Front Yard Vegetable Gardeners Fights Back

img_2540-7be86371f681becea8c7886b45dec23266ba9996-s3-c85

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

oldcalendar

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

500full

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

Marcus-Aurelius-Quotes-1

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.

Continue reading…

On Shoddy Workmanship

1st-b-j-engraving5

An engraving by William Morris. Note the skunk proofing.

You’re in a hurry. You’re frustrated and impatient. You say to yourself, “I don’t really need to secure this skunk proofing, my vegetables will be fine.” You might call it shoddy workmanship. I call it half-ass-itis. I’d say it’s the number one sin of the DIYer and I always know when I’m doing it.

There are those whose personality tends towards careful and elegant craftsmanship. You’ve probably met such a person. They craft their own musical instruments and win the blue ribbon at the county fair for their perfectly textured quince jam. I’m not that person (I’m more like this NSFW video). But we have freedom of choice. That’s what makes us human. We can change.

I had a rude reminder of my shoddy workmanship the other night when skunks breached poorly secured bird netting that protected a newly planted bed of vegetables. But at least I can do a better job of securing my skunk proofing as a start. Step by step, I vow to pay more attention to details. Otherwise they’ll be no home grown vegetables this winter.

Craftsmanship is not to be confused with perfectionism. A craftsperson is not afraid to make mistakes, to fail and to learn from setbacks. But to cut corners and know you’re taking an easy shortcut is to fall into halfassitis mode.

William Morris said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Morris’ craftsmanship was a reaction to the newly industrialized world. I can’t think of a better role model for countering halfassitis thinking.

Do you suffer from halfassitis or are you a detail person? Comments!

Asking the Right Questions

Golden Tree and The Achievement of the Grail

Sir Galahad Discovering the Grail by Edwin Austin Abbe (1895)

The legend of Percival’s search for the holy grail is an odd one. Spoiler alert! Percival finds the holy grail not through solving a riddle or answering a question. Rather, he asks the right question. In his first trip to the grail castle and the wounded Fisher King who oversees it, Percival doesn’t know what to do or say. It takes him years to find the grail castle again. On his second encounter (depending on the version) he either asks simply, “What ails thee?” or “Whom does the grail serve?” In this way, he finds the grail.

I was thinking about this myth this weekend in Larry Santoyo’s Permaculture Design Course when Larry stressed the importance of asking the right questions. It got me thinking about the kind of questions we need to ask about the many subjects covered on this blog.

Take for instance bees. Mainstream beekeepers ask, “How can I get more honey?” when they should be asking the same question Parsifal asks, “What ails thee?” That is, “What is in the long term interest of the bee’s health?” This is the question Michael Thiele and Kirk Anderson both ask. It’s a wise one to ask, since our health is inextricably entwined with that of the bees.

Or think about aisles of poisons and traps at all those big box stores. What if instead of asking, “How do I kill this pest?”, we asked, “How do I create conditions inhospitable rats/possums/raccoons/coyotes?” Maybe instead of buying poison (or worse, setting snares) we’d, for instance, stop leaving pet food out at night.

What questions do we ask in our neighborhoods? We often, myself included, ask questions such as, “What number do I call to anonymously report my neighbor for having a car up on blocks in the front yard?” A better question might be, “How do we foster the sort of community where neighbors aren’t strangers?” Communities where, if I have a problem with a neighbor I can simply have a civil chat because I know them and we’re friends. A short answer to this question, by the way: throw a party and invite the neighbors.

Like most legends there are many layers to the Percival story. Carl Jung considered it to be central to understanding ‘what ails’ Western civilization. Percival, according to Jung, embodies the reconciliation of the masculine and feminine, the logical and intuitive. But Percival’s quest begins and ends, not through some grand gesture, but through humility, through asking a simple question.

Urban Homesteading and Homeowners Associations

800px-South_San_Jose_(crop)

Photo: Wikimedia.

Homeowners associations are notoriously intolerant when it comes to many of the activities discussed on this blog. HOA covenants and deed restrictions tend to forbid things like keeping chickens and front yard vegetable gardens. You can even get in trouble for a laundry line.

I’m curious to hear from readers who live in an HOAs. Did you get into urban homesteading before or after moving to an HOA? Have you ever gotten in trouble? What did you do about it? Do the benefits of living in an HOA outweigh the restrictions?

And there are less restrictive HOAs. I once met a couple who live in an HOA in Orange County, CA that allows chickens.

A-typical-flagpole-antenna

Flagpole antenna. Source: The Doctor is In

Some HOA residents take a stealth approach such as the amateur radio operators who hide their antennas in flag poles. Have you figured out a way to hide your activities?

The Organic Minefield: How organic are your organic eggs, soy and dairy?

super close

I wish the label “organic” meant all that I mean when I use the term, but unfortunately organic is not a a guarantee of sustainable agricultural practice, much less humane treatment of livestock.

The Cornucopia Institute promotes sustainable organic agriculture and family farms, and helps consumers parse the difference between greenwashed and genuine organic farms and suppliers.

They release quick reference charts on various subjects, as well as reports which get into food issues in detail. But the main reason I’m posting this is because they produce useful quick reference charts for brand names and stores. I’ve just found their dairy chart, and wanted to share it with you, and thought I’d share some others as well while I was at it. We’ve posted about the eggs score card before, but it is important enough for a repeat. Check it out:

Organic Dairy Scorecard

Organic Egg Scorecard

Organic  Soy Product Scorecard

Organic Cereal Scorecard

Note: Links to scoring criteria are at the top of all the scorecards, with the exception of the dairy scorecard. In that case it is located at the very bottom.