Wednesday, December 7, 2016

This Week (Fresh Air and Kale. Always Kale.)

My life.

There is nothing like feeling better after being sick for several weeks. Although a slight sniffle remains, my energy is back! Zach and I celebrated on Monday by taking a proper walk— not just the 3.5-mile loop we walk every night in the dark, but a meandering journey down the Katy Trail, along cornfields, through neighborhoods to the library, back home for a quick quesadilla, then over to my parents’ house for a visit. We passed by cottonwoods still fluttering with brown leaves, watched crows picking through the plowed-under fields, and saw the sky fade from cornflower to rose with the sunset. The air was chilly but still, the sun warm on our faces, until night fell and we watched the moon rise in a thick crescent behind the silhouettes of bare trees. I felt like I had my life back.

My garden continues to surprise me: the kale and chard don’t seem fazed by the frosts we’ve had (although we’re getting a hard freeze this week, which might just do them in). I also ate some tomatoes yesterday that I had picked from my garden a couple weeks ago; they’ve been ripening on my windowsill. Who says you can’t eat a garden tomato in December? 

Also, I've been eating yummy stir-fry.
This week, it also suddenly hit me that it’s Christmastime. This might seem to odd to those who know I spend almost 20 hours a week screaming “Merry Christmas” at people, but it’s different, somehow. So far I’ve celebrated Christmas by thinking about making Christmas cards, thinking about Christmas shopping, and listening to the song “Christmas” from The Who’s rock opera Tommy (which is actually quite a depressing song, although I love it). So in the end, St. Charles Christmas Traditions is my main celebration, and that’s okay with me. (Although I’m hoping to go shopping today and break out Joan Baez’s Noel sometime this week.)

Hope you guys are having a wonderful holiday season! Merry Christmas!


Saturday, December 3, 2016

St. Charles Christmas Traditions Insider's Guide: 2016

The second weekend of St. Charles Christmas Traditions is upon us! I’m headed out there to visit in a couple hours, but I wanted to post a quick guide with tips for this year. If you want a more complete insider’s guide to the festival, see my blog post here.

Some updates for this year:

The hands-down best place to park is the St. Charles City Hall parking garage, which is free during festival hours. It’s much closer to the street than the boathouse parking lot, and there’s always parking.

Once you arrive on Main Street, try to pick up a festival guide as soon as possible (you can find them at the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau at 230 S. Main Street), because there are a lot of new events this year.

There are more characters than ever! To collect all the cards, you’ll need to meet 48 people (plus bonus cards). So don’t plan on collecting all of them in one day; come back for another visit!

On Saturdays and Sundays at 4:00pm at Berthold Square, there’s a new event in which Mr. Charles Dickens (who has come to visit this year) retells his story A Christmas Carol, with some of the other characters acting it out. It’s funny, poignant, and beautifully done— I highly recommend it.

Be sure to come visit on Wednesday nights, 6-9! There are two fun events that night. The first is Krampusnacht, which celebrates the scarier historical legends of Christmas. Most of the characters are more funny than scary (with the notable exception of Belsnickle— he’s terrifying), and will teach you some of the darker histories of the Christmas celebration. The other (not scary) event that night is a candlelight reading of The Night Before Christmas at the first state capitol (200 S. Main). Clement C. Moore, the author, is also visiting the festival this year, and reads his story along with an accompanying violin. 

Finally, if you’re looking for a time to visit when it’s not so crowded, try Saturday at 11:00, Sunday at 12:00, or any day when it’s very cold, cloudy, or raining. 

Hope you can make it down this year! Merry Christmas!


Thursday, December 1, 2016

This Week (Sickness, Festivities, and More Sickness)

Santa and two of his favorite Scandinavian elves, Mikko and Mikkel!

Don’t you just love cold and flu season? For nearly two weeks I battled a horrible ear infection, then felt great for two days to celebrate the opening of St. Charles Christmas Traditions, then caught a nasty stomach bug, followed by a mild head cold. Today I’m sniffling and a bit tired, but prefer it over writhing in pain or throwing up, so we’re on the right track!

Despite the constant barrage of illness, the past couple weeks haven’t been too bad. I’ve taken a lot of rest, watched a lot of TV while snuggling with Zach (who had a bad case of bronchitis that I magically avoided), and still managed to get outside every day or so for a brisk walk in the cold. The autumn leaves have finally turned, weeks later than usual, showering the pavement in a flurry of gold. 

And, as I mentioned, I was well enough to visit the first two days of Christmas Traditions, which was a lot of fun. If you haven’t been down to St. Charles for the festivities yet, I highly recommend it! I’ll be posting my “insider’s festival guide” soon with a few more details.

In the meantime, I hope that you all had a great Thanksgiving. Remember to slow down and enjoy the holiday season— I say to myself as much as to anyone else. Gl├Ždelig Jul!


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

“You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.”
~Psalm 104:14-15

Today I am thankful for...

a roof over my head to keep out the cold rain.

butter pecan cheesecake.

my family, including the friends who have become family.

growing awareness of my purpose in life.

my lovely neighborhood.

flocks of starlings scattered across the sky.

never-ending kale salads.

free books and DVDs from the library.

our jobs.

the way the river looks in all seasons and times of day.

possibilities for the future.

my record collection.

increasing maturity and awareness.


long showers.

places to walk.

being married to my best friend.

the feeling of contentment that arises when the dishes are done, the blog posts are written, and three piping-hot quesadillas are ready to eat. 

the million gifts of the present moment, whether I recognize them or not.

Hope you all have a beautiful Thanksgiving! May you see and know abundance in your life.

Love, Lisa


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Where to Go: Rodale Institute, Kutztown, PA

When we were in Pennsylvania, we stumbled upon the Rodale Institute by accident— we were driving to a park, and I happened to glimpse a sign by the highway. “Wait, the Rodale Institute?” I exclaimed, craning my neck. My sister-in-law Tessa remarked that it was some sort of farm, and I realized it was the same place I had heard mentioned in several dozen books and articles about organic farming. I knew that Zach and I had to carve out some time to visit!

The Rodale name is one you can’t miss if you’ve read a lot of gardening books— they have a series of books about organic methods and often show up in bibliographies. The Rodale family pioneered organic farming, and their acreage in Pennsylvania is the place where for decades they (and their nonprofit) have conducted research on different techniques, led internship groups, and educated the public about organic practices. They would be open for visiting hours the next day, so Zach and I decided to go.

We parked at a gravel lot and walked into a one-room schoolhouse that had been converted into a welcome center and farm store. A fridge of produce sat outside, with some of the items being cheaper than even their conventionally-grown counterparts in the grocery store. The farm store was a nice gift shop full of everything from apple butter, heirloom seeds and natural chapstick to mushroom starter kits, tea towels and fermentation crocks. The woman behind the desk said we could wander the farm as we pleased, and we decided to buy a $2 brochure that pointed out the different features of the farm and how they worked.

Stepping out into the nippy air, we started along a gravel path, looking over the map to see what we were passing. We passed some huge fields where CSA crops are grown (though they were mostly covered in stubble, with a few stray rows of parsley), then headed over to a large plastic-coated building that housed the farm’s pigs. They had three different heritage breeds, and two separate litters of piglets, some almost grown, some much smaller. The piglets oinked and played with each other like puppies, rolling in the deep beds of straw in the pens. The area smelled earthy but not disgusting like conventional pig farms, and we saw some of the hogs contentedly grazing at pasture, like squat cows. The pigs grunted at us, pressing their quivering noses against the bars of the pen. 

The tour took us along larger fields where they grow large-scale organic grains, and we glimpsed beehives, a wetlands area, several barns, interns cleaning produce at an outdoor kitchen, chickens out in “chicken tractors” (large movable pens), as well as grazing goats and sheep, ducks, Holsteins far afield, donkeys, and, of course, a couple barnyard cats. They also had an area full of greenhouses of all shapes and sizes, demonstrating cold frames, conventional greenhouses, and geometric domes with huge black tanks inside, which would be filled with water and used to collect thermal mass from the sun in the winter. We thoroughly enjoyed poking through these buildings and seeing all the different techniques they use to grow food.

I would love to return sometime in summer and see all the beds full of veggies, since there were a variety of methods for those as well. But I still really enjoyed seeing the livestock and getting a better picture of what humane animal husbandry looks like. Seeing all these animals, pastured and healthy and content, made me more determined than ever to seek out humanely-raised meat.

We wandered around the farm for almost an hour, and if we had come during the height of vegetable season we could have stayed much longer. For anyone interested in local agriculture, sustainable living, or organic farming, it’s a wonderful field trip. I hope we get the chance to visit again!


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

This Week (The Final Tomato Harvest)

I don’t want to work.

This is like slogging through mud.

I can’t think.

I’ll go check Facebook.

I opened my browser, typed in Facebook. I usually keep myself signed out so that I won’t be as tempted to check it, but it doesn’t take long to type an email and password.

I hesitated. 

Go harvest the last of your tomatoes.

I don’t want to.

The frost is going to kill them. The vines look terrible. Just go clean up the bed.

But Facebook is easier. 

You want to be a gardener, don’t you? Then don’t let those tomatoes go to waste.

But it’s so much easier to scroll through my newsfeed and feel sad about the world.

Go outside, Shafter.

I sighed. I dawdled, my fingers on the keyboard. 

Then I shut my computer, pulled on a sweater, grabbed the pruning shears and left Facebook inside. 

Two hours later, I was sweaty, covered in spatters of mud, fingernails black with compost, hands itching from handling the tomato vines. A huge pile of green and half-ripe tomatoes sat inside on the countertop, and the yard had undergone transformation. The tomato vines were chopped up and thrown in the compost heap. I had (with Francis’s help) dragged four straw bales into a square to create a tiny winter garden, layering the inside with straw and compost. I laid an old window from our garage over the top. I scattered spinach and carrots seeds inside, to see if anything will grow. The sun made the wet straw glisten. 

I discovered powdery mildew on my apple trees’ trunks, and hosed it off then surrounded them with a more breathable rabbit guard. I put the tomato cages in the garage. I scrubbed dirt off the shovel. I sheet-mulched a weedy bed, and watered all my fruit crops with a sludgy mix of compost and ice-cold hose water. I immersed myself in the work of my hands, dirt and straw and sprawling stems of smartweed. I brushed by my rose plant, a volunteer, and pink petals fluttered down to the grass.

Inside, I chopped up the ripest of the tomatoes for sauce and put the rest on the windowsill. I ate pasta with kale for lunch. When I washed the dishes, my hands stung from pulling weeds.

The next morning, the ground was covered in frost, but my green tomatoes were tucked away on the windowsill, pressed against the foggy panes in hopes of one last ripening from the sun.


Monday, November 14, 2016

What I've Been Reading: "Your Money or Your Life" by Vicki Robin

After hearing many, many people (including several of the people profiled in Radical Homemakers) recommend Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence by Vicki Robin, I decided that I probably needed to read this book. I’d been working my way through it for a few weeks, and I finally finished it on our trip to Pennsylvania. I’m not usually a fan of books about finances, but this one was both interesting and inspiring.

Overall, I love the basic premise of the book: money is life energy, so you should focus on spending it on the things that bring you the most worth and joy. Although it does have nitty-gritty methods and advice, it mostly focuses on the philosophy of money: What is money? What is work? How much do you really make per hour, when you factor in all the expenses? What is most important to you? How are you spending your money, and does that align with your values?

As you ask these questions, you start tracking your expenses and income, charting them on a graph, and carefully analyzing each category: is this the best use of my life energy? It was a refreshing change from the budgeting advice that assumes you have steady income and steady bills (we have neither). The method in this book cultivates consciousness rather than trying to fit all aspects of life into rigid, pre-set dollar amounts.

This method appealed both Zach and me, even though we have very different views of money (he doesn’t worry about it, while I live in terror of spending; he’s into numbers and calculation and charting progress, while I’m more free-flow and hippie-dippy). We’re going to start tracking our expenses and look into implementing the steps of the program.

All in all, I think Zach and I spend our money fairly well. After all, we’re not in debt (except for our mortgage) and live within our means. However, recently I’ve gotten a nagging suspicion that we are not spending our resources as wisely as we could be. The goal of this program is to help you identify the flow of money that doesn’t bring any fulfillment, and try to eliminate it. I’m interested to see what we discover as we track our expenses.

The book talks about the ultimate goal of all this tracking and questioning and consciousness: eventually achieving financial independence and having the freedom to spend your “life energy” however you like. As I read the book, I began to imagine possibilities I hadn’t considered before, thinking of the future as something to work toward rather than a place that I’ll just end up eventually.  

The final chapter, about investing, is outdated, but since the specific details of investments aren’t the focus of the book, I didn’t mind too much. It did inspire Zach to do  more investment research on his own, so the book was simply a good starting point on that aspect.

In short, Your Money or Your Life is definitely worth reading, even if you have a different philosophy of money management than the book presents. I love the “minimalist” mindset of focusing on what’s most important to you and eliminating all the clutter on the side— a principal that can help everyone, no matter where they are in life.


Friday, November 11, 2016

Where to Go: The Pinnacle Trail, Hamburg, PA

I meant to write about this popular trail almost three years ago, the first time I visited Pennsylvania. It was the dead of winter, with a thick carpet of snow and sub-freezing temperatures, but when Zach asked if I wanted to hike, I didn’t hesitate. So we bundled up in our bulky coats and drove to the trailhead. What followed was a grueling, but exhilarating, hike through the barren forests, crunching over snow, flexing our fingers to keep warm, and chatting animately about that hike we were taking this summer, the PCT. It was so cold that our water bottles iced over.

This time, when we hiked it for our anniversary, the sky was cloudy but the weather mild, and even though a light, cold rain fell on us, we were soon sweating as we clambered over the rocky trail through bursts of autumn colors. It’s a good hike, no matter the weather.

The Pinnacle is a loop trail that coincides with a few miles of the Appalachian Trail, with two notable lookout peaks, Pulpit Rock (actually my favorite in autumn) and the Pinnacle. MidAtlanticHikes has some good info about directions to the trailhead as well as routes on the path itself. There are a few maps along the trail, and you’ll want to study them to make sure you don’t get lost.

We hiked the trail clockwise last time and counterclockwise this time. I prefer the latter, because you climb the steeper hills and cross more rocky sections first, which are easier to hike up than down. Zach and I finished the trail in just over three hours, including a long break. It’s a beautiful hike that’s a bit challenging (but not too much) with some great views along the way. If you’re ever in eastern Pennsylvania, it’s well worth checking out!


Thursday, November 10, 2016


The past few days, drifting through a surreal dream, have felt like some sort of alternate reality. Despite this, these days have thrown some aspects of my life in sharp perspective. I am not a political activist or a great debater (though these roles are necessary to a better world). I am someone who can only focus on what I can do, right here, right now, to make small differences.

I grow a garden, because learning to feed myself without relying so much on the industrial food system is a small way to heal the earth.

I attend neighborhood meetings, because investing in relationships with my neighbors is a small way to build a resilient community.

I teach writing to teenagers, because it is a small way to help the next generation learn to express ideas and organize logical thoughts.

I give money to and attend church, which is a small way to help North County be a better place to live.

I read the posts from people on my Facebook feed, especially the ones whose perspectives seem confusing to me, because it’s a small way to help me better understand the people who share this country and this planet.

I try to be a good listener. There are enough people arguing in the world— I want to listen, to understand, to empathize. I want to set aside the cardboard cut-outs of different viewpoints and truly open my ears to what people have to say. Everyone needs to be heard. 

Life is in the integrity of the details, and in these strange times, I hope that my small acts of love can be the support for everyone who is finding their right path to make the world a better place. 

I love you all.


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

This Week (A Trip to Pennsylvania)

View from the Pinnacle

Hello, readers! Sorry I’ve been absent these past couple weeks— the time got away from me, the Halloween Festival swallowed my life, and then we left for vacation. We just returned yesterday, and I’m still finding my feet and getting back into the swing of work. 

At any rate, we had a great trip to Pennsylvania! Zach, his sister Ivy and I drove out on Halloween, soaring through miles of russet-and-gold woodlands and plowed-under cornfields until we drifted to the Appalachians— not quite in full autumn glory, but pretty darn close. Sunset on the never-ending mountains of hardwood trees, all shades of warm colors, was a sight I hadn’t experienced since I was a kid. It was a long drive, but we made it!

We spent most of the week hanging out with Zach’s brother, sister-in-law, and their baby, although Zach and I did sneak away for a day to celebrate our four-year anniversary. We hiked to the Pinnacle near Hamburg, and visited one of the original organic farms (The Rodale Institute), both of which I’ll write about soon.

We also took a day trip to Philadelphia, where we visited the Edgar Allan Poe National Monument, ate dinner at the Reading Terminal Market, and inched our way through terrifying traffic to get home. Aside from these events, we hung out, visited people, chatted, and ate food (including a lot of pie and a pirogi pizza). I also enjoyed walking through the rolling farmland around their house, watching the Holstein cows grazing the fields, seeing the barns made of stone with hexes painted on the sides, and looking out at a pastoral landscape that was familiar to me except for the hilly contours of the land.

I also got to hang out with this kittie.
It was a great trip, and I was glad to for the chance to visit family, help Zach relive his time spent in the area (he moved here on a whim six years ago and spent several months before moving back to Portland; on the way back to Oregon, he met me), and generally get away from the routines of life for a week. I have a lot of thoughts to share, so hopefully I can make time to articulate them and post them here in the next several days. Stay tuned!