouts before I have the words for zines.

Flora’s Forum: How has putting out over two dozen issues of your own zine, Brainscan, through the years formed you as an artist and entrepreneur?

Alex Wrekk: I actually put out issue 31 of Brainscan last year and I’ve done dozens of one off zines. I can’t stop making zines! I think the DIY spirit leads me to do things myself. If you keep doing that, you’ll find your style and hone your version of the craft. I have a weird mental distinction between my zines and my book. My zines are my hobby, my book is my business. Strangely, the same sort of things goes for my shop. I’ve made custom buttons since 2000 but I opened a brick and mortar shop 3 years ago where I press buttons like a workshop, sell my own button designs, and I also sell zines and books. You can’t make a lot selling zines and I sort of think of that part of the store as my hobby and the buttons as the business.

Flora’s Forum: What are the best things about zines? For yourself? For readers?

Alex Wrekk: Getting a glimpse of someone’s world and then, when you keep reading new issues of their zine, you get to revisit that world. That’s why I like to read zines, I’m not so sure about everyone else.

I also love the connections I have made through zines. I was hanging out the other night with some friends and one of their friends who I had never met before asked how we knew each other. My friend and I looked at each other and at the same time said “zines” These were people that had just moved to Portland 6 months ago but I had known the, through zines for years. Through zines I’ve let strangers stay in my basement and they have become some of my best friends. I started a band (with songs all about zines) with members from 3 different countries. I’ve been flown to France to be on a panel to discuss zines. I got a free ticket to Coachella because I helped with a zine workshop at the festival. I’ve been on cross country zine tours, one of them was with 5 friends from the UK. I’ve met some of the most amazing and intereesting people through zines. It almost feels like zines have been the backdoor into a lot of really cool experiences for me and for others.

Flora’s Forum: Are there any drawbacks/pitfalls to zine publishing?

Alex Wrekk: We all cringe at our early issues. Also, it’s not really something that will ever make you much money if you keep to zines. I’m ok with that. I see it as a hobby for me.

Flora’s Forum: Will you tell us about your garden? I read about it and enjoyed the Facebook album of your beautiful cottage-style garden. You have ornamentals, herbs, vegetables, a hummingbird garden, a compost pile—it’s obvious you have a lot of passion for many aspects of gardening. What do you have planned for the upcoming year? And how are the arts of gardening and zine publishing alike?

Alex Wrekk: I feel really bad because after opening the shop I haven’t has as much time to spend in my garden. When I worked at home I’d just let myself get distracted for a bit of gardening when I had a few minutes. This year I plan to do better, I’ve already been looking at seed catalogs and I have a friend who wants to help out. This year is a year of judicious pruning. I have a wisteria that is trying to eat my house and cedar tree and needs to be taught a lesson. There is a shrub that seemed to grow a few feet while I wasn’t looking that could use a lesson as well. Once spring comes around I’m going to take stock of the hummingbird garden and see what made it through the winter and figure out what needs to be moved or added. There’s a honeysuckle that has gone a bit wild over there as well. I think a lot of my garden need some firmer borders. We’ve been talking about taking out our chain-link fence and putting in a wooden one.

Hrm, I suppose gardening is a lot like writing. You just look at all your beautiful words/flowers and think you want them all, but that foxglove really would be happier at the back of the house and sometimes there is such a thing as too many daisies. Sometimes as beautiful as wisteria is, less would be more.

Flora’s Forum: Are there any gardening zines out there you could recommend?

Alex Wrekk: Off the top of my head I can only think of one that I have in the Portland Button Works shop called Growing Things that is good, especially for beginning gardeners.

Flora’s Forum: Thanks for sharing, Alex. It was a pleasure.

* * *

Alex Wrekk’s Bio

Alex Wrekk’s life revolves around making things; primarily zines, custom pinback buttons(badges), vegan food, travel plans, and space for a cat in her bed.

Alex Wrekk has lived in Portland, Oregon since 1999 and has been creating the zine Brainscan since 1997. Brainscan zine has grown and changed with Alex over the years with stories ranging from travel, reproductive health, love and loss, emotional abuse recovery, zine culture, and even fiction all wrapped up in text and photocopier art. She also wrote the book Stolen Sharpie Revolution: A DIY Guide for Zines and Zine Culture that is now entering its 5th edition.

When Alex isn’t doing zine things she is doing other zine things like organizing the Portland Zine Symposium, establishing July as International Zine Month, commiserating with Zine Event Organizers around the world, updating the zine event listings on StolenSharpieRevolution.org, hosting the podcast Nobody Cares About Your Stupid Zine Podcast, fidgeting with her Risograph printer, reading from her zines out loud on zine tours or singing in a zine themed pop-punk band called The Copy Scams.

Alex has been making custom pinback buttons since 2000 under various business names. In 2012 Alex opened Portland Button Works and zine distro, an online and brick and mortar shop in Portland, Oregon selling zines and books and making custom buttons, bottle openers, and magnets in 4 different sizes. She also maintains an Etsy shop with the same name.

Alex Wrekk twitter http://twitter.com/alexwrekk

Stolen Sharpie Revolution Facebook https://www.facebook.com/stolensharpierevolution

Stolen Sharpie Revolution.org http://www.stolensharpierevolution.org

Portland Button Works Website www.portlandbuttonworks.com

 

GIVEAWAY INFO:

Alex is giving away 5 print copies of Stolen Sharpie Revolution + a Custom Stolen Sharpie with each one. This is an international giveaway! Please click the link below to enter.

Stolen Sharpie Book Sage Blog Tours

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

P. S.:  I couldn’t resist showing a couple of covers  from my Greenwoman zines. I went from full-color to a more traditonal, much less expensive b&w cover over the course of the two years that I was a zinester. It was a great learning experience and a whole lot of fun.

 

The artwork for my very first zine! You can still get a copy of it on my Greenwoman Magazine website.

The artwork for my very first zine! You can still get a copy of it on my Greenwoman website.

The last issue, #6. I would highly recommend zine-

The last issue, #6. I love this fairy girl with her basket of figs.

P. P. S. I just discovered that Comments was “off” on this post. I fixed that but it looks like it won’t change it for previously posted work. Sorry about that!

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Short and Sweet – Bruce Holland Rogers’ Fiction Subscriptions

Bruce Holland Rogers

Bruce Holland Rogers

 

For over a decade Bruce Holland Rogers’ fans have been enjoying his work in small, regular doses. For $10 a year he sends subscribers 36 amazing stories, three per month. The tales are described as an “unpredictable mix of literary fiction, science fiction, fairy tales, mysteries and work that is hard to classify.” Those who know his work describe them as addictive.

You can visit his site here and even sample almost a dozen stories for free. My favorites are “Dinosaur” and “The Bullfrog and His Shadows.”

Subscribers to short.short.short are encouraged to forward stories to friends; that’s how I was introduced to Bruce years ago. Once I got a taste I had to sign up. Bruce’s work is masterful, and there’s almost always a twist that leaves you viewing the world just a little differently. I wasn’t surprised to learn Bruce had won many awards: a Pushcart, two Nebulas, a Bram Stoker, two World Fantasy Awards, and a Micro Award. His work is known world-wide.

One day he sent a story about a depressed woman, obviously a victim of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), who finds her healing medicine in quite a surprising way—through the earth (literally). Garden writing! I wrote Bruce, suggesting that he send “A Fine and Private Place” to GreenPrints, which was then the only garden writing publication around. He did, and Pat Stone published it. When I started Greenwoman, I wanted to share Bruce’s work. I asked if I could reprint another story that he’d sent via subscription. Then another. And another.

I’ve always wanted to interview him, to introduce him in a bigger way to my friends. This winter we finally got together. I offer this small glimpse into his work.

Flora’s Forum: As you know, I was introduced to you and your fascinating work through shortshortshort.com—when a friend of mine, also a writer, sent me a story. How many subscribers do you have now and how many stories have you written since it began in 2002?

Bruce Holland Rogers: My high-water mark for subscribers was one thousand, but that was a few years ago. For the last five years, I have done little to promote the service or even to remind subscribers to renew, so the list has dwindled to about 330. Those remaining subscribers, however, are hard core!

I have written over 400 stories for subscribers now, and in recent years I haven’t been very good about submitting them to magazines and anthologies. I have quite a backlog to publish now.

Flora’s Forum: How did the idea for sending out three short stories a month to subscribers come about?

In 2001 I read a book called Guerilla Marketing for Writers that referenced someone who had sold his limericks by email. The story was that he spammed the world with emails promising a limerick a day to anyone who mailed him a dollar, and that he soon raised one hundred-thousand dollars this way. (This was in early days of the net, before spam was such a scourge.)

I liked the idea of selling directly to readers. I loved reading and writing very compressed stories. The stories demand so much that I knew I couldn’t write a story a day. I would even be hard-pressed to write one a week. But if I had, say, one subscriber, I would happily send him or her a story a year for three dollars. And if I had five subscribers, I could promise a story every quarter to earn their fifteen dollars in total. So I created a sliding scale: the more subscribers I had, the more stories I would send. Eventually, when I had a couple hundred subscribers, I settled at three stories a month. I felt that was about my limit.

Over the years, the subscription rate went from three dollars to five, and then ten. A few subscribers are patrons, which means they subscribe at the twenty-five dollar level, helping to keep me in tea and biscuits. (Tea and biscuits are essential to writing.) Other subscribers give subscriptions as gifts. It’s great to have an immediate and appreciative audience!

I launched and grew mostly through friends and their recommendation to their friends. Now I get new subscribers whom I think discover shortshortshort because they Googled me after reading one of my stories. Unlike the supposed limerick writer, I never spammed.

After I had been running shortshortshort.com for a few years, I tried to track down the limerick writer, to see if I could put a name to the story. I haven’t found any evidence that he ever existed. Perhaps he did. However, I like to think that my fiction service arose from my belief in someone else’s invented story.

Flora’s Forum: I like that idea, too. After hearing your story, I also tried to track down the limerick writer, with no luck. I think he’s a writers’ urban legend! Do you know of anyone else who has used your subscription model to bring in an income as a writer? (Yes, I’m personally interested!)

Bruce Holland Rogers: With fiction I have seen a couple of attempts that did not last long. It’s hard to say for certain why these efforts soon ended, but a lot of things have to go right. In these two cases, I didn’t like the writing very much, and that may have been the first thing that went wrong. But there may well have been an audience for those writers, and they just didn’t figure out how to find that audience.

There is a subscription program for children, Sparkle Stories, that sends weekly audio stories for a year and has several such series categorized by the age of the child.

For distribution by email or audio download, the nonfiction writer has all the advantages that a nonfiction writer has more generally. The audience is sorted by subject. The writer can more readily identify potential readers and go to wherever, online or off, those potential readers congregate. The readers of nonfiction are also more likely to find the writer while searching for information on the writer’s topic.

Flora’s Forum: You write short-shorts in many genres. Do you have a current favorite?

Bruce Holland Rogers: I am allergic to the idea of favorites. Maybe that just means that I’m indecisive, but I’m never able to name a favorite writer, a favorite move, a favorite shirt. So I’ve never been good at having a favorite genre. I started out in my teens writing science fiction, and I still write SF occasionally. But I like humor, contemporary realism, historical fiction, expressionism (which looks like fantasy), fantasy, mystery . . . I like being able to generate a story from whatever is going on in my life, including my imagined life. My readers don’t know what they are going to get.

Flora’s Forum: You are not kidding there! This week you sent us an adorable personal story that you’ve also published on eBay! “My Girlfriend’s Shoes* (or a deed thereof”  where you have put your girlfriends’ shoes up for bid! (Click on the title to get the story.) Is publishing a story on eBay a first? 

Bruce Holland Rogers: It is, but it may not be the last. Unless, of course, this is the last time I ever do *anything,* which several women have informed me is likely.

Flora’s Forum: Ha! Women and their shoes! You’re a gutsy man, Bruce.

Three of the four stories that have been published in Greenwoman focused on women with a unique connection to the earth, or, in “Cows With Names Make 3.4 Percent More Milk,” to cows! I thought it would be fun to get some insight into how a couple of these stories came about.

We published your story “A Human Birth” in issue #1 of Greenwoman. As I don’t want to give too much away, let’s say it’s about a woman who discovers her unique connection to the soil. Why did you choose that connection and what’s your connection to the soil—(or what are your experiences with women and gardening—or both!).

It’s hard for me to talk about this story without spoiling its effect, so if your readers want to experience the story, they should do so before reading my answer. [Editor’s note: you can purchase a PDF version of Greenwoman Issue #1 here for only $2.95.]

Bruce Holland Rogers: The origins of that story lie in a practice that my ex-wife and I had, a joke about reincarnation. If we had an encounter with someone who behaved very badly, we would forgive that person and speculate on what he or she had been in a previous life. Sometimes the promotion from a non-human birth to a human birth is difficult. That is, this life might be that person’s first experience with being human, and the life of humans is a challenging one.

We might say about the man who had yelled because a line was moving slowly, “He doesn’t have much practice with patience, but even so, he didn’t yell for the first five minutes in line. That’s pretty good for someone who was a grasshopper in his last life.”

My ex, Holly, was a gardener. So was my mother. So was my friend Kate Wilhelm until, in her eighties, the physical demands became too much. In my little corner of the universe, gardeners have been mostly women.

My own connection with the soil has come from digging. As a toddler, I tried to dig as my mother gardened. (As my mother told the story, I was right next to her when her spade turned up a white grub. I said, “Candy!” and ate it before she could stop me.) As an adult, I have dug holes for posts or footings, and I’m always interested to see who comes up with the shovel. There is so much wildlife under out feet. Healthy soil is heavily populated soil. As much as I enjoy turning up a shovel-full of earth, it’s been more than fifty years since I ate a grub.

Flora’s Forum: I love that story, Bruce. And so true about the soilI’ve read that the number of organisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil can number up to a billion. Now to switch to bigger organisms; in the lighthearted and charming “Cows With Names Make 3.4 Percent More Milk” (Greenwoman #3) you write about a college student, Brenda, who is studying Dairy Science. She grew up on a dairy farm and loves to name cows, a quirky habit that serves her well when it comes to romance. One of the themes here is how naming forms deeper connections—and more milk! How did that story develop?

Bruce Holland Rogers: I attended a land-grant university, Colorado State University. I enrolled with a double-major in technical journalism and zoology, but I kept changing my majors. I knew that I wanted to write, but everyone said I’d need something to fall back on. But what? Every semester, I scoured the catalog, looking for a more appealing major. Going to a land-grant institution, the kind of school that used to be an A&M [Agriculture & Mechanical], meant that I read the requirements for all sorts of practical majors. I had classmates who had grown up on farms. I walked by the animal sciences facilities, drank unpasteurized milk from the university’s herd. In all, I had five different declared majors, and probably another four that I intended to pursue but never got around to officially recording. After six years, I graduated with the only degree that worked for my mishmash of courses, with the singularly impractical major of Humanities.

I had a truly generalist education, ideal for a writer.

Flora’s Forum: I have to ask, what were those five declared majors?

Bruce Holland Rogers: The five declared majors were technical journalism, zoology, English, history, and humanities. Majors that I planned my courses around but didn’t formally register included computer science, Spanish, physical sciences, and psychology. I also thought long and hard about engineering.

Flora’s Forum: Could you give a little more background into “Cows With Names Make 3.4 Percent More Milk”? I know it’s a very whimsical piece, but was Brenda based on a real student? Where did the idea of the naming of cows come from?

Bruce Holland Rogers: The title for that story is almost word-for-word the headline of a news item. No one knows why this correlation was found. Since cows tend to be a bit skittish and lactate less when they are stressed, it may be that the sort of dairy farmers who name their animals are also gentler with them, and that difference shows up in milk production.

Brenda doesn’t have a basis in any particular person, but I have a lot of experience with giving and receiving nicknames in intimate relationships. When the nicknames are ones that both the giver and receiver like, those names can become a part of their private language, part of what becomes reassuring and comforting between them.

Flora’s Forum: What is it like, gardening-wise, food-wise, living in Oregon? 

Bruce Holland Rogers: Eugene is very garden-friendly. We get our hard frosts, and even the occasional severe cold. Last winter, my fig tree died back all the way to the roots, for example, and I lost many of my landscape plants. But that was the first intense die-back in many years. Winters are mild compared to much of the country. I’ll risk starting this year’s salad greens in March. We have rain in abundance much of the year, but then our summers are so hot and dry that you really can’t have a garden without irrigation.

We have a thriving Northwest cuisine featuring salmon, hazelnuts and berries. An invasive species of blackberry is a tenacious weed for us, but it also produces big, sweet fruit.

Flora’s Forum: What are your plans for 2015?

This week, for the first time in years, I rationalized all my to-do lists on a spreadsheet. It came to 320 items. So my plans are to do a lot. A part of those plans is to write my 36 stories for the year and to write a book about money, the other cabbage.

Flora’s Forum: Thanks for spending some time with us, Bruce.

 

 

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The Year of Soil – Dr. Vandana Shiva’s New Year Message for 2015

I was so happy to see this message a week ago. It is full of hope, it is full of empowerment. It is the perfect message for 2015.  Some of you may know of Dr. Shiva’s work—for decades, she has been fighting tirelessly for a healthier planet, healthier food, justice. She champions biodiversity and battles corporations who wish to claim ownership of the Earth’s plants and humanity’s many thousands of years of agricultural knowledge (seeds!) for themselves. She helps to expose genetic engineering as one of the biggest dangers we face.

May this year be, as she writes: “The year where the seeds we sow of hope and love, the seeds we sow of abundance and creativity, are the seeds that will multiply and show the way forward . . .”

—Sandra

 

 

The Transcript:

We Are All Seeds – A New Year Message from Dr. Vandana Shiva

Dear Friends, I want to thank you for everything each of you has done throughout this year that has gone by. A year where we rolled back seed laws that would have made it illegal for gardeners and farmers to have access to their own varieties of seeds – in Europe, in Colombia. A year where we celebrated in Indonesia the overruling of the arrest of farmers for saving seeds. It’s been a year where the GMO industry got so desperate that they had to start putting ads …using our language; which shows that what we are saying about the joy of growing food, the joy of eating food: THAT’s what the future is all about. And we know that the corporations, that have produced chemicals and GMOs, cannot deliver that promise, even though they might create their ads.

Most importantly this was the year when everywhere in the world a phrase rang in resonance, that: “We Are All Seeds”; that for a while we might lie underground, but at the right moment we germinate and burst out with all of our potential.

I want to greet you for the year that’s coming; A year that has been declared the Year of Soils, the year of our own earthiness, our own groundedness, our own rootedness. The year where the seeds we sow of hope and love, the seeds we sow of abundance and creativity, are the seeds that will multiply and show the way forward, not just to each of us, but to the reluctant world that continues to be blind.
And in the year of soil let us celebrate the connections between Mother Earth and ourselves. We are, after all, made of the earth – we are made of soil. Let us celebrate the 22nd of April, which is now Mother Earth’s Day, as a commitment to protect her.

As the famous writer Alice Walker said: “We now need to adopt the philosophy of Motherism,” where all of us became mothers to our Mother Earth, protecting her with love; and the SEED is where that love begins: the seed that she gives us and we give back to her, the soil fertility that she creates, and we return to her.

In the seed and the soil we find answers to every one of the crisis we face, the crisis of violence and war, the crisis of hunger and disease, the crisis of the destruction of democracy.

We will not allow corporations to allow everyone to believe that they are ‘persons’. Corporations are legal constructions, that’s where their place is. People, through democratic process, give permission to what business activity is sustainable, what business activity is equitable, what business activity respects with dignity the life of this planet, the life of all beings and the life of all human beings.

When corporations start to sue states like Vermont or the county of Maui, because Maui said: ‘We will be GMO free and Vermont said: ‘ We will know what we eat’, and they use that argument of corporate person-hood…that is illusions reaching the highest pinnacle.

We are going to create a reality where REALITY rules, the reality of the ecological living processes of the planet, the reality of our own lives, the reality of Democracy that we shape.

This challenge of democracy is going to be the single biggest challenge throughout 2015. Let us stay united, let us stay strong, let us stay joyful. Most importantly – since it’s the Year of Soil – let us recognize that in organic farming, in ecological agriculture is the answer to the havoc that has been created by fossil fuels.

As I have written ‘Soil not Oil': “In the soil are the answers to the problem that oil has created”. The joint crisis of climate change and biodiversity erosion can both be addressed by creating gardens everywhere, full of biodiversity, full of the celebration of life in well-being and abundance.

Gardens of Hope everywhere, farms that give real food. We will continue to create the other world that we are sowing, seed by seed, inch by inch of soil, person by person, community by community until the whole of this planet is embraced in one circle of a resurgent life and resurgent love.

We will not give up.

 

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No More Tinsel

1940s family with their tinsel-decorated tree.

1940s family with their tinsel-decorated tree. Image published with permission from Kari, from her EphemeraObscura store on Etsy. (Thank, Kari!) Here’s the link!

 

 

A couple of weeks ago I asked my newsletter subscribers about their Christmas traditions. (I had shared mine of paper snowflakes, real tree, mistletoe, Christmas cards, baking, etc.) Imagine my delight when Pat Nolan shared this treat. It reminded me of a vintage Christmas film, embodying everything we treasure during the holidays: magic and wonder, and, most importantly, our connection to family.

My confession: I, too, LOVE tinsel! And I’m a stickler for a “perfect tree.”

– Sandra

  No More Tinsel

When I was growing up as an only child during the 1940s and 1950s, Christmas was a quiet time of year. Our special events consisted of my Mom and I taking the “L” down to the Loop in Chicago to see the magnificent store window displays. It was one thrilling diorama after another. Another trip downtown took us to see the annual holiday performance of “The Nutcracker.” These festive events always involved dressing up – ‘white gloves and party manners.’

About a week before Christmas, my Dad and I pulled my sled to the normally vacant corner lot where Christmas trees appeared for sale. As an artist, my Dad was very particular about the size and shape of a tree. It had to be nearly perfect and of course, fresh. He pulled several branches to make sure no needles fell off. We carried the chosen tree home on my sled. Seems there was always snow for Christmas in those days.

My Dad’s job was to secure the tree in the stand and string the lights. Then my Mom and I were allowed to hang the ornaments, those small glass, wood, and metal memories from years past. No plastic Disney characters then. When all the ornaments were hung with care, it was time to hang silver tinsel. I hated tinsel. It was ugly, full of static that made it cling to my hair, and my Dad required it to be hung one string at a time with only the short end laid over the tip of each and every branch. One year, I became so frustrated with the whole thing, I threw a handful at the tree and stomped out of the room. I won’t tell you what happened to me. You can only imagine my father’s anger. I ruined the tree that year!

Many years later after I was married with my own children, each winter our family drove to northern Wisconsin, where my parents had retired. They lived in the north woods on a lake. There was a channel that stayed mostly open water all winter. Swans congregated right outside the living room window. They owned five acres filled with birch trees, poplars, maples, white pine, white spruce, and balsam fir. It was our very own piece of earth from which to choose a Christmas tree every year. My Dad, my children and I would bundle up for a long outdoor trek around in circles, until we found “the perfect tree.” Amid shouts from each child, “here’s one, what about this one?” we probably considered fifty trees during the morning. Finally, my Dad said, “OK, here are three possible trees. Pick one. Now.” We chose and Dad sawed it down. Little did we know until years later, that Dad had already picked the three final best choices from which we were to choose. He could not risk one of us insisting on a “Charlie Brown tree.” Dad and my husband did the heavy lifting and secured the tree in its stand. Mom had finished baking the last batch of cookies and made hot cocoa for us to enjoy while we sat down, warmed up, and began stringing cranberries and popcorn. Trimming was much more joyful those years since my Dad had given up on tinsel. NO MORE TINSEL.

Patricia K. Nolan

December, 2014

 

Patricia Nolan

 

Patricia K. Nolan says, “I’ve long imagined retiring someday as Miss Rumphius and living in a meadow full of lupine. Until then, my ‘urban farm’ grows in containers on my townhouse patio,
while I wait for the wisteria to bloom.”

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Battling the Bittersweet

 Oriental_bittersweet (2)

Sometimes we meet the most interesting people through correspondence. Of course, I’m a little partial to artists and writers who garden, and I meet those individuals most often through this blog and other material I publish. I met Monica when she shared a couple of her poems; poems, she wrote, which “sprung up in between my many other writing projects, most of them unabashed fantasy and science fiction for children and adults.” She grew up in North Carolina, went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and got a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA. She lives and works in the Boston, Massachusetts area as a medical writer, and has two young sons, and she gardens. Now you may rightly think, like I did, where does she have time to write or publish at all?

 She makes time because she loves it. I liked her work (I especially delighted at the mention of a triffid!) and asked if I might share a poem with you. She said yes.

 I think you’ll find it sweet.

(Note: Please forgive the extra space after the second line in the poem–Wordpress has some formatting “kinks.”)

– Sandra Knauf

 

 

Celastrus orbiculatus from Wikipedia

Celastrus orbiculatus from Wikipedia

Battling the Bittersweet
by

Monica M. Eiland

When we bought the house
We saw the vines, it’s true

They looked so innocent and sweet
Who knew they’d be so hard to control
Soon we were battling the bittersweet.

The clear signs of this ornamental vine:
Tender tendrils twisting, turning
Up every fence along the street
Climbing, straining, ever hopeful
Like ourselves, the bittersweet.

Growing into a dreadful triffid
Like something from a manga
Never enough for it to eat
Strangling, mangling all in sight
This oriental ornamental, this bittersweet.

Baby swinging, sleeping in his blissful seat
Alone, while we whacked away at vines
We’d rather admire his chubby, fragrant hands and feet
Than stand out in the blazing sun
‘Cause we were battling the bittersweet.

Come the patter of his little feet
The next season, the vines were back
Trailing tendrils, clearly difficult to defeat
We’d rather have a riot of raspberries
Than this freaking bittersweet.

Another year, a new baby at the teat
Who has the time to fight these vines?
Why’s it taken us three years, and still not beat?
We’d rather enjoy the water park
Than keep battling this bittersweet.

Years later, still battling, why fight
While life goes by us
Why not simply admit defeat
So we can watch our boys grow up in peace
Instead of battling the bittersweet?

But we cannot stop, we cannot rest
We won’t give up like tenants past
We know the price of cowardly retreat:
Life slowly mired in this suffocating vine
Drowned to death by bittersweet.

* * *

Monic

Monica

 

My relationship with my garden is chiefly one of benign neglect. As a working mother with two active boys, all of those normal things that one is supposed to do in a healthy garden – the weeding and cleanup, the watering, the fertilizing – often aren’t in the cards for me.

My husband and I didn’t start with benign neglect, of course. When we first moved into the house –  with just one boy small enough to take his first steps in the kitchen – our first order of business in the garden was to remove the bittersweet. For the former owner, the bittersweet must have seemed a low maintenance way of generating a privacy screen between herself and the neighbors. And it’s an attractive plant: elegant, unusually shaped three-lobed leaves, delicate tendrils (when it’s young, anyway!), and berries of green, red, and a dark purple black. It was one of several species we found in the yard that are, these days, considered Plantae non grata: non-native invasive species with no respect for limits. Its sisters-in-crime were a diseased hemlock that had grown over a story high right next to the foundation, some aged rhododendrons more suited to a roomy hillside in the Azores, and several other rapidly overgrowing bushes of ill repute.

Unlike in the poem, we hired help with the garden, to do the heavy lifting of removing these plants. That allowed us to plant, first of all, the raspberries, the blueberries, and the apple tree, knowing that all things that bear fruit require time. Given that neither my husband nor I are from New England, we also hired experts to help in choosing and installing some other species that play well with others: lavender and flowering mint, tall grasses, the Pasque flower, sedums, hellebore, mountain laurel, and rhododendrons (the kind that want to leave other plants some elbow room) to name a few. Over the years, I filled in with other intriguing varieties: the eccentric euphorbia, an energetic and healthy dead nettle, the family of hens and chicks, grape hyacinths, bleeding hearts, and an army of bulbs that never seem to be as numerous after a winter onslaught of hungry squirrels.

In the late spring, I find just enough time to dash to a garden store and procure some greenhouse-fostered tomato plants and squashes and Neptune [organic fertilizer] for the raspberries. So, by midsummer, there are mini-tomatoes more delicious that the ones you can buy in any store, along with plentiful zucchinis for the grill. Then, all fall, there are raspberries, and perhaps, if we were lucky that year, some blueberries and apples. If there were any justice in the world, I suppose, my lack of diligent watering, weeding, and regular fertilizing would leave me with a poor crop, but so far, the yard has been all too kind in the face of benign neglect. And sometimes, when I stay my hand for long enough and do not pluck those weedy herbs that crop up on their own, I find, instead of bittersweet, a gift from God: plentiful dill and mint and marigolds from prior years; bluebells in the front garden; Queen Anne’s lace; a profusion of wild violets; a bush with oddly shaped leaves that suddenly flowers; or, every other year, a fuzzy-leafed verbascum that matures and sends up a five-foot high stalk topped by a foot-high show of yellow flowers. It is not a tidy space, as you can imagine, but one filled, increasingly, with pleasant species that I have chosen, or that have fortuitously and unexpectedly, chosen me.

– Monica M. Eiland

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Stove Love – Part II

Stove Love II

Last week I wrote about our family’s old stove, a stove I used while our children were young, while we were all growing up. It was a charming 1930s model, and we loved her, but as time went by things changed. As we approach the holiday season with the accompanying cooking and family gatherings, a tale of kitchen friends, past and present, seems appropriate. This is the second half of “Stove Love,” written four years ago.

* * *

Stove Love – Part II

It’s spring again, almost a decade since my first ode to the other stove. She’s just been moved to the front porch, newly (but by no means perfectly) scrubbed, awaiting the next chapter of her life. We’re not sure what that will be, if we’ll sell or keep her, as quick decisions are not a hallmark of our household. Andy and I are pokey, often impractical, romantics. At first I thought I couldn’t bear to part with her. Maybe I’d use her as a potting table, fill the oven and storage drawers with planters and supplies. Then I thought of the economy; with two girls headed for college sometimes it’s not such a great idea to hang on to the past. I scouted, briefly, for possible buyers on the internet, then became sidetracked with other concerns.

For a few days after we moved her from the kitchen I sulked and even resented my new used stove. Its plain-Jane practicality and efficiency mocked me. Less glamorous, less fun. I saw it as a mirror held up to my life—you are getting old and boring, practical; you’re selling out romance.

The 1930s stove, like me, was showing her wear. After twenty-some years in our family the chips in her pretty green-marbled and yellow enamel had grown bigger, dings now dime-sized, quarter-sized pits enlarged to silver dollars, the rusty front drawer rustier, cast iron burners more clogged, the porcelain drawer pull showing more hairline cracks. Several years ago the oven door went sloppy, opening on its own at inopportune times. Baking meant adding a cardboard shim. The cardboard in the door became a temptation for Chancho, our wiry, naughty, Chihuahua-terrier mix. He would run off with the cardboard, requiring a repeat (grab a Celestial Seasoning box, tear off a piece, fold) every time we baked. Andy attempted a repair of the door with some wire; it worked for a time, then didn’t, and we blew off dealing with it. When you are using a seventy, eighty-year-old appliance, it’s easy to go with the “why bother” mentality.

So, while I was bonded with this stove, I had been growing impatient. There’s a certain charm (you’re oblivious to at the time) when you’re young—in driving beat up cars, dealing with the quirks of aging appliances. They’re only minor irritations, and it’s easy to not give too much of a damn because you’ve got your whole life ahead of you and things will get better, you’re sure of that. But then the years fly by and when life doesn’t produce that voila! magic transformation that you’ve dreamed of (though life is still good), there comes a drop in tolerance. Eighty-year-old stoves with crap doors aren’t so charming. The sour thought that a new stove would be nice starts to occur to you; that it’d be real damn nice not to have to put this freaking cardboard in the door every time you bake muffins. But you look at hubby and he, God knows, has enough to deal with, too—so you check the nagging.

When I was a teenager my five younger siblings and I would come home from school, scavenge a snack, and gather around the TV for after-school-recovery-time, right before get-the-chores-done-before-Mom-comes-home time. Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch were our usual fare, but sometimes we’d zone out to the materialistic antics of the contestants on The Price is Right. We didn’t really like the show, and I wondered at the lame displays some of the winners made regarding, to my mind, hopelessly boring prizes, like appliances. They’d jump up and down, some quaking, or even, if you can imagine, crying, at the glorious sight of a new refrigerator or washer/dryer combo, previously fondled by one of Bob Barker’s beatific bimbos. “What the f?” wasn’t in my vocab in the late 70s, but that was my reaction. Then I grew up, became a homeowner, and learned that reliable appliances were pretty nice indeed. Especially after you’ve spent some time in a laundromat with a baby, or, even more fun, pregnant, with a toddler running around the laundromat as you fold clothes. If you’ve experienced the joys of defrosting a non-frost-free freezer with a hair dryer you will know whereof I speak.

So it was just the natural progression of life and not really old-fogey-ism when a rush of excitement came upon me when Andy, working on a home remodel in our wealthiest part of town, told me that there might be a great stove up for grabs.

“What kind?” I asked, although a very precise picture had formed in my mind. With money came quality. I flashed on stoves I’d coveted over the years in decorating magazines . . . stainless steel, definitely . . . with badass names like Viking and Wolf. Stoves that could withstand the lightning bolts of Thor, that could cook Grandma whole.

“It’s stainless steel, a four burner, with an electric convection oven.”

My pulse quickened. “Is it a . . . ” I stammered, dared to hope, “a Viking?”

“No, some other brand.” Andy told me that not all the best stoves were Viking, never mind the advertising campaigns.

I didn’t know exactly what a convection oven was, but I knew this might be my dream stove. I didn’t get my hopes up, though. Several weeks went by. Andy negotiated with the contractor. He researched the brand on the Internet (a damned fine stove, indeed!). I held my breath. It looked like we’d probably get it and then, no, the contractor’s son wanted it. That was that. No new used stove for me.

I was disappointed but not crushed. It didn’t surprise me that they wanted to keep it. Yet it did make it more difficult to fry my eggs on the old one.

Then, two years later, another turn of events (I told you things don’t happen fast around here). The contractor’s son decided to sell the stove. Andy could buy it, for a pretty penny but still a fraction of its value, and less than an ordinary stove. He would pick it up in Boulder, ninety miles away.

It was weird, changing them out. Next to the 1930’s beauty, this stove looked as tough as a womens’ prison guard. No nonsense. Boxy. Bulky. Black and silver. Her label was DCS—Dynamic Cooking Systems.

It took three of us to get her up the front stairs and into the kitchen. My shoulder hurt for days. She was ungodly heavy. Her oven door, with its glass window, was massive and it closed up tight as a safe.

Our two daughters weren’t exactly thrilled with the new stove, either, at first. One of Lily’s friends, Shelby, was especially disappointed. She loved the quirks—having to light the burners and oven with a lighter, the cardboard shim thing. She had known that stove since kindergarten, it had played a role in tea parties, and pancake breakfasts after sleepovers.

Our new stove had one broken knob, an injury during the first move (a replacement’s on order), and one of the burner sensors needed cleaning. Otherwise, she was in tip-top shape. Low mileage, as her previous owners were away most of the time. The streamlined ease with which she’s designed is admirable. A row of five tiny rubber buttons to push for: Off, Bake, Conv, Broil, Light. Four big black burner knobs which go from high flame to the tiniest simmer flame I have ever seen, a light (a light, what will they think of next!) in the oven. Three tiny red lights to indicate: Oven On, Heating, and Door Locked. Not super fancy, not slick, but so practical. We’ve tried her out, and it is a magnificent experience to cook with someone of her abilities.

She suits me pretty well and I’m gradually looking past the hard-edged exterior into the inner possibilities. The other night, after hours of shoveling dirt in our new community garden, I drifted off to sleep at about 7 p.m., in front of the TV with my work clothes on. When I awoke, Ruth Reichl (food writer extraordinaire) was on some PBS show talking about gardening and food. She was showing how to oven dry tomatoes—drying them to the point where they can be powdered, and then using this wonderful tasty ingredient on pasta, deviled eggs, etc. Although I am secretly scheming to get Andy to build a solar food dehydrator this year, I thought, excitedly, half-asleep, the possibilities bringing me to consciousness—I can do this this summer with home-grown tomatoes. This would be perfect in my new oven!

Zora, our oldest daughter, immediately came around to loving the new stove. “The rice cooks better,” she announced after preparing a dinner of Indian food, a once-a-week ritual she’s adopted this year. She was the first to bake with the new stove, making cupcakes for her classmates on her eighteenth birthday. They, too, were perfect. I’ve played with the convention aspect and marveled at the speediness, the evenness, the crispness it brings to bread crusts. This new girl can cook.

I know now that what really bothered me about the stoves, the whole out-with-the-old in-with-the-new, is that they symbolized the change in our home this year. While we’ll have a child at home for several more years, our family is growing up, getting older, and, like all transformations, all growth, it has not been easy or painless. Zora will leave this fall to college. While I always thought I would not be one of “those moms,” those overly-sentimental women falling apart when fledglings fly the nest (because, I imagined, they probably didn’t have enough going on in their life) I’ll be damned if I’m not one of those moms, when I let myself be. An era is ending, and I try not to dwell on it, because when I do I cannot help but to mourn. At the same time, I know I should be joyful that I have reared a perfect young woman, and I am, and yet . . . This will be a year of work for me, getting my mind and heart around it all, moving toward acceptance. This stove-change has reflected it all. A very pretty, albeit impractical and outrageous era draws to a close, yet I have grown, too, into a competent, secure, happy-with-her-life middle aged woman. I like who I am now. I am not as young and pretty, but I’m not as flakey, inexperienced, and filled with high drama either.

This new chapter in my life is one to look forward to—delicious new recipes, new experiments, and discoveries. Soon I know I will have a feeling—that I can’t wait to start cooking.

—Sandra Knauf

 

 

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