AT THE HOMESTEAD: FOUR CHRISTMAS TREES

FOUR CHRISTMAS TREES at $28 EACH and FREE LANDSCAPING!

That’s right. Four Christmas trees…three for my living room, and one for my bedroom. And they are all alive. That’s where the free landscaping comes in. After Christmas, they get to live in my yard!

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Pine trees do very well in the hi-desert. Check out the one I’ve got gracing my front yard. It’s tall and stately and healthy and strong, and I love looking out my window at it every morning.

Then there’s my feeling about Christmas trees. Artificial trees?  Made to look real? Something you can pack away in your garage each year and then reassemble every December? You’ve got to be kidding me…

I like my holiday and my tree to be more organic. Natural. Real as in “real” not “made to look real.” Because all that means is “fake.”

Years past I’ve always relied on a cut live tree. I’ve enjoyed every aspect of it – the texture, the fragrance, the interaction involved between me and the tree when I get on my knees every couple of days to replenish it with water. I even like the way it gets dry over time and then sheds needles all over the floor. Yes, it’s tough to clean up, but it’s a reminder of the passing of time. Jesus spent his first night in a room with a floor covered in hay. Why complain about a little blanket of pine needles?

Still, there is something about a cut tree that was once alive that offends my environmentally-friendly ethic. How can I live a “second chance” life, when I don’t even allow my Christmas tree to have a reprieve? So this year I decided to do something different. I figured,  “why nurse a dying tree when you can have a  LIVING tree that grows old with you year after year?”

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The living Christmas tree that brings holiday cheer to my bedroom. Sure it’s a little bit like that Charlie Brown tree, but give it time. This time next year it’ll be looking great!

And so I went to my local Home Depot and bought four live trees. They are SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA RAISED (from Escondido, less than 200 miles from my home and an example of buying local and supporting regional business). They tolerate heat, drough and cold to –10 degrees Fahrenheit. And with care they will be around next year, and for many years after that.

These four aren’t as large as the trees I’ve had in years past, but I just have to be patient. It’s okay to start small. This year I can go with MORE trees instead of one bigger tree slowly dying in the living room. I’ve placed two of the larger ones on platforms in the living room to give the illusion of height and being in a forest. I get to interact with them (they need water and sunlight). I’ve got the feel and fragrance that comes with a living, breathing, thriving pine. And with each year my trees will get taller and fuller, until they finally reach to the ceiling.

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The beginnings of my living room Christmas tree forest. Soon to be decorated with lights and ornaments. Glad to be alive and able to thrive!

When the holidays are over its time to talk landscaping. Two pines will go straight into the ground and be given liberty to grow and thrive in all directions. The remaining two, however, are getting placed in special pots.

The two potted trees are going to be watched over carefully this coming year. They will be pruned to keep the shape of a Christmas tree, and fed and watered and nurtured for the next eleven months. And then they will be asked to do their duty as Christmas trees inside the house next December. And for many Decembers after. That’s why I got trees of different sizes. I’m thinking many Christmas holidays ahead. These trees are part of my family now.

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My bedroom Christmas tree topper, a ceramic bear bought at Angel View Thrift Mart for under a buck.

There is something beautiful in knowing that these trees will be nurtured and loved and cared for all year long. It will be like having a bit of Christmas every single day. And bringing the tree into my house next December with it’s embedded memories of Christmases past provides a sense of continuity that you just can’t get from a plastic tree, or a dead one. My Christmas trees will experience growth and change, just as I will. We’re in this together. We’re survivors, getting fuller, taller, stronger day by day.

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MONEY BACK GUARANTEE: The trees from Home Depot came with a money-back guarantee. If any of them die in the year after being purchased, I can have my money back. Where else can you get that kind of assurance on a Christmas tree?

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EXTRA SAVINGS: Did I tell you that I won’t have to buy any trees next year or the years after that? That’s some big time savings over time.

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200 WORMS & NEWSPAPER AND FOOD SCRAPS — and — SPEAKING OF JACK-O’-LATERNS…

This was a great weekend, and I’m a couple hundred worms richer.

Some of you may know that a wonderful purveyor of hardware and desert appropriate plants exists on the south side of Highway 62 just inside the Morongo Valley.

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The place is CACTUS MART, home of the famous “Dig your own cactus for just 59 cents” (I still think they should do some subliminal marketing and raise that to 69 cents. Talk to any marketing expert. It would be bound to increase sales).  Not only do they offer the most amazing plants and hardware, they’ve got a nice collection of art from local artists, as well as books with loads of information on desert gardening, the local area, and sustainability.

Yesterday they hosted a workshop given by Kathy, a master gardener from the Morongo Valley. For an affordable $5 she spent two hours with us (about 15 attendees) to talk about composting with worms, otherwise known as vermiculture. For another $20, we could walk away with our own worm bin and about 200 worms! Sign me up!

So now I’ve got a worm colony who will work hard and fast to help turn kitchen scraps, paper, and plant material (think dead flowers from the garden, or from the vase you keep on your kitchen table, or that potted plant that just “didn’t make it”) into rich, organic and aromatic soil. And these aren’t your normal earthworms that come to the surface of your lawn during a heavy rain. These are select RED WRIGGLER WORMS, hard workers of the composting elite.

You can view a video from GardenGirlTV.com that explains what a worm bin is and how to assemble one. Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?list=TLyf823QHbjVsLSZ7cii9Nhv5U098ND7BX&feature=player_detailpage&v=JjjuYNilM60

For now, here’s a picture of what a worm bin looks like and a simple chart that explains the concept:

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No matter where you live, you too can have a worm bin. Kathy told us about one woman who kept one at work under her desk. She would put the scraps of her lunches inside to “feed” the worms.

“Keep it under your desk?” you say. Absolutely. Or in a closet, or laundry room, or garage, or outside under the eaves. The point is the worm bin done right doesn’t smell bad. It doesn’t really smell at all. Genius.

And since it is Halloween season, did I tell you that worms love pumpkins? Apparently they do. Kathy insists. So the first of November is a perfect time to pitch those fading Jack-o’-lanterns into your nearest compost pit or cut it up into pieces and deliver it in style to some worms in a bin. That’s All Saints Day. Be a saint and don’t just pitch your used pumpkin into the trash.

For more information on Cactus Mart, visit their website here: http://cactusmart.net/

For more information on the California State Master Gardener’s program (which I’m seriously considering because even though it’s headquartered at U.C. Davis they have courses throughout California) visit: http://camastergardeners.ucdavis.edu/

For more information on vermiculture and worm bin composting try these great links:

PUTTING WORMS TO WORK AND KEEPING THEM HAPPY at http://www.ucanr.org/sites/scmg/files/29954.pdf

INTRODUCTION TO WORM FARMING at http://www.working-worms.com/

VERMICOMPOSTING WITH RED WRIGGLER WORMS (these are the types of worms that I’m using in my bin): http://www.worm-farming.org/vermiculture/vermiculture-composting/

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AND SPEAKING OF JACK-O’-LANTERNS…

I love my mom for the surprises she often has for me. When I saw her for my October 15th birthday she brought me an unexpected gift. The plastic Jack-o’-lantern that I always trick-or-treated with as a child. This thing is 40 years old and still bright orange, tho’ as you can see, his black mouth has flaked off a bit. She even wrote my name on it to distinguish it from the one my brother Ted used. I bet she’s still got that one too.

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Mom was about re-using way back then and instilled those values in me. Why have a new plastic pumpkin every year, or a plastic bag to collect your candy? Just get ONE plastic Jack-o’-Lantern and hold on to it through life. It’s not going to go away in a landfill – better have it “not go away” and get some repeated use out of it. 

After I grew up Mom used it regularly as decoration every October 31st. Now I’ll be using it in the same way too. This is a great use of quality plastic — the kind that holds up over decades and can be passed down.

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Thank you mom, for the values you taught and still perpetuate today. You really touched my heart with this unexpected gift.

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Finally, what did I find USED but in good condition at a local thrift store? A DVD of SLEEPY HOLLOW, the 1999 film starring two of Hollywood’s most talented actors when it comes to playing creepy: JOHNNY DEPP and CRISTINA RICCI. It’s the perfect thing to be watching this week, and the couple of dollars I spent on it went to a non-profit organization that is helping others in my community. I’m sure I could have found a NEW copy at WALMART in one of those “$5 DVD BINS” but what’s the point? I like directing my money locally AND saving it whenever I can. A DVD for a couple of bucks is a good find. And it will last as long as my childhood Jack-o’-Lantern. So now I’ve got a new Halloween tradition – the annual “screening” of SLEEPY HOLLOW at my place. Creepy!

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PROVOCATIVE WORDS FROM POPE FRANCIS and THE LOSS OF A LIVING SAINT: Sister Antonia Brenner 1926-2013

PROVOCATIVE WORDS FROM POPE FRANCIS

I’m not a Catholic, but I admire the new Pope and the missions and ministries of many Catholics the world round. I am a practicing Episcopalian (as I like to tell people, I’m not that serious, I’m just practicing). But I am serious about my commitment to issues of social justice and my activism is informed by my desire to follow in Christ’s footsteps, My fight (and I am a fighter)  is always strengthened by my faith. I’m not a literalist and I don’t lose myself in ideology or dogma. I’m more interested in the mystery than I am in search of certainty. I believe you have a right to a God of your own understanding.  And I’m not alone.  Sometimes it’s easy to forget the progressive wing of the Christian faith, the ways in which abolition and civil rights and gay rights and women’s rights have been fought for and won by those acting on Christian conscience. And those are the headline grabbers. But each and every day in a much quieter way random acts of kindness, love, caring, and compassion are put forth into the world by people acting out their faith.

For every Fundamentalist Evangelical Christian who runs with the Tea Party crowd, there are progressive Christians who are feeding the hungry and clothing the needy and even fighting for the hungry and needy to earn living wages that restore their dignity and allow them to be self-supporting. For every Al Qaeda suicide bomber, there are Muslims practicing their faith in ways that further justice and peace. For every Conservative Jew who thinks Palestinians should be taken out back and shot, there are enlightened Jews who recognize the humanity of everyone and the insanity of an apartheid-like state in Israel.  For every Buddhist burning down the houses of non-Buddhists in Myanmar, there are those seeking mindfulness and serenity and pursuing non-violence.

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Because my cultural and family tradition is the practice of the Christian faith,  I pay especially close attention when someone like the new Pope makes a provocative a statement like the one he recently did about ideology and ideologues:

“…when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.”

Way to go, Pope Francis. You’re fast becoming one of my heroes. 

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THE LOSS OF A LIVING SAINT: Sister Antonia Brenner 1926-2013

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While the Pope is in Rome, some heroes are much closer to home. Just south of the San Diego border lived another unsung “Mother Theresa,” Sister Antonia Brenner who died recently at age 86. She was particularly extraordinary because in the middle of her life she decided to give herself a second chance and turned everything she knew upside down. I imagine many thought she had lost her mind, but she knew better. And so she changed her life and in turn changed the lives of so many others.

Sister Antonia Brenner began life as Mary Clarke in Beverly Hills where the success of her Irish immigrant father’s office supply business afforded her family the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Growing up, Cary Grant was just one of her well known neighbors. She was destined to become a “Real” housewife of Beverly Hills.

 And so she did. She married and raised seven children, four daughters and three sons. But not everything worked out as planned. Sadly, her first marriage ended in divorce, as did a second. At mid-life, her children now grown and searching for something more, she was moved to make a change.

 In 1977 her choice was clear. She gave away all her expensive belongings, took holy vows and moved to Tijuana, Mexico to take up residence inside a penitentiary that she knew of previously through outreach and volunteer work. As Sister Antonia Brenner she lived just as the inmates in the penitentiary did, in a 10 by 10 foot cell. She lived and worked freely among the inmates who looked upon her as an angel in the flesh and referred to her affectionately as “Mama”. She was deeply respected and loved both inside and outside the prison walls.

She would tell new inmates “Don’t be afraid. Christ was a prisoner just like you. He knows what it’s like to be arrested and interrogated and sent away. He knows what it’s like to be hated and mocked and humiliated. He hasn’t abandoned you. In all of the Scripture, he doesn’t speak a word against you,” (quote from http://www.thecatholiccatalogue.com)

In the 1990’s she founded her own religious order to continue and expand her work, the Eudist Servants of the Eleventh Hour. http://www.eudistservants.org

 She often returned to Southern California to raise money for her work and to visit her family which had grown to include more than 45 grand and great-grandchildren. But she always returned to the prison where she lived and ministered for 30 years.

 Speaking of Sister Brenner, Father Joe Carroll, who once ran the St. Vincent de Paul Village in San Diego and knew her well, said:

 “Rhyme, reason – you can’t rationalize why she did it. She [had] that one-on-one relationship with God.”

Sister Antonia Brenner 1926 – 2013.

 May she rest in peace.

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To read the Los Angeles Times Obituary of Sister Antonia Brenner, click here http://www.latimes.com/search/dispatcher.front?Query=Sister+Antonia+Brenner&target=adv_all

To read the New York Times obituary of Sister Antonia Brenner click here http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/10/21/us/antonia-brenner-prison-angel-who-took-inmates-under-her-wings-dies-at-86.html?rct=j&q=sister%20antonia%20brenner&source=web&cd=9&ved=0CFYQFjAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2013%2F10%2F21%2Fus%2Fantonia-brenner-prison-angel-who-took-inmates-under-her-wings-dies-at-86.html&ei=62FlUpN7s-XIAYaSgPgB&usg=AFQjCNFNDnqaFl_VV5kCFB4-1kFhi9tsBA&sig2=KTwSZwPnc0SNyt5Fiw-z9A&bvm=bv.54934254,d.aWc&=

To learn more about the Eudist Saints of the Eleventh Hour, or to make a donation click here http://www.eudistservants.org