Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tending the garden on the hottest day EVER!

It has been one hot summer, and I'm trying not to freak out. Today is predicted to be the hottest day ever in the Pacific NW, over 100 degrees F. Day after day, we try to water the garden as much as possible early in the morning and after dusk, but many of the plants are still wilting. Our well runs out of water over and over throughout the day. We would take more showers to cool off, but water is scarce. I try to just spray myself down periodically while watering plants, and it helps a lot. Mike has been taking Anouk to town to enjoy air conditioned facilities.

We thought this would be the ideal place to live as the threat of climate change looms in the future. We are on high ground, but enjoy a diverse ecosystem. We are surrounded by creeks and rivers, and this area gets so much water all year. We are far enough inland to avoid the worst of raging storms, and far enough from local volcanoes that we would be fairly safe if one erupts. But this heat wave is an indication that we are not sufficiently prepared when it comes to our water. Our well is not deep enough. We can't afford to drill a new one right now, so we are brainstorming water storage. We want to find a tank that we can use to collect and store rainwater, at least for maintaining the animals and most vital plants, or for washing.

The animals seem to be weathering the heat pretty well. I'm tempted to set the goats free in the forest today, where they can forage and avoid the hot sun. Yesterday, I dunked the ferret in water occasionally, and put him in front of a fan. I keep reminding myself that people and animals live in places that frequently get this hot, and they are fine.

Meanwhile, the vegetables are ripening in full force, so that I can barely keep up with harvesting them and finding ways to use or preserve them. I think I will visit a neighbor later with a veggie delivery, and I'm planning to have a vegetable party soon so that people will come and eat a lot of our abundant food. I'd like to get some of it to the food bank, but I wish someone would make it easy by swinging by to pick it up, or even helping me to gather it. I know there are programs for that in some areas, set up by our new administration. There has to be a way to share the bounty with those who need it.

The computer is upstairs, and it is quickly becoming unbearably hot up here. Time to retreat to lower levels, and to check on the garden.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


I've been keeping an online journal through my yahoo account, and it was mainly intended to keep non-local friends and family updated, since we live so far out of the way. Eventually, it became more of a place to share my efforts at creating a sustainable life in the country, and running a home-based art business. Yahoo recently made a change, and I don't care for it. So here I am.

My husband and I bought 5 acres in the country near Olympia, WA in 2002. We couldn't afford anything close to town and wanted enough space to grow our own food and own goats. This property had a 1970 mobile home and outbuildings, a mix of forest, pasture, and wetland with a 30-foot waterfall dropping down to a little creek, and the surroundings are beautiful. It's all farms and State forest.

That fall, I became pregnant. I thought I would keep my part-time job at The Evergreen State College and that my life wouldn't change all that much. We had my daughter in the mobile home, in a birthing tub with midwives and two great friends present. It soon became clear that a return to work would not be easy. We don't have any family or friends nearby, and I could not imagine dropping my baby off at a daycare. Besides, we couldn't afford it. My husband is a teacher, and we have been scraping by until recently. I tried to take her to work, nursing her in a sling during staff meetings, pacing with her when she cried, struggling to get her to sleep (which she never did.)

When a question came up about the college budget and my position, I left. I tried to find other work at first, and did work as a Visitation Supervisor, which is a flexible job. But it was incredibly hard to find places to leave my baby at different times and different days each week, and after expenses, I found I earned about $300 per month. It wasn't worth it.

Around the same time, I was asked to to my first mosaic installation for a restaurant in Olympia. And not long after that, I was chosen by a jury to be the featured artist for Olympia's Spring ArtsWalk. I had also signed up for a business workshop offered through Enterprise 4 Equity, which is a non-profit that helps low income people create an effective business plan. Things came together, and I began working full-time as an artist.

So we have a small "hobby farm" in the country where we are learning to grow our own food. We raise chickens for eggs and turkeys for meat. We have five Nigerian Dwarf Goats that we have tried to milk, but have given up. They are sweet and they eat our weeds. We also have 2 cats, 3 dogs and a ferret. The goal for this year is to learn to preserve the food we harvest. In the past, we have just frozen what we could.

I just completed my largest commission yet, for an elementary school in Seattle. It took me 9 months, and I really got sick of doing it, but I was very happy the other day to receive payment for the job. I'm making just enough for us to do extra things, and for my daughter to take gymnastics and swim classes.

My work has an environmental focus, so I sell mainly at recycled art fairs. I use mostly salvaged materials. My reputation and skill has been steadily growing, though I am always aware that I have far to go. I now teach workshops, which brings in additional extra money now and then.

I will continue to write about being a mosaic artist, the environment, and the experience of trying to live sustainably by using less energy, growing our food, and finding innovative ways to reduce and reuse.