How to Survive Until Real Spring

Dig Out an Old Project, see if you can finish it…


Sigh. I hate early spring. The weather goes from gorgeous and warm to bleak and icy in no time flat, and one dare not plant out anything that can’t take at least a couple of inches of ice on top. One day this week we had a 50+º swing between 73º at 2 pm and 22º before midnight. That’s what my Mama always called “pneumonia weather.”

The wood pile is down to dregs too, this having been one of the coldest winters in the entirety of our 22 years on this homestead. Though the first spring we spent here we got the “Blizzard of ’93,” which is still a big topic of conversation down at the auto parts store. 3 feet of windblown white stuff and sub-freezing temperatures, electricity out for 9 days. ‘They’ finally came by in a National Guard Huey helicopter to see if we were still alive, spotted the wood smoke and decided we were fine. It started on March 13…

So. Got the new seed catalogues in January. Ordered and received the new season’s seed bounty in February, started some things still in flats. The local organic super supplier – Painter’s Greenhouse – opened on March 1. Now I get almost daily warnings from them via email telling me to either NOT plant anything I bought out yet, or cover it with plastic because it’s gonna freeze. ARGH!

Thus It was that I re-started a project I’d begun 4 years ago – a bed quilt. I’m one of those people who knows how to sew, to crochet, to knit, etc., but hardly ever actually finish anything I start. But this Christmas it was so cold that we taped up the back door and hung a blanket over it to keep out the cold, and our daughter the decorator replaced that blanket with the quilt top I’d made all those years ago out of three color-coordinated sheets I bought by the pound at the mill outlet in Swannanoa. I’d managed to get it big enough, then realized that the pattern would be much better if I cut it into quarters and rearranged things. That being far too much trouble at the time, I folded it nicely and stashed it in a corner shelf of the blanket bin in the basement, for if I ever got ambitious.

And that is where daughter found it. She decided it looked a whole lot better than the wool army blanket we’d put over the door, which is next to the living room corner where we always put the tree. More Christmas-y. Thus I got to look at the darned thing all of January, and by February I’d decided to go ahead and quarter it and start over again. Maybe finish it this time.

Some Good News Projects

Tiny Houses for the Homeless

nbc15 WMTV MadisonVolunteers graduated into social/political activism via Occupy Madison [Wisconsin] have been working to deal with homelessness in their community. What they’ve come up with are tiny houses of 98 square feet. The Madison Common Council – city council – voted to amend the zoning code to allow the tiny houses, so long as they have wheels and towbar, to be set up on private property, or to be parked on the street so long as they are moved every 48 hours to a new location. Though the non-profit is seeking permission from area churches to allow longer term parking in their lots for up to three of the tiny houses at a time.

The tiny houses have a bed, kitchenette, bathroom and storage, and the group is hoping to complete ten of them before the end of 2014. At some point they’d like to purchase land on which they can create a 30-unit ‘village’ of tiny houses for the homeless. Community donations are covering the ~$3000 cost in materials, the construction is all-volunteer. One of the first recipients has spent countless hours helping to build his own soon-to-be residence.

“There’s no comparison between having a place to go at night, and close the door, and sleep comfortably, and not freeze to death or have your possessions stolen. There’s no substitute for that” says Luca Clemente, one of the project organizers.

No word on whether the units come with ‘hookup’ ability for a water supply and electricity, or if they’re using waterless composting toilets (these are surprisingly nice) and perhaps a rechargeable battery for lights.

Tiny homes a little larger (and not on wheels) are occupying a tiny housing development called “Quixote Village” in Olympia, Washington, on a 2.17 acre lot leased from Thurston County for $1 a year. Residents will pay 1/3 of their income toward rent to the non-profit Panza, which grew out of the faith community that has been supporting Olympia’s homeless encampments through the years. After having spent a couple of years or more in roving tent camps allowed temporarily by area churches on their lots, for many these tiny homes represent a stability they’ve not enjoyed for a long time.

There are 30 150 square foot “cottages” on the lot, all with heat, plumbing and electricity, and each one comes with a front porch with tiny garden space. Two of the units are handicap accessible. They boast a bed, a desk, half-bath and closet. There is a common clubhouse with stocked kitchen, laundry facilities, showers, mailboxes and a large common room with television and fireplace. The bus stop is nearby, and an 8-passenger van was donated to the village.

In Olympia the village is zoned as permanent supportive housing, and meet the city’s building codes.

Even better, the idea of tiny houses for the homeless is apparently one whose time has come. Austin, Texas has launched a project called Community First! Village that will house up to 200 chronically homeless citizens on 27 acres sprinkled with a mix of tiny houses, teepees, refurbished RVs and mobile homes, launched on crowdsourced funding and volunteers.

There will be a 3-acre community garden, a chapel, a medical facility, a workshop, a bead and breakfast, and an Alamo Drafthouse outdoor movie theater. Could it be that after so many decades of endemic homelessness in America due to the ever-widening ‘income gap’ and imposed austerity policies that cut off unemployment benefits, food stamps, disability and fixed pension benefits, etc., is there finally to be locally-inspired kindness shown to the (politically determined and enforced) chronically poor? Sure would be nice to think so.

And as such community projects are built and occupied, it’s an excellent seeding ground for urban homesteading on a cooperative scale. That’s a good thing for everyone.