In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


Terrible Names for Good Ideas

I’m listening to the audiobook version of How to be Alive by Colin Beavan. So far it has been enjoyable with lots of interesting perspectives and insights. And the book is read by the author, which I definitely prefer.

[Side note – the audio is free through in partnership with my local library, and it does NOT include all the “enhanced digital content” that would have been on the actual disks if I had purchased them in the store.]

Anyway, while I like a lot of Mr. Beavan’s ideas, I find his names for them, um, less than inspiring. Take for example, the “Ukulele Approach”. This is his term for small, easy actions that one can take to help bring your life more in line with your values. Even if you can’t solve big issues like world hunger or universal clean drinking water, anyone can smile more, help an elderly person carry their groceries, etc. He provides a list of 19 examples and they are all great suggestions. Just … the name for them … hmmmmm …

[Side note 2 – I finally know how to spell ukulele after writing this post.]

But the point is, Mr. Beavan’s list inspired me to compose my own. Some of the items are on his list as well, because I liked them so much. Without further ado, my own list of 19 easy small steps I can take to live a life better aligned to my values:

  1. Pick up litter while walking
  2. Eat a more plant-based diet
  3. Feed my family more locally sourced food
  4. Forage more to learn about my local ecology
  5. Drink less booze
  6. Eat less sugar
  7. Eat more fermented / cultured foods
  8. Buy more clothes used
  9. Shift what clothing I do buy to be more natural fibers rather than synthetic
  10. Improve the energy efficiency of my home through insulation foam, caulking and weather stripping
  11. Watch TV less
  12. Buy less stuff, especially things which are ‘labor saving’ gadgets or ‘convenience’ devices, or only serve one highly specialized purpose
  13. Spend my dollars at local and / or ethically and socially conscious businesses
  14. Give more complements
  15. Smile more
  16. Support my daughters’ unique personalities and individual traits and empower them to be strong women
  17. Buy seeds evolved for my climate so the garden needs less energy to support
  18. Participate in seed exchanges
  19. If given the choice, use and buy things that can be ‘returned to the soil’ at the end of their functional life

How will it go? Only time will tell, BUT I can definitely say, it has been a while since I last composed a list that made me feel excited, rather than anxious!


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Ceci N’est Pas Une Diet Blog

I know, I know, I’ve been blogging about food and diet a lot lately.

Just a reminder, this is NOT a diet blog, even though it looks like one from time to time.  Or a lot, even.

This is a personal productivity and effectiveness blog.  It’s an exploring-ways-to-be-more-awesome blog. It’s a getting the most out of the short time we have on this planet blog. Finding ways to do things smarter, not harder.

The best way to know if things are getting better, is to have metrics that you can record over time. This allows you to make small adjustments, measure results, and then change accordingly to see if the numbers are reflecting the desired change. To do this effectively, you need to have a good starting baseline.

One my consistent failings in all my year’s gardening has been tracking yield. My beloved journal/calendar/diary keeps me straight on timing, but I have no way to know if things like succession planting or different vegetable varieties is really impacting my yield.

This year, I’m committed to better tracking to establish that baseline. To that end: behold! My first measurable garden output of the year!

Asparagus fresh from the backyard

Asparagus fresh from the backyard

(Note this is not “subsistence farming” or even significantly impacting my grocery budget – this much asparagus sells right now for probably 5 USD or less.  Frankly, if it’s in season for your home garden, it’s in season for the farmers around you, and they have economies of scale which allow them to sell the same produce for WAY less than it costs you to grow it yourself. But a backyard garden is noble and worthy for other reasons… probably that will be (yet another) future blog post.)

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A Dream of One

Funny how sometimes you don’t realize you have a dream until someone else is living it.

This week, I learned that person is Daniel Markovitz.

OK, not literally.  I don’t actually know Mr. Markovitz is, or what his life is like. But I learned of his book, Factory of One: Applying Lean Principles to Banish Waste and Improve Your Personal Performance, and I wanted to cry. With joy at finding such an awesome book, and with despair at realizing I wanted to write that book.

And it’s a good book so far. I can’t even pursue the “well I’ll do the same thing only better” angle.  Sigh.

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Annual Garden Update, The Third

I’m falling behind with my posts. Again. I have so much I want to write, and so little opportunity to sit still at a computer screen. Luckily (I guess?) I recently decided to make my blog more focused on content which is either informative or inspirational, because that’s what I like to read on other people’s blogs. Less of the navel-gazing, more useful content. At least, that’s my plan!

Anyway, this garden update will cover my various berries endeavors.   Starting with: blueberries!  (And a fig.)  Last year, these guys were all in containers.  Then the particularly cold winter killed them all… well, OK, truth in blogging – it was the cold winter plus the fact that the containers did not have any holes in the bottom for water to drain out. So the plants were already compromised health-wise, and then the winter basically did them in.  All but the “Farthing” blueberry in the back. The rest are replacements.

Blueberry bushes

Blueberry bushes

Same for the fig in front.  He is the only one planted in a container still, though sunken into the ground.  This helps constrain the root growth so the fig puts more energy into growing the branches, leaves and fruit. The previous fig also died from the cold winter.

Here’s a side view of my raspberries. This year I have much more aggressively pruned them and trained them in tight rows, held in place by wire. This approach has increased my harvest HUGELY because it’s so much easier to pick the fruit in the middle of the bed without getting scratched to death. I have had much fewer “raspberry kisses” this year than previously. “Raspberry kisses” is my term for those teensy splinters that you can’t see but make your flesh swell up around them so a day or so later you know exactly where they are.

Trellised Raspberries

Trellised Raspberries

I use a pruning method that produces two crops a year, described on page four of this article.  The spring/early summer crop just wrapped up, and the fall crop of  berries are already getting huge but not yet turning ripe. Any day now!

New this year: blackberries! Well, not technically new.  Last year we planted to blackberry bushes, and the instructions clearly said not to let them fruit the first year. So this is the first year with fruit. I tried training them the same as the raspberries, but blackberry canes grow in all sorts of weird directions from all sorts of unlikely places, so they became quite chaotic as the spring went on. Also, they were/are so heavily loaded with fruit that the branches often break and the fruit dies. Strangely enough, I haven’t found any sites about how to deal with too many blackberries!  Next year I may prune off the weaker canes so there isn’t as much fruit. Maybe.

Loaded blackberries

Loaded blackberries

The blackberries started ripening just as the raspberries started petering out, so the timing was impeccable.

Also: blackberries really are weeds. So wherever the canes grew so long that they bent over and touched the ground, that spot developed roots and became its own plant! So now I have two beds of blackberries, plus at least one plant in the walkway between.  So next year we’ll have as big an area producing blackberries as currently produce raspberries. Oh, and because of the chaotic nature of blackberry growth I have NO clue which plants came from the Navajo and which from the Cumberland.

New (volunteer!) blackberry plants

New (volunteer!) blackberry plants

Not pictured: my strawberries. The ones in front of the house started producing ripe fruit in mid-May; the ones in the garden, late May to early June. The crops weren’t great due to bugs and the very wet spring which created a lot of mold issues, particularly in the raised bed which never seemed to dry out.  The strawberries plants look awful this time of year – all sunburnt from hot days and chewed up by the terrible Japanese beetle infestation we’ve been suffering.  Next year we’re going to grow strawberries in elevated containers, so the fruit hangs from the side rather than sitting in dirt and ick. I need to start catching the daughter plants so we’ll have our own cuttings to help fill in the new structure.

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Annual Garden Update, Post B

It’s taking me a lot longer to post all my garden updates than I expected it would. Many of my photos are a week or two old now, and don’t really reflect how my garden looks it is ever evolving. I will try finish as many posts as possible in the next few days, otherwise it will be fall and I’ll be writing in the past tense!

Today’s post: Cucurbitaceae! The biggest change with squash this year was the varieties I planted.  Because Squash Vine Borers destroyed my yellow squash, zucchini and acorn squash last year, this year I planted solid-stemmed varieties, which gives the SVB nowhere for their larvae to grow, and (hopefully) preserves the plant. I still have seen quite a few adults, but mostly my vines seem unaffected so far.   ….which was the point!

First and foremost – the Trombetta squash.  Apparently this guy is actually a ‘gourd’, but if you eat the fruit when it’s still young, it works like yellow squash or zucchini in recipes.

Trombetta Squash

Trombetta Squash – Front View of Box

We’ve also got swanky new trellises for them to climb, made of PVC and plastic fence so it can be reused multiple years.  Here’s a few from behind the box – we added hemp twine between the trellises so the trombetta could continue to grow since it WAY outclassed the trellis!  (It has since passed the cucumber trellis, and is continuing to grow!)

Trombetta Squash

Trombetta Squash, making their escape!

This is a photo from a few days ago (as opposed to the others which were from over a week ago, so you can see a trombetta squash in its full glory.  (I have since planted some summer lettuce in the shade of the trombetta trellis.)

Trombetta Squash

Trombetta Squash fruit ready to pick!

It was picked shortly after this photo – 2 feet long, over 1 1/2 lbs of squashy goodness!

Here are the cucumbers. We planted a mix of ‘regular’ salad type cucumbers and picking cukes as I have determined that pickling and fermenting (rather than canning) is my favorite way to preserve produce. Well, or freezing. But frozen cucumbers? Ew.  I have almost enough cucumbers to pickle now, in fact, and plan on trying this recipe.  Mmmmm, homemade pickles!


Cucumbers on a trellis

We have had some problems with the cucumber fruit not setting, probably due to fertilization issues. Not sure why, but there are very few honey bees in our garden this year.  The ones who do show up go for the cover in the lawn, rather than the yummy flowers in the garden. Oh well. The problem wasn’t so bad that I had to try fertilizing by hand.  We’ve had some issues with cucumber beetles also, but so far they haven’t done too much damage.

Underside of the cucumbers – nappa cabbage and cauliflower, which isn’t producing a head for some strange reason – none of them are. Topic for another post, probably!

Random cauliflower and cabbage under the cucumbers.

Random cauliflower and cabbage under the cucumbers.

We also planted a solid-stemmed winter squash: a miniature butternut squash called “Honey Nut”. The mature fruit are about the size of an acorn squash.

Miniature butternut - "honey nut"

Miniature butternut – “honey nut”

The butternut did need some extra hand fertilization, unfortunately. Probably more than I have actually given it!  Here’s a close-up of the fruit:

A baby honey nut butternut squash!

A baby honey nut butternut squash!

And what’s growing under the trellis:

Cauliflower and borage

Cauliflowers and borage flowers growing under the butternut

Last but not least, we bought a little pop up greenhouse, in which we’re trying  to grow yellow squash and zucchini, protected from the ravages of the SVB.  Unfortunately this also means protected from bugs that can fertilize them so these we have tried pollinating by hand.  …so far we’re not very good at it. It shouldn’t be that hard, but there seems to be a timing issue we haven’t gotten the hang of yet.

Regular yellow squash and zucchinis, protected in the greenhouse

Regular yellow squash and zucchinis, protected in the greenhouse