Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land

book cover for "growing food in a hotter drier land"

We just got our hands on Gary Paul Nabhan’s newest book, Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land: Lessons from Desert Farmers on Adapting to Climate Uncertainty. It couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I heard about this book on the grapevine a good while back, and requested a review copy from the publisher because we’ve met Gary and like his work. Getting free books once in a while is one of the perks of blogging. This book, though, I would lay down cash for in a heartbeat.

At the time I made the request, I merely though it would be an interesting read. In the wake of the Age of Limits Conference, and my subsequent reading about climate change–and the depression that resulted from that–its fortuitous arrival this week has given me much to think about, as well as a much needed infusion of hope.

I leaned a terrible word at the conference: hopium (Hope + Opium). This is a doomer term for any practice or philosophy that would give us false hope, or perhaps any hope at all. It has a satirical counterpoint: despairoin (Despair + Heroin), which speaks to the seductive nature of despair.

Nabhan’s book is neither hopium or despairoin. It’s sublimely realistic. He’s looking with clear eyes at a future which is going to be hot and dry (except when it’s flooding, of course.).

This hot, dry future is not limited to already hot dry places, like Los Angeles. He points to recent droughts in places which usually receive generous rainfall. Right now it seems as if this tendency toward drought is occurring on a global scale and will worsen in coming years.

Unfortunately, conventional, large scale agriculture is not only adding to the problem, it will also not be able to deal with the changes in the making. It is ill-suited to chaotic weather. In sum, if we don’t start growing food in different ways, we’re not only looking at a dry future, we’re looking at a hungry future.

To solve this puzzle, Nabhan takes a look at at existing desert agriculture, from the Sonoran desert to China to Oman. From the ancient past right up into the present, humans have been cleverly managing their water, soil and plants to gather harvests from some of the most inhospitable places on the planet. We have much to learn from them.

Over and over he points out that we’re not meant to replicate the exact methods of these desert farmers, but learn from them and adapt them to our own particular situation and climate.

To help us do this, he breaks down the methodologies into conceptual chunks, like catching runoff, using efficient water delivery systems, easing heat stress in both plants and animals, tips on orcharding in uncertain climates, choosing stress tolerant and/or quick maturing plant varieties, etc.  All of this information is supported with helpful tables and plant lists.

While some of his information is only going to be useful to people with large-ish parcels of land, I found plenty of inspiration in here for my tiny yard.

Woven between this practical information is separate body of information which he calls parables. A parable is story he tells us about a current dry land farmer, or stories from the past which can be pulled from history or the archeological records. These parables provide a sort of emotional bolster to the otherwise “dry” information, giving us a glimpse of the lived experience and philosophies of people who have thrived in difficult climates.

Some of the key positive characteristics of a dry land farmer are adaptability, resilience and persistence. What worked for us in the past is not always going to work in the future. We must know our land intimately, make good guesses, and be creative about developing  strategies to distribute risk.

Gardening is hard enough, heaven knows. The bad news is that it is going to get harder. The good news is that you can work your way through the challenges. Their are tools, techniques, and plant varieties that can help you weather the changes. Better to start learning these skills now than to wait for the squeeze.

A Vision for the Future

The part of the book which really set me on fire, though, was a talk Nabhan had with a Sufi visionary, Aziz Bousfiha, who lives in the dry outskirts of Fez, Morocco. There, he’s built a dryland paradise, lush with heat adapted fruit trees, like pomegranates, mulberries and jujubes. He also grows olives, agave, citrus and poetic herbs like lavender and coriander.

Bousfiha has built an oasis in a difficult climate and envisions of chain of oases spread around the world: oases for both nature and humanity. These oases are not carefully preserved bits of paradise, but rather are reclaimed from degraded spaces:

For me, the idea is to go somewhere into the desert [to find a place share with others--one severely degraded over time by neglect, depletion of water, a perhaps climate change]. We’ll proclaim that yes, this place has been desertified, but now we’re going to make it into a living oasis, one where we will respect and nurture a diversity of life.

He goes on to speak about the importance of bio-diversity, and how this chain of oasis-like farms could promote this, and serve the larger community. Then he says,

We will generate solidarity between people on and off the farm, who will begin to walk the long road of ancient wisdom together. They will bring back the old grains of the region as symbols of the seeds of wisdom that we must plant. Over the centuries, these ancient sees have adapted to place. It is just not just a natural ecosystem, but a cultural ecosystem as well.

At the end of the conversation, he’s asked how he thinks his vision will fly in the face of climate change. He laughed gently and replied,

I can’t waste time worrying about whether or not this will work. There is a proverb in Arabic–and [probably] similar ones in other languages that may say it all: If it looks like the last day of the world is upon us and the end of life may be coming…and you realize this moment while you are planting trees, well, don’t stop planting.

If this is hopium, give me more.

Los Angeles is a sad and degraded space, and the Root Simple Estate is already an oasis of sorts, but Nabhan’s book has inspired us to max it out, to do as much as we can to capture and recycle water, to improve our soil, to start breeding out tough-as-nails annuals, to develop more effective “guilds” (in Permaculture speak). In regular talk that means we plan manage our landscaping wisely, so the plants support one another.

I’d encourage you to think of your own little patch of the world as an oasis too. How can you help make it more resilient to the shocks of strange weather?  How can you forge links with other oasis keepers?

Connect with Nature Project #2: Rediscover Your Feet

When I was a kid, I watched Kung Fu every day after school, and loved this iconic scene from the opening where Caine walks the rice paper without leaving a mark to graduate from Kung Fu college. Turns out Fox Walking is similar.

Last week we talked about Sitting. This week, we’re talking about Walking.

My personal rediscovery of my feet came from three sources:

The first was yoga. During an intense engagement with yoga a few years back I learned to spread my fashion-cramped toes in order to ground myself during difficult asanas. My toes opened wide, taking on a permanent, natural splay. My foot size also increased by an inconvenient half size, making it newly difficult to find shoes which fit.

Next came barefoot walking. As has been oft mentioned in this blog, Erik is a barefoot runner. I don’t run, but I am a barefoot walker. Barefoot walking woke me to a world of forgotten sensations: the warm softness of asphalt, the fresh coolness of a sprinkler soaked sidewalk, the delicate slide of wet leaves beneath my toes. Feet are as sensitive as hands. It’s easy to forget this when shod.  This new stimulus was addictive. It enriched my walks. It connected me to an entirely new realm of sensory input.

The third stage was learning a technique called Fox walking through nature awareness classes I take through a great outfit here in SoCal called Earth Skills. Fox walking is a kind of mindful walking where you let your toes lead your foot and your foot leads your body. I’m going to teach it to you. Fox walking allows you to walk quietly and smoothly though natural settings. It’s primary purpose is stalking animals, because the gait you assume, ideally, does not startle them. Basically, they do not recognize it as human. It also allows you to walk while scanning the environment, instead of worrying about your steps.

Since I’m not a hunter, what Fox walking has done for me is waken my feet even more than barefoot walking. I now consider my feet antennae. In class, I’ve walked blindfolded through difficult terrain. I now can walk confidently in darkness. This opens a whole new world of night-time nature appreciation. When you are blinded by your own flashlight, your field of vision is confined to a small circle of light. The world outside that ghostly circle seems mysterious, even threatening. Walking without light allows you to see the stars, and the shapes of things. You walk slower, yes, so you see and understand more.

To anyone seeking closer contact with nature, I’d recommend considering your own two feet. They are the primary interface between you and the earth, but they are often neglected and abused, shoved into hoof-like boxes, forcing you to clomp around as if you are numb from the knee down. How can you know the earth if you can’t even feel it?

The simplest way to reconnect with your feet is to just take short walk with bare feet. Grass and sand are great , but don’t wait until you have somewhere “nice” to walk. Go for a sidewalk stroll around your neighborhood. Now that summer is here, it’s a good time for it.

Don’t go very far at first, or your arches will ache later, or your tender soles may be sore. A half-block may be enough to start!  Let your feet toughen up slowly, over the course of weeks. If you want to take a long walk, but can only barefoot it so far, take a pair of sandals with you. If you’re dubious about the whole proposition, just kick off your shoes one day while you’re out on a walk and see how it feels. I think you might be surprised how much you come to enjoy barefoot walking.

For more advanced studies, I recommend the Fox Walk.

How to Fox Walk

  1. It’s best to do this with light, flexible foot wear, such as slippers or moccasins or fancy minimalist shoes or heck, go barefoot, if you can.
  2. Take a relaxed stance. Keep your knees soft and springy, even slightly bent.
  3. Take your arms out of the picture. No swinging arms. Fox Walking is not striding, it’s creeping. Clasp your hands in front of you or hold them bent softly at your sides. Whatever is most comfortable. Just keep them still.
  4. Lift one foot, transferring all your weight to your grounded foot. Lead with the toe. Let the ball of the foot, touch earth first. Before committing to lowering your heel, pause to feel what your foot senses. Don’t look, feel. Is the ground firm? Is there a stick beneath you toes? A hole? Maybe you will shift your foot over and around it. Maybe you sense your foot can bridge it comfortably. Make your decision, and lower your heel softly. Caress the ground with your foot.
  5. Now shift your weight to the committed leg, lift your rearmost leg  (now light and unencumbered by your weight), and reach out with that foot. Make the same determination regarding the ground. Let all your awareness sink into your feet, and beyond. Let it stretch deep into the ground and all around. Trust the sensations you are picking up.
  6. This is how it goes: reaching with the foot, sensing, committing, rolling down in a silent, caressing footstep. Remember, caressing, not stomping! Weight shift. Repeat. It becomes smoother, faster, more automatic, with practice.
  7. All the while, your head is up. Don’t look at your feet! If you do, they can’t do their job right. Keep your head high, scan around with soft eyes, taking in the beauty of the world. Your feet, meanwhile, are engaged in their own conversation with the earth, and feeding that information back to you. This is a magical kind of walking.

Obviously, you have to be very careful when you do this. This is a mindfulness practice. The goal is not to get somewhere fast, the goal is to experience every step of the journey in a completely conscious way.

And as to danger, I’ve never hurt myself during this practice. I’ve never stumbled while blindfolded or in the dark. I trust my feet. I stub my toes when I’m unmindful and in a hurry. I trip and fall in shoes, when my connection with the ground is severed.

Once you are comfortable walking this way, you can use your walk as a moving meditation. Instead of Sitting, you can move through nature, practicing the same quiet mind.

You can also use this method to walk softly to your Sitting place, so you don’t alarm the critters on the way in.

Enjoy!

Self-watering terracotta seed-starters!

Plant a garden front

Root Simple reader and all around nice person Anne Fletcher has gone entrepreneurial with a really good idea: self-watering containers for seedlings. Most anyone who has ever tried to start a garden from seeds has had the experience of having seedlings die or go shocky due to a heat wave or a day or two of neglect. Starting seeds in a self-watering container makes a whole lot of sense. These containers can go up to a week between waterings. Even better, Anne’s seed starters are made out of terracotta instead of plastic. We’ve tried out her 6-pack model. It’s really cute, and it worked like a charm.

Now she’s doing a Kickstarter so she can move her business, Orta, out of the garage and produce a technically more complex 12-pack seed-starter.  So if you’re interested in getting first grabs at her new 12-pack model, or just willing to give a hand to someone trying to start a green, local business, take a look at her Kickstarter page, and let your friends know about it, too.

12-pack

Recycled Dish Scrubby

scrubbie

My dish washing accoutrements consist of cotton dish cloths–which steadily devolve lower and lower down the Rag Hierarchy as they age–and homemade scrubbies. I make my scrubbies out of net produce bags, as you can see above.

I know. I know. It’s stunning, isn’t it? A marvel of artisinal craftsmanship, if I don’t say so myself. I didn’t think anyone could top my scrubby until I ran across this:

scrubby

The folks at Mooberry Farm actually take the time to stack and fold their net bags into a rectangle, then they blanket stitch the sides together, and then crochet around the edges to make it extra cute.

Now that’s a stylish scrubby! Check it out.

I think I’m going to have to make one of these.

DIY Project: Reconnect with Nature

Painting by Caspar David Friedrich, Woman Before the Rising Sun, 1818-20

Caspar David Friedrich, Woman Before the Rising Sun, 1818-20, oil on canvas, Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany

This is called a Sit.

1) Take yourself somewhere away from noise and people. It is possible to do this in a garden, or even among your potted plants, but it is easier to do in a natural place. A quiet beach. In a meadow. By a lake. Up in the mountains. Go alone, or have your companion(s) leave you alone for a while.

2) Walk to a place that feels inviting. You’ll know it when you see it.

3) Sit. It’s best to sit on the ground if your body allows it, to be in direct bodily contact with the soil, leaves, sand, rock.  Actually, it’s even better sometimes to lay back on the ground so your whole spine is against the earth–as long as you don’t fall asleep! It’s also nice to lean against a tree. If you’ll be uncomfortable, though, bring a folding chair.

4) You’re going to sit for at least a half hour. A half hour is a good place to start. Longer sits are really nice, but don’t strain yourself in the beginning. It’s distracting to be wondering about time, so put away your time pieces. Turn off your phone. It is easy to lose track of time while Sitting, so if you’re worried about that, you can bring a kitchen timer, or set an alarm on your phone or watch. Then put those distractions somewhere you can’t see them.

5) Sitting, look around you. Sniff the air. Feel the ground under your fingers and toes. Feel the breeze on your skin.  Listen. What do you hear? Make a note of what you hear right off, because the sounds will change. By walking into a wild place, you alarm the birds and little creatures. They may make noises of challenge or warning as you take your place, or they might go silent. If you’re observant, you’ll notice their calls change as you relax–and they relax and accept you as part of the landscape.

6) There is no agenda. Just be. If your thoughts turn inward and you start thinking about work, lunch, or whatever, refocus on nature. Always come back to nature. It’s as easy as that. Be a big eye, seeing but not thinking. Look at the big vista around you. Look at the sky. Look at the small details. The ant on the grass blade. The hawk on the tall branch. Listening to the bird calls or the wind in the trees will help keep your thoughts quiet.

Remember, this is time for yourself. It’s important. We’re so trained to always be doing that it can seem wrong to do nothing. Tell yourself for the next half hour, Sitting is your job.

7) You should never Sit with expectations of what might/should happen. You must remain open, impressionable, soft. Listen with your heart as well as your ears. You may “hear” something. Feel something. Understand something. Let those impressions come. Do not dismiss them.

8) Re: animals.  It’s always a gift to see animals in nature. Your stillness might induce a wild animal to come into view, but wanting or expecting a wild animal to come into view is the surest way to drive it off.  If you really want to see an animal, pretend you’re a rock, or a bush or a tree. Really live it. For instance, if you’re a rock, feel how heavy and old you are. Feel the moss on your surface, the light scurrying feet of a lizard crawling across you. Think rock thoughts. If you can convince yourself, you may convince the animals. At any rate, you won’t be putting off anxious, predatory vibes.

9) Before you finish up, remind yourself that you belong there. You are not an intruder (whatever that angry chipmunk may say) or some sort of alien species born to sit in a cubicle and poke at glowing screens. You are part of the whole. You are related to everything around you, and everything around you is your relative.

10) When you rise, thank the place for hosting you. Say good bye to your relations. And walk peacefully back into the madness.

11) Repeat as often as possible.

We heal together

bees on a poppy

The bees in our back yard, glorying in poppy pollen

Thank you everyone who shared their feelings and ideas with us all yesterday. Thank you, too, to those of you who read and considered those words. Thank you to those of you who are silent, but with us.

I should be clear before I go on that this is a Kelly post. Erik is out tonight. I don’t know if he’ll disagree with anything I’m going to say–but we don’t agree on everything. His thoughts will come later.

There is a French term, egregore, which is used to describe the spirit of a meeting, that unique energy that arises when a group of people come together to eat, work, or talk. It is almost a thing in itself, if you see what I mean. It rises out of certain combinations of people coming together for a specific purpose. Surely you’ve felt it, at that amazing dinner party you still think about, or perhaps you’ve experienced it in some sort of club, or with a group of friends. Root Simple has always had an egregore, one which I’d describe as practical and light-hearted. These recent posts mark a turning point, the rising of a new egregore for this blog. One which has a deeper emotional resonance than the one before.

Get your hands of the unsubscribe button. This is not to say that we’re going to turn into a gloom and doom blog. I promise we’ll never be that. But it seems to me that we can’t just “return to our regular programming” at this point.

I know I can’t. There’s more to say, though I don’t quite know how to say it yet. I suspect it will come out in the weeks and months to come, mixed in with our more usual practical DIY postings, garden rants and pictures of cats.

Right now I can say was enormously touched by the things you all shared. I did not answer the comments individually. I didn’t want to turn the conversation in any particular direction–I wanted to leave the comment board as a blank slate. But as I read, I was saying, “Yes, yes” — yes to all of you, actually. Because my thoughts encompass all the thoughts I read, even if some thoughts contradicted each another. I’m full of contradictions. We all are.

My heart is tender today. My eyes welled with tears as I read some of the comments aloud to Erik. I’ve been reading far too much climate science since returning from the conference. This has had the effect of making me both angry and sad and very grateful for what we have now. The world is infinitely precious to me, all of the wonders and creatures in it, the hummingbirds in the sage, the chickens in their coop, you all and your families, scattered all around the world, reaching out to contact us here.

We’ve not spoken much of matters of the spirit on this blog. This is largely because we know our readers come from all sorts of backgrounds and belief systems and we didn’t want to alienate anyone. We’ve always believed what’s important is the work — not the whys behind the work. It all leads to the same good end, after all.

But at this point I’m seeing our various crises–this three headed hydra of doom, this ménage à trois of misery–as a spiritual crisis more than anything else–a crisis rooted in our culture’s deep alienation from nature. We are taught to see nature as something “out there”.  Perhaps as a collection of useful natural resources. Or something pretty to visit before we return to our toilets and hot showers. We see nature as something to manage or control. Even as an enemy. We’ve become schizophrenic. We are nature. Nature is us. Seems to me that keeping this thought close and forward in our consciousness is fundamental to both understanding and healing.

I’m going to share with you something which may make our more materialist readers uncomfortable, and I’m sorry if that is so, but I think it is important enough to share in a public forum.

In the wake of our lead crisis–when Erik and I had discovered that the soil in our yard was toxic–I was meditating in the back yard. I was imagining I had roots, and those roots were stretching out and touching other roots in the soil. And I was sending thoughts of love to the garden, because I’d been recoiling from its toxicity, and I realized I could not be in that sort of relationship with my own land. As I sat there with my mind clear and love in my heart, words appeared in my head. I’d swear they weren’t mine, but it doesn’t really matter if they were mine or not. The message is the same:

We heal together.

Initial Thoughts on the Age of Limits 2013 Conference

apocalypse city

This is actually free desktop wallpaper. Who says we’re not looking forward to the apocalypse?

Over Memorial Day weekend, Erik and I and our buddy John Zapf, attended a conference called The Age of Limits: Conversations on the Collapse of the Global Industrial Model. This conference brings together different luminaries from the “doomosphere” to discuss the impact and implications of the three-headed hydra of peak oil, climate change and economic collapse.

Now, Erik and I are aware that our lifestyle–what with the chickens and the canned goods and the funny relationship with urine–puts us somewhat on the fringe of American culture. Although, in our heads, we think our lifestyle is perfectly normal, and it is in fact getting more normal all the time.  I mean, since the advent of Portlandia we are at least a part of an identifiable subculture.

But this weekend, at the Age of Limits, we ventured into the deep fringe. We’ll get to some details for you later, but suffice it to say it was an intense four days, and since we returned late Monday night we’ve been trying to process a vast quantity of information and impressions. The hardest part of this process has been deciding how to share this experience with our readers. Where to begin?

Well, first, we are not journalists and were not equipped to deliver detailed reporting from the event. Here are links to the speakers so you can check them out, if you’re curious:

  •  John Michael Greer is the author of approximately a billion books, including The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age, The Ecotechnic Future: Exploring a Post-Peak World, The Wealth of Nature: Economics As If Survival Mattered and Apocalypse Not.  He blogs at The Archdruid Report
  • Carolyn Baker, a psychotherapist and the grief councilor of the event, author of  Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse, among others. Her website.
  • Dmitry Orlov is the author of The Five Stages of Collapse: A Survivor’s Toolkit and Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Experience and American Prospects. Blog: ClubOrlav
  • Gail Tverberg is a professional actuary and mathematician, global limits analyst and writer. Her blog is Our Finite World.
  • Guy McPherson is Professor Emeritus of Natural Resources and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, author of Walking Away from Empire.  His blog: Nature Bats Last.
  • Albert Bates is one of the board of directors of The Farm, a co-founder of the Global Eco Village Network and the author of The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change, The Post Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook. He blogs at The Great Change.

In the wake of the conference, what we find ourselves most interested in thinking about and talking about with others is not the validity of the concepts of peak oil, climate change and economic collapse, or the gritty details of it, but the culturally loaded ideas that spin off in response to these threats–what you might call the meta-narratives of collapse. Those are the topics we’ll cover in a series of posts in coming days.

In the spirit of full disclosure we should state where we stand on these ideas, and the truth is we disagree to some extent.

Kelly’s statement: I believe oil is a finite resource and that it will eventually cost more to extract it than it’s worth, that the record high CO2 levels in our atmosphere are changing climate and acidifying the oceans right this moment, and that our national and global financial systems are in a bad way.

Erik’s statement:  As Lao Tzu says, ”Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.” Nassim Taleb has made a career of pointing out the failures of prognosticators. Taleb says, “What is surprising is not the magnitude of our forecast errors, but our absence of awareness of it.” We simply don’t know what the future holds. We do know that whatever happens, good or bad it’s in our interest to build community, grow gardens and eat healthy food.

Back to Kelly: As Erik says, we’re both agnostics in terms of outcomes. We know it looks bad, but we won’t make bets on when, where or how the badness, or the various badnesses, will manifest. It seems a poor bet to try to predict the behavior of any enormously complex system.

But just because we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen doesn’t mean that we’re not going to do anything in response. In fact, the more time I spent in that conference, the more I became certain that my response to these predicaments, to this Triple Melange of Misery, is a combination of individual action and moral philosophy.

1) Individual action: Erik and I have always preached that change starts at home. It actually starts with the self. All we can really control is our own actions and choices, and if we’re lucky, we can talk some of our immediate family into joining us.

You readers know what I’m saying. You’re walking your talk. You’re learning new things, working with your hands and your hearts, connecting with community and nature and doing your best to live lightly on the land. You know that to advocate change without first changing yourself is hypocrisy. And refusing to change just because others aren’t doing so (e.g. the China argument) is just excuse making.

What is the value of individual action? Can it save us? I don’t know. If enough people did it, it might, and that would be cool. But at the very least, you can hold your head up, look the last dolphin in the eye through the thick glass of your respirator helmet and say, I tried, bro. I did my best. 

2) Moral philosophy: We’re going to have more to say on the moral/ethical dimensions of end time thinking in a another post. But I can say here that my own personal philosophy calls me to live well–not in terms of material things, but to try to live in gratitude and practice something like what Buddhists call right action, and do that every day. Even if the oceans are turning red and the zombies are crawling the streets, I’m still going to be composting and working in my garden and trying to share what I know with whoever wants to learn and doing whatever I can to help my neighbors because that’s how I want to live, and I don’t intend to let a little thing like an apocalypse turn me into an #$#%#*&.

In the coming days we’re going to be looking at the following concepts:

  • The apocalypse meme
  • The paralysis of doom
  • Gender roles, sexism and importance of high heels in coming dark ages
  • Kill Thy Neighbor: dubious strategies and overflexed ethics during troubled times

We’ll also discuss if we are going to change our location or otherwise up the ante on our lifestyle in response to the information we learned there, and we’re going to reveal the best positive action suggestion from the conference.

Stay tuned!

p.s.  If you’d like a reasoned, detailed overview of the problems arising around the intersection of peak oil and climate change, and a contemplation of possible outcomes, check out David Holgrem’s Future Scenarios website. (Holgrem is one of the founders of Permaculture.)

Why are the pockets on women’s clothing so lame?

trout sewing

Trout likes himself a sewing project. Especially one he can lay on. Or gnaw on.

What is with women’s clothing? Why are all of the pockets sized somewhere between tiny and non-existent?

There seems to be some misguided belief that women inherently carry lots of stuff, therefore must carry bags, therefore do not need pockets. This is false. Women carry bags because we have inadequate pockets, and we figure we may as well carry extra stuff–because why not? We have to carry the !&^%$  bag anyway. It’s a terrible cycle.

Another belief seems to be women don’t want pockets because they will bulk up the sleek lines of our fashions, making us look chunky through the hips. And it is true that form-fitting clothing does not leave room for bulky pockets. There are indeed occasions and outfits that call for a handbag. For instance, I am happy to carry a clutch when I shimmy into my black latex sheath for a special night in the dungeon, believe you me.

But what about jeans with fake back pockets and front pockets only as deep as your first knuckles?  Or what about business trousers with pockets too shallow to hold a phone? Or suit jackets sans any pockets at all. True confession: I have inner breast pocket envy. The inner breast pocket is the one of the most secure, useful pockets ever created, and yet they are scarce as hens teeth in women’s clothing. Whence this tyranny??

Or case in point: what about a casual jacket with motorcycle/military styling which promises a plenitude of pockets, only to disappoint?

jacket full

I found this jacket at a thrift store recently. I’d been wanting a light summer jacket, and was so excited to find one that fit that I bought it without checking the pockets for size and…genuineness. Is that a word? (FYI gentlemen readers: fake pockets run rife in women’s clothing.) I was lucky that all the pockets on this jacket are at least real.

But I was disappointed to discover that the lower pockets, with their promising, practical zipper closures, were only 3″ deep, rendering them impractical for carrying anything bigger than a tube of lip balm or maybe a little cash wrapped around a drivers license.

sad pockets

Ya call these pockets? Hang your head in shame, Ann Taylor LOFT.

I want to wear this jacket, so I decided to expand the pockets into usefulness.

Now, I’m no sewing maven. I hesitated even to post this because I am absolutely unqualified to teach anyone to sew. Rather than admitting I’m pretty much incompetent, I prefer to think of myself as a primitive or naive sewer. Sort of paleo. It’s all about the bone awls for me. Basically I can hem and mend things. I sew by hand because I can’t remember how to thread our old sewing machine.

I suspect the proper way to enlarge pockets is just to replace them entirely, but the stitchery and zipper closures on this particular pair of pockets intimidated me, so I decided to enbiggen them by simply adding fabric to the bottom of the existing pockets.

I should add here that any alterations shop (like the sort attached to dry cleaners) would replace pockets for you, and probably wouldn’t charge you all that much. But here it the Casa de Tightwad, any money is too much money.  This is what I decided to do. Imitate at your own peril.

Continue reading…

White Sage and Bees and our other sage friends

bee in sage

One of my favorite plants in the garden (I’ve posted about it before) is in bloom right now: the white sage, Salvia apianaSalvia apiana means “bee sage” and boy howdy did they get that one right. This sage puts up tall spikes covered with small white flowers that bees can’t resist. Unfortunately, our white sage is situated right by the garden path. So these days, every time I go into the garden I have to squeeze past the leaning spires, praying I won’t be stung, because the plant is thick with bees. Covered. It hums.

Now, these workers are so busy that they don’t have time to be aggressive. For instance, they let me stand around taking blurry pictures of them working, until I got the one above. But stings happen by unfortunate mischance in crowded conditions. I suppose I could cut back the spikes, but whom am I to interrupt this passionate sage & bee love affair?

Besides, it’s really pretty. The spikes are about six feet high, but delicate, like fairy lances.

white sage spires

Here is a pic of the white sage as seen from our back door. I decided to leave in the wheelbarrow and some buckets of who knows what, and The Germinator ™ for scale.  Right now this salvia is the star of the garden.

white sage off our patio

All the sages are blooming now, actually.  The ability to fill the yard with huge, wildly fragrant sages is, to my mind, one of the principle inducements toward living in Southern California. I enjoy the aromatics of our Mediterranean and native chaparral plants as much as the bees do. Here’s what we’ve got going right now–and I think I’m going to add more this fall.

Below is our native black sage, Salvia mellifera, just coming into flower. The bees like this sage, too. (They like all sages). This one arranges its flowers in little sipping cups for them. It has dark green leaves, which is less common than greyish foliage in the native sages. It brings reliable dark green foliage into the garden, and the foliage is powerfully fragrant. If you want to mellow out or soothe sore muscles, you could try throwing a a branch of this in the bath.

black sage blossom

Our other native sage, Cleveland sage, Salvia clevelandi, lives a harsh existence out in the front of our house, occupying a formerly barren strip of sun baked clay above the black roof of our subterranean garage. The heat out there has moved its time clock along at a faster pace than the mellifera in the shady back yard. The blossoms are almost spent on the Cleveland. I’m not sure what else could live in that spot, except for prickly pear, so I’m very happy it’s been so sporting about growing there. And of course, bees like it.

sage garage

We also have an expanding patch of clary sage, Salvia sclarea in our back yard. This sage is native to the Mediterranean. I planted this one on a whim, to fill a temporarily empty spot, but since then it has spread and really established itself as a player in the garden and now I find I’m just going to have to keep it and work around it. Most of the year clary sage is about knee high, with big, thick, fuzzy green leaves. But in the spring it sends up flower spikes to compete with the Salvia apiana. They are really gorgeous.

clary sage flower

The flowers are structured like the white sage flowers, but bigger. This particular shape seems to make bees giddy with happiness.

clary sage leaf

Above are the big fuzzy leaves and a flower that has yet to open. And below is the shape of the flower spikes. The spikes stand chest high, but like to fall over, like this one:

clary sage

Clary sage has medicinal uses, but I’ve not tried it for anything myself. I’ve also heard you can make fritters of the leaves….which is interesting. Of course, I’d eat just about anything if it was made into a fritter.

And last but not least is my culinary sage, tucked in with some thyme and mint, and beleaguered by the nasturtium. It’s not flashy, but its strong and knows what it’s about. It’s also indispensable in the bean pot.

culinary sage

Do you have a favorite sage? Do you have any recommendations for my next round of planting? I’m thinking about adding at least two more to the grounds of our estate.