Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Week 3 Round Up

The indoor drying rack system has been hung. We are now taking advantage of some underutilized indoor space and able to dry indoors easily (although not quickly).

The treadle sewing machine is in working order. The treadle belt has been replaced, the bobbins wound, and the machine threaded. I get the feeling that there is a steeper learning curve than with machine sewing, but I'm glad to know that I have a human-powered option.

We added compost to the garden beds in preparation for planting next month. We timed it so that the rain would hit soon after working in the compost.

We had people over for dinner twice this week, and used what we had both times. This is a big change from thinking that people have to have things a certain way, or that we must serve beverages and wine. It can be difficult to get past the idea that you should serve baked potatoes with steak. It can be harder still to serve guests unfamiliar grains and unusual vegetables. But it worked.

The first night we had tacos; the only difference was that we fried them. The meat was from the freezer. They were topped with local cheese and lettuce, and I had made the beans from scratch (beans purchased in bulk). The tortillas were made locally, with non-local grain. My dad had a leftover Dr. Pepper from T-Guy's birthday, and we had water. Dessert was ice cream leftover from the simple birthday party.

The second night we had steak (from our grassfed side of beef), served with quinoa (bulk grain) and sauteed chard (from our CSA box). Papa and Abuela had the Two Buck Chuck Papa buys for himself, and the rest of us had sparkling juices leftover from Thanksgiving. Dessert was homemade tapioca pudding, made because I had milk at the edge of expiration and plenty of local eggs. We served coffee because we had it leftover from Thanksgiving and I am trying to serve it rather than throw it away. Papa's sister brought us chocolate from her trip to Belgium, and Abuela brought us two mangoes (she had purchased a large quantity of them at a big box store). The mangoes will be quite a treat when they are ready.

Breakfast Meals Eaten at Home: 7/7

Lunch Meals Eaten at Home: 6/7

Dinner Meals Eaten at Home: 7/7

Snacks Eaten at Home: All

No Drive Days: 2/7

No Computer Days: 1/7 (although overall computer usage is down)

No Spend Days: 2/7

Friday, January 18, 2008

I'm Dreaming of a Green Spring

It's time.

I have a seed catalog, and seed from last year. I have garden boxes and the necessary tools. I even have last year's Early Girl tomato plant, still bearing fruit.

It's time to plan the garden.

Last year was our first year with a garden. We had a spring garden (planted in February) and a summer garden. The fall garden plans were abandoned due to my mom's illness and death. But the earth still turns and once again we are thinking of the spring garden.

We'll plant lettuce, we know, and get an earlier start on the tomatoes. The challenge I joined requires that we grow at least one new fruit or vegetable, from seed, and that we blog about the garden weekly. Can do. We actually grew most of last year's garden from seed, though not the tomatoes.

I don't want to invest in grow lights or any seed starting supplies, so we'll still probably buy some starts. Our new CSA actually sells them ~ organic starts.

We need compost. We'll have to buy it to amend the beds, and then get our butts in gear and build the compost pile that we only talked about last year. A lot of things didn't happen last year; my grandfather and my mother died. even now there are days where I can barely lift myself out of my grief.

Our boxes are based on the square foot gardening method. It worked well for most everything, though not root vegetables. The Early Girl grew to over 6 feet even though she is in only 6 inches of soil.

We learned a lot last year. Corn is too water intensive for what we got. The Early Girl produced far more abundantly than the heirloom tomato starts we put in, as did the Red Pear. We had lettuce well into June, and enjoyed it the most of anything we grew (well, Papa and T-Guy did love the tomatoes). Lettuce and tomatoes are good crops because they are expensive when purchased organically. Lettuce can be harvested continually. 3 squares of spinach is too much. Root crops, such as turnips, take a long time for what you get. Zucchinis don't really thrive when planted 4 to a square. Acorn squash will take over the entire yard.

We have time this long weekend. I think we'll prepare the beds and plan our squares, and then take a good close look at the weather forecast. Last January we had the worst freeze in more than 20 years. I'm looking to plant in early February again, unless it looks like we'll get really warm before then. My grandma will be here in February, and she will love to see the garden and talk to me all about what she grew over the years. I'm glad she's coming.

(And for those paying attention, I added the button to my blog. Wow, it is so much easier than it was in 2005 when I first started Sustainability in the Suburbs, my now-defunct blog. Just wow! I may go crazy if I have time.)

The Miracle of Mush. . . or, in Praise of Porridge

We eat mush for breakfast most everyday. A lot of people give me blank stares when I say mush, so I then say porridge, which most people know of from Goldilocks. But to my boys, it's mush, which for some reason is far funnier than porridge. I don't mind what they call it, as long as they are eating it.

I'd love to say that I was inspired to eat mush by the R4A, but we were eating it long before we took up the challenge. By the time the Riot rolled around we had even jettisoned those individual packages designed to make mush less scary for the masses.

What is mush, or porridge if you prefer? Grains, chopped fine or rolled, cooked with copious amounts of water. There is nary a culture the world over that doesn't feature some sort of porridge as part of its traditional cuisine, and not just for breakfast, either.

My generation didn't grow up with mush, not in a daily, life-sustaining way. No, we had Trix, Cap'n Crunch, Lucky Charms, Count Chocula, Cookie Crisp, and more. My favorite was Frosted Flakes, and Tony the Tiger was my childhood breakfast hero. Every now and then my dad would try to go healthy on us and buy Rice Krispies, Life, Cheerios, Kix, or horror of horrors, Raisin Bran. These cereals sat mostly untouched until they went stale and were pitched into the garbage. Who was he trying to kid? Even my mother added sugar to her Sugar Smacks cereal.

We did have little packets of Cream of Wheat and Quaker Oats, always purchased in a variety pack. We'd start with the maple syrup flavored packets, then the brown sugar cinnamon, and finally the unflavored oats. We never ate the packets with little bits of dehydrated apple in them.

People seem to know that hot grain cereals are healthy. After all, I've yet to hear of the person who serves Fruity Pebbles as a baby's first cereal. Babies are perhaps the group of Americans who eat the most mush. They start with rice cereals (and brown rice is an option), and move to oatmeal and wheat farina. They eat them happily until they realize that Mom is eating Honey Bunches of Oats or Frosted Mini Wheats, or perhaps Nutrigrain Cereal Bars or Pop Tarts. Then the mush eating stops.

Mush is a riot-friendly breakfast. Living where I live, I can't pretend that my mush is comprised of local grains (but I do get tomatoes in January), however, the makings for mush fall under the dry, bulk goods category of the Riotous food plan. Huge bags of grains arrive on my door step or the co-op truck; organic brown rice farina, organic toasted gluten free rolled oats, organic medium grind cornmeal. Other folks I know love the Scottish oats, or whole rice made into rice porridge, or mixed grains. Buckwheat porridge and quinoa flakes line the shelves at my organic grocery.

The easiest way to make mush is using an electric rice cooker and setting it the night before. It will draw a small amount of electricity overnight and then for the 1 -2 hours that it is actually cooking the mush. Perhaps just as easy, but not instantaneously gratifying the moment you jump (crawl?) out of bed, is soaking the grains with half the cooking water in the cooking pot overnight. Upon waking you add the rest of the water, bring to a boil, and depending on the grain you cook the mush until it is ready, or cover it, turn off the heat, and wait.

Did you notice the soaking of the grain? It's important. It releases enzymes and unlocks nutrients. Even better is adding a dash of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar as you soak the grains, if you don't have children who will then refuse the mush because of the slightly acidic taste.

We use both methods to cook our mush, as preferences vary around here and some nights we need to cook both oatmeal and cornmeal mush. One child in particular is well, particular about his mush, and so we use the rice cooker for him. We still come out ahead in terms of the Riot.

We almost always have leftovers. They are easy to handle and wonderful to have on hand. I just reheat them in a pan, adding milk or water as needed, and mashing them with my potato/bean masher until the lumps are gone and they are smooth and hot.

Mush, it's what's for breakfast.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Snapshot: 17 January 2008

I found a belt for my new-to-me treadle sewing machine, locally.

We had leftovers for lunch, happily. The boys had leftovers from our taco night Wednesday, and Papa and I ate leftover pot roast (more thin gravy than beef) over local squash I had roasted Tuesday. There was still plenty of gravy left after we ate, so I used it to moisten the Girl Dog's food. We're low on leftovers and she had to eat kibble today.

We almost ate dinner out (or at least discussed the idea), but combated that demon and made do with what we had at home.

My brown Chico bag fell off my purse at the farmers market. The good news is, we found it when we retraced our steps on the way home. It was about 30 minutes later, so we got lucky.

The market had Cara Cara oranges, which made Papa happy.

I returned a Christmas gift that didn't fit. Cotton sweaters, and they would have been useful, but alas, the store did not have anything smaller than a large. I used the credit to buy pajama pants for the boys, on clearance. J-Baby has cut or broken through the knees on three pairs of pajama pants and I hadn't been able to find anything at the thrift store. I almost bought myself slippers since mine fell apart in the wash, but put them back so that I wouldn't go over the credit. They weren't what I really want anyway, and I can make do with socks and my old Birkenstock clogs.

I found out that I can hang quite a bit of clothing on my small thrift store drying rack if I use clothespins instead of draping things over the dowels.

At Target, we looked at the Hello Kitty sewing machine that was on clearance. They were actually out-of-stock. J-Baby said, "They just put Hello Kitty on it to make you want to buy it. It doesn't do anything different than a regular sewing machine does." Wow, they really are listening, and he was right.

(Hello Kitty is my personal character downfall, a vestige from the days of my youth. Truthfully, I think I have a total of two Hello Kitty items, but I do adore her.)

Wanted: One Good Broom

I think brooms are underrated. Utilitarian workhorses, we grab them when needed and toss them back into the closet when finished.

I have a good broom, an Amish broom made right here in the USA. Actually, as far as I know the broom itself isn't religious. Rather, it was made by an Amish person. The Amish being people who might understand the value of a good broom.

I've had bad brooms in my life. For some reason, I was determined to repeat the O-Cedar broom disasters of my youth, and I believe we went through 4 brooms before I finally ordered myself a proper broom in 2006. O-Cedar brooms have copious amounts of plastic, with plastic-coated cheap aluminum handles and synthetic bristles. The handles break, the bristles go limp and stay dirty.

Still, my broom was just a broom. I swept when I had to. I had people who came in and cleaned my house for me for a full year after my surgery. They made it clear that they preferred to vacuum the floors.

When I read Living the Good Life by Linda Cockburn I was inspired by her praise of her broom. (Indeed, I enjoyed the whole book). Indeed, sweeping the floor is less time-consuming than vacuuming. It's easy. It's meditative. It's lets you see the actual dirt that you are attempting to eradicate from your floors.

Things I've learned about my broom:

It is a helpful tool in cleaning children's bedrooms, especially then the clean up involves Lego pieces strewn all over the floor. Everything is swept into the middle of the room for central processing.

(Sweeping also means that the tiny, special Lego pieces aren't inadvertently sucked into oblivion.)

The broom can knock down corner cobwebs.

Before I sweep a room I take the broom along the baseboards, dusting them and helping to prevent later build up that must be scrubbed off by hand.

A good, stiff broom (mine is) can take care of of low carpet most of the time. I wish my home was carpet-free, but it isn't.

A good kitchen broom can handle concrete steps and the deck.

The broom can be rinsed and dried if it gets dirty. The O-Cedar never came clean.

A broom in the hands of a small child is sometimes a pony, and sometimes a Firebolt or Nimbus 2000.

A good broom has a life after the broom straws are ragged and beyond saving. There is the sturdy hardwood handle, which can be repurposed. There is a bit of metal, which can also be repurposed, or recycled. The broom straws themselves can be composted.

A final plus; a good broom makes and excellent decoration for a kitchen, as long as it is a kitchen that actually gets used on a regular basis and isn't masquerading as a magazine showpiece. To make this work, the broom has to actually be used; pristine brooms need not apply.

Never again need I toss a broken yellow broom into the garbage.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Week 2 Round Up


The farmer we get our eggs from is finally past the winter slump of molting and non-production. We should have eggs through September or October. I counted, and we bought 10 dozen eggs from the store while the hens were taking their rest. We generally buy 2-3 dozen eggs a week, so our store egg consumption was less than 10% of our annual total. Already we're looking ahead to the coming fall/winter and devising ways to go without eggs when the local flock isn't producing.

Papa and T-Guy biked to pick up our CSA box. Local gouda was on sale, which is great because we would have bought it anyway.

We held a successful, simple birthday party for T-Guy. We had lunch out, but packed beverages and snacks. We managed without party favors or a pinata, and focused on having fun together.

I finally got a treadle machine. Granted, it needs a belt, a manual, and needles, but it has the bobbin case and lots of attachments. I'll have to clean and lubricate it, the the wheel turns by hand the the treadle mechanism isn't frozen by rust.

The down side:

We drive just about everyday. Little bits here and there. Yesterday afternoon I was making pot roast and realized we were out of red wine. Since I don't drink it, I don't pay attention. Papa drove to get me some, since I needed it in 10 minutes. He did go ahead and get a case to make driving worth it, but the reality is that we had driven to that store Friday, and could have gotten it then.

T-Guy's birthday party was held in San Diego, a 200 mile round trip for us. Papa was going down to operate trains, and my dad brought the 3 cousins. So we had 2 cars for 8 people, which isn't terrible. It really was a toss up; we could have had all of the family drive to us, or have the small party in San Diego. I think fewer miles were driven overall this way.

Meals out: Papa was out 4 weekdays last week, and one evening. There wasn't much we could do about it; his boss was in town from Maine and they had training sessions and meetings all week. The only good thing about it was that they were all working lunches (the evening thing was a going away party for another co-worker), so the time was billable.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Treating Winter Colds

This year we're treating winter colds without cold medicine, so far. I know that health items aren't part of the R4A, but it still rankles to have to purchased plastic bottles full of artificially colored and flavored purple syrup. So far we've soothed the cold beast with a couple of Traditional Medicinal teas left over from last winter (Throat Coat and Gypsy Cold Car), a tin of Badger Winter Wonder Balm, various other natural balms, homemade or small-crafted, eucalyptus essential oil, rest, snuggles, and homemade lemon/ginger/honey tea.

In other words, we're treating symptoms. We know that there is nothing that will cure the common cold; it takes about 7 days to feel better using time and natural remedies, and about a week if you use over-the-counter cold medicines.

As we run out of purchased home remedies I stand at the ready, knowing I can duplicate them at home without the packaging. Licorice root and slippery elm tea for sore throats and coughs. Honey for coughs and sore throats as well. Ginger for warming. Lemon and other citrus to provide natural vitamin C and to clear nasal passages. Good old salt, for gargling. Olive oil and beeswax to be made into soothing salves, providing relief for chapped skin as well as the power of essential oils.

In my experience, it is best to get on the ball as soon as a cold virus hits your house. Sure, it may be a little chilly in the house since you lowered the thermostat in order to use less fuel. Still, getting chilled stresses the immune system. So pull out the long underwear, wear extra layers, and drag your quilt from room to room with you.

Eat optimally when you or your children are ill. Avoid sugar and refined foods (There isn't much room for them in the R4A diet anyway), and increase your intake of produce, nourishing broths and soups, and lean protein. If dairy and wheat are mucus producers for you, then don't eat them while you are ill.

Wash your pillowcase daily, if you have two and can rotate. You can wash it by hand in a bowl of water. If you can dry it in the sun the UV rays will kill any lingering germs on the pillow case.

There are other, important things to do. Wash your hands. Get a little fresh air, and some sunshine if you can. Eliminate stress and pare your to-do list down to the essentials.

Most of all, rest and sleep. Sometimes I think that the over-the-counter medicine industry thrives on our Protestant work ethic. Taking off work is seen as weak. Being unproductive is nearly a crime. We take strong medicines to make us feel well enough to work, without offering us any healing at all. Our colds linger because we don't rest when we should. Most people don't mind, because the medicines keep us productive.

I'm not a doctor or health care professional. If you or anyone in your care is really ill, only you can make the call in terms of medical intervention. Don't ignore high fevers that won't go away, sore throats and coughs that don't get better after a week or so, ear drainage, or wheezing. Many of these symptoms just need time, but you may want to check with your local nurse practitioner or herbalist or other health care provider for a little guidance.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Thrifting with Purpose

I didn't used to shop thrift stores. I didn't think I had time, and it seemed that I rarely found anything I wanted when I did go.

Once I had children I would shop consignment stores, mostly one store devoted to children's things and clothing. Children grew fast, and it seemed silly to spend good money on clothes they would wear for only a few months. I thrilled at paying $4 for overalls that sold for $30 retail, and the store owner would give me a credit when I brought the clothes back.

I had nothing against used clothing. I loved hand-me-downs, both for the boys and myself. I'd hit a rummage or yard sale here or there. I bought a few used household items off eBay.

A few things changed to turn me into a hardcore thrifter. One, a great store opened near me, huge, with a wide selection of everything. Need a folding chair? They probably have one. Need a towel? They have those too. They have more choice in clothing than your average big box; when I look at medium women's shirts there are hundreds to choose from.

The second thing that happened is that the boys and I started thrifting regularly. We had to get out of the house and the thrift store was near the park, so we'd stop in weekly. Going regularly opened my eyes to the variety at the thrift store. I learned to think of the thrift store as a viable place to get things.

The third thing that happened was that I developed patience. It probably stemmed from procrastination, but whatever the impetus, I started waiting to buy something until I found it at the thrift store. I figured out what they had regularly, and I learned what things I most likely wouldn't find. Now I have a running list (usually in my head) of things I need or want, and a list of things I always look for.

For instance, my boys love two sports teams. We always look for t-shirts from these two teams, even if we don't have time to look at any other clothing. We always check for 100% wool blankets. We always look at the vintage sewing machines. We look for granite wear and cast iron skillets. We look for all one piece stainless steel cooking utensils. Again, patience is the key: I used my old melamine soup ladles for months before finding two stainless ladles at Goodwill for 99 cents each. They are great ladles, too, without plastic handles.

Once we started thrifting regularly we expanded out to other shops. We know that Goodwill has better prices on books than the Salvation Army, but that the local store has the best price on books overall, especially on Wednesdays when they are 10 cents each. Book prices are so high at SA that we don't spend our time looking at them there. On the other hand, Goodwill has high clothing prices. SA and the local thrift have much better sales on clothing and their everyday prices are lower than Goodwill as well. SA has better prices on knick knack items like baskets, and when clothing is 50% off we can buy boy's shirts for 60 - 80 cents each.

We learned that the higher end clothing goes to the Assistance League shop (mostly women's), and some better boys' things. Today I bought an Ibex wool vest for myself for $6, and the matching jacket for $12, plus a like-new Under Armor shirt for T-Guy for $4.40, and a Spiegel shirt for 55 cents. Retail on the jacket was $240, and $145 for the vest. Assistance League is more likely to have vintage linens, fabric yardage, and wool yarn. It is a much smaller shop, however, so selection is limited.

We've learned to shop ahead. Shorts are donated once the cooler weather hits, and go on sale in November. We look for long sleeve shirts, pants, and jackets in late spring or early summer.

This year we'll be on the lookout for good quality books as well as vintage and classic toys, so we can stock up for birthday and holiday giving. I'm past feeling weird about giving a thrift store gift. I bought the kids in the family art supplies again this year, and later I passed the vintage Spirograph I had purchased for $1 at the thrift store (missing one tiny piece), and I had an aha moment. Vintage toys are likely to be popular with the kids and their parents.

I practiced this year by giving my niece several thrift store books. My sister was thrilled. When my boys brought home a Scrabble Jr. game with all of the pieces, for 95 cents, I decided right then that we would thrift any gifts we don't make this year. The key will be looking ahead and buying age appropriate gifts when we see them.

Really, what is the difference between a new book and a used (or, previously read) book? The words are the same, the story is the same. A used game is the same game as a new one. The difference is in price, true, but even better it gives us the opportunity to buy outside of the dominant consumer culture. People who buy at thrift stores create a market for used goods and help keep stuff out of landfills and incinerators.

There is little risk to buying a child's game for a dollar. If it is missing pieces you will probably find the same game again and you can buy it for a dollar and put together a complete game. Right now we have our eyes out for a classic Battleship game, because the one the boys thrifted is missing two ships. I'm sure it won't be long until we find what we need.

Now, I don't go around convincing myself that I made hundreds of dollars an hour by thrifting expensive wool outer garments. I found the vests on clearance for $70, so I use that as my price point, not $145. The reality is that I wouldn't have spent $70 on the vest, either. If I had ended up buying new I might have spent $25 or $30 on something that wasn't wool.

We don't thrift all of the time, but I do try to get out a couple of times a month, and if we need something we go to the thrift store first. That change alone ~ thinking of the thrift store first ~ is the biggest change we have made regarding buying items.

9 January 2008 Round Up

Spend? Yes, thrift only. Drive? Yes Computer? Yes Meals Out? No

I'm thinking of switching this to a weekly format. So, for 1/1/08 - 1/7/08 it goes:

No Spend Days: 1 (It turns out that Papa is less interested in no spend days and more interested in the total picture)

No Drive Days: 2

No Computer Days: 2

No Meals Out Days: 5 (We ate out as a family one day, and Papa has been in training and hasn't been able to come home for lunch everyday)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

8 January 2008 Round Up

Drive: No

Spend: No

Meals out: No

Computer: Yes

I was really pleased with how we ate today, and how in general we are using what we have, stretching things, and cutting waste.

I emailed our beef supplier and she is going to have some beef and lamb bones for me. She is also going to lock in the lamb prices now since I am letting her know in advance that I want it next fall. Deciding now means she can plan on income, and we can save what we need to pay her.

Last night Papa did several rebates, including one that I thought I had missed when my mom died. Plus he filled out paperwork to get a $25 settlement for foreign exchange transaction fees, and figured out how to save $75 on our property taxes. He is really good at this: last night he combined errands and went to the store that had the best price on the anti-virus and tax software we needed.

Seeing Food

I can recall being a child, looking into the cupboards and refrigerator, and loudly proclaiming for all to hear, "There's nothing to eat!"

My parents would disagree, and might even suggest a snack I could have. They weren't however, experts at seeing food, and for a very long time I have continued to look into my fridge and pantry and not really see anything.

While in 2007 we slowly transitioned to more local food, we didn't take the strong approach that we are using in 2008. In 2008, snacks are different. We don't have buttery caramel rice cakes in the house, or organic fruit leather, or even out of season fruit. No, the snacks we have are either local produce or items that fit into the dry goods category of the riot. For our purposes, I am including items such as organic raisins and peanut butter to be considered dry goods, as we order them in bulk, organic, with minimal packaging.

My children keep wandering into the kitchen, poking around, and declaring, "There's nothing to eat!"

Well, actually there is plenty to eat, but we have to learn to see the food. This doesn't apply only to snacks, by the way. Last night I needed something to boost our dinner, and I looked in the pantry three times before I realized that we have canned pears. Today for a snack I made buttered brown rice tortillas with sugar and cinnamon. (As a gluten free family with other food allergies, food can be tricky around here. I am pretty certain that I was always able to make a PB&J sandwich when I was a child.)

I'm rather glad that I have some of these convenience foods to use while we are figuring out how to eat according to the R4A. Within in a month or two there won't be canned pears or brown rice tortillas in the house. We're using what we have but not replacing it.

We have to learn to see food. To see some stock, vegetables, and leftover beans and think soup. To see an avocado and think snack. To see milk and eggs and think custard. Eating real food requires that we see raw ingredients and know how to cook and combine them. It also requires that we do this ahead of time, so that we don't say "There's nothing to eat!" when what we really mean is "It's going to take an hour to cook dinner and it's 6:30 already and we're hungry."

I am at times embarrassed by the amount of food in our house, especially when I find myself thinking that we don't have anything to eat. We do. We aren't starving or even underfed. We don't know hunger in any real way.

As part of our simplification, we are trying to use all of the food that we've purchased. That includes weekly produce and perishables, which is pretty easy, and pantry items, which can be harder. The goal is to only have true staples in the house, along with frozen meats and stocks, perishables, and produce. No more random jars of jam or bags of gluten free flours. Everything purchased must be a staple or an item needed for a recipe (and such items should be multi-purpose).

So, to keep me thinking, here are 1o R4A snacks I could make or serve this week:

1) Winter squash custard with CSA squash, local eggs, and raw California milk, using Rapadura (fair trade and organic) purchased through a monthly co-op.

2) Fried California potatoes (using the Whole Foods definition of local).

3) Organic CA raisins (bulk dry goods).

4) Local, organic dates.

5) Local persimmons.

6) Candied local citrus peel (has anyone candied peel with Rapadura?)

7) CA organic walnuts (bulk, dry goods)

8) Local pomegranate.

9) Hard-boiled local eggs.

10) Local (WF standards) celery with organic peanut butter.

That was tough! It might have been easier if I was in the kitchen looking at the food instead of theorizing about it.

Riotous Winter Soup

A soup I made this morning. It was planned for lunch, but Papa is in training and didn't make it home at noon, so I had a small bowl and saved the rest for tonight's dinner. Even J-Baby gave it the thumbs up.

~ Whatever homemade stock you have at home (I used about 6 cups homemade chicken stock)

~ Potatoes from the CSA (red and white)

~ A local leek, wilted in olive oil

~ One stalk of local celery, sliced

~ One baby butternut squash from the CSA, peeled and cubed

~ 3 large scoops of leftover beans, drained

~ A head of chard from the CSA, washed well and chopped

~ A squeeze of lemon (CSA)

~ A sprinkling of grated Gouda (local)

One thing I have found with a full-bodied stock is that soups require far less fuss in terms of sauteeing vegetables and such. I did wilt the leek to bring out its flavor, but everything else just went into the pot with the broth. Except the cheese, which was a condiment sprinkled on top (just 1 T. per person; local cheese is expensive because the costs aren't externalized).

I "throw" together soups all the time, which is one reason I am going to miss chicken if our January ban becomes permanent. I like having a good broth to start from. I'll be making beef broth this week, so we'll see how that goes as a soup starter. I'll also look to make vegetable stock again, although it often seems like a waste of good vegetables, whereas I made chicken stock from carcasses, wings, backs, and bits of meat, plus just a few veggies that were then fed to the dog.

I like bone broths. That's rather weird considering that I was vegetarian, vegan, or pesco-vegetarian for 18 years. But I really see how the minerals and gelatin from the bones become part of the stock and fully nourish us.

I do have some poultry stock in the freezer; 8 cups of roasted turkey stock and 6 cups of chicken stock. And I have a few chicken bones and a turkey neck, so I can pull together one more small pot of stock using those. But I'm hoping that we are happy with beef stock, as we can make that with bones from grassfed cattle.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Doing the Math for 2007

So, these are the numbers I have so far. They are based on all of 2007, even though the R4A started in June.

Transportation Fuel: 25% of average, which is better than I thought! I thought that the hospital trips and trips when my grandfather died would mess us up, but we traveled far less as a whole.

Electricity: 53% of average. I'm disappointed by this, but working to reduce it. I think we've gone up because we actually use our oven (electric oven, gas burners) now.

Natural Gas: 52% of average, which isn't bad considering that we didn't really start trying until June and I have Raynaud's Disease, which causes me a great deal of pain if I am cold. There are obvious weather-related patterns: my lowest usage in summer was 11 therms, my highest was 100 therms in winter.

Garbage: I estimate that we are at about 25% of average. I'm trying to weigh it when I take it out.

Water: 100% of average, but I haven't split out irrigation and that includes months where we had leaky faucets, broken sprinklers, and no awareness or attempt to save water. Breaking out the irrigation of food crops and shade trees would lower our number.

Consumer Goods: 25% of average. It's actually much better now, but I was using the year.

Food: I can only go on what we are doing at present, which is very close to R4A goals.

Acknowledge, Forgive, Change, Move Forward

We have spent the last several weeks cleaning out of the old junk and making room in our lives for well, living. Many people have said that getting rid of clutter is like peeling layers off an onion, and it seems true, although I've found that letting time lapse between the peelings results in a growing onion.

This past weekend we reached a push comes to shove situation with our stuff. To have our home the way we want it, to have spaces for being together, for being with family and friends, for games and activities and music and fun, to have all of that and more, things need to leave our home.

Some people may be surprised. Our home has never sported the cluttered and disorganized look. Which means we hid our stuff well, because believe me, we have stuff. We all do, of course. Our clutter was just less obvious than having seven bottles of shampoo in the shower and twenty-seven framed pictures on the piano.

Some of our first promptings to get rid of more came after my grandfather died and we saw the mountains of stuff my grandmother has to look through (and as of yet has not). We looked in our own garage and closets, and wondered, if we have this much after nearly twenty years of marriage, how much will we have in another forty years?

Another nudge came as we realized the falling housing market means that we are staying put for now. Our house is big enough for us; indeed, we'd love to go a little smaller than out 1700 square feet (1000 sounds about right). Our house is lovely, but it was designed at a time when people wanted clearly defined spaces rather than great rooms and family rooms. The spaces don't flow together, and it certainly wasn't designed for the modern day accumulation of stuff that we have generated over our lifetimes.

Then we saw The Story of Stuff. Well, I can't say that seeing the short film inspired our decluttering, because we were headlong in it before we saw it. But it did create feelings of guilt over all of the stuff that we already have, and it strengthened our resolved to buy used as much as possible.

It gets to the point where it is hard to get rid of things. I've written about it before; we become emotionally and financially attached to our belongings. We thing we should sell what we don't want, or at least find it a good home. Preferably a home with someone we know, so that we can know it is used and well taken care of. We know people who sell things on Craigslist and eBay; we've bought off Craigslist and eBay.

Those first layers of the onion are long gone; we are in the thick flesh of the middle. No longer to we gleefully toss things into boxes and bags to donate to charity. We measure our choices carefully now; do I need 3 dress sweaters, or 7 belts, or 200 rubber stamps?

It's a hump to get over. I know, because in some areas I have pared back to a place where I can easily see any excess and I know I don't want it. Other things are hard. I still waver on the scrapbooking supplies; I've given away so much already, and I have more to go, but I don't know that I am ready to get rid of all of it. I may give it a time table and toss it at the end of June if I haven't used it.

Now of course, we are at the stage where there is no safe abort. Our stuff is out and everywhere, and we have to see the project through. It will probably be a few months before we get to all of the hiding spaces and eradicate what we don't want and need.

Surrounded by stuff, there is really only one good option, and it is the same option that applies whenever mistakes are made. Acknowledge that we make mistakes. We do. We're human, and we make decisions based on the information we have along with a lot of emotional input. Forgive ourselves. I didn't know 10-15 years ago what state the earth would be in, or how my choices were hastening global warming and peak oil. I have been an average consumer, moving toward simplicity over several years now and buying less, but still buying. Forgiveness is a big part of getting rid of physical and mental clutter. We have to forgive ourselves to let go of it. Then we can change. We see what we are getting rid of, and we make the connection between ourselves and the rest of the world. We acknowledge our responsibility to the earth and our ability to change. Then we move forward. We put the changes into action.

Twice this weekend we faced big temptation and fought it down. We briefly considered buying a new car; ours gets 21 mpg and as an SUV it isn't very image-friendly. Since we plan to sell our trailer we figured we don't need the towing power of the SUV. Looking at used small cars we were concerned about safety and longevity; automakers are just now really attempting to put safety, reliability, and small cars together (there are some great, long-lived small cars out there that aren't safe). But that pushed us into new car territory, and we really didn't want to be there. We researched our options and decided that our SUV will serve us fine for many years. The key is to drive less, and not to worry about image. After all, we are already a one car family. Already we are at 30% of the national average when it comes to transportation fuel, and we know we can reduce it more this year.

Then, as we were (are) reconfiguring spaces to optimize family togetherness, we thought about buying a laptop. This really wasn't a huge battle; I think we were over the idea within two hours. We researched again. We talked about it; laptops use less power and take up less space. But I had an idea, and now for less than $8 (thrift store) the computer is out of the way. We don't have to worry about power usage; we have a low power flat monitor already, and have the computer on a switch. Printers and speakers are already on hard switches and are only turned on when needed. Already we had decided that the computer would get used less often. Why buy a new computer that we don't even want to use except for communication and other tasks?

We don't need a car or computer that does something fundamentally different from what we have. We're still human though, and still capable of making mistakes. The difference this weekend is that we can committed to change, and we put our principles before our desires.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


Papa and T-Guy are out on an errand. By chance (ok, I was cruising Craigslist for a treadle sewing machine cabinet), I happened upon a listing for a nearly new 24" mountain bike. Papa and T-Guy have been looking at new bikes, but we didn't want to go that route just yet. We thought perhaps we would wait until T-Guy grows into my old mountain bike frame. However he and Papa have really been chomping on the bit to go mountain biking, and not just dirt trail riding. My grandmother gave the boys knobby tires for their 7-speed bikes for the holidays, but the bikes just don't work well for climbing.

We really thought that this was an opportunity to jump on. Listings for this type of bike don't come up frequently; I hadn't seen one before, not for a bike store bike made by a reputable manufacturer, and certainly not one that was practically new. In fact, the person selling it listed it as brand new, since his son is too small for it.

A couple of years ago, we took a foray into BMX. It was fun, but we could see that T-Guy's real love was the riding, not the racing. When our local track closed a couple of months ago we decided that we would give up BMX rather than drive 25 miles to the nearest track.

The decision was made to purchase the bike. It seems extravagant right after Christmas, but it will be a birthday present. Making the purchase now means we won't be faced with buying a new bike, and we can hold off on repairing and tuning the old bike until T-Guy is ready to move up and J-Baby can have this bike. J-Baby isn't that interested in mountain biking right now.

(The bike is home and in the garage. T-Guy is thrilled. The seller even gave us the original receipt; it's from a bike store in Upland that I've known for more than 25 years.)

I know that this is a sustainability blog, but I have to put a plug here for financial responsibility. Seeking financial integrity and getting debt free brought us to a place where we can practice sustainability. Having the cash to buy used is one way to lower consumption. So many people have to buy things new because they need to use credit cards. It creates a vicious cycle. I am reminded time and time again of people who buy new cars because they can't afford to fix the old ones (no cash and maxed out credit cards). New car dealers are predatory and will roll old debt into a new loan. It's absolutely crazy.

Sustainability saves resources, and in the long run it saves money. Sometimes it takes money too. Thus we are reminded not to waste, and that includes our financial resources.

3 January 2008 Round Up

Driving: We drove to our monthly nature walk, and dropped off goods for donation on the way home. Then we swung by to get Papa from work (he had walked in case of rain, and we were driving past the building, so he came home early). Papa is out with the car on an errand now.

We did walk to the market. We are trying to track our miles and to divide them into categories: community miles, education miles, family miles, miles that can't be covered by human power, and absolutely unnecessary miles.

Spending: Another spend day. Nothing new though.

Computer: Yes

Meals out: None.

Local Food

Tonight we walked to the farmers market on the hopes that we might find eggs. The local flock that we usually get eggs have been going through their molt and eggs were scarce and then non-existent, so we skipped the market for a month and went to the one where we pick up our CSA box instead.

Well, not only did we get the last 2 dozen eggs (!), but we found local tomatoes as well. Early girls, but red and ripe, unlike ours. The grower doesn't hot house them either, but he obviously doesn't ignore his plants the way we have been. Still it gives us hope. Several people in our area have now reported growing tomatoes year round. Perhaps California really is a season.

There were other local, organically grown foods as well: citrus, avocados, persimmons, pomegranates, and winter squash. The non-organic food had greater variety. We stuck to tomatoes and eggs since we pick up our next CSA box on Sunday.

I can't say how pleased I am to know that the hens are laying again! Returning to our source of local eggs is important to us. I am also glad to have found local cheese. I there was a dairy making raw milk Gouda within 50 miles, but hadn't thought it worth it to drive to them. Now they are at the new farmers market we attend on Sundays.

We're striking out allergy-wise with citrus, so we need to head to the hills and get more local apples before they are gone! It is cold enough now that we should be able to store them longer out in the garage.

Learning to eat locally and seasonally is one of our big goals this year. We've made strides over the past year, but this year we really ramped up our commitment. Soon we'll get the garden going, and then the produce will be very local.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

2 January 2008 Round Up

Driving: Papa drove a load of goods to the thrift store, and drove to the monthly freethinkers meeting. Neither could be accomplished via foot or bicycle.

Computer: Using it right now. Also caught up finances, worked on volunteer project, and researched sewing machine repair.

Spending: I ordered this year's lunar calendar, which is a home learning expense for us. Papa put gasoline in the car.

Meals out: Papa ate lunch out. Does donating blood make up for it? He donates every two months and the guys always eat lunch out. The good thing is that someone else drove this month, and he got a free l/s t-shirt. We usually dislike swag, but the shirts spark a lot of conversations about blood donation.

Little Stuff, Big Stuff

One of my goals with the R4A is to bring more mindfulness to our consumption in an attempt to lower it significantly.

Today, I was thinking of the little things we do to lower our consumption. There are lots of them, some that we are aware of and some that became habits so long ago that we don't think about them. They run on autopilot. Buying jeans yesterday I pointed out that one pair had holes in the knees. J-Baby said, "But they don't go all the way through." (That meant that the threads were still connected.) In that moment, I knew that my child considered buying used clothes at the thrift store as normal, and he saw the value in pants that weren't perfect. We bought them, and I'm going to patch the knees. That knocks down a big hurdle in buying used pants for boys.

I thought it might be helpful if I try, at least once a week, to list some of the little things we have done. So, here are 10 things we did to help lower my consumption over the past week.

1) Bought clothing at the thrift store (needed clothing, not buying just to buy).

2) Whipped up the remaining container of cream (from the Christmas pie) to serve as dessert rather than letting it go rotten.

3) Made chicken stock. This reduces waste by creating broth for us and protein for the dog. It took me nearly an hour to sort through the flesh and bones. Did you know adding vinegar and soaking the bones for 30 minutes, then simmering for nearly 24 hours, will result in being able to crumble most of the bones? I saved my carcasses and did four of them, plus necks and wings from a few chickens. The result was 20 cups of delicious stock for us, some of the chicken flesh pulled off for soup, and 8 cups of protein, fat, and veggies for the dog (to be mixed with grain).

4) Wore long underwear under pajamas so we could lower the thermostat.

5) Papa installed a timer so we can plug in our phones at night and charge them for only an hour.

6) Started using soap nuts instead of Seventh Generation laundry soap, thus not needing the big plastic bottles.

7) Received a calendar from our meat producer (unsolicited) and decided not to buy a train calendar.

8) Patched a pair of socks.

9) Papa and the boys rode their bikes 7 miles round trip in 40 degree weather to pick up our CSA box.

10) Used our produce washing water to irrigate the bougainvillea.

Now, after waxing poetic about the many benefits of making chicken stock, I will write about our big decision of the day:

Eating chicken isn't sustainable for us.

There is no way around it. Even "local" chicken (by Whole Foods standards) isn't fed local grain. Organic chicken isn't produced locally. Short of raising our own meat birds or knowing someone who does, on a polyculture farm with local grain, chicken isn't sustainable for us. The grain has to be grown, and even organic grain needs irrigation. Then the grain needs to be shipped here. Even organic producers create waste, and a producer has to be pretty big to supply health foods stores.

Ruminants convert sunlight into protein. Well, the sunlight grows the grasses, which we can't sustain ourselves on, and turn it into muscle, which we can eat. Cattle who are pastured on lands that are less than ideal for growing crops are sustainable. Even though we buy our cattle from up north, we buy in bulk to lower transportation costs. We don't live in an area with enough precipitation to grow pasture, and the land here is too valuable for housing anyway. But even so, we are looking for any local grassfed meat we can find.

We want off the corn treadmill. I don't mind eating corn as corn or cornmeal, but I don't want to drink it as HFCS and I don't want to eat animals that are raised solely on corn and soybeans. We can get grassfed cheese, butter, and milk. We can get grassfed lamb and beef. We didn't eat chicken for 18 years and I don't think we'll be unhealthy if we stop eating it for now.

The eggs we buy from our local flock are from chickens that do eat some grain. They also eat fruits, veggies, bugs, and more. They will be our exception.

This is a tough decision. Chicken has been our least expensive form of meat, and we buy organic. We enjoy chicken, and we like chicken soup. We have to change things. We'll make beef and lamb stocks. We'll eat another beef or vegetarian meal each week, and use hamburger patties as a lunch meal now and then.

Now, I'm great at wanting to do big things, but not always great at ultimatums and follow through. So we're going to give up chicken for the rest of January, and reevaluate in February. Hopefully then we will recommit for another month.

The Tide Turns Again, or Great Importance

I stopped writing when our lives had fallen into a rhythm of living, loving, and learning, with no clear demarcations for schooling. I figured I would write about our lives on Red Dirt Life, and anything related to learning would be there. Slowly, however, the little comments have been winding their way to me in email and on message boards, the overarching message being "We miss your blog."

Here we are, at the start of a new year, with my boys clamoring for focused "school" work. Since I like to oblige them, we will once again be moving back to lessons. And since I like to oblige my readers, I'll be writing about it.

For those who don't remember, when we do lessons we mostly use the Enki Education philosophy and methodology. To this I add specific programs that work best for my boys as individuals. Enki is a fantastic holistic homeschooling curriculum. It works for all types of families; those who closely follow a school-at-home model (although it is pretty adventurous and not like Calvert of K-12), and those who tidal school or mostly unschool with an underlying holistic philosophy.

I spent a lot of time last year exploring some great concepts in home education, and I hope to share them with you here.

(The title change? I don't know. I'm going to keep messing with it.)

What? No New Year's Post?


Yesterday was a no computer day. In our project to reduce our carbon output we have identified four different types of days we can have. They are:

No drive days
No spend days
No computer days
No meals out days (which means nothing, not even a snack or beverage)

Yesterday we did drive and spend. One of our local thrift stores has everything 50% off on holidays, and clothing 10 items for $10 on the first. The boys bought a complete Scrabble for Children for 95 cents. We came home with 18 items of clothing (something for everyone) and a batting helmet.

For several days now we have been downsizing our stuff and rearranging our rooms. Our goals is to have fewer things to store and take care, to have more space, and to better use the space we have. It is a huge undertaking and the house is pretty much in shambles right now. It's fine though ~ we can see the end result in our minds.

Trying to want what we have and to be happy where we are has been hard. We want to live someplace more sustainable. We want better systems for the stuff we do have. We want furniture that is meant to be lived with, not looked at. But for now, this is what we have. So we are getting creative with it physically, and we are rearranging our minds to stay positive about our choices.

Today is not a no computer day. I'm starting with two a week and we'll go from there. Sundays and Tuesdays for now. But I have learned to turn off the computer for long periods of time even on computer days. I have a hard switch to hit to kill the power. I keep the speakers and printer off at all times unless needed.

We installed a timer in the bedroom where we charge our phones. They charge for an hour and then the timer switches to a hard off. We're doing the living room this week, and also the microwave.

Sorry for the disjointed post. I'll try to stick to topics from now on.