Thursday, August 9, 2018

Celebrate the Seasons: August!

'Tis the season for tomatoes!

August has historically been my least favorite month because it’s the time when summer just... keeps... going. However, as with most things, the problem isn’t with the month itself, but with my attitude about it. This year, I’m determined to make the most of the things that make August special!

1. Scour the farmers’ market for deals. By late August, farmers (and gardeners!) usually have a glut of tomatoes, zucchini, and corn, and prices for these seasonal items drops. I’ve found organic heirloom tomatoes for 75¢ a pound at the market this time of year, or freshly-picked sweet corn for 10¢ an ear. Check out a market and see what you can find!

2. Sample some seasonal fruit. Yes, this is related to the previous point, but it bears repeating because August is peach season. If you have never tasted a freshly-picked peach, you are missing out.

3. Make your own celebration, since there aren’t any holidays. As a kid, it always depressed me that August had no major holidays. But now I realize that I can’t celebrate anything I darn well want! Make up your own holiday, or try one of these...
National Friendship Day- first Sunday of the month
Book Lover’s Day- August 9th
National Thrift Shop Day- August 17th
National Honeybee Awareness Day- Third Saturday
Just Because Day- August 27th
National Eat Outside Day- August 31st

4. Attend some live music. A lot depends on where you live, but most cities have free live music if you know where to look. For instance, St. Charles’s municipal band plays every Thursday in Frontier Park, for free. Festivals and free outdoor music events are pretty common this time of year, too.

5. Visit a butterfly garden. It’s prime season for butterflies— here in Missouri, the monarchs are passing through, but my garden is also full of black swallowtails, cloudless sulphurs, common buckeyes, and red-spotted purple admirals. You can hunt for butterflies anywhere that wildflowers grow, but a lot of conservation areas (and even public buildings, such as libraries) have gardens specifically dedicated to attracting these winged beauties. 

How do you celebrate August?


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Homestead Update 8/8/18: Cukes, Tomatoes, and Dying Things

A single day's harvest of cucumbers (the yellow ones are lemon cukes).

Yet another single-day harvest.
I told Zach yesterday, “I think I’m less fed up with summer right now than I ever have been before at this point in August.” Thanks to a two-week cool snap that allowed open windows and even— just once— long pants, I’m recharged and ready to take on the last several months of summer. (Haha, just kidding. I know summer is only going to last two more months.)

And the garden? Well, that’s a mixed bag. We have the “thrivers” (which are the majority, fortunately), the “barely survivors” (not many, but mostly the more expensive plants), and the “totally dead” categories.

The thrivers.

Our cucumbers have been producing so quickly that I can’t keep up with them, even with making a few gallons of pickles and foisting cucumbers off on everyone in close proximity. At long last the vines turned yellow and I decided to tear them up, thinking there weren’t that many cukes left on the vines. However, the vines showed me I was wrong:

The pumpkins and butternut squash show no signs of slowing down. It’s kind of terrifying how quickly they’ve eaten both the front and back yard. Not that I’m complaining— I’m just subconsciously nervous that we’re going to wake up one morning to a shattered window with butternut squash vines crawling into our room. (Plus, I found out that if I touch squash leaves I get a rash, which means I have to do all sorts of gymnastics to safely walk through the back yard.) I’m excited to have a store of squash for the winter!

Who needs a front lawn, anyway? (Butternut squash on the left, sweet potatoes on the right.)

Our tomatoes are another plant totally out of control. They are bearing so quickly that we can barely keep up, but I’ve been drying them, making them into sauce, and throwing them on pizza. We eat a lot of tomatoes these days, savoring the flavor of the season.

The Jerusalem artichokes are kind of insane. The tallest one is probably eight feet high, and they still have several weeks of growing left. We’ll see how big the tubers end up being, but the biomass alone is enough to make them worthwhile. Birds love to perch in them, beans twine up the huge stalks, and our tomatoes have started trellising on them. An all-around good plant.

Other successes include the sugar baby watermelons, peppermint, and massive sweet potato bed.

The chickens have also been happy in the cooler weather. Bobbie Dylan even started laying again, after months of striking! (It might’ve been the weather, or it might’ve been her overhearing us talking about putting her in the stew pot.)

Zach pruning out squash so we can walk in the backyard. Note the yellowed cucumbers and completely dead apple tree to the right of the photo.
The barely-survivors and totally dead.

A lot of our fruit and nut trees are in pretty dire straits. The pear trees and elderberries are growing mottled (I think it’s spider mites), our currant is covered in blotchy patches and has lost most of its leaves, three hazels are covered in spots and bug-eaten edges, our blueberries are just about to die of sadness (and acid starvation), one hazel is super dead, and one of our apple trees just dropped it leaves and flat-out died before we could figure out what was wrong with it. Losing a plant is one thing, but losing trees is really disheartening. Zach reminded me, though, that we shouldn’t be keeping plants that require babying; they have to be tough or they shouldn’t be in our yard. 

Still, we’ve got to do what we can to prevent anything else from dying. In the past week I’ve been frantically flipping through a copy of What’s Wrong with my Fruit Garden?, trying to figure out the plethora of maladies sweeping through my yard. 

The downside of planting a bazillion things is that it’s hard to keep track of them. The upside of planting a bazillion thing is that something is sure to succeed. Knee-deep in tomatoes and cucumbers, I can’t feel too sorry for myself.

What are you growing this time of year? 


Thursday, August 2, 2018

A Picture of Contentment

(I discovered this in my “to post” folder, long neglected because of computer drama. The weather has been much cooler since, and our hiking much more pleasant.)

One Sunday, despite the predictions of a heat index of 104ºF, Zach and I decided to go hiking. I had been longing to take a trip to my favorite hiking place— Pere Marquette State Park— for a while now, since we hadn’t been out there since January. The thought of the scenic drive there— a quiet two-lane highway wending between corn and soybean fields, past fruit stands with homemade signs saying PEACHES, through the tiny towns of West Alton and Grafton, and between the limestone bluffs and the glittering waters of the Mississippi River— sounded like it was worth it, even if the hiking was too hot.

As we scrambled to get our packs together, it occurred to me that we’d need dinner. Since we’re doing an Uber-Frugal Challenge right now, I figured that we shouldn’t cave and get Taco Bell on our way out. But I didn’t have any of the normal fixin’s for making a proper picnic dinner— no cheese, no olives, no tuna, no hummus. The idea of getting Little Caesar’s pizza crossed my mind. Five bucks for a whole pizza isn’t much, and then we’d have pizza! But when I ventured this idea to Zach, he said, “Don’t we still have some bread left? We can make peanut butter sandwiches.”

I balked. Sure, it was good homemade whole wheat bread, but I think it’s best when it’s fresh from the toaster, not eaten out of a backpack. I just wanted a pizza. Was it too much to ask to buy a pizza? Fortunately, there were no Little Caesar’s directly on the way, so it helped make it easier to assent to Zach’s idea and start making sandwiches. I put a ton of honey on mine, packed it up in Tupperware, threw it along with some trail mix into our packs, and we headed out.

The drive was everything I hoped it would be— I stared at the fluffy clouds through the rows of corn flickering by, spotted snowy egrets hunting for fish in shallow water, and smiled as we plunged through a brief rain shower. The hike was hotter than I expected it to be, with sweat dripping from every pore as I struggled up the hills after Zach. We slapped mosquitoes and dodged poison ivy as we hiked through the breeze-less forest, our conversation about the predominance of pawpaws in the understory punctuated by spluttering and smacking as we ran into yet another spiderweb.

By the end of the multi-mile hike, we were ready for some air conditioning. Fortunately, the park features a historic Civilian Corps lodge, and we had confirmed on a previous visit that you’re allowed to hang out in the great room and even eat your own food. Sweat literally dripping from us, we stepped into the icy room and found some seats by the window. We pulled out our sandwiches, Zach said grace over them, and we began to eat.

I had never tasted a peanut butter sandwich so delicious. It was warm and sticky, full of honey, with crispy edges because I’d toasted the bread. I ate slowly, gazing out the window at the Illinois River floating by in the near distance. The lodge’s great beams rose above our head, decorated with tapestries depicting the wildlife in this region. I looked at Zach’s glasses and saw the trees and the river reflected in them. We didn’t talk, concentrating on how delicious our food tasted.

When we finished eating, and just sat in our seats, looking out at the river, I was almost staggered by how content I felt. Just a few hours ago I had been whining because I wanted pizza, but now I had been stunned to silence by the perfect simplicity of a peanut butter sandwich, eaten with my husband in a beautiful place. How many other moments like this had I missed in my quest to find something to make me happy?

We drove home along the same scenic route, listening to Steely Dan and still enjoying the air conditioning. It was a perfect day.


Saturday, July 14, 2018

Our Yard: May vs. July

I’ve enjoyed keeping a photo record of the continuing explosion of our backyard. Looking back at my April vs. May post, I chuckle at how excited I was about the growth then! Now that summer is in full swing I see tomatoes ripening, trees leafing out, spring crops withering, and squash bent on world dominion crawling over everything. Enjoy!


July: Hibiscus, popcorn, elderberry, tons of butternut squash, beans along the fence, watermelon, comfrey, and a patch of withered spring chicken forage crops that we just mowed down (we planted sweet potatoes there; we'll see how it goes).

July: Volunteer squash, pear trees, onions, Jerusalem artichokes, hordes of tomatoes, cucumber, watermelon, yarrow.

July: Tomatoes, cucumbers, comfrey in pots, zinnias and popcorn in the background, and duckweed in the pond
July: Watermelon off to the left, apple trees, kale, yarrow, comfrey, pumpkins, and corn to the right.

July: Popcorn, zinnias, black-eyed susans, and a whole lotta cucumbers!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Celebrate the Seasons: July!

July is my birthday month, so I’ve always held a fondness for it, even though the summer heat usually hits an unbearable level at this point. I appreciate this month more than ever now that I have a garden of summer crops; I may wilt in the heat, but my squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, and sweet potatoes are in heaven! As Zach so eloquently said, “The garden makes me realize what summer is for.” Here are some ways to embrace it!

1. Make hot-weather treats. ‘Tis the season for popsicles! I pulled out some old popsicle molds and blended some peeled and seeded cucumber, watermelon, lemon juice, and a bit of honey, then froze them into delicious popsicles that hit the spot whenever I come inside after a walk. I also love freezing chunks of watermelon, then salting them right before I eat them. Don’t forget drinks, too— peppermint-infused water, homemade ice tea or lemonade, sparkling drinks, and more!

2. Go swimming. Whether it’s a local pool, a river, or a natural water feature like Johnson’s Shut-Ins, this is a great time of year to be in the water! 

3. Ask people to show you their gardens. Anyone with a garden, whether flower or vegetable, is usually happy to show off what they’ve planted, and summer is the time for seeing gardens at their best. I enjoy strolling through my neighborhood and seeing coneflowers, zinnias, and marigolds blooming everywhere.

4. Swap food from the garden. On a similar note, see if you can find people who are willing to trade food; you’ll both benefit! Even if you don’t have a garden of your own, you can offer cookies or something; or, chances are you know someone who is absolutely swimming in produce, and will thank you for taking cucumbers or tomatoes or zucchini off their hands. If swapping isn’t an option, farmers markets are still full of increasingly cheap produce for the same reason.

5. Sweat. Some people pay good money to visit a sauna, but the Midwest offers non-stop sauna conditions— all you have to do is step outside! Seriously, though, a good clean sweat is helpful for the body every once in a while, and you might as well embrace it. Sunscreen and deodorant both inhibit sweat, so try to find a shady place outdoors, or on a hot night. Walk, jog, garden, or do whatever you need to do to sweat, and when you’re thoroughly soaked, duck into a cold shower. It’s like a sauna in reverse... and trust me, you’ll appreciate air conditioning much more.

What are you doing to celebrate July?


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Foraging Mulberries and Elderflowers

The spring greens have long since turned bitter with the summer heat, so it’s time to move on to different foraged goodies! (I’m still eating dandelions, however.) This month we feasted on mulberries and foraged elderflowers for the first time.


I already knew about this one— we had a mulberry tree in my backyard when I was a kid, so the taste of mulberries is synonymous with summer. These berries, which grow prolifically everywhere, are fairly bland, but they make up for that with sheer number. You can pick them every day for weeks! Zach made a mulberry infusion in Everclear and made some delicious drinks with the liqueur and some sparkling water. I simmered a bunch with some lemon juice and sugar to simultaneously make jam and syrup, the latter of which I used in homemade ice cream. You can also eat the berries out of hand, and I’m going to try to make a cobbler with them soon. Plus, they’re fun to pick, even if your hands get stained!


Once Zach and I learned to identify the elderberry bush— an important note, since it bears casual resemblance to hemlock, the plant that killed Socrates— we’ve started seeing it everywhere. We decided to visit a particularly dense patch to harvest some of the huge umbrella-shaped flower clusters. We shook off the bugs, picked off all but the smallest branches (the larger stems are mildly poisonous), and infused the flowers in Everclear. (We biked all the way to the liquor store before Zach realized he didn’t have his ID with him. I felt a bit self-conscious walking into a liquor store to buy Everclear, but the cashier didn’t bat an eye and I felt very grown-up afterwards.) The liqueur is excellent for mixed drinks, and we recently added a couple tablespoons to homemade ice cream for a delicate summer treat. Stay tuned for our adventures foraging elderberries in the future!

What seasonal foods are you eating right now?


Saturday, June 23, 2018

Homestead Update 6/23/18: Summer Begins Dramatically

Fluffy Buffy, who did not die, in all her buffy fluffiness.

What an intense month (and a bit) this has been! Not only did the weather make an abrupt and rather traumatic shift from spring to summer (then, mercifully, back to spring these past few days), but the past several weeks also saw us spending a week in Hawaii, rearranging the whole house (I fit almost all our books onto one shelf, a feat I formerly thought impossible), and dealing with all sorts of personal drama, from our nephew breaking his femur (he's in a cast for six weeks) to our car’s fusebox melting into a puddle (it’s been in the shop for a week, with nearly a week to go). We harvested our first tomatoes, celebrated Zach’s birthday, and one of our chickens almost died. Like I said, things have been crazy...

Chicken butt.
The Saga of Fluffy Buffy

We arrived home from Hawaii on a morning when the heat index topped 100ºF. Zach and I, thoroughly jet-lagged and not having slept at all on our redeye flight, checked on the chickens that morning, who were fine after being “chicken-sat” by my parents all week. Zach and I took a nap. However, when we woke up mid-afternoon, we walked outside to find Fluffy Buffy’s limp body hanging halfway out the henhouse, her eyes shut, her beak open, her whole body heaving. I freaked out and threw open the door to the coop, grabbing her limp body and pulling her into the shade. We sprayed her with water and dragged a fan outside and blew it on her, while she laid there limply. Tears streaming down my face, I begged, “Stay with us, Fluffy Buffy! Stay with us!” Although our chickens are certainly not pets, I hated to see her suffer, and I couldn’t stand the thought that my negligence might mean death for her. (Meanwhile, our incredibly compassionate other chickens kept on coming up and aggressively pecking her until I shoved them away.)

At last we carried her inside and placed her in a cool bath. She didn’t exactly perk up, but she began to look less distressed, and just laid there quietly, blinking at us. Finally she began making soft, inquisitive noises. We pulled her out of the bath and set her on the cool bathroom floor. She laid there in a fluffy pile, staring straight ahead and blinking. There wasn’t anything else we could do, so we left her in there and tried to make sure the other chickens were okay. I was already mentally writing a post titled, “A Eulogy for Fluffy Buffy.”

Trying to take a chicken portrait is challenging...
Thank goodness, she began to perk up after that, and by the next morning, she was able to walk again. We turned her loose with the other chickens and watched her carefully. She moved a bit more slowly than usual, but picked around in the compost and generally seemed okay. 

That’s when we realized that we needed a better way to combat the heat. We have a tarp over their whole coop, but shade wasn’t enough. We now have a fan hooked up, and I place a shallow basin of water in front of it for evaporation. We put ice in their drinking water every day and I hose off their enclosure to help cool it down. I’m happy to say that a few days ago, when we were gone all day, the chickens all lived through the day, even though the heat index was 105ºF! Fluffy Buffy has even started laying again. (Bobbie Dylan, on the other hand, seems to be on an egg-laying strike. She does noooot like the heat.) So, crisis averted, and Fluffy Buffy lives to tell the tale!

Summer crops

While our peas died and our lettuce and spinach bolted, our summer crops are taking off in a big way! Seriously, in the week we were gone to Maui, our cover crops grew a literal foot, and our tomatoes were so bushy that I’ve had to give them a major pruning— twice. The squash we planted (cucumbers, butternut, and pumpkins) are crawling in giant piles all over the yard. We harvested our first tomatoes of the year— two “mystery tomatoes” I grew from seeds at the seed swap. They are small slicing tomatoes, and very delicious! I baked them into an omelet with some basil from the garden and brie. Yummy!

I’ll be posting photos of the yard soon: I thought it had “exploded” before, but I had no idea what it would look like come summer.

Radishes and their greens— great for stir-fry!
Cucumbers attempting to take over the world
We'll have ripe cherry tomatoes soon!
Our hibiscus just starting flowering

One of the stops
I learned about this event earlier this year, and it was really cool! Basically, people all around the St. Louis area sign up to open their backyards to the public from 11-4 on a certain Sunday. The backyards feature anything related to sustainability: native plants, edible landscaping, permaculture, chicken- and beekeeping, solar energy, rainwater harvesting, and so on. The event puts out a guidebook listing where the yards are and what they feature, and you can put together a route of yards that interest you. 

Since there were a ton of yards in Tower Grove, Zach and I drove to Tower Grove Park, left the car there, and hoofed it around the neighborhoods. (This was the day the heat index was 105ºF, so we both got mild heat exhaustion, but it was worth it!) We saw all manner of amazing gardens and permaculture projects, as well as unusual animals like quail and rabbits. The owners were around to talk about their projects and answer questions.

Our favorite yard was pretty much the same concept as ours: sheet-mulched, with an emphasis on fruit trees. But the cool thing was that this yard was two years further along than ours, so we could see what it would look like! We plied the owner, Matt, with questions about his blackberries and passionfruit. 

My favorite moment of the whole day, though, was when Matt pointed out his Illinois Everbearing Mulberry, the same tree we planted this year. It stood about fifteen feet tall, and he said, “I pruned the heck out of it this year.” He told us to find a ripe berry and try the fruit. Now, wild mulberries are nice if you find a perfectly ripe one, so I was hoping that the cultivated kind would be a slightly stronger version of a good wild mulberry. However, when I plucked the fruit, which looks like an elongated blackberry, and popped it in my mouth, I was treated to an explosion of tart-sweet fruity flavor that was so intense I nearly cried for joy. (Okay, eating good fruit when you have heat exhaustion is a pretty euphoric experience, but still.) I couldn’t believe how delicious it tasted! It gave me a lot of hope for our yard. 

That’s what’s been going on the homestead this month! What have you been up to?


Saturday, June 16, 2018

Celebrate the Seasons: June!

Wild mulberries, free for the taking

It’s that time of year again... when you bless the inventors of air conditioning! (We try to keep our house at 80, but have a window air conditioner for nighttime.) But seriously, there are lots of ways to enjoy this month that brings us into the official start of summer. For instance...

1. Observe the summer solstice. The European winter solstice celebrations have been immortalized in our celebration of Christmas, but the summer solstice got lost in the shuffle. Time to bring it back! The solstice traditionally involved a bonfire, feasting, and communing with nature, so take some time to do one or all of the above on June 21st. (See more fun ideas here.)

2. Start carrying a water bottle. No, you won’t die if you go out without one, but as the heat intensifies, having water close to hand is helpful. There’s no need to waste a bunch of plastic, though! Get a reusable water bottle and get into the habit of carrying it around. I use a Nalgene my brother brought me from Yellowstone, but you can almost always find water bottles at thrift shops. Or you can follow Zach’s lead and use an old kombucha bottle.

3. Go berry-picking. If you live in the Northwest, berry-picking is as easy as walking to, well, pretty much anywhere, and grabbing delicious blackberries straight off the vine. In the Midwest, we have a glut of mulberries, which are less tasty but still fun to pick. Or you could try a U-Pick farm! (Here’s a list of U-Picks in the St. Louis area.)

4. Catch fireflies. It’s prime season for fireflies— they light up the woods like crazy around our house! (If you happen to live west of the Rockies, I’m sorry that you don’t get fireflies. Maybe you can eat some wild blackberries to console yourself.)

5. Choose humanely-raised meat for a barbecue. You guys know I have a thing with meat— I’ve written about it here, here, and here. And while I love barbecues, I think there are better ways to celebrate that buying cheap meat made from an animal who lived a life of suffering. Ideally, it’s best to buy meat from a local farmer whom you trust (for St. Louisans, check out the package Thies Farm offers, and for everyone, look at EatWild for more ideas), but in a pinch, choose something labeled “Organic,” “Grass-Fed,” or “Humane Certified.” Yes, it’s a lot more expensive than CAFO meat, but you could make up for it by buying less meat and filling in with side dishes. 

How are you going to celebrate June?


Thursday, June 14, 2018

Stories from Maui

Burying Zach in Makena Beach!

The week before Memorial Day, Zach and I were able to hop a plane to Maui to spend time with his brother Dustin, sister-in-law Tessa, and niece Margot, who recently moved there. (It was my first time visiting Hawaii, and my expectations were largely shaped from calendars at the mall and Disney’s Moana. I was interested to see the real thing!)

After the eight-hour flight, we met Dustin at the airport and he drove us toward their house in Maui’s upcountry. Wide prairie stretched out on either side: this area had once been sugar plantations, but were now covered with grass that looked similar to normal lawn grass back home— except five or six feet tall. 

We quickly wound up the side of the Haleakala Mountain (volcano), past surprisingly familiar-looking landscapes of evergreens and eucalyptus trees, like you’d see in California. At a glance, you’d never know you were somewhere tropical unless you spotted a glossy red-leafed ti plant, a chameleon hiding in the bushes, or a fifteen-foot-tall yucca. I pointed out all the birds— Myna birds, francolins (a kind of partridge), pheasants, and, best of all, red junglefowl (chickens)! (And yes, we did see a rooster who looked exactly like Heihei, buggy eyes and all.)

Their house was perched 3,000 feet up the mountainside with an amazing view of the plains we had crossed. We could see the south shore of Maui to the left, the north shore to the right, and the west hills, perpetually shrouded in clouds, straight ahead. Other islands were scattered in the distance. Being from a landlocked state, I wasn’t sure if I would feel nervous being surrounded by water, but Maui is a big enough island that I never felt like we were on a speck of land in a limitless ocean (even though that’s pretty much the truth). 

See the hang-glider?

We spent most of the week having fun hanging out with family. Margot, who is 21 months, has a huge vocabulary and loves to talk, and we bonded over repeated readings of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Dustin and Tessa took us to two different farmers markets (I bought vegan ice cream made from local coconuts, and Zach tried a delicious vegan miso soup topped with fresh veggies and flowers), two different beaches (the waves were perfect for jumping, and we saw a sea turtle!), and a few hikes (the woods reminded me of the Northwest, except with the sound of roosters crowing). 

We also spent a lot of time enjoying what Hawaii has to offer: perfect weather, nice breezes, and the best fresh fruit ever. I’d eat four or five oranges a day, plucked straight from the tree in their backyard, as well as fresh avocados, grapefruit, and bananas. In the afternoons I’d often sit in bed and read (Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra by Lewis; the latter was an exceptionally good choice for Maui), glancing up every once in a while to see the silver-gold light of midday gleaming on the water.

Another notable day trip was a jaunt to the West Maui hills. This involved a drive to the opposite side of the island, and I was shocked at how different the ecosystems were here. Gone was any comparison to the Northwest or California— this was sheer volcanic rock hills blanketed in a riot of tropical growth, from coconuts and bananas to all sorts of shiny-leafed plants I’d never seen before. We toured a decorative garden and hiked up to a viewpoint where we could see down the volcanic gorge toward the center of the island.

After, we ate a picnic (samosas from the farmers market) in a nearby garden that highlighted the different cultural heritages of Hawaii. We sat by the pool in the Japanese section of the garden and walked through a little bamboo forest.

On our last day, we visited Haleakala National Park, driving a long and winding road up past the evergreen treeline and through barren-looking windswept prairies to the crumbling volcanic top of the mountain. We walked to the rim of the crater and were astonished to look down into it— it fell away at our feet, marked with miniature mountains inside. Clouds spilled over the edges. It gave the illusion that the bottom of the crater was the ground, and the clouds were actually fog, or waves of the sea. We walked for a while along the rim and admired the beauty from several angles. It was definitely worth the drive!

This plant only grows on the top of Haleakala!

Inside the crater, with clouds
One of my favorite moments of the whole week, though, happened when I woke up in the middle of the night. It was the only night during our trip that wasn’t cloudy, and through the open windows I could feel the cool air and see the stars. Half-asleep, I looked up at the sky, and saw a constellation hanging above the West Maui hills: Maui’s fishhook. The constellation jumped out like diamonds woven into a tapestry. 

I blinked a few times, not believing my eyes. I had read the legends of Maui standing on Haleakala and hooking the sun, and of course this constellation was in Moana, but I had just assumed Disney made it up. What was this strange constellation, which I had never seen before? How could it be so bright, so unmistakable, hanging in the air and giving witness to the story of the demigod’s achievements? A sense of mystery, a sense of myth and legend and Otherness of this new place, fell heavy on me. I was a stranger here; this was Maui’s island, clearly claimed by these glimmering stars.

I sank back into the covers, still disoriented, and slipped into sleep with the fishhook casting faint light on my face.

The next morning, I realized that the constellation I saw was called Scorpio in Europe, the same constellation that I had watched with Zach in Bryce Canyon nearly a year ago.  But somehow that added to the magic rather than detracted from it; the same stars tell different stories to different people. 

I was grateful for the chance to get a glimpse of the stories that make up the island of Maui, shown in the stars, the menagerie of flora and fauna, and the ocean all around.


Friday, June 1, 2018

My (Almost) Waste-Free Hair Care Routine

Between Zach and me, we have a lot of hair to take care of. And while I’ve never paid too much attention to this stuff growing out of my head, I was in the habit for most of my life and applying shampoo and conditioner whenever I washed my hair. If you add it up, that’s a lot of plastic bottles. Yes, they’re recyclable, but they can only be “downcycled,” and will eventually end up in the landfill. When I did an eight-week “Show Your Plastic Challenge” in 2016, switching hair care products was an obvious choice. Also, using alternative methods is good for our shower-to-garden greywater system, which I’ll describe in detail in an upcoming post. 

I had already learned that traditional shampoos and conditioners make your scalp greasier. I couldn’t go two days without a shower because my scalp would start to itch and my hair would get unbearably greasy. Now that I’ve switched to non-traditional methods, I can go several days without washing my hair, and I have fewer problems with my scalp. There’s definitely a transition period where your scalp freaks out, but it will balance over time.

Here are the three items I use for hair care:

Nice soap.

I originally started with shampoo bars, which are specifically designed to be used on hair, but now I just use high-quality soap which I buy locally at Frenchtown Secret Garden or Elements Herbology. (I just bring my own bag— no plastic packaging needed!) I’ve read that soap isn’t that great for your hair, but it works just fine for me.

How to use: Lather up the bar in your hands, massage it into your hair for a few minutes, and rinse. I shower every few days and usually wash my hair. Zach rotates between simply rinsing his hair, using the soap, and applying shampoo about once a month.

Apple cider vinegar.

If you try to wash your hair with just soap, your hair will turn into a stiff, squeaky mess. But a strategic dose of apple cider vinegar will turn your hair magically soft! And no, you don’t smell like vinegar afterward; the scent immediately dissipates.

How to use: I keep an old plastic bottle, which I refill from the glass bottles of ACV that we buy. (Apparently it’s best to choose the ACV with the “mother” still in it.) I also keep an old 32-ounce yogurt container in the shower. When I’m ready to condition, I splash a tablespoon or two of ACV into the yogurt cup, then fill the cup to the brim with shower water. I pour the pint of vinegar-water on my head, and don’t rinse it off. This seems to be the perfect balance for my hair, but you can play with the ratios to see what works for you.


I’ve read that frequent hair-brushing is very helpful is you’re using natural products, but I’m just too lazy for that. Some days I only brush my hair once in the morning, braid it, and then leave the braid in all day and all night. 

And the result? Well, I certainly don’t look like a L’Oreal model, but my hair is downright presentable, and over the course of my life I’ll be keeping hundreds of plastic bottles out of their fast track to a landfill. I’m happy that I’m preventing waste and supporting local businesses... and challenging cultural norms just a tiny bit, too.