Archive for February 2011
I’m not sure I’ve ever used the term urban homesteader to describe myself. Off the top of my head, there are two reasons for this. First, although I find myself somewhat attracted to the term, I’m also not completely comfortable with some of the historical implications of homesteading (there’s a good post on some of those issues here), especially after a fair amount of study of things like colonialism. While they are historical, meanings shift over time and don’t necessarily reflect on what’s going on in the movement today by any stretch of the imagination, I’m still aware of them, and still trying to figure out where I am without relying too much on labels, since labels can be uncomfortable in some circumstances, and can also have an unfortunate tendency to divide people.
Second, what I do here sometimes feels like it’s on such a small and limited scale that there’s no real way that I can justify why it could or should be called homesteading. In the summer I grow some basil, dill, and the odd cherry tomato on my too-shaded patio. I make my own pickles, jam, granola, and cleaning products. I cook from scratch, and hang laundry to dry in my apartment. I buy used, frequent the farmers’ markets, and keep the heat down in the winter. I generally try to live as lightly as possible in this apartment.
That said, even in moments when I think I’m not doing enough, I want to live the life suggested by the idea of being an urban homesteader, whether I call it that or not. Heck, maybe I’m just being hard on myself – as I so often am – and I’m already on the path; after all, this weekend I made pickles, granola, and bread, and started radish, spinach, dill, basil, pea, and cucumber seeds. This week I hope to try my hand at yogurt. And this lifestyle, and my hopes for what it can and will become, is why I find myself incredibly irritated at the kerfuffle over the recent moves by a family that will remain unnamed to trademark and take on this terminology for themselves.
I wanted, for a long while, to give them the benefit of the doubt. While to my mind their site doesn’t offer a lot of practical information, it had, at one point, been a bit of an inspiration, albeit well after I had heard of homesteading. Even after the initial furor I hoped that they had misspoke, and then that they had misstepped and would apologize for the confusion, explain their case, and back down. That doesn’t seem to be the case, though, and nothing has come out other than a poorly-constructed press release and some brief blog posts claiming lies, hoaxes, and other insinuations that seem to be untrue based on their own communications.
And so, I’m calling myself an urban homesteader. My way looks different from theirs, and looks different from those of the countless other people who are moving today to take back that term for themselves. But that’s a good thing. We adapt where we can, how we can, and we set up systems that not only work for us, but that also work for where we are. But with all of these people, and all of these methods and ideas and ways of doing and knowing, there’s no reason why anyone should be claiming – or even trying to claim – sole right to being an urban homesteader. Not only is there room for everyone in this movement, we need more people calling themselves urban homesteaders, or city gardeners, or whatever term works best to describe how they get involved and make these important changes to our selves, homes, communities, food, environment, and ways of living. Shutting people out based on terminology and alienating them from the things they want to do – and in many cases already do – doesn’t help the community this is so necessary to figuring out how we can best live our lives in the ways that we want.
Now, I’m happy to see, people are starting to consider other ways in which we can use this momentum. The taking of words and laying claim to a movement are offenses, certainly, but they’re small offenses (relatively speaking) with respect to a system that is fundamentally flawed and in need of our attention (there’s another great post from Grow and Resist on this as well). Now, we get to figure out where to go from here, and how we can use this collective power to make more of a difference, more change, more movement. Now that we’re galvanized, who’s in for the ride?
There are days that feel like sandpaper. Every little thing, no matter how small, snags and grabs and pulls a bit until suddenly, sometimes without warning, you’re rough or raw or feeling just a bit thinner than you did before.
After a week in which I had more than a few rough spots over things that, really, weren’t worth having a rough spot over, it was time to slow down today. There was a bit of work that needed to be done at the start of the day, but then there was a run outside in the snow, and yoga at home to stretch out and breathe. There was a lunch of yogurt and homemade granola, a large pot of soup and homemade bread for dinner, and a big pot of rooibos tea. There was a movie with The Boy, reading in my most comfortable chair, and watching a wonderful documentary. Soon, there will be more reading in bed, meditation, and sleep under a deep pile of covers.
After a week of sandpaper, today felt like something I can’t quite define yet. But it’s been a both a balm, after a week that was not really so great, but also hopefully a way of developing some buoyancy in order to be better able to stay afloat when things aren’t going so well, or a shield for when the sandpaper shows up again.
As we go marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too.
I was plotting out this post in my head last night, after a week that had a few less-than-pleasant days in it. And then, lo and behold, I ran across this post earlier today.
As I work on being more sustainable, I sometimes finding myself treading into territory where things feel less than pleasant. Now, everything shouldn’t necessarily be rainbows and ponies all the time, but in many of these cases, these issues are my own doing – I’ve taken on too much, expected more of myself than I’ve had to give, or cut back too much in some area or another, leaving me feel stressed out, off kilter, and generally like I’d be inclined towards headbutting something.
It’s easy, as I move towards making the life that I want, to take on things too quickly, especially when I still have a whole set of responsibilities already that require tending. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to jump in feet first, but trying to deal with everything all at once right off the bat is a recipe for burning out, which in turn makes things that should (and usually do) feel like warm summer sun on your back seem more like being out in the midst of a raging hailstorm, ducking for cover.
So one thing I’m doing the weekend – other than resting – is thinking about some of the ways that I can make life not only a bit easier, but also a bit more beautiful, and less like drudgery on those days when almost everything feels like a shore. The post from above has some really excellent advice. Right now, I’m pondering the clutter with new eyes, considering how to make things a bit more beautiful around here, and trying to wrap my head around the idea that perhaps it’s okay, now and again, to pay a bit more money for things if they improve my life in some way.
For those who haven’t heard it, the verse above is from a folk song called “Bread and Roses”. It’s not long, and if you don’t know it, I’d suggest seeking it. It does a wonderful job of both getting at social justice issues, but also of pointing out that life is more than just work, and that there needs to be beauty there as well.
Something to think about this afternoon.
Some weekends, I rest. I appreciate the time to sit, to read, to visit with friends, to simply take it easy and be, which is something so many of us don’t do enough of.
This weekend was productive, though, and even at its end I find myself energized and ready to take on that little bit more.
I’ve taken on a bunch of academic work, and made what will likely be huge strides towards completing my research. I’ve also tackled work for other projects that need completing, and crossed many of them off my to do list.
The biggest gains have been around home, though. I’ve managed to clean the tub, the tile, the ceiling, and the mirror in the bathroom, and to sort through some of the laundry. I’ve done all the dishes, swept the floor, cleaned under the sink, decluttered a bit, cleaned the sink, the counters, and the stove. I’ve baked bread, and now have home fries and a veggie quiche baking in the oven.
As much as I take satisfaction in rest on the weekends, especially after a long or otherwise trying week, there’s also satisfaction in productivity and in actually getting concrete things done (perhaps especially for those of us who spend much of our time living in our heads). Although I imagine I’ll be tired very shortly – especially after the pleasures of dinner – I’m pleased with what’s been done, and feel far more grounded and centered now that work has been done and the results are visible.
Walking home sometimes, I stop to look at the outside of my apartment. I live on the bottom floor, close to the ground, and the apartment opens out onto a patio and a bit of grass. To some, I imagine the patio looks cluttered, with its mismatched pots, bags of soil, crates, bike, chairs, and a table. All I see, though, is the potential.
The table is there to work on, and the pots to grow things this summer – herbs, small tomatoes, and maybe a few other plants as well, if I get really lucky. The bike’s to get around without relying on public transit or a car (not that I have one). The chairs are to sit out and enjoy some time outside.
There are currently some problems with the space. Unfortunately, the most notable are the neighbours to one side, who noisily use the space as their own, leaving tents and beer bottles and cigarette butts out wherever they want, and the neighbours above, who generously let their dogs use the balcony as a bathroom, and then sweet it all down to us.
That said, I haven’t lost hope. I still see the beauty in this place – in any place, really – where I know that change is possible, and that things can be done in a way that is productive and sustainable. I’m working to make these changes. Sometimes the work is slower than I’d like, but it’s happening, but by bit, as I try to find a better way of doing things where I am here and now.