Category Archives: Urban Homesteading

Got Time? Bike Ride

Bike Riding for Earth

Beautiful Blue Earth


“Do you bike ride or take the bus to church?” a bike-riding friend asks.

“We drive.” I say. “Buses take too much time,” assuming she’ll commiserate about the inconvenient transit connections.

But she doesn’t.

“Too much time?” she scoffs. “We’re out of time, “ she hardens. “The earth is out of time.”

Bike Riding Reduces Carbon

Carbon Cycle

Hoping your eyes won’t glaze over, here’s more.

In the beginning

When human civilization began, the earth’s carbon atmosphere was 275 parts per million (the ratio of carbon molecules to all the other molecules in the atmosphere).

At the start of the 18th century, humans began to burn coal, gas, and oil to produce energy and well, stuff. At first Co2 levels rose slowly, then more quickly.

Bike Riding Reduces Co2

Co2 Rise Chart

Today, the earth Co2 levels are 400 parts per million.

If we don’t reverse this rapid rise, we risk triggering a “tipping point” that mean irreversible changes to our earth’s climate.


Evidence of earth changes already happening:

Melting Glaciers

Bike riding reduces Co2

Top 2004 Bottom 1909

Sea Level Rise

Mosquitoes breading in new areas spreading malaria and dengue fever and possibly zika.

Bike riding stops sea rise

Sea Rise


Increased Extreme Weather

Increased human conflict ,



What you notice. Wind blowing hair away from your face, sun on your shoulder.

What you learn. To shop carefully, how much bulk fits in a small backpack — did you know that if you let the air out of a pre-bagged package of kale, it will fit in a shoulder pack?

How you feel. Alert! You focus on real stuff like bumps, gravel, and glass on the road.

Secret passages. Bikes fit when cars don’t. On a bike, you can ride through parks, down narrow one-way streets, and between cement-blocked passages.

How long it takes to bike rather than drive short distances. Biking to our neighborhood park takes 15 minutes to drive and about 20 to ride a bike.

fixing helmets-preparing-for-bike-ride-pv

biking businesswoman-businessman-riding-bike-city-park-close-up-smiling-40096921

learning to ride





Safe Ride

And riding is becoming easier and safer. There are:

mom on bike

  1. More green bike lanes.
  2. Dedicated bike lanes
  3. Light Rail stations provide bike boxes
  4. Bike-hanging racks
  5. Racks on bus (Beware, only two per bus)
  6. Share a Bikes


So, while transit connections in our area are abysmal, and it was harsh to hear my friend scolding me for complaining about them, she got me thinking about using my time to ride a bike.



man riding to work





And what’s cool is the number of bike riders in my tiny community is growing. Here’s a tribute to all the people I know who commute to work, shop, parks, play and other places. It’s a shout to Tessa, Cat, Marshall, and Sophia, Richard, Deb, and Soph, Andrea, Frank, Elizabeth, Elena, and Jamie, Heather, Keith, Sarah, and Michelle, Melanie, John, Spencer, and Aiden, John, Marge, Zeke, and Jake, Mary Ann, Mateo, and Alyssa, Sebastian, Walter and Henry, and Doug, Alexander, Andy, and me, among many others.

Are we a movement? And if not, let’s start one. Now is the time.

Free FIY Flow Fumble Fix Dishwasher

Like traveling solo to Morocco, most of my adventures begin from the inside out.


Bread Ties Clog Sink Flow

Take me, a mom, fixing my dishwasher. Starting backwards, the story ends with a chat on Facebook.

Cousin: What are you working on?

Me: Dishwasher.

Backing up (me, not my dishwasher), the problem started simply, Water wouldn’t leave the basin and YouTube said, “Clear the screen”. So twice I found and used a #15 hex nut to unscrew the cover and empty the gunk below the screen enclosure basin.

Cousin: Did you get the job done?

Me: We spent Saturday researching then shutting off this, unplugging that, removing a cover, labeling screws, lifting machinery, undoing another cover, not undoing another cover, driving to hardware store for a smaller wrench, removing again, photographing wire orientation. Then we manually bailed out water, drained the hose, rebalanced the washer, fitted the machine back into place la, la, la.

Cousin: Did you get the job done?

Me: Still not working. Basin fills up. Won’t drain.

DIY Dishwasher Fix better after bike ride

Bike Ride Break

Partner: Let’s leave this, and take a bike ride (smart guy).

Waiting in the front yard, I share with my neighbor, who suggests, “Check the sink overflow.”

The sink overflow. And do you know that silver cylinder stared at me all afternoon. Our contractor’s voice from nine years ago replaying, “I put this here so that, in case your dishwasher ever over flows, the water will have someplace to go.”

Always listen to your inner DIY voice.

After the bike ride, we open the top of the overflow. Actually, I timidly pull off the silver cylinder. Worried I’ll break the plastic cover, I shy away. He unsnaps the plastic cover, and I remove a wad of something or other sitting on the in-air pipe.

I run the short (dishwasher) cycle (again), but the basin still doesn’t empty.

He bends a coat hanger into a narrow hook. I fish out more scum and stuff. Then staring down the pipe. I spy something red, a piece of pepper? Nope, like food caught in the trachea, a quarter piece of a plastic bread clip, the thing used to hold the plastic bag closed, lodges in the interior of the pipe.

I’m the motivator in my family for DIY fixing and repairs. Sometimes it’s to save money, but more often it’s my constant drive to independently know how to fix machines. Demystify them, conquer the fear that I’ll “do it wrong,” or “break it,” or “flood the kitchen or living room.”

But in spite of fear, I can’t stop myself from not calling the repair service. The do-it-myself satisfaction exhilarates me. The dishwasher fixing high lasted three. In fact, I’m still reveling.

Me: I did it!

Cousin: Amen cousin!

Cousin: Amen cousin!

Me: Set me loose and maybe there isn’t much I can’t do!

How ‘bout you, any DIY machine fixing projects you’d care to share?

Hire Power

IMG_8174I think I’ve found my hire power, and I hope you won’t find me too haughty when you hear that,

It’s me.

Here’s the story.

For years, in addition to a happily developing vegetable garden, I’ve had a disorderly hodgepodge of poppies, yarrow, nepeta, and Bermuda grass. The first three are my choice, the last is not.

Here’s how I tried to remove it:

1. Make it a school project. Send my kids out front for 15 minutes every day. Works, well sort of. Something always comes up (usually more weeds).

2. Make it a family affair. Designate Thursday a family yard night. The combined hour is potentially four hours of work in one evening. See idea one.

3. Assign myself the 15-minute per day commitment. (see Mother’s Day Advice‎) That solution worked the best, but it’s not sustainable and well, it  might build strong weeding arms, but it built resentment too.

This year, during a mid-summer dreamy inspiration, I decide to hire someone else to do my weeding.

Starting local, I ask my landscaper friend. She refers a man who’s been working in her neighbor’s yard. He pulls out sour grass, which I appreciate, but leaves the Bermuda grass.

Trying again, I phone our neighborhood hardware store. They direct me to an employee/landscaper. That very day, he drops his red work apron and meets me at my house. Like Name That Tune, he tells me, “I can weed this whole yard in eight hours.” Thrilled, we arrange the work for the following Tuesday. Tuesday comes and no weeder. We reschedule. Next Tuesday arrives, and again, no one. Too trusting, and hopelessly romantic, I reschedule again for Friday morning. At 4:30 p.m., a truck pulls to my curb. Wondering, I watch, after 30 minutes, the truck drives away. Bermuda grass remains.

Since three’s a charm, I consult a third friend’s landscaper. We arrange a time. He calls once to reschedule. The next day, he gives me an estimate and promises to call back in a few days. The phone does not ring.

Resiliency is my weak point, so I call one more contact. We arrange the wages and work. It’s good money. He does a great job in one small area. We arrange a second visit. He doesn’t show and he doesn’t call.

So I face reality. No one wants to pull my weeds.

I consider the job qualifications: someone strong, conscientious, and reliable, and then I realize, whom I can hire.

It’s me!

I have the hire power. And,

I hire myself.

Starting at sunrise, I set up a beach umbrella. I fill a plastic pitcher with ice water. Ready with gloves and weeder, I start my project. As I weed, I relax. Finally the weeding is getting done. And I dream about my wages. How will I spend my extra money? Take a trip, buy new clothes, order takeout? I didn’t pay myself yet, but knowing I can is empowering.

If you offer me a job to weed your yard, I won’t accept. But if you can’t find someone to help you with your work, hire yourself. Like me, you’re probably responsible, reliable, and conscientious.

Any project you want to hand over to your hire power? I bet you my wages, you have hire power too.

DIY Down Under

IMG_7692Decided to go down under yesterday to see for myself what a termite inspector said he didn’t need to investigate cause he’d already found enough evidence. Turns out I couldn’t see what he meant, cause I didn’t find anything either, termites that is.

But I did find capability, courage and many compliments from my husband and children who were very impressed at my determination and willingness to crawl on my belly army style in a 24-inch space with a flashlight on my head and covered top to toe in homemade crawlspace protector garb which starting with my head, included a layer of old t-shirt covered by a yellow raincoat pulled tight all around my face, and fastened firmly around the wrists, ski pants over pants with socks pulled over pants like you would to avoid a bicycle chain getting caught on the leg cuff, old hiking boots, and rubber gloves.

Surprised by the height of the space, I lay on the floor for several minutes half-torso stretched looking this way and that pointing my flashlight in the directions I knew I’d be navigating. Like a decision long ago to homebirth (another story) and then home school and urban homestead ( , I’m now on my fourth home — DIY home termite inspection. Before I could think further, I found myself lowering myself into the pit of our dusty underground.

A family effort, Doug directed from the inside, and the kids, who had been sweeping the yard, met me at all the sunny chicken-wired shut grates along the outside of the house, describing the places so their directionally challenged mom could figure out where she was .

And there I was, under the house and looking for termites. Finally got a look at the copper pipes that were installed 15 years ago when we moved in. Dang workers left the old pipes under the house.

Turns out I saw no tubers and only the pellets the termite guy found from the outside. Does this mean we don’t need to eventually gas the inside and shoot gallons of pesticides outside and around our precious 6,000 square footage yard? I can’t say, but since comparing notes with our neighbors, who are tenting because termites are crawling out of the floors and walls, I’m pretty sure I ruled out the recommended complete house plastic wrap application.

Seems becoming my own termite inspector is part of an evolutionary DIY path that started with birthing my kids at home (tried), educating my kids’, (succeeding) and growing our own food and chickens (bit by bit). My first impulse used to be, “I don’t know how,” and “I need experts,” but when I try, I find, it’s not mysterious. What about you; pushed yourself to the brink of intrepid Do it Yourself indignant independence lately? If so, please send pictures and stories.

Homestead School

lettuce, berries, peppers_6135 copy

When my husband and I decided to take out the front lawn and use that space to grow vegetables, I leapt into the project. Same thing happened when we got chickens. Asked what I wanted for my birthday, I raised the coop idea, happened upon some chicks for sale on Mother’s Day and bought them—before my husband and the kids had even razed the yard to build the chicken house.


snow peas_0868 copysizedFirst planting began one fall four years ago when I sewed one crop — a package of snow pea seeds—in two large planters housed on concrete pavement in the backyard. These first plants yielded two to three bowls of peas. Crunchy and yummy, they lured my then seven-year old outside to graze in the garden—well, terracotta planters.

Since then, our 6,000 square foot yard has been through much resting, revamping, and rejuvenating, and sometimes many months of fallow. All along my gardening goal has been to create a circle of planting, eating, and composting from the plants out front, to the kitchen table, to the side yard and back to the garden.

“Plant something rather than nothing at all,” is my motto. The result is many salads and even some meals that are completely off the grocery store grid. This fall, we are still enjoying salad every night from 24 lettuce plants started mid summer.

In our four years, we’ve grown tomatoes, peppers, artichokes, oregano, thyme, lemon verbena, calendula, nasturtium, kale, chard, arugula, lettuce, spinach, and strawberries. And in an old sandbox, we dug in potato starters (homemade from under the kitchen sink).  Also in the backyard are four chickens that lay many eggs


A A science_6137 sizedcopyHomeschooling germinated like homesteading; it began in the kitchen because I wanted our kids to eat healthy food. I was concerned that once they started school, they would be enticed by packaged food, and lose interest in vegetables, fruit, and homemade lunch.

I also wanted them to play outside and all over the house and—as much as possible— to stay away from television and computers. I wanted them to invent their own games and stories.


Our homeschooling family is a bit more organized than our gardening. We’ve always studied math and writing, and have some history and science in the mix. We play sports and music. We don’t always have a happy idealistic group at the kitchen table eagerly factoring rational numbers and exploring the Lewis and Clark trail or another historical journey, but in our best moments the kids and I are learning to study, and converse, and write about it.

Alex Doug measure for deck_6162 copyAnd I adjust every minute. Just yesterday I finally realized that I needed to ask my younger son how many math problems he could do before he ran out of steam.

“Eight,” he told me as he whipped through them in five minutes, and then pointing said, “If I finish quickly, I can do this page too,” confirming he wasn’t trying to squirm away from doing more.

I also realized that if I wanted my older son to fully answer his biology questions, I needed to clearly explain how to do it. Probably seems obvious to some, but for me, it took a while. So, I told him what was expected, and he agreed saying, “I get it mom.” And away he went.

Homeschooling can be hard, but it’s also great. I’m constantly interrupted and often challenged, but every morning I get one, sometimes two, requests to sit on the couch as we wake up, and even in our toughest moments, there’s always the understanding that we’ll come back together.

Our threesome still eats lunch together, and there’s still quite a bit of home cooking.


Lately there’s even time for gardening. After all, until you can manage more than eight math problems, you have time for measuring wooden boxes, mixing vermiculite with compost and peat, and sweeping yard clippings.


Post by Peggy O’Mara



Lucky Grandma

Grandma didn’t know she was lucky. That she had time to hang her clothes on a line. Course, maybe she didn’t have time, and maybe she would have rather drawn more pictures like I saw her do once.

But instead she worked. She had tall raised veins on her hands that she showed me and explained came from her labor in the apricot and prune cannery, the butter factory, washing dishes, scrubbing laundry, and hanging clothes on the line.

And now I dry our clothes outside and wonder. Do I have time for this? Shouldn’t I be shoving them in the dryer and then leaving them there for days collecting wrinkles and piles in and around the machine? Pulling them out a week later, lugging them to an empty table (after I clear it off), sorting shirts and socks into more piles and then folding stack after stack?

Instead, I’m drawn to that clothesline.

It’s sunny out there as I smooth out the wrinkles, turn the t-shirt right side out, pin the shoulders, match the socks, straighten the towels, and then reach back from somewhere to remember the most efficient way to hang shorts and pants. Is it inside out with the pockets pulled?


Not sure it matters. Hanging out laundry is like riding my bicycle to do errands; I change a chore into a pleasant time.

Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? What are you supposed to do?

Mother’s Day Advice

I listen to what people say and file away pieces of advice from nearly everyone. I rarely get advice from my mother. She’s never been one to tell me what to do, so when she does, I take note. Once she told me something quite simple:  As you get older, you have less flexibility about moving to new places and pursuing any interest you want, especially if you get married, and have children. She was right.

Of late, I’m amazed at how little time I can devote to my interests. But here’s something I’ve learned. Even though it’s difficult to make time for my projects, when I scrape aside a teeny bit each day, over a month or two, I can accumulate quite a pile of it.

Case in point:  Recently I committed to gardening 15 minutes each day for a month. Every day I’d carry my stopwatch, trowel, weeder, and gloves to the front yard, set the timer for 15 minutes and get to work. One day I weeded the section for strawberries, the next I planted. Another day I prepared an area for tomatoes, the next I potted. Some days I couldn’t get in my 15 minutes until after dark. Several evenings, I weeded the sidewalk strip by streetlight.

But did you know you can plant a 6-pack in 15 minutes? And you can fill 7 terracotta pots in the front of a garage in ¼ hour? Each day I chose a new area of my yard and each day I saw progress. Fifteen minutes a day over two months accumulated to 15 hours, a chunk of time I never would have been able to have all at once.

I have other projects in the cue:  more writing and theater. And I have grander ideas too.

I like to think I could use this 15-minute project technique to start a quiet revolution. I imagine things in the world outside my home that could be accomplished by working on them 15 minutes a day.

So feel free to take this mother’s advice. Our time may become less flexible as we get older, but if you have dreams and hopes perhaps you too could carve out a bit of time and plant your garden.