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Archive for the ‘Home’ Category

Spring-ing quickly…

What a spring! At the beginning of March winter was still thoroughly enmeshed in my life and travel. Peter Bane and I travelled to a weekend course with The Resiliency Institute in Naperville, IL. It was a wonderful course–graduating 13 fantastic students with vision, heart, and some serious skills.

"Reading the Landscape" at the 2014 TRI permaculture design course in March.

“Reading the Landscape” at the 2014 TRI permaculture design course in March.

In mid-April we ventured to Terre Haute and Indiana State University to table at the Earth Day celebration and meet some wonderful people connected with the community there. Food forest on campus?

Rhonda and Caden tabling at the ISU Earth Day

Rhonda and Caden tabling at the 2014 ISU Earth Day event

Now, with nearly 80 degree days, thunderstorms, and a sudden burst of flowers in the garden, we are rushing to catch up with spring garden tasks…Life is full and good. There are several permaculture designers a few decades after Mollison uttered the words “the designer becomes the recliner” wondering when that day comes. I think they also realize that, though the garden, teaching, and designing is a busy life, it is also immensely rewarding.

Caden's "photo harvest" from the garden....that one might go in the salad.

Caden’s “photo harvest” from the garden….that one might go in the salad.


Sugarin’ Time…

Well, Happy Valentine’s Day!

And, I find myself preparing this year to tap trees for syrup–at least the trees I’ve got access to. I’ve thought about it for years and always missed the timing or hesitated. Not this year!

We try not to use refined cane sugar in our household, but we do use a lot of honey and maple syrup. So why not become more resilient and build a deeper connection to the trees and season by including this practice in our lives? A perfect way to “tap into abundance.”

There are, of course, excellent videos and sources about when and how to tap your trees and then use that gift of nature to make syrup.  Tap My Trees is one of the clearest sites I’ve seen. It even talks a bit about the benefits of drinking the sap straight–pointing out that this is a regular practice in South Korea. I am reminded of how important the maple syrup was to indigenous people the world over). And, hint: there are other species of tree that make excellent syrups.

Which trees might you be able to tap? Is there a “sugar shack” in your future?

So, here’s to –sweets for the sweet

First day of homeschool…

Today was our first day of school. It’s a new stage for us–not only are the grades different, but this is the first year I’m really consciously “doing pre-school” with Caden. So balancing the needs of pre-K and a burgeoning sixth grader are here in front of me.

What does that look like from a Waldorf/Nature Connection/Permaculture/big emphasis on family view?

Well, today for us was:

Walk the dog on the B-line trail through town (stopping to smell the roses); breakfast at Bloomingfoods and running into a former permaculture student to talk about the great projects he’s working on.

Then back at home:

Geology/Geography: A look at Pangaea and continental drift theory. This video really put the concept in perspective for us. We puzzled out the relationship between continents and talked about the biogeographical implications and the relationship between mountains, ocean trenches, faults, volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis. More on this for Maya in the weeks to come.

Meanwhile the preschooler, enjoyed working with the numbers 2 and 3, various coloring projects and drawing crab monsters. While Maya reviewed parts of speech, explored new vocabulary, and practiced math work from the previous year, Caden helped to prepare lunch.

After a lunch break (with a breather for mom), we did some individual reading. Maya worked on sewing up a project while I read a beginning story to Caden from our Keepers of the Animals curriculum.

We wrapped up the day with some cordage (one of my favorite primitive skills). Maya harvested a few yucca leaves from our garden and guided us through processing (pounding with a stone). It turns out that one particular stone I’d collected is indeed the PERFECT stone for this kind of work. Under Maya’s tutelage we all made great progress with it–enjoying the shade and comfort outside, playing and laughing together. Even the pounding became a rhythmic play. Here’s a look at our handiwork:

Yucca leaves in various states, stones for pounding out the material, and finished yucca cordage.

Not every day will be this idyllic, but I think it’s been a lovely start to the year and I am grateful for this opportunity.

Drought in a Permaculture Garden

I designed my main growing beds so that I do not have to water as much as others usually do. Whether this is from an inherent sense of design, frugality, or just plain laziness…maybe it’s all three. But, truth be told, I DO NOT like to water the garden.

I HAVE watered my garden–in late June to early July I watered it about five times in three weeks, just to see keep a few things alive long enough to flower and start to bear fruit. The drought here in south-central Indiana has been so persistent and so very difficult that I just stopped watering, but very little. So, here we are in the last week of July. My son (4 years old) and I snapped some pictures of the garden. And I was struck by the life, beauty, and fruition in the garden starkly contrasted with the farmers around me plowing under their corn–revealing the true natures and adaptability of our relative approaches to agriculture. To be sure, my garden is not as productive as it would be with more water. But the contrast is still appropriate.

Throughout these beds: beans, onions, kale, asparagus, raspberries, potatoes, carrots, lemon balm, marjoram, bergamot, valerian, and a few other herbs and “weeds.”

It is my hope that more people begin to grow food for themselves–at least a portion and supplement of what they have now. Start a fall garden, a few plants to tend if you are not used to it. Get help from those that know more than you do.

These lettuces should re-seed themselves in the garden–for winter and spring harvests to come. The gold finches love them, too. And who knew that the blossoms are so beautiful to watch?

With so much of our food coming from the corn and soybean fields, the wheat harvests, we know that food prices are likely to soar. So, working with nature in the permaculture way allows us to build our resilience now. And to find joy in the simple cycles of sow, tend, harvest, eat!

This is the real secret to turning my gardening experience into the Garden of Eden–appreciating its beauty and vitality. Recognizing the fullness of life created by working with life and nature–creating beneficial, vital connections. This feeds my affection for my garden. This nourishes my soul.

Food for the soul–and other practical uses 🙂

Working the Edges…

Permaculture…permanent agriculture…permanent culture. Always, “the edge is where the action is.” This is so true—and there are many rough and many tender edges to explore within our own hearts and in how we come together as people, as communities. We’ve inherited a broken society where our longing to celebrate common life, shared values, and rich interdependencies has eroded into bare threads of civility.

My friend Ann, a student in the first course I helped to teach six years ago, has taken this saying about the edges and run with it. She is constantly exploring the edges of physical space (living fairly close to the edge of her neighborhood), cultural space (living in a yurt in the Tetons for decades; pursuing a PhD in philosophy). She  also writes an “edgy” blog ( And it has come to be a particularly thorny issue for her over the past five months.

In 2008 she bought the house and lot next to her with the goal of creating a neighborhood garden that would also feature permaculture education and design demonstration. She’s worked with the local university repeatedly giving students the opportunity to research and contribute small projects to the overall function of the garden. Students designed a composting system and a cob oven to fit into the back corner of a ferrocement wall on the SW corner of the garden.

Now, that corner is on an intersection—and it turns out that this wall (which some of us referred to as the “Berlin Wall”) has been the source of great ambivalence. It’s been an edge—literally and figuratively. The addition of fire—in this case the cob oven—sparked conflict. This garden, which is meant to serve the neighborhood—which has influenced the region (even beyond the city), has been critiqued by one neighbor—who took her concerns to the city.

Out of the unfolding process, the garden will transform again. Ann, as the owner of the land, has engaged with the city—educating where she can, respectfully building bridges and doing good work with neighborhoods. She’s weighed her choices carefully and opted to do what is, in the end, not only for the greater good, but her long months of contemplating this difficult conflict has culminated with a welcome redesign of several other features within the garden. The “Berlin Wall”—which, we realize now, served as an anchor to shelter and protect the new garden for its first three tender years of incubation — will be moved to a place where it will serve as a backdrop to a new meditation space; it will be replaced with an embracing and beautiful gate and other features to invite community participation. The needs of one person in the community will be embraced (the cob oven will be replaced with a “smokeless” rocket stove). The garden will become even more whole, more of a community place.

The city has played its role in this transformation, too. Options, choices, considerations, and collaboration have all come out of this experience. The GANG is a bit unlike anything else in the city–the officials are just not quite sure how to fit it into the existing structures. And that is perfect. In permaculture, we want to grow that edge. There are other projects, other community programs that do not fit neatly into the space allocated either. We will all–everyone involved have to become more creative and flexible.

Ann, rather than escalate the situation with her neighbor has chosen to take on the conflict at the personal level. It’s not that she’s bound up in the ego so much—though there is that personal, hurt, agitated side (which needs a significant boundary)—but that rather than put the whole community through a dramatic conflict which would further alienate the neighbor, she’s held that edge and made space for the garden to evolve further in service to the larger community. What feels sad, and still difficult, to both of us, is that this neighbor hasn’t been incorporated into the growing feeling of neighborliness. Where, in our interpersonal work—with those rough and ragged edges in our hearts, do we draw healthy lines? How do we draw healthy boundaries while still building relationships with those who are closed to us? How much power can one person have? In the Occupy movement, consensus is reached with 90%–with the express understanding that a very small percentage can push the greater good off track.

I don’t have the answers. I know that in this case, I’m disappointed with both the neighbor and with the community in that the only way forward has been for Ann to have to make difficult choices about this project. I urged her the last time we talked, to bring it back to the communal wisdom. And I still celebrate the changes in the garden.

I think it is a marvelous gesture that the wall will be replaced with a gate.

Botany in the Key of Fifth

Plants are amazing–almost as amazing as fifth graders. Maya and I are delving into botany through our Waldorf curriculum–exploring our garden, our neighborhood, and our community forests in new eyes. We will revisit botany throughout the year.

Our Waldorf curriculum prompts us to understand the kinds of plants as a metaphor for my daughter’s own development. It is deeply moving. She understands her own growth and capabilities reflected in the plant world around her. And, as we work with the fungi and lichens, the algae and ferns, we appreciate the pattern-knowledge we have from permaculture. We talk about the fungal connections through the forest mirroring our social connections.

Sunflowers in the garden in August

Our work is to come to understand the plants–their unique properties, their relationships with their environment and each other, and the ways in which humans relate to them especially. Drawing the plants, harvesting them for use, making medicines and art with them, planting and observing them. Tending the garden. Feeding our bodies, minds, and souls.  This is what education is all about.

When I hear what is happening with public schools from the preschools to the university–it is the loss of our humanity. I am very concerned that not only is the press of our society leaving people uneducated and pressured to conform to a mold of unconsidered stereotypes, but that it deprives them of the ability to understand their own capacity for growth and understanding.

For a very long time, public education has been about giving the masses enough skills to be good workers–good parts in the machine. More and more, the changes I see seem designed to undermine the ability of the adults “produced” by the system to consider, challenge, and resist the very system that “creates” them. Fear, anxiety, and anger are manipulated to enslave our children. Peer groups become more important than parents. Teachers are pitted against parents and parents against teachers. Administrators, politicians, and teachers are all vying for solid ground. And the system I see doesn’t have solid ground to give.  This is not always the case, but that dynamic is one that crops up in almost every article I read, every story related to me.

Wake up!

There are different ways. I salute the teachers, administrators, parents, and elected officials that seek to make connections and work for the best interests of children and families. But don’t let those words be twisted. We’ve set the bar too low. Families need time and support. Teachers need support to help the beauty and genius of each child unfold–just as the flowers in our garden unfold. Children need to know their own capacities and feel confident about their own growth–just as my daughter is beginning to know this.


I pray that we all wake up. That we all make those connections–and that our confidence in our humanity is restored.

Seven Generations

For seven generations…

I am the seventh generation to live in this state. In this part of the state of Indiana. Parts of my family have been in my or surrounding counties since before Indiana was a state. If seven generations mark a cycle, then my daughter and son-the eight generation-mark a new beginning.

I’ve thought a lot about what this means. Some of my ancestors were here before Europeans staked a claim on the land. I learned recently that my mother’s people, Grandma Mountain in particular, was of the Cherokee that were forcibly removed to the West. My father’s mother’s people were from the Cherokees of North Carolina. I couldn’t get more specific than that. The story is lost. Some of my ancestors fought in the American Revolution. Some of them hired Daniel Boone to bring them to this territory before it was a state. Before they came here, parts of my family were French Huguenots that re-settled in England. Parts of my family were Virginians fleeing a devastated South. That’s a lot of family karma. And, does it mean anything?

Does it mean something to come from a place with roots this deep? My husband and I have chosen to stay in this area, to raise our children here despite the temptation to be like many of our generation and take better paying jobs on the coasts. We have valued being near our families and friends, making a life of that values real things–real connections.

I feel deeply connected to this hilly, forested, rolling landscape–even naming my business Sheltering Hills Design. I belong here. My children belong here. We are of this land. I was raised close to the land by gardeners and skilled craftsmen. I expect that my children will be at least gardeners and skilled, even if they choose other careers.

I’m in awe of the beauty of my landscape, and upset by its abuse. The here I have inherited is as polluted and damaged (Indiana consistently ranks last in environmental quality) as it is beautiful.  It is my home. The powers that be, the mechanistic minds and memes that have invaded the culture of this area extract the natural bounty of this landscape. Seven generations of use without the deep thought to plan for the future generations. What will this land look like in seven generations? Hoosiers have choices to make.

I am on the path to defend and begin restoring this landscape. I’m not going anywhere. I’m raising my children with the understanding of the challenges they face in life–and where those challenges came from. I am raising the next generation to be committed to this place, to work with others to create a permanent culture of place amidst these forests, roads, fields,quarries, coal mines, naval bases, universities, factories, rivers….to have the tools to make this place a whole and wholesome one. Better than we found it.