2013 in Review Part II

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July
We got rid of our compact florescents and went back to incandescent bulbs. In most household applications, believe it or not, incandescent bulbs are a better choice. Mrs. Homegrown pondered equine touring by reviewing an obscure book, The Last of the Saddle Tramps. Perhaps she was inspired by our 2012 siting of the 3 mule guy (one of our most Googled posts, by the way).

August
I consider summer to be our winter in Los Angeles. It’s hot and dry and, other than harvesting tomatoes, summer here is not the best time for gardening. Time to contemplate closed vs. open floor plans and catch a crappy Hollywood movie. “Crappy Hollywood” is a redundancy, of course, as all Hollywood movies are crappy.

September
Mrs. Homegrown complained about my flour storage mess. I just bought a Komo mill and so this mess should diminish in the next few months. In the further interest of cleanliness, I blogged about the soap nut tree.

October
We attended Pascal Baudar and Mia Wasilevich’s life changing acorn processing class. Every time I take one of their classes I leave thinking, “that was the best food I’ve ever tasted in my life.” And one sure way to generate controversy is to discuss anything related to bees, especially Africanized bees.

November
I take a baking class with Craig Ponsford who’s a famous advocate of whole grain baking. Ponsford inspires me to orient all cooking/preserving projects on this blog towards good health. Look for more blog posts on healthy food in 2014. We also participated in Stoic Week 2013. Stoicism is a philosophy that helps us deal with the ups and downs of life. And I got my Ham license–KK6HUF.

December
I harvest one big-ass squash out of the straw bale garden we planted in the spring. In the ongoing post-modern funhouse of mirrors that is the interwebs, reader Molly informs me that Home Depot put our straw bale garden on their Pinterest page. Maybe I’ll get a free orange bucket, a unhappy flat of petunias or an ugly set of patio furniture as a kickback.

That big-ass squash is a reminder of how fortunate we are–care for nature and she cares for you. Of all the activities of our past year, the ones that stick out for me relate to simple, healthy food and communion with nature. Best wishes for an abundant and healthy 2014 to all of you.

What were the highlights of your 2013?

2013 in Review Part I

before and after: straw bale garden

Straw bale garden: before and after.

One of the side benefits of blogging is having a record of ideas and projects going back for years. I thought I’d spend the next two days looking at what happened, month by month, in 2013.

January
The main topic was how to deal with patellafemoral syndrome, aka bad knees. In May I did what I should have done 20 years ago: hire a personal trainer to set up a gym program tailored to my needs and weaknesses. After many hours at the YMCA I’ve got PT syndrome under control but I’ve still got a lot of work to do. Thankfully, I’m back to running and fencing.

February
In February in Los Angeles it should rain. It didn’t. The year was the driest on record: 3.6 inches, making it a desert not the Mediterranean climate it should be. It seems to be a dry winter again this year and I’m worried.

March
A texting music video producer totaled our car and thus began a six month experiment in living without a car in Los Angeles. That experiment ended in September when we bought a car. Living in LA without a car was easier than I thought it would be thought thanks to the expansion of the rail network. It was a tough decision, but we decided to burn dino juice again.

April
I began what was to be the most successful experiment of the year, a straw bale garden. It was the perfect solution to our lead soil problem–grow in bales temporarily and generate a lot of compost with which to use in permanent raised beds that I’ll build this winter. I’m still harvesting squash from those bales!

May
We attend the Age of Limits conference along with our friend John Zapf. Kelly and I blogged about our initial reaction to this doomy event but we never told the whole story–deciding instead to move on and focus on positive action.

June
Good news and bad news. The amazing folks at Honey Love continued their efforts to legalize beekeeping in Los Angeles. Those efforts are beginning to pay off–the legalization efforts moved forwards this month and I predict we’ll see success in the coming year. In other political news the LA city council caved in to movie industry pressure and made LA the first city to remove green bike lanes. I was at the City Council meeting and got to see film industry and union lobbyists work the room. Those of who came to speak on behalf of the lanes were not allowed to speak. You win some, you lose some.

Santa Gets a License

34635r From the library of congress:

Santa Claus receives aeroplane pilot’s license from Assistant Secretary of Commerce. Although there may not be sufficient snow for his reindeer sleigh, Santa Claus will still be able to deliver his load of presents on time this Christmas by using the air route. The old saint called at the Commerce Department in Washington today where he is shown receiving an aeroplane pilot’s license from Assistant Secretary of Commerce. for Aeronautics William P. MacCracken, while Clarence M. Young (right) Director of Aeronautics, Department of Commerce, looks on. Airway maps and the assurance that the lights would be burning on the airways Christmas Eve were also given to Santa.

Did they have more spare time in the 1920s for these high jinks? Merry Christmas and best wishes for a happy new year to all of you.

Reforming City Codes

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On my high horse pointing a finger.

In response to my intemperate use of the word “bureaucrat” in yesterday’s post on the city of Miami Shores’ crackdown on a front yard vegetable garden, a Root Simple reader DRBREW responded:

I hate to do this, but in defense of City bureaucrats (of which, I am one) and code enforcement people (of which I am not)…… Most of those citations are complaint driven, it is the code enforcement person’s job to uphold the City Code (they don’t have to be such a jerk about it though), if they don’t do their job, the person that complained will just go higher in the government structure until they get satisfaction (these people that file complaints are usually victims of someone else that complained and now they want everyone to suffer, it’s a vicious cycle). Most code enforcement people are not actively seeking out violations to write citations on, that’s why she was able to grow her veggies for 17 years without a problem, once the complaint is filed it must be addressed (even as a City bureaucrat, I have been a victim of anonymous complaints on my own property about trees, shrubs, you name it…….). I say this: Change the outdated codes that were enacted as a response to someone’s suburban utopian nightmare of manicured lawns and gumdrop shrubs! This is probably what will come of the Florida case. My City recently tried to legalize backyard chickens, someone started an anti-chicken campaign and the City Council lost it’s nerve and voted the amendment down………….Sometimes you just can’t win……..

DRBREW makes a good point. The City of Los Angeles just started a comprehensive review of the city municipal codes to deal with years of contradictory and outdated rules. It’s a process that will take years. Both Napoleon and the Roman emperor Justinian inherited law books so bloated that they used their dictatorial powers to sweep them away and start fresh. We can’t do that in a democracy.

I owe and apology to the many civil servants who, DRBREW points out, have to enforce contradictory and nonsensical codes. A few years ago I was part of a group that helped change the code in LA that made it illegal to grow and resell fruit, flowers or nuts in a residential zone. It was legal, for some reason, to grow and sell vegetables. City staff were very helpful in changing the code. They knew it didn’t make sense and were just as eager to change it as we were.

As DRBREW points out, these ridiculous laws tend not to be enforced at all until a feud begins between neighbors. To prevent these situation we can all help create more cohesive communities. It can be as simple as throwing a party. Our neighbors used a new social networking website called Nextdoor to organize a neighborhood party. I realized at that party just how important it is to get neighbors to chat over food and beer. If we’re all friends, we’re less likely to start calling city inspectors on each other and more likely to resolve disputes face to face.

Another step would be to create city codes that work as guidelines, something like Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language, rather than proscriptions. Take parkway planting regulations, for instance. Put together a group of landscape architects, gardening enthusiasts, native plant experts and come up with a guidebook rather than a list of rules. Ultimately, a human being is going to have to make a judgement call on whether something is a nuisance.

My error with yesterday’s blog post was pointing a finger, rather than seeing our communities as as system. That, and blogging while quaffing a beer–how ironic that “DRBREW” would point out my error.

Front Yard Vegetable Gardeners Fights Back

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Hermine Ricketts, vegetable gardening outlaw. Photo: Greg Allen, NPR.

I’ve got a tip for to city bureaucrats. Bust someone for growing vegetables in their front yard and you’ll be held up for ridicule around the world.

This time it’s the city of Miami Shores’ turn to make fools of themselves for forcing Hermine Ricketts and her husband Tom Carroll to tear up the front yard vegetable garden they’ve tended for 17 years. NPR has the details here. Listen to that story and you’ll get to hear an especially ridiculous grilling from a code enforcement official.

It’s absurd when city codes single out “vegetables.” Broadleaf plantain is a vegetable and anyone who has a lawn is probably growing it. Many flowers such as calendula are edible. Broccoli is a flower. I could go on.

Let’s just say that we wish Ricketts luck with her lawsuit against Miami Shores.

Realities in my past

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Today, a quote from psychiatrist, neurologist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl:

The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back. He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest. What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that a young person has, the future which is in store for him?

No, thank you, he will think. Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, although these are things which cannot inspire envy.

From Logotherapy in a Nutshell, an essay.

Thanks to KMO for reading this passage on his always enlightening C-Realm podcast.

The Stoic Week Handbook

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As we enter the stressful holiday season I hope that many of you have had a chance to check out the the Stoic Week 2013 materials put together by the psychology and philosophy departments at Exeter University. If you haven’t, take a few minutes to read their excellent Stoic Week Handbook, which provides an introduction to stoicism as well as some practical exercises.

The handbook has just about the best summary of Stoicism I’ve read:

The best way to approach life, the Stoics suggest, is to think of oneself as an archer who does his or her best to fire the arrow well but accepts that once it has flown it may be blown off course and miss the target. In this analogy, our intentions are like preparing to fire the arrow, but the outcome of our actions, like hitting the target, is beyond our control and partly the result of external events.

And debunks one of the common myths:

In the popular imagination a Stoic is someone who denies or represses their emotions in a potentially unhealthy way. This is largely just a widespread misconception, though. The real Stoic position is different from this in a number of ways. The central claim the Stoics make is that our emotions are ultimately the product of judgements we make. If we feel fear it is because we have judged that something terrible might be about to happen to us. If we feel anger it is because we have judged that something bad is happening to us right now.

The Stoics do not suggest that we should repress or deny these – instead they want to show us how we can uproot these sorts of unpleasant emotions altogether. This is something we can do, the Stoics say, because these emotions are the product of our judgements about what is good and bad in life. Change the judgements and you will change the emotions. Our emotions are typically within our control, even if it might not feel like it some of the time.

The Stoics were systems thinkers,

The cosmos is like a single living being. Like all other living beings it is in a continual process of change. So, when facing the world we ought to see ourselves as part of it. We are but one small component or element within a much larger entity. We are not the centre of the world and it is not all about us. The larger process of change, growth, and decay that take place in Nature are inevitable and ultimately out of our control. There is nothing to be gained from trying to resist these larger processes and resisting them produces frustration, anger, and disappointment. Instead, we ought to embrace Nature on its own terms and accept our place within it as limited, finite beings, with limited power and a limited lifespan – but also as parts of something much greater than us.

The Handbook concludes with some short daily exercises.

It’s been a hectic week here at the Root Simple compound and the Stoic Week Handbook arrived just in time.

Live Like a Stoic for a Week

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Image: Rugu.

A group of British academics are asking an important question: “Can the ancient philosophy of Stoicism help us to lead better and happier lives?” This week they’ll be providing everything from a Stoicism Handbook to recorded meditations to help wake your inner Seneca. They are also asking for people to participate in a week-long experiment to see what kind of effect Stoic philosophy can have on day to day living.

Check out more information here:  http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/stoicismtoday/stoic-week-2013/

From their press release:

Philosophers from Birkbeck, University of London and the University of Exeter, and psychotherapists are calling on people to live like a Stoic for a week, from 25 November – 1 December 2013. The week-long experiment will culminate with a public workshop on Saturday 30 November at Birkbeck, University of London exploring Stoicism for Everyday Life.

The ancient Stoic writers Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius offered a wide range of practical advice and guidance on how to live well and many of the founding figures of modern cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) acknowledged the influence of Stoic philosophy. Stoic Week will put some of this ancient advice to the test and help academics and psychotherapists to assess whether ancient Stoic philosophy can help people to lead better and happier lives.

Stoic Week participants can download a series of exercises, reflections, and meditations to complete each day, prepared by academics and psychotherapists, which draw on ideas from ancient Stoicism. They will complete well-being questionnaires before and after the week and the data from these will be used to assess the effectiveness of the Stoic ideas when they are put into practice today.

Dr John Sellars of Birkbeck’s Philosophy Department and a member of the Stoicism Today project, said: “The ancient Stoic authors offer a wide range of practical advice that many people have drawn on in their daily lives. Stoic Week is an opportunity for people to put Stoicism to the test for themselves and for us to gather data on just how effective Stoic psychotherapy is. The public event in London at the end of the week is an opportunity to explore further how Stoicism might help people in their everyday lives.”

Find out more at http://www.stoicismforlife.com/

This year’s Handbook will be released on the blog on November 18th: http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/stoicismtoday/

We’re honored to have been asked to post a short essay on Stoicism for Life blog and we’re also looking forward to hearing about the results of this important experiment.

How has stoicism influenced your life?

Self-Righteousness Fail: We Bought a Car

At least we got something interesting. Image: Paleofuture.

At least we got something interesting to drive. Image: Paleofuture.

Back in March, a video producer who was texting-while-driving slammed into me and totaled the early 90′s hatchback that Kelly and I shared. We went from a one car household to a car-free household overnight. A combination of environmental guilt and distaste for car shopping led us to a six month car free living experiment in Los Angeles. That period ended in late September when we purchased a car from a friend. It’s well past time we came clean and discussed the ups and downs of car-free living, as well as the reasons that led us to start burning dinosaur juice once again.

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