Geekin’ on Compost!

IMG_2995

I am totally obsessed with my compost these days. It started out with bucket after bucket of pulled dandelions needing to be hot composted rather than tossed in a pile to go anaerobic only to disperse their seeds a year from now. I’ve finally figured out the secret, and it certainly isn’t revolutionary or anything new. It’s awesome in my world though.

The secret is simply to fill up your pile within a week or so, and then close it off to new materials rather than having this forever compost pile that never really produces for you. I’m fortunate to have a plentiful supply of chicken manure, so I’m able to layer it all in there with my weeds, food waste, and leaves. You have to kind of balance all those materials out for a good carbon to nitrogen ratio, but it really isn’t rocket science. It’s really just a matter of having enough volume for the pile to really get cooking, and it hasn’t take long for all that microbial activity to heat things up to 150 degrees or more. This heat is sufficient to kill off weed seeds and pathogens, and results in a much faster composting time.

Horrible picture, but squint a bit. The one on the left is 2 weeks in and needs to be turned. I’m still working on filling up the one on the right. My chickens produce tons of material for me. This winter I used 25 bags of leaves in the chicken run and two bales of hay to cover the ice and provide a diversion. This is in various states of decomposition and is slowly being moved to piles. I’m also experimenting with a food and whatever pile in with the chickens. We’ll see how that goes.

IMG_3020

If you’re reading this you’re probably already aware, but I just want to stress again what I’ve finally figured out. Fill up your entire pile, make sure that it’s a cubic yard or more, and then let it do its job. I’ll turn it every week or two, and then when it’s done rotting later this summer I’ll empty the whole thing out on the gardens and lawn, and start over. BOOM! No more of this forever adding never taking. You’ve got to fill it and empty it of it’s treasure when completed. Where most folks go wrong is forever slowly adding to a bottomless anaerobic pile that never really produces anything  (cold composting with little to no oxygen within for the microbes that are the strong men in this work).

This time of year there are PLENTY of weeds and other materials to fill up multiple piles in my small 50 X 140 foot yard in the city (along with the aid of our fruit and veggie scraps). I’ve got three of them going now, and am looking forward to building a fourth soon. It helps that I have the chickens, and also that we still have lots of leaves left over from the fall (lots of neighbors drop them off for me). Being obsessed with compost and gardening from the ground up is producing great results for me. We’ve fallen off the wagon in recent years, and now my passion for producing compost has me out there constantly digging weeds for the sheer pleasure of finishing off another pile! It really works, and I heartily recommend it! I love the pile method as well, rather than the small plastic Earth Machine styled composters for city slickers. The bigger the pile the better, and the plastic things just aren’t big enough. Plus, why wouldn’t I proudly display composting in action???!!!!  The soil up here needs a lot of help, and I’m proud to not waste anything over here.

IMG_3016

Speaking of rotting things, am I the only guy that does this? I slowly rotate my shoes until they finally reach the end of the line: the lawn work shoes. These are falling apart, and are nearly worthless, but for some reason I’m trying to make it through with them this season. It’s a sickness really, and my wife would love to get rid of half the t-shirt drawer for the same reason.

IMG_3013

Dads with kids should enjoy Father’s Day guilt free. Otherwise, what’s the point?

IMG_2912

Today was a great Father’s Day. What a great thing it is to actually be a dad on Father’s Day! It’s fun to be on this side of things.

As usual, today was filled with its share of difficulties and challenges. For some reason, however, slipping on a $10 pair of nice wool socks changed things. Walking into church with my family that had to be wrestled there for the purpose, I had a huge grin on my face as I satisfyingly strolled in with feet stuffed into these cozy socks and impervious to a rain and cool temperatures in the 40s. While sitting through the service I became more and more excited to get my family out on another adventure, and especially because it was raining. A second day of being mostly indoors would have been a strategic blunder. Never underestimate a good pair of socks. Not only will they keep you warm, but they seem to inspire greater possibilities.  I’m still wearing these things, and continue to bask in the satisfaction they bring.

This afternoon we drove about an hour up the north shore of Lake Superior through driving rain, and then on cue the rain stopped when we reached our first destination. Pardon the digression, but driving to a chosen destination is a great way to spend a rain together! Rather than being cooped up in the house like criminals, we listened to an awesome dramatization of a Chronicles of Narnia story together. What a contrast to how the day could have gone! This was worth the cost of the gas alone.

I was excited to show the kids that we can continue to have fun in inclement weather with the right clothing and attitude, but we stayed completely dry as we enjoyed Gooseberry Falls together. Later we enjoyed 8-10 foot swells that crashed into Iona’s Beach. By that point it was still only 48 degrees, but it was sunny and the wind had stopped altogether. It was sublime as we enjoyed this beach all to ourselves.  I just loved being covered head to toe entirely in wool. I was literally clad 100% in wool head to toe with my Stormy Kromer hat, wool flannel and base layer, nice wool pants that are fancy enough for church,  and the Smart Wool socks I’ve already rhapsodized. This may have been the first time I’ve been so fortified on the 15th of June! Oh how I love it, and yes I have a super soft pair of boxer briefs made out of the stuff. Only northern Minnesota makes this possible as much of the rest of the country swelters.

IMG_2963

The point is that I got to enjoy what I wanted to do. I’m blessed with a family that is committed to doing what I want to do on Father’s Day. Being so gifted, I am learning to refuse to take it for granted, and also to refuse to live in guilt. This is important. I live far from both my dad and father-in-law, and it’s usually difficult to not feel this pang of guilt on Father’s Day and Mother’s Day because we never really seem to do enough. Also, the little we do do is usually a little late since neither my wife or I are horrible planners.

Well, I’ve finally realized that Father’s Day properly celebrated should really be focused on the dads who are actually in the trenches doing the fathering. With twins in elementary school, that would be me. I might have 50 or so Father’s Days remaining, so I don’t plan on wasting any of them. We did exactly what I wanted, when I wanted today, and it was one of those rare days of perfection. It’s kind of funny, because much of it was indeed a struggle, but my memory of it is absolute perfection. This is what I want Father’s Day to be. It may be different for your family, and I do believe on paying true honor and respect to our fathers and grandfathers, but frankly I’m utterly exhausted, as are most dads. We are the ones that need the day right now. The same goes, often doubly so, for young mothers. Also, I don’t want 30 minutes of cake and ice cream after lunch. I want the whole damn day. Just saying.

IMG_2956

Thus, we sent cards and made phone calls, but we really focused on having a fantastic day as a family doing what it was I wanted to do, and not trying to live up to other expectations (which are often self-imposed quite frankly).

We ended the day with a chicken dinner my wife had waiting in the oven for us when we came home (225 degrees for 4+ hours).  I cannot believe my wife is so brave that she can just throw the meat in the cooker for an indeterminate amount of time and have it turn out perfectly. Amazing. Of course I’m not much of a cook, and it all seems like sorcery to me anyway.

Finally, to end the day, I’ve got a small fire in the wood stove to take the edge off, and am enjoying an Elvis Presley gospel album turning on the record player amid the soft light of an oil lamp and candle. This caps off a perfect day for me. Some would call this selfish, and that’s utter poppycock. The entire family was together all day and loved it. Also, we need to be looking after ourselves so we have more to give as parents. Period. Living in guilt all the time is no way to live. I encourage you to find a way to do the same. Perhaps you should enjoy a redo of Father’s or Mother’s Day if you missed it somehow. I give you permission! How many of these days do you have left????

FYI, we did dote plenty on the kids still. We scoped out a hotel with a water park that might be used as a reward for completing and journaling the list of all 101 Things to Do Outside from National Geographic Kids this summer. Perhaps that’ll be another post some day. If not, you’ll know it didn’t go so well!

God bless ya chums.

Love,

Eddy

Real Benefits to Reel Mowing

IMG_2861

These past two weeks have produced a flood of green on the landscape. On one run through Hartley and Bagley I marveled at every weed, fiddleheads in various stages of development, brand new leaves on trees, marsh marigolds, tiny wildflowers, and even insects, as if I was a Martian only now discovering life on this strange blue planet called Earth. At the conclusion and climax of my hour spent cleaving through this atmosphere of paradise, I stood upon the knob at Hartley overlooking all this new life. Peering through the gap between the hills at the ice gathered at the head of Lake Superior, while thousands of frogs and toads in the marshes called out expectantly in jubilant exultation, it was as if all creation was celebrating and calling out these words from the last stanza of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy:

Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss is for the whole world!
Brothers, above the canopy of stars
must dwell a loving father.

Even the growing grass and dandelions in our yards give cause to celebrate as the period of endless muck and grime has drifted away.
A better way to enjoy and take care of your lawn is to use a manual push reel lawn mower. I have always wanted to mow grass in silence in the early morning hours as a participant within the natural world rather than being wholly “other” behind a disruptive motor. The need to put my son to work on the lawn finally provoked me to decisive action.

On the cusp of spending big bucks on a German engineered reel lawn mower, I called Duluth’s most famous hippie, Dan Proctor, for his opinion on the matter. Being that he lives off the grid along Chester Bowl within the city, I knew he’d have opinions on these old fashioned mowers. It turned out he had an older model available that he gladly let me take off his hands for a mere ten dollars. Handing him the money, the man sort of recoiled a bit, almost as if it was a dirty transaction. It’s refreshing to come across a guy that is not filled with a love of money. Love or hate his ideas, anyone would have to admire his conviction to live consistently according to his ideals.

Now I can officially tell you that these reel mowers are life changing. Rather than joining the chorus of loud and polluting gas guzzling mowers, my nine-year-old son and I fight over who gets to quietly mow the lawn. All you hear is a satisfying scissor sound as the grass is gently snipped. It is perfect for our small yard that is partially consumed by gardens, patio, and a chicken run. Your lawn will thank you, because the scissor snipping of your grass is far healthier for your lawn than the chopping and tearing a regular mower does.

Additionally, the reduction of your impact on the environment will be far from insignificant. According to the EPA a new gas powered lawn mower in operation for an hour produces as much pollution as 11 new cars being driven for an hour. Furthermore, the EPA estimates that 17 million gallons of fuel are spilled each year while refueling lawn equipment, and Americans burn 800 million gallons of fuel are to operate them.

Grab your reel mower from the spot where it hangs in the garage to save space, and you’ll emit zero pollution. Your neighbors will appreciate it as well, even as you mow at any hour of the day, because there is no noise pollution. Think of how many quiet family dinners and outings are disrupted by just one loud lawn mower running within say 300 feet of their home.

That brings us to the real question. Are they too hard to push? More effort is definitely required, and it is good exercise. For a small yard, however, it has proven to be completely reasonable. In fact, I have to limit my son to mowing the lawn just twice per week. He’d do it every day if I let him. I do provide assistance on a small hill, but otherwise a child can do this unless the grass gets too long.

Kids Can and Should Work Hard

Some things are best taught by coming alongside and sharing an experience. A solid work ethic is one of them. It is a constant battle to raise kids in our affluent culture without promoting a sense of entitlement. Unlike prior generations, most children never really know what it means to go without. We have plenty of food, clothing, and a decent home in a great neighborhood in Duluth. Compared to most of the rest of the world, we have won the lottery.

And yet, our children frequently fall prey to an entitlement attitude. When they see what other kids have, and they do not, naturally they feel jealous and that something is unfair. To combat this it is crucial to instill the values of hard work, saving, thrift, and generosity.
The importance of working hard is really one of the easier traits to instill in young children, because they have an abundance of energy and a willingness to work. They want to have purpose and to work hard like their parents. Too often we grownups fall prey to coddling our little ones, or we are too tired and busy to provide enough chores and odd jobs. I haven’t had the patience to provide nearly enough work for my own kids.

I was spurred into action recently by a conversation with family friends. Their son, Ben, started mowing lawns for the group homes his dad managed when he was just nine years old. Employees would stare out the window at the tired kid pushing the lawn mower’s middle bar to keep it moving, and grumble about “child abuse.” His dad, who grew up working even harder on a farm, stuck with it and gave his son encouragement as needed. He confidently shared the huge sense of accomplishment Ben felt in completing such a task, and gradually Ben’s can do spirit became an inspiration.

Seven years later, Ben is a confident teenager who has parlayed his experience into a thriving lawn mowing business in the Lakeside neighborhood. He found it necessary to invest $3000 in a commercial grade lawn mower, trailer, and trimmer. He continues to work hard, and has learned about budgeting, paying taxes and other expenses, and saving for wants and needs. He saves a large percentage of the earnings from his growing business for college, and has an eye for the future, not just the wants of the here and now.

What’s more, he isn’t simply an employee making minimum wage. He’s able to grow the business as large as he would like, and could even sub-contract work at some point. All this started when the excess energy of childhood was harnessed into a meaningful job.
To this day he looks back on that experience with fondness, and still appreciates the feeling of turning a shaggy lawn into something that could appear in a magazine. Seeing the results of an afternoon of hard work, and experiencing that sense of accomplishment is vital.

Observing that my own son was needing gainful employment, we spent the most recent Saturday afternoon doing simple hard work in a neighbor’s back yard. Though this was the first beautiful Saturday in a long time, this was the best way to seize the day. Numerous branches had fallen, so we cut and hauled them away. Also, a full winter’s accumulation of digested dog food allowed us to enjoy the first contract work for a business we have been meaning to launch: The Poop Snoops.

Think of all the bags of dog food a good sized dog will eat throughout a long winter. What goes in must go out. The simple work of cleaning the yard of this unwanted waste is something just about anybody can do, but nearly nobody wants to. This is especially the case after the glacial ice pack receded, leaving five months of canine bowel movements to attend to!

My young business partner and I earned a good wage for this labor, and though it was tiring and tedious work, he had fun doing it. His first paycheck produced a beaming smile, and will help him connect the dots between money, work, and the true cost of perceived needs and wants.

A Study in Contrasts

Image

I took the bike for a spin around the block tonight for about an hour and a half. What I love about biking is the immense amount of variety seen, felt, and experienced. One bike ride can take you through many different socio-economic zones, hilly topography followed by long periods of relative flatness, varying ecosystems, alternating periods of sun and clouds, wild swings in the weather, and sometimes seemingly wholly different planets!

Get in a big 50-100 mile loop and you’ve got yourself immense variation and subtle differences that are impossible to be adequately felt within the confines of your car.

Image

 

Image

Followed the Lester River to Lake Superior, and today the ice looked a like it has for many months. Just a week ago, however, there were large patches of bright blue water, bright white icebergs floating about that gave a North Atlantic type feeling, and I even saw a small flock of young ducklings floating on one of the ice floes (which was surprising). The ice is always sure to change every day this time of year. It was a bit glum down there today at 37 degrees and a very stiff breeze, but I’m constantly fascinated by the changes from day to day in the ice pack as it blows in and out, shifts, etc.

Image

Spring Ahead Through Simplicity

When the phone rang today my son picked it up in bewilderment as if it was some futuristic communications device from Star Trek, listened intently for a second, and said, “Huh?”

This is in contrast to our neighbor’s children, who answer the phone crisply and flawlessly, as if they were auditioning for a part as an executive secretary, “Hello, this is Kate.” Then they proceed to communicate intelligently into the device and actually carry on a conversation with an adult.

Yes, the Gilmore’s seem to have fallen down on the job when it comes to training on technology, even if it is just 20th century technology, such as the modern zipper. We’ll re-double our efforts in this area, but I must say that I am proud to be among just 6.9% of Americans, as reported by the National Journal at the end of last year, who only have a landline and no cell phone. Can you believe so few of us fall into this antiquated category?

I prefer things that are real and come out of the earth, such as sticks, potatoes, and clean water. Kids can find all kinds of things to do with things that weren’t manufactured and shrink wrapped in plastic. Just this past weekend my son and a friend must have moved 2,000 pounds of snow in a herculean effort to dig a massive fort that spans most of our yard, contains ramparts over 4 feet high that are defended with well-placed sticks arranged in a stockade-like formation, and is complete with a large drainage ditch to keep the copious amounts of water moving out of there. When did Angry Birds or the Candy Crush Saga ever produce such satisfaction compared with something created with one’s own two hands? No column of mine is ever complete without a rant against video games!

Our lovely cedar tree is also open for business now, and contains the finest tree climbing opportunity on this side of the street.
Old or young, big or small, the finest things in life are the simple, and the season of spring invites a return to simplicity and new beginnings. The first week of warm weather since the sinking of the Titanic has me ruminating and savoring such things.

Over here we celebrated the first day of spring by having a huge bonfire, and inviting neighbors located within a literal stone’s throw of our house. There was nothing fancy at all, but who doesn’t love the simple perfection of a roaring fire? It transfixes even the most jaded among us, and brings people together around the warmth it brings.

The old fashioned act of grilling, over wood or charcoal, has the same effect. Our spirits are lifted, and camaraderie is renewed by these simple acts that have been cherished and affirmed over centuries and millennia. During these warm days ahead take the time to shut off your computers and do something real like play with sticks, even if that means starting a small communal fire with them, or plan to dig a hole to plant some potatoes. Sit outside in your front yard and take in the ambient sounds of the neighborhood and serenading calls of robins that have returned en masse.

As the snow melts and water covers the land one might also be thankful to live in a place where we are blessed with such an abundance of this life sustaining resource that so much of the world lacks. One way to do this is to participate in the Come Unity 6k run or walk on May 3rd. The race will be held on the Lakewalk along the shore of the greatest lake there is, and the hope is that enough funds will be raised through this simple event to drill one well in an impoverished community that currently lacks access to clean water. According to the organization’s website, comeunitynow.org, the widespread lack of access to clean water kills children worldwide at the rate of a jumbo jet crashing every four hours. Most Duluthians can agree that clean water should be a birthright, and something that everyone can take for granted just like us.  (BLOG READERS WOULD HAVE DIFFERENT OPTIONS WHEREVER YOU ARE. FIND SOMETHING FUN, SIMPLE, PURPOSEFUL, AND JUST DO IT!)

“Green,” or just common sense?

Image
44 years. That’s the answer. The question is a little more drawn out, and should cause one to reflect in one’s soul. The quantitative answer here really isn’t satisfactory, and doesn’t tell the story or address quality of life, etc.

I work hard to integrate an active lifestyle into daily life. On the day this picture was taken we needed 1 pound of butter, 1 quart of creamer, and a jar of pizza sauce. In my mind it makes no sense to drive a car that weighs 3,000 pounds four miles round trip to the grocery store.(yes, our little hybrid that can’t handle the snow too well weighs in at a hefty 1.5 tons). How can that make sense to anybody? So, on this day I emptied the bladder from my Camelbak and jogged the short distance on a convenient trail to the grocery store rather than take the car and potentially get stuck in the snow in our alley at that time. I must admit I did feel a bit weird at the store, but that’s just poppycock in my book. This just makes sense. I’ve spent time in some other countries, such as Haiti and Mexico, and it’s just expected that one walks or trots such distances in these places. Also, as a Christian I think there is an aspect of the soul for consideration that I really don’t have time to break down here. It’s a bit more nebulous and undefined, but it just seems that depending on a car for a trip acquiring 2.5 pounds of merchandise can lead to a hollowing out of one’s soul, even as the mid-section grows. There are many reasons, but over time this sort of mentality breeds laziness, an entitlement mentality when it comes to acquiring “things,” a disconnection from your community and physical environment, and a level of busyness that is wholly unwarranted if you aren’t President of the United States. It also encourages inactivity in our children. Surely I could go on, and eventually I’ll develop this further.

I find that walking, running, or biking for such errands reduces the amount that I acquire out of sheer necessity. Everything purchased requires careful thought and planning, which is always a good thing. Now it just so happens that this is also considered “green.” For some reason there are those in the faith community that would look on anything “green” as foreign, and therefore best to be avoided, like the Wicked Witch of the West…

Image

However, I find that most green actions, particularly the simplest and therefore cheapest (such as avoiding a car to enjoy life as a pedestrian, taking public transit, consuming less), fit with an ethic involving “voluntary simplicity” and are absolutely compatible with the Christian life and the hard core teachings of Jesus. There’s no question about it. Such actions can be undertaken for a variety of reasons, and they synch in well with a reflective, faith-infused, fulfilling, and joyous lifestyle.

These matters boil down to much more than dollars and cents. Hence, the question doesn’t even apply in the final analysis, but here it is. How many years will it take me to save enough money in gas and car expenses by eschewing the car for simple trips to offset the major medical expenses I experienced after breaking an ankle while jogging the half mile to the pharmacy to pick up medicine for a family member a couple years ago? By choosing a conservative figure of $3.50 in savings each week, on average, it’ll take a demoralizing 44 years for me to save enough to cover the $8000 in medical bills incurred on one invisible icy patch. Man that stinks! Of course, if I had been walking rather than jogging at the time the accident never would have happened. Thus, my own admonishment to not be in such a hurry certainly applies. Also, it’s helpful to be aware that approximately one in three car accidents occur within a mile of home, and 52% occur within five miles (per a survey done by the insurer, Progressive).

Thankfully, the main reasons for doing so aren’t economic in the traditional sense. Staying in better shape while approaching middle age is worth it in and of itself, and that says nothing about being more acquainted with the nooks and crannies of my immediate neighborhood rather than large parking lots in shopping centers devoid of character or life.

If I could do it over again, would I have driven the half mile on that particular day? Yes, absolutely. However, accidents can happen any time, and over years as we develop greater wisdom they become less likely. I believe that avoiding the hermetically sealed car in most occasions can result in more rewarding life experiences,  positive human connections, a higher level of physical fitness, a greater capacity for observation rather than rushing through life, and therefore more wisdom over time and ultimately a happier and more joy-filled life.

For me, these little half mile trips especially rule out the automobile. The thought of driving doesn’t even cross my mind. Eventually your mind and body adapt, and you’re ultimately better for it. Even when the local hardware store is closing in five minutes, I’m able to hop on the bike and get their nearly as fast as by car. Perhaps more importantly, I return home with only the $8 item I needed rather than $150 in extra stuff because it feels like you need more when going to those big box stores.  The greatest satisfaction, and one that simmers below the surface and I genuinely don’t wish to convey any self-righteousness here, is a knowledge that our car is not an absolute necessity.

Cheers and God speed!