Author Archives: April Mwf

About April Mwf

I am an academic who teaches college writing. My research interests vary, but I am especially interested in contemporary social problems and solutions. Recently, I've focused my research and writing on triple bottom line accounting in for- and non-profits because my ultimate goal is to start and manage a sustainable community somewhere out west. After learning about sustainable living over the last several years, I've just committed myself to incorporating one sustainable practice per week into my life. I created this blog to document my progress and to discuss other interesting contemporary issues.

Sustainable Living: Holding on to the Harvest (Weeks 21/22/23//24)

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been too busy keeping up with watering, staking, harvesting, working on syllabi, helping a friend ready her property to sell, painting/cleaning my house, and preparing to have surgery, all of which contribute to my sustainable goals. Because I underwent surgery yesterday (the nature of which I may or may not discuss here in the future as it relates to sustainability in my life), this post will consist of a photo update of our gardens. I’m taking advantage of an energetic moment, and then I must return to resting.

We are harvesting on a daily basis now. We’re going on two weeks without rain, so daily watering is a must. My tomatoes in pots are taking up about two gallons of water per day. Zucchini, butternut squash, apple melons, cucumbers, and beefsteaks get the sprinkler for at least an hour every evening. I’m thankful we have access to an unlimited supply of water, which has allowed for the growth you see in the photos below.

Cucumbers

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Apple Melons and Cucumbers

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Beefsteak Tomatoes

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Green Beans

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Carrots and Beets

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Brandywine and Cherry Tomatoes

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Green and Yellow Bell Peppers

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Butternut Squash

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Sustainable Living: Gardening Goodness (Week 20)

Twenty beefsteaks found their forever spots in the ground behind my garage this week. Five days later, they’ve retained every bit of sturdiness. I think it’s safe to say they’re happy. The cage is constructed entirely of scrap plastic fence, chicken wire, and piping from a broken clothes hanging rack and shovel. (Ya never know when those broken parts may come in handy!)

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The beets took up in the newly freed beefsteak pots yesterday morning. They are much happier now, joining the peppers and carrots.

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The brandywine tomatoes are as big as they’re going to get in their pots. I’ve got a dozen fruit growing on each. A half dozen cherry tomatoes appeared overnight. I spied a baby pickle yesterday along with some new zucchinis. The blooms are beautiful.

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That’s the good news. The bad is that I killed my purple coneflower and butterfly weed sprouts with too much moisture, and I had no time to try bread recipes (mostly because I’d rather be messing with the flowerbeds, which I said I would leave alone but can’t). So, I will buy the plants early next season, and I think I will wait ’til winter for the baking. It’s just not going to happen during the hottest part of the summer without a bread machine. I think I better study up on freezing and canning for the next few weeks in addition to maintaining my veggies.DSCN1471 DSCN1470 DSCN1468 DSCN1464 DSCN1462 DSCN1461 DSCN1460

Flower/bed Update for Mom

I’ve been working on my flowers and beds for a couple weeks. I’ve got five beds around the house filled with flowers and flowering shrubs. The first four pics show a small bed between my garage and house foundation. I can ID irises, sedum (two kinds), fox glove, flowering nettle, hyacinth (can’t see), rose bush (not sure what kind). The irises didn’t bloom (burgundy/yellow) this year because my maple grew and blocked the sun. IDs and speculations welcome on the rest!

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The next bed runs the length of my driveway as far as the tool shed with an at-least hundred-year-old maple at the street. I divided hostas from my country home and planted the scraggly cuts here three years ago. My, how they’ve grown! Within days, this will be asplash with orange and purple blooms as the tiger lilies keep blooming and hosta blooms fade in and out. This bed tends to fend for itself well. I’ve got jack-in-the-pulpits, evening primrose, lily of the valley, snow on the mountain, tropical hibiscus (brilliant variety, I think) in a pot, and a couple others.

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The rest of my beds are located in front of the house, one along the foundation, another along the street, and the last largest bed on the side. The first two are basically shrub beds, displaying a few boxwoods, smoke bush, almond bush. The street bed is front lined with a retaining wall and back-lined with newly cut hostas. The largest bed contains irises (dark purple bloom), lilies (blush bloom), lilies (dark orange bloom), fox glove, snow on the mountain, phlox (purple bloom), safflower, roses, and sedum (rose bloom).

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The street bed took sweat, tears, and curse words. It is finally starting to look like something purposeful.

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Sustainable Living: Gardening Glory (Week 19)

I arrived home after three days away, and one of my tomatoes was lopsided and wilting. I gave it a good soak, and two hours later, it looked healthy again. It is the tomato plant with the most fruit, so I figure it needs tons of water. Fortunately, I’ve been able to recycle rain water for the bulk of my needs. Because I am gardening in pots, I just move a plant that doesn’t look happy when watering alone doesn’t work. But, I am wondering if my plants will produce as much fruit from pots as in the ground. Time will tell. In the interim, I will appreciate the fact that I’ve got almost no weeding or pests, just watering when no rain. All of this means I have nothing to write about. Thus, pictures comparing earlier to later growth will illustrate my progress thus far.

White Cucumbers

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Butternut Squash and Zucchini

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Spinach

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Tomatoes (brandywine, beefsteak, cherry)

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Carrots and Peppers

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Peas

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Apple Melon

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Green Beans

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Potatoes (4 layers each pot)

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As for bread making (my goal this week), I can only report failure. I tried to make bread in my old bread machine, and the bread came out as one big hard loaf. After speaking with my mother who gave me the bread machine, I learned that she got the same results when she used it. So, I will attempt to make bread from the oven this week if the temps are not too unbearable. I just want a few staple recipes that I can replicate over and over again. (I’m not home enough to feed a bread starter daily, but I would like to eat bread that contributes to a healthy gut biota.) Any suggestions? My bread machine is going into the trash, and I will look for one to replace it. Any ideas for repurposing are certainly welcome.

In closing, I want to share an amazing gift I received last week, which demonstrates the connection between gardening and creativity. Gardening releases great potential for creative endeavor, and no one in my life better shows this than my friend Phoebe. She dedicated a Facebook post to me when she harvested her beans for which I gave her the seedlings early in the season. Not only was I blessed to see that she had prepared them for a family meal, but also that she had transformed them into works of art. When we celebrate food and art, we are being ultra-sustainable because we are engaging our whole selves into activities that prolong our bodies and spirits, as shown in these Photos by Phoebe.

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Sustainable Living: The Summer I Spent My Savings on Soil (Week 18)

The title is an exaggeration, but I have never in my life made so many soil runs. I’m sure it’s because I am gardening in pots. Honestly, I think gardening in pots is better than in the ground because the plants are more protected from critters and disease. The last bag of soil has been bought, I hope.

After being gone for several days and thinking about the welfare of my garden the whole time, I arrived home to find that all my veggie plants had at least doubled in size. I was astounded to discover that the peas have regenerated and are producing again. It’s astonishing, as the bottom three feet of the stem had turned yellow, including the leaves. I was sure they were dying. Lo and behold, the stem has turned green again, shed the dead leaves, and sprouted new leaves and peas. I had put the cucumber in the ground last week, and it has quadrupled in size already. The largest tomato plants are blossoming, and the onions are happy in their forever spot next to the garlic patch. I’m harvesting spinach and beans every day now.

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For the last two seasons, I have tried to grow butterfly weed and purple coneflowers from seed. I direct planted them both times with no results. This year, I started them in eggshells in a plastic container with a clear lid. I stored them in the refrigerator for three weeks, then placed them in a sunny window. Voila! One, the other, or both have sprouted!! I had told my husband that if they didn’t come up this season, I would buy the plants. It seems I will not have to resort to buying them. My lemon tree seeds are another matter, as I planted them weeks ago and still nothing. Fortunately, I’ve got more seeds, so I will do some research and try again this week.

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My goal for this week is to get my beefsteaks in the ground and to start home-baking bread. I also want to try making a ginger bug for naturally carbonating beverages, as demonstrated by The Zero-Waste Chef. But, we’ll see how far I get; the bug might become a future goal because I’m a bit worried that I won’t be able to tend to it every day.

I so, so appreciate my readers and their inspirational comments. Thanks!

Book Review: Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

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I must admit that I don’t know enough Greek mythology to pick up on all the undercurrents in this book, but I enjoyed it immensely. For 50 cents from the thrift store, the book was a steal and a sure path to sleepiness. A great read, but one I could put down and then find myself thinking about in the interims of life and yearning to pick up again. A unique and unusual experience, for sure. That’s how I would describe Robbins’ writing: unique and unusual yet fascinating and alluring, a beastly breath of sultry air.

The story begins and ends with beets, which Robbins makes quite clear from the start. Beets are the blood life of the characters: Priscilla, living in Seattle, working as a waitress for most of the story, daughter to Madame Devalier, owner of the Parfumerie Devalier in the French Quarter, New Orleans; Alobar, an immortal man who imparts his wise theories on life and love based on a thousand years of experience; Kudra, Alobar’s soulmate who teaches him the power of scent and its connection to the blood of life; Pan, the stenchful god of nature and music who Alobar and Kudra take care of while he disappears over time as people stop believing in him; Wiggs Dannyboy, a famously scandalous yet genius anthropologist who re/connects Priscilla with her family and Alobar.

The story illustrates a solid connection between ancient and modern times, tethered by Earth and time. Robbins deftly created a story to ponder the meaning and limits of life and death and the role love plays as we cope with our physical and spiritual boundaries. The perfume industry formed a great backdrop through which the story unfolded, and I am especially thankful for the education on perfume about which I knew nothing. I will refrain from saying more, as I’m afraid of potential spoilers. If you’re looking for something wild and different, this book is it.

Sustainable Living: One Sustainable Story (Week 17)

Because it’s been raining every day and most of my plants are in their forever spots, I don’t have much new to report on gardening. All my veggies are happy with the excess rain. (My tomatoes are blooming!) We don’t have a good system for collecting rain water yet (future goal), so I’ve been letting a large tote fill and then filling all the gallon jugs I’ve saved. I shouldn’t have to use my hose for a while, which is good on the water bill.

With nothing to report yet and an itch to write, I’ve decided I want to tell another of our sustainable stories from last summer. The inspiration comes from the It’s Not a Slow Car, It’s a Fast House blog. Last May, my husband and I traveled to San Clemente, CA to stay with his daughter for two weeks. She lived in a cute two-bedroom apartment near the beach and was paying $1900 a month for rent. She talked about wanting to live a simple life without all the expense. She said she wanted a small camper to live in as she traveled from place to place. She wanted to be freer and in more control of her destiny.

When we returned home and continued our weekly treks from town home to country home (100 miles apart), we encountered a 1982 Volkswagen Vanagon for sale on the side of Route 20 in Illinois (Pic 1).

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We knew immediately that it would be perfect for our daughter (technically, my stepdaughter, but I would claim her if I could). I will call her Zeedle for blogging purposes. When we looked at it, we knew it would need a ton of work to make it livable. It had been sitting in a barn for about five years, and the mice had made it their home. Every cavity had become a mouse home. We took pictures (Pics 2, 3, 4, 5), sent them to Zeedle, and asked her if she would like us to purchase it on her behalf and restore it for her to live in. She went for it, so we made an offer and worked for about a month on an acceptable price.

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Before we left California, all of us had agreed to meet at my mother’s in Colorado in August because we had purchased tickets to see The Head and the Heart with Iron and Wine at Red Rocks in Denver. So, we rearranged our plans a bit to include bringing the restored Vanagon with us to pass on to Zeedle. We would drive two vehicles to CO, and she would fly to CO and drive the Vanagon home to CA. We grossly underestimated the time it would take to restore the Vanagon, and we barely gave ourselves enough time to get it ready enough to make the trip. However, we got it to a point that Zeedle could drive it home and finish it herself.

First, we took it to a mechanic for new tires and brakes. Then, we gutted the inside down to the steel (Pics 6, 7, 8). Covering the dash with plastic, we pressure washed the inside at a car wash. We made a tiny customized vacuum attachment for the shop vac to clear the vents. I bought long cleaning tools to scrub the vents and also scrubbed every inch of the inside. We pressure washed the seats, as we wanted to let Zeedle decide on the upholstery design.

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We kept all the original cabinetry, and my husband cut out the moused parts and reconstructed them with new material. Not all of the cabinetry came with it when we bought it, so he made a new cabinet to hold the sink and refrigerator. We intended to install the stove, but Zeedle decided she would rather have the space, so we sold the stove via Craig’s List in CO.

My son had stored an old camper in our backyard with the intentions of restoring and selling it, but it became obvious that it was just going to sit there. So, we took as many parts from it as we could for the Vanagon, including water pump and pipes, lights, stove, sink, hinges, etc. (We’ve since turned the old camper into a 27-foot trailer!) We bought a solar panel, storage batteries, ac/dc/propane refrigerator, porch carpeting for lining, vinyl flooring (Pic 9), wainscoting (Pic 10) for the cab ceiling, and tons of glue. Otherwise, we repurposed material we already had. The cleaning and reupholstering took a few weeks to complete. We worked night and day for about three weeks, including a week into our vacation in CO. (Thanks, Mom, for letting us commandeer your backyard!)

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In the end, my husband had to reconfigure the starter due to a power drain on the battery. (The mechanical stuff is lost on me.) I drove the Vanagon to CO myself without brake lights, as the mechanic screwed something up on the master cylinder when putting the new brakes on. The VW dealer wanted to charge us hundreds of dollars for the part, and my husband managed to pick up the part for ten dollars from a VW restoration shop. (Always look for a second – or more – opinion!) The trip was difficult and sweltering, as the Vanagon’s top speed is about 60 mph on flat terrain. The previous owner had rebuilt the diesel motor, and that speed is all we could expect. (I induced a lot of road rage from other drivers on the trip!) It was an interesting journey, as I watched people’s reactions when they saw the Big Blue Vanagon—pure disgust to smiles and peace signs, and many people whipped out cameras to photograph it while laughing. The Vanagon was in great shape by the time Zeedle had to leave CO (Pics 11, 12, 13, 14).

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Since then, she has turned it into an adorable, inviting home for her and her cats, and she has lived in it for almost a year now (Pics 15-22). We could not be more pleased with the home she (and friends) made of that once decrepit jitney (as my grandmother called it. Those crosswords do come in handy, Granny!)

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Ultimately, I had thought that my children taught me all the patience I’d ever need, but the Vanagon trumped that notion by far. I also learned that my husband and I make an able partnership for sustainable innovation, as we both have tons of great ideas for getting the maximum use out of available resources. I am confident we have what it takes to reach our ultimate goal of starting a sustainable community. AND, my husband and I are in search of a Vanagon of our very own—to practice how we roll, one sustainable act at a time…