Getting Into Rhythm

Inside of our completed cob house

Now that we are in the house (and not consumed with the process of building) and now that it’s winter (my favorite time to write), I want to put some more time into updating this blog. Since we don’t have internet access at home, it’s a little challenging to stay on top of it (particularly uploading pictures), but I realize that facing challenges is often about priorities, so we’ll see if I can make the photos happen this winter.

The move into our house was such a flurry of activity and stress to get things ready for the film crew that I—despite my horribly obsessive, introspective, INFP habits—didn’t have much time to reflect during our official move into the house. Thankfully, I have a husband who has the sense to keep things in perspective, who insisted that we take a few minutes to enjoy and celebrate the first night in our home. So we sat on the hood of the truck, huddled together under a clear, crisp autumn evening, sharing beers under the stars and savoring.

Our cob home on a fall night

A fall night in our cob home

After a few days, with things in place and the stress finally subsided, someone asked how it felt to have things “done,” and it hit me: I feel like I won a gold medal. I feel like an athlete who has been training and training (and for much longer and more intensely than I would ever have guessed), and I went out and won.

Now that we’ve been in the house for a couple of months, life has settled into more of a rhythm. We are enjoying the simple pleasures of what is growing to be “home”: a warm fire, a steaming bath, clean sheets, a nap on the cob bench in the warm winter sun, a venison stew from a deer I got the day before with sweet potatoes a neighbor dropped off from the Amish market.

Cutting and packaging the meat from a deer hunted on our land

Working up the meat from my first deer, hunted on our own land!

With so many things left to do, it is a process for the feeling of transition and unsettled-ness to give way to the feeling of home, but we are certainly at home with each other. We anticipate that growing in this space as we continue to build life here together.

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LEARN ABOUT COB!

Now that the weather has warmed up, we are back in the swing of working on our cob home. If you are interested in learning about cob, we invite you to come out for a work day.

Our general plan and hopes:

  • May: finish interior wall; finishing touches on exterior cob wall; fill holes; sculpting cob accents; possibly construct cob furniture
  • June: install mass earth floor
  • July: apply lime render finish to walls

We work pretty much every weekend, plus often for a couple of hours in the evening after work. Also, Mike will be working every day from May 30-June 15… he would love your company!


Contact me for our location or more details:

 

Further Cues from the Seasons (and Ecclesiastes) on Life and the Human Lot

Mike in a tree stand.

Mike taking some time to hunt.

I recently finished reading Diary of an Early American Boy, and I was particularly impressed by how the seasons ordered the lives of Noah Blake and his family. As I discussed in my last post, the seasons can offer a rhythm for life, including a wholesome approach to work and the cues to rest. The Blakes’ agrarian context necessitated a variety of tasks and chores, and the changing seasons Book Cover (Photo Source: http://books.google.com/books?id=c7xaAAAAYAAJ&q=diary+of+an+early+american+boy&dq=diary+of+an+early+american+boy&hl=en&sa=X&ei=B28zUcXtEIKi2wXHsoHQDg&ved=0CCoQ6AEwAg) with their specific conditions guided the family’s work and daily lives: seasons for sowing, planting, reaping, building, mending… They could not manipulate those conditions by will or whim.

With modern industry and technology, we are generally able to disregard this rhythm because we have access to manufactured versions of natural occurrences and the means to hasten or create convenience for natural processes; we have light bulbs and snow blowers and processed foods. Nevertheless, we have not entirely eradicated our dependence on the world around us. We still need clean water and healthy soil, the sun and wind and living beings around us. So we still have the opportunity to recognize something that industry and technology don’t make so self-evident.

Gezer Calendar (Photo Source: http://cojs.org/cojswiki/Gezer_Calendar,_10th_century_BCE)

The Gezer Calendar (10th Century BCE West Semitic limestone tablet): Two months of harvest, two months of planting, two months of late planting, a month of hoeing flax, a month of barley harvest, a month of harvest and feasting, two months of (vine) pruning, a month of summer fruit. –From K.C. Hanson’s translation (www.kchanson.com). Photo Source: Center for Online Judaic Studies (www.cojs.org).

When we do things like grow the food we eat or build the homes we live in, they remind us that we are not masters of the world. We depend upon the longer days of sunlight in the summer and the seasons of rain and snow. We depend upon the toil and careful balance of the living beings around us, the bees and spiders and trees and seeds. We depend upon factors that are outside of our control and that spiral out of our control when we attempt to impose our version of mastery over them.

In the final months of my educational pilgrimage, I spent many hours steeping in Deuteronomy and Ecclesiastes and the early chapters of Genesis, mulling over the ways that these texts present the place of human beings in creation, as part of creation. With the ongoing discussions Michael and I have shared about our industrial-technological lives, these texts have resonated under and behind and within our own conversations.

I could expound on the specifics for any of these texts, but as this post is already becoming lengthy, I will focus on one. As I think about the rhythms of the world, I can’t escape the echoes of Ecclesiastes 3:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
 

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
 

a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
 

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
 

a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
 

a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

—Ecclesiastes 1-8 (NIV)

I first heard the poem as a child in the 80s from the movie Footloose (yes, the real Footloose), when Kevin Bacon (“Ren McCormack”) stands before the town council and urges, “Ecclesiastes assures us that there is a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to laugh… and a time to weep… A time to mourn… and there is a time to dance.”

In these past months, what has been provoking me about Ecclesiastes, and where I think it offers such an acute counter to the wisdom of our day (as with its own), is that it challenges our ambitions to triumph over the world. It undermines the assumption that we, human beings, can become masters of the world, or even masters of our own lives. (And if Ecclesiastes does have an intimate connection with Greek philosophy and thought, as many argue, there is a poignant critique of the Greek hero and the aspiration for immortalization through legacy. This critique resounds also to life in 21st century America, where the latter is pursued with no less zeal.)

It seems that we have found creative ways through industry and technology to attempt to remove ourselves from confrontation with our contingency. We rely on our buying power to secure food, medical care, resources. Yet when we face adversity or tragedy or unresolved injustice, we may recognize how tenuous our modern security is. We can say with Qoheleth, “And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another,” or “I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors—and they have no comforter,” or, “Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other.” And with Qoheleth, we may declare, “Meaningless, meaningless…everything is meaningless!”

In a way, it seems to be an outlook that does little more than disconcert and dishearten. Yet maybe because we, Michael and myself, have spent so much of our time striving and coming up empty, we are finding this vision to be freeing. We are weary of choosing lives that are enslaved to the pursuit of security and acclaim. We are finding that words like those of Qoheleth ring true: “This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot” (Ecclesiastes 5:18, RSV).

Through our observations and conversations, Michael and I are finding how little control we have over or in the world around us–but how great an opportunity we have to be part of creation and find enjoyment in it. With this recognition, we feel that we are also finding our place in the world and, ultimately, finding life.

The Season of Rest (The Nature of Work – Part 1)

Snow DayWe’ve had a really lovely snow day in today, thanks to this winter storm Q. I worked leisurely from home and enjoyed some quality time with Mike (along with his delicious bacon and egg sandwiches on homemade biscuits!). The day has me thinking again about the nature of work and the pace of our modern, American lives, and since I’ve been meaning to post some entries on this topic, I figured I might as well start today.

One of the things that I’ve frequently heard and myself described to be a perk of living in Southern California is the weather; the weather is nearly perfect all the time. Really. Except during “June Gloom,” it’s sunny and dry. Sure, there are a few hot days, but plenty of people get by without air conditioning. In the other extreme, I never wore any of my winter sweaters or heavy coat during the two winters we lived in Pasadena.

As someone who tends to be cold-natured, I would insist that this climate is the picture of comfort. And yet, as someone who also grew up in climates with four seasons, I found that I missed the rhythms of the changes. One of my friends in college was from Maine, and once I expressed my sympathies that he’d experienced so many harsh winters. He explained that it was a blessing in disguise because the winters slowed down the pace of life; the snow and cold made people stay in and take a break.

In contrast, one of my friends in Southern California described the warmer winters as one of the reasons that people there never really take a break; life in the city just continues at the same, break-neck pace with nothing to slow the flurry. Mike and I certainly felt the strain of an atmosphere that never takes a breath, never lingers to share in creation’s sabbaths.

Certainly, I would say the frenzy is more a product of technology and industrialization than it is the weather, and I will turn to that in an upcoming post. But the weather can bring a halt to our lives despite our technology and industry. The changes in season seem to slow us down, to make us take pause and contemplate as the days get colder and darker. As the living things around us burrow and sleep, they offer us a cue to rest. In the midst of our own exhausting work of building a house, I’m thankful that snow days like today force us to follow suit.

Getting Off the Grid…

Living Off the Grid Cover

From Dave Black’s Living Off the Grid: “Now in many places in the world, generally more affluent places, there’s a drive to return to a state of independence from the grid systems. And that’s what strikes me as being so humorous about the green trend. Half the world is trying to get on the grid while the other half is trying to get off” (p. 3).

Our Five Acres (or Thirty-Seven Point Two Five) – Considerations for Purchasing Rural Land

Google Map Image of our LandWhen Mike and I first started talking about homesteading in March last year (2011), we realized that we could live completely sustainably (and really very abundantly) on five acres of land. Masanobu Fukuoka suggested (in 1978) that, contrary to common opinion and government policy, every Japanese family could be sustained on Japan’s land mass: “There is just a quarter-acre of arable land for each person in Japan. If each person were given one quarter-acre, that is 1¼ acres to a family of five, that would be more than enough to support the family for the whole year” (One-Straw Revolution, p. 109). We knew that five acres would be more than enough for us, and perhaps it was a number we subconsciously selected from suggestions like Maurice Kain’s Five Acres and Independence.

Photo of the Low Impact Woodland Home

Image from simondale.net

Around that time, I had “Stumbled Upon” one family’s “Low Impact Woodland Home,” a project that resonated with us philosophically and illustrated in concrete terms how living this kind of life is viable and beautiful. Simon and Jasmine were committed to being “full-time parents” (a “full time mum and part time dad”), which required averting the constrictions imposed by the obligation to pay off a mortgage during those full-time parenting years. (And with a family income of about $10,000/year [£5,000 annually], a mortgage wasn’t really an option.) The woodland home cost them about $6,000 to build (£3,000).

Figuring out how to get there has been a learning experience as we have gathered information from a hodgepodge of sources. We recognized pretty quickly that U.S. building/zoning codes and regulations were a very real and immediate obstacle. Fortunately, I received a tip early on from a KU Professor, Paul Atchley, who did some natural building in a neighboring area of Kansas; he explained that we should look specifically for rural land, where the restrictions would be less cumbersome.

We searched for rural land primarily on www.landwatch.com and Craigslist, although we ultimately found our acreage due to the thoughtfulness of Kaye Gann, a realtor we highly recommend in the Knob Noster/Warrensburg area.

Doubly fortunately, we haven’t had to expend too much energy on this aspect of the process because we live in a relatively locally-regulated state (Missouri), where codes and zoning are ultimately in the hands of cities and counties. So we chose the path of least resistance and have primarily searched for property in Johnson County (MO), where there are no building/zoning restrictions in unincorporated areas of the county (this is a contrast to Jackson County, where we currently live, and surrounding counties, like Cass, Ray, and Platte—all of which we attempted to research and concluded that the process would be a bit more complex).

We also quickly recognized that finding this small of a parcel of land—five acres—at a reasonable price in an unincorporated or restriction-free area was searching for a needle in a haystack. Okay, correction: we’ve been limited geographically as we’ve searched in a radius that would keep us within a one-hour drive to the Kansas City Metro, since we anticipate a regular commute to our nano-brewery. That condition has affected our search perhaps more than any other single factor, and it certainly would have been easier if our location didn’t matter and we worked solely on price and the friendliness of local codes and regulations. But that’s the rule of real estate, isn’t it?

Cover of Homesteading in the 21st Century

Image from Google Books

Describing the trade-off between location and price, George Nash suggests finding affordable land that will allow you not to go into debt may require that you look at least 50 miles away from the nearest WalMart (Homesteading in the 21st Century, p. 25). Our choice to live closer to the Metro area precluded this possibility, but we discovered that, with our geographic limitation, purchasing just five acres ultimately didn’t make sense. Sure, we don’t need more than five acres, and I felt resistant about furthering the consumerist, bigger-is-better mindset that we are trying to eschew. But we could see that the price point between a 5-acre parcel and a larger plat was absurd: $2,000 or less/acre for 30+ acres vs. $5-8,000/acre for 5 acres. Additionally, most (maybe all?) of the 5-acre parcels we found were in rural subdivisions or city limits, whose restrictions classified those listings as non-options for us.

So, as much as we would have preferred not to, we ultimately decided to purchase a larger parcel of land and take out a loan to cover the cost. However, we have already paid a substantial amount with our fairly sizable down payment (35%, as is fairly standard on land loans), and we are hoping to pay off the rest in three years. Furthermore, the sellers were willing to settle on a price well below appraisal, so we already have equity in the property. At the end of the day (yesterday!), we feel comfortable with the decision and approach, especially with a situation that is not as looming as a standard mortgage.

Buying rural land, especially in order to build naturally/unconventionally, is a unique process, and there seems to be a dearth of centralized information and resources, at least in the searches I did. Feel free to send me a message/e-mail if it is something you are interested in, and I will be happy to share more about our experience and considerations.

Inch Worms and Real Food

An inch worm in our lettuceThis morning Mike and I headed to our local Farmer’s Market, as is our custom on Saturdays. Each week I feel a quiet excitement about walking down and seeing what will be available. We’ve had asparagus and strawberries the past few trips, and I was expecting some lettuces to be coming in this week. I was not disappointed.

As I meandered over to one of the tables dotted with small piles of baby romaine and green leaf, I settled on a bag of bright, fresh lettuce and gladly handed over the $3. As one of the women passed me the bag of lettuce, she warned, “Now this lettuce hasn’t been washed, and we don’t use any pesticides, so you may find some bugs in there.”

When we lived in Pasadena, we used to get a farm-share box, and the lettuce often bring a few free-loaders. As I had watched my mom do so many times, I would dunk the leaves in a bowl or basin of water and swish them around, draining and refilling until there was no dirt or debris in the fresh water. One of the first times I learned the implications of “organic,” the head of lettuce from our box was so full of aphids that, after I finished the first rinse, there were translucent, green specks covering the bottom and sides of the sink like a dusting of flour. After a moment of cringing, I chided myself, flushed the aphids down the drain with the sprayer, and finished cleaning the leaves.

I have to admit that I am one of those people who can be a little antsy about bugs and critters (like the “swarmers” and “creepers” of Genesis and Leviticus, and in my exegesis classes, I would ask myself, “Who would want to eat those anyway?”). Not super antsy, but more than I want to admit… because I know it’s ridiculous.

Not too long before the aphid experience, I read Masanobu Fukuoka’s The One-Straw Revolution, which challenged me to have a new-found appreciation for spiders. One of Fukuoka’s wider points deals with the health of the land and how living things exist in balance. He critiques the ways that particular agricultural practices wreak havoc on a micro-environment, compounding problems like pests or blights, which then require more unnatural and far-removed solutions to deal with those problems. For example, sprays do not simply kill off the leaf-hoppers that the farmer wants to eliminate but also the predators that naturally eliminate those leaf-hoppers. This then perpetuates the cycle as the population, with no predators to limit growth, spirals out of control, requiring additional or alternative sprays as the pests continue to adapt.

The One-Straw RevolutionBut in addition to this practical juxtaposition between the natural, creative balance of life and short-sighted, expedient solutions, Fukuoka speaks of the art and beauty of the balance (pp. 27-28):

We had just finished harvesting the rice, and overnight the rice stubble and low-lying grasses had become completely covered with spider webs, as though with silk. Waving and sparkling with the morning mist, it was a magnificent sight.

The wonder of it is that when this happens, as it does only once in a great while, it only lasts for a day or two. If you look closely there are several spiders in every square inch. … When you go to look at the field two or three days later, you see that strands of web several yards long have broken off and are waving about in the wind with five or six spiders clinging to each one. It is like when dandelion fluff or pine cone seeds are blown away in the wind. The young spiders cling to the strands and are sent sailing off into the sky.

The spectacle is an amazing natural drama.

I could picture exactly what he was describing; I used to ride my bike to school past the pond in Wilmore, and the morning sun would sparkle on the dewy webs that blanketed the grassy hill. So, when I thought of spiders, I would try to focus on that: the balance of living things, the vibrancy of life in a place where creeping things that creep upon the ground could multiply and fill the earth.

We were part of a community garden the summer after I finished One Straw Revolution, and we inevitably discussed our disdain for the spiders. But we remembered the spiders were important. The spiders meant our plants were healthy. They meant our plants were full of life. They meant that there would be a balance to the creepers with which we shared the leaves and beans and peppers and tomatoes. When I saw the spiders, instead of flinging them aside and crushing them underfoot, I would quietly say, “Thank you, spiders.” It became kind of an ongoing joke between me and a couple of the girls in the group, where we would smile and say, “Thank you, spiders,” and force ourselves not be squeamish.

(Now, I have to admit, last summer I saw one of those nasty, huge Missouri field spiders down in the basement, and I did not say, “Thank you, spider”—I handed Mike my shoe, and he crushed the crap out of that thing.)

The aphids were one more opportunity for me to practice appreciation for living things, for eating plants that are healthy and wholesome and existing in a balanced micro-environment. And so when the woman at the farmer’s market mentioned that there might be bugs in the lettuce, I was thinking of the aphids and of being thankful for spiders and for food that isn’t sterile like so much of our modern lives.

I washed the lettuce when we got home, and I found four inch-worms, a lady bug, and numerous small black bugs. I won’t suggest that I wasn’t squeamish about picking through lettuce to circumvent later discovering some living protein on our plates. But even as I did it, I felt content about our connection with real food, for the ways real food teaches us to be thankful and to be conscious of our existence as dependent beings, members of a broader, inter-connected creation.

The Land of Striving

I have to admit that in the past few months I have felt some despair about this whole process of procuring land, unconventional building, and the whole project of homesteading. It’s daunting. We are essentially flinging ourselves headlong into a kind of life we have never lived before, and there is so much to learn! — Producing food on a larger scale than we ever have, rainwater harvesting and water supply challenges, building cob, compost toilets, alternative energy, caring for livestock… the list can feel overwhelming.

But the biggest obstacle has been the first step, the process of saving up enough money to buy land. We don’t want to take out a loan, most significantly because the whole point is getting away from the enslavement of our current system, including the burdens that the modern mortgage entails. Yet for a couple that has been in higher education for the past ten years with a brewery on the horizon, it is slow-going in accumulating the kind of money that it takes to buy even a modest amount of land for a homestead.

As I have described to friends over these months, I have felt like Jack White in a scene of It Might Get Loud, where Jack is reflecting on the struggle to be a legitimate blues artist as a white man. I have always been struck by his connection with this one thing and his striving for it.

Right after this scene, his voice is filled with strain and longing:

And I thought about it for a Iong time, for days. There’s this whole new world that’s just opened up in front of me and I have to figure out,

How do I get there?

Am I not allowed to get there?

I hear it with that inflection in my head: Am I not allowed to get there?

And then, about two weeks ago, we sat down and started talking about the possibilities, crunching the numbers. Identifying anything we could sell. The pearl of great price. Every little bit counts. We realized that if we really pull everything together, we are a lot closer than we thought.

On Wednesday or Thursday, I looked around at some land online on my usual review of landwatch.com and Craigslist. It has been frustrating trying to figure out where we can/should buy land, particularly whether we are going to be restricted by zoning laws or other regulations. And then, ευρισκος, we came across this land for sale with no zoning, contacted the guy (who has two sons, is going through a divorce, and is selling 60 of his 80 acres), and we are going to check it out tomorrow morning…!

Wow.

So I don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Maybe it will be just what we need. Maybe it won’t work out. But it is so AMAZING to be moving ahead on something when you feel like you’ve been treading water for months.

Inches. I’m sure there is a lesson for us in those inches in the midst of the instantaneous culture we’ve grown accustomed to living in. We’ll see how it goes.

The Landscape of Home

Anderson Reservoir, Idaho, in the Summer

It’s amazing how landscape, the physical appearance and feel of one’s surroundings, can convey such a sense of place, of home or of foreignness. I’ve been reflecting on it recently, particularly after our time in L.A., where our environment seemed to play such a significant role in the fact that our spaces there just never felt like home.

Mike and I have lived in five states in the almost ten years that we’ve been married, so we’ve talked about “home” a lot. For us, the test of “home” always comes after a trip (and our families live far from us and each other, so the test comes often): you’re gone for a week and then you pull up into the driveway; you unlock the door and turn on the lights and dump your bags and suitcases on the floor—and there it is, you’re home.

We lived at the same place in Kentucky for four years, so that sense of home was definitely strongest there. We moved away about six months before I finished my Master’s program, and when we went back for graduation, we were surprised to still feel that sense of home so strongly as we drove down Main Street, as if we were just going to continue up the hill to the blinking red light, turn right and wind our way back to the house, as we had so many times in the past.

View of Pasadena from a hike up to Mt. EchoWe lived in Pasadena for two years, and yet even at the end, the feeling of foreignness never wore off. On the one hand, I loved the familiarity of mountains in the horizon, and it reminded me of life in Idaho, where the mountains were a perpetual presence in the distance, a marker of home like a parent wrapping an arm around a child. On the other hand, the place as a whole had a strong sense of otherness, from the palm trees and bright desert plants to the sprawling topography of buildings and concrete, buttressed for hundreds of miles with only small parks and sports fields to break up the urban landscape with green dots.

The first time I left Pasadena for a trip was for a friend’s wedding about four months after we had moved in. As I returned to our apartment from the Metro station, rolling my suitcase behind me, I felt like I was on vacation, heading back to a place we were staying. Of course it always takes time for any place to feel like home, but the foreignness of L.A. never wore off. We visited Italy for the first time just prior to moving to SoCal, and the similarities in landscape between the two came as a surprise to me. I had never been to the Mediterranean before that trip, and our stay in Pasadena carried that same element of being on a trip.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that the landscape of Southern California had so much to do with its foreignness. I had never lived in a Mediterranean climate or such a densely populated area; in my experience, large cities—New York, DC, Paris, London, Rome—these were places to visit. Places that had been home to me were places with rolling hills or mountains, places where the skyscrapers were evergreen conifers and deciduous trees that taught you the seasons.

One of my dear friends who grew up in Southern California moved to Austin right around the time that Mike and I moved to KC, and I’m sure she’s felt the same effect, conversely, in leaving that familiarity and entering the foreignness of the humid subtropical climate of her new place. It’s an interesting experience, the influence of landscape. Sure, when you move, so many things are different: the stores and restaurants, the roadways, the people. But I’ve always found that you can pretty quickly discover a market like your old one, a favorite place to meet up for drinks, even people you can connect with and appreciate, especially in our culture of transplants.

But you can’t replace landscape. The mountains are the mountains and the ocean is the ocean and pines and palm trees aren’t interchangeable. I suppose even the landscape, like everything else, is something you get used to after a while. And yet there is something about the familiarity of landscape that makes a place feel like home. Perhaps that why, the first week we were in Missouri, we were welcomed by a classic Midwest summer thunderstorm, the wind whipping branches of a chestnut tree against the dark sky, illuminated by bursts of lightening… and already we felt that we were moving towards home.

A Time to Plant and a Time to Uproot

Some produce from one of our farmshare boxes

Mike and I talked about the issue of choosing to consume less meat for a long time. The transition was relatively painless for me as meat dishes are not generally among my favorite choices anyway. Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love bacon, really nice bacon, or a simple, well-constructed burger, like the basic Backyard at The Back Abbey in Claremont, CA, or a Classic at Blanc here in Kansas City.

But I’ve always loved fruits and vegetables, even as a kid, and my food group of choice is unquestionably the grains—crusty European loaves or textured multi-grained breads, couscous, quinoa, any form of pita, brown rice, wild rice… you name it. Also, I’m a sucker for beans and legumes. So, for me, eating less meat still meant a world of endless possibilities. Mike is a particularly creative cook and has readily altered even our favorite dishes into meatless options, from a relatively straightforward adaptation of homemade pizzas topped with fresh veggies to the more innovative substitution of mushrooms for crawfish in a robust étouffée with plenty of chunky vegetables. I’m sure the adjustment has been more of a challenge for Mike, whose palate is certainly more acute than my own, and I suspect that limiting meat in our diet has been a much deeper expression of restraint and discipline for him than it has been for me.

But as I said, it was a slow transition. For eight months to a year, we simply talked about the fact that we should try to eat less meat. Finally, for the next six moths or so, we began to substitute two vegetarian dinners a week into our general habits. Then we moved to California and discovered the amazing joys and wonder of Abundant Harvest Organics, a farmshare co-op, to which we subscribed weekly and received the most wonderful box of fresh produce I have ever tasted, and we began to limit our meated meals to about twice a week.

FigsIt has been seven/eight months since we moved to Missouri and have been without our box, and I still comment to Mike how much I miss it and how amazing the produce was. We enjoyed the best of some of my favorite fruits and vegetables: the best grapes, the best kiwis, the best avocados, the best oranges, the best spinach.We were introduced to some of our new favorites, like figs and different varieties of squashes, including kabocha and patty-pans. And we were forced to appreciate things I would have previously never voluntarily purchased in a grocery store: beets, which as it turns out, are delicious roasted (bake at 400°F wrapped in tinfoil like baked potatoes for about 30 minutes, then plunge them into ice water and peel off the skins when they are cool enough to handle—and watch out for stains!); turnips, which are a great substitute for daikon radish in gaktugi (kimchi); and eggplant, which I have always liked but Mike could live without, and which he doesn’t so much mind in eggplant parmigiana.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that our lives were changed by getting this box of fruits and vegetables each week. There were the obvious health benefits of consuming such a wonderful variety of food packed with vitamins and minerals; we have never avoided colds and flu so effectively in our lives. But I think it has most significantly shaped our characters.

Simply in Season book cover

We are more thankful, not only for the fullness of God’s provision in our lives but also for his great creativity and abundance in the kind of the provision he gives to us in the created order. And we have begun to learn the lessons that the Amish and Mennonites seem to understand so clearly: that we are shaped individually and communally so profoundly in the ways we obtain food and consume on a daily basis. (I love how this is so practically expressed in the book Simply in Season.)

As Barbara Kingsolver puts it, “Only our closest friends, probably, have taken real notice of the changes in our household: that nearly all the food we put on our table, in every season, was grown in our garden or very nearby. That the animals we eat took no more from the land than they gave back to it, and led sunlit, contentedly grassy lives. Our children know how to bake bread, stretch mozzarella cheese, ride a horse, keep a flock of hens laying, help a neighbor, pack a healthy lunch, and politely decline the world’s less wholesome offerings. They know the first fresh garden tomato tastes as good as it does, partly, because you’ve been waiting for it since last Thanksgiving, and that the awful one you could have bought at the grocery in between would only subtract from this equation. This rule applies to many things beyond tomatoes” (The Essential Agrarian Reader, xv).

We continue to work toward the day when we will be able to say that fully about our own lives.

I try to make it a point not to be pushy about these things, and I genuinely respect that different people are in different circumstances with different commitments. But if you have made it to this point in the entry, hopefully you will bear with me to make one appeal: take on some form of commitment to eat local and in season for some period of time this year. Where we live in Missouri, it is really difficult to find fresh produce at this time of year, and maybe that is the case for you. So maybe start in May or June. Don’t buy anything that isn’t in season. Actually eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day in conjunction with whatever you normally eat. Each week, try to buy at least one thing you have never had before or make a meal you’ve never had. … And let me know what you think.