The bondage of possessions…

NoClutter2Closet organizers…stacker trays for our desks…extra sturdy storage boxes…special labels, stickers and tabs…post-it notes to remind us to pay the storage bill…reminders to buy more post-it notes…what do all of these have in common? They are the period at the end of our sentence describing the daily chore of keeping our stuff in order. Boxes for paperwork, prize ribbons, and particular paraphernalia. Trays for tracing the trail of endless tedious tasks. Organizers ominously loaded with obviously outdated objects. How much energy does all of this material require of us, and do we really want to allot that time to the handling of…well, “stuff”?

40% of cleaning isn’t actually cleaning – it’s time spent digging past, carrying, relocating, and protecting stuff…” Shocking? That statement comes from Don Aslett, foremost cleaning expert in America. Maybe this statistic is not as earth-shattering as the procreation rate of the average cockroach, but definitely something we should take a serious look at if we are at all concerned about our own productivity. Much has been written about how to keep our lives, closets, desks, paperwork, even our car’s glove compartment in order, but let’s get to the point: Here in America we are inundated with possessions almost to the point of smothering. Adjusting our view on possessions, prioritizing between things we actually need versus things we just want to have, will help us to be more productive by reducing the distraction and stress in our everyday environment.

How do we decide which items are truly important and which just contribute to the chaos that weighs us down? A few simple steps will bring clarity to our clutter:

  1. Prioritize safekeeping for precious items that are irreplaceable. I have always kept a “house-fire duffel bag” in a closet near the front door of my home. Inside that bag are the most precious things in the world to me, things that I will want to grab and carry as I run away from my burning house if that should ever occur. Keeping the items in a fire-proof container inside the bag is a good idea to ensure that they survive an actual fire. In any emergency, that bag is my priority of objects to grab once I know that my family is safe.
  2. Keep daily-use items handy. Whether you are a chef, an accountant, or a construction worker, there are tools you will use for your trade every single day. Keep those tools within a short reach, maintaining a “home” for them to always return to. For example: the items on my desk are always in the same place, giving me extra space for books and research materials related to my current writing project and providing a non-chaotic environment in which for me to write. A chef would want certain items within easy reach at all times without having to dig through drawers or cupboards for them. A carpenter will want particular tools on their tool belt, ready for quick use and easy to stow away without being misplaced. Whatever your work is, be realistic about what you need at your immediate disposal and what could be stowed away for only occasional use.
  3. Purge regularly! Be honest now: Do you really need two copies of the same book, or fourteen paperweights?  Unless you truly employ the use of multiples in your work, downsize where you can get rid of excess. Donate the unneeded items to a charity, or perhaps to a fledgling business just getting started. This is an especially helpful tool when applied to clothing. If I haven’t worn something for a full year, I’m probably not going to and I can pass it on without regret. Same goes for extra electronic charging cables, camera parts, old cell phones, computer accessories, printers, and other items I tend to end up with extras of.
  4. Use your filing cabinet creatively. Seriously, filing cabinets…they’re not just for papers anymore! Designate one drawer to be a “once-a-month clean-up” drawer, then once every month empty it out by donating, selling, or trashing everything in it. This keeps miscellaneous clutter from occupying useable space on your desk or countertop, and allows you to realize at the end of the month just how much you did NOT miss those items in the drawer. This concept can easily be applied to the home, office, and vehicle.
  5.  Avoid the temptation to “buy ahead” or to “stock up just in case”. Some things are worth purchasing in bulk, and it makes good business sense to buy in quantity those items that you use regularly. However…do you really have room to store one hundred post-it-note tablets? Better yet, do you need to have that many? Many times the cost savings is not worth the stress of having to make room for more…yup, you guessed it…”stuff”.
  6. When in doubt, ask someone for help! Sometimes it is far easier for someone else to decide which of our belongings are necessary and which are not. A friend will not be so closely “attached” or “sentimental” about our possessions, so asking for constructive input can be very helpful in resolving clutter chaos.

 All of these principles can be applied not only to objects occupying our physical space, but also to those intangible elements that take up space in our thoughts and our schedules. Just as we should be aware of clutter in our environment, we need to be mindful of piles accumulating in our minds and in the hours allotted to us in our day. Free space for creative imagination and forward dreaming is critical to our success as human beings, business people, parents, friends, siblings, and neighbors…we simply must have available areas for thoughts and plans to develop.

Jumbled schedules, commonly known as “flying by the seat of our pants”, can lead us to scattered thought processes and unproductive wheel-spinning. On the other hand, trying to adhere to a rigid schedule that allows no flexibility increases stress and also reduces productivity.

What’s the answer?

Be realistic about what you can truly expect to accomplish in a given period of time, and allow yourself a buffer zone for the unexpected. Delegate or re-schedule activities that can wait, and focus on the more pressing items first. This keeps your mind relaxed and able to focus on the task at hand, while also making room for those “Eureka moments”, those flares of creative inspiration that tend to occur most often when our thoughts have a little energy left to run on their own. (For more details on priorities and effective time management, read “Bicycle races and time management”.)

To wrap up this discussion in a neat and tidy box, remember that “a wise man will avoid all extremes”. Clutter and chaos in our lives can hinder us from living a life of success and inward peace, while excessive persnickitiness about perfect alignment of our silverware in its drawer will drive us insane in the end. Finding the balance can be a challenge, but the results are amazing, invigorating, and liberating.

Best wishes, and please share how you keep yourself free of clutter!

Posted in Possessions & Simplicity | Leave a comment

The Dance of Gardening…

gnome riderHere we are…summer is coming! Even if you have never grown a garden before, there is something about the sun and rain, the smell of warm dirt, that makes us all think of planting a garden. It is just an inherent human trait to want to produce something from the earth…right? Well, maybe more so for some folks than others, and I definitely fall into that category of people who just can’t wait to get outside and start digging up another patch of the yard for another garden bed.

In recent years, the home and community gardening trend has taken off with a mighty rush especially here in the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps it is partly due to the recent uncovering of the dangers of GMO foods, and it is definitely related to the generally soaring cost of fresh foods. No matter where you live, feeding a family healthy foods has become an increasingly challenging prospect, so more and more people are returning to growing at least a portion of their produce at home. Lawn is being converted to green bean beds, strips of climbing peas are twining themselves along fences, and tomato jungles thrive in the sunnier corners of suburban properties everywhere. Even those with space limited to patios and porches are jumping in with potted plants of every edible variety, adding beautiful foliage to their existence while enjoying freshly cut salad greens to their table!

What does all of this mean? Why the sudden upsurge in interest in this age-old practice of keeping a household garden?

Quite frankly, people seem to be fed up with the powers-that-be controlling what goes into our mouths and our bodies. Personally, I prefer to consume foods that are healthy and untainted by chemicals and genetic engineering…the very idea that the corn I might purchase was bred in a laboratory in such a way that it will withstand a deadly pesticide onslaught and cannot be re-grown from its own seed bothers me a little bit. Okay, it bothers me more than a little bit, it actually horrifies me. Our foods are being altered to this degree, yet we somehow believe that consuming those foods will be harmless to our health? Are we that blind? Did we learn nothing from the result of DDT and other chemicals in our food supply? But I digress.

Basically, we seem to be seeing a “class” of people rising up to say, “Enough! If the commercial producers and growers are going to poison our food and twist its DNA into something unpredictable, forget it…I will grow my own or do without”. Sound extreme? Maybe to some people. But to others it is the clarion call to return to our agrarian roots where cancer rates were exponentially lower, heart disease was much more rare, behavioral disturbances were uncommon, and mood disorders hardly existed. Holy cow…did I just suggest that a healthy agrarian lifestyle/eating pattern could be responsible for less cancer, less heart disease, less ADD, and less depression? I guess I did. Oh, who am I kidding…YES, I certainly did. But don’t throw rotten tomatoes at me just yet.

I am not suggesting a vegetarian diet, or any other diet, as a cure for all ills. I AM suggesting a paradigm shift. Bear with me and consider a few things…

Feet-in-grassWe are all organic beings. Our bodies are made up of basic elements that all go back to the earth when we die. The funny thing is, if we reduce ourselves down to those basic elements, the most expensive of them is potassium! (Keep eating those bananas, folks!) The average cost of the elements that comprise a human body is just about $160 U.S. What is the point, and why does that matter? It matters because we are organic beings! We COME from the same elements that make up the earth on which we live…the dirt in which our food grows…the water that flows in our rivers and streams…the air we breathe. We not only consume these things, we ARE these things! So, doesn’t it make sense that we would feel a sense of peace when we are purposely connected to these things…such as by growing a garden? Or by simply walking barefoot around our yard, smelling the trees and feeling the fresh air on our skin? And doesn’t it make sense that such a feeling of peace would reduce our anxiety levels, bring a release of tension, increase our oxygenation as we breathe deeply, and allow our circulation to flow with less resistance? And let’s not forget the pure satisfaction that comes from tossing a fresh salad and having our family appreciate the yummy food set before them at a mealtime…when we know that salad came from our own efforts of growing the vegetables in it. Forget the technical data about pesticides and fertilizers in commercial farming, forget about GMO issues. Doesn’t it just make sense that we as organic humans are helped by the mere experience of producing nourishing foods for ourselves with our own hands, combined with natural soil, sun, and fresh air?

It is a symbiotic existence, a gardener and their garden. One without the other cannot main_bean_dwarf_ french(2)succeed to their fullest potential, yet one also cannot lord over the other without risking utter failure. Whether a garden is acres of thriving produce destined for a local vegetable market, or simply a few pots of salad greens growing on a porch or patio, both garden and gardener are part of the dance. The sun rises, the participants appear, and from then on until harvest day it is a shared effort of moving to the music carried on the fresh breeze. Who leads? It varies from day to day. Sometimes the gardener prods and prunes, other times the plants dictate their needs and wants. But back and forth the dance ensues, and as each listens to the other the garden and the gardener both grow in their own unique ways.

THAT is a key element in what makes gardening so amazingly healthy, that beautiful dance. It is not all about food eaten, chemicals avoided, genetic mutations being kept out of our bodies (though those are all vital!). It is also about the feel of soft dirt in our hands, the smell of tomato leaves in the breeze, the texture of turned earth beneath our bare feet. It is about seeing a tiny seed sprout and grow into a plant that feeds us. It is about rejoicing over a rainfall because fresh rain is so nourishing to the plants and we know we will enjoy the sun again later. It is about realizing that our electric lights, computer screens, and packaged commodities are all trappings of a contrived existence, but we can connect with our surroundings in a pure fashion if we choose to by simply stepping outside.

walking-in-rainIt has never changed, this growth process. As long as the earth has existed, it has produced plants…without human help, I might add. It is one of the oldest and most sacred of acts, this growth. If we listen, if we observe, it reminds us that we are small in the grand scheme of things…yet infinitely large because we too, are organic beings. It reminds us that governments do not truly control anything unless we let them, and even an act as small as growing lettuce in a clay pot can be an act of defiance that fortifies our independence as human beings. It reminds us to share and to embrace the neighbors around us because we see that we have green beans and they have peas…and wouldn’t it be good for both of us to have some of each? It reminds us of that cosmic movement…that universal, organic partnership where we all lead for a moment and follow for an epoch…

It reminds us of the dance.

I welcome your input and comments. Enjoy dancing!

Posted in Gardening and Food Security | Leave a comment

Welcoming our newest local community group!

Ring the bells and break out the confetti…we are expanding!

WelcTogether, we can build healthy communities embracing close neighborhoods!oming today our newest addition to the Community Gate, serving the community of Auburn, WA! Word seems to be spreading and folks from this western Washington community wanted to develop THEIR community, and voila! So happy to have them with us, and to share the vision of people helping people right where we live. 

Posted in Local Gifting & Sharing Groups | Leave a comment

This is what community looks like…at the Community GATE!

Community…
Neighbors helping neighbors…
A Give And Take Experience…
What do all of these things have in common?

mormon-pioneersIn times past, pioneers understood very well what it meant to know your neighbors and take care of one another. On a wintry midwest plain, “community” could mean the difference between survival and defeat. But the world is changing. It is not quite such a safe place anymore. We seem to have forgotten in many ways just what it means to truly live in a supportive relationship with those in our community.

But this is the 21st century…pioneer days are over, right? Everyone works for themselves, pays their own bills, buys their own stuff…right? People don’t have to lean on neighbors, trust in their community when tough times come, connect with others just to include people in the area social circle…right? These are modern times…surely we have reached a point of personal independence wherein we don’t need to rely on our fellow man nor feel obligated to lend a hand to someone else. Surely we can just move in solitude through life and allow others to do the same…”ships passing in the night”, so to speak

Surely we can do that…
Or not…
Consider the difference…

Consider a community of individuals whom no one really knows, recognized by address but not by name, known by the car they drive down the street at various intervals…lots of people in a geographic area, but not connected in any personal way.

Now consider a community of individuals who know their neighbors on the same block, whose faces and names are known and who are called friends, whose children are looked out for by observant neighbors who care about their safety. Consider that neighborhood when a winter storm knocks out the power and people rally to make sure everyone on the block is warm and has a meal ready.

Consider the difference.

The Community GATE is not just a free recycling site. This is not an organization promoting thrift stores and yard sales (though neither are “bad” in any way, and we do encourage thriftiness in every form!). This is an entirely different experience in social interaction wherein people willingly pay heed to the needs and requests of fellow members and meet those needs out of their own abundance.

Oh yeah, abundance. About that. In our society, “abundance” can mean many thingsabundance-quote but for my purpose here I will focus on the definition that states, “having enough of a necessary item to meet a need or desire”. In other words, if I have even just one egg in my refrigerator and my neighbor needs just one egg, then I have an abundance of eggs…I can bless my neighbor with the egg they need, and I too am blessed by the energy of generosity. When we realize that “abundance” does not consist in having a ton of excessive possessions or finances but simply means that we have what is needed for ourselves and/or for someone else, we rise above the separation of the haves and the have-nots. It is no longer a situation of someone who has a lot giving to someone who does not have enough…it is a matter of one person sharing what they have, whether in tangible items, personal assistance, time and friendship, or help finding services in an unfamiliar area…and allowing someone else the opportunity to do the same.

There is also the issue of something that is unneeded by one person being a treasure to someone else. Such items are not necessarily garbage…and they just might be a perfectly timed blessing to someone who can use them!

Recently, this became evident during our first free giveaway event here in Burien, WA….One member who helped to host the event mentioned a television cabinet she wanted to get rid of. Another member seemed interested, and as it turns out the exchange was confirmed! So one member cleared some needed space in her home, and another member has a piece of furniture she really enjoys.

THAT is community.

At the same time, a close relative of a member was undergoing a very serious illness and treatment requiring numerous hospital visits. Neither the member nor their relative own a vehicle, so another Community GATE member offered to drive them to each appointment clear across town.

THAT is community.

main_bean_dwarf_ french(2)You see, it is not all about the stuff. Yes, we give things away. A LOT of things, actually! Yes, we can ask for stuff that we want or need, and we do receive many of those things! But the amazing thing is not the sheer amount of stuff that we keep out of landfills, or the nifty trinkets we bring home. The truly amazing thing is seeing people who might have lived in the same area for years but never met, connecting….seeing people literally digging through closets and attics for items they are able to gift to someone else, simply for the thrill of meeting a need…seeing people stepping into their neighborhoods on a mission of giving. The funny thing is, receiving is a natural outcome when so many seek to simply give! It happens as surely as a bean plant producing green beans!

As I finish writing up this little blurb about this community I love, I cannot help but think of the things the Community GATE has done specifically for ME. I founded the Community GATE just a short time ago with the help of a few friends and loved ones who shared a vision: we wanted a community where people could offer and receive tangible items, but also share personal advice, local referrals, support one another’s business and artistic endeavors, and truly share in each other’s lives. We value acceptance, perseverance, frugal abundance, generous giving, positive outlooks, and honest interaction. Here, we find all of those things and more as we meet new people and open ourselves to build relationships that last.

In recent years, “gifting economies”, “sharing economies”, and “community integration” have all become buzzwords charged with various emotions. The Community GATE is none of those, yet ALL of those! We do not limit ourselves to one method of blessing those around us and we receive countless blessings in various forms in return. In so doing, we open a door for people of every variety to engage, to build, to develop stronger neighborhoods and communities by developing stronger relationships within them.

We hope you will stop by and say hello…
the GATE is always open!

Posted in Community GATE insights, Local Gifting & Sharing Groups, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The sofa in the window…an adventure in re-purposing!

Hey! There is a hide-a-bed sofa stuck in our kitchen window!

Get your attention? It is not entirely a joke! Let me explain…gardenwindow

You see, it all started with an old hide-a-bed sofa that we swapped out for a black leather sofa we got for free. Nevermind the story of how I dragged the new sofa down the street into our front yard because I didn’t want someone else to nab it before the day ended! I was wearing a dress at the time, no less…but I digress.

So, the old sofa sat outside for quite a while while we struggled with the idea of paying a bunch of money to take it to the dump (it was quite heavy). One day, I decided on a course of action. I took a sledge hammer, pry bar, and a pair of scissors to it! I cut all the fabric off and week by week added the icky fabric in pieces to our regular trash pickup until it was gone. Then a local metal collector scooped up the metal framing to sell it for recyclable material. And lastly, I pried/bashed apart the wooden frame…which is how we arrive at a sofa being stuck in our kitchen window. (Are you still with me?)

gardenwindow2Recently, as the small spring garden seedling cups piled up around our kitchen and occupied every inch of available windowsill in the house, I realized that if I placed several narrow shelves inside our large kitchen window I could get all of our seedlings into a warm sunny spot…and save us from the headache of seedling cups everywhere we turned. Guess what I used for the brackets and shelves? Yup, you guessed it: the wood I saved from the frame of that old sofa. Surprisingly, it was excellent lumber in fabulous condition after I just pulled a bunch of upholstery staples from it.

The small block brackets are cut from that same lumber, attached to the inside edge of the window box and will be painted to match the walls…they will be barely noticeable. The shelves themselves can be put in place temporarily, then removed when they are not needed.

THIS is a small example of re-purposing an item to be truly useful in another way. I probably saved about $15 in materials by re-using this wood that we saved from the sofa dismemberment project, and our seedlings are happy in their warm sunny home. We also avoided dumping a large piece of definitely non-biodegradable furniture into a landfill, and saved the fee that would have been required for the herbhardenprivilege. All in all, I estimate the total cash savings to have been in excess of $60.

Oh, one last thing! The spot where that sofa sat outside? Well, the grass all died underneath it so it became the perfect spot for a new herb garden. 🙂

Have YOU found a creative way to find a different use for something rather than chucking it altogether? Or perhaps found an innovative disposal solution for something you really did simply have to get rid of? Tell us what you did and how you did it! 

Posted in Gardening and Food Security, The 4 R's | 3 Comments

Gypsy Farmgirl on composting, mulching, and thrifty water usage

Does anyone besides me ever sit and shake your head and wonder, “Why in the world do I go out and PAY for garden mulch when I just sent away an entire yard waste tote full of organic clippings from my yard???” Well, I do. Or rather, I did. But no more.

Now, I am an avid gardener, hence the “Farmgirl” part of the “Gypsy Farmgirl” title here. I love to grow just about anything, and it is my dream to get back to growing all of my own vegetables so I can avoid the outrageous prices and unhealthy additives at the local grocery store. But experience has taught me that growing a successful garden means I need fertile soil, and fertile soil demands organic matter to provide nutrients. Here is where the “cha-CHING” alarm goes off in my brain. With organic mulch going for anywhere from $5 to $15 per 3 cubic foot bag, and composted manure selling for over $5 per 50 pound bag, I get dizzy just tracking the dollar signs. At those prices, my idea of feeding a family less expensively by growing my own vegetables flies right out the window.

What can be done?

First, I considered the area where I want to start a garden. Right now it is grass…which means it is full of already-growing greenery on top of a prolific root system. Yup, you guessed it! Organic material. Considering that it is cut short with no seed pods on top, it is safe to chop up  and blend into the soil underneath. But about that soil underneath. Ugh, it has not fed anything besides grass runoff for many years, so it is a bit depleted. Enter…the compost bin. (Imagine some “007-ish” sounding music right about now.) I know, say the word “compost” and most people  immediately crinkle their nose and envision a pile of stinky, rotting yuckiness smelling up the yard. No one wants that! Yet, a properly maintained compost bin does not create such problems, and can actually reduce waste disposal costs by reducing what goes into your trash and recycle bins each week.

Here are a few composting tips:

  1. Abide by the “no animal products rule”.
    No meat, fats, bones, skin, large amounts of cheese (it’s a fat), deli meats, etc. These DO create a nasty odor in the bin, and they also reduce the temperature of the compost causing it to break down slower. The resulting bacterial growth is not great for your compost and increases the risk involved in handling it. It may also require the extra purchase of a clothes pin for your nose.
  2. Here is what you SHOULD put in the bin!
    Any and all fruit and vegetable matter. Also, things like stale bread, coffee grounds, leftover cereals, pasta, dry cat or dog food,  egg shells, melon rinds, etc. Things break down a bit faster when they are added in smaller pieces, so feel free to chop those melon rinds, orange peels, and similar items a little bit before tossing them into the bin.
  3. Add grass clippings from your mowing, trimmings from house plants, flower petals from dead-headed plants and bushes, and whatever other organic trimmings you might drum up around the property.
    One important rule is to always be sure that whatever you add to your compost bin is free of pesticides or chemicals. If you use weed-n-feed on your lawn, do NOT put the clippings into your compost bin unless it is perfectly okay to you to have those chemicals end up in the lettuce you will harvest from your garden. *YUK* (Do I even need to say anything else about chemical weed killers? Poisons? Various other readily available toxic products frequently sold at garden stores? I didn’t think so.)

*A note about placement of your compost bin:

Compost requires HEAT to break down quickly. Many people place their compost bin far from the house under the cover of tall trees or in some other shady spot, hoping to avoid the odors often attributed to compost. This is a bad plan unless you don’t mind having it take the next year or so for your compost to decompose. Your compost bin needs to have direct sun for several hours of the day in order to build heat that will speed decomposition, so choose a spot that gets the most sun possible. At the same time, compost should not be permitted to dry out completely as very dry plant matter doesn’t break down quickly, it just stays…well, dry and crunchy. It needs to be moist in order to break down, so you will need to make sure it gets a little water added occasionally. During very hot summer temperatures, you might need to add a gallon or so of water once a week, perhaps a little more. Simply give your compost a toss and see if it is still moist. If it begins to seem dry more than a couple inches deep from the top, add a little water.

Thrifty tip for those of us who did not inherit a royal castle::

Use water that has already served a purpose somewhere else (remember, we are all about controlling cost, and every time you turn on your hose or faucet you are spending money for water!) So, if your compost bin needs a little water, consider pouring in the basin of dishwater that you washed the dinner dishes in, etc. Ordinary dish soap and/or laundry soap are not toxic to your compost or your garden beds, so consider re-using that water that you have already paid for when it poured from your faucet. I also employ this method for watering our garden beds and potted plants. I just keep a bucket in the kitchen to catch “throwaway water” that would ordinarily just run down the drain.

Examples:

  • Water used when rinsing your dishes. Many households use an automatic dishwasher these days, so you may not accumulate a basin of wash water. But even with a dishwasher, the dishes need to be rinsed…which can mean several gallons of water just running down the sink drain.
  • “Waiting for the tap water to get hot”. Did you know that it is common to run over two gallons of water down the drain when waiting for hot water to show up? Multiply that by the number of times you might wait for the hot water and it likely adds up to a sizable amount of water each week/month. Again, wasted water that you paid for.
  • Old coffee, tea, fruit juices, water left in a glass, half-empty bottles of water that no one can remember who drank out of them, etc. You might be surprised how much water these all add up to when you pour them all in together.
  • If you hand wash a clothing item, that water is also fair game to be re-used. Avoid saving water that contains any bleach or ammonia, but ordinary laundry soap is not toxic to your plants.

Now, I don’t mean that you should use up hours every day conserving every last drop of water. There is no need to become obsessive. But if you look at it from the perspective of getting the most bang for your buck, you may as well use that waste water for your gardens since you already paid for it the second it poured from your faucet. Using it to rinse your dishes AND water your rose garden just gets more use out of the same water!

Many people ask about what style of compost bin to use. There are many versions on the market today, most of which will be made of a sturdy plastic or metal dark in color to promote internal heat. You can buy a drum-style bin that sits on a metal frame and has a handle to spin it so that the contents tumble and mix inside, or a simple plastic version that sits on the ground. As long as they promote heat inside and provide adequate ventilation to allow air circulation, they will work just fine.

Trash bins can often be purchased very cheaply at second hand stores.What if you can’t or prefer not to spend money on a commercially-made bin? You can pick up a large, dark-colored plastic trash can and make your own! Poke a few holes in the bottom to allow for a bit of liquid drainage, and poke several up the sides of the bin as well. You want airflow to be possible into the bin, and these holes will allow for that.  In lieu of even a plastic trash bin, you can form a pile in a corner and cover it with black plastic to hold in  heat. Turn the pile occasionally with a pitchfork or shovel, and apply the same rule of keeping it moist.

***CAUTION***
I keep mentioning that we want the compost to become hot…and by that I truly mean HOT. Do not be surprised if you look out and see your compost bin steaming on a hot day! The ideal temperature for compost is 135-160 degrees F. Those temperatures are very effective at killing off weed seeds that may stray into your compost, as well as insect larvae, parasites and cysts. The catch is that most people will quickly pull their hand away from running water that is above 107 degrees…so the temperatures in hot compost are definitely high enough to cause a mild burn. Always use a tool to turn your compost, never your hands, even if you think it “doesn’t look too hot”.

Dried up iris clippings, leaf clippings, and flower greens make easily available mulch throughout the growing season.Now, there is another useful way to employ the clippings from around your abode. Don’t laugh, this method has several positive points to it. In our yard, we have quite a number of Iris plants…and by “quite a number”, I mean hundreds. After the Iris flowers in the late spring, the green leaves remain for quite some time. The tubers multiply, sending up new little Iris plants all over the place. Eventually they need to be split apart and can be re-planted in other places. Meanwhile, the tips of the leaves will begin to brown…and here comes the great part. Those leaves can be trimmed down and snipped up into smaller bits that can be used as a top mulch on flower beds, vegetable gardens, and/or added to your compost bin. So, a word about mulching…

Here in the Northwest we get lots of rain, so plants drying out is not really a problem until the hot summer months when the rain backs off and the sun beats down. But if you have any amount of bare dirt around your plants, you will notice that even when you add your own watering to what Mother Nature pours down, it does not seem to keep the ground moist for very long. That’s because a lot of that water evaporates or runs off before doing any good at all for the roots of your thirsty plants.

Adding a top mulch does two main things:

  1. It places a barrier between the sun and the dirt, keeping the soil cooler so that water evaporates more slowly. Most plants are happier with their roots cooler, so this is a double benefit.
  2. The mulch creates a textured surface that more efficiently holds water where it needs to be, at the roots of your plants. So, instead of watching the water run off across the hard packed dirt, you will see it soak into the ground where you want it to stay.

Over time, the mulch will break down just as it would if it had been added to your compost bin, and it can be easily turned into the soil with a hand rake. This adds nutrients to the soil, again making your plants healthier. If you pay attention, you will see the color and texture of the soil change as the decomposing mulch fortifies it. What may have once been dry, pale, dusty dirt will become dark, fluffy, sweet-smelling soil that nourishes your plants. You can use ANY plant matter for your mulch, so it is an extremely cost-effective way to maintain your soil and save on cost. Around our yard, I incorporate Iris leaves, Bluebells, Rhododendron leaves and blooms, Rose leaves and blooms, and even the small stems (be careful of thorns), Hydrangea and Camelia leaves and spent blossoms, really just about any sort of foliage that has to be trimmed back for some reason. I just take a 5 gallon bucket and a pair of scissors, go on a clipping foray around the yard, and voila…a whole bucket of greenery ready to be chopped up and used as mulch.

This is where it gets fun! At our house, when my Sweetheart comes home from his day at work we usually have a “time out” for an hour or so to decompress after the day, think about what to make for dinner, and chat together. So, while we do that I sit with my bucket and chop away on my mulch material. Hey, I would have been sitting down anyway, I might as well keep my hands busy and do something productive at the same time! Bear in mind, this chopping is not strenuous at all, it is very soft material and is not fatiguing to snip it up. In a short amount of time, I can have over half the bucket full of mulch snippings. These can be added directly to the surface of a garden bed, mixed with some finished compost before adding to a bed, or even just added to the compost bin itself if I don’t need any new top mulch (This is rare, as our gardens can always use more mulch added to them).

 

A few words of advice: 

  1. Though it may seem obvious, I will remind you never to put dandelion clippings, blackberry clippings, or ferns into your mulch, as they re-seed far too easily. These items can go into their very own bin or pile to break down if you wish, but I would steer clear of using them as a garden mulch if you want to certainly avoid having to pull out their baby seedlings later.
  2. I briefly mentioned it earlier, but once again do NOT put things into your compost that you would not want to have end up in your food if you are planting a vegetable garden. Pesticides and weed-controllers might seem harmless on your lawn, but as soon as you add those grass clippings to your compost and then rake that compost into your vegetable patch, your carrots and green beans can contain unforeseeable levels of those chemicals. Even using such contaminated clippings on purely ornamental garden beds still allows those toxins to leech into your soil and eventually into the water table. To me, it seems counter-productive to spend the effort of growing a beautiful garden full of healthy foods, just to have them end up laced with deadly poisons. Avoiding the use of such chemicals altogether is a far healthier choice for our bodies and our environment, and with organic mulch controlling weed growth you really won’t miss them anyway.

In conclusion, remember that composting need not be a stressful science project or time-consuming undertaking! The earth has been rebuilding itself for millennia, and will continue to do so regardless how we humans try to add our expertise. It is a completely natural process for plants to sprout, live, die out, decompose, and feed the soil from which they came…and from which new plants will surely come. Go ahead and give it a try, you might be very surprised how easy it is and how your gardens will thrive with the extra organic material replenishing the soil!

Have fun with it and enjoy the benefits!

Posted in Gardening and Food Security, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Who are we at the Community GATE, and what are we here for?

The Webster's 1812 dictionary defines community as: "One of the human race; any one that needs our help, or to whom we have an opportunity of doing good."

The Community GATE is your doorway to an amazing community, and we are glad you’re here!

Have you ever looked around your neighborhood and wondered who lives two houses down from you? One house? Next door? Have you ever cleaned out your garage and thought how you might be able to really bless someone with your extra stuff…if you only knew who might need or want it? Have you ever sat down with your monthly bills, scratched your head and realized that there really has to be a better way to live than scraping for every dime just to spend it all on more stuff and mere survival? Would you prefer to support your local community businesses with your resources and help local artisans and cottage industries to thrive, building healthy neighborhoods full of successful individuals?

Our forebears knew the value of neighbors looking out for each other…their survival depended on it!

All of these situations are the keys to The Community GATE.
We share what we have, ask for things we need or want, and get to know our neighbors. How can you go wrong when you base your actions and lifestyle on generosity and kindness, and respect for those around you? The truth is, our forebears knew this very well. They understood the value of looking out for the neighbors near them, and in turn receiving the same watchful concern. We have lost that to some degree in our modern era of security cameras, fast food, and full time jobs, as we have been taught to rely on technology and the almighty dollar. But living is not about technology or dollars, it is not about secluding ourselves behind the walls of our houses, oblivious to what goes on just two houses down. Or at least, it shouldn’t be.

Recently we had a post from a member offering fresh apples, bread, oatmeal, drinks, Our local groups enable neighbors to connect and meet real needs, share real experiences, and no longer remain strangers!etc., to anyone who might need them. Another member who is new to the area asked for a dinner buddy to meet for Pho, in order to meet more people in the community. We see people asking for a ride somewhere or help with yardwork. Neighbors gifting a very worn dresser, to someone who would like a fixer-upper project, a set of picture frames they have nowhere to hang, or a beautiful dining table and chairs. There is no telling what you will see being offered or requested. We have even had our neighbors tell us that when they had an unexpected bill and are short food money, the Community Gate members rallied with offers of milk, bread, eggs, homemade soups and casseroles, macaroni and cheese, and fresh vegetables. Yes, independence is a wonderful thing…but difficulties befall us all at one time or another, and we are seeing our communities come together to support each other when those tougher times arrive.

We also look out for each other! Through community awareness and visibility, we discourage harmful activity in our neighborhoods simply by letting passersby know that “we are here…and we see you”. By being involved, our neighborhoods grow stronger and safer so that our families are safer, too.

This is what we are all about, getting involved in our community, offering valuable information on a great place to eat or an inexpensive garage sale, sharing stories, swapping recipes and kind words of encouragement. As the gardening bug takes hold this spring we also enjoy helpful techniques passed along regarding planting times for vegetables and our personal gardening secrets, sharing seeds and plant starts, and supporting the efforts of many to be more self-sustaining with fresh foods grown in their own yard. In this age of electronics, we find people disconnected with what is happening in their neighborhood and community, so wrapped up in what to watch, a computer game we are playing, texting to someone sitting right next to us, instead of engaging in conversations with real people. Like most things, there are good and not-so-good things about electronics, so we are finding the blessing in the way online forums and communication can connect us to our neighbors. We can use these tools not to check out of our real-time surroundings, but to learn what is happening in our community and ways that we can make a positive difference!

So here we are. We invite you to be a part of this “Give And Take Experience” and see how it blesses YOUR community through you!

Here is a simple view of what we hope to achieve in the communities the Gate opens into:

  1. We promote, through our local Facebook groups, an experience of gifting, sharing, and participating in the lives of our communities and thus, our neighbors. Gifting and sharing might include the actual exchange of items between members, offering time to help one another with tasks, providing information leading folks to products or services they need, or other various avenues of support, as neighbors seek to honestly support those around them. We try to not impose limits in these areas because what may seem frivolous to one person might be a true necessity to someone else.
  2. In all of our conduct, we promote kindness, generosity, and compassion. This commitment negates the need for a million rules about what we can say and how to treat fellow members, because unfriendly, dishonest, or mean behavior can never fall into one of these three categories. Communities are made up of so many different kinds of people from different cultures, different personal backgrounds, and different socio-economic levels….like a colorful quilt, all segments of which provide warmth. We do not create barriers based on any of these differences, but instead seek to remove such barriers by extending that collective warmth to all who come.
  3. What began as a small community group may, with time, expand as new members choose to carry our goals to their own communities whether near or far, and our founding group will definitely support any such new groups that seek to branch out. In the spirit of true community, we recognize that our neighborhoods do not stop at the end of our street, nor at the boundaries of our particular city, but they extend to other areas our lives may touch. In this age of internet communication, friends in other states or even other countries may be considered our far-flung neighbors, and the Community Gate will always be willing to swing open into those areas where we are invited. In light of this, our groups do not necessarily cover cities by boundaries, but broader areas that may include several cities working together. Members have access to a local map divided into color zones so that they can choose how far to travel in order to participate, so that participation always remains up to the choice of the individual rather than dictated by a rule.
  4. The Community Gate does not have a “hierarchy”. This group originally came about as an ideal that seemed almost unrealistic. It seemed a bit far-fetched to believe that a group of people could possibly come together and flourish in building a community based simply on kindness and generosity. Such ideas have arisen before, sometimes Utopian in nature and sometimes less grandiose, and there always seems to be an Achilles heel that ultimately halts their progress. So, in the spirit of avoiding such a fatal flaw, we will allow ourselves to grow and expand as gradually as necessary so that we can avoid burning out because of internal conflict, external pressure, or personal pride. Our Founders are committed to providing support and answering questions as clearly as possible to keep the gate’s goals clear and simple, while our Founding Admin team also works hard to streamline each process here to be replicable in other areas. As we learn what works best here in the original gate, we can better assist new groups that form. However, every area has different social aspects and various population differences, so we also seek to make every possible opportunity for those differences to flourish and bring success to the communities involved. Our Community Leaders in new areas will have our full support and ongoing technical assistance with things like Facebook techie issues, community promotion, and inviting new members to find us. New ideas and creative solutions arise all over the place, just as certainly as tulips and daffodils multiplying in a flower bed…we want every Community Leader and member to feel accepted and valued because the heart of this entire venture revolves around its people.

Will this mission evolve? We certainly hope so. Will this first group grow into many? That would be beautiful to see. Will our communities prosper even more because of our presence and activities within them? If they do not, then the Community Gate is in vain.

Here we stand at the beginning of something full of potential, building connections, hoping to bring blessing to those around us, and all are invited to join us on this exciting journey! It is not an “experiment”, a “project”, or a “test”…it is an experience, and we hope it is a great one for all involved!

Thank you again for being here…just leave the gate wide open behind you for the next visitor. 🙂

 With Gratitude,
Lorrie, Scott, and the Community GATE Admin Team

“The sky is NOT the limit…there are footprints on the moon!” 

 

Posted in Community GATE insights, Local Gifting & Sharing Groups, Possessions & Simplicity, The 4 R's | 46 Comments