Reading is a Simple Heresy

Just this week I read a new article about the collective loss of an important skill. We have, as a society, lost the ability to read. This is not new news. Neil Gaiman spoke about the importance of reading and libraries in 2013. In 2010 Karen Hovde spoke of the importance of reading,  of libraries, and the folly of relying on digital editions of everything. During the same year, Nicholas Carr wrote The Shallows, later nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Each of these writers has raised an alarm that no one can hear. Our inability to read well, and read deeply, does not mean we have lost the ability to make sense of the words in this blog post, or in numerous articles like the ones linked above, but instead, that we have collectively rewired out neuropathways. We are hooked on fast and easy information. Reading has become a simple heresy.

It is not just the children teething on tablets and smartphones, nor is it only the young adults who brokered teenage relationships in AOL chatrooms, but the neurological changes are evident in the cynical GenXers and  BabyBoomers who are reprogramming the worlds most adaptable processing hardware – the human brain. What has changed in the discussions surrounding the ability to read like we did a century ago, is how we talk about it.

The articles and books from 2010 to 2013 speak of the travesty of intellectual loss. The 2018 article, by Canadian writer and journalist Michael Harris, discusses how we are reverting to a more natural state of distraction and that change is inevitable. It is comforting to read that the dumbing down of society is inevitable because our brains are easily distracted, however, we have managed to overcome our wiring and find a deeper ability to imagine, to understand, and to empathize through reading. Should we let that ability diminish in favor of fast and easy entertainment?

Paired with the loss of cursive as a school subject in all but a handful of United States schools, numerous historical documents are no longer accessible to graduating classes of high school seniors. Firstly, they were written in the long-thought format of pre-digital minds, and secondly, they were written in the long-hand of a pre-print society.  If our children’s children continue on the path of fast and easy information, then the less than 8,000 words of the Constitution and Amendments will be as incomprehensible as the Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs were before the discovery of the Rosetta Stone.

The plasticity of our personal supercomputers allows us to rebuild, or in some cases start building the pathways required for deep, independent, imaginative thought. We just have to exercise our minds and we can do that by reading books. Pick up, and work through every page of an actual factual, ink on paper, book. It may be slow, it may be difficult, but the future is worth it.


Veganish (Eggs, Honey, and Oysters)

Yup, we’ve been doing the vegan thing for not quite a year. Like much else in life, diet is a personal decision – so no hate. Veganism is the latest in our list of eating quirks. I’m GF, my son is allergic to tree nuts, my husband and daughter cannot tolerate milk products but – funny thing – it’s not the lactose that bothers them. We don’t know what it is. Being vegan(ish) makes life easier in some ways, and harder in others. I think we’ll stick with our version of veganism (not rigidly) for the foreseeable future.

We eat eggs, honey, and oysters and call ourselves vegan instead of vegetarian because we’re really picky about the source of these animal foods. No, we will not join you for breakfast at the diner and order eggs. My daughter and I don’t eat any animal products, except the eggs our chicken’s lay, honey from the bees who live down the road… and oddly, oysters. Although tbh, we’re still kind of on the fence about the oysters.

My husband and son, on the other hand, are not above the occasional indulgence in sardines, herring, or pepper jack cheese. They indulge in one of these treats every three months or so – and seem to enjoy the indulgence as a bonding activity more than they enjoy the sustenance these foods provide. We girls do not judge, but enjoy the dark chocolate chips that accompany these food-focused outings. The boys also accept food-gifts from family when offered – these food-gifts include chicken or turkey in a thousand different combinations, while us girls opt for vegan friendly snacks.

Our daughter is sensitive to the plight of animals in the livestock industry and has been since she was a little girl. I think she was five when she decided she wanted to become a lacto-ovo-vegetarian. By the time she was ten she quit dairy altogether and would only eat the eggs that her hens produced, citing,

My chickens are happy, healthy, free-range babies. I take care of them, I love them, and they lay the eggs. It would be wasteful to let them rot.

She’s rubbing off on us. Turns out veganism is contagious.

People ask, “…but what about protein?” So I’ll try to explain what we do to make sure we’re healthy. We eat a lot of beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, and seeds. We eat Mexican dishes, Cajun dishes, Cowboy dishes, lentil soups and stews, chickpea salads,  soups,  stews, and hummus on all the other veggies. For iron, we devour the burritos,  meat-free jambalaya, beans and cornbread, incorporate seeds and nuts and these legumes into soups, stews, and salads. Vitamin C helps us absorb the iron so we have lots of pineapples, oranges, o.j., lemon juice as a seasoning, broccoli, and brussels sprouts too. We also love spinach and tolerate kale (kale chia chips are pretty yummy).

Getting enough fats is the hardest part of maintaining our healthy vegan diet. Growing up in the 80’s and early 90’s, fat was the enemy. It’s been difficult for me to see fat as a friend and ‘good’ food. In addition to the miracle of coconut oil, and olive oil, we recently added farmed oysters back to our food list. The omega’s that eggs and oysters provide help our brains function. Avocados are mainstays, and Country Crock (of all things) is important too. Concerned for cholesterol, we only use the Churn style,  which contains no mono- or di-glycerides. We conclude glycerides make the other styles of Country Crock more spreadable. The Churn style is thicker but nowhere near as thick as real butter and so, is easier to spread than what we used to use!

Reasons going vegan is easy? It limits your options… in a good way.

  • Grocery Lists – You can eliminate perhaps 80% of all grocery store products from your planning.
  • Meal planning – Once you identify which cuisine your family likes, 1/2 of the meals they offer go out the window because they contain meat or animal products.
  • No more calorie counting – When your diet is plant-based you can pretty much eat all day and not worry about eating too many calories.
  • Hydration – it’s easier to stay hydrated when the water it takes to digest a parcel of food is (mostly) included in the food. Most veggies are waterful, so most of our meals are also waterful!

Reasons going vegan is difficult? It limits your options… in a bad way.

  • Grocery Lists – You have to read the ingredient lists on e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g, and google the unknown ingredients. Or – always stick to the same (boring) items and never try anything new. Or – decide that you are doing enough by avoiding what you can, and accept that life and the grocery store are full of unknown unknowns. 🙂
  • Meal Planning – Beginning vegans are really limited by their knowledge (and love of cheese). It takes time to develop a vegan meal plan that you’ll be happy with, let alone everyone in your house.
  • Not enough fat – When eating a plant-based diet you have to make sure you get enough fat. If you don’t, you’ll have a spike in cravings. I craved chili cheese tater tots and milkshakes. Without the cheese, and with vegan chili, the dish tasted flat. It was the cheese I wanted, the fat. An almond vanilla smoothie was slightly more satisfying, but the slushy consistency was just not the same as a milkshake, and there was not quite as much fat! Just remember Healthy Fats are your Friends!
  • Salt – A lot of processed foods marketed as a vegan (or low-fat, or vegetarian, or gluten-free) option, are higher in salt than their traditional counterparts. Just check those levels when you’re reading the ingredients and keep your numbers reasonable.

Our list of pros outnumber our list of cons (to say nothing of the broader implications of an ecologically low-impact diet) so we’re sticking with this vegan(ish) thing. Every day is easier than the one before and after a year we can feel the effects of this diet choice; We’re healthier, happier, and a little bit leaner all around.

Minimalist Garden

This year we are planting a  low intensity, high yield, minimalist garden. Last year we made an elaborate, detailed, plan for the garden with a wide variety of plants and cycling plant/harvest schedules. We planned in the bullet journal and posted it on Instagram. It was a great plan, like others made by mice and men…This year we’re following a less intensive regime.

Our soil makes vegetables spicy, and that’s great – unless the vegetables are typically sweet. Zucchini, tomatoes, spring onions and okra are tasty in spicy dishes so we’ll plant those to provide fresh ingredients for our spicy Italian, Mexican, and Cajun favorites. We’ll amend 1/5 of the garden soil with a focus on increasing the acid levels and then try spinach again. If the spinach is still bitter we can switch to plan B; make banana spinach smoothies. 🙂

We’re working within the same space, a 16ft x 4ft garden. We divide the garden into five even plots, each measures 48″x 38.4″. Using the square foot method we know we can plant the following amounts of each vegetable:

  • Zucchini – 8 with cages
  • Tomato – 12 with cages
  • Spring onions – 208
  • Okra – 12
  • Spinach – 108

Here is a drawing for you visual learners:

For the first time, we get to incorporate our own compost into the soil, with manure, and topsoil to replace what washed away in last year’s rain. The chicken ladies made their contribution to the soil last fall, too. This -no frills- plan should yield more reward with less work. We’ll see how it goes.

Growing Along

So we’ve got the garden started!  The hens were in the garden house for about a month and they chewed through all the roots, weeding and feeding as they went. Let me just say working chickens are entirely underrated. After they moved out we let the ground rest (and the chicken poop wash) in two days of rain. Two days after that, the ground was ready for planting and biodynamics indicated it was a good day to plant leaf foods.

We transplanted organic green onions that we bought about three months ago from the grocery store. Green onions are a grass so we kept them in a water/dirt slurry in the bottom half of an Aquafina bottle, mowing them when needed. Green onions are a great addition to most anything we eat so it worked out great. We sprouted the kale and spinach from seed and transplanted on the same day. It took about half an hour for all the work and we made a timelapse video. Timelapse makes everything look easy.

Since then, we’ve planted peas, cucumbers, celery and radish. We also started the peas and cucumbers early and from seed. The celery was an organic vegetable from the grocery store (like the green onions) that we kept in coffee cups and water until the leaves resumed growing. The radishes are just seeds yet and we sowed them directly. Hopefully they’ll pop up soon! We also sowed some more kale and spinach seeds indoors. Although the freeze date has officially passed (yay!) we have may hail dates ahead, and it’s a good idea to keep back-up seedlings so the garden can bounce back after a severe storm.

Also I’d like to share a recent failure. No mother hens have adopted the three chicks. We tried and tried with the hens but each one preferred the freedom of the flock to adoption. Oh well, so it goes. Good news is, the babies are nearing big enough to join the flock! Once they are as big as the smallest two hens then in they go. We’ll be back up to ten hens and an intact rooster. Aiming for that perfect dozen means keep buying more. Maybe Alphonse can help us out in that department. Time will tell! Until next week then, indulge in a little simple heresy.


Chickens as Working Animals, and Planting with Ancient Farmers

Hello friends, and Happy Busy Spring!

So the garden house went up without a hitch! (pictures to follow…) The big chickens stayed in the garden house for about a month, sleeping in the dog houses, laying as usual, and chewing up all the greens, roots, and seeds. The whole space is bare now and fertilized thanks to the presents the girls leave behind, and no I’m not talking about the eggs.

We have a flat of Kale and more than a few spinach seedlings to move the garden house where they will be safe from bunnies – which are in vast quantity this year. On the sixth (in the moon-sign of Scorpio) we transplanted the potatoes before thy outgrew their pots. Hopefully, we won’t suffer a late freeze. They looked pretty weakly after transplanting but were perky the next day.

According to the ancient farmers we should transplant and plant leafy items in a Virgo, Taurus, or Capricorn moon-sign which just happens to occur on the 11th of April (Virgo) so that’s the plan. We also have Brussels sprouts, cucumbers and radish but as fruits and a root, we’ll have to wait to plant until the 14th and 16th respectively.

Since the chickens did so well in the garden we made them an official a-frame tractor so they might continue working in the larger yard.

It was a two-afternoon project for the four of us. It’s lightweight enough I can move it by myself, and once S’s water hauling muscles return she’ll be able to push it on her own too. The good news is the chickens can mow two tractor spaces a day. The bad news is we have to move them 2x a day or suffer a bald spot in the yard. Good thing we’re ok with baldness. 🙂

We are happy the chickens are working and they seem happy too. We’ll still have to mow but we get to mow a little less this way and that is very nice.

We do have a bit of bad news: we lost a chicken on Saturday. In the morning we went out to move the ladies and a black australorp was dead on the floor of the tractor. She was completely intact with no visible signs of trauma even on close inspection. We think she might have been egg bound. The night before, she was not in the coop with her sisters, but on the floor and unwilling to fly. After some reviewing and research, egg bound is our best guess.

When a hen is egg bound they cannot deliver the eggs they produce. An egg may enter the vent shaft sideways and become lodged, or caught in an interior pocket. If a chicken keeper is aware of the condition then they can sometimes help the chicken lay with warm water baths and a few other methods, but we were unaware and so the hen died. Now we know to count the different kinds of eggs and pay closer attention to the shells because brittle shells can indicate a calcium deficiency which might lead to an egg bound hen, and if untreated – the loss of life. Turns out calcium helps with the contractions that push the eggs out, not just for shells. Who knew?

Lastly, the Mama hen and baby chick adoption project was an abject failure. No hens were willing to take on the roll of mother and the babies are still in the brooder. They are just emerging from the gangly teenager phase, have full body feathers, retaining little tufts of fluff on their heads. Alphonse is definitely a rooster and has started funny teen rooster chortling. He sounds like a recording of a hen if you ran it through a pitch modulator with faulty electricity so sometimes the playback sounds normal and sometimes it goes too fast, too slow, high or low with no apparent pattern! Yet, without the protection of a mother hen the three are too small to join the flock. They go outside daily to their separate tractor – a rabbit cage without a bottom – and came in at night until Saturday night. On Saturday we cleaned and moved the brooder to the porch and have a heating lamp for when the low dips below 45 degrees F but otherwise they are acclimatizing to the light/dark and warm/cool cycles of outside life.

Well that’s enough for this post!

Until next time – keep it simple!


Minimalism and Consumerism

Consumerism is the act of consuming. We are all consumers. We consume air, water and food in order to live. We consume resources by living in modern homes. We consume media, and ideas, and attention.

Minimalism is living simply but it is not anti-consumerist. It is, however, anti-excess. Excess means different things to different people. Some religious orders value austerity as an external display of piety. Some non-deity based lifestyles consider attachment the root of all suffering. Minimalism is like these orders and lifestyles but with a little self-serving heresy in the mix. We’re all just looking for our happy place.

My kind of minimalism is, at this point, a self-serving way to make my life more easier. I’m not claiming a high-road because my road waves up and down, and winds back and forth. Today – at this very instant – I want less stuff because it’s easier to have less and harder to have more.

Am I anti-consumerism? Well that’s a can of worms.

As defined above, no I’m not anti-consumerism. However, if a star-consumer (in the market sense of the word) waits in long lines for the next itech or pre-orders that new whatever even though they have working tech and working whatever, well then YES! I am anti-consumerism.

Right now, we’re going through our bookshelves (again). There is a stack of about thirty books next to my desk to sell, and about 50 that went to the donation store last week. The further down the rabbit hole we go on our minimalist journey the more difficult it is to let go of things, but also, the more rewarding it is. So I guess we’re still on the donate side of the happy place.

➺ What about you?
➺ Where does your life fall on the
[ buy everything ————— happy place ————— donate everything ] line?
➺ Where is your balance between star-market-consumer and throw it all away?
➺ What works for you?

Until next week, keep it simple. 😉


How To Introduce a Hen to Baby Chicks

So the three babies are a week old. Rosemary, Vera and Alphonse are happy and growing. We hope to introduce them to the flock in seven to ten more weeks, depending on the weather and how quickly they swap chick fluff for pullet feathers. They could use an advocate when they join the flock so we are pairing them with one of our broody little hens, Demitasse. Initially we thought Demitasse and her sister Cappuccino were Easter Eggers, but it turns out they are Sicilian Buttercups.  Who knew?

Demitasse is low chick in the pecking order. We picked her instead of another quasi-broody hen so that she will have three friends, and if all goes well, the rooster Alphonse will protect her from the other hens when he’s an adult. We are not chicken psychologists so we’ll have to wait and see how this little social experiment works out.

In the following video you can see Demitasse in the small brooder with the chicks. We also outlined the plan in a little more detail. There are 5 steps to creating a surrogate chicken family.

  1.  Identify a broody hen.
  2.  Get chicks.
  3.  Place the hen in the brooder with 1 week old chicks.
  4.  Keep mother and babies isolated from the rest of the flock until fluff is gone. The chicks will be 10 to 12 weeks old.
  5.  Reintroduce the family to the flock.

How’s that for farm science?  We’re not sure how this is going to work out but we’ll let you know!