Perma – what? Defining What Permaculture Means to the Average Person

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Photo courtesy of Pexels.

I’m going to invite you into a conversation I had a few months ago with my permaculture design mentor:

My mentor: “Do not use the term permaculture.”

Me: “Why?” (For the record, in this moment I thought this term was AMAZING and wanted to tell everyone.)

Mentor: “Because if you have to define something you’ve already lost your client.”

I did not completely understand the extent of one’s confusion with this term, but this soon became very clear the further I got along in my business, Pineapple Acres, an outdoor classroom meant to educate in gardening, edible landscaping, and mindfulness. I began to realize most average gardeners (possible subjects interested in permaculture) didn’t know what this word meant even after it was defined. Most home owners didn’t want an explanation to how edibles could be added to their landscape; they simply wanted ‘pretty.’ They didn’t care if you could eat it or not. And I didn’t even attempt this term with my non-gardening friends.

What is permaculture?

By definition permaculture is: the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.

But what does that really mean? I’m hoping to answer this question by not actually answering this question.

So here I was with a word that had triggered a dream, but had the potential to critically confused my prospecting clients.

Why would a word that defines my life and career be a word that I should not use?

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Before I answer that question, I’d like to take you on my permaculture journey as a way to show you a glimpse of a permaculture lifestyle in basic terms.

About 12 years ago, I was loosely introduced to the term by a friend who was studying urban planning, but who also had a knack for natural/native landscape design and gardening. He and I had even planned to begin a commune-like homestead where our partners provided money so we could tinkered in the fields. That dream turned into the reality of a shared community garden to a small farm where we spent many hours experimenting. I learned to defend chickens from a healthy population of raccoons; to winterize a bee hive; to install rain barrels to water animals as well as plants; and to prune raspberries and blackberries. I owned things like a dehydrator, pressure cooker, and hot-water bath canner. We were serious gardeners. I sold organic eggs and even invested in a book called, “The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It,” by John Seymour. My farm was fun and comfortable, but I never labeled it permaculture; we called is sustainable living. Yet, it was ingrained with permaculture and taught me skills that have given me the status today as “the one in the room who knows what they are talking about.”

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Photo by samer daboul on Pexels.com

It was a really great time in my life. I’m now trying to replicate this life in the tropics on a smaller scale in a more urban area.

I’ve educated myself in permaculture through a permaculture design course taught by Koreen Brennan with Grow Permaculture.  You can read my story here. It transformed my life in ways I never anticipated. Embracing permaculture is not just an agricultural design technique for me. It has become a way of life.

How permaculture became my life:

  • I’ve learned to live consciously considering a view that embraces health for the mind, body and spirit.
  • I’ve learned to observe what I see and interact with the flow of the reality.
  • I’ve learned to see the connections of every element in my life and through those connections see a bigger picture.
  • I’ve learned to view a problem as a possible solution.
  • I’ve learned to let things be and control only what is in my power. (Sometimes in a design this is referring to the client.)

These are techniques I use in design for a workshop, a garden or a relationship. There is no limit to a healthy holistic view. And that is where I anticipate to take my clients.

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Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

Because my clients do not come to me for a vocabulary lesson. And the definition of permaculture doesn’t even begin to share the magic. A definition is just words, but an experience is lasting. So from now on, I do not run a permaculture-based business. I don’t even run an edible landscape business.

I have the ability to introduce you to world that will nourish your mind, body and spirit, but you won’t know it’s through the principals of permaculture.

Because that is not why you will come to Pineapple Acres.

You’ll come to Pineapple Acres ready to educate yourself in nature, but you will leave with sustenance to last a lifetime.

And that is the definition of permaculture.

Remember to keep moving, experimenting and learning. Eventually you’ll discover what you need in the garden, in relationships and in life.

 

Learning How to Be a Minimalist – Accepting My Truth

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I am donating books. Books! I’m a writer; I studied literature in college; I LOVE books. I have NEVER DONATED one of my books before. N-E-V-E-R. The world must be ending. Something really bad must have occurred.

Don’t worry…everything is going to be okay. (I think.)

I have decluttered my house multiple times in my lifetime – decided what I needed; what was broken past repair; what held less sentimental value to me. I’m really sentimental. That great-aunt whose name I can’t remember whose broken broach was passed down to me by my grandma is hanging in my jewelry box simply because Grandma gave it to me. Truly, it meant something to her and now because she meant something to me, it’s supposed to mean something to me. Follow me?

I got lost in that sentence. So why am I holding on to it?

Same goes for my books. I’ve had books follow me through multiple moves, over state lines. But why? I’ve never…and I mean NEVER…read a book more than once. So if I’ve read it, why am I still holding on?

In recent history, I’ve discovered I just need to let go of things that no longer serve me. No matter how much something, someone, or some idea has meant to me in the past, it’s better to let it go sometimes. In a previous post, “Learning to Let Go,” I discussed how hard this can be.

But right now I’m ready to let go of physical things in my life. So I’ve declared myself a minimalist.

What is a minimalist?

According to Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, two men helping others discover where minimalism can take a person, minimalism is:

A tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.

Translation: less is more.

This has been my writing mantra since my first college-level composition course. And it can work in many facets in life. With less, we can encounter more time, more experiences, more meaningful connections, more clarity. It’s trading in the ‘more’ collecting dust for the ‘more’ that offers growth in one’s life purpose.

In Donald Miller’s book, “Building A Story Brand,” he discusses making less noise in marketing to offer costumers music instead. What if we applied this to our life? Noise is chaotic, confusing, and hard to read clearly. But music is pleasant, organized, and serves a purpose.

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Photo courtesy of Pexels.

I’m discovering things like I had three black dresses in my closet. I only wear a black dress for funerals and perhaps a charity event. So I don’t need three. I need one. How many spatulas, pens, notebooks, screwdrivers, purses, and coffee mugs can one person have? Starting now: much less in this house.

It’s a work in progress. I live with four munchkin roommates (my children) who accumulate stuff faster than I can move it out. From papers to shoes to toys to clothes – it’s a lot. But I’ve moved through things and even recruited my daughters to help in this process. Because it’s not just me who should understand that stuff is just stuff. And with less stuff, I can spend more time connecting with people and experiencing life because that is truly the good stuff.

You don’t have to empty cupboards or closets, but don’t be afraid to make music amidst all the noise in this world.

To learn more about becoming a minimalist, visit the resources below.

Resources:

https://www.theminimalists.com/minimalism/

https://bemorewithless.com/begin/

http://www.planetofsuccess.com/blog/2016/essential-steps-to-become-minimalist/

Learning What it Means to be Crunchy

 

 

First, what is ‘crunchy’? (You may have also heard the term ‘granola’.) I know to who crunchy refers – liberal hippies. But, honestly, the connection makes absolutely no sense to me. I had to look it up.

By definition: Crunchy is someone who is politically and environmentally liberal.

I still don’t see the parallel to crunchy granola, so I searched deeper.

‘Crunchy mom’ came up. I cringed. I really dislike separation in parenting.

Parenting is hard. We need to stop judging each other and start supporting each other.

I have four daughters; I suffered through the unpleasantries of pregnancy; I gave birth naturally to all four; I have three school-aged girls. I get it. I am knee deep in play-dates, PTA, dance classes, homework, bedtimes, nutrition, vaccinations, crafts, playgrounds. Parenting is the most beautiful challenge any person can experience. So it was hard to look at that term: ‘crunchy mom’.

I didn’t have to click the link, I knew I was one of them.

Yes, I’ve been judged for having midwives welcome my children into the world; the cloth diapers I’ve used; the rags I reuse for everything; letting my children play in the dirt; and make their own clothes choices. I’ve heard it all.

And guess what? I make homemade granola that my children eat as a snack.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about this.

I live in the suburbs. Pretty far from crunchy. Oh, there are the urban hipsters. They wear expensive hippy-vibed clothes, and they like expensive organic foods that the true crunchies can’t afford. I’m so crunchy, I know how to grow my organic food. And you guessed it, I stand out. A lot.

Sometimes I feel like a conversational piece. Yet, I like being a natural, wild, woodsy woman.

There are many versions of crunchy. And you may be surprised to know there are others who are far crunchier than I.

Admission: I eat at McDonalds, and I actually like it. Most people are surprised that I eat meat. I tend to lean toward a more vegetarian diet, but guess what? I really like bacon. I have no problem with vegans, and most vegans are great cooks.  I’ve surprised others in the fact that I vaccinate my children. Don’t hate me for trusting doctors. My children also attend public school – I know, can you believe it? Yet, I can easily converse with the many homeschooling groups that move in this area.

And I’m happy being kinda crunchy.

I hold so much respect for those who are full on granola. I’ve had the pleasure to engage in some wonderful conversation about intentional communities, tiny homes (one day I’ll be there with you!), living off-the-grid, and having the courage to disengaged from society.

Because being crunchy is just a label.

I won’t be calling myself crunchy; though, I’m sure I’ve already been dubbed so behind my back. Because I’m so much more than a label. I’m me and that the only label I need.

“A truly confident person is someone who knows who they are and who they are not, and is happy just the same.” ~ Chris Armstrong

I am-1

Learning to Be in My Own Company

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I am in a beautiful guesthouse next to a mansion with a beach-style pool, goats, cows, chickens. It’s quiet and jungle-like. I’m here because I taught a workshop this morning and have another tomorrow. And I’m alone. I’m pretty sure for the first time in 34 years, I’m alone.

I’ve done a lot of firsts this year: first time flying alone; first time to Europe; first time flying with four little children alone; first time taking a lead on a project; first time leaving my children for more than a few days; first time designing; leading a workshop…you get the idea. My life is expanding in beautiful ways. But I’ve never been sitting in a space all by myself.

How can this be?

I started this life with another person – my twin sister. And, well, I wasn’t alone in the womb; I had someone to always play with; go through all those awkward firsts with (going to kindergarten; learning to drive; graduating). We even attended the same college. Then I married and surrounded myself with beautiful, yet noisy and needy children. I’m NEVER alone. Not even in the shower (2-year-olds DO NOT believe in privacy).

Then one day I realized, I wanted to be alone; to sit in a room without any demands. Because if no one demanded my attention, my service, my time then maybe I had a say in my needs.

How do I feel right now?

It’s quiet. Like after 10 minutes I craved the pounding of lyrics in my ears. Yet, I didn’t turn on the radio. Thankfully, there is not t.v. here. I held my phone and texted my best friend, but then I also put that down. I checked my email then closed my computer.

And that’s when I had my ‘Mindy Lahiri moment.’

Note: Mindy Lahiri is a fictional character on the t.v. series The Mindy Project. She’s a doctor experiencing life and relationships in NYC. Her views on life are comedic and with definitely make you laugh.

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Image Courtesy of FOX. From The Mindy Project.

I laid on the floor and stared at the ceiling. For a long time. Perhaps I thought there was some kind of answer there. Maybe I thought God was going to whisper some guidance in my ear, and I’d actually hear it because it was painfully silent in that room. Nothing extraordinary happened. I just thought, “Why is this moment so hard?”

Why can’t I just be alone?

Answer: I’m scared. I’m not sure I know how to be alone.

Now what?

Well, I can do the whole “You’re not really alone,” speech. But that doesn’t seem right in this moment. I feel alone. No one else is here. That doesn’t make me lonely. I’m not sad. I’m not worried. I just feel…you guessed it…uncomfortable. And I’m aware of it.

If I have learned anything in the last year, it’s that feeling uncomfortable usually follows a great space for growth.

Geneen Roth said it well: “…learning to keep yourself company. And then learn to be more compassionate company, as if you were somebody you are fond of and wish to encourage.”

So that is my next move; my next lesson. I’m going to be compassionate with myself in the silence. I love this step forward because it’s an extension to the self-love I talked about a few weeks ago. I’m going to spend more time alone. It may be only a few times here and there, but in this space I will no doubt discover depth about myself that are not available in the chaos of noise.

And what is there to be afraid of? It’s just me.

I challenge you to be alone. Really alone and see what happens. Is it easy for you? How do you feel? What do you observe about yourself?

 

Learning How to Communicate: Well

We communicate every day. With technology the opportunities are limitless. We can talk, write, email, text, post, blog, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, etc. You’d think we’d be amazing communicators with all these avenues. Yet, some of us really suck at it.

I have an admission: I’m one of those people. I am a writer who has no idea how to communicate well.

I lay out elaborate sentences filled with charming characters. A reader may feel the cool silk on their skin; smell the vomit-enticing retch of wet clothes that were forgotten for days; or taste the sweet, tangy flavor of a peach, but this does NOT make me a good communicator. It simply means I can create pretty mind pictures.

Poetry comes easily to me. You know why? No one has to make sense of it for it to be considered good. The original message can get completely lost and still offer emotionally moving imagery – making it a masterpiece. In real life, in real relationships, in really complicated situations, pretty mind pictures will NOT cut it. Trust me.

This recent realization proves, it’s no use. I’ve closed my Facebook account; my Instagram no longer exists; I threw my cellphone in the trash; disconnected my internet (I found WiFi at a nearby Starbucks). I’m done. After I communicate this blog, I’m heading to the woods. Don’t follow me. You’ll just be disappointed.

Rewind.

Of course, it’s not this easy. It’s silly to believe that if we remove ourselves from society then our communication skills will disappear (though it was a very good fantasy). That would be defined as AVOIDANCE.

So, back to that communicating well thing…

Why do we communicate? We like sharing. We have a particular point to make. It’s fun. To learn something. To feel something. To create. To get something done.

Yet…

Communication is deeper than words. It’s deeper than feeling emotions and attempting to put them into words. Communication is about you and another person. It’s about compassion and understanding.

Often times we forget about that other person. That is what makes us so bad in the game. We forget that it’s not simply our feelings, our words, our point to make. There is another person looking at you, listening to you, reading your words. If there wasn’t, there would be no point in communicating.

So why am I so bad at this?

Well, I know how to handle my own hurt feelings, but I don’t know how to handle someone else’s. This is because of fear – fear that if I ACTUALLY say what I mean the person standing in front of me will leave; won’t love me; will think less of me; will see my weakness.

Another silly fantasy. But this one isn’t fun. It’s painful.

And because it’s painful I’ve found ways to subconsciously avoid those real, raw, direct conversations. So much so that I struggle to communicate what I’m feeling, what I want, how I perceive things. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty…how do we fix this?

How do we communicate well?

  1. Listen. If you aren’t a good listener you will never be a good communicator. The trick to this: live in the moment. Don’t think about what you’re going to say next. Don’t relive what happened in the past. Listen in the now because that is the reality of what is truly happening in the conversation.
  2. Observe. Be mindful of what you hear, feel, see. What a person says is not always the entire story. Sometimes you can see more than you can hear. Sometimes you can listen and understand what questions you need to ask in order to further understand. And if you don’t know the answer. Ask. DO NOT assume (we all know how that one works out.).
  3. Pause. Take a deep breath. If you have the luxury to pause for more than a few seconds, take it. If a person is standing in front of you, this one may be awkward. But it’s better to be seen as awkward than make an ass out of yourself.
  4. Repeat # 3. Pause some more. This one is good if you are experiencing intense emotions. Anger. Guilt. Shame. Rejection. These are NOT EASY emotions to process and should not be rushed. Take your time. Time can shift your perspective.
  5. Respond. DO NOT react. Take that word out of your vocabulary. Reacting is the complete opposite of love. The best option is to respond in love. Even if that means not responding. Silence is a response.

Ok, I’ve convince myself to crawl out of the woods and face these uncomfortable moments. They aren’t going away. But we have a choice: learn to cope or continue to sabotage. I like the idea of coping. If you are like me, there is hope. It will take practice. You’re going to fail and wonder how you will ever learn this skill. But you will. Practice over and over and over again. There are opportunities daily. In the end, good communication skills FEEL better even if it’s uncomfortable. Trust me.

Plant More, Sweat Less

Welcome Amanda Streets to Learning to Grow in Florida! I was introduced to Amanda through our passion to compost. It’s an unique basis for a meeting, but sometimes that’s all you need. Amanda runs Pinellas Community Compost Coalition and Living Roots Eco Design. She and I are collaborating to teach composting to the general public in a workshop designed by Grow Permaculture. Please join us along with the other gardening workshops. Enjoy Amanda’s article on the importance of growing your shade!

Unfortunately, I just had to have a gigantic oak tree removed from the south side of my yard. Before removal, we happily gardened and lounged barefoot in the backyard all day long – in the shade of said tree. Now, the ground burns our feet and the sun scorches our skin. My hammock, once graced for an afternoon cat nap daily, is now in my laundry room. Hot, hot, hot. I can’t wait for my small but fast growing fruit tree to cast enough shade to sit beneath.

The increase in sunlight wasn’t a surprise. I understand the basic physics of sunshine and shade. What shocked me was the increased temperature. I couldn’t imagine in my wildest dreams that the thermometer would soar to almost 20 degrees hotter.

How Do Trees Keep the Cool?

A tree is a living organism. It has the same basic needs as a human – air, water, food, and shelter. It just meets these needs a bit differently. Instead of breathing with lungs, a tree transpires. Water vapor is released into the atmosphere from their leaves. As a result, the surrounding air is cooled. Shade below, water vapor above… it’s an air cooling double whammy!

This cooled air is wonderful over a hammock or playground, but what about over the roads? The pavement gets hot enough to cook an egg! And it stays hot. I dread having to wrestle my toddler in and out of the car seat in a hot parking lot. It’s no wonder that I pray for a big oak tree to park under. A shaded surface can be 20-45*F cooler than an unshaded surface. That’s a huge difference!

Want to Lower Your AC Bill?

Trees should be planted on the south, west and east sides of your home for maximum cooling. Unless you have a tree or structure, you won’t ever have shade on the south side of your house. The sun’s rays are strongest in the afternoon from the west, and the east morning sun streams into your windows to heat the house up early.  You want to plant your trees near enough to your home to shade the house, patio and yard, but far enough away to avoid roots damaging the foundation. Consider the location of underground utility lines, too.  Leave a few feet of space between your home and shrubs to allow for airflow. Larger trees will cast more shade, smaller trees and large shrubs will cast less. Bamboo is also an option, but please buy it from a reputable vendor to avoid the bane of running bamboo. The clumping variety is preferred so it doesn’t take over the neighborhood.

In addition to trees, vines on trellises or pergolas will grow quickly and cast shade.  In Florida, you shouldn’t allow vines to grow on your house; it can damage the exterior and lead to other problems down the road.  Low growing groundcover plants rather than rock or concrete can cool the ground up to 10 degrees.  I have a small concrete patio with rocks next to it and have noticed this area is super toasty. I think I’ll swap the rocks out for a native groundcover that doesn’t need to be mown and put a tall potted plant nearby to shade the patio.  Between the two, I’m sure to see a temperature drop.

Make a Game Plan

With a thoughtful arrangement of trees, shrubs and groundcovers, you can really lower the temperature of your yard, home and surroundings.  Imagine if all of your neighbors did the same – cooler street, cooler breezes! It’d be an oasis in this subtropical sauna of a Florida summer we’ve been having.

Resources:

http://articles.extension.org/pages/66360/how-do-trees-cool-the-air

https://www.arborday.org/trees/climatechange/summershade.cfm

https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/landscaping-energy-efficient-homes/landscaping-shade

https://www.bobvila.com/articles/54-quick-tip-your-plants-can-cool-your-house/

20180205_104017About Amanda

I have always had a passion for gardening and growing my own vegetables. As a child, my family grew most of our vegetables in our garden and picked wild berries and fruit, canning or freezing the excess, and sharing with friends and family. I didn’t appreciate the sense of community at the time; I was a child. But I always loved the plants. Now, I see the problems our communities face with food being grown in unhealthy ways, being shipped from one side of the world to the other, and processed with so many chemicals. I’d like to offer families a way out of this wasteful cycle and a chance to reconnect with nature. Using regenerative permaculture techniques, fruits and vegetables can be grown easily in your own yards. We live in an area with the capacity to produce such bounty. Let’s grow together!

Learning to Deal with a ‘Marley and Me’ Moment

Several years ago I read the book “Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog Ever” by John Grogan. For those who are not familiar with the book, it’s a story of a young family and their life with a dog named Marley. As the title suggests, sometimes Marley makes life difficult – there is an entire chapter dedicated to things Marley ate. Ironically, my dog, Baxter, ate this book. Baxter could have given Marley a run for his money for the title ‘The Worst Dog Ever.’ Every dog owner should read this book. (There is a movie if you aren’t a reader.) John Grogan paints a picture that reflects the love and loyalty that only a dog can offer – no matter how many times they knock the garbage over, and you find yourself surrounded in a disgusting mess.

Over 11 years ago Baxter was rescued from Guardian Angel Basset Rescue and brought into my home. He was 9 months old and scared. He had been beaten as a puppy and didn’t trust anyone. That all changed with a ‘Baxter burger’ (a hamburger from McDonald’s) in the back of a car. Baxter had been run by his stomach, so it made sense that a burger exchange created love with his new family. I worked nights at the time, so Baxter and I spent many mornings strolling through a neighborhood park. I was determined to make this dog feel comfortable. Yet, it wasn’t that easy.

A beaten dog pees on the floor when you accidentally trip, lunges at strangers, and turns into an anxious mess when his people aren’t present. Baxter wasn’t easy. The dog park became a thing of the past. If a visitor came to the house, Baxter had to be put in a bedroom. But he loved his family, and he found joy in sprinting around the coffee table and knocking over the garbage. He experienced gliding in a canoe, camping in the snow, and hiking on rocky terrain. And with each daughter that entered my life, Baxter had another person to love and be loved by.

But 11 years is a long time for a dog…

One day I knew I’d be sitting in a veterinarian office remembering, crying, and letting go of that furry friend that so wholly became a part of the family. Monday was that day. And I didn’t cry; I sobbed. I remembered every silly little thing that Baxter did and then I cried harder. I said goodbye and cried some more. And, to be honest, the screen is blurry because I’m still crying. Those furry friends sure know how to take your heart.

Goodbye Baxter. You’re already missed. Bark all you want. None of the neighbors will care. Promise.