Wednesday, May 30, 2007

90% Water Usage

I recalculated our water usage, and I'm sorry to say that we've been averaging 500 gallons of water per day. Yikes! Now, some of that is irrigation, but obviously we are right up there with the average American household when it comes to water usage. From looking over the bills I can see that summer watering is what really pushes up our water consumption.

There are a few things I know:

Papa over waters the lawn and beds in the summer. My job will be to research the subject thoroughly and present him with the information, and work with him to figure out how much we should be watering. We water the garden by hand as needed.

The shower has a drip. I'm catching it now so we can see how much we are losing daily.

I would say we lose at least 10 gallons of water a day just to waiting for hot water to reach the taps or shower. We recapture some but not all of that water. Our house is old, and the water heater is a long distance from the back shower.

Cloth wipes have moved to the front burner; Papa will flush if he sees a lot of TP sitting in a toilet. We'll strictly adhere to if it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down.

Landscaping that is watered needs to be switched to edible plantings ASAP.

The boys use too much water to wash their hands. I'm setting up a wash station outside; it's just a dish tub with soapy water, and a hanging towel. They put their hands in, scrub them, then take them out and dry them off. It's not clean enough for a hospital, but it's good enough to get the dirt off. As a bonus I can use water gathered while waiting for hot water at the tap, and using biodegradable soap we can use the grey water for plant irrigation.

I'm going to see if Papa would be willing to not rinse dishes before loading them in the dishwasher. I've run the numbers, and we definitely save water using the dishwasher (an efficient Bosch) vs. hand washing (even using a frugal method).

I'm going to figure out how much water I use for a half full bath, vs. a shower. With a soap and soak valve I know I could use a lot less water. For instance, showering in the RV I use about 3 gallons for my entire shower, and that includes washing and conditioning long hair.

We use a lot of water for cooking and drinking. I don't know that we could cut that down.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

100 Foods Within 100 Miles

Tonight I sat down with a pencil and paper and started a list of 100 foods I knew I could get within 100 miles of where I live. After 57 I decided it would be a good blog post.

All of these foods are items I have grown, purchased at the farmers' market, known of people who grow or produce them, or have recently found sources for.

1. Eggs
2. Cheese
3. Tomatoes
4. Cucumbers
5. Avocados (many varieties)
6. Sugar Snap Peas
7. Winter Squash (including pumpkins)
8. Peaches
9. Apples
10. Pears
11. Persimmons
12. Grapes
13. Plums
14. Pluots
15. Apricots
16. Nectarines
17. Oranges (all varieties)
18. Kumquats
19. Pummelos
20. Lemons (Eureka and Meyer)
21. Grapefruit
22. Limes
23. Summer Squash (zucchini, crookneck, etc.)
24. Corn
25. Strawberries
26. Broccoli
27. Garlic
28. Leeks
29. Cabbage
30. Cauliflower
31. Lettuces
32. Spinach
33. Swiss Chard
34. Beets
35. Turnips
36. Radishes
37. Onions (both green and storage)
38. Basil
39. Mint
40. Chamomile
41. Parsley
42. Rosemary
43. Oregano
44. Thyme
45. Sage
46. Honey
47. Dates
48. Sunflower seeds
49. Cilantro/Coriander
50. Wine
51. Celery
52. Carrots
53. Cherries
54. Blackberries
55. Raspberries
56. Asparagus
57. Pomegranates
58. Kale
59. Vinegar
60. Chili Peppers
61. Cow's Milk (pasteurized and not organic)
62. Figs
63. Dandelions
64. Walnuts
65. Rabbit
66. Poultry
67. Asian Pears
68. Green Beans
69. Goat's Milk
70. Macadamia Nuts
71. Potatoes
72. Beef (need to confirm)
73. Watermelon
74. Eggplant
75. Okra
76. Honeydew Melon
77. Cantaloupe
78. Mackerel
79. Bonito Tuna
80. Halibut
81. Herring
82. Bass
83. Perch
84. Sole
85. Sanddabs
86. Catfish
87. Trout
88. Thresher Shark
89. Olives
90. Olive Oil
91. Fennel
92. Poppy Seeds
93. Ginger
94. Bananas
95. Tomatillos
96. Venison
97. Blueberries
98. Lemon Balm
99. Nasturtiums
100. Rhubarb

So I thought I was going to come up short, but I did alright.

Now granted, not all of this is available commercially. You'd have to hunt to get venison (or know someone who does), and to get the fish you'd probably have to do the fishing yourself (we have many fine fishing piers). Some fruit, such as blueberries, are grown here but not commercially. To get the bananas you'd have to plant and tend a tree carefully.

Some categories are very broad; I could have names lettuce varieties by the dozens, as well as many of the greens we associate with salad, such as watercress and arugula. The squashes have a lot of variety. On the other hand, I listed most of the berries separately.

I listed cheese, only because there are a few producers nearby, and cheese-making can be a tricky business and require specialized equipment. On the other hand, I didn't list yogurt, which I presume could be made easily at home. I listed apples, and vinegar (made from apples or other fruits), but not apple butter or dehydrated apples, both of which I can get. I didn't list juices made from any fruits or vegetables.

Not everything listed is available organic (certified or not).

It was a fun exercise, and one that really got me thinking and researching. I knew I could get expensive local poultry, but not that there was a beef producer nearby (I hope that source pans out). I didn't list goat meat, but I am sure it could be obtained. I didn't list all of the fish species available, nor any shellfish.

Could we eat from this list? I don't know. I haven't found storage grain grown anywhere near us; the corn I've seen is all sweet corn. We don't really want to eat a lot of meat. We prefer raw, organic dairy and our source for that is about 250 miles away. But certainly we will be able to shift 100% of our fruit and vegetable consumption to locally grown items.

Friday, May 25, 2007

90% Heating and Cooking Fuels

We average 500 therms of natural gas a year. That's about 50% of the national average of 1000 therms per household. Most of our usage comes in the winter months; for example, we used just 11 therms in June 2006, 12 therms in July 2006, and 13 therms in August 2006, all of which are months that required no use of the furnace and were perfect for line drying. In contrast, we used 92 therms of gas in December 2006 and 140 therms in January 2007. Even keeping the thermostat at 68 degrees during the day I suffered with the cold, so I can't imagine lowering it. We do use a programmable thermostat so we can effectively keep the furnace off at night.

Again, part of our high usage reflects a poorly insulated home and an old, inefficient furnace. Last winter, however, I was very ill and had surgery. Because of this I wasn't able to make window quilts, and our front windows and the windows in the boys room had no window coverings at all. Because of the nature of my surgery Papa was instructed to wash my towels daily and the bedding twice weekly, all in hot water (and all of my underclothing as well). That's extra gas for the hot water and extra gas for the more frequent dryer loads. So we do have a chance of reducing our usage this winter.

So as I mentioned in the last post, I'll make window quilts for this winter. We'll install something better than my makeshift clothesline, allowing me to hang more than one load a day in winter (not a problem in summer, where a load can air dry in less than an hour). The ability to hang more than one load means I can take better advantage of good drying days, even in winter.

I do cook a lot, often for all three daily meals. My stove top is natural gas. So either we have to cook less, or figure that in. It's difficult when you are dealing with celiac disease (two of us), multiple food allergies (three of us), and a restricted diet for interstitial cystitis (just me). We can't just throw together a PB&J sandwich and call it lunch.

We've worked on lowering hot water usage. I bathe 4 times a week, but not in a full bath tub. When I am done (except after my Saturday night bath) my boys bathe in my bath water. It's radical, I know, but it has to be more sanitary than swimming in polluted ocean waters or a community pool. I go first because I am far less dirty than they are! I wash most of our clothes in cold (tap cold on my machine). The dishwasher has its own internal water heater, so we can keep ours set lower. The water heater is old; something else that could probably use replacement with a more efficient model. We looked into installing a tankless water heater in 2003 but didn't have enough air circulation in the space we wanted to put it. We'll rethink that now that we may demolish part of the laundry room to make room for a freezer.

90% - More Numbers (Electricity)

Average U.S. household electricity usage is 11,000 kWh per year. Calendar year 2006 we used 6868 kWh; for the last 12 months we've used 5960 kWh, which shows a downward trend. In 2005 we used 9479 kWh, and in 2004 we used 8241 kWh.

I'm worried about our ability to reduce our usage to 10% of the average. Honestly, we used 1100 kWh just in July last year, a month that saw us with 26 days of temperatures over 100 degrees. I live in an old house, it is poorly insulated, and the A/C unit is over 15 years old. Yes, we would use significantly less electricity to run a new, Energy Star A/C unit, but coming up with the cash to pay for it isn't really in the cards this year.

Therein lies one of the dilemmas we face regularly regarding reducing the energy we use: how to afford to replace inefficient appliances when the reality is that it will take years to see financial payback. We live in southern California, which is not the land of cheap electricity, and still we paid only $910.50 for our electricity usage over the past 12 months, which averages to 15 cents per kWh, including all fees and taxes.

A new unit would cost us over $5K, and would take more than 10 years to pay for itself. We know that buying a new unit is the responsible thing to do; the reality is that we'll keep it limping along until it dies. The longer it lives, the more time we have to build cash reserves, so that we can pay for a new unit without resorting to financing or draining the emergency account.

We do have many Energy Star appliances, installed with our 2003 remodel. The dishwasher is a Bosch, the washing machine is a high efficiency front loader. The range is a dual-fuel Jenn Air with convection (to cut cooking time). We had purchased an Energy Star refrigerator in 2002.

How can we cut our usage? Well, we're almost at 50% right now; that's good. Last year we ran the A/C at 82 degrees; this year we're going to try pushing it to 84 degrees or higher. Last year we ran the ceiling fans all the time; this year I read that we should only turn them on when we are in a room, as they work by the wind chill principle. That should help some.

We're exploring the idea of a basic outdoor kitchen set up. We have a patio-sized propane grill, and are looking into a small cast iron hibachi that could be used with hardwood charcoal or with wood. We're seriously considering something like a Sun Oven (which is something we could take with us when we leave). In terms of summer eating, we're thinking of combining a grilled protein with mostly raw foods. We'll choose one day a week to cook grains, beans, and baked items. The idea is to keep the kitchen from getting hot, thus reducing the need for the A/C.

There are little things we can do. We love the skylight in the big bathroom, however it heats the back room, so we'll close the door in summer. We're going to hang an outdoor blind off the patio to block the western sun on hot summer afternoons. One project I intend to take on is making window quilts for the winter. I've been given a lot of fabric, and I occasionally find it at the thrift store. I'll use thrift store blankets for batting.

I skimp on electricity other little ways as well. I'll bathe or shower when the morning light is good so I don't need artificial lighting. I air dry my long hair instead of using a hair dryer. I open a window instead of running the bathroom fan. I rarely turn on my porch light.

In the kitchen I reach for a knife or handheld grater over a food processor. We soak oatmeal and cook it briefly on the stove rather than running a slow cooker all night. If I use the rice cooker I make enough (rice, quinoa, cornmeal mush) for several meals.

Needless to say, nearly every light bulb in our house is tube florescent or a compact florescent.

One thing we are considering, which will add to our electricity usage, is buying a small, manual defrost chest freezer so that we can bulk purchase grassfed beef and lamb once a year. The one we are looking at averages 274 kWh per year.

There is one thing that I wonder about when it comes to our energy usage? What kind of credit do we get if we aren't buying processed foods? Certainly it takes more energy usage at home to cook from scratch, but for the most part we've opted out of buying pre-made foods like bread, cereal, canned beans, ice cream, etc. which all take energy to manufacture.

90% Where We Are Now - Gasoline

I don't have all of our numbers, but I do have a few.

Gasoline usage: average American uses 500 gallons per person, per year. Trying to be fair, and not underestimate, I think we're at about 125 gallons per person, per year (approximately 10000 miles a year including vacation driving). Our usage has been up about 25% because my grandfather died and we drove an extra 2000 miles this spring. Goal is 50 gallons per person, per year. For us, with our current vehicle, that would be driving about 4000 miles per year, or 333 miles per month.

How we can reduce gasoline usage:

We can walk or bike all errands within a 5 mile radius. Sometime this involves changing a bank, pharmacy, or health care professional to one within your comfort zone, which we have done.

We all have bikes, and we have a bike cargo trailer. We also have a large beach cart that we use for groceries when we walk.

We can shift our food choices in terms of eating meals out. The most obvious change is to eat out less. Then next change is to choose locally owned restaurants, and to limit ourselves to restaurants within biking or walking distance.

We can get better at combining errands, especially out of town errands. If we choose to drive 60 miles round trip to visit relatives we need to think of everything else that could be done in that area or along the way. Is there a place to buy local food? Is there a great thrift store? Can we spend time in nature?

We can take the train to visit some family, although we still have to drive to the station in another town. We are getting involved in the campaign to bring light rail to our city.

Combining local errands is important too, especially if we are driving. I think it helps to choose one day per week that can be a car errand day, and limiting all other trips during the week to people-power only. It is so easy to hop in the car and drive to the yarn store one day, the thrift store the next, etc.

One issue we have is our homeschooling support group. The group that best fits our needs is 30 miles away from us. We can combine the trip with visiting relatives, appointments with one specialist I see, local organic food available nearby on Wednesdays (I just got a tip, so I have to research this), and a natural foods store on the way home. Still, it looks like there will have to compromises, such as not going every week, and not taking advantage of every field trip.

One exercise we did about a year ago was to visualize all of the local businesses that were within walking distance. By changing a few things we found that we could walk to the pharmacy, the credit union, the local grocer, the pet food store, the library, the post office, the movie theater, the doctor's office, the dentist, and many other small businesses. Within our biking range we have at least 5 thrift stores, many grocery stores and a health food store, a hobby shop, and many chain stores.

The amazing thing is that we live in southern California, queen of car culture, and noted for her dearth of good public transportation, yet we were already at 25% of average gasoline consumption. I think that's a great starting place.

90%? Can We Do It?

Okay, probably a few of you are aware of some of the various challenges going on in the world of eco-blogging. There is a man attempting to have a net zero impact on the world and a group of people planning a low impact week. There are Compacters, Freegans, and Localvores. There are those that report fantastically on peak oil and global warming. Plus there are many, many people out there, just like me, trying to live a simpler, lower impact life and taking the time to write about it.

One group is currently embarking on a project to reduce consumption to 90% of the American average. This includes Sharon over at Casaubon's Book, and Miranda at Simple Reduce (link is to 90% rules). They've titled this project a Riot for Austerity. Sure, it sounds tough, perhaps even impossible for some of us depending on where we live on where we work. That's why it is a challenge.

I wanted to pass up the challenge at first. I looked at the electrical usage goals and figured out that we'd never make it, even if we left the A/C off completely during our summer of mostly 100+ degree days. I figured we could meet the natural gas usage by conserving heavily in the warmer months so we could run the heat just a bit in the winter. I wasn't sure we'd even have a shot at reducing water consumption, not if we're attempting to grow our own food and have to irrigate to do it.

Still, the point of a challenge is that fact that it is well, challenging. So I am jumping in, feet first. I'm looking at everything I do now and taking it to the next level. I'm making hard choices, and I'm going to document that right here in the blog.

The official start date is June 1st. I may wait until the solstice to join. I have a few catch 22s to figure out; if I spend to reduce emissions then I am spending, which is another category. So what is necessary now, and what can wait?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


I finally taught myself to knit last week; I don't know why I had such a block, especially since a friend taught me 10 years ago.

I bought wooden needles for myself, oh, two years ago. I knew I needed to learn so I could teach the boys in grade 1. Well, they didn't even get the hang of spool knitting, so I was let off the hook (or needle, as it were). This year I was bound and determined to learn, and after reading The Knitting Circle: A Novel by Ann Hood I decided to learn that very night (last Wednesday).

So I did learn. I can cast on, and I can do the knit stitch. My tension is pretty good. I tried English and Continental and I think I'm a "thrower", although Continental is supposed to be easier for crocheters. Yesterday I went to a new yarn shop in town, and tonight I went to a knitting circle.

The boys are so excited! T-Guy is just positive that knitting with needles will be easier than spool knitting. We sanded dowels yesterday, and hopefully we'll make the ends tomorrow or Friday. Then I'm going to take them to the shop to pick out yarn, and perhaps to have the shop owners help get them started. Of course, we need to read the knitting story first.

This is me, living Enki my way.

Monday, May 14, 2007

We Interrupt This Block to Bring You...Summer!

Please ignore my last blog post. I'd erase it, however, someone out there might be getting something out of my planning, so for now I'll leave it up.

Earlier in April, I started a blog post that I never finished nor posted. Here is an excerpt:

One thing I've learned is to stop putting dates on my plans. I tend toward perfectionism and I hate when I see dates on the block plan and know we didn't make them. I still want to use the plan, but then have to revise it. So my new rule is no dates.

Obviously, I didn't follow my own rules when I came up with that last plan. I came up with it in good faith; in fact, that draft had these very words written:

I feel as though my own life has been on hold for some time now. We've worked on and off through my health issues, J-Baby's health issues, and now my grandfather's death. It has been a time of observation, and of growth. I've been able to assess and refine priorities. I'm ready to take up Enki again; which isn't exactly how I would like to say it, because I don't think we ever gave up Enki. Once something is part of you it continues with you.

Still, I'm ready to do the work necessary to mesh Enki education with my newest ideas about living and learning. Luckily, I have the grade 2 map in my mind, and all it really takes is moving back into an active mode.

We did try. We had one day that the lessons really clicked, and then the boys realized that Grandma was watching The Price is Right while we were doing lessons. All motivation was lost. We decided to hold off on focused work until Grandma went home. That was nearly two weeks ago, and we're still adrift.

It came to me last night: we are all highly disintegrated, both as individuals and as a family. It has been eight weeks since we've had a weekend spent fully at home. Part of that is because we spent a lot of time traveling back and forth between northern and southern California, part of that is because we had Grandma here, part of it was having things we were interested in doing, and part of it has been birthdays and holidays.

I'm not a quality time person. I believe in quantity time, and quiet days at home. Honestly, I've been running away; making play dates, scheduling fun weekend outings, running errands (oh, the freedom to just go somewhere, something we couldn't do when Grandma was here.) My grief and the accompanying stress has made me cranky, and when I can't find integration within myself I certainly can't integrate with my family. We stopped dancing, and everyone is tiptoeing around me. They want me, they need me, and I haven't been able to give fully. I'm not open. I'm sad and worried, and instead of working through that I seek diversion.

What the heck does this have to do with summer and our current grade 2 block? Well, I opened my eyes last night, and realized that the long days are upon us. The garden chores grow weekly. We cook outside, we eat outside, we play and talk and sing outside. The calendar may say spring, but my heart has been searching for summer, and here she is, knocking at my door.

I'm very tired of the shoulds, and I've decided that I want to focus on three things: working through my grief and worry (by slowing down and allowing myself to feel what I am feeling), rebuilding my relationship with my family (by giving them plenty of my time), and teaching my boys to read well (by giving them plenty of my time, and letting all the other stuff go for now). So that's it. I give myself permission not to read nature stories, not to do word journals, not to teach Spanish, not to plan crafts, and most of all, not to worry that I'm not doing circle, or seasonal crafts, or number verses, or whatever it is that I think I should be doing.

I just want summer. Mornings and evenings on the front porch. Dinner on the back deck. Impromptu ukulele lessons. Singing together. I don't want a busy, crazy summer; I want the slow, lazy summer of my youth. Hours melting into days melting into weeks. Time for us all to grow in the sunshine. Time to live.

For me, summer was cantaloupe filled with chocolate ice cream ~ for breakfast! Sleeping in, and then eating breakfast in a comfy chair out front, bowl in my lap, book in my hand. Endless sleepovers. Evening games of kickball with the entire neighborhood. Waiting until dark to do any chores because it was too hot during the day. The year my dad worked the swing shift we'd stay up late, playing cards and other games. We'd eat sandwiches and fruit for dinner so we wouldn't have to heat the kitchen, and to keep the dishes to a minimum. Most of all I read; outside if it was cool, on the couch, in my parents' water bed, snuggled up in the top bunk that was my haven. We rarely went anywhere, even on the weekends. Special times were truly special, not an every weekend occurrence.

There are so many summer sensations that I can recall. Sticky sweet watermelon juice dripping down my face, the scent of a ripe cantaloupe and the feel of it half-frozen against my tongue because of the ice cream. The icy cool air in the city library, so cold that I'd want a sweater in July. The swirl of my tongue around an ice cream cone from Thrifty's, and the crunch of the cone itself. The thud of a ball kicked out of the yard. The shrill call of my best friend's whistle across the fence. The rainbow that the sprinkler made at high noon, the cool of the water against my skin, and the glistening of each drop of water on a blade of grass. Sand between my toes and in my mouth, the taste of salt water, the force of a big wave.

All of these sensations, and so many books. I could get lost in the books all summer long; live in other houses, other countries, other families. Reading was my joy. I don't see that in my boys; they love stories, yes, but they can't access them the way I could. It's time to put aside everything else I want to believe and see if reading is something that can be taught. It may be that I can teach my boys the skills they need, and combined with giving them time to snuggle and practice we can get past Frog and Toad and Great Day For Up. Maybe it won't work at all, but I am reminded that many things must be taught, and many children do learn to read. I think they are ready; we've waited, and now we will immerse ourselves in this new task.

I realize now that everything else will still be there: Stalking Wolf and Benito Juarez and John Muir. It isn't the end of the world if they aren't learning Spanish at ages 7 and 8. I have to stop thinking that mud pies and spontaneous paper collages are somehow less important than carefully selected and planned seasonal crafts. Everything doesn't have to happen right now. There is no Enki fairy, no Waldorf fairy who is going to frown at me and tell me that I missed the boat when I skipped saints, sages, and heroes in grade 2. There are only my children, bright and open, smiling at me, wanting Mama more than anything else in the world. That is who I have to give them, and the rest will happen organically. We'll live, we'll love, and doing that we will learn.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Finding People You Didn't Know You Were Looking For

It's an odd concept I suppose, and I wasn't really sure which blog I should post this on. Then I realized that I am so very open to the idea of reconnecting with old friends precisely because I have simplified my life, cleared the emotional clutter, and become very happy with my life and who I am.

My 20 year high school reunion is approaching. Several months ago I traded emails with an classmate I've know since I was 9, and I was somewhat excited about attending the upcoming reunion. She and I weren't close in high school, however, and over the months my interest waned. What if the reunion was a lot like Papa's 10 year reunion, where the cliques still gathered and the pretty girls and handsome boys still stole the show?

I'll admit that I didn't do a good job of keeping in touch with the young women with whom I was close my last year of high school. We tried for a year or two after high school, but then life pulled us in different directions. Honestly, I wasn't even a good friend to myself back then. I was completely immersed in my marriage (I married at 19) and in the experiences I was encountering in college. I had a crash course in growing up.

My life hasn't always been easy; in fact, I would say it isn't exactly easy now, just simple. Such is the case of the examined life. However there were years where I really struggled to figure out who I was and what I wanted from life. There are years I wish I could have back. I always had the bedrock foundation of my relationship with Papa, but internally I was lost. The corporate world sucked the life from me, and it took years to rebuild myself, to find out how to create the life I wanted.

Here I am now, and my life seems really together...and for the most part it really is. I'm still human; I get irritable, I get sad, I get scared, I get overwhelmed. Yet my life is full of wonderful things, and because of this I am more open to the world and its possibilities.

So an old friend sends an email from out of the blue, and I'm happy. I'm not ashamed of who I am or where I am in life. I realize that I don't have to be insecure. Again, I am reminded that friendships don't have to be all or nothing. I can ride the wave for awhile, and see where it goes. I find that I am genuinely interested in finding out about these women's lives. I want to know if they are happy, and if the years have been good, and even if they've been difficult has the journey been worth it? Where did they go after we all drifted apart? Where did the adventure that is life take them?

I know that not everyone will want to be found; I know that 10 years ago I would have hidden in my cave and rebuffed any attempts at reconnection. Still, there is possibility. We could catch up and drift apart again, or we could become fast friends, or we might end up somewhere in the middle, sending emails now and then.

I am reminded that my grandmother said that it is worth it to take time to cultivate friendships, and to revive them and reconnect. I see that as we get older we become less self-absorbed, more open, more able to give and more willing to receive.

I am so thankful for the friendships I have in my life right now, the women with whom I form a circle, the women that helped change my world.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Simple Satisfaction 5/8/07

Eating spinach from the garden.

Fixing 3 clothespins.

Sitting with friends at the park.

Realizing that last year's capris are really too big.

Bare feet on clean floors.

Eating out on the deck.

Walking to the library.

Making it in time for story telling, and sitting quietly while the boys listened.

Listening to Papa play the guitar.

Starting a new book.

Little Things

Do you realize that little things really can make a difference? Sometimes we get so caught up in all of the big things that we can't do that we forget the little things that we can do. Here is a small list for inspiration.

1) If you have a hot water heater tank, and it takes a long time for your hot water to reach the tap, and you really end up washing your hands in cold water anyway, then don't turn on the hot water tap. All you do is drain hot water from your hot water heater, bring it into the pipes (where it cools), and bring cold water into the hot water heater tank, where it has to work to heat it.

2) In addition, find something to do with the cold water that comes out of the hot water tap instead of just letting it run down the drain. Save it in a bucket to water plants or flush the toilet. Use it to fill the dog's water bowl, or to wash it. If you're filling a bath for little ones, put the stopper in, turn the hot on by itself, let it run until the water in the tub is warm, and then adjust the taps to the desired temperature.

3) Don't flush every time you pee. Really. It isn't gross, and if you use cloth toilet wipes you don't have to worry about too much toilet paper going down at once. Think about it; here in America we pee into clean drinking water. Millions across the globe don't even have clean drinking water for drinking.

4) Share the bath. Bring your infant or toddler into the bath with you when you bathe. Have small children bathe together. Heck, around here I'll leave my water in the tub and Papa will bathe the boys in it once I'm done, and then give them a quick rinse off.

(Yes, I usually take a bath. My compromise it to take one every other day, and to only take a nice full bath once a week.)

5) Take your own bags to the store. Once you put your items away at home, put the bags back in the car so they'll be there for the next time. Bags are easy to come by at thrift stores, yard sales, and as give-aways. These days most of the grocery stores by me offer some sort of reusable grocery bag for only 99 cents, so for $5- $6 you can have bags even if you have to pay full price. And yes, you can take your own bags into stores other than grocery stores. They may look at you funny, but you can still do it.

6) Eat your leftovers.

7) Take advantage of natural light. I used to go back on forth on whether I preferred to bathe at night or in the morning. Once I figured out that I could bathe in the morning without turning on a light the decision was firmly made. I've learned that there are a lot of things I can do without flipping on a light, just by readjusting my expectations and habits.

8) Walk short errands. It isn't hard to do; we just happen to be a generation that thinks nothing of getting in the car to go 1/2 mile. 1/2 mile is a 10 minute walk at a moderate pace (3 m.p.h., which even a preschooler can manage). It astounds me that people will drive a couple of miles to a gym to walk on a treadmill. Walk when the weather is good, walk when it's a little rainy, walk when it's a little hot.

9) Don't buy mechanical pencils. They may be more convenient, but why buy something plastic when you don't have to?

10) Ditch plastic trash bags. Either use your plastic or metal bin without a bag and wash it out regularly, or change it completely. I use a wine box with a paper bag in it. We take out the paper bag full of garbage once or twice a week, and the box lasts for months. In the end it is all compostable/degradable. How do I end up with paper bags? We forget the cloth bags every now and then, and always ask for paper instead of plastic.

Okay, there are 10 little things. They're easy, and they will make a difference if enough people make the choice.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Contest Winners!

Okay, NatchraLeigh and Summer are the only two who left comments, so I am going to send them both a prize! Please email me with your names and addresses, and we'll mail out on Friday!

Photos! (and Don't Forget the Contest!)

I think I have finally figured out how to add photos pretty easily, although I can't promise that I will always remember to take photos. How's that for committed?

Don't forget the weekly contest. Monday is drawing to a close, and there are only two comments on the contest post for tonight's drawing. Also, I've added new posts today, a comment to any of which will get you added to next Monday's drawing. As a recap, the prizes for next Monday's drawing are:

1) A copy of the premiere issue of Somerset Studio magazine (paper crafts) ~or~
2) An unopened packet of Ferry-Morse Alyssum (Royal Carpet) seeds ~or~
3) A loom knit baby cap, 100% wool ~or~
4) Decorating For Christmas, a hardbound book put out by The Home Decorating Institute

It's Hanging Time

Technically, I hang laundry year round. There are always loads of bike clothes to hang dry, or bedding. Sometimes the winter weather is warm and I manage to get an entire load on the line. Still, May is when I start to hang laundry in earnest. I change the laundry routine and make an effort not to use the dryer at all.

I suppose this is an area I could do better in. I could find a way to air dry all of the laundry year round, using folding racks, wall racks, or these really cool pull down racks. The problem is, all of these solutions cost money. I calculated the cost of operating my clothes dryer, and it worked out to about $5 a month if I used the dryer exclusively, and that didn't even take into consideration that my clothes are coming from a front loading high efficiency washing machine, so the clothes are well on their way to being dry before they get put in. I hang full time for about half of the year, and part time for the rest of the year, so my annual expense is closer to $20.

We always have this tug between what is right environmentally and what works for us financially; sometimes the environment wins (buying organic groceries, organic underclothing, and spending more for Energy Star appliances), sometimes being frugal wins (not installing solar power or buying indoor clothes racks).

In truth, I'd love a big umbrella drying rack for outside. My problem is that I don't want the less expensive imported version, I want the made in the USA rack. At $199 it would take a long time to pay for itself, especially when I consider that most of the time what I am using now works well enough. I have two lengths of old cotton clothesline; one is tied around a palm tree and the basketball hoop, the other goes between the hoop and a different tree. When the boys want to play basketball I have to take down the line that goes from the palm tree to the hoop. Sometimes they are unhappy about not playing basketball while I have clothes on the line. The system does, however, work. My expense has been limited to buying new clothes pins as needed. As a bonus, I hang over concrete, and my lines don't shade any of my growing areas.

Of course, if I was making the choice now, I probably would have chosen not to buy the gas dryer, and instead would have installed a sturdy, permanent system outside as well as purchased indoor drying racks. I'm sure I would have come out ahead. In a drying emergency I could put the wet clothes in the bike trailer and head for the coin laundry.

Anyway, today I started our warm weather laundry system (I did get a head start yesterday by washing and line drying all of the bedding for the twin bed). I usually wash everyday that we are home, alternating between a cold water load and a hot water load. During the winter I wash only three times a week; the dryer works more efficiently if it doesn't have to cool down between loads.

I ordered this small hanging dryer rack; the plastic one I bought 9 years ago was involved in a mishap with young children (mine claim that it was not them, but a friend). The small rack works great for socks and small wash rags, and saves space so that I can hang the big loads that my washing machine accommodates. I'd love a metal spinning rack, but they are too expensive. I need new pins this year (I use both kinds, and find that each has its purpose); those we'll get from the dollar store.

Why don't I hang my lines from the fence? Most of it just isn't sturdy enough for the weight of a loaded clothesline, and new fencing is expensive!

Friday, May 4, 2007


Okay, it's just a little contest. I really want to know if anyone is out there! So add a comment to this post, and you'll be entered into a drawing to win the January 2007 issue of The Herb Companion.

I'll choose a winner Monday, May 7th.

Then it gets more exciting! Every Monday I'll check for comments on the previous week's posts, and I'll draw a winner and send a prize (on Friday). Next week's prize will be your choice:

1) A copy of the premiere issue of Somerset Studio magazine (paper crafts) ~or~
2) An unopened packet of Ferry-Morse Alyssum (Royal Carpet) seeds ~or~
3) A loom knit baby cap, 100% wool ~or~
4) Decorating For Christmas, a hardbound book put out by The Home Decorating Institute

I have tons of goodies to rotate into the prize pool!

Also coming soon: photos!

Garden Chores

Goals and Chores for May:

Check garden every morning, water when needed
Add compost to bring up level of soil
Pull beets
Harvest seed heads from red romaine
Split alyssum and daisies and figure out where to put the extras (they are outgrowing their allotted squares)
Build trellises for tomatoes
Observe the bed on the south side of the house for number of sunlight hours (it's block somewhat by the neighbor's house)
Prepare same bed for planting, and decide what to plant
Put in more herbs
Plant zucchini and cucumbers
Decide on what type of composting to pursue (bin vs. worm) and get on it
Research pear trees
Create a master planting plan for the rest of the year

A Local Dinner, and What We Found at the Farmer's Market

I had to throw together dinner last night; we had decided not to buy any groceries until we had been to the farmer's market. And so I made a frittata, with local eggs and produce from my garden (turnips, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, and green onion tops). I used raw butter as my fat, which at least comes from California (about 250 miles as the crow flies).

The market was hopping last night, and happily for Papa the "tomato lady" was finally back. We bought:

a cucumber
local, free-range eggs
Cara Cara oranges
sugar snap peas
a maui onion
a red onion
Fuji apples from the Tehachapi area

There was much more, however many of the growers are conventional. The farmer I bought my onions and leeks from took the time to tell me what he sprays and what he doesn't, and how often, and why. I bought from him even though he uses urea as his fertilizer, because of his openness and honesty. I don't know that I would buy from him again; I have to balance my belief in organics with my belief in eating local.

After that we walked to Trader Joe's for a few things, and again lamented how hard it is to find local produce there.

I'm more inspired than ever to expand the garden and grow more of our own food. The question is when, and where, and how do we do it sustainably (not buying plastic or old growth lumber) and without breaking the bank?

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

My "Local" Market and the Search for Local Food

Today I decided to actually roam the aisles of my local market, searching for organic and local food. Sadly, they carry less organic produce than they did a few months ago, and they only had one local produce item: navel oranges. Local citrus is one thing I can get easily. They did have local (conventionally-produced) bread and kettle corn.

It's frustrating. In the summer they do carry local strawberries, from a conventional farm. In the fall they have unpasteurized apple cider pressed just 15 miles away.

My best source of varied, local, organic produce dried up about 6 years ago when the farmer started supplying a local restaurant instead. Good for the restaurant, bad for us. Papa was just mentioning the other day how great it would be if someone opened a restaurant that served local, organic food without a pretentious, gourmet spin. He's right; it would be fantastic.

I tried to think of all the places where I can get local and organic food (although not necessarily certified). My garden is the first place, however, right now that means enough lettuce for 3 of us to have big salads 2-3 times a week, and other cool weather crops in small amounts. We've had kale, spinach, Swiss chard, turnips, radishes, and onions. We still have the greens growing, and beets that need to be harvested soon, and more onions. We will soon, however, be in the place between spring and summer crops. Our garden is small; we will spend all year making it bigger and growing things wherever we can. We've planted tomatoes, peppers, and basil, and will get zucchini and cucumbers in this weekend. This year we will have a handful of blackberries, and hopefully next year the crop will be bigger.

Next I have my neighbor. I can count on her for lemons, and usually grapefruit as well.

We have a year round weekly farmers market, and several of the growers do live in the area. One great thing is that we can walk to this market, thus avoiding the use of petroleum to bring our food home. We have one preferred farmer; he and his wife usually have eggs and citrus, sometimes avocados, and in the warmer months they have some zucchini, stone fruit, kiwi fruit, persimmons, etc. Another grower comes only in the warmer months; she has tomatoes and cucumbers. These growers use organic growing practices but are not certified. Lately we've had a certified grower with apples; they come from about 100 miles away. Most of the other growers are conventional, and some come from as far away as Fresno.

The health food store occasionally has local produce. It isn't something I can count on.

Reaching out a bit, there are a few more farmer's markets, but we would have to drive. One we could take the train to, but it'd cost more than $30 and we'd still have to drive to the station. We can occasionally take the train into San Juan Capistrano to buy from the organic farm just down the road from my in-laws, visit them, and go to the beach.

We're exploring public fruit and the laws concerning our city-owned groves.

In the fall we have apples just a short drive away; we need to figure out storage or preservation.

There is a citrus CSA in town, and it may be possible that a CSA farm in the L.A. area now has a drop off point here as well.

We have local honey, and pumpkins in season. There are many houses with citrus, avocados, pomegranates, or persimmons for sale out front.

Sleuthing around I have found gouda cheese made from raw milk just 40 miles from us. We need to get more information about how the cows are fed and housed. My guess is that we'll be able to find a lot more locally produced food than we originally thought.

Predominately our area has citrus. We can grow a diverse number of vegetables and fruits over a long growing season (as long as we have city water for irrigation). We aren't near a river, but we are less than 100 miles from lakes and the ocean.

Papa and I have talked about eating locally and seasonally for about a year now; I think it's time we set some parameters and make a go of it. Questions to ponder:

We haven't found locally sourced grass-fed beef. Would we be willing to purchase beef if it comes from within the state, and if it is trucked down by the producer to many customers in the area, rather than being flown in?

What do we do about grains and legumes?

Is it acceptable to get our raw milk from producers within a few hundred miles of us?

The most important thing for me to remember is that this is a journey; it isn't all or nothing. The more locally grown food we can eat the better.

I am a Radical!

There! I said (wrote) it, out loud. Not that most people who know me don't already consider me a radical. No, I'm claiming the title because I want to be even more radical. But first, a few highlights from my past:

At age 15, I declare myself a vegetarian. It is short-lived; I have the kind of father who shouted "Not while you live under my roof!" Still, the seeds are planted.

Also at age 15, I decide that I am not willing to accept the umbrella theory of (Judeo-Christian) God-Dad (or Husband)-Child; where the child is under the disciplinary hand of the father, and the father is under the disciplinary hand of G-d. I told the pastor straight out that I'd be doing my own talking with any deity and that I'd be responsible for my own actions. He told my parents I was "troubled."

At 19, revolted by the practices of industrial meat production and unaware of any alternatives, I go vegetarian. Soon I am a card carrying PETA member; I return hundreds (if not thousands) of American Express applications to the company (postage-paid) with Fur is Dead written in big red letters (Amex offered fur coats in their rewards catalog). By 21 I am vegan.

In 1990 I celebrate the reemergence of Earth Day. I buy canvas grocery bags, I recycle, I start my interest in natural hair and body products, I join the Green party.

As I go through my college years I am introduced to feminism. My life changes. I study women's literature and decide to pursue a minor degree in Feminist Studies (the university insisted on calling it Women's Studies, however both the students and professors preferred the former).

I am introduced to a wide range of thinking of campus, and my ideas evolve regarding homosexuality, patriarchy, environmentalism, religion, politics, and much more. I attend a great women's conference and find out how great it was to be someplace where their are vegetarian options, openly lesbian women, women of color speaking out...women of all ages, races, sizes, religions, and sexual orientations connecting in a way I've never experienced before.

Back at my home university, I participate in a women's consciousness raising group, and I am a founding member of the women's center on campus. I spend hours alone everyday in a cold room with a desk, a couple of chairs, some old copies of Ms. Magazine, and a poster of Rosie the Riveter on the wall. Obviously, we got off to a slow start, but today the university has a large, thriving women's resource center.

I graduate, and ditch the idea of getting my teaching credential. Instead I pursue banking. I become the youngest branch manager in the history of the company, and help to change a lot of people's thinking about the abilities of young people. I butt heads with upper management quite often, advocating for better wages for my staff.

In 1999 I become a mother, and a stay-at-home mother at that. Many people see this as a step backward. I, however, am a radical mother. I make baby food from organic produce. I use cloth diapers on my baby, and I don't bleach them. I wear my baby in a sling, and I sleep with him too. Soon I have two babies, both boys, and I realize that I am raising the next generation of feminist men....

The past 8 years have seen me moving more and more away from the mainstream. Once I realized that many of my values had been co-opted and were being marketed to I stepped away. If big organic wants to sell me food, I decide to grow as much of my own as I can. If they want me to buy eco-friendly clothing, I decide to buy second hand clothing and other items. I focus strongly on the reduce portion of reduce-reuse-recycle. I reduce my electricity use, and I reduce it again. I walk and ride my bike to reduce my use of oil. I find local farmers to purchase food from.

So, yes, my eating is radical. We eat nearly 100% organic, and we are making a conscious shift toward local and seasonal food. We don't eat trans fats, HFCS, artificial flavorings or colorings, or much that is processed in any way. In an absolute shift from the vegetarianism we once pursued, we have begun eating humanely-raised meat. Our standards are high, and big organic doesn't make the cut. For us there must be no CAFOs. Animals must be treated with respect during their lives and at death. All ruminants must be strictly grass-fed, on pasture. Eggs come from a small, local, free-ranging flock. We don't eat a lot of meat, however we are voting with our dollars for sustainable agriculture. After years as vegetarians we see that the organic life must include animals for soil fertility.

My parenting is radical. I don't hit my children. I don't shame them. I live my life with them. They don't go to public school, and we don't home learn for religious reasons either. They are growing up in a home where their father and I live as partners, sharing the tasks of home tending and child raising. Most importantly, my children are growing up with the belief that they are important. They aren't second class citizens. They have wants and needs that are as important as mine. I want them to live now, and not only for the future.

After years of informally studying women and friendship I have finally overcome many of the stumbling blocks that prevent true friendship among women, and I have a great group of friends. Each and everyone of us is radical in some way. We are all home learners. Some are home birthers, some cloth diaper, some co-sleep, some baby wear, some use alternative medicine, some are environmentalists, some are hand crafters, some are gardeners, some are thrifters, some eat an organic diet, some eat local, some don't vaccinate...the list goes on.

There is more, of course. Laundry lists aren't that helpful. I, however, wanted to shout loud and clear "I AM A RADICAL!" I'm at a place now where I'm not sure I want to hide the radical things about myself that other people don't like. I'm proud to be radical, and I want to be even more so. A radical woman, raising radical children, changing the world.