Saturday, April 28, 2012

Power Tool Exploits

Any of you girls (or maybe some of you boys) feel like a bad-ass when you've got a power tool in hand? Clearly, I am a product of my middle-class urban upbringing.  I'm clueless when it comes to practically minded utilitarian things, which makes for a rather haphazard and comical existence here in my very rural, very self-sufficient life. Rough hands and wrinkles filled with sand dust characterize this world, and I arrive an overly enthusiastic ball of giggles in yoga pants and over-sized sun glasses. 

Recently, I've started to wonder if I'm really as incapable as I imagine myself. Maybe all I'm lacking is experience. Laura visited me last weekend and I shared with her my desire to throw myself at projects I would't normally find myself doing. Sometimes I'm paralyzed by only doing things that I know I'll be good at or will experience a certain level of success in. Laura agreed that doing projects for the love of creating was a worthy endeavor. She reminded me of Buni's idea to spend a year of doing Other Things, that is, things that don't exactly get you anywhere but that you genuinely want to do. When my mentor Claire was my age she spent an entire year dedicated to following her heart. I've accidently come into a similar place in my life; I'm ignoring my skills (or lack thereof), disregarding the results, and just doing things for the sake of experimentation.

And I've been having a blast! I research ideas and plans, pick the brains of my handy friends,  call on the support of my inspiration team, and then get to it.

This undoing of how I perceive myself reminds me of my friend Phoebe, who I first met while transplanting in a green house last spring. Phoebe's hair was neatly in place and her clothes clean, an unusual look for girls who work on farms. And…she wore pearls.  Everything about her, from her put-together appearance to her placid demeanor simultaneously baffled and intrigued me. She defied the norms of farming. The next time I saw her she was under a tractor. Fixing it. And yes, she was wearing her pearls.

I love the contradictions that people embody. I love developing a level of confidence in the thousands of worlds that exist. I love the novelty and discomfort which inevitably arise when entering a new culture. I love the satisfaction that accompanies a level of mastery, apparent in our ability to glide effortlessly through our experiences. I love the blending and merging of these worlds, revealing those moments of exposure when we took a step to create ourselves anew.  

Autumn's potato came outta the ground smiling. 
As I said, I am prone to burning things.
Chloe loves yoga.

My alarm. Sleeping in is not an option.

Waiting for sun rise with Mt. Lamborn.

A block from my quilt.
Just down the hill aways from my new home.

From my latest project.  
Love waking up to this face.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Cooking with the Sun

One thing about homesteading and living in a tipi is that everyday things that I've always taken for granted suddenly became time consuming tasks. The simplicity of washing dishes after meals became a muscle building exercise that involves hauling a five-gallon bucket of water. The simplest of tasks require foresight and time without the immediacy of electricity, running water, a hot water heater, or full protection from the elements and critters.

I straddle the line between being constantly dirty from living and working outdoors and wanting to look presentable. I love living in a tipi, but I don't want people to know this just by taking a look at me. I don't want to make my presence known by that special earthy odor. (Those mountain fresh dryer sheets don't hold a flame to my version of mountain fresh.) I hated showing up at births smelling like goat or smoke from fires. Simply put, living simply takes time.

I'm always looking for innovative ways to maintain the benefits of a simple, low-impact life-style, living close to the earth, while also improving my functionality and streamlining my day-to-day tasks. At times I feel like my life could turn into one big chore. Is it possible to work so hard to live sustainably that the process itself becomes personally unsustainable? I want to live my truth and simultaneously enjoy the ride.

Fortunately, I have tricks that facilitate my one-straw revolution in-style. With ample sunshine in Colorado, my solar oven is at the top of my eco-goddess list (you get at least three karma points for using one). A solar oven is an insulated box with a piece of glass to hold the heat and reflectors to concentrate solar rays. They are easy enough to make, though I bought mine for about $150. It is durable, transportable (I've brought it with me to work before), and a high quality design. I use it daily when I'm living in the tipi and regularly enough in the winter too. No matter how cold it is outside, if the sun is shining the oven works. Mine usually gets up to 350 degrees and I use it for everything from warming up water for tea, to cooking grains, baking bread, steaming veggies, and, with the help of a pressure cooker, cooking beans.

One great thing about a solar oven is you can't really burn anything with them (and with a tendency to get preoccupied this is a key feature for me!). It is possible, however, to dry meals out to the point of dehydration (sorda like dried fruit!) which requires additional water to reconstitute them back into an edible meal. I typically put a pot of rice (or quinoa, or buckwheat, or amaranth...) in the oven in the morning, leave for the day and come home to warm grain. Cooking time can be comparable to using a stove. If a constant temperature is needed for several hours then you get into the nuances of turning the oven every hour or so to keep the sun shining directly into it.

Solar oven advocates boast of the health benefits and the ecological gains made by using the sun to cook; I love my little oven because I think it's so frickin' dope that the sun cooks my food and because it's a perfect fit with my desire to maintain my outdoor life with simplicity and minimal effort.

Cooking a pot of rice with the last of winter's squash on the deck with Lily.

A Solar cooked meal, greens excluded.

Anna baked her infamous German Chocolate Cake at Kale and Laura's Kick-Off Par-tay this weekend.

Not a solar oven product but the girls made cupcakes for the cast to show their support. Sweeties.

Beautiful flower from Lais.

Marty's shopping bag...good karma points fo' sho'
I ended my 14-day cleanse today. Autumn treated me to a bowl of chocolate ice cream and cabernet sorbet!

This Love is real.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Tulips, and Other Spring Things

Waiting for the coal train to pass....there are seven RR crossings in our tiny town, and the train passes through, blasting it's whistle day and night. 

Paonia is abundant in tulips, the lilacs are next, and then our famed peonies.

Making rice milk....apparently, I need practice. 
Oh mason jar projects, I love you.

My diet for the last seven days: kitchari. An experiment in the art of living.

Another letter to the BLM; oil and gas development in the North Fork is insanity.

Moments like these make it all worth while. Witnessing transformation and growth is endlessly fulfilling.
I got a ticket today! First in eight years. My tags expired....last October. Maybe I should get a PO Box because my  mail goes to the five different places I've lived in Paonia.

Tulips on the Singer.

Maya monkeying around in his new home.

Working out glitches with Maya in his new digs. Wrinkles are less than desirable. Storm pending.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Holy Goat! What a mountain of a week. I forgot how intense things get in the final days before a show opens and how much energy it takes to perform for an audience.

The real butt kicker of this week...I targeted my liver for some serious spring cleaning. Amy Williams, ayurvedic practitioner and yoga teacher, is leading a two-week spring cleanse. It's been way more intense than I anticipated and put the patience and support of my cast-mates to the test.

I have a hunch I overdid it on day three; I hiked/jogged up Jumbo, harvested greens and transplanted seedlings at Don and Daphne's, and then went straight into a hectic rehearsal. Not exactly the inward, reflective type of day that Amy recommended. My energy plummeted and I became cranky (a vast understatement). So for the past four days I stopped running, hiking, riding my bike, moving back into my tipi, and digging in the garden. My blood sugar levels were way off. With all this spare time I started crafting. I intended to make a quilt this winter but inevitably got caught up with the snow and adventures and never got around to it. This forced creative time is the silver lining to my low blood sugar crisis.

This evening our vocal director Pam invited everyone to her vineyard for a soiree. A few hours into it, a group of people started to sing. What tender music they shared. A deep, warmth spread from my heart and evoked tears of gratitude. Beauty surrounds me.

I am beyond grateful for everyone who worked on this production. I am in awe of the support, the dedication, and the talents that each shared, but above all I am humbled by the generosity of spirit that I felt from everyone involved. It breaks my heart.
The women who've been my life the past few months. (Photo courtesy of Rob Miller)   

Heading up Jumbo.

Working in the prop house with Em.

Don and Daphe's Nomadic Chicken Pad.

A very tired Rudabega.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How the Tipi Came To Be

Tomorrow I set up my tipi.

I took it down a few days ago. It was the first time I disassemble it by myself. The final stage, lowering three poles tied together into a tri-pod, was the only tricky part (read: slightly hazardous).

I've lived in my tipi for almost four years, though I wizened up over time and now move indoors during the winter. I usually move back outdoors at the start of May and find a warm place to hole up by mid-October. I lived in the Bay Area for a short stint prior to my tipi days, and that's when I subconsciously set my intention to create the life I live today.

In California I had grown tired of my job; the daily grind wore at my free spirit. I worked to pay my rent, I paid my rent so I could go to work. I felt drained and out of place. I was missing a sense of purpose that was driven by my heart. Back in Colorado Rebecca, my soul-sister, encouraged me to follow my heart and come on home. I called Bill Star, friend to itinerant wanderers and artists, and he agreed to let me crash at his place for the summer on the Mesa. 

That summer I casually browsed yurt web sites and dreamed about the possibilities. I wanted my home to be something that I could afford and easily transport but found that yurts were beyond my means. Tipis, on the other hand, were do-able.  And, fancy that, a tipi company operated just miles from our home on the Mesa (because every city has a tipi company, right?!). After dropping Rebecca off at the airport one day I spontaneously made my way over to the shop. 

When I arrived, things felt strangely quiet. I expected the door to be locked judging by the drawn blinds, but when I checked the handle it opened without resistance. It was dark and quiet within. I hesitated for a moment, calling out for anyone who might be inside beyond the entrance, down a narrow hall (ready to murder me....?). No response. I left the door wide open thinking that if I needed to make a run for it I'd better make my escape route easy to navigate. I walked down the hallway and entered an enormous, unlit workroom that most notably contained sowing machines and tipi poles. I continued to call out as I wandered around, constantly looking over my shoulder. Something about the dark, empty building gave me the creeps.

As I rounded the corner I saw florescent light spilling from a room. 

A young woman, still in her teens, perched in front of a computer at a tidy desk. She had pin straight hair, which matched her long, thin limbs. It smelled like she had recently smoked a cigarette.  Her eyes looked tired and she seemed genuinely surprised to see me. We talked about the company and tipis. Cory pulled out papers from her well-organized files to provide me with detailed answers to my many questions.  My curiosity got the best of me and I started asking her personal questions.  At just eighteen Cory managed the many details of the tipi operation. In spite of her young and weary appearance, she handled the business with ease and intelligence. I decided quickly that I liked her.

We started to talk about the potential for a work-trade and Cory agreed to call the owner to see if I could come over to look at a tipi in his backyard and to propose my work-trade idea. It was close to noon and he was just waking up. Red Flag.

Cory gave me directions to Richard's place. He showed me the tipi and talked my ear off, as if he was recently released from solitary confinement. Red Flag. I feigned interest. He did not pretend to be interested in me beyond my ability to listen to him talk. I decide quickly that I did not like him. After my endless tour around Richard's small yard we sat down to talk business. It was the first time I spoke since I introduced myself, but I was promptly interrupted by his cell phone, which he answered without hesitation.

"Richard, I can't come tonight.....mumble mumble mumble," I heard the woman on the line say. Richard shrugged and told her they would reschedule next week. Somehow, I knew they were talking about sex, Red Flag, but I was determined to take control of the conversation and eagerly commented on the honey bees in his yard after he put down the phone. But, sadly, Richard enthusiastically shared with me that the woman on the phone started her period and wouldn't be able to film the pornography that Richard proudly made. 

Red Flag. Red Flag! Red Flag!!!! Oh shit. Oh shit. Did he really just say that? What do I do? Can he tell I am freaking out? Is my I-deal-with-porno-creeps-all-the goddamn-time face believable? Oh right.... Richard doesn't notice anything but his creepy self... I'm off the hook. Now, do I really want to continue our talk about work trade after this brilliant tidbit of information!?! 

I wrapped things up quickly from there and raced back to Rebecca's car. 

A few hours later Cory called to say that Richard agreed to arrange a work-trade with me. "No pornos?" I asked. Cory had my back, and it became clear that without her I wouldn't have gotten my work trade.  

That summer, in addition to selling cherries and peaches from the Western Slope, I spent several weeks in the sketchy cave of a tipi shop, cutting, folding, and painting canvases that would be shipped around the world. I learned secondhand the grimy details about the exploitative way Richard made pornography.

My tipi was one of the last made before the company shut down its operations. Apparently, Richard made some changes to his business model, which had been a family operated company for two generations. One change to his business plan included putting all the money from the tipi business into his side project, which was unsurprisingly an unprofitable drain.

Cory, years later, is now a Mama to a beautiful boy and runs her own business, Tiny Tipis (catch her on Etsy!) (A Tiny Tipi image)
She makes authentic crow tipis, dream catchers, and other crafty things. (Tiny Tipi image)
Note: Unfortunately, I ran into camera issues this week (they were all erased!) and promise some action photos next week.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Jumping In.

I recently watched a TED Talk given by researcher Brene Brown that seems to be related to everything I think about lately. She talks about the trust and courage needed during the times when there are no guarantees. (Which, it seems to me, is all the damn time.) That's a hard concept to swallow for someone growing up with science-based gospel, rather than believing in acts of faith.

I needed to hear Brown's message to remember how much happier I am when I am not trying to control, plan, and fiercely predict how life will turn out. It's when I'm afraid of not getting what I want that I try my hardest to control life, and usually in the process make myself crazy.

On a whole, I put my energy towards nourishing life in it's most vulnerable and yet beautiful forms--how we grow food, how we birth our babies, how we educate our children. I have to wave my white flag of surrender, releasing my need for a perfect outcome. Otherwise I get this mad look in my eye as if to say, "I will give you my perfection when you pry it from my cold dead hands." And then my learners, friends, family, co-workers, etc. display a variety of polite and knowing responses, though my learners, at times are understandably less subtle and polite.  My dogs, on the other hand, don't seem to mind. (Yes, I cried on the floor in the middle of muddy December after mopping the white tile floor four times before lunch. Dogs were blissfully unconcerned with my frustrated tears.) And by no means do I confuse perfection with my commitment to excellence.

To me it seems like our society is addicted to perfection: we grow our food with pesticides that guarantee perfect yields; we birth our babies with the use of technological interventions to ensure they come out flawlessly, quickly, and without pain; we strive for a preconceived image of how our life is supposed to look--happy, thin, partnered, employed, and wealthy. I don't think these are healthy practices when they come from a need for control and certainty. I think that they can destroy our ability to connect with ourselves, each other, and the earth. And ultimately I believe that these connections, though they can be the source of devastation and pain at times, are the very things that make me feel alive.

I am partially paralyzed in my left shoulder as a result of the unpredictable nature of life. At times I experience anger, pain, feelings of injustice, an unwillingness to embrace acceptance. When I feel these things and then try to push them away what's left is a desire to change things and control them so that no one else has to suffer as I have suffered.  But I don't think that acting on those feelings would actually bring me the peace that I truly seek. Fighting against what happened wouldn't help me connect to that pain which is part of me. When I've tried this line of thinking on, it usually puts the other people involved in a position of wrong-doing, and that doesn't bring me closer to connection either.

It's with this intention that I am blogging, and taking the advice of E.M. Forster, "Only Connect!"

Catching up with Laura and Buni last summer and enjoying the light. Photo by Rebecca Siegel.

Brene Brown brings humor and an open heart to her TED talk: