Stacking Functions Garden

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Book Review: Freedom Manifesto

The Freedom Manifesto
How to free yourself from anxiety, fear, mortgages, money, guilt, debt, government, boredom, supermarkets, bills, melancholy, pain, depression, work and waste
By Tom Hodgkinson

That’s a bit of a tall order, isn’t it?  Hopefully it’s obvious to anyone who picks this book up that most of the advice within should be taken with a grain of salt, and preferably, a large glass of wine.

There are so many one-liners in this book, it was hard to choose the best ones.  For example:

“I am anti-crime, but not because I morally disapprove of law-breaking — in fact, I am attracted to criminals… I am against crime because it feeds straight into the government system: for every crime committed, there is a tenfold attack on personal liberties… Therefore, the real anarchist should avoid criminal acts at all costs.”

Each chapter of this book easily stands on its own as an essay, and maybe it’s better to take them that way: some of them directly contradict each other.   For example, one chapter encourages you to embrace melancholy, while the next chapter tells you to quit whining and get on with your life.

But he doesn’t take himself too seriously.  In particular, I liked what he had to say about gardening (naturally), which he brings up many times.  He sees gardening as one of the keys to finding contentment, saving money, and —  best of all — giving the finger to supermarkets, which he piles a whole chapter’s worth of hatred on.  He also highly recommends the combination of drinking and gardening, and I can testify to that.

Hodgkinson is VERY well read.  There are no shortage of long-winded passages from many different philosophers from Nietzsche to Tomas Aquinas to the Sex Pistols.  He talks endlessly about the wonders of “being idle” but it is very clear that he actually keeps quite busy.  It’s just that he’s busy doing the things he wants to do (such as gardening, baking bread, drinking, and reading).

So how does one go about achieving this elusive freedom?  Basically, it’s about embracing thrift so that you don’t have to work so damn hard.   Quit your job and work part-time.  Sell your car.  Ride a bike.  Plant a garden.  Throw out your television. Give up the bourgeois ideals of career and large home, embrace simple pleasures.  (The sustainability aspect of this is also not lost on him.)

One of Hodgkinson’s central arguments is that people actually knew a lot more about personal freedom in the middle ages than they do today.  Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  But many aspects of medieval society did encourage more personal freedom:  for example, charging interest for loans was a sin — usury — punishable by the church.  Think about that for a minute.

I’m not so sure that life was a giant party in the middle ages, as Hodgkinson seems to think, but we have in many ways lost sight of things that medieval people valued, and we constantly sell ourselves short by accepting crappy food, crappy jobs, and crappy entertainment without question.

Hodgkinson has a real problem with the Reformation (in a hilarious way), and tears down all those pillars of common [puritan] sense, from John Calvin to Benjamin Franklin, of whom he says this (in a chapter about throwing away your watch):

“Time and money, which the medievals tried to hard to keep separated, have come together into one thing.  How did the change happen?  Well, as in other areas, I am going to blame that dastardly toiler and moralist Benjamin Franklin, who invented or expressed an entirely new way of thinking about time in the eighteenth century.  Time was no longer a gift from God.  Now, time was money.”

Some other advice that I absolutely loved:
– Instead of worrying about how clean your house is, turn off the lights and dine by candlelight
– Throw out your TV and spend the money you save on alcohol
– Don’t waste your time being jealous of rich bankers, because they’re going to hell anyway.  They deserve your pity (see the sin of usury, above).

I loved the irreverance of this book.  The only thing that made me a little bit sad and bitter was this fact: England, the home country of the author, has a much more hospitable environment for being a part-time freelance worker for the simple fact that they have national healthcare.

But just because I must continue to work does not mean I can’t live for every moment outside of work that is available to me.  As Hodgkinson says (quoting William Blake), “Indeed, the manacles are mind-forg’ed.”

Why NOT embrace thrift?  Why NOT embrace community?  I love it.

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Recipe: autumn squash soup

This is a great “using up a bunch of stuff from the CSA box” recipe.  It is also very versatile.  Adapted from the Autumn Squash Barley soup recipe in the St. Martin’s Table cookbook.


Autumn Squash Soup

1/4. c. yellow split peas
3 c. stock or water
1/2 c. brown rice or barley

Cook peas and grain in water or stock until both are tender.  Meanwhile:

1 T. oil or butter
1/2 c. onions, chopped
1 leek, chopped (or 1 celery stalk)

Saute the onions and leek until soft and translucent.

2 med. parsnips, chopped
2 c. squash, peeled, seeded and diced
2 sm. turnips, chopped
1 kohlrabi, chopped

Add these vegetables to the sauteed onions, then cover with water or stock and simmer until soft.

Mix the vegetables and grains/split pea mixture together in a stock pot, and add all your seasonings:

2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. thyme
1 T. sherry or white wine (optional)
1/2 tsp. ground coriander or cumin
1/2 tsp. celery seed

Mix everything together, cook for a couple more minutes, and then give it a whirl in the food processor or blend with a hand-held blender.  That last step is optional and the SMT cookbook didn’t mention it, but it does look prettier this way.  We ate ours really thick, but you could thin it down a bit with some extra water or stock if you like.

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New plant labels


Inspired by my friend Christina, we picked up some spoons from Savers, pounded them flat, and now they are beautiful plant labels.  Wanted to get some of these tender new perennials labeled so I know where to look in the spring.  Don’t know if they’ll come back or not.  Nice, huh?

Christina took the extra step of actually etching plant names onto the surface of the spoon, but I just used a permanent marker.

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Movie review: The future of food


I knew I was going to be angry when I watched this movie.  The Future Of Food was made in 2004, so it is a bit of a pre-cursor to movies like Food, Inc and Fresh.

The main focus of this movie is genetically modified foods, and there is more than enough bad news here to fill a full-length documentary.  They discuss the process for how scientists get cells to accept these new genes: apparently, the genes have to be attached to some sort of virus that will invade the cell and set up shop.  The cell is altered in many ways other than just the addition of the new trait.

Is this a necessarily bad or dangerous?  The problem is:  we don’t know.  We have no idea.  They’ve done very little testing, and some studies that have shown negative effects on animal test subjects have been immediately squashed by industry.

The film explores many of the aspects of these wide and varied problems.  Among them:

Because the US allows patents on living organisms, Monsanto (our major agriculture corporation) owns the rights to all these plants.  But unfortunately plants reproduce themselves.  So once that seed is out in the world, if it accidentally spreads to your yard, Monsanto can hold you liable for growing their product without a license.  Several farmers are interviewed who have been sued for this very thing.

The very fact that these plants are reproducing themselves out there in the world is also a huge problem.  Stands of old-world strains of corn, wheat, etc. are being contaminated.  In the film they test some corn in a remote location in Mexico (a country which is fighting HARD against GMO’s).  They find some of the mutant Monsanto genes in the corn.

This is especially scary since Monsanto currently holds patents on several genes known as “terminator genes.”  These render all seeds that a plant produces sterile.  Hence, you can’t save seeds to re-use them for next year. You must buy next year’s seed.  Imagine the consequences if these became widely used, and genes started spreading far and wide.  75% of farmers in the world save and re-use seed.  You think we have starvation issues now?

When the film was made, five years ago now, the fight against GMOs was in its infancy in the US.  I’d like to think we’ve made some progress.  However, GMOs still do not require labelling, which would be such an important first step towards creating a database of known reactions to them.

If you feel anywhere near as passionately about this as I do, please check out the Institute for Responsible Technology for more information.

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Confession time

Sometimes, even on CSA night when you have a ton of fresh veggies to use, you end up feeding your kids this:


Macaroni & cheese.  Hot dogs.  Ketchup.  Two little pieces of lettuce (they actually do like lettuce).  Everything is organic, but still.  I guess that’s what happens when Daddy’s got a work event during suppertime.  Kids really do love junk food: they completely gobbled it up.  I’ve never seen them eat so much.  They each ate an entire hot dog and between them split almost a whole box of mac & cheese.  Dang.

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Tree removal

We had four trees removed from our backyard today.  Two were dead and two were dying.  I hate to cut down trees, but when they’re sickly there’s no point in keeping them around.   Before:






A separate crew will come back and grind the stumps in a few days.  Our backyard is looking so sunny now that I’m starting to draw mental plans for major garden expansion.  It’s probably not quite as sunny as I’m picturing, though.  The apple tree should get a lot more fresh air and sunshine now; saving it was a big part of why we chose to do this.

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Another rain barrel platform option

A little over a month ago, we installed a new rain barrel on the SW corner of our house.  We’ve had one on the SE corner for a few years, but we had never gotten around to building a platform for it.  Adam was doing some backyard cleanup today and decided to make a platform out of some old cedar 4×4’s that have been laying around for years.  The design is slightly different than the one we built in August:

rainbarrel1It’s much more free-form.  Adam cut 12 22-inch long pieces and stacked them as you see here.


There are four landscaping bricks underneath the bottom two pieces of wood.  He made sure the stack was very level and sturdy before setting the rain barrel on it:


Rain barrels are so much nicer to use when they are raised up like this.  They can power soaker hoses, and it’s also just a lot easier to get every last precious drop of water out of them, even if you’re just filling watering cans.

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What I’m reading right now

So, even though my Recommended Reading section is badly in need of an update, I will skip updating it so I can spend some more time… reading tonight.  Here’s what I’m reading (yes, all three simultaneously):

homecheesemaking Home Cheesemaking
Recipes for 75 homemade cheeses

by Ricki Carroll

OK I am only in the opening chapters of this one so far.  I have not tried any of the recipes yet.  But my next trip to the co-op, I’m picking up some rennet and other supplies so we can try a simple one this weekend or next — maybe mozzarella?  What’s the easiest cheese to start with?
Edible Forest Gardens (a two-volume set, of which I only have the second volume right now)
by Dave Jackie and Eric Toensmeier
I’ve mostly just looked at the pictures so far in this one, but even just one of the diagrams I looked at had me all excited.  It was a drawing of a sample permaculture-style garden, with a chicken coop on one end of it, and then a little enclosed “chicken run” going all the way around the garden.  That way the chickens get some fresh air and exercise, and poop all over the edges of your garden, and also eat bugs.  I love the way permaculture maximizes the benefits of every single part of the mini-ecosystems that are our yards.  If I can talk Adam into it, chickens will be on the agenda for us in 2010.  That is a big if.

freedomanifesto The Freedom Manifesto
by Tom Hodgkinson

This is more for pleasure reading.  Maybe the connection to home economics is as tenuous as bowling is to Vietnam, but I’m drawing all sorts of really great insights from this book.  Best of all, it is absolutely hilarious.  Sample advice from the book: Embrace anarchy.  Play a ukelele. I’m finding all sorts of connections between this book, capitalism 1.0, and the idea of creating something (anything) as one of the keys to human contentment.

I am making the commitment, right here, right now to review each one of these as I finish it.  Then I will update my recommended reading page.