Saturday Tweets: DIFI, Shoe Updates and Squirrels

February 2019 Garden Update

I had a personal request from über-gardener and plant authority Nance Klehm requesting an update on what’s going on in our garden. So here you go Nance.

A lot like the first step in Alcoholics Anonymous we admitted that we are powerless over doing garden design work ourselves and sought out the help of a design professional, Haynes Landscaping, to come up with a plan and do the hardscaping that we never seemed to be able to get to. Last year, while I focused my attention on the inside of the house, a team of very capable workers removed an ugly patio and put in a new one. In the process of that work we discovered a rotted sill plate that needed replacement and some other structural problems that delayed the project but the patio was finally finished late last year. The Haynes folks will return to install a rain garden fed by the back gutters of our house, replace a failed retaining wall in the front yard, fix the drip irrigation and install some lighting. We will also take out one of two junky pecan trees growing along the fence line.

If I could step into a time machine and advise my former self, back in 1998, about what to do with our yard I would say this:

  • Be bold. Remove any trees that are in the wrong place, too big or just plain ugly. Then plant trees that either feed native wildlife (such as oak) or provide fruit. Think carefully about their placement.
  • Do all hardscaping first and build it out of durable materials. Those retaining walls that failed in the front yard are wood and only lasted 15 years.
  • If you don’t know what your doing hire a professional. It think this would have actually saved money over the years due to hasty and poorly thought out amateur landscaping attempts.

If our house was not on a hill I would also seriously consider adding a granny flat to the backyard to provide rental housing and/or space for aging relatives.

I’ll post more pictures when the work is done and/or in progress. The photo above is somewhat deceptive and doesn’t show all the junk and weeds in the rest of the yard. That said, we are thankful for the rain that has made everything lush even if there’s a lot more work to do.

I did manage to make a new gate, based on a design by the English architect C.F.A. Voysey.

Urban Homesteading: What Went Wrong

As I cast a critical eye towards the sustainability movement of the 1960s and 70s, in a previous blog post, I think it’s only fair to take a look at the movement we played a role in, the “urban homesteading” of the late aughts. In a series of future posts I’d like to look back at the ideas in our two books The Urban Homestead and Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World. I’ll consider both the broader ideas in the books as well as what might have changed in terms of specific methods in subjects such as gardening and beekeeping.

First let me peel back the curtain for those of you have have never written a book and describe how awkward and weird it can be to read your own writing after the passage of ten years. That said, after a casual glace this morning though the introduction to The Urban Homestead and Making It, I still think they are mostly solid. What I’m more concerned about are things I may have said in book appearances, blog posts and press interviews after the books came out, specifically that the changes we need to make to avert crises such as climate change and healthy food systems are all about personal choice. While I never said we could save the planet by learning to make jam, my studious avoidance of political controversy may have left that impression.

Along that line, I’m concerned with our brief promotion of stoicism though a series of blog posts and an essay in a book published in 2014, Stoicism Today: Selected Writings. While I think everyone should be familiar with the stoics and even read the very readable Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, G.K. Chesterton takes down the musings of these two Roman billionaires in just two sentences. Chesterton says, “Notice that Marcus Aurelius insists, as such introspective moralists always do, upon small things done or undone; it is because he has not hate or love enough to make a moral revolution. He gets up early in the morning, just as our own aristocrats living the Simple Life get up early in the morning; because such altruism is much easier than stopping the games of the amphitheatre or giving the English people back their land.”(1)

Stopping the games at the amphitheatre and giving the English people back their land are both messy problems that involve working with disagreeable people, attending boring public meetings and, worse, the chance of getting nailed to a tree. For a writer it involves staking out controversial positions and taking a stand on thorny issues. For the past ten years I’ve studiously avoided controversy in favor of making jam and attempting to grow arugula.

But what if we made jam, grew arugula and worked to stop those games at the amphitheatre? I don’t think it’s an either-or proposition. This integration of domestic artistry and politics is why I’ve been so obsessed with William Morris in the past year. He spent many long, frustrating years working for the rights of working class people. His art was not a distraction from this political work but was instead an integral part of his attempt to make the world a better place and to warn of the horrors that were to come.

So what might the urban homesteading movement contribute to politics? I think that as people who are engaged with work with our hands we have a more grounded, realistic view of the world, particularly when it comes to the issue of climate change. What tangible ideas could we contribute to the formulation of the Green New Deal, for instance? Certainly, we’re going to have to work together, not as disconnected individuals. This collectivism is another thing that I think I could have done a better job of expressing.

Next up I’ll take a look at some of the specifics in our books such as, ugh, double digging.

Saturday Tweets: A Flying Shame

Shoe Fail!

Wednesday’s catastrophic shoe fail, that resulted in a knee injury for Duke University star basketball player Zion Williamson, gives me the perfect pretense to update my three year long experiment in wearing only minimal shoes.

You can read more about the details of Williamson’s exploding Nike in the New York Times. The article reports on how shoe companies bribe universities to feature their products. Athletes have to wear the company’s shoes but receive none of the sponsorship dollars except for a few free shoes that they have to wear unless they get a medical excuse from . . . doctors working for the shoe company. On the bright side the athletes get a great lesson in neoliberal economics that clearly debunks the commonly held myth that the “free hand” of the market leads to some sort of Edenic meritocracy.

They also get a lesson in how our culture likes to think of its technological products–such as those “high tech” athletic shoes–as based on some kind of engineering magic when in reality they are just poorly made plastic crap festooned with magical brand sigils. As Harvard’s Daniel Lieberman has shown, modern athletic shoes have no peer reviewed evidence behind them. What little thought goes into them suffers from a basic logical error known as survivorship bias. Shoe companies address weaknesses in our feet by adding more and more cushioning which, ironically, leads to weaker feet muscles. Like a dog chasing its own tail, these springy, mattress-soft shoes leads, in sports like basketball, to higher and higher jumps and bigger and faster athletes which, in turn, leads to more injuries which leads to more cushioning in a never ending cycle propelled by advertising dollars and Wall Street investors. Though I have no evidence, I’m willing to bet that basketball players had fewer injuries in the days of the more basic Chuck Taylor shoes of the early 20th century.

An Update
So how is my minimal shoe experiment going? In short, great. Not only have I had no return of the dreaded plantar fasciitis, but I’ve also saved a lot of money. It turns out that without any cushioning to lose its spring, a minimal shoe lasts a lot longer than those giant Nike atrocities. I’m three years into my barefoot running shoes and it’s just about time to replace them. Root Simple has no shoe sponsorship, but I will say that I was able to switch my running shoes, dress and casual shoes all to minimal versions made by the same company: Vivo. Kelly tried a competing company Lems and reports the same good results. There definitely was a few months of getting used to not having any support and learning to walk as mother nature intended us to walk. I’ve even proven that you can fence, a sport that requires a considerable amount of bouncing and jumping, in minimal shoes.

This is also a perfect opportunity to clarify that I’m not one of those barefoot conspiracy theorists. Thanks to the News From Nowhere podcast of journalist Corey Pein, I discovered that there’s a strange world of folks who hold that there’s a vast conspiracy against walking barefoot. Pein talked to Brandon Sutton (Chad Vigorous) of @th3discourse about the barefoot conspiracy theory community, who make the flat earth/pizzagate folks seem grounded, so to speak. While I love a good Sasquatch story I just want to make clear that I don’t see the universe through the prism of bearing one’s sole. It’s funny that these kooky ideas obscure an actual conspiracy of shoe companies that really do bribe colleges and podiatrists to push their injurious products.