Tuesday, February 20, 2018

How to Murder a Lawn in Five Simple Steps

Zach works on Step Four while the chickens (and neighbors) wonder what the heck we're up to

Last week, we murdered our backyard lawn by smothering it.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Lisa, why on earth would you want to get rid of your beautiful green lawn that requires little care and maintenance, when so many people in the world want to grow a nice lawn but can’t?”

Privilege. Midwestern river-bottom-soil full-sun suburban yard privilege.

And also because...

1. We are going to plant a bunch of fruit trees, and we don’t want the grass competing. Sapling roots and grass roots occupy the same space in the ground, so we want to give our little trees the best chance.

2. We want to plant tomatoes and squash, and smothering a lawn is a lot easier than double-digging a bed. Instead of breaking our backs hoeing up the ground, we just break our backs once hauling in mulch. In the summer we’ll plant the seeds/seedlings into little pockets of soil in the mulch.

3. We want to grow chicken forage/cover crops. Although chickens will eat grass, there are a bazillion other crops that are more nutritious and have flowers for the bees and nitrogen-fixing properties. It will be easier to sow these crops into mulch/soil rather than trying to hoe up the grass.

4. We want to preserve our reputation as the neighborhood weirdos.

The technique we chose, known as “sheet-mulching,” involves putting down a thick layer of cardboard (much more eco-friendly than weed cloth) and organic material in order to smother what you don’t want to grow. Eventually, time, weather, microorganisms, and the rotted remains of the lawn will break the materials into rich soil suitable for growing all sorts of delicious food. I’ve done mini-sheet-mulching before in our asparagus bed, but a whole backyard was a project on a much bigger scale. I’m pretty darn pleased with the results.

Here’s how we did it.

Tape peelings
Step one: Gather more cardboard than you could ever possibly imagine.

A few months ago, Zach started making rounds at Walmart after he got off work, gathering cardboard boxes from the stockers (ask a manager or any employee if you can have some. I’ve also heard of people asking large-appliance stores and bike shops for their boxes). A pile of cardboard steadily grew in our garage.

As we neared our date for killing the lawn, we spent a whole evening dragging cardboard into our warm house (it was freezing in the garage) and tearing off all the plastic labels and tape. As I peeled, Zach counted the boxes and made rough calculations. It looked like one more load of cardboard would do the trick. After that evening, we had transferred a pile of plastic-free cardboard to the basement, waiting for the next step.

Step two: Find a source of mulch (or any kind of weed-free organic material).

This turned out to be tricky. People online and in gardening books always talk about how tree-trimming companies will give you mulch for free if you just call them, but the few leads I chased turned up nothing. At last, we settled on buying mulch instead, from R. Schroeder Sod Farm down the road. It looked like pretty low-grade mulch, which is exactly what we wanted because we want it to break down quickly. It was only $15 a cubic yard, much cheaper than anywhere else I’d called. Since the somewhat-hefty delivery fee was the same regardless, we ordered the maximum single delivery, which was 14 cubic yards, or enough to cover most of the yard in several inches. It was almost time.

Step three: Cover the yard in organic material.

You’re supposed to lay a bunch of high-nitrogen material down first, like grass clippings, but since it’s winter we were in short supply of green stuff. We settled for a layer of autumn leaves, gathered from my parents’ house. This would encourage worms and other microorganisms to take interest in the underside of our sheet mulch. It felt weird to dump leaves all over our lawn, making it look like an un-raked yard in autumn. But the chickens loved it!

Step four: Layer cardboard over everything.


On the day of our big project, it was time to add the cardboard layer. We began by soaking the ground with a hose, then laying out the cardboard, trying to overlap the edges so that weeds won’t be able to sneak through. We had to spray the cardboard frequently to keep it from drying and curling up in the sunlight. Our mountain of cardboard turned out to be enough to cover the entire backyard (minus the chicken coop), with some left over!

Step five: Add and spread the mulch.


The delivery truck showed up at noon on the dot, and dumped a massive pile of finely-ground mulch next to our yard, blocking half the street. Zach and I grabbed shovels and tote bins (lacking a wheelbarrow) and set to work, shovelful by shovelful. We worked for an hour non-stop, then my brother Christian joined us, him shoveling and us carrying tote bins, for another couple hours. My arms and back ached and I started grunting louder and louder with each load, but at long last we had covered the whole backyard with several inches of mulch. 


Next, we leveled the mulch with garden rakes, turning the chickens out to help us (they didn’t). We left some mulch in a pile at the edge of the yard, for use on later projects, and smoothed out the rest as much as we could. 

Our yard now looks somewhat naked, with its smooth carpet of blackish-brown mulch. But if I squint at the blank canvas, I see a utopia of fruit trees, nut trees, veggies, herbs, and cover crops. It’s hard to wait until spring!

And there you have it— five simple steps to murdering your lawn!


~~~



Friday, February 16, 2018

Homestead Update 2/16/18: Lead, Seed Swaps, and Order Forms

The chickies are fascinated by bins. Maybe it reminds them of their chickhood.

Now that we’re already two weeks into February (!), Zach and I are officially scrambling to get in gear for this year’s garden. Although I was able to harvest some kale and a few accidental sweet potatoes from my fall garden last year, I haven’t done a full season of gardening since 2016, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much I have learned in that span of time.

Seriously, I think about the way I was gardening back then and want to laugh and cry at the same time. I planted cucumbers in front of a south-facing black-painted wall in high summer. I tried to grow watermelon in what turned out to be four inches of soil over a hidden concrete patio. I made two raspberries make do with less than two cubic feet of soil, then planted them into straight clay and didn’t water them all summer. And yet— despite all my failings and ignorance— I still grew a lot of food. I just now finished up the kale that I had frozen from the 2016 season, and I harvested some stellar carrots, peas, and jalapenos that year. Square Foot Gardening was a huge help in getting me started: aside from interference from critters or downright negligence, it’s pretty dummy-proof.

In short, I’m happy to start a new gardening year knowing two things:

1. I have a much better idea of what I’m doing; I’ve learned so much.

2. Later, I will look back on this year and groan about my mistakes, but it won’t matter because I will still have food and experience to show for it. If I plant enough things, something will grow!

Here are the projects we’ve been working on in the last month.

Testing our soil for lead

I’ve known for literal years that we need to get our soil tested for heavy metals, since we have an old house that was undoubtedly covered with lead paint at some point. However, I dragged my feet for ages, and chased a few false starts (the Missouri extension service will do it for you, but it was more than we wanted to pay). Zach finally found a laboratory at the University of Delaware for a reasonable price. 

As soon as the ground had thawed just the tiniest bit, we spent a frigid day digging up bits of our yard: the garage foundation, the house foundation, and the edges of our yard. We separated the soils into bowls and let them dry out into little pebbles of clay, then packaged them up in bags the university had sent us, and mailed them. Last week we received the results, and found that while our soil does have some lead, it’s within the safe limits as long as we’re careful about root vegetables— what a relief! 

Attending a seed swap

One of the most exciting events this month was a seed swap that I attended, hosted by the St. Louis Seed Savers Exchange. I brought some marigold and zinnia seeds that my mom had saved, then stood in line for my chance to race through the folding tables in a heated tent, where we were allowed to shuffle through dozens of seed packets. Some packets were 2017 stock, donated by various companies like Ferry-Morse and High-Mowing Organic Seeds; others were seeds that people had saved from their gardens. I grabbed “mystery tomato” seeds, packets of arugula, radish, carrot, pepper, butternut squash and more, and I even managed to snag a hops rhizome (the person who had brought it told me, “It’s more like a pet than a plant”) and a sunchoke (Jerusalem artichoke)! It was an awesome experience!

Ordering seeds and trees

Their seed catalog is gorgeous!
Even with the seed swap, we still had more to buy. I ordered the last few seeds from a company right here in Missouri, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. The owners travel the world in search of rare seeds— all open-pollinated— and encourage people to save the seeds and preserve the genetic diversity of our food supply. I received the packets of borage, vining pea, and others a couple days ago.

Trees were next on the line-up to order. Zach bought a glut of elderberries and false indigo from the Missouri Department of Conservation, which will ship the second week of March. We also made a big order to Stark Brothers Nursery for several fruit and nut trees. I foresee much hole-digging in my future!

Murdering our lawn

This was our biggest project, and the one I’m most proud of. But that deserves a blog post in and of itself. Stay tuned...

Covering our lawn with leaves was only the beginning!

I’m happy about the steps we’ve taken to get this growing season off to a strong start. I know there will be a lot of failures, but a lot of triumphs, too. I can’t wait to see what this year will bring!

~~~

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Eating Meatless: Vegetarian Breakfasts, Lunches, and Dinners

Peanut butter toast for breakfast!


Here’s what Zach and I usually eat throughout the day. Again, it’s definitely not a perfect diet, but it’s tasty and we enjoy it! 

BREAKFAST

We eat a lot of waffles! I recently discovered this whole-wheat vegan sourdough waffle, and it is hands-down the best waffle I have ever eaten. (Or if you don’t have a sourdough, this recipe is great too!) We eat the waffles with fried eggs, or, more commonly, with a generous slather of peanut butter, a sprinkle of chia seeds, pecans, chopped apples, or slices of banana, and real maple syrup.

Bread is another common staple. Zach has his wonderful country blonde sourdough boule (made with the method found in this book), and I’ve started making whole-wheat sourdough sandwich bread (I’ll post the recipe/method once I perfect it). Again, we eat it with eggs or with peanut butter and toppings. Occasionally we’ll put parmesan and garlic on it for morning garlic bread.

Zach doesn’t like oatmeal, but I’ll often eat my tried-and-true overnight chocolate oats because they’re easy and delicious.

For a low-carb breakfast, eggs are king! You can shred carrots and beets to make a hash, or make scrambled eggs with a veggie mixed in. I think tofu would also be good for breakfast.

LUNCH

I almost never make lunch from scratch— I try to keep leftovers around so we can eat them instead. I’ve gotten into a pretty good rhythm of packing up some leftovers straight from the dinner pan and packing them for Zach for next day’s work lunch.

Whenever we need to pack lunch to go and eat it cold, I resort to sandwiches. Hard-boiled egg sandwiches are a good option, as are hummus wraps (tortilla or flatbread, hummus, lettuce, etc.) and waffle sandwiches (basically what we eat for breakfast, just made into a sandwich). Other options include salads with some sort of protein, bagels with cream cheese, or cheese and apple slices.

DINNER 
(or, as my family says, “Supper”)

We eat a ton of burritos (or some other form of Mexican food). It is just impossible to go wrong with these. See this post for more ideas.

Pasta is another great option. Cheese and carbs, seasonal veggies, and some sort of protein source (fried eggs, bean balls, etc.) come together for an easy meal any time of the year.

Stir-fry is great for when you have a bunch of random veggies to use up. I use either tofu or eggs for the protein source. Tofu, peanuts, or cashews are also great in stir-fries. (This is my go-to sauce for stir-fries— so delicious!)

Chili is easy to make, delicious, and can be paired with other items (I wrap it up into burritos and mix it with whole-wheat macaroni for chili mac). 

Other ideas include pizza (make your own delicious crust if you like; Zach’s and my favorite toppings are feta, black olives, green or roasted red peppers, and marinated artichoke hearts); breakfast-for-dinner (including French toast, perhaps?); simple beans and rice (the key is to spice them with good chili powder and cumin); roasted root vegetables with fried eggs (sweet potatoes, carrots, etc.); stuffing made from roasted sweet potatoes or butternut squash and cubes of stale bread sauteed together with lots of sage and topped with gravy; grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup; a hearty salad topped with lots of cheese and/or nuts; and this awesome lentil soup over rice.

What are your favorite meat-free meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?


~~~

Monday, January 29, 2018

Eating Meatless: How Do You Get Enough Protein?

A hearty winter salad. Protein sources: chickpeas and bleu cheese.

I’ve been consistently eating meals without meat long enough that it’s no big deal to me anymore. However, talking to a few people recently has made me remember that a lot of people can’t picture what a full day without meat looks like. (No judgement— that was definitely me when I tried my vegetarian stint in my early 20s!) I thought it would be handy for me to write about what Zach and I eat in a typical week.

Keep in mind that this is not an ideal diet: we do eat a ton of carbs (which works fine for us but not for many people). This isn’t intended to be a this-is-how-you-should-eat guide, but simply an example of what a vegetarian diet can look like.

So, the first question that I always used to ask vegetarians, and likely you do too... “How do you get enough protein?!”

Turns out, unless you’re a bodybuilder, you don’t need nearly as much protein as you think you do. (Great article about that on 100 Days of Real Food.) Still, it doesn’t hurt to be conscientious about incorporating protein in your diet. Here are my favorite sources. 

Legumes. From refried beans and black-eyed peas to hummus, chickpea patties, and white bean sauces, we eat a ton of beans. (They don’t agree with everyone, but in general, the more you eat them, the more your body adjusts. We don’t have any problems with gas.)

Eggs. We spend the extra money to buy eggs either from the farmer’s market or from our neighbors, so we’re sure the eggs are from hens that run around in the sunshine, eating greens and bugs. The taste/texture/nutrition/humane treatment is exponentially better than typical grocery store eggs (although organic eggs will work in a pinch). Eggs will be an even bigger part of our diet once our chickies start laying!

Peanut butter. We eat a lot of peanut butter. Quick and tasty.

Nuts and seeds. I don’t use these as a primary protein source, but they’re a nice boost throughout the day: almonds in oatmeal, chia seeds on top of waffles, sesame seeds in stir-fries, etc.

Tofu. No, it’s not fake meat— tofu is a food that has been valued in several different (meat-eating) cuisines for centuries. Zach introduced me to tofu and now I’m addicted!

Dairy. Not ideal as a protein source, but works in a pinch. For instance, cheese is the protein if I make pizza.

Vegetables and whole grains. A lot of foods have a decent amount of protein in them, and it adds up over the course of the day.

Bonus: Bone broth. Although obviously not suitable for strict vegetarians, this is a good source to have in a humane omnivore’s repertoire. On the rare occasions that I do spend the money to buy a pastured chicken, I save the bones and simmer them in the crockpot with some vegetables for a few days. Every 24 hours or so I drain out the broth, add more water, and keep simmering, which gives me three or four large batches of broth. A cup of bone broth has as much protein as an egg.

Although I’m interested in trying traditional meat substitutes like tempeh and seitan, I have no interested in highly-processed fake meat. If you’re trying to incorporate vegetarian meals into your diet, it’s best to start with familiar foods like beans and peanut butter, rather than trying to replace meat with something that simply won’t taste as good.

Tomorrow: Our typical breakfasts, lunches, and dinners!


~~~

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Depression


Depression is an odd thing, especially if it’s not something you deal with every day. Unlike many people I know, depression is only an occasional visitor to my life, showing up at random every year or couple of years. It opens my cupboards, makes itself a snack, and follows me around for a while. 

Sometimes I forget it’s there, until I realize that I’ve been lying on the bed staring at the wall and thinking about nothing for a solid hour. I need to get up, drink a glass of water, do some dishes. I still lie there. Everything feels too hard. Am I coming down with a cold? Should I eat more vegetables? Cut down my sugar intake? I just need some water. But getting up feels like too much work. Zach won’t be home for five and a half hours. What is there to do during that time that I can actually do? Why yes, I do have seven papers to edit and a load of laundry to run and I need to start thinking about what to make for dinner. But lying on the bed is so much easier. Scrolling through Facebook is so much easier. Eating a snack is so much easier. 

Inevitably, I start moving. I get myself that glass of water. I take a shower. I turn on loud music. I wash the dishes, and that gives me the momentum to get dinner started, and that gives me the momentum to slog through some papers and try to get my students to think and ponder and unleash their creativity. Sometimes I hang the laundry to dry and let the chickens run around my feet, and this sparks a conversation with a neighbor whose four-year-old granddaughter is excited about petting Pirate Buffy. Sometimes I write a blog post and wonder if it will make me feel better.

Inevitably, the day gets done, and the deadline gets done, and I feel a sense of relief. I wonder when I’ll feel normal again, because I know that I will, I just have to wait it out. In the meantime, I go through the rhythms of my day with the knowledge that they mean something, that they are important, whether or not I feel it at the moment. 

At night when it’s clear, I watch Orion is the sky and marvel at how bright the winter stars appear.


~~~

Friday, January 26, 2018

Morals and Meat: Our "Vague-an" Habits (and a Call to Action)


("Vague-an" is my favorite term to refer to someone who eats animal products only under specific circumstances.)

(Read Part One and Two here.)

This is an explanation of how Zach and I have chosen to eat, at least for now. It’s not perfect, not by a long shot, but it’s our attempt at being thoughtful in the way we consume animal products. 

We eat homemade food 99% of the time— vegan food at restaurants is usually expensive or bland, so we prefer to stay at home and enjoy what we make, knowing what’s in it and where it was sourced. At restaurants we eat vegetarian food (which I’m currently trying to change to eating vegan) or something with fish. We will occasionally buy dishes at restaurants with beef in them, since my issue with the beef industry is more environmental than animal-rights-based, but this is becoming rarer and rarer.

When we buy meat (which is very rare, because of its expense), we try to buy from local farms, either at the farmers’ market or the health food store. We’ve bought industrial beef on sale before (to avoid it getting thrown out), but I’m not sure I’d do that again.

We will not buy pork or poultry unless it has been pasture-raised, or at least is certified organic. 

We have switched to buying eggs from a neighbor (and soon will have eggs from our chickies!), and I’m trying to resolve to give up industrial eggs entirely (no more Grandma’s Cookies— yikes!). 

We buy small-scale milk and butter, cheddar sourced from a co-op of smaller farms, and organic half and half. We are still trying to find organic/pastured sources for other kinds of cheese, sour cream, and parmesan.

We don’t have moral objections to eating fish. There are a host of environmental issues around fish, but we’ll still eat tuna or tilapia upon occasion.

When we are at a potluck, we eat whatever people bring. Ditto with eating food at someone else’s house. Some of our friends and family know about our dietary preferences, but we never ask that people make anything special for us. To clarify, though: I think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask people not to serve animal products to you, especially if you have a moral objection. It’s just not something we’ve chosen to do.

Whatever you decide to do, I urge you to mindfully consider what eating animals entails, and if you choose to be something other than a vegan, I think that you shouldn’t flinch at the idea of slaughter. No, I don’t think you have to slit a chicken’s throat yourself in order to be an honest omnivore, but it is quite a leap of logic to be firmly against puppy mills but have no objection to concentrated animal feeding operations. As I said before, this is something I’m happy to talk about, so if you have any questions, please let me know!

In summary, I believe that it’s critical we rethink our relationship with “food animals.” If we are uncomfortable with the idea of killing animals, it’s only reasonable to stay with that discomfort and look it straight in the eyes, rather than putting it out of our heads as we continue to chow down on bacon. If we are okay with the idea of killing animals, we need to look more carefully at the way that animals are raised in the industrial system, and ask if these conditions are an acceptable way to treat a living creature. Each person will come to different conclusions, but it’s something worth pondering.

I will leave you with a quote from Joel Salatin, well-known in farming circles for his humane treatment of the pigs, chickens, and cattle he raises. In his book The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs (book review pending), he specifically calls out Christians on the matter of meat. His words are for everyone who’s trying to show integrity in the details: “...if we are going to walk a life of genuine faith, we’re going to have to wrestle with these issues. I have no problem if you think I’m too out there. That’s okay. But can we at least wrestle with these issues?”


~~~

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Morals and Meat: Our Convictions

Goats are cute. And you can eat them. And they deserve a happy life.

(Read Part One here.)

Zach and I believe that supporting industrial-scale animal products is wrong. 

This is a surprisingly difficult belief to hold, live out, and explain to others.

Most people would agree that puppy mills are cruel and inhumane and should be illegal.  If someone leaves a dog on a short chain in the cold, someone will probably call them on animal cruelty. A good chunk of the American population is horrified by the thought that people in other countries eat cats and dogs. But for most people, this concern for animals stops short when it reaches animals that are raised for food.

Granted, most of us know that America has a terrible industrial animal system. I’ve always known this, and ignored it. I tried a brief stint with vegetarianism when I was a young adult, which I soon gave up because I realized that I would have to go vegan and that just seemed like too much work. So I just shoved the knowledge to the back of my head because it wasn’t convenient. 

This changed a couple years ago as I started reading books about local food systems and being more thoughtful in the kinds of agriculture we support. After reading these books, talking to farmers who raise meat, and learning just a fraction of the problems with the US’s animal production, I finally got the motivation to begin weaning Zach and me off industrial meat. We have no intention of going vegan, but we wanted to find a better way to consume animal products, one that wouldn’t exploit animals or the environment (as much as possible).

Far from resisting, Zach has been beside me every step of the way, and taking the journey together has made it easier. It’s a slow process, and we have a long way to go. Having convictions about abstract animals in an abstract faraway warehouse is hard to do, as is weighing your personal conviction with consideration of others. (More on this in the next post.) 

I don’t morally object to killing animals or using them for humans’ needs— it’s the way we do it in the current system that concerns me. Most people know that the animals in concentrated animal feeding operations are crowded and may never see the sun, that their pens are too small, that they are sickly and fed a steady stream of antibiotics to keep them from dying long enough to slaughter. They are fed a diet that their bodies aren’t evolved to handle, and their waste manure is a huge environmental concern (which is ironic, since a properly-kept animal’s manure is essential for a thriving ecosystem). If you start researching what goes on, even in a well-managed industrial-scale farm, the problems are myriad. I believe animals deserve better. I believe the environment deserves better. You probably do, too. But why is it so hard for us to actually do something about it?

The answer is mainly one of convenience. Our entire food system is built on industrial animal products. Once you get off them, going out to eat is a nightmare. Cooking your own food may take a lot of practice. Small-scale, humanely-raised animal products can be difficult to find or time-consuming to buy. What happens when you’re at a friend’s house and they offer you a BLT? And what are people to think when you refuse a plate of scrambled eggs but they later see you chowing down on a hamburger?

I’ll try to address some of these issues— and share how we’re making the transition to smaller-scale humane animal products— in the next post. Like I said, we’re still figuring everything out, but it’s important enough to me to do something about.

If you have any questions, please speak your mind!


~~~

Monday, January 22, 2018

Morals and Meat: An Introduction


For months upon months, I’ve been meaning to do a few posts about meat-eating and my thoughts about it, but I’ve had a hard time knowing where to start or what to say. However, I found an essay by Michael Pollan that is very similar to his chapter about meat-eating in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which kick-started my journey toward the way I now approach food. I encourage you to read the essay all the way through— it’s long, but vitally important.


If you’re concerned: there are no images, just text. Some of it is hard reading, but if you are a meat-eater, I beg you to read it all the way through. It’s actually not an argument for veganism— quite the opposite, actually.

I will post my own thoughts as a follow-up.


~~~

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Ice on the River

The best part of the lingering cold weather is the ice that has formed on the Missouri River. Every day there’s something new to see!







Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Technology and Healthy Boundaries

Ooh, meta.

Recently, I had a few students write essays about why cell phones were destroying society. One of them went so far as to say that we should go back to the days of regular phones (this poor kid born in the 2000’s clearly never had to try to contact someone when plans unexpectedly changed only to realize Oh wait I can’t because they’ve already left the house!). As someone who stood on the brink of the tidal wave of modern technology, I love its benefits (especially GPS!) but I can also see why some people long for the days before it. However, I think that with personal boundaries, we can curb a lot of the problems that frustrate us about the way technology is used.

Some of my boundaries have been clear from the beginning, such as “don’t look at your phone when you’re with other people.” However, I’ve recently put some new personal guidelines in place to make me more mindful about how much time I spend online and how available I am. Here’s what I’ve been doing:

I leave my phone in the living room at night. I used to begin my mornings by groggily grabbing my phone and checking my email from the warmth of the bed. However, a couple times I accidentally left my phone elsewhere overnight, and I realized that I woke up feeling less harried and more likely to actually get out of bed and start my day. Although I still check email in the morning, having a few minutes of technology-free time is a nice way to wake up (and go to sleep!).

I make it difficult to log onto social media. The only social media I use is Facebook, and the only way I access Facebook is to physically go to my computer and log in. I don’t even have the password saved, so I have to type in my whole email and password to get to the homepage. This only takes a couple seconds, but it’s enough of a pause for me to ask myself, “Why am I doing this? Is this the best use of time?” Needless to say, I have no Facebook app on my phone (the full site, as well as Messenger, crashes my phone anyway).

I don’t get home screen notifications for anything but phone calls and texts. I used to look at my phone to check the time, notice that I had two emails, open up the emails, get distracted, and forget was I was doing before I looked at my phone. Now calls and texts show up on the screen, but no emails; I don’t need to be notified the instant someone sends me a message.

I try to avoid long text conversations. Texting is great for a quick “Am I still picking you up at the bus station?” exchange, but I despise it for any sort of meaningful communication due to the long gaps between exchanges (I’m always in the middle of something, and if I’m trying to text at the same time, I’ll usually forget that I’m having a conversation). Sometimes I text with people if it makes them more comfortable, but I try to guide the conversation to email or a phone call whenever possible.

If I don’t feel like talking, I don’t answer the phone. In the olden days, if you didn’t pick up the phone, people just assumed that you weren’t home— now there’s the pressure to pick up or else you’re “ignoring” the other person. However, most of this pressure is self-inflicted. I finally realized one of the biggest sources of phone anxiety for me is being afraid that I’ll catch people at the wrong time, but if we make it normal to only answer the phone when it’s a good time, we could eliminate that problem. If I’m in the middle of a project, having a conversation, or simply don’t want to talk right now, I let the person leave a message so I can call them back at a time when I’m focused and relaxed. 

What boundaries have you established to deal with technology?