Poem for April: Chicago


Carl Sandburg

HOG Butcher for the World,

Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,

Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;

Stormy, husky, brawling,

City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I

have seen your painted women under the gas lamps

luring the farm boys.

And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it

is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to

kill again.

And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the

faces of women and children I have seen the marks

of wanton hunger.

And having answered so I turn once more to those who

sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer

and say to them:

Come and show me another city with lifted head singing

so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.

Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on

job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the

little soft cities;

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning

as a savage pitted against the wilderness,





Building, breaking, rebuilding,

Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with

white teeth,

Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young

man laughs,

Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has

never lost a battle,

Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse.

and under his ribs the heart of the people,


Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of

Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog

Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with

Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

Having lived on the East Coast, where they think they are the be-all end-all of the country, I love the adolescent spit-in-your-face nature of this poem. There is a lot of swagger in this, which makes it fun to recite.

Books read in April

Argh! I’ve written none of these summaries. Usually I’ve done about half of them. What WAS I doing in April? I’m giving myself 12 minutes to write these, that’s one minute per post. Here goes.


Half the Sky
Kristof and WuDenn
Very hard to read in places, but with a hopeful message and also a handy four step action plan for you to do something constructive at the end.

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society
Mary Ann Schaffer & Annie Barrows
I never wondered how the residents of the island of Guernsey fared during World War II but I was very interested in reading about their plight. This was a great “letters back and forth” book and I’m sad that the woman who wrote it became too sick to finish this book, much less write another one, as this was delightful.

Water Woman
Lenore Hart
Well written, but depressing. Very. But you can tell from the first chapter, so you know what you are signing up for.

Her Fearful Symmetry
Audrey Niffenegger
So good! It has twins! And ghosts! And a cemetery! And is set in London! I wasn’t enthralled with the ending, but enjoyed the rest so much I recommend it.

Love’s Labor’s Lost
William Shakespeare
Shakespeare. Still boring to read, but much fun to see in the Shoebox theater.

Naturally Thin
Bethenny Frankel
A really cool bike columnist recommended this book as a very good “normal healthy eating” guide. It has a really awful title, but did I mention that the bike columnist is cool? Because of how cool she is, I ignored the lame title and got it from the library. When it arrived, I was disturbed to find out that a reality TV star wrote it. I hadn’t heard of her then, but now I see her everywhere. Aside from that, some good tips and her focus on real food was refreshing.

Strong Waters: a simple guide to making beer, wine, cider and other spirited beverages at home.
Scott Mansfield
Good, beginners guide though relies a lot on already bottled juices.

Started but did not finish:

Inside Secrets of Finding a Teaching Job
Jack Warner
Dated, but good, advice.

Knife Skills in the Kitchen
Charlie Trotter
Lots of pretty pictures.

The Sea is so Wide and My Boat is so Small
Marian Wright Edelman
I read the “for teachers” chapter and called it good.

Create an Oasis with Greywater
Art Ludwig
Someday this book will come in handy. Ludwig doesn’t mince words about bad ideas in greywater. He also tells you how to put the good ideas in place.

Growing Up: A Classic American Childhood
Marilyn vos Savant
Kind of dumb. A bunch of lists that every American child should do.

Hah! Five minutes left.

Three sentence movie reviews: A Town Called Panic

Who knew stop motion animation, and the Belgians, could be so funny? This is worth seeking out for its wacky storyline and hilarious dialogue. If your child understands French, or is a fast reader, they might be able to read the subtitles and enjoy this movie; if not, you will have to enjoy it yourself.

poster from: http://www.impawards.com/2009/town_called_panic.html


I love the Parade Magazine which comes in our Sunday paper as a supplement. It’s so insubstantial in its coverage, even when it is trying to be a weekend magazine of record. Every Sunday morning I read it while eating breakfast.

In today’s edition, I was interested to discover this ad selling a cookbook.

Here’s what got me: “With hundreds of servants at her command…” I’m not a fan of the over/misuse of the dot, dot, dot, but what really got me like a kick in the stomach was the term “servants.” How could Martha Washington afford those hundreds of servants? Oh yes, because she didn’t have to pay them because they were SLAVES!
I don’t judge Washington, Jefferson or any other of our historical, quasi-mythical “founding fathers” for their ownership of other humans. At the time it was what was done throughout history, and all over the world. To expect them to act otherwise would not be in keeping with the realities of the time. Slavery was a horrible part of our country’s history and we are still living with the ramifications today. But let’s not just gloss over it by referring to humans held in bondage as servants. I find it disrespectful and disturbing.

Three sentence movie reviews: Twilight

Wow, is it that everyone is a bad actor, or is the script the problem? I found this movie visually pretty, for which I think we have to thank Catherine Hardwicke, but ultimately not a very good way to spend two hours. Not that I was surprised by that.

poster from: http://www.impawards.com/2008/twilight.html

Apovecho Lecture

On Saturday, we had a lecture of Permaculture theory given by Tao. This was interesting because many people at the workshop were not familiar with Permaculture so there were a lot of questions. There was also a skeptic in the group–his wife had brought him along and he was kind of a contrary person in general–and it was interesting to hear Tao, and the others in the group, answer his questions. After the lecture, we split up into groups for a Permaculture exercise.
Then we went outside to do some planting. Half of us planted more of their food forest incorporating plants from several different layers. This part of a wikipedia article gives more information about layers.

Abel & Tao pose for pictures. Abel’s mother, Katie Radditz, can be see partially on the left. She is the Director of Adult Programs at church and how I got to see Aprovecho.

The other half of our group planted artichokes using the cardboard/hay/no dig method that I am quite familiar with, having converted the rest of our grass over the winter using this method.

After our activity, people began to drift off, but some of us took a short hike. Some of us made moss beards while on the hike.

The weekend I spent at Aprovecho was rejuvenating and inspiring and I hope to visit again soon.

Aprevecho Fish Operation


One of the bridges crossing the creek on the property.

Here’s an inside look at the aquaculture operation. When they arrive , the fish will go in these two tanks. The water in the tanks will circulate through the tanks and then through a series of channels which will be planted with plants that feed the fish. Aside from feeding the fish, the plants will clean the water so it can circulate back into the fish tanks.

This is the area where water will flush through at regular intervals. They can grow food, like tomatoes, hydroponically this way. It will already be naturally fertilized because the fish have been using the water.

Another view of the troughs. If you watch the video that is currently on the front page of the website, you can see a glimpse of these planted at about 30 seconds.

One of the things that impressed me about the people of Aprovecho was their willingness to research and try new things. No one had set up an Aquaculture system before, or built a cistern, but they did their research and did it. It was a good reminder to me that I don’t have to be an expert before I start, just well informed and armed with a plan.

Aprevecho Common House

Here’s a look at the common house which was not yet completed. The lumber to build the house was cut and milled on site and they have been working on the interior over the winter. There is a classroom upstairs, and downstairs is a big open space and room for the library. They have used natural finishes likes cobb and beeswax, so when we walked in, everything smelled amazing.

A look at one of the wall sconces and the ceiling of the classroom.

Another view of the staff houses (right, rear) and a cabin that was there when the property was first purchased. One of the interns lives in there now.

A look at the layers of the common house.

Abel shows us their new cistern. Rainwater from the common house is piped into this cistern and then is used to water the plants in the summer. Permaculture theory encourages at least two sources for things, just in case one becomes unavailable. So for water, they currently have running city water and also a creek they could use if they have to. Now that they have the cistern, they have one more way to get clean water. They would like to have a series of cisterns to supply all of their water needs, eventually.

Aprovecho Second Look

After lunch, Tao and Abel gave us a tour of Aprovecho and explained how the property’s mission had grown and changed over the years. Tao and Abel were both very good at explaining permaculture concepts and Aprovecho’s philosophy. They were very good guides/teachers.
This area is at the bottom of their one acre garden. It was very mushy and always had a good amount of standing water. Rather than trying to drain and garden it, they let it remain swampy and mushy and it has grown into this great wetlands zone all by itself. Permaculture theory is interested in where zones meet, as that is where there is the most diversity in species. Whereas some growers would grumble about the loss of land, they are happy to let the land do what it wants to do.
They have a very large chicken run that extends down one whole side of their garden. The chickens (and ducks) thus form a barrier on one side of the garden for insects that might wander through. Also, during the winter, the chickens and ducks are allowed to roam through the garden where they eat a lot of insect eggs and also their droppings fertilize the garden.
Another view of the chicken/duck run.
The chicken house is also designed with multiple doors. The raspberries are planted near the chicken house and a solar fence can be put out around them so that the chickens can come out an alternate door and scratch in the raspberries. Abel reports that this has improved their raspberry crop a lot.
We enjoyed the chickens a lot, though we were very city folk and kept not closing the gate to the run.
Abel and Tao didn’t mind too much.
Here Abel is talking about planting things with an eye toward multiple uses, which is another Permaculture principle. Here is a filbert bush. In commercial growing, filberts (a.k.a. hazelnuts) are trained into a tree-like structure for ease of harvesting. At Aprovecho, they have let them grow into its natural form, because then they can not only harvest the nuts, but also can cut and use the branches for items such as fences.
This is one of their milling areas. When it comes time to cut trees, they are cut with a two-man crosscut saw. Then the logs are pulled to the milling site by horses. A portable sawmill comes and cuts the lengths needed. Then they are dried in the solar dryer.

A look back at the buildings.

Here are some logs inoculated with mushroom spores. Once the plugs are inserted, they can grow mushrooms for a year or two.
In discussing the layers during the weekend, I realized I have not been paying attention to the fungal layer at all in my own Permaculture design. I’ll have to remedy that.

More Aprovecho to follow.

Aprevecho. First Look.

Mini vacation! I signed up for a weekend Permaculture workshop at Aprovecho, which is outside of Cottage Grove, Oregon. Aprovecho, which has come up more than once in my permaculture research, is a non-profit research and education center.

I drove up with Jason Miller, who runs Peaceful Media (a “lovely lil‘ web, video and graphic design firm” as his web site tells us.) In our conversation on the way up, it turned out that he and co-authored a book, Project Everlasting: Two Bachelors Discover the Secrets of America’s Greatest Marriages. It turned out that I had heard of this book because it was featured in the local paper. We had a nice chat on the way up. He also enjoyed the biscuits I made.
When we arrived, we settled in and enjoyed a delicious lunch. Here is a short tour.
The Straw Bale Dorm. This is where people stay when they come for workshops. I stayed upstairs in a lovely, cozy warm room. Downstairs is the kitchen/dining/common room and also two self-contained composting toilets and a shower.
This is the meeting house. It was recently built and was not quite finished when I visited. All the buildings at Aprovecho are built from lumber milled on site and the wood is dried in a solar dried kiln. You’ll see inside of it later.
The self-contained composting systems are a bit stinky, as they are designed to process more solid waste than liquid waste. The liquid waste converts quickly into an ammonia smell, which is not very fun. So we were encouraged to use the outdoor toilets. These are different than outhouses, in that they are modeled on humanure principles. Instead of a toilet seat over a deep pit, there is a five gallon bucket. Nearby there is sawdust to sprinkle on your waste. When the bucket gets full, it is dumped in one of the two compost piles, the gates of which are on the right of the structure below. After compost pile is full, another one begins and the full pile is left alone for a year to compost. After a year of hot composting, it ceases to be waste and is full of nutrients. They compost it again to remove all pathogens and then use it to fertilize their bamboo and other items that are not eaten. This is a great system because 1)It doesn’t smell, not at all and 2)It takes all the water out of the waste management process. Want to learn more about humanure? You can download the e-book for free. Go to here: (http://humanurehandbook.com/store/THE-HUMANURE-HANDBOOK.html)
There are three couples who live at Aprovecho full time. They each have their own house,which can be seen in this picture. There are two small children who live on site and they were fun to chat with during mealtimes.
In the front of this picture, you can see the human powered blender, which was used to make the salsa for our lunch. Behind the blender is the water for the aquaculture project. It is being inoculated in preparation for the arrival of the tilipa. You will see more of that project later too.
A look at the yard on the side of the straw bale house. There is a cherry tree in bloom.
Our delicious lunch: a salad of green fresh from the garden and a burrito.
Generally, Aprovecho logs enough wood from their property for all their heating needs. However, this year they ran short and bought some wood which arrived just after we did. The people in our group formed a “log brigade” line and the wood was unloaded and stacked in a jiffy.
More log brigade.
Inside their kitchen, is this door. I knew what it was before I opened it, due to all my permaculture reading.
Here is a natural way to keep things cool without a refrigerator. The door opens to a screened in area that lets the outside air keep the items cool, but keeps the flies off. The shaded porch keeps the area cool, even during relatively hot weather. They also had a refrigerator outside on the porch.
This is a “truth window” on the way up the stairs to the rooms. It shows the straw bale construction.
The mail and other things area in the main room. Note that I have almost that exact same orange chair in my house.
The wood stove used for both cooking and warmth. We did a lot of sitting around it.
In the kitchen they have an island and under that island is a hay box cooker. The idea is that you heat up what you want to cook (in this case beans and rice) to boiling, then place it in an insulated box. The insulation cooks the food slowly, much like a crockpot, over a period of time. Much less fuel is used this way.
The five gallon buckets scattered around the main space were storage for beans and grains. They also made great stools for sitting on while eating.