Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Winging It in Connecticut

August 7, 2015

Photo by my 7 year old son.

I know this post is way overdue. I had some issues with the blog format and needed a break, but it is now time to revisit my writing, and blog, Creating: A Life. Doing so could mean quick update or a long rambling existential reconstruction of the last several years of my life, or something in-between. There is much to contemplate on and about the various “in-betweens” we and I encounter; let’s see what happens.

My last post for Creating: A Life was on November 26, 2011. Since then my spouse, my son, and I, have settled in Connecticut. We bought an old farmhouse, with a large sunny yard, which we are slowly rehabilitating. The house was relatively well maintained; however, the yard was completely overgrown. To help me transform our property into a small food-producing homestead, I enrolled in the University of Connecticut’s Master Gardner program which has proven very helpful.

I also renovated a 24’ x 24’ saltbox style building into a studio. The building was originally an unheated workshop and garden shed. It required some structural reconstruction, new windows, rewiring, insulation, and new walls thanks to a sheetrock hanging day with extended family. Ultimately, the complete interior was transformed on my own except for the house’s electrical panel upgrade to a 200 AMP system and an instillation of a 100 AMP subpanel to the studio. I definitely needed to hire this job out. This renovation took me roughly a year and a half to complete.

While working on the studio, I took a break from my artwork, and concentrated on the Master Gardner coursework and cleaning up our property. This was a welcome change from my intense work during my 2011 McKnight Fellowship for Ceramic Artists, in Minnesota. The fellowship was very rewarding, although it did keep me away from my family for most of that year. Suffice it to say, I made a hell of allot of artwork and drank a lot of red wine. My favorite grape is Malbec – I like it for its tang!

Rat Rod with Insectual Power: Visitor Sereis 20015 Terra Cotta with Multi-Fired Surface 10.5

Rat Rod with Insectual Power: Visitor Series
Terra Cotta with Multi-Fired Surface
10.5″ x 12.5″ x 4.5″

My time away from art making was a good and welcome change. I actually didn’t spend much time dwelling or thinking about my artwork. I knew once the studio was done that I would pull through any apprehension I might have about restarting my creative process. I ended up starting a new sequence, titled the “Visitor” series, and began moving back into more functional work, figuring I would need some money to support my artwork and hopefully help with our finances. So I am now working on marketing my work.

All three of us are pretty well settled in our new home and state. We are cat people and have two great feline companions. Each one of us has our own place within our shared connected paths. My spouse’s career is librarianship, she is also a wonderful mother, spouse, and photographer (when she can find the time). Our son is a fantastic kid: very creative, enthusiastic about his interests, and growing up fast. Me? Well, I am kind of “whacking-out” in that I am trying to reinvent my-self, as a stay-at-home spouse, parent, artist, handy man, mini-homesteader, and, reflective introvert with an interest in the mystical in-betweens. Maybe more later! (I still have some issues with the blog format.)


Photo by my 7 year old son.

Oh yeah, and I am growing a beard – aiming for wizard by fifty!

Thanks to the Fleet: Welcome to Spring

May 6, 2011

My small family and I made it through another Minnesota winter. It is now spring, the garlic shoots are up, and the spinach I planted late last fall survived the winter. We are currently eating our first spinach greens, yum!

Besides the copious amounts of snow and negative Fahrenheit temperatures. The Mid-Western United States, and the World has seen much trouble and turmoil. Wisconsin, across the Mississippi where my spouse works, is going through tremendous political turmoil with their newly elected Tea-Party (TEA-BAGGER) and ultra conservative Republican governor, Scott Walker. Without going into much detail about the political wrangling that has occurred and will continue to occur, until he is either recalled or voted out of office, I will simply say that Wisconsin is in for a very rough and divisive future. Jememi Suri, E. Gordon Fox Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, best sums up the political situation with his blog post that compares Walker to Joseph McCarthy. I recommend you read it .

During the winter and early spring 2011 we as a world population have seen and some individualizes have experienced a sea-of-change in the popular uprisings of Egypt and other middle eastern countries. The overthrow and attempts to remove dictators and their autocratic political regimes from power has been inspiring and painful to observe. My own non-logistical emotional-intellectual based political mind interprets these uprisings as a hopeful beginning of a more humanistic future world. However, on the other hand, my pessimism views the extreme exclusivity of the right wing of American politics to be extremely frightening and disturbing, to say the least.

In addition, at the end of this winter another major natural disaster devastated the country of Japan. As we know, Japan’s recent earthquake and resulting tsunami destroyed lives, property, infrastructure, and caused the break down of their Fukushima nuclear power plant, which is leaking toxic nuclear radiation. Things are not good for our Japanese brothers and sisters! The radiation from this nuclear power plant is currently negatively effecting the environment, people of Japan, and the world economy. I hope that this will be a wake up call to humanity to seriously consideration establishing a greater use of renewable energy. Again and unfortunately, Americas right-wing politicians are stripping away funding for research and development of the numerous renewable energies our country and world has available. To put it lightly I am not very happy with America politics at the moment! However, I am very excited and proud of the left wing progressive groups that are rapidly organizing via small PAC’s, like Russ Fiengold’s Progressives United (link),, and others. These groups are fighting hard for human rights, environmental protection, animal safety, and inclusiveness of all living beings of the world. There is hope for our one and only home, planet earth!

To end on a personal positive accomplishment, I once again avoided buying a snow blower this winter. Since living in Minnesota, I have on numerous occasions, with every large snow fall to be exact, wanted to purchase one of these space taking, gas guzzling, maintenance heavy, but very useful and effective snow displacing machines. I am happy to say that with the help of numerous shovels,The Fleet, my spouse, son, and, very awesome and generous neighbor (who has a snow blower), I once again fought the urge to purchase a snow blower!

Picky Gardener: Peace and Solace in the Garden

June 22, 2010

I recently visited my community garden plot to put a few melon plants in the ground. While I was there, another gardener and her children came to visit her weeds. The youngest of the two girls asked me, “are you the picky gardener?” I laughed and said that I was. Their mother, of course covered for her child’s unabashed honesty and question, by correcting her and stating, that I was the “good gardener.” She was embarrassed either by her children audacity or by the knowledge that her own views of me and my gardening were now expressed by her children.

In either case, it became clear to me that, I am perceived by some as a completely anal-retentive gardener or at the very least, not average in my approach to vegetable growing and that the mother of these two wonderfully honest children, in my perception seems to be teaching her children to accept mediocrity, unknowingly or not. She is doing this by denigrating someone else’s more zealous work or passion.

I am not found of mediocrity, and I am in constant inner turmoil with myself in an attempt to think, act, speak, intellectualize, converse, believe, work, make, or live more than a mediocre life. This inner turmoil is both painful and rewarding, and has created in me a constant and manic search for betterment. For me, this search has taken numerous emotional, physical, and intellectual manifestations. Which suffice it say, are not always pleasant, however, are an aspect of my human condition.

In the past few years, I have found much interest and fascination with gardening. I have spent many hours digging, composting, sewing seeds, saving seeds, picking bugs, harvesting vegetables, canning, maintaining tools, and preserving food. I have read a variety of books on gardening and I am constantly on the lookout for a new book or information that will enhance my understanding and knowledge of gardening. I also believe strongly that gardening has a huge potential to mitigate some of the world’s environmental and food source problems. In addition, the vegetables from an organically nurtured garden are incredibly delicious. I have been eating and cooking with them my entire live. In my opinion absolutely no other farming method compares with the vegetables produced from a well tended, nurtured, and loved garden.

My personal connection to the earth has been a struggle for me to understand. Until recently I have mostly had an intellectual appreciation for the world I live in. Many of my family, friends, and heroes have enjoyed intensive backpacking trips, canoeing, nature expeditions, and adventures. I prefer walking in the woods with defined paths, car camping, and swimming in clean lakes and rivers. I have met people who seem to have a spiritual and/or psychic connection to the earth, and whose bodies seem to flow and move with the seasons. I enjoy the seasons, however, I have always felt like a silent observer of them, physically disgruntled by their extremes and enjoying there pleasantries.

At this point, I am more fearful of Mother Nature’s wrath as a result of global warming, then I am comfortable with her nuances. I don’t even know how to emotionally or intellectual deal with the recent wave of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the earthquakes in Haiti. I do consider myself an environmentalist or at least environmental concerned because I am not sure what the term really means anymore.

After I was accused of being a “picky gardener,” I began to reflect and notice something about my spiritual and intellectual connection to the earth. At the core of my being I am a searcher and a creator. I make objects and I am constantly searching for ways to improve upon what I create, and how I live. However, I do have limitations, and I am not afraid to ask for help. My current understanding of my connection to the earth is very basic, it is physical, and I feel closest to it when I am improving its soil to grow plants that I can later eat. Within the past few years, since I became a passionate gardener, I have felt much closer to the seasons and, therefore the earth, because, I have become more dependent on Spring, Summer and Fall to grow and preserve food for the Winter. I need the earth to survive, and like all creatures, always have. The difference for me now is that, much of my family’s food comes from my sweat, labor, and the soil, rather than from my wallet and a grocery store. Gardening is like anything else, you can turn it into an art form, in fact I have studied some artists who have done this such as Amy Franceschini. In 1995 she, founded Futurefarmers, a collective of international artists.

So yes I am proudly a “picky gardner”, and I find solace in the rich loam that I helped to improve and where my vegetables grow. I am dependent upon it as we all are. On days when I am uncomfortable in my skin, unhappy, frustrated, or disgusted with humanity, I go to my garden for solace where I find peace tending plants.

Got Tomatoes!

October 6, 2009

I recently emailed a friend with the very cryptic message, “I’ve got tomatoes,” telling him about my harvesting bounty, he was generous with his response but was a little ambivalent about the tomatoes.

I guess, that maybe I am also a little ambivalent about them as well, or at least overwhelmed by the shear quantity of tomatoes that I have harvested and preserved this year. In fact, I have three five-gallon buckets of them on my porch as I compose this blog entry, most of which my son and I will take to the local food pantry tomorrow. I might even give a few to my son to pop open. He loves to squash them in his hand and squirt the seeds and juices all over his bare feet. One day I will to teach him about the importance of not wasting food, but not now. At the moment, I enjoy watching him experiment with his environment and world, a few lost tomatoes to his budding intellect and curiosity is well worth sacrificing. When he starts throwing rotten tomatoes at unsuspecting pedestrians, I might attempt to put a stop to the wasting of this precious fruit, but then again maybe I won’t! Such an act has great potential to reveal some very interesting aspects about the human condition. I know that, I wouldn’t mind lobbing a few tomatoes at some members of society. Alas, I digress.

The truth is, I feel very fortunate and thankful for such an abundant harvest this year, and that I have had the time and the opportunity to grow and store so much food for the coming winter months. If all goes well, and the root vegetables and squash store adequately, we should have enough veggies to supply us until spring, when we will harvest asparagus for the first time, and until I can once again plant some spinach and early lettuce.

Fall is definitely here and the weather report for next week calls for nights in the mid 30’s to 40’s. I will have to clean up the squashes and bring them inside soon, and I hope we won’t have a frost quite yet. Since my spouse and I have decided to downsize our income, living by the seasons as well as planting and preserving food will most likely become a very intricate part of our lives, especially mine.

For those of you who are interested in food preservation, I thought I would give you a visual crash course in the caning and preserving of tomato sauce. More in-depth technical information can be found in the book list provided below. I found the Ball Blue Book of Preserving to be a great starter text for canning information, though I often call home for tips from mom.

Canning Crash Course

Boiling down diced tomatoes

Boiling down diced tomatoes

Blending tomatoes with antique hand mixer

Blending tomatoes with antique hand mixer

Straining tomatoes with hand strainer

Straining tomatoes with hand strainer

Pouring hot tomato sauce in sterilized canning jars

Pouring hot tomato sauce in sterilized canning jars

Placing tomato sauce in water bath to be boiled for 40 minutes

Placing tomato sauce in water bath to be boiled for 40 minutes

Fully processed tomato sauce

Fully processed tomato sauce

Canning tools used

Canning tools used

Teaching Son the joys of canning

Teaching Son the joys of canning

Got Tomatoes Reading List

Ball Blue Book of Preserving Ball Brothers Company, Inc.

The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest, by Carol W. Costenbader

Canning and Preserving without Sugar, by Norma M. MacRAE, R.D.

Got Tomatoes Tool List

Water Bath Processing Pot and Jar Holder

Large Stainless-steel Pot

Hand Mixer

Hand Strainer

Canning Tongs

Lid Tightening Tongs

Large Mouth Funnel

Canning Jars/Lids

Got Tomatoes Play List

Nick Drake,  A Treasury

Johnny Cash,  At Folsom Prison

Steve Earle, Jerusalem

What my Son Could Have Contributed but Didn’t

One of the ways I am able to tire my son out for his afternoon nap is to put him in his bright yellow pouch on my back. This is the time of day when I am able to get a few things done around the house, like mixing up bread dough, sweeping the floor, and doing dishes. One of his requirements for allowing me to put him in his pouch is to allow him to hold onto a toy. Most of the time, this is one of his toy cars, which he holds onto until the opportune time comes to toss it into the dishwater, a mixing bowl, or any random container. I am then required to retrieve the toy car and return it to its owner so that he can continue to practice his exceptional aim. Thanks to my spouse’s excellent parenting abilities, I was free of the yellow pack and my son’s curve-ball/car which most definitely would have ended up in the tomato sauce.

Living Close

September 18, 2009

Digging Potatoes in the Community Garden

Digging Potatoes in the Community Garden

Three weeks ago I officially began my role as stay-at-home dad, and so far I love it. My son and I both spend most of our time barefoot. For me, this is a recent phenomenon that my beautiful little boy has reintroduced me to. In the past, I have had a very serious issue with having dirt on my feet, and I would cringe when walking around the house barefoot if the floors hadn’t been recently swept. Going to bed with dirty feet was absolutely out of the question (I have been known to hand wash my feet prior to going to bed; I know, this is neurotic!) Lately, my feet are unshod unless absolutely necessary.

Other than walking around with my feet directly touching the ground, what does living closer mean to me, and why is it important? I clarified this question for myself during a conversation that I had with my spouse, when she asked me “What do you want to accomplish in your life?” I replied by explaining that I wanted to spend my life making good artwork, being a decent/good human, helping to raise a decent/good (e.g. liberal open minded humanist) child, and live close to the earth.

All these aspects of living close require much diligence, time, and consideration. However, lately I have placed much of my time, energy, and focus on gardening and food preservation. Which to me is a very obvious and direct way to live closer. I am gardening and preserving food for a variety of reasons:

  • I enjoy the results of my labor, good wholesome vegetables and hand-canned foods are exceptionally tasty.
  • I was raised in a large one income family and my parents gardened and preserved food to supplement their grocery bill; so, it is in my blood.
  • As many of us know, the world’s economic, environmental, and, social climate seems to be pointing to humanity’s need to live more locally, with a deeper ecological awareness, and closer to our food sources.
  • I want to contribute to this revolution based on healthy food and land preservation. I garden, because I love working with the dirt, plants, and the seasons. Helping feed my family from vegetables that the dirt and I have grown together, just seems to make sense to me.
  • Lastly, with my family’s decreased income, raising vegetables has dramatically cut our grocery bill.

My family and I have been eating out of our garden since May, and I anticipate pulling vegetables out of the ground until mid-October, and possibly into early November. Once we are unable to harvest directly from the ground we will start using our supply of canned, frozen, and stored food. I am proud of our work as gardeners and food preservationists, and I am even happier to be slowly teaching and watching my son take an interest in garden plants, wild berries, and dirt! I am thankful to be able and willing to live so close to much of my food; I love harvesting food with my son and in our bare feet!

Living Close Tool Tips
Growing up on “the farm”, as some of my relatives used to refer to my childhood home (¾ acre house plot with a large garden) had, as I recall, only meager, old, and dilapidated hand gardening tools, and a well-worked tiller. The one tool that I do not remember using was a file. Filing my shovels, hoes, and spades has made a huge difference in their functionality. Most of the garden tools that I have purchased did not come sharpened, and until I started studying various gardening techniques, I never knew that these tools are supposed to be filed on a regular basis. If you are interested in gardening and you are going to buy your first shovel, buy a good file to sharpen it with. Steve Solomon in his book, Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times has a good explanation on how to file and take care of your tolls.

Living Close Reading List
Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times by Steve Solomon

Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables by Mike and Nancy Bubel

Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners by Suzanne Ashworth and Kenty Whealy

The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest by Carol W. Costenbader

Ball, Blue Book of Preserving by Ball Brothers Company, Inc.

Living Close Playlist
“The Birds and the Bees” by Mother Nature

My Son’s Contributions

  • Many smashed and pulverized tomatoes, the seeds and innards seem to fascinate him and gives him much pleasure, as is evident by his laughs and giggles with each squeezed tomato.
  • A bucket of produce: full one moment, and then quickly emptied by small but vigorous hands.