Sunday, October 5, 2008

Keeping up with it all

I've definitely not been having an easy time keeping up with everything: This blog, the CSA veggies, my own tomatoes, all have been neglected. At least the blog doesn't turn brown, gather fruit flies or start smelling funny if I neglect it for a while!

I at least got in and cleared out my tomato jungle yesterday. By the time I was done, there were more vines pulled out than left in, but what was left had a number of still potentially viable tomatoes still on the vine, so we'll get the last of that harvest. We've not been eating at home as much as we should. I'm still eating mostly local foods when we do - that's a lot easier to do when that's mostly what you have in the house! The last dinner I fixed was chicken from The Farm, spaghetti squash from Community Organics, and salad from Swallow Acres and Community Organics. Unfortunately, the last dinner I ATE was from "Fish On," though it was seriously yummy.

In these crazy financial times, I want to put in another plug for MoneyNing. I subscribe to this blog by email since he does a good job of explaining what's going on nationally and globally, and has good suggestions on what we can do individually. I'm hoping to win a Starbucks card from them; I can't cost-justify Starbucks normally, so this would be such a lovely treat! I probably wouldn't get something prepared there, though - this would be my excuse to get some good teas and coffees for home.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Eggplant pepper spread yumminess

Take the eggplants (stems removed) and sweet peppers (seeds and stems removed) from my CSA that are starting to look not-so-good (which still leaves a whole bunch that still look good, with more arriving this week) and toss them into the oven at 350 until they collapse.

Take several large cloves of garlic from the CSA and run it through the mini food processor with some olive oil until thoroughly smushed.

Scrape the innards out of the eggplant and do a token removal of skin from the peppers. Toss all the good stuff into the food processor. Add some salt to taste.

Eat large quantities of this with crackers while dicking around online since it's too damn hot to do all that much outside (I already gathered another large vat of tomatoes and did a bunch of weeding) and I'm using BabyGrand napping as my excuse for not doing much inside (I am doing laundry though).

Nom nom nom nom nom.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Supporting local businesses

Sometimes it's not just about consuming things that are grown here. I've started also being very conscious about supporting locally produced goods, and locally-owned businesses. And no, that's NOT just an excuse to continue to drink Dogfish Head Beer! ::grin::

I just discovered one online today that has me squealing with Cute Overload:, which makes hand-painted baby and toddler shoes and accessories. With BG's shoe fetish and bug obsession, I definitely see a pair of Ladybug Mary Janes in her future. It's a mama-run small business, which of course makes it even more special.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Local leftovers

I just commented to someone on twitter about this blog, then thought to myself that with the chaos of the start of the semester, I'm really not doing all that well with local eating.

Then I looked down at what I was eating: Leftover mashed potatoes made with local potatoes, local milk, and butter made by one of my farmer friends from raw milk from pastured cows purchased from just one state over, topped with leftover sauce from another meal that is made primarily from local tomatoes, peppers, garlic, and tomatillos. The only things not local in this meal are the salt, pepper, olive oil and onions.

And around 75% of last night's dinner was tomatoes from my own garden. Tomatoes that I am, in fact, practically drowning in, as many rot on the vine because I can't pick them fast enough and most get tossed into the freezer since I can't eat what I pick fast enough. Yesterday I picked at least two gallons of tomatoes. What really cracked me up was when my CSA, to try and make up for accidentally selling my melon from last week's share, included extra tomatoes this week. Gaaaaaaaaaah!!

That's all pretty damned good, I think, for being in that time of year when I don't feel like I have two minutes to think about what I'm going to eat. And it fits perfectly into my primary goal, which is to get to the point where local eating isn't something I'm making a deliberate effort to do, it's just automatically what I'm doing.

Except tomorrow night, when I'll be dogging pulled pork sandwiches, cole slaw and french fries, plus perhaps a brew or two: I'm taking Elder Granddaughter, who is so very excited to see a presidential candidate whose skin is close to her own light coppery cafe au lait color, to the biggest local party for watching Obama's acceptance speech. I'm counting (obviously) on an Obama win this November, and I want her to have lots of distinct high-energy memories of this historical moment: I want her to be in her fifties, talking about her memories of where she was and what she was doing, first when Obama was nominated then when he was elected. Some things are far more important than local eating.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Imam Bayildi

I lived in Turkey for most of the time I was in high school (waaaay back in the early 70's), and there was so much to love about that country including the food. I haven't eaten eggplant for a couple of decades because for a while it was doing nasty things to me even with one bite, but I was getting so much from my CSA (plus my reactions to other foods had changed so much) that I decided to try fixing something.

I remembered one eggplant dish that I particularly loved, that would also address our over-abundance of tomatoes, and thanks to Binnur's Turkish Cookbook recipe blog, I finally found it and was reminded of its name: Imam Bayildi, or "The Imam Fainted."

I used his recipe as inspiration but made some changes, some intended some not.

First I sliced open two small round eggplants , cut strips of peel from the outside including one carefully planned to help the halves lay flat, and then salted them all and let them sit for about a half-hour.

I sauteed up ann onion in a bunch of good olive oil, then added a bunch of chopped tomato and crushed garlic plus a big spoonful of sugar, and set it to simmer. When it was reduced, I took it out of the pan (my Granny's deep cast iron "chicken pan") and added more chopped tomato since I wanted some chunkiness. I washed out the pan, added more olive oil, then sauteed the eggplant on all sides (rinsed and squeezed it out first, of course). I then took the eggplant sections and did my best to create an opening in them -- part by cutting them open, part by scooping out seeds, part by just mushing around the insides. I set them back into the pan (which still had the olive oil) and then spooned the tomato mixture into them. I then added some water (about 1/4") to the pan on top of the oil, turned the heat to low, covered the pan, and just let it cook for around an hour.

Oh. My. God. It was SOOOOOOO good. You're supposed to serve it cold or at room temp, but I couldn't resist taking a few bites while they were still hot, but it really was even better once it had cooled down. And my stomach didn't complain about the eggplant either so I guess my system is ok with them again!

I very highly recommend it for anyone faced with excess eggplant and tomatoes!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

This is a challenging time of year for me

Gardens - my own and our CSA's - are going gangbusters, we just got back from 10 days in California and so we're seriously backlogged, our garden is bombarding us with tomatoes. And on top of this, I'm back to work getting ready for the start of the semester which often puts me in a place where I barely have time to grab fries and a milkshake from Hardee's.

But I'm hanging in there. Today, having no other ideas for dealing with too many eggplants and tomatoes, I made a favorite food from my teenage-years in Turkey: Imam Bayildi, or eggplant slow roasted in olive oil and stuffed with onions, garlic, and lots of very fresh tomatoes. I'm a little nervous: I haven't eaten eggplant in many years because it consistently does not like me at all. But so far so good.

It's so delicious, I need to get some more.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Back to real [Married!] life!

We're back home, and after over a week of indulging in the exquisite food that is offered in the foodie-heaven of the San Francisco Bay area, it's definitely time to get back on track. We have a couple weeks of CSA foods to catch up on (though much is getting tossed into the freezer) plus the tomatoes are going gangbusters, so a whole lot of those are getting frozen as well. They are sooooo delicious, though; there is just nothing like a sandwich of cheese, fresh basil, a bit of onion and sweet Italian frying pepper sauteed in a really good olive oil, and super-thick slices of a perfectly ripe tomato. YUM!!

While in SF I got to dine at Chez Panisse, one of the first restaurants that proved to the world that you can have delicious gourmet-quality food that is made with local, natural, seasonal ingredients. We also went to several others that claimed to focus on local, natural ingredients, though not to the degree that Chez Panisse is famous for.

The wedding went beautifully, especially for something planned at the last minute. Some pictures are posted here, thanks to a talented friend who did it all with her toddler strapped to her back! I wish I had more pics of the front and inside of the beautiful old house, now a bed & breakfast called Noe's Nest, where we held the ceremony. You can see the garden in the pictures, and the house itself is every bit as lovely. I stayed there last year, and highly recommend it to anyone staying in the San Francisco area.

Here we are, just after having been declared legal spouses:

Monday, July 14, 2008

Goin' to San Francisco and we're gonna get ma-a-a-ried

Yup. American Family Association, you can blow that up your sanctimonious holier than thou butts! Have fun boycotting McDonald's: I'm off in a few weeks to get hitched!!!

Yes, this is slightly last-minute: I just found out Thursday that, much to everyone's surprise, the budget was approved for me to go to a geekazoid conference in San Francisco the first week in August. Long story short, Partner decided to join me once it's over, we're going to have a little mini-vacation, and we're going to get married! We'd always planned to have both a small civil and a larger personal wedding, thinking we'd do the civil one in Canada on a "honeymoon" but this just moves the civil one up a bit!

Of course we'll be required to relinquish our legal rights as a married couple at the SFO security check-in, but we'll just go with the hope that in our lifetime we will see our marriage recognized in our state and by our country. It's the same hope that Mildred and Richard Loving had when they traveled to DC to marry, since their home state of VA prohibited their interracial marriage, and not only would not recognize their relationship as valid but could potentially arrest them for it, just like queerfolk could be arrested in many states until the Supreme Court finally ruled that the law has no business poking their noses into what grownups choose to do in the privacy of their own bedrooms. In the delightfully named landmark 1967 Supreme Court case, Loving vs. Virginia, the court ruled that despite Virginia's argument that it wasn't discrimination by race since both the white person and the person of color were considered to be breaking the law, and because both were free to marry someone of their own race, it was in fact discrimination, and those "radical judges" dismantled all of the laws that set race-based limits on who you were allowed to marry.

I can only hope that our country gets its head out of its ass soon and stops acting as if our loving each other is somehow going to dismantle the institution of marriage. Marriage in most countries is strictly a civil institution; we are doing what most people around the world do, which is to have a short simple civil ceremony which legally binds us, separate from a friends, family, ritual, religion, music and mojitos ceremony and reception that has no legal status. Allowing us to be married isn't going to force a homophobic minister, from a church that believes in a God who would actually damn us to hell for loving each other while taking into heaven the mass-murderer who accepted Christ in his heart just before getting zapped, to perform our wedding ceremonies. It simply will give us the right to have our relationships given the same legal status as heterosexual couples are allowed to choose.

Ok, enough rambling. Now, what the HELL am I going to wear, and where are we going to DO this, seeing how SF town hall is booked solid? Who knew that even a little short ceremony like we're having could take so much work?!?

Goin' to San Francisco, and we're... gonna get ma-a-a-ried... gee I really love you and we're... gonna get ma-a-aried...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Almost enough of a reason to eat at McDonald's

Even before I started consciously working to eat locally and reduce the amount of processed foods in my diet, I was never a big fan of Micky-D's. Even when fast food was a regular part of my diet, their fast food was usually pretty low on my list of preferences.

However, the American Family Association has just called for a boycott of McDonald's because of their"choosing to put the full weight of their corporation behind promoting [the homosexual] agenda." Yes, folks, McD's has donated a breathtaking $20,000 (that's probably a whole two minutes profit!) to an organization that lobby's at the federal level for equal protection laws. AFA was particularly outraged that McD's response to their protests was to label it hate speech. The email I received coached me through how to contact the manager of my local McDonald's (even providing a link to get the phone number) and "Tell him or her (in a polite manner) that you will be boycotting McDonald's until they stop promoting the pro-homosexual agenda."

It almost makes me want to put away the stuff I have set out for tonight's dinner -- local trout which I planned to sautee in fresh local butter with a sauce of fresh local onions, garlic, tomatoes and arugula; a salad of lettuce that I watched being picked from where it was planted tucked into little shady spots in the garden in order to get it to grow in the summer's heat, cucumbers picked this morning, herbs, and more tomatoes, garlic and arugula; and grilled tiny patty pan squash -- and go get a couple of Big Macs, fries, and super-size sodas, just to make my support for the "homosexual agenda" perfectly queer clear.

Well... maybe not. OK, definitely not. But perhaps I will send an email to McD's corporate office expressing my thanks for their support. After I finish preparing a delicious local meal for my beloved same-sex spouse and I.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Curbside recycling for dummies

Unlike folks in most urban areas, recycling is considered optional around here, and is not included in most communities' trash service. This is not surprising considering that a good many folks either don't have a trash service or privately contract with their service of choice, so outside of town or community borders, on a single block there may be six different trash services pick up during the week.

A year or two ago they started a fee-based curbside recycling program, but I didn't bother signing up. For one thing, you needed to keep four separate containers and only set certain ones out on certain days, and that was just too complex for me; it was easier to just bring stuff to the recycling center myself. Also, I thought it was really expensive - $36 a month.

Since a few months ago they switched the recycling centers over so that all you had to separate out was corrugated cardboard and old batteries and everything else could be dumped together, I figured that they might have also done the same with the curbside recycling. Finally tonight I checked, and not only did I find that I was right about now just needing a single bin, I was also seriously wrong about the cost. It wasn't $36 a month, it was $36 for six months. Buh-DOY!!!!

So we're now signed up. It's not that I minded going to the recycling center, but I never managed to go often enough to keep things from seriously piling up in here. Now I can just dump the stuff outside in the Big Can, and take it to the curb every other week.

Friday, July 4, 2008

It doesn't get much better than this

Shallots sauteed in butter until lightly brown, tossed in a handful of roughly chopped arugula and fresh tarragon, then scrambled two eggs and served veggies on top of the eggs: All local/natural/small farm except for the salt & pepper.

Porterhouse steak, potatoes cooked with turnips and garlic and mashed with butter and milk, and a salad with radish, kohlrabi, and onion: All local/natural/small farm except for olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Getting into the groove

I'm actually surprised at how natural it already feels to be doing as much local eating as we're doing. Without any specific plan or effort, almost all of our dinners for the past two weeks were based primarily on local foods, except for ingredients that aren't available locally such as salt, pepper, oil, balsamic vinegar, and lemon. The major ingredients that weren't local were either organic (polenta, lemon), or using up the last of things that were in the freezer from before this journey began (shrimp), or our only option for a meal that we could all share that our elder granddaughter would actually eat (pasta).

It feels good. I'm not putting any effort whatsoever into losing weight, but I've lost 8 pounds. I found out firsthand what my body feels like when I stuff it too full for too long with too few veggies. I'm getting to know the people who provide my food, and the farms on which it's all produced:
  • Tim and Aspen Bell at my CSA, Community Organics, who have introduced me to more new veggies than I'd imagined possible (new today: kohlrabi, which to me looks like an alien life form and feels like a bumpy lead-heavy softball) and to the joys of pastured beef.
  • Lisa and Brooks Truitt at Swallow Acres Farm, a new CSA in my town where I get flowers (last week an all-herbal bouquet) and whatever produce "Farmer Tim" doesn't have that week, and who introduced me to the joys of shallots.
  • Carolyn Donald at The Farm where I just picked up three delicious freshly processed pastured chickens from her organic chicken farm (plus an extra helping of chicken livers --seriously YUM when they're from organic chickens!)
  • Andy Meddick of Good For You Organic Market and Farm, where I get much of my other foods including things that will never be local in Delaware (citrus, avocados, and olive oils to name just a few), and delicious prepared foods made from local organic ingredients.
  • My friend Bill Stevenson of Eggs of a Feather, who has many times gifted me with eggs, chicken-poop enriched leaf mulch for my garden, the offer to teach me how to fillet fresh regionally caught bluefish, and his friendship.
What's delightful is that I now know these people. I have had enjoyable multi-faceted conversations with most of them. I have seen their farms and farming practices. I have watched them pull foods from the ground that I'm preparing and eating just a short time later. I have petted their goats, been chased by their geese, and held their babies. There is not only no substitute for truly fresh foods, there is equally no substitute for these connections to where my foods are grown, prepared, and distributed.

What's equally wonderful to me is that I'm glorying in reconnecting with what has always been one of my favorite creative outlets: Cooking. I've always loved to cook, and started doing all the cooking for my family when I was 14; I was the only kid in college who, instead of going home for a home-cooked meal, would call to say I'd be home and hear, "Oh!! Wonderful! I've been missing good food! What do you want me to pick up from the store for you to cook?" I've always been a creative cook who finds it very difficult to follow a recipe since I have an almost obsessive need to tweak it to make it my own, not always with the best results but sometimes with spectacular results. I love cookbooks, cooking magazines, cooking website sites and forums, but they exist in my life for inspiration, not to dictate how I make things.

Anyway, with cooking as my creative outlet, it feels like I'm an artist who has been cranking out paint-by-numbers for the past several years, and that I've finally once again pulled out my oils and canvases and reconnected with my muse. I never quite imagined that I'd find so much inspiration in the season's first cherry tomatoes, in an overabundance of greens, in a bunch of radishes, or in a trout that was swimming just an hour before I picked it up.

Life is good. So's the food.

Friday, June 27, 2008

What a change at Wal-Mart!

You may have read my earlier post on Wal-Mart vs. Bringing Your Own Bags, where I wrote about my experiences trying to buy and use reusable shopping bags at my local Wal-Mart. Soon after I wrote that post, I wrote a letter to the manager of that Wal-Mart outlining the benefits of better training for their staff and a better setup for use of reusable bags. Less than a week later, I received a phone call from the Manager there, but I had just that day left to go out of town for over two weeks so I never had a chance to call her.

Well, today I went back into that Wal-Mart, and I just have to say, WOW! I have no idea how much difference my letter made or if it was something that was already on their agenda, but today's visit was a wonderful surprise. I'd forgotten my bags again but knowing that their bags are only $1 and that they are sturdy and useful for so many other things, I went in search of another bag to buy. I asked someone out on the floor where they had them stocked (since the last time I was in there, I only saw them in the greenhouse area), and she told me that they're now at every register, and that my cashier can pack my purchases right into them as I check out.

I went back to the registers, but didn't see any bags where I'd expected to see them -- hanging somewhere around the magazines and candy. I asked where they were, and was delighted to have the answer pointed out to me: Every cashier-run checkout carousel was set up with reusable bags in one or more of the bagging stations, available not just for sale but ready for the cashier to snip off the tag and start bagging your items. Bags were also at the smaller "20 items or less" registers, though I didn't see any at the self-checkout.

The manager isn't in today but I plan to call her tomorrow to thank her for taking this action. I don't know yet how much my letter had to do with it, but I'd like to think that it wasn't just a coincidence. I'd like to think that one person making a request really can make a difference, even in a store such as Wal-Mart.

I hope that all grocery stores will start making reusable bags easily available, and will train their staff, set up their checkout areas, and establish procedures to make using reusable bags relatively effortless for both the company and the consumer. And if your local store doesn't already have that in place, write to the manager and request it: You never know what might happen as a result!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Lessons my body taught me

Lesson learned: If I spend a month or two eating lots and lots of fresh veggies and relatively small portions of meats, processed foods and low-fiber starches, then I decide for a week of vacation to stuff my body with lots of meats, carbs, and relatively few fresh foods, my body will rebel, big time.


What's surprising to me is that my eating this past week really hasn't been all that bad. I still took home a LOT of leftovers (i.e. kept overall portion size reasonable - most of the time anyway). I've eaten no fast food and relatively little in the way of sweets/desserts/sodas. Most of my meals weren't all that bad when evaluated by themselves (well, ok, so maybe I should have skipped the chicken fried steak & gravy but it's a once in a blue moon thing). But the lack of veggies and the excess of fried foods and the larger portion sizes over the past 10 days finally made my body rebel, and last evening I was feeling quite ill as a result. (TMI alert!) It doesn't at all help that when I'm traveling, I don't take the time to go to the bathroom as often as I should.

I'm ready to get back on track, though. I stopped by Spring Ridge Creamery (local, no hormones or antibiotics but I didn't ask what the cows are fed) for some local butter, feta and havarti (ok, ok, and two scoops of chocolate ice cream- YUM!). I tried several local produce stands but their stock was heavy on things like watermelons for the tourists, and the only local food I found were some squash which are not my favorites. I ended up at the grocery store, and was pleased to find regional organic spring mix and locally made organic bread, plus I got some organic olive oil and some garlic-stuffed olives. Dinner tonight was a huge salad including lots of snack veggies (left over from last week's gathering of siblings at my parents' house on the night before we took them out for their 50th anniversary), along with raisins, grapes, and the feta cheese, dressed very lightly with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt & pepper, plus a wedge of bread and butter. YUM.

My body just feels happier. It's telling me very clearly that I need to keep eating like this, and not like I have this past week.

Oh but that chicken fried steak was soooooo good, as was the fried okra, the ribs and onion rings, the seared tuna and creme brule at the little French bistro in town, the Mexican food, the Pad Thai and Thai curries...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lessons My Granny Taught Me

I'm at my parents, preparing to stay here for two weeks while they take a much deserved 50th wedding anniversary vacation across Canada by train. Originally I was to be here to take care of my Granny, who until recently lived with them, but Alzheimer's and other illnesses have taken so much of a toll on her that she is now in a nursing home and receiving hospice care, so my role now is to visit her each day, enjoy the precious time I have left with her even though she doesn't fully remember who I am, and take care of whatever needs to be done if something were to happen to her while my parents are away.

I've realized all along that so much of who I am in general, and of what makes this journey towards a sustainable lifestyle seem attainable to me, is because of my Granny. Words written by someone like me, with no great skill at translating raw emotion into something that allows someone else to understand those feelings, don't begin to describe what she means to me. She is the person who taught me what unconditional love and support really feels and looks and sounds like. She is the one who showed me that women can be both strong and nurturing.

I read today in Plenty/The 100 Mile Diet, about how many people are now many generations removed from raising and preserving their own foods and being close to and aware of their food sources. It made me realize how blessed I am to have the knowledge that it can be done: My Granny, alone, tilled, planted, tended, and harvested a garden twice the size of her home, fed some of those foods to her family just minutes after harvest, and preserved others through canning and freezing to eat throughout the year. I remember the soil, brown and rich enough to tempt my toddler brother to eat it. I remember the pantry off the carport, its shelves to the ceiling filed with double rows of beans, beets, tomatoes, apple butter, jelly, the chest freezer, big enough to drown in, stocked with everything from bread she had gotten on sale to meat from a local farmer/butcher.

I grieve that there is so much of this that she can no longer remember. I regret that I never had any interest in learning these skills from her when she had the strength and memory to teach them. It makes me intensely determined to remember for her. I want to work towards having a garden that is large and diverse enough to provide much of my family's sustenance and stop making excuses about being too busy; after all, she did all of the work on hers after long days of factory work, still caring at various times of her life for three children, or a sick husband, or a dependent daughter and granddaughter. I want to learn to can, to someday see shelves in my basement lined with beets and beans and apple butter.

I want her to look down from the heaven that she's been ready to go to for several years now, the heaven where she believes her beloved brothers and sisters are waiting for her, and see that the lessons that she taught with her life were not lost.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Frugal living / accumulating wealth

It's interesting that many things that I read seem to presume that if you strive to live frugally, then you have no wealth and little likelihood of accumulating wealth, and conversely if you are working to attain wealth then you're not going to be interested in living frugally - you'll want to "enjoy" your wealth.

I'm blessed that I know people and I'm finding resources that defy that stereotype which really shouldn't be on in the first place. To paraphrase a saying at much too late at night to remember the exact original, most folks don't get to be rich by spending their money foolishly.

I also have issues with but am trying to feel some acceptance for the word Wealth. A piece written by Professor Steven Hackett at Humbolt State University for his ECON309 class titled "Economics, the Environment, and Sustainability" includes the question, "What is the meaning of wealth in a more sustainable society?" One part of his definition of wealth in that context is:
  • Enough nutritious, healthy, tasty food
  • Access to clean water
  • Meaningful work
  • Support for maintaining physical and mental health
  • Opportunity to meaningfully participate in democratic decision-making that affects ones life
  • Physical security
  • Adequate shelter for physical comfort and security
  • Freedom from exposure to harmful chemicals and radiation
  • Opportunity to live near and visit areas of natural beauty
So it's been with those ideas in mind that part of this journey I'm on must include not just the isolated act of eating locally, but the bigger goal of living frugally in order to attain this particularly type of wealth.

My skills that might help me towards this goal are mixed. On the good side, I'm someone who managed to go from being told ten years ago that I have no choice but to declare bankruptcy, to now having zero credit card debt, a home with a reasonable amount of equity and a fixed-rate mortgage on which we do value-raising renovations all paid in cash. We have emergency savings, retirement savings, and we pay extra on everything in hopes to have our mortgage paid before we retire. We have a basic budget that definitely includes the old adage of paying ourselves first (savings, retirement, etc.), and so the everyday money management skills are good.

But the long term skills really pretty much suck. I have my retirement money diversified in a bunch of different money market accounts that I pretty much picked randomly. That is not good. I know it's not good. But any change I make will be another random choice.

There is so much I need to learn. I need to learn to take the financial results of our frugal, careful living and invest it in ways that will not only allow us to have a sustainable and sufficient cashflow when we retire, but will also allow us to do things that we feel are important: Help our grandchildren go to college. Provide scholarships. Contribute in various ways to the local immigrant community. So many things.

So that's one of my current goals: Learn to live more frugally, and learn to accumulate wealth, as defined from a more sustainable-lifestyle perspective.

I'm looking at a lot of different things that could help to that regard, and I just linked one of them to my blog: Money Ning, which is a personal finance blog written in a way that I think could help me with this goal. There is some good serious advice there, as well as things such as a post justifying a Wii as a good investment. Some of the advice given is UK specific, but I like the general tone and hope to keep up. I'm hoping to find other blogs that will help me towards this goal as well.

Some things I didn't expect to be hard to give up

I'm realizing that in order to eat local, there aren't just foods that we'll have to give up, there are subcategories of foods that are available, but not in the way we're used to having them. The big issue continues to be meat: I still haven't found a source for local fish and seafood, which was until now our primary animal protein source. I did find a source for chicken, but I'm realizing that if we stick to eating local, there's no more buying packs of leg/thigh quarters so that we only have the pieces that we each enjoy the most (Partner prefers legs, I prefer thighs). There's no more buying a bag of wings to stick on the grill and munch on. There's no more buying chicken already cut up or deboned. It was already an interesting experience to take three freshly-processed hens and cut them up into pieces, cut out the backs to go into the parts bag for stock and soups. But I can see now that we're going to work our way through the dark meat then have to create ways to use the white.

As for a Challenge update: One night down, 29 more to go. I can do this. I just have to keep remembering that it's all about self-control: I am more powerful than the cravings that lead me to fix foods I don't need, foods I'm not even hungry for.

Oh and one other serious local challenge: Lime. OK, not just lime - tequila (margaritas) and rum (mojitos), though there is a local brewery that makes their own rum. Even though the ingredients aren't local, I can still count it as local if it's distilled here, right?!?

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Praise for Pullet Eggs

I'd never had pullet eggs until Bill, my friend the egg farmer, gave me over a dozen of them last week.

I have become completely enamored of their size combined with their full pastured taste. I have had three "eggs in a basket" in the past three days: bread lightly grilled, two small holes cut out, eggs cracked and put into holes, season, cook until it's time to flip, flip, cook a bit more, flit yolk side up again onto the plate, then enjoy the warm yolk and the nutty grained bread.

They fit like a good worry rock in your hand. Holding them makes you understand how folks can become so intreiged with creating exactly miniature houses, boats, airplanes. This is a perfect miniature egg, 50% scale.

And they're perfect for when you don't want as much as a full egg.

I'm sure there's poetry somewhere about pullet eggs. If not, then there should be.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How giving up late night eating can save the world

OK, so my giving up late night eating CAN'T save the world, I know that. But that's what I've decided to do for June in answer to Chile's latest challenge.

It may not be obvious how that's related to local and sustainable living (even to me!). But here's my thinking:
  • As she puts it, "think about how hard it may be to have to give up multiple things at the same time. It will be tough! Maybe you can ease the transition later by learning to live without some things now."
  • Related to that, a big part of what I'm trying to do with this whole journey comes down to self-discipline. I need to have the self-discipline to do the extra work it takes to eat fresh, local foods, to preserve local foods for the winter and off-season, to grow my own foods, to do without many things that aren't available locally, to live my life as if there's less to have, even though at the moment I could have far more.
  • Let's face it: I'm fat. I carry 185lbs on a 5'2" frame, which is a lot more that my body needs. I am politically, morally and deeply emotionally opposed to "dieting" as defined by current society's norms, and yet I fully realize that I will be a healthier person if I eat smaller portions of healthier, real foods. To give myself credit, I'm doing SO much better during the day -- my portion sizes have gone down dramatically, and the foods I eat have gone up substantially in quality and freshness. But not only is what I eat late at night food that I honestly don't need, it's normally crap food. And even on the nights that I have things like a bowl of oatmeal or last night's incredibly delicious fresh pheasant eggs (which I got from a friend who is a local egg farmer) , I don't need those things late at night!!
  • Food waste is part of the overall global problem, and putting food into my body that it seriously doesn't need is every bit as wasteful as dumping it into the trash.
So that's my goal for June: One month of no eating anything after 11pm. I've been talking about needing to do this for a long time anyway, and if I can't do it just for myself, perhaps now I'll be able to do it as part of a bigger long-term goal of living a sustainable lifestyle.

(editing to say that I'm not going to promise to not eat after 11pm on the night I'll be hanging with my sibs at my parents or staying with my brother... there's too much of a tradition of staying up late, talking, and munching. Realistically I need to make this challenge "no eating after 11 when it's just me alone.")

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Inspiration and Addiction

I am a voracious reader by nature anyway, and now I try to read as much as I can related to this particular path I'm on. Books of course, by the dozens at times, but also blogs galore.

One of the blogs that I read regularly is Chile Chews, "Eclectic musings on sustainable living, food, health and human-powered transportation... with a few rants thrown in for balance." Not only does what she write inspire me, she also offers up very specific challenges that just... well, they just make sense. They are things that I read and say, yes, this is something I want to address in my life.

Today's challenge is one that I most definitely want to address, though it's likely to be much harder than her last challenge of getting organized. This time she's challenging us to address our addictions, the ones that are barriers to learning to live the type of sustainable life that folks like me who regularly read her blog are presumably striving to live.

(ok, well I just re-read her post and she hasn't officially made the challenge YET but she wants us to start thinking about it, so I'm going to write about it anyway!)

She doesn't give any of us an easy out. I can sit here all smug about my lack of addiction to cigarettes, alcohol or fast food, about how we've learned to let yellow mellow and we wear clothes multiple times and only wash full loads and we never go to or rent movies and we're not addicted to spending and live well within our means with no debt and relatively generous deposits each month into retirement and emergency funds, blah diddy blah blah blah.

But what about some of the things that I enjoy but don't truly NEED in my life, like iced tea and sugar? Or about things that I take completely for granted that, in a totally collapsed economy or with dramatic oil shortages, might not be available - like *gasp* toilet paper?

OK, I may hyperventilate a bit over the idea of going without toilet paper, specifically the extra-soft TP on which I splurge because of my particularly tender hiney, but I recognize that it is possible to live without it. After all, I'm from strong Appalachian stock and I grew up around real, actively used outhouses. Granted, by the time I was around to use them they were all regularly supplied with rolls of white paper, but I also know that there was a time in my Granny's history, back in the holler, where there was no TP. In fact, history tells us that somehow -- in ways I don't even want to THINK about -- folks used *shudder* corn cobs to clean off stuck poop. Most definitely not something I want to consider if I don't absolutely have to.

But I do recognize that this overall lifestyle change I'm taking on is a process. I may not be anywhere close to considering giving up toilet paper (I'm a SLOWWWWcavore, remember?) but there are certainly many things that would put me one step closer towards living in a way that would benefit me in the long run.

So back to this challenge. What addiction am I ready to address, at least for a month? I want to take this seriously, but at the same time I know I'm not going to succeed with any addiction that I'm honestly not ready to let go of, like black tea or sugar or toilet paper.

Right now she's asking folks to just think about it, and thinking is something I can do. I have some limits, since though there are some things that I might be willing to take on if it were just me, I know that Partner would totally not buy into it, so I want to choose something that I can do without requiring the same commitment from others who aren't ready to go there.

So, just off the top of my head, here are ten things that I will consider as my challenge project:
  1. Paper towels. This is a tough one for me because I'm a bit phobic about food nastiness, especially chicken goo or other things that might harbor nasty bugs that might make me sick, so I tend to wash my hands frequently while working with meat and dry them with paper towels just in case I missed something that I don't want to get on a real towel, plus I wipe up frequently with paper towels so that I can then throw it immediately away. Could I go a month without using any paper towels or napkins?
  2. The garbage can. I'm still not recycling or composting anywhere close to as much as I could. What would it take for me to not put a single thing into the trash that wasn't truly trash?
  3. My car as transportation to my job which is only a mile away. Then again, I have three more days of work before summer break so this isn't exactly one that I could realistically take on now. Scratch this one for now, but if I don't readdress it in the fall I have no damned business keeping this blog.
  4. Keeping things powered on. I don't want to have to wait for my PC to boot up, the cable box to re-initialize, or to dig the charger out of the drawer. Plus we have lots of things charging at any given time that are, in our current lives, necessities (ok, ok - addictions): Cordless tools, cordless vacs (who knew how much pugs shed?!?), rechargeable batteries (though that's overall a good thing, right?!?), cordless string trimmer... What would it take for me to do some serious unplugging?
  5. Sloth. Honestly, tonight I should have worked on the bathroom wiring, cleaned out the fridge, built my compost bin, or done SOMEthing more productive with the six hours since I've been home than cook dinner and make phone calls for a surprise thing that I don't want to name just in case the person who it applies to is reading. If I set some minimum amount of time each day to accomplish things that need to be done, at least on average, I could combat this addiction to inertia.
  6. Late night eating. Of all of my eating habits, this is the one that is likely the greatest contributer to my over-weight, and the one that involves the most things that I really should not be eating. This so far seems like the strongest contender, though I've attempted to address it before with little luck...
  7. Clutter. I have to admit that despite some significant gains in this area, I'm still addicted to clutter. I honestly almost need it around me. I'm not sure how to truly measure this one, though.
  8. Procrastination. In a limited-resource world, procrastination could mean the difference between eating or not eating. There are a lot of things that I've been putting off for way too long that I could do. Perhaps I could make a list of things that I've been procrastinating on for weeks, months, years, and set some minimum number that I must accomplish during the month of this challenge.
  9. The Internet. This is a tough one because, just like you can't totally give up food because you need it to survive, I can't totally give up the Internet because I need it for my work, plus it's my primary means of communication with most of the people who are important to me (family and friends), and it's a primary means of learning about the things that are the very reason why I'm considering this challenge in the first place. But then again, I know I spend way too much time just surfing from blog to blog, checking and rechecking forums, researching this and that, wiki-ing, wooting. Another tough one for setting a measurable goal.
  10. Negativity. This could be an interesting one to take on which I truly believe would benefit me in all aspects of my life. What would my life be like if I stopped complaining, stopped ranting, stopped saying negative things about other people, stopped putting myself down, stopped staying "I can't," stopped making excuses?
Obviously I need to take on every one of these and many dozens more - eventually. But in the next few days I will choose one, and give it a shot, give it a month, see how I do.

Edited to add: I just realized that in order to address this realistically in the specified time period (or at least I think it's supposed to be done in June), it has to be something I can do while taking two full-day road trips (to and from western NC from Delaware), two half-day road trips (to and from Atlanta from western NC), and staying at my folk's house for two weeks while they're on a 50th anniversary vacation, including one week with Partner there and one week alone. That makes a lot of my list pretty unrealistic for that specific time period, but there are still obviously some things that I can do.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Wal-Mart vs. Bringing Your Own Bags

While I'm doing the best I can right now to eat locally, and I buy as much as I can of other things from the local natural foods market, regular grocery stores are still a necessity for me. And where I live, that means Wal-Mart, since there's nothing else within 10 miles.

I've just started bringing my own bags to Wal-Mart. Yeah, you can bet that gets me a lot of strange looks, but I don't mind being considered the town tree-hugger. I mean, come on, in our wee town I already get double-takes as the Town Jew, and Partner and I are already known about town as the Town Gay Couple (though in a positive way - we've had all good experiences, but that's not the point of this post), so why should it bother me to get strange looks for entering Wal-Mart lugging a bundle of Trader Joe's bags?

It's such a PITA to check out there with your own bags, though, that it would easy to give up if it wasn't at the same time so funny.

My first attempt, I thought it would be easier to use the self-checkout lines. Bad idea. The self checkout lines weigh your item as you put it into their bagging area, which is not big enough to set a self-pack bag, and it yells at you and requires you to press extra buttons if you bypass the bags, then screams for help from the attendant if you press those buttons too often. Attendant was losing a wee bit of patience with me after about the twentieth (no exaggeration) time of having to reset my register, but she was far more patient with me than I was with the whole situation.

My next attempt I went through a regular cashiered line. It was an unusually empty night, so I thought it would be fine. The attendant, though very pleasant, just. didn't get it. At first she wanted to pack my things in plastic bags so that I could then put those plastic bags inside my bags. Uh, no. Not the point. Then she would scan an item, hold it out to me, and wait until I took it from her until she scanned the next item. Even though there was no one behind me in line, that clearly wasn't working for either of us. Finally she started just setting the item up on the teeny tiny little area on top of the bag carousel, which made the most sense overall, but also made it clear that I really should bring Partner with me for large shopping trips since the attendant scanned things really really fast, and I couldn't keep up with both unloading my cart and packing my bags, and I ended up making some poor packing decisions resulting in some squished hamburger buns in my haste to keep up.

Today's experience was the funniest though. I detoured into the garden area to pay for a tank of propane for the grill, which I planned to pick up once I finished the rest of my shopping. There I saw an amazing sight: A box of nice sized well constructed $1 each reusable shopping bags, marked something like "Paper or Plastic? Neither!" with Wal-Mart's name on the bag. I grabbed two to put in my cart since I needed more bags that fold up small and have a nice flat bottom, plus I'd forgotten to bring any bags with me. Then a short while later, in the "20 items or less" aisle, I started by asking the clerk if she had something I could use to cut the tag off the bags. No, she didn't. So I asked her to scan them first, then I'd use them to pack the rest of my stuff. She scanned them -- then started to put them in plastic bags. I stopped her, "no, I'm going to use them to pack the rest of my stuff." Clearly puzzled, she handed them back to me, the proceeded to start to pack the rest of my stuff in plastic bags. "No, please hand me the stuff after you ring it up so that I can pack it in these bags." Then here's the clincher: Sounding genuinely concerned and clearly wanting to be helpful, she said, "OH! Um... I don't think you're allowed to do that. I mean, you can do that but if your stuff's not in a Wal-Mart bag they'll stop you at the door and make you take everything out to check it against your receipt, so you really should just use the regular bags."

Sometime very soon I'm going to write to the general manager of that Wal-Mart, commend them on offering reusable bags, and strongly suggest that their next cashier training involve some information about how to deal with folks who have their own bags. [Edited to note: I wrote that letter on 5/30]. And since they seem to regularly reorganize the layout of their checkout area anyway, I'm going to suggest that some of their checkout lanes be set up to make it easier for folks to use their own bags.

Update: Check out what happened while I was out of town, hopefully as a result of that letter!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The good, the bad, the embarassing

The good:
  • I picked up three lovely pasture-raised chickens and met the delight Ms. Carolyn of, as she simply calls it, The Farm.
  • I did not slice open my hand, my countertop, or even any parts of the chickens as I fumbled around dissecting them into quarters (well, sixths if you count the neck and back that are now in my stock bag). We already had a whole bird in there, and I figure for summer grilling the pieces would be a much better choice.
  • I blanched and froze five bags of various greens, with visions of wintertime greens & beans, spinach quiches, and kale and potato soups wandering through my brain. My freezer is starting to fill, and this is a really lovely thing to me.
  • Dinner last night was a somewhat local meal: stir fry (brown rice from CA - I want to find some from NC), with carrots and garlic from PA, and turnip and tons of greens from the farm. No idea where the ginger was from.
  • Tomorrow's bbq bash for Chas's 2nd birthday will include an all-local salad. Chas is TWO! Two years ago she was born at 28 weeks and weighed 2.5 lbs and she spent the first 3 months of her life in the NICU. She's now healthy and beautiful and delightful. Here she is at the farm:

The bad:
  • I haven't had any soda in months, and today for whatever reason I had TWO. WTF?!?
  • I've had sinus ick for a month but no fever, finally broke down and let my doc give me antibiotics, now 8 days into the treatment I have a fever of 100.5. Again, seriously, WTF?
  • I meant to have Farmer Tim bring me six lbs of hamburger for tomorrow and I forgot, but it gets worse. I didn't even get the regular walmart make my own patties stuff. I got the frozen pre-pattied crap, and nathan's hot dogs, to go with the bucket of potato salad and the four bags of chips and five boxes of sodas. If I'm feeling ambitious I may make a slaw-type thing with one of the things I got today from the farm, but that ambition is not something I can count on. On and I meant to have him bring me 3 doz eggs so that I could make deviled eggs. No, no no. too much work.
The embarrassing:
  • How easy it is to fall off the local foods bandwagon.
  • The stack of plastic cups and cutlery
  • The box mix cake, white with artificial color dots interspersed, artificial vanilla flavored canned icing, sugar and artificial color dots to sprinkle on top.
  • That I'm way too tired to edit this and make it make sense.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Catching Up

Long time, no post. The end of the semester always kicks my ass down hard, and this one was one of the worst ever.

I'm totally backlogged with greens of all varieties (lettuces, asian greens, spinach, kales). I made the big mistake of buying a huge number of greens the first week they were available, not thinking that the following week was the start of my "value program" CSA delivery, AND that the next few weeks were the end of semester madness, during which I cook a lot less than usual. I get stuff from my CSA in two ways: Full Choice, which means that I pay a deposit and then order whatever I want from what's available all year round (this is how I put in my first big order), plus the Value Plan, which gives me six months of weekly produce deliveries.

So tonight's dinner will be based on whatever greens look the least fresh, and then I'll blanch then freeze all I can, since tomorrow night I'll be getting even more.

I'm going today after work to pick up three local pastured broilers. I didn't ask, but I'm really hoping that they're not frozen so that I can cut them up into individual pieces instead of having to always cook a whole bird at a time.

We had our first totally local meal last weekend, and we didn't even plan it that way: Steak (which was beyond delicious), plus a huge salad. OK, so the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in the dressing weren't local, but everything else was, including the herbs. And I still have a bit left to eat of a mostly-local crustless quiche: Local milk, eggs, greens, onions, and herbs. The only thing not local was the cheese and roasted pepper that I added.

And my meager garden is on its way: Peas are climbing, and I have six different varieties of tomatoes in the ground (5 heirloom, 1 hybrid) plus one pepper plant.

I want to remember to write more about a story I heard on NPR yesterday about how chemical fertilizers are getting so expensive that farmers are being forced to *gasp* use manure, instead of paying someone to haul away their mountains of animal poop. I was amused by a comment about folks buying poop from "as far away as Delaware." I was not amused to hear that because of this, natural/organic farmers are finding it harder to get the poop that they've used all along.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A small rant

Dear employer:

We're facing a pretty significant budget crunch, and you have approached us to do as much economizing as we can.

I personally think that one priority should to be to stop blasting the heat when it's near 80 degrees outside, and blasting the AC on cool days like today so that it's 60 degrees in our offices and many folks are running their little space heaters.

I know that issues with industrial size systems go beyond just tapping the thermostat up or down like we do at home, but I'm still not understanding how it could be so difficult to fix this problem.

Your devoted but frustrated employee

::sigh:: I'm getting to the point where I have very little tolerance for wastefulness of this sort.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Next year in my garden

One of these years I'll figure out how to get things into my garden that are meant to be planted before mid-May. I teach at a community college, and the first week in May is always the last week of classes. Before the last week of May is too often chaos.

This semester especially - OY!! Take a winter-break college-wide conversion from Office 2003 to Office 2007 (which suuuuuuuucks but that's a rant for a different venue) and two classes that had to be pretty much fully redesigned, and the result is a semester where I'm barely staying one little step ahead of my students in terms of what I need to learn about the software and book and what I need to create for my students to do.

Add to that my decision to take three, count them THREE classes for a total of nine credits. Fortunately, this will put me in the highest pay column that I'm going to reach in my job here (Masters degree plus 45 credits), so now I can sit back and relax and only take classes that I WANT to take, like architectural drawing, literature, or towards a degree in energy management. (What, me relax?!?)

I'm hoping that after this semester I'll be better at this whole planning my garden and getting my plans into action early thing. I'll hopefully never have another semester as crazy and stressed as this one has been. I'll have a better idea of how to balance the produce from my own garden with my CSA membership. I'll have learned a bit about what I really can freeze or store or overwinter, and what was a flop. I'll be even further down the path towards living La Vida Locavore (damn, why didn't I think of that as a blog name?!?) with a higher motivation to plant my garden. I'll have more interaction through my online and local friends with folks who seriously garden, and through them gain more awareness of when to start thinking about planting stuff. I'll maybe even have some raised beds built -- you know, the ones I've been planning to build for years.

OK, ok, anyone who knows me knows that I'm a helluva lot better at planning than at carrying out those plans. But I'm getting better, honestly I am.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Peas and Thank You's

My sugar snaps have started coming up. I started them late, and it looks like I should have gone ahead and watered them earlier today despite the prediction of "afternoon showers likely," but they'll probably be ok.

There is one main reason why I planted so many:

This is my beautiful elder granddaughter. What is probably obvious is the middle-schooler attitude in all its glory. What's not obvious is that she has what I call a white foods diet: Things like plain pasta, cup-a-soups, chicken strips, and vanilla ice cream dominate the extremely short list of the foods she's willing to eat. Even the few fresh foods that she loves must be whitened: strawberries must be coated in sugar and strips of raw green pepper (never red, and not cooked) must be doused in salt.

Somehow, though she was already of the mindset that new and different foods were likely to poison her, several years ago I managed to convince her to try a sugar-snap pea directly off the vine (no salt!) and a love affair was born that I intend to nurture as much as I can. I don't think that a single sugar-snap pea grown in my garden has ever made it into the house, especially when she is staying with us.

Earlier today I pointed out the number of sugar snap pea plants that were coming up, and she got a big grin on her face, jumped up and down, and squealed, "ohhhhhh thank you, Abuela!!" It's a really good feeling to know that something from my garden can get a response that I thought at this age was reserved for things like, "here are front row tickets to see the Jonas Brother's Band" or "here's your new high-end cell phone with unlimited text messaging."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Decisions and changes I don't have to make

I've spent the better part of today putzing online, reading locavore and "green" related blogs instead of working, courtesy of a sharp blasting sinus headache. I should go home, but I didn't.

I realize from my reading that there are a number of different issues that others seriously grapple with that I won't have to face in this journey I'm taking towards being a more conscious consumer. In no particular order, they include:
  • Car vs. public transportation: While I'd like to have this issue to face, where I live public transportation is a total joke. One of these days when I'm feeling ranty (probably in the height of tourist season), I'll probably do an entire post on the astonishing amount of money that's being spent on widening roads and creating traffic bypasses (through family homes, farms, and businesses) in order to accommodate thousands of tourists' cars, and yet there's no viable way for most of those tourists to get here via bus, or get around the area once they're here if they're not staying right in the main beach areas. And the needs of local low-income families who have absolutely no way to get from where they live to where they work without having one car per working person are totally ignored in the state and county budgets. In the interest of full disclosure, I should be seriously ashamed of myself for not walking or riding my bike to work more often since I live so close.
  • Cloth vs. disposable diapers: Having never had the opportunity to have children of my own, and not being the one who gets to choose how to diaper my granddaughter, I don't have to make this decision.
  • Reusable pads and cups vs. disposable pads and tampons: The joys of menopause, what can I say (yeah, TMI to many, but I'm just truly glad that I don't have to battle my environmental conscience every month!).
  • Distant vs. local sources for tofu and tempeh: I'll eat tofu and tempeh, but as a unrepentant omnivore, they're certainly never my first choice for protein.
  • Leaky old-house original windows vs. double-pane higher R-factor windows: That decision was made for me by the previous owner. I would have never for a moment considered ripping out our old house's original windows, but I would have not at all enjoyed the work that I'd likely be facing to make them more energy efficient.

On how companies count on our being stupid consumers

This move I'm trying to make towards eating locally and being more environmentally conscious is all part of something I've worked towards for many years, which is to be a very conscious consumer. I frequently describe myself as someone who has to do extensive research on anything that costs more than $25, and I pride myself on not being someone who is at all swayed by the latest fads and consumer foolishness. For the most part, I buy what we need, and a lot of what we just simply want is made to wait, and whatever we do buy has to be a good value at a fair price.

One of the areas of consumerism that always makes me the most batty is clothing and "fashion," especially when it comes to trying to sell clothes to real women that are modeled only on women who are unusually tall and slender. Do NOT get me started on how some companies that market primarily to women size 18 and up use models that are size 10 at best, and defend it as "women don't like how the clothes look if we use plus-size models."

All too often I feel smacked in the face by things like this which presume that we're stupid consumers. Some smacks make me angry or frustrated, but today's smack actually just made me laugh at a mistake that exposes the tricks that clothing companies use. I don't know much about Lands' End overall -- I don't know if their clothes are made in China, or where they source their materials or anything else, but I do know that consistently over the years, the things I've gotten from them have been attractive, simple/classy, good quality, long lasting, and a decent price. Top that with consistently good customer service and you have a company that has gotten a lot of repeat business from me. A good ten years ago I ordered a couple of sleeveless cotton beach cover-up dresses that have been wonderful summer shifts. They're still in great condition despite being worn very frequently, no fading, no wear, no problems with the seams. Their new style appealed to me and I was looking at it online and considering ordering one so that folks wouldn't just see me in those same two shifts all the time.

Then I noticed this. See, here's a front view of the dress I like:

Here's the back view:

Now here's the back view on the model:

Do you see what they did? Instead of allowing us to see what the dress actually looks like, they sewed darts into the model's dress to make it seem as if it has a more shapely fit than it actually has.

In the whole scheme of marketing sleight-of-hand, this is certainly a very minor thing. Dramatically worse things are being done to attract kids to cigarettes, convince women that they can't possibly allow themselves to be happy unless they're unnaturally skinny, and fool consumers into thinking that heavily processed foods are "healthy" and "nutritious." But even though it was done by a company that I support and like and will continue to buy from, it still amuses me to catch someone in the act of trying to pull one over on us, in even this very small way, like catching a kid with his hand in the cookie jar.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Building a greenhouse out of salvaged windows

I'm going to be getting a bunch of windows that I hope to use to build a small greenhouse in my back yard. There is a perfect spot on the back of our garage, facing SE, where I could add a shed roofed-style greenhouse, like this:

I found a good article on building your own greenhouse on the Mother Earth News website, but I'm still going to need some serious construction advice. If there wasn't so much going on, I'd try to convince my parents to come visit and help me build it, but that's definitely not going to happen this summer. Hell, realistically this isn't going to happen this summer, considering that I'm also determined to get the garage painted (already started scraping) and the bathroom remodeled. But I can at least start the plans, and maybe it's something I can build in a weekend or two this fall.

Edited to add links (will keep adding, for later reference):
Gardenweb thread on building a greenhouse out of salvaged windows, with pics.
Another MEN article on planning/building greenhouses
A gallery of home-built greenhouses, on a website for greenhouse gardening

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Old houses as "green" investments

I've been posting back and forth with Chile about life in old houses, and it got me to thinking about how old houses could be considered a "green" investment.

First, most were designed to deal with having limited heat and virtually no cooling. So many things were done with passive heating and cooling in mind, from the layout of the rooms, the ceiling heights (high to draw off heat in hot climates, low to conserve it in cooler ones), sleeping porches, double-hung windows that could be raised from the bottom or lowered from the top, even things like using heavy drapes to insulate (something a mini-blind never could consider doing). We have a big maple tree planted at the south corner of the house that shades the house when it's the hottest but lets the sun shine through in the winter. And for most people, if you were too cold in the winter you bundled up, and if you were too hot in the summer you went outside - no cranking the thermostat up or down.

Now, granted, many folks with old houses are now dealing with drafty old windows, no insulation in the walls, inefficient old boilers, etc., but the investment and challenge are worth it -- far more than the "challenge" of heating and cooling a McMansion and it's vaulted-ceilinged "great room", huge windows that create their own localized intense greenhouse effect in the summer, room layouts that are done without any thought to things like the location of the sun and the ability to open certain windows for a nice cross-breeze, and all of the other wasted spaces that permeate so many of those homes. Rooms are far bigger than folks really need -- some walk-in closets and bathrooms in a McMansion are bigger than some of the bedrooms in an old house. But even the storage spaces in old houses reflect the changing values and perspectives -- most had very little space for clothes and shoes since folks generally had dramatically less of those things than they do now, and yet most had ample spaces for all of the things that it took to cook and serve large family meals on a regular basis.

Old houses are probably the biggest thing out there that you can reuse, restore, recycle. Old houses were generally made with materials that, properly cared for, will likely last for another century or more, as opposed to the new houses that use materials that are far less likely to stand up to many decades of wear. Now, granted, many of those old materials represent the result of wide-scale deforestation, but it benefits no one to tear that down and put a new house up in its place, or leave the old house to rot and buy a new one that was build out in the fields of the latest small family farm that went bankrupt.

Somewhere in the yard of many old houses is a spot where the soil was tended for decades, growing gardens to supply much of the family's food. Somewhere in the yard of many old houses is a spot where a small chicken coop, there to provide eggs and sometimes meat, used to stand. A house in the neighborhood where I used to live in Philadelphia even had an original small goat shed. Somewhere in the yard of many old houses is a place where the laundry was hung to dry. In most old houses, those spots are unidentifiable, but many folks are going back to the old ways of growing/raising a lot of their own foods and letting the sun do the work of a dryer.

But for me, the most important thing is that every old house has a hundred hidden stories. Most of those stories are now permanently hidden, but even if the details are lost to us, the history and energy that they leave behind helps make our old houses that much more special.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Converting the skeptical

Up until very recently, partner's buy-in to this whole local eating thing has been more along the lines of, "Well, if you fix something I don't like, please don't get pissy if I have a PBJ instead." But full buy-in now seems to be an attainable goal.

There's been a noticeable increase in appreciation for Home Cooked Meals being shown my way, as the number of meals that aren't based in part on convenience foods (or convenience cooking techniques) has substantially increased, so it's good to see a positive correlation factor going on there.

I'm learning that my Partner -- the person who lived on spam, packaged sweetrolls, coffee and cigarettes until we met almost 7 years ago -- actually likes things such as fresh veggies, stir fries, and brown rice (not that brown rice is local, but you get my general drift), and that certain veggies that get a "eww but I don't LIKE those" response (turnips) can be served anyway with positive results.

And we watched something on TV today that backed up what I'd been saying about the price to the environment on long-distance foods, and of course if it's on TV then it is more "true" than if I simply prattle on about it. ::rolling eyes::

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Chemical Conundrum

I'm feeling quite accomplished overall, having just seriously organized my garden shed, inspired by Chile Chew's Cut the Crap Challenge (and I just looked and today's specific challenge is to tackle the garage or shed!! Go me, ahead of the game, WOOT! Oh, wait... there's my disaster of a garage still yet to tackle... ACK!).

I managed to get rid of about two big bags of thing that were trash - didn't have anything recyclable or freecyclable in there. I considered holding onto a few things (a bunch of broken pottery/clay pots, for example -- "I'll use them in the bottom of planters!") but realistically I wasn't likely to use it and they weren't things I could imagine being able to freecycle, so they're out.

But I still need to decide what I'm going to do with the chemical pesticides and fertilizers that I had from years ago for the yard and garden. I'm not going to use them, but I'm just not sure it's something I want to freecycle, since giving them away for someone else to use feels enabling to me. But at the same time, at least if I give them to someone else, it's someone who I presume would have bought them anyway, so giving them away would perhaps cause just one less bottle/bag of chemicals to be purchased.

I'm also not sure if they are even any good any more, and equally unsure about how to dispose of hazardous materials here.

I've given myself a one week deadline to decide (and research, if necessary) how I want to handle this.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The financial side of this de-cluttering thing

It's interesting to me to read some of the comments and suggestions that folks make about living green, reducing clutter, stuff like that. I read so much that presumes (I suppose correctly for most people) that the default state of behaving is to have this focus on Buying Things.

Now before I even talk about how we don't Buy Things, let me be upfront about what we do buy: We buy stuff for fixing up the house, even stuff that we end up not using to fix up the house for months or more. We buy tools (well, ok, I buy tools, tool slut that I am) for which we don't have a significant or immediate need. And I have been known to treat myself to an occasional kitchen doo-dad (ranging from spoons to a kitchenaid stand mixer) or cookbook (always used). And we have a small Woot addiction but that's under control. No, really. Ok, so we are expecting the screaming Woot monkeys to arrive any day, but we can stop any time. Seriously.

But beyond that? We just don't spend money on things if we can use what we have or get it free. It's easier for me to describe what we DON'T buy:
  • Clothes beyond absolute necessities. I finally forced Partner into buying a couple of pair of jeans recently, plus got us each about a dozen deeply discounted and much needed underpants at the Jockey outlet. We each generally buy two pairs of work shoes each year, but our on-our-feet jobs and my bad feet make those necessities. The concept of recreational clothes shopping is completely foreign to both of us, though if word got out about me I could seriously lose my Femme license. It's the law.
  • New fancy electronics. To give you some perspective, all of our TVs require adapters to hook up a DVD. I did buy a low-end stereo/surround sound/whatever they call them now thingy last year when our amplifier, CD player and DVD player all crapped out on us at around the same time.
  • Movies, music, not even books other than the occasional cookbook I mentioned already.
  • Furniture - pretty much everything we have is old, second-hand, or from freecycle.
  • Anything for the kids that's not absolutely necessary - again, with BabyGrand especially, freecycle has been our friend.
We're just both so much in the habit these days of not spending money for Things unless we really need to, that it's almost foreign to me to read these lists of what not to buy in order to economize and keep Unnecessary Things to a minimum.

But with that being the case, how the hell do we HAVE so many things?!?
  1. Freecycle. Hey, gotta grab that toddler play kitchen and the big box of size 4T clothes while we can, even though she was only 20 months/16 months at the time we got those things. .
  2. Stuff we've had forever. And can't (yet) give away.
  3. Stuff with too much sentimental value or guilt associated with them. The four boxes in the attic of my mother's really boring china, for example.
  4. Stuff we're sure we'll be able to use again, like those three boxes of computer crap that I need to sort through in the attic.
  5. Stuff we're sure we'll be able to sell. If we just get around to taking pictures, and getting it listed. Which we're going to do, next week, honest.
  6. Antique tzochkes. I can't resist, especially kitchen junk antiques that folks give me.
  7. Stuff we have lots of because of we can't find something so we have to buy another one.
Believe it or not this does directly tie into being a Slowcavore (not that anyone is going to bother reading this far to know this!). See, I'm one of these people who was kept away from local and natural/organic foods because of my perception that they were much more expensive. It's only been through the things that I've done to educate myself that I finally understand the real costs of eating Hell-Mart's cheapest as the mainstay of our food. I looked at our discretionary income and looked at how little we were spending for food, and knew that we had to make this a priority. We're baby boomers who aren't getting any younger, and our health problems are creeping up on us. Partner just recently quit smoking after 40 years; I'm significantly overweight and have genetically-based very high cholesterol (high even at age 19 as a very physically active and thin college student who ate mostly co-op foods). We need to start taking what we use to fuel out bodies and minds a lot more seriously than we have in the past. We need to set an example for our grandchildren, or at least for BabyGrand who hasn't yet been indoctrinated into her sister and mother's worship at the Holy Drive Through Window. We need to take our food's production process seriously in hopes that there will be food and a livable environment around for our granddaughters and their own kids and grands.

We're still moving slow, but as I learn more, as the CSA season kicks into high gear, as I force myself to diversify in my garden and reconnect with peeling root veggies and dissecting my own chickens instead of reaching for bags of frozen kernels and frozen "tenders" for convenience, I believe that things will accelerate.

Paper decluttering

As I'm trying to catch up with the past assignments from the cut-the-crap decluttering challenge, I see that there are at least some thing's we've already done to help with the paper decluttering challenge.

A little background first: Partner and I both have a tendency to be packrats, but we've gotten dramatically better over the past few years. Now, "better" doesn't mean "we've got this thing down" but it does mean that we're a little less prone to hold onto things -- hey, if I can get rid of BOOKS, then I can get rid of ANYthing.

I have ADD which definitely contributes to my tendency to be overwhelmed with clutter, but I've learned to compensate and my practical tendencies do help in that area: I have developed a firm belief in the significant benefits of "a place for everything," I just don't have the "and everything in its place" part down yet. And Partner... gah. Partner is what I refer to as an "out of sight, out of mind Virgo," which means that anything left out is fair game to be stashed in the nearest closet, drawer or cabinet, no matter how obvious its actual home might be.

But we're getting a lot better. Up until recently, a regular source of conflict between us was mail and other papers on the dining room table. I won't go into the relationship negotiations (and occasional strong-arm tactics) that led to our solution, but we did finally work out a system that works well for us.

The two key parts of this system are that there is a place for everything, AND it's very easy to put everything in its place. Here's our system:
  • Partner brings in the mail, tosses out the junk, opens envelopes, tosses newly identified junk mail and junk inserts to non-junk mail.
  • Partner then sorts mail into three baskets: Reading material (the bi-weekly newspaper I get plus the few paper magazines that still arrive), bills and financial-related materials (including paystubs, and retirement and medical insurance statements), and Other, which includes stuff we need to fill out, reminders of things we really do wish to be reminded of, etc.
  • As I'm finally ready to read stuff, I take it out of the reading material basket, and it ultimately ends up in the newly created Place to Stack Old Newspapers and Magazines for Recycling. Well, some of it makes a long detour through the bathroom but that's another story.
  • After I pay bills and look through financial stuff, it gets placed in one of two baskets (Paid bills/Statements or Tax Stuff).
  • We also now have baskets for Product Literature, where we put the instruction booklets and warranty information for stuff we keep (with receipt attached to the warranty papers), and a basket for Other Receipts.
  • All of these baskets get sorted through and shredded or filed, as appropriate, every year at tax time.
We had tried so many other types of systems for our everyday paperwork, including file drawers, file boxes, large envelopes, etc., but we finally realized that what works best for us is something big enough for us to just literally drop in whatever goes there. Yes it takes just a wee bit more time to find things when we need them, but it's a heck of a lot easier than when we just left things out and about because we didn't have a place to file them, or simply didn't want to go through the hassle of filing something.

One last thing I did that is working towards keeping things green and decluttered: I put a big canvas bag next to my desk for me to dump all papers that don't need to be shredded. As both a student and a teacher, I go through far more paper than I'd like, though I now print everything possible on the back of misprinted paper from our school's copy center. I ended up just tossing far more than I wanted, just because it was easier than bringing it into the other room to the recycle pile. I know it seems more than obvious, but it took me a very long time to realize that I can actually accomplish what I want if I just put my resources in the right places.

Decluttering the fridge

This evening I did my first minor task in the "cut the crap" challenge: I at least partially de-cluttered the fridge by poking through to find what was most at risk of being tossed onto the compost pile uneaten, and came up with the following:
  • baby pak choy from the CSA from 2-3 weeks ago
  • leftover (pastured regional) chicken from this past weekend
  • two rather wilted scallions
  • several small inside pieces from a clove of garlic
  • a clump of ginger that was a little fuzzy but nothing that a thick peeling wouldn't fix
  • 3/4 of an onion, a little worse for wear from a week or two's storage in the produce bin
  • an unopened bottle of Annie's Organic teriyaki sauce, expiration date one month from today
Result? Stir fry of course!! The only not-at-risk foods I added were a couple of carrots and the rice.

Note to self: Check out info you have on rice sources from NC/GA.

Edited to add: This was done in response to the cut-the-crap challenge from this past Sunday to clean out the fridge clutter. While there are some already-too-far-gone things still in there that still have to be disposed of, in just one meal I managed to use up everything I could find that didn't have at least a week left before it had to be eaten.

Cut the Crap - Declutter!

I've decided to participate in a blog challenge to declutter (note the Big Blue Button on my right sidebar!), and I'm going to blog about it from two perspectives: On my house blog, where I outlined some of the specifics of what I plan to do and will chronicle the specifics of what I accomplish, and here where I'll muse about the "green" aspects of what I'm accomplishing by doing this.

There is no doubt that Partner and I have far more Things than we possibly need. We're two people living in a 2400sq ft house if you count the 3rd floor and attic space (though two of the three main bedrooms are permanently allocated to our Granddaughters), PLUS we have a bunch of attic space, a big garage, and a decent-sized garden shed, all of which we can barely move through because of all the crap that's in there.

So how will getting rid of a bunch of Things and organizing what we're keeping help from a green/locavore perspective?
  • Help me to walk the walk. If I'm talking about living more simply, then I need to let go of Things for which I will not likely have any practical use, especially if those Things can be used by others.
  • Help me to find what I have. I can't tell you how many times projects have been stopped or stalled because we can't find something we know is around here somewhere. And how many times we've bought things that we know we have but we can't find it so we have to buy another one.
  • Help me to do more. If my garden tools are easily accessible, then I'm more likely to grab a hoe or spade or whatever I need and spend the fifteen minutes that my little plot requires every day or two once things get going. As it is now, I put it off until weeding becomes an all-day project, and my opportunity for transplanting or pruning is lost.
As I said on my houseblog, where I outlined the specific tasks I intend to take on, I'm going to try to start this weekend on my garden shed. It will be interesting to see what I manage to find in there.

Edited to add: Inspired by Tiny Old House's compost bin made out of pallets, I realize that I need to add "build compost bin" to my list. I don't have pallets but I have enough old wood and wire fencing around to finally get me a compost bin started.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A brain bursting with "ah ha!" moments

"Ah ha" moments were first explained to me as a fresh-faced college student budding-feminist in the early '70's: Those moments where you look at something you've seen a thousand times and suddenly you see it in a different way.

Right now my life is a little too crowded with ah-ha moments as I look at the ingredients I use and immediately begin analyzing every one of them about how I might source them locally or replacing them with stuff sourced locally or stock up and save through the off-season, but does that freeze? or dry?

Of course just one of these insights can add a dozen things to my to-do list. Just the simple act of making some chicken quesadillas for dinner was cause for some crazy running commentary:
Mmmmm this natural pastured chicken that we roasted last night (with a beer can and a lemon stuffed up its butt) was delicious. Too bad I had to use that cheapass beer that someone left here; I'm sure Dogfish doesn't source they're ingredients but they at least produce it locally. I need to pick up another case soon. Someone just told me that you can plant miniature lemon trees here that actually grow fruit, as long as you take the plants inside in the winter; I wonder if Kyle would let me stash them in the back of one of the school's greenhouses? It would be so great to have real local lemons. I hope I can find a local source soon for flour; I know it's not that hard to make tortillas and I'm sure fresh would taste so much better. I'm glad I got my cilantro planted, but I'm wondering if it will grow inside in the winter, as much as we love it. Maybe we need to start planning and saving for a sunroom/indoor greenhouse. This cheese is tasteless. I can't wait until I can finally connect with folks making local cheeses, and even learn to make some of my own. Of course that means connecting with folks who sell raw cow and goat milk as "pet food" ::nudge nudge wink wink knowwhaddah mean knowwhaddah mean::. I need a figure the best way to store onions over winter: root cellar? freezing? Oh and when do I plant scallions?? I want a pot of those this year.
Now you know why I blog. It's because my brain never freakin' stops.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

On being a Practical Greengeek

It should be obvious that while I don't shun labels, I do often make them up to best describe myself in ways that I like best, to hell what anyone else might say: Low Femme. Curvy girl. Slowcavore. And a new one that I decided on last night while reading about the Energy Management program that my school plans to launch, which will focus on alternative energy sources such as solar and wind, Practical Greengeek.

So what does that mean. Well, the Green part is obviously about doing what I can to conserve energy. The Geek part is what inspired me to major in engineering, what makes math fun for me, and what gets me excited about technology. Thus, the Greengeek part is reflective of my excitement about different high and low-tech ways of conserving energy and lowering my personal and this country's and our world's dependence on fossil fuels and non-renewable energy sources. As I wrote in another forum, if I were to have some renewable power source on my home, such as solar or wind, and if it were enough so that I could sometimes actually sell the excess energy back to the power company, I'd be ready to run off and have hot monkey sex the first time I saw that meter running backwards.

Then comes the Practical part. A friend of mine who is way into astrology tells me that it's the Taurus in me: Things have to make sense, in the big picture, not just in the moment. It's the Practical part that is one of my strongest incentives for eating locally: It just makes sense. It's the Practical part that got me into an almost-heated exchange with someone online about using handkerchiefs instead of paper tissues, after I said that the "green" benefits of handkerchiefs were far outweighed by the more pressing issue of spreading nasty bugs if the reason you were using a handkerchief was because you had some contagious disease that was making you snot and sneeze. It's the practical part that has me gradually replacing my incandescent bulbs with CF, while researching disposal options because of the mercury in them and not losing my awareness of how much damage that little tiny bit of mercury could actually cause. It's the practical part that keeps me from feeling gung-ho about vehicles that run on corn-based ethanol, since as things stand right now there is practically as much petroleum that goes into growing and processing the corn used to make that ethanol as that car would use, and dramatically expanding corn production to support widespread use of ethanol would have other significant consequences to our environment (taking out woods, for example) and to our industrial farming system (as if it could get much worse, but I believe that it could).

So I'm "green" but I'm not going to rush out and do a bunch of things that on the surface make me seem all greener-than-thou if I don't see the big-picture payback -- Or, if it's simply not a realistically practical thing for me to do. For example, there's no question that cloth diapering is far more ecologically responsible than using disposables, but anyone who thinks that I'm going to try to cloth diaper my baby granddaughter when she's over here is nuts; it's just not practical to do that when we don't have her full time. And yeah, a Prius would be more ecologically practical, but that's no reason to trade in a paid-off van that still has many years of useful life.

Where did this all come from? Well, obviously the whole topic is fairly consistently on my mind these days, but I also did some research last night into the Energy Management program that the school where I teach plans to begin offering, and I'm finding myself way excited about it. I'm seriously considering signing up to pursue that degree once it's offered. In addition to all kinds of other things related to energy conservation methods, energy audits, etc., they'll learn all aspects of designing and installing solar and wind-turbine based small energy plants for on homes and businesses. I want, I want, I WANT to learn about that. I will even get over my fear of being on a roof in order to do that. And I would seriously love to do something like that on my own home -- we have two unshaded south-west facing roofs (one on the back of the house, one on the garage) which would be good locations for solar panels without compromising the look of our beautiful old home.

And who knows, maybe it could lead to a second career for me: Spend a few years designing and installing these systems on homes in the area on a limited/part-time basis while keeping my current job, transfer to that department to teach as soon as the program grows to the point that they need a second instructor, and then retire with my state pension and keeping doing this as work that I love.

(Of course, I'm not forgetting the fact that I was totally certain that I'd love doing programming which ended up boring me to tears, and certain that I'd love having my own business which ended up sucking the soul out of me and leaving me with little balance in my life. But I won't know until I try it!)