Options for Living: Aspen's Idea Fest

It is natural to experience peace, 
but life in the world is not natural. - Hazrat Inayat Khan

I've been glancing over the Aspen Ideas Festival site. The Poverty link drew my attention right away. I know that the lifestyle that Mikey and I shifted to 5 years ago has totally rearranged my view of wealth and value. I glance over the topics. Under Economy I found topics such as, "The Bottom Billion in a Fast Changing World, How Market Forces Can Resolve Poverty, The Challenge of Development," to name a few. Competition, Entrepreneurship, Jobs, Innovation and American are additional topics. Clicking Competition lead me to, "America in the Global Marketplace" and "Does Globalization Undermine Democracy?" And there's "Rebuilding the Global Financial System."

I clicked to Environment wondering if somewhere in the festival there was the inclusion of nature, the world outside of man and his creation (money). What I found was a line up of folks talking about ways to fuel and power this world to support the hefty habits of humans. The earth it seems remains just a resource, a commodity, objectified and somehow separate from the master. And this planet is just not keeping up with our demands! The rest of life on earth is without advocate.

I'm not really wanting to be sour on the festival, the topics are interesting, timely and relevant. I'm a big fan of think tanks, we ought to be talking to one another. But there does seem to be a presupposition that all must be brought into the fold of globalization. Poverty seems to be measured by how one fits into a global market in which everything is commodified.

Who is standing the ground for the living of a life outside of commerce and industry, free of it's energy demands, and needs for fuel and power?  Does their any longer exist a birthright to live simply on the earth free of commodification and man made systems? Not long ago acreage was given up to provide a one man uncontacted tribe in Brazil with space to live. This is certainly an unreasonable practice given population growth. What are the choices of those born today and in the future with a wish to live an indigenous lifestyle?

I'm going to dig in deeper over the coming days, listen to some of the talks and see where they go. Maybe you'd like to join me in discussing them. Here's the link for those who are inclined. 

Image: from the sketchbook. That's me watching the ages pass. Tiring! 

Garlic Rush

I'm facing about 150 bulbs of garlic in need of processing. I've been pulling them slowly, in bunches of about 40, letting them dry out (with root and stalk), then trimming down to bulb, cleaning with a brush, sorting (small ones become garlic spread, large go into clay pots for winter, broken bulbs are used immediately), then pulling more. Occasionally a garlic braid gets made. I have to move faster though, the garlic plants that are still in the ground (dried and yellow) are starting to split and the individual bulbs are sending up shoots to produce a new plant. Ahhhh!!!! It's too hot to work but for early morning and dusk, tomorrow at the crack of dawn we pick the rest. The good news is, they're beautiful!

Herbs & Seeds: What Window Trim is For

One of the best things about summer is the kitchen window. Every day it changes. Herbs come and go in great variety leaving wafts of scent for those who pass by. On bailing wire strewn between the window's frame and on tacks and string seed heads of carrot and onion are perched like perfect sculptures. They are set to dry and so they may create next year's generation. Paper bags hold mint, camomile and the like. Garlic head roots, dirt and all bring the garden into the house. This year I added a ball of string that sits permanently perched on the end on the bailing wire's tip. It is ready for whatever comes next.

Swamp To Sewing

Yesterday Mikey had a day of manic swap cooler repair. He replaced many parts only to have a new loud squeak appear that had to be reckoned with lest it keep us up nights. He also made some crazy mods to it using pvc pipe. In the end, he fixed it and we're comfy!

It's no wonder that today he's chosen a sunny spot in the kitchen where the swamp has cooled the air to hem pants.

One of the very best features of a homestead life, that often goes unnoticed, is the variety of projects and diversity offered by it.  When nothing is urgent it is easy to dial up the project that offers what is most needed in order to achieve balance, mental and physical.


Swamp Cooler Maintenance

Swamp Cooler Maintenance by mikeysklar
Swamp Cooler Maintenance, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.

We use two swamp coolers on our property. A small portable in my shipping container and another slightly large (24" x 24") model on the north side of house. These two devices provide most of our cooling. We do have a small AC unit which we can run for a hour or two a day off our PV solar system.

Each spring I put a fresh set of pads in the coolers (shredded aspen) and use those into fall. This year I decided to replace the pads after only a few months of use. The mineral build up was looking severe and their effective cooling was on the decline. It took about two hours to clean out both units, swap pads and replace one pump. I can't say how much of a difference it made yet as our humidity is much higher today being 20% whereas we had been experiencing 4-9% which makes the swamp coolers feel much more effective.

Swamp Cooler Maintenance #2

Compost Reload

Compost Reload by mikeysklar
Compost Reload, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.

We emptied out half of the black gold from our two worm beds this morning. Various plants and trees around the property were showing discoloration. In less than a hour we had buried little stashes or
simply liquified and poured the compost our worms had been breaking down for weeks.

Garden Religion

While gardening this morning I began to wonder what would happen if our culture mandated an hour of gardening in the middle of each work day. The purpose, so that no person could disconnect from and forget that they are part of nature. The result, greater care for nature by humanity. Simple enough right?

Then I wondered what people might think when looking back at this practice from 200 years in the future.  They might call it religion, "pagans," they'd say of us. Is this not what we do when we look back from our own time?

I remember again the root of the word religion in latin, re- large. It means reconnect. Wouldnt that be the meaning of an hour of gardening for every working person? To reconnect? I wonder how it is that we can not see this creativity when we look back at what other people created in order to reconnect. As a gardener who uses gardening as practice (to reconnect), I see that once one gets near (to nature) they want to get nearer still. Logically we invent more practices. After all humans are creative.  If only we could recognize this creativity in religion's archives we'd realize that the worlds religions contain a most marvelous treasure chest of gifts. How can we be anything but curious? People took notes!!!

Instead we use the diversity in spiritual practices to divide and claim that one way beats another. Or we determine that somehow what we're connecting to is different. How can it be?

There us one reality, DNA contains a blueprint of life. Nature is an example too: my breath filters the air for another life, one water supports this whole planet, new water can not be made;  the decay of my corpse feeds the next generation of plant life and deposits mineral back in the earth, the mineral is as old as the planet itself, and you are an extension of me, the same life differentiated slightly.

Everything said and done by the living (plant, animal, human etc) is a report direct from the universe, unfiltered. Just find me something more profound than this. Can you say it is any other way?

You can call this way of thinking religion if you wish. I will join the in argument and agree that religion has been the source of the worst turmoil on earth but this IS religion too. WE are the one's who determine the meaning and definition of things.  If we are going to survive on this planet we really must find a way to "see" life and reconnect to it because to do so is to quite naturally include all, make precious all of life and remove the barriers of separation between us.


Seed Saving Simple

I've been saving seed this year for the first time. It is a bit challenging keeping plants in the garden so long. They tend to get buggy as they mature. But I've found that thinning helps. To do so I bend down low and and look at the base of the plants where the stalks meet the earth. If it is congested I trim to make airflow possible by thinning and trimming back dead leaf or weaker plants. This seems to reduce bugginess.

What I find most perplexing is how to save seed. I've sensed that there must be tricks and techniques but have been aware that I don't know them. Two books have proven helpful. Now I look forward to the "ah ha" that inevitably comes when I learn how to get seed from each unique plant. The methods are clever and often fun, certainly more satisfying and less time consuming than the crazy things I'd been making up. 

Hooray for Clouds

Hooray for Clouds by mikeysklar
Hooray for Clouds, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.
It is starting to feel like summer around here. The clouds have been blocking out the sun starting at 3pm. The reduced light makes it possible for us to actually go outside without getting third degree sun burns. We went tubing down the Rio Grande yesterday and quickly followed it up with an evening lap swim at the town pool. I look forward to returning to the beach for some splashing around later this week. The last two weeks have been miserable with no clouds and high temps near 104F (12 degrees F above average). Yay relief!

Cleaning Up the Cubies

Cleaning Up the Cubies by mikeysklar
Cleaning Up the Cubies, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.
Anyone who makes their own biofuel knows just how difficult it is to keep a clean work area. Every week more oil comes in and things just pile up. I processed 80 gallons of WVO (Waste Veggie Oil) and finally threw out the mountain of plastic containers known as "cubies". I also filtered another 20 gallons which immediately was processed into biodiesel for the Mercedes and VW.

Mr. Lemon Tree Gets the Boot

Mr. Lemon Tree Gets the Boot by mikeysklarOur lemon tree has been kicking it in our living room all winter, spring and now summer. I would have moved it outside sooner but the winds were too strong. Now that the weather is chilling out with
temperatures staying below 100F and only light winds the lemon tree is back outside. I'm afraid it's too late for fruit to form though. I gave it an IV system of 1/2 gallon wine bottles full of rain water to assist with the new location.

No Dumping Signs on City Drains

Wendy and I were both impressed to see the City of TorC has placed clear signs near the downtown drains indicating that they outflow to the Rio Grande and should not be polluted. We have seen this in fancy (more affluent) communities and are happy to see it here.

Every Day A Pot Of FLowers

I've gotten in the habit of bringing out a mug of water whenever I work in the garden. When I thin the garden, which I've done a lot of this year, all the flowers go right into the mug without lilting only to be revived once inside hours later.


Reverse Vacationing

Mikey and I are continuously trying to define the life we created. It changes all the time so that complicates things a bit. Occasionally there are moments that are really clear and defining in and of themselves. I remember when our lives changed so much that a (traditional) job would be expensive. To have one we'd need to stop growing and making and therefore reduce our quality of life by buying inferior, and/or expensive goods (to match what we could make or grow).

I noticed another defining moment this month, vacation in reverse. Most people live in densely populated areas and vacation to sparsely populated areas. We do the opposite. We live in a year round rural life, relaxing, full of leisure and play and then go to cities to "get our fill," which also translates into "get fed up" and "get good and tired." Don't get me wrong, I love cities! But I leave them reminded that I like the way of life we created.

If you think about it, a low year round cost of living enables good vacationing, expensive culinary experiences (if your so inclined) shows, whatever you fancy. Free of the burden of the expenses of a 2nd home (in your fav city) one can use the money that rural life saves to city hop and explore the world one city a time on vacation.

Now that our gardens water themselves, thank you DIY irrigation system and timers, we are free to roam.  I find that after about a week in a city I'm pooped from the speed, weakened by pollution (your constitution does change from clean living), and have been revivified by the culture and the creative expression cities tend to encourage. Now if I could just move all the cities I'd like to visit so that I could get to them in my bio burning Beetle!

IMAGE: Graffiti  in Boulder, CO


The Last Hippie Standing

The term hippie had led me on a windy and confused path. In NY it implied an open mindedness about the ideas of others. Hippies were the folks seeking the edge and exploring ways to live that were outside the default world's definitions. In NYC spirituality had an OK rap. An interest in classical indian music, awareness of the guyto monks annual visit to St. John's the Divine Cathedral and a good yoga teacher were attributes that made one well rounded without falling prey to the term, "new age."

Then I moved to New Mexico and things shifted. Many here loathe hippies. To be one can only be made worse by being from California.  But somehow pipe toting, medicine pouch wearing, "native American interested" white folks wearing t-shirts with wolves on the front are OK in the SW. Do you see why I am confused?

Last night I watched a doc about the Goa trance scene in India starting in the 1960's and leading up to today. The title, Last Hippie Standing.  It's was OK, not awful not great. I learned from it that Indians, much like New Mexicans, had little patience for the hippie. Goa wanted them out mostly because they did not have any money to spend in their city. It's funny how hippies went to India because it was uncommodified and then were encouraged to leave because the were not commodified enough. Hippies always seem stuck between these two ends struggling to find a new place to stand.

Hippies borrowed spirituality from other cultures too. A few featured in the film wore orange robes instead of indian feathers. They used spiritual practice to foster their goals and map something outside the boundary of society.

The film offered up a hippie definition. They described a person who sought to live outside the system and find truth, peace, love and freedom. By this definition, I am a surely a hippie, though I do find the definition a little thin. I mean each part of it needs flushing out. If being a seeker, and searching out an inner world (through meditation and contemplation), makes my hippieness all the more distasteful than so be it. To live exclusively in the material world is suicide! I will not being "going to sleep" any time soon. I am grateful for the tools I acquired wherever they may come from, the  middle east, India or from hippie culture itself. I've always been clear about the fact that I seek truth over happiness. To do so one must stay awake and have their wits about them. Life can be tough. Our culture is expert at lulling to sleep and offering up mimic's that claim to be the real. The tools wo/man has today have been passed down at great cost. And even the hippies have done their share at preserving them and keeping the idea of change alive.

All this left me wondering. . . where is hippie culture today? It seems to be in a dark period. Has complacency has once again covered us over? What event will bring hippie culture out again? The arrival of 2012 and all it's theories and imaginings? A deeper economic sinking that furthers the back to the land movement? Or perhaps something (finally) more sophisticated, an authentic awareness that we are better together than apart, that love is actually a more enjoyable agenda than war, that life is better lived in celebration than in destruction, and that work can be self inspired and joyful and not forced by a hierarchical system that serves the interests of a powerful few and not the many. When will the boundary of society expand to take in all that is good, free and kind? When will we mature enough to know we do deserve happiness. Call me a hippie. I vow to die screaming about every way in which humanity hides this world's truth from itself.


Wild Food: Juicing Purslane

Wild Food: Juicing Purslane by mikeysklar
Wild Food: Juicing Purslane, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.

There is a small window of time each summer where I can harvest the purslane that comes up in our yard before Wendy hacks it to bits. Besides putting it on salads I didn't have a good way to eat purslane.
This year I tried juicing it and have been extremely happy with the results. I've been juicing it with strawberry, orange, carrot, beet, celery and ginger. Why do I want to eat this "weed" that grows in everyones yard?

Purslane is -
1. High in omega-3's
2. High in Vitamin A, C, B-complex
3. Anti-oxidants - betalain alkaloids (beta-cyanins and beta-xanthins)

Wild Food: Juicing Purslane #2

Watermelon Gazpacho

Watermelon Gazpacho by mikeysklar
Watermelon Gazpacho, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.

We have been all about the gazpacho this summer. Our friends cooked us a delicious batch for lunch which was quickly followed up by a excellent restaurant version. We decided that we must master this dish. Our first attempt came out great. I wouldn't change a thing.

4 cups cubed watermelon, seeded, divided
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon grated lime peel
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger root
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped tomato
1 chopped cucumber
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
3 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped roasted green chili

Puree 3 cups watermelon in a blender. Cut remaining watermelon into 1/2-inch pieces; set aside. In a large bowl, combine the watermelon puree, lime juice, lime peel, ginger and salt. Stir in the tomato,
cucumber, green pepper, cilantro, onion, jalapeno and cubed watermelon. Chill until serving. Yield: 4 servings.


Sweet Kale Chips

Sweet Kale Chips by mikeysklar
Sweet Kale Chips, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.
We are in the habit of making salty kale chips (chipotle, lime, salt and onion powder). Our friends at D.I Wine & Dine introduced us to a sweet version. While guests in their home we ate the whole bowl of em' while our hosts went to work.

The recipe is from heartkale blog. OMG it's good! Double the quantities and if you want them very sweet and increase the maple syrup lots.

1 bunch kale
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 tablespooon water
1/8 teaspoon salt
pinch cayenne

Remove the kale stems and roughly chop the leaves. Whisk together all the ingredients except for the kale and then pour the dressing over the kale, massaging well for full coverage. Lay the kale on trays and dehydrate at 11o degrees until crispy and fully dry, about 7 hours.

Fuel Filter Change on VW Beetle TDI

We bought our VW Beetle TDI just over a year ago. We did not change the fuel filter at the time of purchase. I've noticed a slow degradation in performance in the last few months and guessed that we
might be experiencing "starvation" from a clogging filter. Replacing the filter took one hour and consisted of unclamping four hoses and one mounting screw. A pretty easy job. The car started right up and my guess is that the dealership charges $100 for this work. My cost was one hour plus a $18 fuel filter. This is supposed to be done every 20,000 miles.

Fuel Filter Change on VW Beetle TDI #2


Juicing the Garden

Juicing the Garden by mikeysklarJuicing the Garden, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.

Want a great juice? Try beet, celery, orange, carrot, apple, strawberry and ginger. We are currently harvesting half those items from our garden and they make for a delicious breakfast.

Ants and Pet Food

Ants and Pet Food by mikeysklar
Ants and Pet Food, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.
Ants are in season here in NM. The ants get excited about cat food left out. We tried feeding the cats at meal times then picking up the bowl and we tried putting their bowl in strange places. The ants were not deceived. Both techniques were also inconvenient for us. Finally we decided to try what we have come to call the "bowl in bowl" method. We take a large bowl and put a little bit of soapy water in it. Then we place a smaller cat food bowl inside of it. The ants cannot get to the cat food inner bowl without drowning in the outer bowl. It works and the ants have disappeared. We won!


Salad Dressing

Salad Dressing by mikeysklar
Salad Dressing, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.

Around the summer solstice our garden is producing lettuces that are just too bitter to eat. We had been masking the issue up to this point by making our salad dressing sweeter. The house favorite right now is a cilantro honey dressing. It's easy to make in a blender.

- 1 roasted green chili pepper (remove seeds & skin)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 t minced ginger
- 4 limes juiced
- 1/3 cup honey
- 2 t balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 t salt
- 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine and blend.


Ajo by mikeysklar
Ajo, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.

We were introduced to a delicious dish called "Ajo" while dining in Boulder. The Mediterranean Restaurant which locals call "The Med" has a happy hour tapas menu which was incredible. Our favorite item was the Ajo which is made up of roasted garlic, balsamic jam and blue
cheese. I tried to recreate it today using roasted garlic, minced dates, honey, balsamic and blue cheese. It came out great although not as good as the restaurants version.

Ajo #2

Amaranth & Lambsquarter

On the wild side we've got lambsquarter (an edible weed) volunteering in the garden and a nice but slightly short (1 to 3') crop of amaranth in red, orange and yellow. We'll try the amaranth as porridge and the lambsquarter in salad.

Bean Variety? ? ?

I always wind up growing something that I can not identify. This year it's these yellowish, long, large and kinda flat beans. They've everywhere and very beautiful. The inner bean is white in color. Does anyone know the variety? I'm wondering how to prepare them for eating.

Sunflower Yum for Bees and for Us Too

I love when the sunflowers are young and the coming seed is white/yellow in color. You can pluck the seed and eat it at this stage and it's very yummy. As I was stealing a snack I noticed my honey bees doing the same at the flower next to me.

Back to the Garden

There's no better feeling that returning home from over a week away and finding your garden safe and sound. Our new irrigations systems worked well (though one did need a battery change when we got back) and our friend and cat sitter watered the few things that were not on the systems without any problems.

Today I pulled the snap peas, grabbing the dry for next year's seed and the still green for a pasta later in the week; potatoes and enough flowers to fill a funeral without any noticeable change to the landscape. I also plucked some thyme and calendula to dry.

Though I pulled a few garlic bulbs, I left the over 100 remaining because I think they will grow a bit larger if I wait. The tops are brown but still standing tall.

Mikey's been in the kitchen all day making some kind of garlic blue cheese fig concoction. Yum!!!


Good N Plenty in Boulder Co

You may remember reading about our friends Eric & Julie on a previous Holy Scrap post. We call them Good-n-Plenty ever since they dressed up in a way that reminded everyone of the candy back on Halloween.

You know a good friend when you are invited to visit and spend several nights and we did while in Co. Last we saw Eric he was using kombucha mother's to patch a pair of gloves. This time we watched him play bike polo - way cool!

Perhaps a way to convey some of their specialness is to share some of the art in their apartment.

Alfalfa's Freakish Variety Fear and Freak Out

Boulder Colorado has it's share of good s*it: parks everywhere you look, rivers running through town as if to clean the air every hour, athletic people that are endorphin happy all the time and fantastic groceries (if you can afford them!).

We went into Alfalfa's, a newish and nearly totally organic market. There were many isles of olive oils, coffees, cheeses. . . .  so many exotic, interesting and local products (well not everything). The prices were of course insane. But what really bummed us out was the manager who came over and asked us to stop taking photos. When I asked why he told me that he thought I worked for a competitor and that I was price comparing. Then he told me he knew what that would look like because his store sends people to the competitors to do the same. Huh.  "And your telling this to me why?" I felt no sadness to learn that that they were struggling to stay in biz. Apparently people don't shop there much, we heard a manager say that the store struggled because people just come in for a thing or two but don't use the store as their primary market.

Tourists - A Fun Thing to be Occasionally

For some reason I have tourist slotted in my mind as a bad thing to be. I wonder if a trip Mikey and I made to Tokyo caused me to have this negative impression. They loathe American tourists and anyone who steps out of the social code for that matter. At times we're all tourists. So while in Boulder we just went with it. Here's pics of our visit to the lovely Dushambe Tea House, the local meadery.

Cool Weather Camping

Camping in Cool Weather by mikeysklar
Camping in Cool Weather, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.
Wendy and I have been trying to camp more. We are surrounded by mountain sites so it seems like the logical thing to use them, especially during the hottest month of the year. On our way back from Boulder, CO we stopped in Red River, NM. The lovely creek side site we stayed in was about twenty miles from Taos. The weather surprised us. The temps dropped BELOW FREEZING. When we finally got ourselves out of the tent in the morning the temperature rocketed right up to 60 F within a hour.

Camping in Cool Weather #2Camping in Cool Weather #3Camping in Cool Weather #4Camping in Cool Weather #5