Friday, December 24, 2010

How iLuv Got Her Gun

It began with a discussion of chickens. Uncle J and I were talking about how to turn the backyard garden into an urban farm. As a meat-eater, the conversation focused on livestock. We were talking about the benefit of chickens- the good they would do for the garden, the eggs they could provide, and, of course, the meat they would become. I had also just had rabbit at a restaurant and really liked it, so the conversation evolved into rabbit rearing.

The problem with both rabbits and chickens is that I'm gone too much to care for them. You need someone around to collect the eggs, make sure the animals have enough food and water, and to clean up their cages. The biggest problem, however, is the fact that I've never killed anything. Well, with the exception of a few fish and the occasional rodent crossing my car's path before I could avoid it.

I'm not a killer. I certainly don't believe in killing people. Although, if I'm honest, I would probably defend myself if confronted with my own potential demise. I mean, I have the will to live and all that. I've been anti-gun and anti-violence for quite a while. I'm sure some of my beliefs were forged by pop culture (anti-gang, anti-gun programs aimed at youth) and conversations with the more liberal members of my family. However, the forging of my anti-gun stance culminated in an incident that happened when I was in high school. I lived just a few blocks from a Chuck E Cheese's. For those of you who don't know, it's a pizza restaurant for kids with animatronic characters that sing. I was a fan of the former incarnation, Showbiz Pizza, and even had a birthday party at a Showbiz when I was little.

Well, a former employee was upset about being fired from the place and went postal. He killed a  teenager who went to my school as well as three other employees. One employee pretended to be dead, then escaped and went to the neighboring condos for help. It was a traumatic event. We formed a group at school called S.A.V.E., Students Advocating Violence Elimination led by one of the adult counselors. We even had an event where we made anti-violence posters and walked the streets... I don't know if you'd call it a protest, but it was the first protest type thing I had ever participated in. From then on, I supported restrictions on gun ownership, including the Brady Bill.

Coincidentally, my friend was a clerk of the court when the murderer was appealing his death penalty sentence 17 years later. I don't believe in the death penalty, even in this case. It turns out the murderer was severely abused as a child and had bipolar disorder. I strongly believe investing in good mental health care and strong gun laws would limit incidents like the Chuck E Cheese murders. Besides, life in prison seems like a more heinous punishment than death.

I'm also not a killer in the sense that I don't delight or thrill in the idea of killing animals for food. I enjoy eating meat. I really do. So, I support the killing of animals for meat, but I'm not big on trophy hunting. The problem with American consumerist society is the majority of us are completely divorced from the process of bringing meat to the table, me included. In that sense, we don't honor or respect the life that was taken in order to feed us. Instead, we cautiously select slabs of meat wrapped in plastic sans offensive, identifiable animal parts. We are removed from the violence, so we are not forced to confront it. When we travel to another country where they eat eye balls or shrimp with heads, we don't know what to do with ourselves. We prefer the sanitized version... we don't want to look our food in the eye.

Back to the garden. Uncle J suggested I raise rabbits as pets. The rabbits would feel safe and comfortable. Then, when I broke their necks or slit their throats they wouldn't be afraid. As he said this, he stroked an imaginary rabbit, then cut its throat. While I understand the logic of not making the animal afraid, the thought completely horrified me. I'm not in a place where I could do something like that. Reeling from the horror of my uncle's mock execution, I realized that hunting was my best option.

About 10 years ago, I decided hunting was okay. The movies Bambi and the Fox and the Hound certainly influenced an anti-hunting stance for me as a young person. As I became interested in the politics of food, I realized meat from a hunted animal is probably safer than meat from a factory. No steroids, no cows fed with beef, no clones or genetically modified creatures. It's astonishing how much control we've given up over our food supply. We are completely dependent on grocery stores, feed lots, commercial farms. When the shit goes down, most of us won't know how to survive. At least when you hunt, if the environment isn't completely toxic, you're getting the most natural, uncontaminated meat available. So, I believe it's hypocritical to be a locavore, organic, meat eater, but against hunting for food. I mean, if you're eating meat, you're just as guilty of violence as the person who slits the throat or pulls the trigger. You would just prefer not to think about it.

As I contemplated learning to hunt, I went through a total internal transformation. I felt a strong mix of horror, fear, and doubt. Could I really own a gun? Could I kill an animal? Could I handle gutting and skinning it? I imagined myself standing over an animal I had just killed, taking in the gore, feeling the sadness over the loss of life, and saying thanks... thanks for the sacrifice. That is the origin of saying grace before a meal. Before God with a capital G, our ancestors thanked the animal for providing for them... both recognizing the violence of the act and appreciating the sacrifice.

When I asked my dad to teach me to hunt, I think it blew his mind grapes. My grandmother's father, aka Grandpa the Great, took my dad hunting when he was a boy. They really bonded over it. I don't think hunting was the important thing- it was just the vehicle. I mean, my grandma also hunted, but I would guess my dad didn't have the same bond with her. I think the time my dad spend with my great grandpa had a huge impact on his life. He wanted to share this bond with his own kids and focused on the hunting aspect, but his three girls didn't show much interest.

I explained that I wanted to hunt small game- birds and rabbits. He said that was very survivalist of me. Exactly.

When I was a teenager visiting my Uncle J and Aunt J in Florida, my aunt was surprised that I didn't know how to make biscuits. She asked me how I was going to survive when the shit went down. That was the first time I had heard the phrase and I totally cracked up. After that, we often half-joked about what would happen when the shit went down. Growing up in the suburbs with a mom who hated to cook, it was pretty obvious I was screwed. I had no idea that almost 20 years later, I would be motivated to learn how to take care of myself to such a degree (i.e. growing, killing, and cooking my own food). Perhaps that's why I enjoy reading about the post-apocalyptic future where survival and technology are mixed (see the Hunger Games trilogy and The Windup Girl).

In any case, my dad gave me Grandpa the Great's rifle. My dad mentioned multiple times that it's only good for hunting small game. It doesn't have the power to get a bullet to a deer, let's say, from a distance where you could actually get close enough to shoot. For my birthday, he bought me a beautiful 20 gauge shot gun. Beautiful, because it is made with engraved wood. He made the right choice for me- no plastic camo parts and very little kick.

I wanted my dad to teach me to shoot because, well, he likes guns, but also because he's the Chief of Police of the town he lives in and I knew he would teach me the safe way to shoot. Safety first! I'm afraid of my gun, still. I think it's healthy to fear something so dangerous, to not become intoxicated with its power. Like Galadriel, the elf queen, in Lord of the Rings when she puts on Frodo's ring... or something. Uh-hem.

Anyway, dad and I went to a shooting range in the Denver suburbs. He threw the clay pigeons (they had a hand pull machine thing) and I occasionally hit them. In fact, a few times, I hit three or four in a row and I managed to hit the last five in a row. I shot a hundred shells and hit about thirty clay pigeons. Not bad for the first time out. Hopefully, with practice, I can improve on that.

Next, we went to the target range where I shot Grandpa the Great's rifle. I blew the bull's eye out at 12 feet and didn't shoot outside of the first black circle of the target. All that to say, I had a successful first day at the range, which has only encouraged me.

In conclusion, I refuse to join the NRA, I still support the Brady Bill, and I dislike Sarah Palin with a passion that is probably unhealthy. I plan to learn how to hunt ethically and with integrity, avoiding the poisonous lead shot commonly used by hunters.

And, there it is. That's how this lefty-liberal came to terms with gun ownership and hunting.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wheasus: The Ultimate Religious Billboard in Kansas

In general, I'm not a fan of religious billboards. I just don't think they change anyone's mind. I mean a "Jesus is Watching" billboard next to the adult bookstore is not savin' any souls and when I'm driving down the highway and see an anti-abortion billboard, it simply makes me angry. These issues are just more complicated than a slogan or bumper sticker. I also don't think religion should be worn on one's sleeve. It's a private affair between you and God/the Goddess/Nature/the Universe/Not-God.

Religion and politics aside, I'm completely fascinated by this billboard. WTF, Kansas? It's like Children of the Corn, but with Jesus in a wheat field.

The actual art is alright... I mean we all know it's Jesus holding onto some wheat, but it looks like Jesus' head and hand are growing out of the field!

It's intoxicating, this... Wheasus. I would argue it's a bit dangerous... I mean, you're driving by it going 70 mph, but can't tear your eyes away from the weirdness. Don't worry, I actually went to the field to take the photo, so no drivers were almost harmed in the production of this photograph.

If this wasn't a billboard, I would totally send it to the "Museum of Bad Art" and if you haven't heard of MOBA, well, enjoy:

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Holy! Holy! Holy! This tomato is holy!

Allen Ginsberg left out the earthy, homegrown, heirloom tomato in his litany of holiness in "Footnote to Howl", but if he were here, he would totally get it. This is it. This simple, gorgeous fruit disguised as a vegetable, plucked out of the backyard, gently washed, and savored. It is holy.

I fell in love this summer. I fell in love with my garden. It's such a weird thing to say... a hard thing to say with out seeming cheesy and melodramatic, but it's absolutely true. It amazes me that, with the smallest amount of effort, I was able to produce a large quantity of food in what turned out to be hostile ground.

It appears my yard was filled with throw away dirt. Dirt filled with little pieces of plastic and garbage, sandy dirt with minimal nutrients. I didn't have many pests this year because, as Uncle J pointed out, my yard was a wasteland. Yet, I added about an inch of compost and an irrigation system to a nematode infested desert and something grew. Not everything made it. Not everything produced a ton of veg, but it produced beyond my expectations. Even my stunted little apple trees produced this year... and the apples were tasty!

In the mean time, I learned a lot about nurturing something and watching it grow. One of my friends expressed hesitation to start a garden due to the work involved, especially the weeding. I worried about that, too, until I started doing it. Weeding. Weeding was kind of a pain, but considering what the garden produced in the end, it was worth it.

Over the summer, I noticed I talked about my garden the same way people talk about children. I'm sure the same rules apply to most things we discover a passion for. We know the results will be worth the sacrifices, annoyances, and frustrations we have to go through to get to the good parts. I see this tomato and I think, "I created this. Isn't it amazing?"

At the same time, I know I can't take all the credit. I just put the seed in the ground, gave it some tools, and the sun, earth, water, and seed did the rest. We did it together. I nurtured it and, then, it nurtured me.

When I weeded, when I talked to the plants, when I reaped the bounty of harvest, I felt connected, grounded, amazed, euphoric, peaceful. I know the garden gave me more than food because that connectedness is priceless. I mean, I haven't found it in many places.

Perhaps it's because I don't have much control over what I eat due to my job... I feel disconnected from food most of the time- it's a chore to eat at 90% of the restaurants I visit for work. Maybe that's why eating a squash from my backyard seems so magical. I know exactly where it came from and what it took to create it. It doesn't get any more local than that, does it?

Allen Ginsberg wrote, "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix..." Maybe his generation just needed to start a garden. Don't do drugs, kids. Grow food. And read stuff once in awhile.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Nematoded! When bad things happen to good carrots.

Imagine my surprise as I began to pull out mature carrots and discovered these alien creatures. I knew something had gone horribly wrong, but had no idea what happened. Luckily, Uncle J was there to school me on... NEMATODES. 

Nematodes are microscopic worms that live in soil. Bad nematodes do weird things to your veggies. However, there are good nematodes that kill the bad nematodes. So, I've purchased some good nematodes to spray over the entire backyard, which should prevent this problem from happening next year. Let the great Nematode War begin!

In the mean time, we're eating the carrots. That's right... we're consuming these weird little beasts. They taste alright and make for an excellent stir fry. I've decided one thing about the garden that is universally true- most things that look strange or odd are usually benign.

Take this oddity for example:

"What the eff is that thing?", you're asking yourself. Well, it's the shell of a cicada. Apparently, it's hatching time for cicadas or at least it was a few weeks ago. We got part of the cedar fence up just in time for cicada bugs to crawl out of the ground, up the fence, and metamorphose from a brown wingless insect to a green winged beast.

So, my dad and I were working on the fence when Jim came around the corner and said, "A cicada just emerged from its shell." Intrigued, I went to check it out and found this:

The brown thing is literally a shell of an insect and the green object is what used to be inside the brown thing. What the what? Nature is fascinating and strange and creepy and cool...

... and smart. We unknowingly provided the perfect place for the cicada to hide while it was drying out or recovering from its transformation or whatever else it was doing before flying away and making a bunch of noise. Later, I found two more insect shells in the same area, but I was too afraid to touch them. Completely illogical, but true.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


The following images are the views of my backyard when I first bought the house. If you look closely, you can see a 3 ft high chain link fence at the back of the yard,

the same chain link on the side of the yard that faces the highway,

my neighbor's, well, ugly looking fence on the other side, 

and the shed with the rotted out foundation.

You may also notice that my back yard is absolutely ginormous. Ever since I bought the house, I knew I wanted to have a wood privacy fence. It would improve the view while I spent time in my yard and, hopefully, muffle some of the noise from the highway. However, I thought the building of the fence would be a long way off.

My Uncle J had planned to visit and put in some shelves in my reading/craft room. At some point, he told my dad that I wanted to build a fence. Then, it was all over. My dad and uncle decided to help me build a most awesome fence.

Here is stage one:

Already a huge improvement over the chain link.

As I write this, the fence is almost finished. My dad came down one weekend and helped get the majority of it done. I learned about leveling.

My uncle has been spending more time building gates and working on the highway side of the fence, which he curved to make a greater wind barrier. It also adds some aesthetic appeal, which we will enhance with landscaping.

Next project: prepare a pad for the new shed. Next next project: apply compost to entire backyard. Oh, did I mention? The entire back yard will be a garden next year. I plan to grow everything from wheat to garlic. Also, there is talk of varying my livestock from composting worms to bees. BEES! I'm so freaking excited for next year.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Livestock Edition: Effing Composting Worms. How do they work?

Before I knew her, my friend R went on our favorite radio show (Too Beautiful to Live) and encouraged people to begin their own worm farms. It planted a seed in my head even though I was an apartment dweller with no need for soil at the time.

As soon as I bought my house with the intention of having an organic garden, I knew I would have to get some composting worms.

If you have an interest in creating some good soil for your garden or potted plants and/or want to reduce the amount of waste you throw into a landfill, then composting worms are an ideal solution. They take up little space, are relatively inexpensive, and can be kept indoors.

You can make your own worm bin for under $50, but I chose to go with the Worm Factory, which I bought at Ace Hardware for under $100.

It came with stacking bins, a spigot for collecting "worm tea" (a nutrient rich water, used as a fertilizer), bedding... basically, everything you need to get started, except for the worms. You can order the worms directly from Ace or search for another seller online.

The ideal worm for composting indoors is the red wiggler. They don't like sunlight and they like to live together in clusters. Earthworms are not good because they like to be away from other worms. It's not a good idea to dig up a bunch of worms from your yard and throw them in the bin.

After the worms are settled in their home, the rest is pretty easy. They just need to be fed once in a while, be given some airspace, and be kept moist. I worried over the worms at first, which didn't make me very popular with the worms (they don't like to be disturbed by bright light) and I found it's pretty unnecessary.

It takes months for the worms to make enough castings (i.e. worm poo / soil) to put in the garden. I'm basically waiting for next year to use the soil.

When I told him about the worms, my Uncle J said I now have livestock. That cracked me up... it's probably the only livestock I can handle, but it's perfect for urban dwellers.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Colt & Gray

Amazing restaurants abound in Denver. I didn't really appreciate it until I started traveling through Kansas and Nebraska, where the chain restaurant is king.

Some of you have already heard my drooling account of Colt & Gray, so I thought I would post a couple photos. This is my fancy martini and the beet burgers. The buns were surprisingly sweet, the beets finely chopped, and goat cheese made a flavorful condiment. Culinary perfection in a small package.

I can't stop thinking about the joy of eating Bacon Cashew Carmel Corn.

I'm not a big fan of swine- if I never ate another pork chop, slice of jamon, or pork rib, I wouldn't cry about it. Seriously, I'd shrug my shoulders and head for the chocolate fountain. Bacon, though, bacon is the exception. Yet, shockingly, I thought I was over bacon. I mean, it's the ubiquitous restaurant ingredient of the moment. This dish totally changed my mind.

After that, I was so distracted by the Roasted Marrow Bones, Cavatelli, and Caramelized Banana Tart with Chocolate-Hazelnut Crust that I totally forgot to take pictures. You'll just have to go there yourself.

The post should end there, but I have to put in a word for the knowledgeable servers who are enthusiastic about the food. Our waiter LOVED the food. LOVED it. I can't blame him because I loved it, too.

What are you waiting for? Get your ass over there.

Small Things Are Cute- Even Veggies

You can't deny it- this squashling is damn cute.

Carrotlings and beetlings had to be thinned out, which made for a great salad with deer tongue and flame lettuce.

This tomato plant gets it. It's producing like gangbusters... the others are more cautious.

Like this guy:

"I think I'll start with one tomato. Don't want to get all crazy with it."

I think the wind destroyed one plant- it doesn't look so hot, but I'm afraid to pull it out just in case it sneaks in some Miracle Grow when I'm not looking.

The winter squash is making a break for it. It's totally my fault for not giving it better boundaries and more space. Next year, I'll put more into our relationship.

The cilantro grew and produced lovely white flowers while I was on the road neglecting the garden.

The bees like it, as you can see, so it's going to stay for awhile. All my peas inexplicably died. The eggplants and some of the peppers have yet to flower. I wonder what August will bring and if I'll have anything besides lettuce, green tomatoes, and squash.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Carhenge- seriously!

Carhenge is the perfect place to pause during a long drive through Nebraska. It's quirky, it's free, and it offers the opportunity to stretch your legs after being cramped up in a car for a few hours. The sculptor certainly had attention to detail, recreating many features of the original Stonehenge.

It looks like the top cars are stuck in traffic on the car superhighway.

Is that the car from Harry Potter?

There are a couple of random sculptures next to Carhenge. This salmon is my favorite.

Soaker Hose Sucker.

Procrastination has prevented me from sharing some large developments in my grand garden experiment. I decided to put the second plot in a part of the lawn where I should have put both lots. I decided against it initially because it was close to the highway and street. I worried about contamination. I've decided this doesn't matter a whole lot. In the future, I think I might move the trees and a random bush, so the whole space can be used for gardening.

The main issue for any garden, especially one with an itinerant overseer, is water. I decided to try the very popular soaker hose and a digital water timer.

The first soaker hose was a bit of a disaster. It was a sturdy rubber type hose with a different texture than a standard hose. Water came out too hard from the holes at the top section and water did not make it to the holes at the end. It also left heavy trail marks in the earth where it sat. This ended up creating extensive errosion, resulting in seed movement.

I returned the hose and bought a different soaker hose, which was an improvement.

I wasn't completely satisfied, but decided I needed to get another soaker hose for the second garden plot. When I went to the local garden store (not a big box), a salesperson showed me how to make my own sprinkler system out of plastic hoses.

What the what? You can do that? I had no idea. First of all, I'm not that handy and it seemed like a complex project. I followed the sale guy's instructions and built my own irrigation system in less than an hour- in the dark!

It works great and I can put the sprinklers right where I need them to be. Combined with an awesome digital water timer that I got on sale, I couldn't be happier. The supplies cost about $65, but I have a lot of leftover pipe that I can use for other plots. Now, I just need to work on the system for the first bed. Currently, I'm using a regular sprinkler ($3), which works better than a soaker hose ($8-$10). Tomatoes, squash, and some other plants prefer to be watered at their base, so the sprinkler isn't the best option for them. My squash plants are mildewing a little from the irrigation system, but I think when they get taller, this should work itself out.

I picked some of the lettuce and spinach. The first success of the garden!

I scatter planted the carrots and they seem to be growing well- very excited for the carrots!

Things are starting to flower, so my hopes are high. This tomato has some flower buds.

Chile pepper with a small white flower hanging down.

The peas are also growing up like crazy. I didn't realize they needed a support, but read that branches work well. I had just cut down a small invader tree-like thing, which made perfect supports.

I'm excited that things are growing. I'm still not sure of the identity of some plants (are they weeds or something I planted?). I have identified one particular weed, which is deeply rooted and hard to get out. Other than that, I'm letting things grow until I can identify them. The soaker hose caused some of the seeds to move in the first bed and that's partly why I'm confused. The other part is, well, I don't know what I'm doing.

Lastly, I started a composting system with worms, but we'll save that for another time.