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This Will Be Our Year, Took A Long Time To Come.

The Prefab House At Higher Ground.
Off grid, energy efficient prefab house filled with love, love, love.

This will be our year, took a long time to come.
Black-eyed peas, stewed tomatoes, collards. We Richmond-ers are a superstitious bunch!
So thrilled to ring in 2012, The Very Interesting Year.
Perfectly on time, we ended 2011 in camaraderie of old, dear friends, and newly cherished acquaintances.
Our friends, M&E, offer always a beautiful, happy Fan home, usually full o' wimmen, childrenz running wild, assorted (very) happy, handsome men in the midst, a potluck feast always spread in celebration, allowing all to catch up with old friends, while also making new. Honeychile, we cook. Men and women and childrenz cooking and eating and passing the drink, with lots of loud laughing and deep hugging.

No better tonic for our wearied souls.

We ended (and began) the year with loved ones.
Ahhhhh. Stop: This poignant moment needs a recipe, honeychiles!
For M's, a favorite I hadn't served in awhile, a perfect spicy, hearty dish to serve in this cold: As usual, I did not follow directions. Here is the proper recipe, my notes in italic. It's from (another) of my Time Life books... if you ever find them in thrift stores and love stories and culture to go along with a recipe before the world was McDonald-ized, grab 'em.

Aji De Gallina ( Chicken In Spicy Nut Sauce )
4 Servings

4 Lb Chicken, cut in quarters (Who weighs a chicken? I suspect they are larger these days, even when organic. But who knows. I just buy a whole chicken. Anything not used in this recipe gets turned into chicken salad. And then I adjust the spices / ingredients into whatever the heck looks right to me. So there!)
5 Cup Cold water
8 fresh homemade bread, Sliced, white bread type
2 Cup Milk
1 Cup Onions, finely chopped (I put more.)
1 Tsp Garlic, finely chopped (Really? Seriously? A *teaspoon?!? Yeah, right, mince up some bulbs, childrenz.)
1/4 Cup Red chili paste (Aji molido Con aceite), or 1/4 c dried, hontaka chilies, seeded and ground in a blender or pulverized with a mortar and pestle [or you could say, "Screw that! I don't even speak Spanish or know what Aji molido is! Yo: Here's a bunch (dollop, dollop, dollop... okay... another dollop) o' Mrs. E's Amish Hot Pepper Relish!) Note: NOT the sweet pepper relish, the more cayenne / mustard seed one.]
1 Cup Walnuts, shelled, ground in blender or pulverized with a mortar and pestle (I used almonds because I forgot to buy walnuts and realized it would actually be better because less people are allergic to almonds and this was for a dinner party. Mistaken win!ANOTHER NOTE: I always label ingredients when contributing to a potluck. American guests would never suspect there would be nuts in meat, I made clear the dish was 1. spicy and 2. contained nuts with a pretty note beside it.)
2 Tsp Salt (Shake that kosher after you've melded everything together, to taste. Don't forget this will all go over potatoes, and has nuts & bread to 'bland' it down... keep tasting as you finish the sauce!)
1/4 Tsp Black pepper, freshly ground
2 Tbl Annatto (achiote) oil
1/4 Cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (oh yeah right. Again: shake that baby.)
2 Lb Boiling potatoes, peeled, sliced 1/4 inch thick, freshly boiled and hot (Think: How many are you cooking for? How many casserole dishes? Ok, you need that many potatoes & chicken & ingredients to line the dish with potatoes then cover it with a thick sauce.) 
3 Hard cooked eggs, each cut, in 6 to 8 lengthwise wedges
12 Ripe black olives (do NOT let me catch you doing any of those canned bland olives!)
2 Fresh hot red chilies (Which you don't need if you just dumped a bunch o' Mrs. E's Amish relish in, obviously!)

In a heavy 4 to 5 quart saucepan, bring the chicken and 5 cups of cold water to a boil over high heat, and remove all scum from the surface. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and cook the chicken for 30 minutes, or until it is tender but not falling apart. transfer the chicken to a plate, and set the stock aside for another use. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin with a small knife or your fingers. Cut or pull the meat away from the bones.

Discard the bones, and cut the chicken meat into strips 1/8 inch wide and 1 to 1 1/2 inches long.

**TIMESAVER!** Get a cooked chicken, tear it up, then put the bones in the fridge to make stock this weekend after you're done with this! Why work until midnight on a Thursday for a Friday dinner party? And yet still no waste!

Cut the crusts from the bread and tear the slices into small pieces.
Place them in a bowl, add 1 cup of the milk and let them soak for 5 minutes. Then, with a fork or your hands, mash the bread and milk to a thick paste.

In a heavy 10 to 12 inch skillet, heat the oil over moderate heat and add the onions and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, or until the onions are soft and transparent but not brown.
Add the chili paste or ground chilies, walnuts, salt and pepper, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the annatto oil and bread paste, then gradually add the remaining cup of milk. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens. add the chicken and cheese, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the cheese melts and the chicken is heated through.

Spread the boiled potato slices side by side in a large casserole
or deep platter and spoon the chicken and sauce over them. Garnish
the top with hard cooked eggs, olives and chili strips.

NOTE: Peruvian cooks blanch and skin the walnuts–and you may,
too, if you have the patience. (Screw that! Yer losin' fiber!) Drop shelled walnuts into boiling
water and let them soak for an hour. Drain and peel them, one at a time. (Oh, yeah, *totally* how I want to spend a Thursday night. Use almonds if the walnuts are too bitter.)

From Time/Life ‘Foods of the World’, Recipes: Latin American Cooking, p.106

Did I mention Santa brought us a Mushroom Kit?

I have been thinking about mushroom logs for years now. When we toured Richmond's 2nd Annual Coop Tour this fall and I spied a mushroom log at one coop's location, I became positively jealous.
As usual, this coop is part of a home with avid gardeners
and I had *MUSHROOM LOG ENVY* when I spied these...!

I mean, the prefab house kit's north side is *perfect* for a large mushroom log!!! *And* because of the rise of the field ahead of the off grid prefab, a log could be tucked, safely elevated yet in good conditions to grow mushrooms, without marring the clean modern look of the passive solar home.

But I suspect Santa wants us to take Baby Steps on Mushroom Growin'... and we acquiesce.
So, to keep the childrenz busy with friends visiting, we started our Mushroom Bucket.
Musing on mushroom logs and all also made me think about other ways to grow mushrooms and suddenly I wondered,
From Workshop SF who has some super cool classes
on staghorn ferns, screen printing, sewing and more from
local designers and craftspeople in San Francisco.

"You know? You know how interior designers all put staghorn ferns in bathrooms because they're cool looking (I love them) and the bathroom, with its indirect light and humidity during the shower are a good environment for it... I wonder if you could do something cool and modern yet organic with mushrooms... IN THE SHOWER!" Or, at least look cool, and not be so Look I'm Growing 'Shrooms, Dudes... I consider sleek, effective options. That will probably be Part 2 as we are busy packing up the mid-century house and looking towards spring.

BUT: Before you get all grossed out, remember:
- Oh puhleez. It will be in an area that's raised, away from any contact, and sanitary.
- Now you all know that there's microbes flyin' about but do YOU keep yer toothbrush out of the bathroom? You don't? Well, then you should. Don't knock my 'shrooms.
- Of course I'm going to wash everything before cooking, and cook it well, I already do!

We're also thinking root cellars.
Here's some informative links on root cellars I found:
The key ingredients are temperature, moisture, ventilation, knowing what to store next to what, and, if possible, multiple chambers for different needs / humidity / temperatures. We want our root cellar to double as a storm shelter, so start with storm shelter plans to then compare to root cellar plans.

We happily end 2011. 
2012 will be exciting, there are even things I can't write (yet) that lead me to believe our Five Year Plan towards Higher Ground which then turned into the One Year Plan might turn into the Now Plan.

So, we're freed. 
All I can say is that routinely we are reminded why we named the land "Higher Ground."

But that doesn't mean we leave unfinished business.

“Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. And above all, thou shalt never be a bystander.” -Yehuda Bauer

We stand for what is right. Those that don't?
Dudes. You don't hit Charlottesville at your strata, unless you've already been kicked out of the Hamptons for bad behavior. And last I checked, the Hamptons has no morals... I don't want to hear about your f*d up version of what a cocktail party of bad people should civilized-ly be. You are messed up. We gravitate elsewhere.

I would like to dedicate this song to my aunt (and anyone who knew) who knowingly, willingly, encouraged and allowed this to happen to my family, to my children, on Christmas Day. Who actually did do that to us, on... Christmas.

We're [finally] starting to laugh.
But don't get me wrong. We're addressing it.
Having lifelong friends who abhor the crazy too, helps.

When you cross those lines, into our sphere, instead of just shunning us (like you so often, dramatically, love to declare), I now reserve the right to take you down. You declared war years ago, we moved on (and found ourselves so happier, without your dragging on us,  constantly) and concentrated on surrounding ourselves with good people. We were clearly too nice about it.

I embrace the Fu.
Master Ox: [in despair] It's time to surrender, panda. Kung Fu is dead.
Po:! Kung Fu is!?! Fine! You stay in your prison of fear, with bars made of hopelessness. And all you get are three square meals a day of shame!
Master Croc: With despair for dessert.
Po: We'll take on Shen. And prove to all those who are hungry for justice and honor, that Kung Fu still lives!

After this Christmas, I can turn confidently to my mom when she tries to guilt us and say, 
"Whenever you wonder why we're *so* *close* with so many people and you complain we don't have time for 'real' family? 
Well, remember that moment. You don't have the right to ask that again."

Everyone understands when you choose to feed your kids organic instead of bad food that would hurt their bodies. It's ok to choose to turn off a tv full of junk. You cut out cancer when it invades. So why the flack when we choose to surround our children with only healthy people? It's our job to make sure their spirit and minds are healthy, along with their bodies.

So many vibrant, "community," successful friends- people who are entrepreneurs, active volunteers, people who DO things in & for their cities... totally got this scenario when I vented, and came forth with their own stories. Which is why they, like we, choose to focus on those that thrive, not take, and are truly happy, giving, and make us all better for knowing, and being inspired by, each other.

Again, the irony of arriving home after that Christmas, to find a pomegranate seedling lovingly, thoughtfully, and gone-out-of-her-way-to-leave, left by Nancy R. H. on our front porch, a gift she took the time to leave while visiting her children on Christmas Day... spoke volumes.

Her note:
"Copeland--Hi. Dropped pomegranate seedling off at your house this afternoon. Attached are two photos of its mother--one shows the mature fruit, the other the over-mature (yellowish) fruit. Your baby came from under this mother shrub growing at Libbey Oliver's home in Williamsburg. Good luck with it!
May we both live long enough to eat its fruit! NP"

We focus on fruiting, and removing pests.
[Deep breath. New Year. Higher Ground.]

Handsome Husband: "I'm calling 2012 The Year Of Liberation."

New Years was great, not diminished by the recent events. But clarity, certainly. Never have we been closer or more clear as a family, because we? We've always been fine.
But you? You other, extraneous people...

So, for New Years, we had a major dance party in the living room. Which is rather an awesome living room for a dance party...

We toasted with sparking cider and real sparking and traditional food for well-being.
And then, we began dinner. Here, we believe the New Year starts with a mix of stewed tomatoes, black eyed peas, and collards.

Copeland's Stew *You* Toe-Mah-Toes
  • Dice tomatoes (I used some from the stash of  the 150lbs we canned and put away from the summer- this is a great recipe to use the whole frozen tomatoes you squirrel away- just bring up out of the freezer, blanch in hot water to remove skin, and easily dice - our daughter loves "tomato ice cream" when I start taking knives to frozen tomatoes...)
  • In a pot, melt some butter, add tomatoes.  
  • Cube 4ish pieces of white bread, add to the mix. 
  • Sprinkle with good salt. Dump in more sugar than you think is necessary (just keep tasting until it tastes right). My Stew *You* Toe-Mah-Toes should have a thick, sweet consistency where you can still taste the tomato. If it's watery at all after cooking 30-40 minutes, add more bread & stir in until melded.
This year I did something a little nontraditional and fun. First I served, in a bowl, Stew *You* Toe-Mah-Toes. 
THEN, without washing the bowls, I ladled in, after they were drained:

Copeland's Save You Soup
If you're beloved, this soup will envelop you in its nurturing warmth, strengthen your bones, and give you luck, health, and wealth in the New Year. If you're not, down this quick so it *might* help you sprint as far away from us as fast as you can go. If you remind us you exist, we will focus on you, and you don't want that, so down this healthy brew quick and start running. I have not bagged my limit this season. Give me a reason to hunt. I now have the right to do so. Feel free to print this and whine to your psychiatrist about how you fear we're about to hurt you after ruining our family Christmas because you have no boyfriend or family that wants to be around you. Your psychiatrist will read the entire years of this blog and see we're funny, strong, healthy people full of life and friends. They will instead advise you to get a life. You should.
  • Sautee sliced bacon (1/2 pkg and you *know* better than to buy anything with nitrates, right? If you're on the *other* side of our warmth I smile and softly say, "Nitrates... are... your...friend...")
  • Add 3ish bulbs minced garlic, 1, 1 1/2 onions, 4-6 carrots thinly sliced
  • Throw in 1"ish strips of collards, 4ish handfuls.
  • Remember the Aji De Gallina? You made stock from the bones and leftover flesh, right? Oh, I was too lazy to add anything but water, but let it simmer, simmer, simmer, this afternoon along with a beautiful beef bone with marrow, then threw a colander into it so eventually I could, super lazily, just ladle bones and whatnot into the colander, catching the debris, so then had just the broth remaining in the roaster to ladle into my new soup.
  • Add black-eyed peas and start your simmer, simmer, simmer.
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • At the end? Just to remind us all? A glug o' vinegar. That slightly sour taste makes the soup beautifully robust, hearty, and reminds us to focus. If you're a friend, that's a good thing. If not, run. Our senses are sharper.
Once everything is bubbly and ready, first: have a dance party.
Handsome Husband just *literally* said, "Take that, punk lady, I'm going to funk!" And turned up Johnny Guitar Watson. Oh yeah?!? Ok fine.
Dance-A-Thon, Commence.

**Yay, 2012!!!!**
2012 Has already been fortuitous: We began it with loved ones.

So excited about The Very Interesting Year!
The Year Of Liberation.

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Freed. Endings, Beginnings, Growth.

During the holidays, I love the internet - I can see how faraway friends of different faiths and cultures have their own traditions and ways on ending, then beginning, each year.

On the first night of Hanukkah my thoughts fly to London, where an old friend from New York, an Orthodox Jew, is now married raising cute English children and I wonder, with a smile, each year, what they might be doing...

I also see celebrations of Winter Solstice, and realize that even as winter deepens, spring just is a step away.

Our own family celebrates Christmas twice; on Christmas Eve we have German Christmas where we cook and nibble all day, dressed up, the silver, china (and wine) sparkling... to attend late afternoon church, then arrive back at the savory-smelling house for a long, formal dinner while opening gifts.

The following day is American Christmas. We head to my parents, then to whomever is hosting Christmas for the family that year, where cousins play football, climb trees and run wild while the adults lounge, passing hors d'oeuvres, cocktails and holiday cheer.

The week is also spent catching up with old friends visiting from out of town...
This time is dedicated not towards working hard but for cherishing time together with those you love.

Santa came while we were at church this year, and I was super surprised because we had the burglar alarm on and everything... the children quickly reasoned, "Momma, he comes down the CHIMNEY!"
Usually they have to go for a walk while I continue to cook before he is willing to brave the household!

I was amazed by how many homemade presents were under the tree from two little paste and scissor happy children. For each other, for us, so many gifts - a bowling game, numerous cards addressed to us with happy messages and art, and lots of homemade place mats...

Santa seemed to know a lot about our family - gifts of books, grape vines, an olive tree so I can dream of local olives, a mushroom grower, and lots of things to keep warm and play with in the snow, on the land.

During holiday break, you'll also find us at Maymont. 

Our favorite time to visit is in winter.
Today, the balmy temps + usual sparse off season crowd + architecture project ("Are those Doric, Ionic or Corinthian columns, children?") = another really fun win.

Although Richmond's Fan District is inundated with them, Victorian Maymont does not have truly Greek columns. But we certainly had fun looking around! Learn more about Maymont at

Donated in 1925 to Richmond, the Maymont estate is home to not just interesting architecture, but many animals. From
"Maymont exhibits include many healthy, but non-releasable, wild animals. These animals are accepted only from licensed rehabilitators and agencies that expertly nurse orphaned or injured wildlife back to health. While most rehabilitated animals are released into the wild, some animals are deemed unable to survive without assistance and find refuge at Maymont, where they serve important roles as wildlife ambassadors in education programs and exhibits. All of Maymont's animals are well cared for by a team of professional zoologists."
After again encountering the fragrant wintersweet at Maymont, I am researching how to acquire our own. Here's one local nursery that carries it, I love their description:
"An unknown, unassuming plant that delivers the same impact in your garden in gray days of winter as when you're walking thru a mall and some store (Victoria's Secret comes to mind) is pumping scent out the door! Ranking up there with magnolias, lilacs and winter honeysuckle in the scent department, the fragrance is not overpowering but spicy and lemon-like and romantic. Like lilacs, most of the year it doesn't add anything to the garden but its mass, which isn't unattractive, just not particularly noticeable. HOWEVER, the scent in the dreary dead of winter earns this plant a spot in your shrub border. "

In related news I was disheartened by the eager budding of the lilacs and some plums along my parents today! #AreYouFreakinKiddingMe
Note: Here, beautiful lilacs tell a tale of climate change.

Here's what we've done so far with our Homework On Doric, Ionic And Corinthian Columns: Charlotte Court House's Court House? Doric.

[AND designed by Thomas Jefferson!]

In The Fan? Ionic.

This Pamplin City structure?

Our Christmas Day? Neither Doric, Ionic nor Corinthian, but

This is the Christmas, and the year, we were freed. 
This is the year we finally sloughed off everything to live again, the way we should have, long ago...

Finding Nancy Ross Hugo's loving gift of a pomegranate seedling on the front porch when we got home was poetic.
Those that love you, show you in actions... those that don't... prune.
I was just saying that every plant has a story... but this plant will have special meaning, lifelong.
You just have to find the humor in it all.

We're already starting to giggle, incredulously, to each other...
No longer just passengers, we resolve to continue growing healthy children, without unhealthy influence.

Sing it. Lalalalalalalala...

Merry Christmas, sweets.
We end this year looking happily ahead, pruning shears in hand as we watch our garden grow.

Even in tough times, even in a Hard Candy Christmas, if you can *be* a friend, you'll make friends.
Full of love, then that's wealth. Merry Christmas.

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Prefab Home Brings Passive Solar Cozy Into Winter

We are happy, back on the land, at our prefab modern home:
Off grid, passive solar, cozy in thermal sunbeams and cook stove warmth despite December's chill.

Here are some winter notes from the prefab house:

Prefab house with passive solar embracing the rays
in winter, shading in summer, plus off grid systems = cozy!

As composting toilet users, we have also become sawdust connoisseurs. We now understand intimately the advantages of our Amish neighbor, Mrs. E's fine, powdery pine-scented sawdust from their sawmill, over our loose, curly-q hickory sawdust from cutting felled trees. Over the year, we learned what worked, and what doesn't work. We enter the off grid prefab sniffing as we arrive, with trepidation, after each absence, and throughout the weekend... These days we smell the pine scent of sawdust during these sealed envelope winter months as we arrive (prior to turning on ERV / fresh air exchange)... Not bad.

Another thing about composting toilets is that, like your garden compost pile, they can only compost when they have warmth. We've been impressed that, still without radiant heat, the passive solar design of the prefab has allowed our composting toilet to function this long over winter because the temperatures indoors, thanks to the passive solar prefab, are still maintained for at least minimal composting.

So. Friday: It was rainy, it was muddy, the kids were cough-y, we were exhausted... it was a good excuse NOT to go out this weekend...

Handsome Husband shot me a caged look: "I've been in the city all week. I *must* go to the land." 

So we headed out Saturday morning, and as we neared, his breathing grew easier. We pulled up to neighbors, working, and that's how Handsome Husband learned how to string a fence.

It's not "you scratch my back I scratch yours" - there's a fine line: not calling chits, but people enjoying helping because help is always there for you, also. Helping is hard work but sociable, you learn from each other, work is easier when you have company...

We're also adjusting behaviors for deer season (during rifle- Nov. 19-Jan. 7th this year)- Maybe that is just the time to hunker down inside with kids coughing and spicy chili stewing and corn bread baking and let 'em do seasonal Movie Watching.

With those coughs, the early darkness, plummets in temperature, and deer season... it's time to bed down. Time to read, to simmer stews, to watch not one but TWO movies if it keeps you calm and recovering your health.

So, no big news on the off grid prefab house kit except that we cooked and crashed.
Well, we *did* drag out the solar pipe insulation which Handsome Husband installed [which took forever to arrive (got lost, we were remiss on being on top of it, refound, slowly made its way here..)].
Passive solar sunbeams: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Lawz knows we will be flying' around the rest of the year, restless! So... rest.
Rest is hard to get used to. But if you regard it as seasonal, it allows you to draw strength, so you can run, run, run through spring, summer, fall.

Speaking of running...

Handsome Husband is already changing DC->RVA commuter behavior.
After years of commuting by train, rail goers were surprised by a new tactic employed by a Nordic-accented man recently: As the train slows into the station, he has not only already lined up to disembark, minutes ago, but takes it a step further: As he lands, he starts sprinting to his car across the dark, sleepy Richmond parking lot to be the first one to pull up to the parking booth, pay, and race his way home.

Weeks later, there are now 4-8 sprinters, and a pack of slow-joggers all in the dark, running, stumbling, bumbling to their cars.

This week a voice, bewildered, joining the slow jogging crowd, called out:
"I did not know this was an Olympic event!"
Nevertheless, they jog.

Run, suits, run. Run free!

Sunday the children sloshed about the icy mud of the Future Natural Pool, barefoot, until I caught them doing so.

In unison, they suddenly realized, "We are FRICKIN' FREEZING!!!!!"

Come inside, childrenz, and warm yourself by the cookstove.
I can't *wait* until solar hot water, thus radiant heat in the slab, is installed! That will warm yer bare feet up...

We checked on the rainwater cistern.
Initially filled back in July, almost six months later it was full, all the way to the overflow.

If we're very, very careful, and remain extremely water-conscious, we might just be able to be here full time on that 1,800 gallon cistern, comfortably.

Shouldn't we all be sparing and frugal with water?

Here's some things that were on my mind this week:

I don't understand why this isn't front page news.
Virginia teen escapes al-Qaida-linked miltants in Phillippines
Check out where he's from - Campbell County, a rural area of Virginia that neighbors our own county on the land.

I dedicate this song to Kevin Lunsmann.

Welcome back to Virginia, honey.

And here's a topic we have been speaking about, much, in our household and blog:
The Book of Jobs
'Bringing the economy back to “where it was” does nothing to address the underlying problems.'

"Forget monetary policy. Re-examining the cause of the Great Depression—the revolution in agriculture that threw millions out of work—the author argues that the U.S. is now facing and must manage a similar shift in the “real” economy, from industry to service, or risk a tragic replay of 80 years ago."

Speaking of business, sometimes I struggle with my professional, modern, sleek architecture brand, and my "This is Copeland, talking" voice here. From the beginning, on this blog, I had to separate out the product from the many, many, meandering, rambling, off topic, diverging into here-and-there things y'all have to endure week after week just to get your nugget of green building. (Sorry)

I just *can't* not do that. I've decided this is my blog so yes it shows my prefab house kit product but really it's chronicling our family, so our children can remember this off grid journey, better, years down the road.
I hope you understand.

So when I saw something Elvis Costello doing what he believed was the right song to play on Saturday Night Live not what he was *expected* to play... I applauded.

As I applauded his return.

Elvis Costello and The Beastie Boys - Radio Radio by anchelito

I propose that in the end, it can all work out.

And, music: Ever since I discovered The Asylum Street Spankers thanks to their lovely song about leaf blowers awhile back, I have been enjoying their myriad musical offerings.

My heart warmed when I realized they wrote a song about RICHMOND, y'all! Ok, fine, they wrote a song about PBR. But for many Richmonders, that IS Richmond!
Lissen up: If you're from Richmond, you intimately know PBR. How a Chicago brew became so intimately southern, I have no idea. But we, historically, have embraced it.

Enjoy that music as we keep cozy 'round the cookstove.

As we listened to music, read, and snuggled up together in the passive solar prefab, I made:

Copeland's Cinnamon Chili With Thoughts Of Her Iranian/ Parisian/ New York/ DC Friend Daniel This is chili for a crowd. Daniel taught this southern girl that cinnamon is not just for sweets.

  • In a large pot sautee 3-4 cloves of minced garlic, 2 chopped onions until soft
  • add 2 packages of ground beef and sautee until browned
  • stir in kosher salt, shakes and shakes of cinnamon and lots of cumin
  • add 2 medium cans of (cooked) red beans
  • and finish with a layer of crushed tomatoes (2 cans), then stir it all up
  • simmer for at least 2 hours, as it fills the house with a cozy happy scent, then serve with cornbread!
Easy cook stove cooking: cornbread and stews... it gets you through the winter.

Back to Urban Chickens! (I'm just going all over the place today, aren't I?)
Once we move to the off grid prefab house I can have as many hens as I want. But that doesn't mean I'll leave my Richmond community stranded in the UNsustainable Desert that encompasses Richmond's thinking. Here's a few links I rounded up this week for the urban hen enthusiasts:
If you do happen to be stuck in Richmond, still, there's help:
ChiknEGG is offering a course on Hens 101 this January
. Whether you're a master gardener or a backyard enthusiast, she's got something for you to learn.

Since we're speaking of hens: One of life's big mysteries: For those of y'all who have ever wondered how chicken wire is made: This is mesmerizing. Pull out yer yoga mat and gitcher zen fix, here:

Zen, interruped: 
...Interesting. I *think* we just had a first S-e*x Talk with our childrenz... and it was all over... dirt.
I, exasperated, cleaning as usual, looking at alllllllll the fresh muddy paws and feet on the concrete slab, accusingly:
"Wow, we could sweep and sweep in this house, and yet I never stop cleaning up all the dirt! Dirt tends to propagate in this household with all of y'all, no?"
Pipsqueak 1: "The dirt breeds! There's about thirty dirt men making eyes at thirty, pretty dirt girls right now! And they're talkin' Dirt Children! Hahahahahahahaha! Their family name is Mr. and Mrs. Clay, and their new baby is called a CLAYborn! Hahahahaha!!!!"
Um... [Wha?]

In the meantime, this week I wish you all a warm holiday, safe travels, with lots of rest and respite.

Leaving the land, we paused at dusk to watch the lights in Pamplin City emerge.
Thanks to whomever saw us gazing at the white house and flicked on the lights.
Our children, as each mile progressed away, are already homesick.

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DC Adventures, Resources, And Livestock At The Passive Solar Prefab House!

Thumbs up!
For D.C. And Gypsy Adventures! (And the U.S.G.B.C., ha!)

I was confiding with a close friend (who argued before the Supreme Court of Virginia last week, by the way, not that I'm not totally impressed and proud of Mrs. L or anything!) about the transitions we undergo as we begin The Very Interesting Year, and how, just as the old adage states, we have a choice to either look at things as difficult, or as amazing, exciting opportunities and adventure.

Handsome Husband can either see it as,
"I take the train up and back 4+ hours a day to my job, it's horrible!"
"I sleep on the way up, then step, refreshed, into the excitement of D.C.! On the way home, I work, so get everything done by the time I get home so I can hang out with my wife! If the train is delayed, I get to have some "me" time which I never get to do at home, and send emails to friends and watch shoot-em-up flicks that my wife hates to see! And I get to work with amazing people on projects I love!"

Mrs. L brilliantly observed:
"It's all in how you look at it: That's the difference between a rut, and a groove!" 
And we are in. the. GROOVE! Embrace the RHYTHM!!!!

'Cause, you know: Groove is in the heart, baby.

Embracing opportunity is not new: I lived in the East Village in the '90s when you could either choose to be down & out and depressed by your impoverished existence, or you could exclaim, "Oh my gosh I'm living in NEW! YAWK! CIT-TAY!!!!" and GROOVE YER HEART OUT in yer platform Converse sneakers and silver hot pants, honeychile. (And all those friends grooving their hearts out back then have continued to succeed professionally and still colorfully embrace life.)

As I type, I'm on a train! With my honey! And no kids! To DC! To start a new chapter of our gypsy life! 
(Note to self: purchase brightly painted caravan off Craigslist. Practical for farm AND urban trekking.)

My Georgetown friend R. notes, "Union Station is BEAUTIFUL right now. Magical really. Such a perfect place to arrive as a gypsy."

I'm steppin' off this train like Ice Cube into Eames.

So we stepped off the train, into our Nation's Capital. 
Obligatory snapshots follow.

Over the weekend we walked, and walked, considering areas where one might rent.
The neighborhoods that attracted us are not the ones you might assume.

Some areas of Columbia Heights, along Adams Morgan, around Dupont... not Georgetown, not Foggy Bottom... We want vibrancy, hustle & bustle, tiny entrepreneurial shops, and everyone all jumbled together- entertaining eye candy as we just sit back and watch it all happen; we do not want staid, quiet, leafy streets. We  want to sit in the window, watching, or walk the street and just view people all together creating, for we observers, a beautiful bright brilliant canvas of life.

We were very interested in areas where you could literally see historical blight and danger, now undergoing revitalization: Over and over we saw rowhouses with drafty windows protected with old, rusty bars facing newly-gutted rowhouses with double and triple-glazed energy efficient window panes... projects that you just *know* are gonna be LEED certified six months later...

...DC on the weekend is interesting.
The suits are hung in the closet, and now residents finish their jogs with a walk, picking up papers and groceries, sipping on their lattes...  restaurants embrace The Brunch, and crowds of singles gather for all you can eat + drinks...

Although there were plenty of strollers and toddlers, we did not see any older children.

Unlike in New York, where in almost every neighborhood you can find on any weekend morning strollers and children of *all* ages scrambling over playground equipment while parents blearily socialize, the DC playgrounds we passed were empty.

Are the schools really that bad that all the families, once school age, flee? I guess they are.

Homeschooling removes that obstacle. But I still think, "Where the heck are all the children? Not the tourist children, but the children that live here?" Again, this gypsy life will allow our offspring to have lots of friends & playtime in Pamplin & Richmond... finding DC children will be interesting.

DC friends noted: "No, it's not that there are no DC kids that age, it's just that they reside in the neighborhoods in which you don't want to live and didn't visit." In other words, in the neighborhoods we don't want to live, you're either too poor and go to public school, or wealthy enough on your shaded quiet *yaaaawn* block to send your children to private school. Huh. So.. no Middle O' The Road school-age kids. Noted.

Maybe DC kids just play a lot of video games. It actually doesn't matter, because I won't be sipping lattes on *any* playground, idle: my kids will be out with me, walking. Walking walking walking walking and if I hear any whining I'll leave you on this street corner, y'hear? Keep up, chiles, Momma's on a roll!

We had a great DC trip. The company for whom Handsome Husband now works is filled with kind, super smart and talented, driven people. At the holiday party I was deeply impressed by the technology brainpower that filled the room. Just as impressed, I noted the gender, cultural, and international diversity of successful employees that were recognized with deep thanks and appreciation by the founders.

Handsome Husband is so thrilled to be a part of this brainy environment.

Return To The Land
With our adventure going so well in the nation's capital, let's discuss our resources. Aside from natural beauty, Virginia’s natural assets contribute $21.8 billion to the state’s economy, according to a recent environmental report. So let's not muck it up, 'K? That's good business sense.

Per our car conversation last week about how Germany and the United States are reacting differently to spending, this article reminds us how intertwined we are with the global economy: Tremors from a euro collapse would be global, with U.S. recession likely. Not that we think the union is going to all-out collapse; but certainly we note that the sooner one can free themselves from any mortgage debt, the more viable our futures can be.

So, with the plan to Step High Into The City While Embracing The Land, the sooner we sell the Richmond house, the happier we will be. But we have a ways to go before spring... And the reality is that spring is the season of Realtors.
We still have to get through winter.

It may be winter, but I am already thinking about seeding and harvest.
My attitude is quite different from many gardeners: In fact, I do little to eliminate pests. The guard chickens ate the beetles, I picked off what I found, and that was about it. And I learned that one worm in every peach pit was no big deal when compared to spraying with pesticides. Now I don't take it to this extreme, but here is a great article on The Case For Doing Nothing About Pests.

I remember the days last summer when I would sit in my urban garden, typing at my laptop WHILE wielding a bb gun at my side, chronicling the fat, thieving squirrel who had free reign of my fruit now that my urban guard chickens were taken away...
[Don't. Get. Me. Started. On The Urban Chicken Subject. Ok, deep breath, I'll refrain.]

So, thinking seeds and gardening, I am also thinking livestock.
With an off grid, water-rationed-because-we-have-one-1,800-gallon-cistern homestead.
Livestock drink a LOT of water... I'm considering its impact on our water resources...
and how to protect streams and water quality...

However, properly done, it doesn't have to negatively impact the environment:
From Eat Wild:
"When properly managed, raising animals on pasture instead of factory farms is a net benefit to the environment. To begin with, a diet of grazed grass requires much less fossil fuel than a feedlot diet of dried corn and soy. On pasture, grazing animals do their own fertilizing and harvesting. The ground is covered with greens all year round, so it does an excellent job of harvesting solar energy and holding on to top soil and moisture. As you will read in the bulletins below, grazed pasture removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere more effectively than any land use, including forestland and ungrazed prairie, helping to slow global warming."
So, talking about symbiosis and sustainability: Don't you feel it's time?
I was fascinated when I heard a group of youngsters are suing the USA federal government, demanding a national climate recovery plan, NOW. 
Think of it as a good financial investment, like a college savings plan, plus.  
Many young farmers already realize how much their business is affected by climate change... and more are starting to realize they need to do something to address it.

I end this post with this video from

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