I'll do it the way I want to.
Just a Chingona. Dwelling. Digging. Dining. Daring.
Just a Chingona. Dwelling. Digging. Dining. Daring.
This post first appeared on The Chingona Homesteader,©2017 TheChingonaHomesteader.com
I feel like it's necessary for me to clarify something here. It's not that I'm completely out of touch with plants and what they can do. Both my grandmothers, in addition to being farmworkers for much of their lives, kept beautiful gardens filled with plants that fed and healed their families.
All my life, I've used plants like aloe, roses, mint and bougainvillea to help myself and my family stay healthy. I love plants and have devoted many, many hours to the study of herbalism-I even have some certification in the area. Really!
I believe in the power of plants. I've just never been able to actually grow any.
As we've been preparing to move into the new-to-us, 100-year-old house, I've wondered if I might finally be able to do any successful planting. Much of the house sits perched on a lush canyon, which in itself is like having a maintenance-free garden. Other than that, there's only an eensy dirt-patch to play around with.
Could I actually grow anything here? If so, what?
I have no idea. But I do know someone who does.
Part of the process of renovating a century-old bungalow is putting myself in the shoes of the people who designed and built my house in the first place. I've lost track of how many of my soon-to-be neighbors have either politely asked, "Hmmm, so...you're ALL going to live there?" or have just straight up told me they think I'm crazy. But here's what I know that they probably also know, if they stopped to think about it: our little bungalow was DEFINITELY designed for a family at least the size of mine. How do I know? For one thing, I've lived in this neighborhood nearly all my life, in at least five homes from the same era. I know that people didn't used to need 1,000 square feet of space per family member. Children shared bedrooms. EVERYONE shared one bathroom-luxury! Our "tiny" bungalow was designed with a dining room AND a breakfast nook off the kitchen (which is enormous by bungalow standards). Also, and this is downright extravagant for the area, we have a CELLAR.
Back in the day, the original family put very shallow redwood shelves along the walls in the cellar (which, admittedly, needs a redo). The first time I went down there, I could almost see the rows of mason jars filled with beans, strawberry jam and, er, whatever else grows around here (I'm still working on that radish). It really helped me forget about the rat poop that was also down there for a minute!
Suddenly, I thought, "Hey there, what if I became a CANNER? What if I not only learned how to grow some food but PRESERVE it? You know, for the winter!" I know, we don't actually have winter here, but sometimes it's fun to play pretend. I started thinking about WHAT I could can: definitely my spaghetti sauce (I'm actually pretty good at that). Maybe pickles? How hard could pickles be?
I slowly started picking up canning supplies whenever I spotted a bargain. I checked out books from the library and watched Youtube videos on the various methods. Then last weekend I finally had some time to give it a go. I was going to try spaghetti sauce. That was my FINAL DECISION.
Then I came home to this:
Our lovely neighbors are the drop-off house for the local CSA. Seems at least one person didn't pick up their box of fresh, locally grown organic veggies. So they brought all the leftovers to us. Yay?
Now I had at least $40 worth of fresh fruits and veggies to deal with, which would be fantastic, except I'd just packed my fridge with produce from the organic co-op I belong to. Change of plans!
I broke out my new pressure cooker (which I'd snapped up for a song on Ebay but had, until that point, been too scared to use) and spent the entire day processing and canning the stuff on my counter. Yes, me!
ME, CANNING. When I was done I had this:
The cucumbers and onions became bread and butter pickles. Because I'd just bought one of those small crates of cuties, I turned the oranges into marmalade (which was surprisingly simple and delicious!). I'm pretty sure I managed a botulism-and-listeria-free seal. Those two butternut squash? No match for my pressure cooker!
All my childhood and adolescence, whenever we'd visit Mama Lola and Papa (in the photo above) in Oxnard, we'd leave with a jar or two of my grandfather's salsa. He was very proud of his secret recipe, and home-grown ingredients. When I was a kid I'd always assumed that my grandmother had done all the canning, but in the decade after she died, my grandfather continued to replenish the salsa supply in a cupboard in his garage. Which means that he was the one who did the canning. My grandfather died just after my daughter, Lola, was born. She's in high school now. Until last weekend, it never occurred to me that I'd never actually seen him preserve anything he kept in the garage. I spent nearly half my childhood in their house.
When the hell were they canning?
As you may know, we have spent the summer renovating a 100-year-old bungalow. What you may not know is that the bungalow is less than half the size of the home we sold. In preparing to go from 2200 to just over 1000 square feet of living space for our family of 4, we knew we'd have to downsize. So, while we were selling our old, too-big house, we also decided to sell more than half of what was in it.
Look around your home. How much of it do you really need, much less want? No, really though.
When I looked around our old house I felt so overwhelmed by it all. Once I decided to get rid of it, there was the teensy matter of just how I was going to make that happen.
I realize the path we took was a bit extreme, but it was one of the most liberating experiences of my life. While I would never use the word "minimalist" to describe myself, I am glad to say I won't be a candidate for Hoarders anytime soon.
My friend (and podcast co-host) Sue recently went through a virtually identical epiphany. Mine is leading us to a downsized bungalow and (I think? I hope?) a wee homestead. Hers led her to another state.
Check out the episode of our podcast "Did I Just Eat That Out Loud?" in which we discuss how we both decided it was time to scale down, slow down and calm down. Of course, we both did it the way we wanted to.
We've all got to start somewhere.
The name of this blog suggests that I have some type of Homestead Cred, yes?
Yes, I have some mad skills when it comes to homemaking, downsizing, decorating (I've been a professional interior designer for nearly 20 years now) and I'm a decent cook. This helps create the illusion among my friends that I'm some kind of Chicana Martha Stewart. Which is pretty sweet, so I don't make waves.
Here's what I don't tell them:
1. I can't sew a stitch, so slipcovers are not going to be happening.
In fact, anything not involving Stitch Witchery is not going to be happening.
2. I can't bake worth a damn.
My husband claims I have "oven amnesia", meaning: something about closing an oven door seems to erase my memory of ever having put anything in there. The moment that door's closed, I want to leave the house, go clean out the car or re-organize my closets. Consequently, in the new house? There will be no oven.
That's right, it's called The Chingona Homesteader for a reason, folks.
3. It seems I possess some kind of Electromagnetic Touch of Death for Plants.
I have never touched a plant I haven't killed. "What about spider plants?" I hear you ask, "What about ferns? Geraniums? Cacti?" Not one has escaped my deadly grasp.
What's so maddening/embarrassing is that generations of women and men in my family have mastered
every one of the elusive arts listed above. My grandfather made and canned his own salsa from vegetables he grew in his backyard. My mother made her own wedding dress. GAH! Until now, my failing in these areas is a fact I've carefully hidden from my kids.
Lately, it's slowly dawned on me that, in protecting my pride, I've neglected to include my children in their own history. So there's that. Also, despite my best efforts, my kids firmly believe that pancakes are supposed to have black edges and that every plant they see is living on borrowed time.
This blog will be my best attempt to conquer those final domestic frontiers (except sewing, I can't and won't make any promises about sewing). And yes, I accept that, in the process, there's a bunch of other emotional stuff that will be unearthed (see what I did there?). My hope is that my kids will learn about their family while also learning to be at least a little self-sufficient.
How will they learn this? The same way I will: from my mistakes.
SO WHERE DO I START?
With a single radish. The one shown in the photo above, to be precise. My son brought it home at the beginning of summer in the tiniest plastic cup I have ever seen (I think it might have been one of those rinse & spit cups you get at the dentist?). It was the little science unit his 2nd grade class had done for the year: sprout a radish plant from a seed. We put it on my mom's kitchen window sill (we're staying here til we finish renovating our 100-year-old bungalow, a process I'll also be sharing here) and it has spent all summer in my care.
IT DIDN'T DIE.
I have no idea why. I cared for it the same way I've cared for every other plant I've ever encountered. Just last week, I HAD TO PUT IT IN A BIGGER POT. And it still didn't die. WTF?
Because I'm Mexican, of course I decided it was a sign to start a new blog.
So here we go. Because I've been blogging professionally for over a decade, I'm aware that there are people who, though they don't know me personally, will offer me their unsolicited advice. If you're one of those people, be warned: I probably won't take your advice or even appreciate it. If there's one thing I've learned about myself over 40 years on this planet, it's that anything I've ever done with success has been a matter of trial and error.
I am The Chingona Homesteader. I'll do it the way I want to.
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