Monday, September 29, 2008

Benjamin - The Expressive

Benjamin needs a haircut. It's not that bad, but he could use a trim. This morning when he went upstairs to brush his thick softly curly hair (which usually involves wetting it down in some way) I hear this exclamation ... "My hair looks like I have a wig on!"
Benjamin is also notorious for asking these BIG questions in passing. I do my best to plod through and field these questions, but sometimes I think to myself ... "Good grief, I really don't have an hour to drill down into this one." The funny thing is, these "light" questions come up when I'm busily feeding them breakfast, packing lunches and unloading the dishwasher -- or 2 minutes before he gets out of the car to go to school.
A breakfast:
"Do you know why English is such a hard language to speak?"
A few minutes later:
"How do computers work?"
At the dinner table just before showers:
"Who invented Morse Code and why was it invented?"

Friday, September 26, 2008

Ways that we have saved

*Constantly being updated*
Over the past year we have tried to pair down our expenses in an effort to live wisely and simply. As it turns out, our timing couldn't have been better. Here are the things we've done:
  1. Got rid of the "lawn guy" left over from when I was a single working mother.
  2. Got rid of the cleaning lady left over from when I was a single working mother.
  3. Got rid of cable.
  4. Got rid of long distance phone service. (we use our cell phones for long distance)
  5. We brew our morning coffee. It is a rare treat to buy coffee at a store of any kind. Think of all of those wasted cups we save! This is a huge savings. Just think: 2 cups a day at $2 each x 365 = $730 and let's face it, a lot of people buy more than one cup a day -- and $2 won't cover fancy coffee from places like Starbucks.
  6. Victor pretty much always brings a lunch to work. Usually it is leftovers from the night before that I pack into a glass container when we do the dishes after dinner. $6 x 5 days a week = $30 x 52 weeks a year = $1560. See how it adds up?
  7. Started air drying our clothes -- winter, summer, spring and fall (indoors and outdoors)
  8. Turned our thermostats down to 66 degrees (during the months it's cold here) during the day and 55 degrees at night.
  9. Put in a large garden in our back yard -- I'm in the midst of making cold frames to grow things in the cold months as well.
  10. We are in the midst of chopping wood (we have tons of it in our large yard -- one large one got struck by lightening and we had to cut two down to give my garden more light) to help heat our house this winter -- we have oil heat and I'm petrified!
  11. Put in a small orchard
  12. Started composting -- free "fertilizer"!
  13. Started driving our own trash / recyclables to the dump. With recycling and composting we generate one medium bag of trash every 2 weeks. One bag is $1.50 to bring to the dump. $1.50 x 26 weeks a year = $39 a year. When we had trash service it cost $35 a month x 12 months = $420 a year. Total savings: $381 a year.
  14. Committed to using things that aren't disposable that you have to keep buying -- like paper towels (use dish clothes and towels) paper napkins (cloth napkins) swiffers & kitchen wipes (rags and elbow grease) ... you get the idea.
  15. Cook from scratch. This is a HUGE savings, AND you will be eating better tasting food that is better for you.
  16. Make things instead of buying things. The sky is the limit here. Make your own laundry and dishwasher soap. Knit mittens from left over yarn. Everything you do will have a big impact. The more you do, the better.
  17. Use the library. Most have a network so that you can "order" books from cooperating libraries. There are few things you cannot find.
  18. Buy used things from thrift stores. Less expensive and better for the environment. Great combo!
  19. Eat less meat. Did you know that cows and pigs - their waste - causes more damage to the environment than our cars? It's the methane gas released into the air from the er .... poo. Supposedly if each family ate just one less MEAT MEAL we could dramatically effect our environment for the better. Anyway, that's the added bonus of eating less meat. Not only do you get to help the environment, you also get to save big time at the grocery store. Plus, let's face it, it's healthier to eat less meat. For the past month or two we've been eating a MEAT MEAL about once a week. Plus, if you have your own garden like I do, just eating all of the ripe veggies is enough to keep you busy and well fed!
  20. Started to make our own laundry soap, dishwasher soap, glass cleaner and furniture polish. Link info here.
  21. Make our own bread.
  22. Bought a woodstove -- goodbye $600 oil bill!

How about you? Are you working on ways to save?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The State of My Garden - Fall 2008

My big project.

A girlfriend of mine was putting new windows into her antique home, so I asked her if I could have her old storm windows to make cold frames -- inspired by Eliot Coleman's Four Season Harvest.
Frost will be coming soon here in New England so I need to get busy.
In these frames I should be able to grow cold loving vegetables -- especially greens like arugula, spinach, bok choy, parsley -- No doubt this fall / winter will be a learning year, but I'm looking forward to it!

The one remaining loaf from Karen's Homemade Bread Recipe. The problem with fabulous homemade bread ... two huge loaves disappear in 72 hours.

My yard clippings compost bin. As you can see, this three sectioned bin is made with pallets that I was able to get for free. I will put yard clippings, leaves and grass. The leaves and grass should break down so that eventually I can use it as a "leaf mold" in place of peat moss. Helpful when planting seeds. We (as you can see) have a lot of woods in the back of our property -- so excess clippings etc will go in the woods and I can transport them over for "quick" composting that I can easily turn and rotate. I have another enclosed compost bin for kitchen scraps.

Here you can see my leeks are coming along (although more slowly than I would like) and the peas that Ripley helped me to plant in late August are almost ready for picking. Are you taking advantage of second and third plantings? Growing isn't over for your garden once the tomatoes and zucchini are done ... there is so much more that you can get from your garden!
Here are my cold loving greens coming along - two kinds of romaine, bok choy, arugula, spinach and some random peas that were late comers from an earlier planting. I planted some in late August, some in Early September. A lot of the little seedlings were destroyed when we had the left over hurricanes plow through, so I had to replant.

Here are my strawberries. I planted the root crowns this spring, clipped off the blossoms and helped the daughter plants take root when they sprung from the "mother" plant. Now we can't wait for spring! Our asparagus are also looking great and are ready to go next spring. Contrary to what "they" used to say, asparagus actually do better if harvested only ONE year after planting as opposed to three years -- however the first year you can harvest every 2-3 days for 4 weeks. The following year you can harvest for a longer period of time. What an amazing plant.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Incredible Bread!

I am not a fabulous bread maker. I'm improving and I'm learning. Possibly that is also part of my problem -- trying different techniques all of the time, trying different recipes all of the time -- so, like a bad scientific experiment, I rarely have a "control" scenario. Anyway, the good news is there IS a bread recipe that I have hardly ever failed at. It was given to me at my wedding shower by a close college friend who's mother is Danish and father is an American -- and has spent most of her life traveling back and forth between the two countries. I don't know if it's a Danish recipe -- but the bread sure tastes better to me than typical American fare. The outside is crunchy and the inside in melt-in-your mouth, knock-your-socks-off delicious. Peter Reinhart, eat your heart out. Here it is:
Karen's Homemade Bread
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Makes 2 big tall loaves of bread - use large bread pans.
10 Cups Flour (I used King Arthur Bread Flour)
1/4 oz yeast (1 T) - I used "instant" yeast
4 Cups room temperature water (for instant yeast) or lukewarm for "regular active dry yeast"
1 T salt
1/2 Cup olive oil
Blend 2 cups of flour w/ yeast, then add salt, water, oil -- and rest of flour. Knead the dough (I used a dough hook this time) cover and let rise for 3 hours. (this recipe doesn't call for a second rise in the bowl, but I did one this time -- I've done it both ways, and they are both good) Make 2 loaves out of the dough. Grease bread pan with olive oil -- put loaves into the pans then "pencil" (which basically means drizzle) bread with olive oil. Let rise in pans until they rise up over the lip of the pan. Bake for 1/2 hour in pans, then remove from pans and continue baking right on the oven rack for 3/4 of an hour. Let cool before you taste this delicious bread.
This recipe doesn't have details for the new bread baker, but a great recource to get some basic info is at The Fresh Loaf .

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Your Evening Rituals

What is your evening routine? Yesterday was the 8th annual Family Day - A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children - “a national movement to inform parents that the parental engagement fostered during frequent family dinners is an effective tool to help keep America’s kids substance free.” Who knew? As it just so happens, we did eat dinner together last night. As a matter of fact it was the beginning of a new effort on my part -- PEACE. We make every effort to eat all together and have a sit down homemade meal together every night -- except date night. So, like with most things, if I don't plan ahead and get myself organized things can get chaotic. For most parents with school aged kids the craziest times of the day come when everyone leaves and when everyone returns. The biggest tool to use against this mayhem is planning and organizing -- and of course setting an objective. Now, they may have gotten a bit too carried away in the 50's with women welcoming their working husbands home dressed to the 9's with pearls and an apron with a "Welcome home dear! How was your day dear!" and a martini. However, on the flip side, what can develop over here if I don't put my mind to it, plan and organize is lunacy. I'm finishing up with dinner (or worse, just starting it), Benjamin works on his homework -- asking questions, getting distracted by: Ripley who is saying he's hungry wanting attention ... a playmate. The two boys start bickering in someway and Victor walks in. I immediately give him 12 jobs and ask him how his day was as I race to finish dinner, correct and redirect the kids, and try to smile and look cute. Now I am trying to recommit myself to having dinner pretty much ready and organized before he gets home. Do you ever feel like you and your spouse never have a decent conversation? Well, it's no wonder why! Yesterday -- for the first time in months -- dinner was pretty much all prepped and organized, the table was set. We sat down with a hunk of cheese (his parents has brought back from a recent trip to Portugal) and had a glass of wine and chatted about our days. I'd put out some things for Ripley to "work" on, and Benjamin was finishing up his homework. Wow. It wasn't perfect (there is always something) but it was pretty dern good.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Be Encouraged! You can make a difference!

When my sister-in-law Tanya recommended the book Serve God Save the Planet to me she commented on one important statement that spoke to her in the book. That was that you can make a difference doing your part to stop living an "unsustainable" life of waste and impact the planet that God entrusted to our care in a positive way. Sometimes it's difficult to feel like you can actually impact anything ... so why bother ... goes the reasoning. But, as many of us do our small parts -- we can make a difference.
Last year when I started this journey (the above) I started recycling with a vengeance. Our town doesn't have a trash service so you either have to go to the dump yourself or hire a service to carry trash and recyclables away. When I noticed our service Waste Tech dumping my carefully collected recyclables into the same section as the trash in their truck -- I started some investigating. They claimed that they took it to a neighboring town and someone went through it and took out the recyclables. I called the man in charge of such things here -- at the Health Department of all things -- and inquired. It's illegal in Massachusetts and in Rehoboth to throw recyclables into the trash. If Waste Tech was doing this, they were breaking the law. I started chatting with everyone I ran into about this matter and found myself speaking to a woman who volunteers at the "trash center" in this neighboring town that Waste Tech was supposedly having their recylceables sorted. So, she picked up the phone and inquired if they offered a sorting service -- come to find out, there is someone who goes through the trash, but that's just to remove big things like coffee makers, computers, etc., not your basic everyday recyclables. So, I called up Waste Tech and discontinued my service, called the head of the Health Department (also an adamant recycler) -- he was going to start investigating (this was the third inquiry he'd gotten on the subject in one week) and asking questions, and I started telling all my neighbors who used Waste Tech. Several of my neighbors as a consequence discontinued their service -- to the point where one of the people at Waste Tech reportedly said "What is with your neighborhood??!"
Last week I noticed some new Waste Tech recycling bins on the side of the road. So, when I saw the Waste Tech trash truck rolling by I pulled into someone's driveway to investigate and question the driver. I asked if they were still throwing the recyclables into the trash truck and the man informed me that they have a Recycling Truck that comes by separately. I explained that I'd never seen such a truck. But, don't you know, a few hours later one drove by my house! It looks shiny and new like it just drove out of the sales lot with freshly painted words on the side that reads "Rehoboth Recycles". Wow. Cool eh?
In another example of how you can impact our world, my husband Victor reported to me that the dudes at the dump told him to throw my carefully collected light bulbs into the "furniture bin" -- which basically means we won't charge you for dumping it but we are not recycling it either. Victor also said that he saw computer monitors and a t.v. set in there. I was astounded. "I've got to call my friend Bob at the Health Department!" I announced. Bob now knows me by name and recognizes me driving down the road. Anyway, I expressed my surprise and concern to him about the light bulbs -- and he too was surprised!! Come to find out there IS a special bin for all of these things but we weren't being told to put these toxic items in it! He was glad to hear about the problem and was going down for a visit to solve it, pronto. Wow!
You too can make an impact. Keep your eyes peeled and your investigative mind working. Making a few calls and chatting with dump truck driver, neighbors and friends is something an at home mom juggling kids, schedules and homemaking can do and have an impact! Be encouraged!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Simple Living

What is Simple Living? A lot of us are talking about it ... but what does it mean to each of us? Is it going back to basics? Appreciating the simple things ... like the peace of hanging my clothing outside on a late summer day (if you haven't tried it recently, get some line, tie it between two trees and enjoy! And save money on your electric bill.)? Is it rejecting obscene materialism where mall shopping is a sport or a form of entertainment? The funny thing is, if living simply is going back to basics -- it's not what some would consider simple. For example, it's a simple trip to Walmart (eeek) to buy two loaves of bread (with a lot more than flour, water, yeast and salt in it ... is this where simple comes in?) for the week rather than cooking your own. It's "simple" to send your child to school with a Lunchable (eegads). It's simple to sit your children in front of video games instead of reading to them. I think the bottom line is ... "simple" isn't the same as "easy". If "simple" is appreciating and re-embracing life in it's basic form -- I love it. The joy of work that provides and fulfills. Appreciating the fruit of cooking from scratch, growing your own food, hanging out your laundry and reading to your children. Somewhere our society got off track in our desire to make things easier, "simpler". This was a major factor in Victor's family's decision to move to the United States from the mountains of Northeastern Portugal. It was a hard life there at that time with little opportunity to "make it" like there was in the United States. Victor has often pondered if that was a "better" choice. I am thankful that women fought for the right to work in the work place and to be rewarded equally for it. But, at some point we started to hold this opportunity up higher than all that women have accomplished for centuries. Interesting isn't it? Of course this is not just a "woman thing", it's a family thing. As a family, what do we value? What are we teaching our children through our actions and choices? Is living simply agreeing to live with less, rejecting the insatiable thirst for more that sucks you in the moment you step into the mall? Maybe it's the years I spent watching Little House on the Prairie as a child. For my entire life I've thought to myself that it was better then -- but with the knowledge of some modern medicine like penicillin. I think I enjoyed reading My Side of the Mountain to Benjamin better than he enjoyed listening to it (and he loved it). Surviving in the wilderness as a boy -- grinding his own flour from acorns! How cool is that?! When traveling through Amish Country in High School -- I was captivated by what they uphold as "important". Maybe it was the value and admiration I had for my mother staying at home with us, cooking from scratch for us (my father never understood why we would want to go OUT to eat.), making rhubarb jam, sending us out at 6:30am to pick raspberries in the yard for pancakes on a Sunday morning.
Although this verse makes so many of us feel incapable, it's inspiring -- and I love it.
Psalm 31:10-30
"A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: "Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all." Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised."
(Scarlet refers to a mark of prosperity. Purple here refers to the garments of the wealthy)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Under My Skin . . .

Several weeks ago I watched the movie La Vie En Rose about the French singer Edith Piaf. (The actress Marion Cotillard won an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Roll in 2007) What a movie. It got ... she got ... her music got ... under my skin. A powerful personality like Freida Kahlo with an incredible story of discovery, talent, tragedy, passion and loss. A review of the movie I read stated: "It's all here – heartbreak, passion, murder, acclaim, abandonment. Although Piaf's life has its legendary side, there was apparently no need to embellish the record. If anything, Duhan had to pare down the events." I downloaded the "album" La Vie En Rose onto my ipod - and I love it. I feel like I can close my eyes and travel to a bistro in France. Like with the movie Freida, in spite of it's roller-coaster ride of emotions you find yourself dreaming about watching it again.

A little Concentration after a days work . . .

Victor and Ripley playing a little Concentration . . . Memory / Matching games (with all of the senses) are big with Montessori, so in my effort to organize, simplify and get rid of the stuff my kids have out grown (lucky for Community Covenant Church, my nephews and the Salvation Army) I got rid of a lot of stuff, organized a lot of stuff, put "away" a lot of stuff (so I can rotate instead of having an overwhelming pile) and took out games and toys that are better suited for Ripley's growing mind of almost 4! Hence (this is my long winded explanation) the game of Concentration!

Incidentally, on the way home from school yesterday, Ripley announced "I like Lions and Baseball and Dogs and Spiderman and Pencils." Duly noted.

At first I was lamenting about all of the morning drive time that I now have with Ripley's school -- which starts at the exact moment Benjamin is supposed to be at home getting on the school bus for his school, so I have to drop off both kids at their individual schools -- however, now I'm kind of enjoying it. We play kids music (that I can tolerate -- like Beethoven's Wig) and chat. They generally can't get into much trouble strapped into their seats in a moving car, so overall it's a very peaceful time with good conversation. I am thankful.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Plastics ... Again.

Click on the link below to play short video on more news about plastics ...

I know, we already know this. I don't know why I keep adding. The thing is ... I'm so infuriated with the lobbyists and "big business" that is pushing on the FDA to support their bad products. I'm infuriated that the FDA seems to be spine-less. So, I post.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sunscreen Stain Update

At long last I finally called Coppertone and inquired about sunblock stains on my clothing. (other company's sunblock has also stained my clothing ... FYI) The Customer Service gal on the line didn't hesitate (like she gets this question all of the time) and explained that the stains are due to avobenzone in the sunblock. As the entry in Wikipedia explained, Avobenzone reacts with minerals to form colored complexes. So if you have hard water (a lot of minerals in your water) commonly caused by having well water, the iron in the water binds to the avobenzone and creates stains in your clothing. Coppertone recommends applying the standard stain removers before washing your clothing, which I have found to be almost completely ineffective. Mainly (as I explained to the woman) because the stains show up after I wash the clothes. Which stands to reason if it's binding to the iron in my water! (Unless of course I'd been mining for iron in my back yard with sunblock on, in which case the stains would show up before I washed them. Eeegads.) To that, the kind Coppertone Woman explained that a lot of people say that the stains show up afterwards (oh boy) and then recommended using Rit Rust Remover or Iron-Out. I looked that stuff up and basically these have strong acids that can irritate the skin if not completely rinsed out of your clothing. One site recommended using detergent with phosphates in it against rust stains! Terrific. How about putting something in our sunblock that doesn't hurt us or our clothing? Afterwards I read that lemon juice can be effective against rust stains in the laundry. Stay Tuned. I'll try it.
Be well.

Teach Your Children Well

I'm working on parenting my children. A change in season or schedule usually creates for me a new perspective and a renewed effort to attack problem areas. By the end of summer we (the kids and I) were on each other's last nerve ... and I wasn't tolerating it very well. Now I'm making a renewed effort to address problem areas. Ripley's new Montessori School has also inspired me to encourage the boy's (Ripley 3 7/8 and Benjamin 9) independence. I'm all for that!
Here are some tools / ideas that I've found work very well (particularly during the school year):
  • Set their clothes out the night before when you tuck them in. The rule is: You must come downstairs fully clothed before you get milk and breakfast. (The milk / breakfast part is a big motivator) If your children are 3 1/2 or older and don't dress themselves, start working on it with them. They should be able to do it and WOW what a time saver in the morning. Dirty clothes must go in the hamper. Bed "made".
  • Disagreements: At the parent orientation at the Montessori School, Ripley's teachers explained that they have the 3-5 year olds in the class "work out" their disagreements by themselves. The person who feels "wronged" in some way is given a "Peace Rose". They get to explain why they are upset, then the other person gets their turn with the peace rose and can talk about things from their perspective. Then, they come up with a compromise. This seems like it might be asking a lot of a 3 year old, but let me tell you -- the boys have been "taking turns" talking through an issue and it's been working!!! In less then 2 minutes both parties usually have apologized and moved on! Wow. I was getting way too many "MOMMY!!!" screams or "Mmmmmoooommmmmmmmmmmmmiiiiiiiieeeeeeeee" whines -- like lobbyists in Washington begging me to get involved in their cause. I would jump in, my blood pressure would rise, their voices would increase in volume and intensity to try to convince me they were right ..... ugh. Stressful. If you have children who can communicate with each other, give it a try. It works!
  • OK this is classic. It works with my very boyish 9 year old. I don't know about you, but my 9 year old loves to go outside, run around, dig in dirt, mess in puddles of water -- like he is 4. Good clean fun. Well, maybe not clean. This boy is not prone to being neat. Without thinking he will not only play in dirt, trees, water, etc., but he will wear the dirt and water like he's 2. My "beef" with that is, I feel like he doesn't consider the people who have to clean up after him ... like he's a billionaire with a full-time maid service. He will stain brand new clothing without a second thought. The discussion I've had with him is: If you were living in the Northwestern mountains of China and only had one pair of pants, you would treat them like gold -- like your most treasured possession. I'm a BIG fan of playing -- but there is nothing wrong with respecting your possessions and most definitely other's possessions. ANYWAY ... if he treats his clothes with disrespect he has to get out laundry soap and scrub by hand the knees (of his pants for example) until the dirt is out. He's starting to think twice before diving up to his neck in mud.
  • Another clothing issue, do your kids start playing in a pool or puddle of water -- get wet -- then they want to come inside and put on new clothes? Just what we need, more laundry to clean. (back to that full time maid service remark earlier) The deal I have is: If you want to put on fresh clean clothes, you have to help me with the laundry -- like folding. Sometimes he goes for it, other times he sticks with a little moisture around the wrists, and hopefully he's thinking before he literally puts his whole arm -- sleeve and all -- into the little turtle pool in the back yard.
  • Have the kids help out around the house. Both of my kids love to help. Here are some good -- actually helpful -- ideas. Have the kids strip their beds when it's time to wash the sheets. Have the kids ... young and old ... sort socks and fold them together. Have your kids fold towels, wash clothes, rags and cloth napkins - older kids can fold the clothing too. Of course the more obvious like set the table ... 3 year olds can do this easily. Clear the table. For the older ones ... load and unload the dishwasher. A popular one ... wash and vacuum the car. (of course conserve water please) Help weed the garden (my personal favorite).
  • If you want to bring that toy into my car you MUST take it with you on the way out. I swear, in no time my car can look like a bad yard sale.

These are the ideas that are in the forefront of my mind. I'll add as I think of more. Do you have any suggestions to add? I'll put them in.

Be well!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fall Harvest

The apples from my three new semi-dwarf apples trees were ripe enough for picking and I decided to go ahead and harvest them. The main reason being -- the cute little things had gotten this far without being totally destroyed by bugs, mildew, rust, scab, squirrels or deer -- let's hurry up and pick them before their luck runs out. This came to my mind yesterday because I awoke to find one of my three sugar pumpkins that pollinated with chipmunk teeth marks! Grrrrr. No big harm done though thankfully. I just need to make pumpkin something-or-other soon. Needless to say, I picked my three little pumpkins before further damage occurred. Speaking of pollination ... have I mentioned that I'm seriously considering keeping bees? (Another idea my sister-in-law Tanya has been tantalizing me with over the past year ... as in "Have you ever considering keeping beeeeessssss???") I have two friends in town who keep bees that I've started peppering with questions. With fruit trees and a big garden, honey bees with help with pollination and produce more fruits and vegetables. In addition, you can reap a harvest of honey. I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Clutter, Disposing of Disposables and Your Wake!

I'm de-cluttering my house! Two years ago I read Simplify Your Life: Get Organized and Stay That Way along with my sister-in-law Tanya -- and spoke about it at a Women's Breakfast at our church. It is a fabulous book, has very practical, realistic tools and is easy to implement. However, habits do have their way of breaking (why is it often the good ones?) and clutter has it's way of accumulating unless you go to battle against it from time to time. Isn't that the truth?! This has come up in my field of view like a banging drum set because Ripley has just started going to a Montessori school ... and if you've ever been inside one (see picture off the web below), you'll know why I've renewed my commitment against clutter. One of the premises is that children "work" best in a simple, tidy, organized environment -- who doesn't? Right? So, yesterday I went to my work against clutter in my home that's built up over the past two years. First: Toys. Broken toys. Toys you just have too many of. Toys that just don't work well. Toys our kids have grown out of. Chuck them. Recycle when possible. Salvation Army or hand down to friends, family or your church nursery those toys your child has grown out of. I literally collected three huge bags of stuff in those three categories. How about you? How is your clutter? Other areas of attack for me: "Junk" drawers / cabinet (I used to have none, now I have about four), Recipes!, Last Years school papers that I'd put aside to save (go through again - eliminate some more - then store neatly in the attic), Craft Room upstairs. My CLOSET!! (Think of the people who could use the clothes hanging unused in your closet. Send it to the Salvation Army. Or a consignment shop. Perfectly good clothing can be used by someone else. Talk about unsustainable, right?) How about you? What areas would you like to attack?

As you are going through your clutter and your home to organize and reconsider how it functions, consider examining your use of disposable anything. One blog I often check out issued a challenge to get rid of disposable items in your house. I love that idea! We can call it:

Disposing of Disposables Challenge!

Not only does doing away with disposables save the environment, it saves money and time at the grocery store! Here are some suggestions, send me your suggestions and I'll add them in! Let me know if you're committed too!

  • Swiffers - Use old stained shirts and towels.
  • Disposable Household Wipes and Dusters
  • Take-Out Coffee Cups -- especially the Styrofoam ones!! Bring your own and have them fill it.
  • Plastic Grocery Bags!
  • "Disposable" tupperware and sippy cups -- invest in long lasting glass, plus glass won't leech chemicals into your food and drinks.
  • Seemingly "disposable" plastic toys that people give as gifts at parties that break in less than 15 minutes. You know the kind, "Buy 100 for $2.00 ... Oooooo what a savings!"
  • Bottled Water
  • Sponges
  • Kleenex -- use old fashioned hankies

Your WAKE. Committing to PEACE.

Another thing that has stuck with me all week is from Sunday Morning at church and a conversation with one of my girlfriends about PEACE in your home. Our Pastor, Dennis, asked the question "What wake do you leave when you go through a room?" Wake -- as in the mark that a boat makes in the water as it pushes through a body of water. What came to my mind immediately is that time zone at the end of your day when you're getting tired, the kids are getting tired and bickering, you're trying to prep dinner, ask your school aged kid(s) how their day was and make sure they are doing their homework, keep the young one out of the hair of the old one and entertained in some way -- and then your husband walks in. Not a wake of peace. Nope. More like the wake of a hurricane or an ocean liner. Committing to a non-disposable lifestyle is a lot easier for me that committing to peace. I like the idea of peace, but it sure it easy to get sucked into the chaos and join in the chorus "AAARRRRrrrrrggggghhhhhh!" Regardless, I'm committing to pursuing peace. This is all interconnected because organizing, simplifying and planning do help to create a peaceful home. Am I the only one? What's you're story?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Miscellaneous ...

Can I just tell you that Ripley started to have, what we call here, a "baby meltdown" when I had to explain to him yesterday morning that we didn't have any of my Homemade Greek Yogurt (I have updated the recipe with pictures) ready to eat. (It was still straining after a night of "brewing".) This is noteworthy because Ripley is such a picky eater, and to see him gobbling down homemade plain yogurt with homemade super healthy granola drizzled with a little local honey every morning brings joy to my heart!
Over the past two days I made mozzarella (which my sister-in-law Tanya can't believe I didn't start months ago after reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle). My first attempt wasn't a booming success. I did get a large ball of mozzarella which tasted great, but that was with a gallon of milk! This time I had checked out some other instructions online that had other helpful information. I ended up as usual using a blend of the recipes -- the first I'd gotten from which is the company Barbara Kingsolver had referenced in her book. They tout making mozzarella in 30 minutes -- but having grown up in an entrepreneurial manufacturing family (handbags) I know something about efficiency and LEAN Manufacturing and it don't take no 30 minutes! After making it twice, all of the "wait times" were longer than listed. But, it still is pretty cool and is a big savings -- one large ball I saw at Whole Foods yesterday in the produce department was selling for $7.50! Eegads!

Now (don't roll your eyes at me now) since I was making yogurt and mozzarella in the same 24 hour period I had a lot of left over whey (the liquid that separates from the curd in both of these processes) so if you simply boil the whey again -- let it sit at room temperature overnight (makes it more acidic apparently) -- then strain through your cone coffee filter (not the paper variety) PRESTO! You have Ricotta Cheese!! I guess Ricotta means something like re-cook. You end up with about a cup of fresh homemade Ricotta. I learned about it HERE. Now, I guess over in Portugal -- in the northeastern mountains (see picture ... I know, why did they leave??) where my husband was born and raised for 6 years -- after boiling the whey they throw in a little sugar and drink the whey and ricotta all together -- The ricotta sinks to the bottom and that's the best part at the end.

Finally, here is an okra flower picture untouched by pests!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Star of David Okra

Beautiful, isn't it?

This gorgeous flower blooms large for one day. I think it's lovely. I saw it open earlier today, by the time I got down to photograph it there was a japanese beetle chewing away at it's delicate petals. Shouldn't those awful pests be gone by now? I don't know about you, but for me it's been the year of the pests. I have somehow attracted every possible pest local to this area. Anyway, aren't my okra beautiful?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

How to Make Your Own Greek Yogurt at Home

No, I'm not Greek. However, Greek Yogurt is the one plain yogurt that I can totally enjoy like I'm "splurging". And, I figure, if you can make your own Greek Style Yogurt at home, you are really saving money. Not only do you save money, but you also save the environment by eliminating all of the use of plastic -- even if you do recycle it, plastic is rather toxic to recycle (although better than not recycling!). All the better to put your homemade yogurt into glass containers that you have saved ... like nut butter jars! Anyway, here is what I did:

First, I got started and inspired by The Real Food Revolution blogger. Check her site out.
Second, my first effort was a failure. Hey, it happens. I've made some bad bread and pie in my day too.
Third, I did some more research to see what I could have possibly done wrong and this is where I landed:
How to make your own Greek Style Yogurt
You need:
  • 1 Gallon Milk
    About 1/2 cup (or less) scoop of plain yogurt for your "starter" (must have "live active cultures")
    1 Large Pan large enough to handle the gallon of milk
    1 Candy Thermometer (or any thermometer that can measure liquids from 100 to 200 degrees F, a candy thermometer is nice b/c it clips to the side of the pan.
  • 1-2 heating pads
  • 2 bath towels
  • 1 large colander
    1 large bowl that the colander can fit into
  • 1 large square of muslin, cheese cloth, or in a pinch a thin pillow case
  • 2-4 very clean large glass jars with tops. Most people write that they are fine with jars cleaned very well with hot soapy water -- but you could sterilize them in your dishwasher if it has that feature, pour boiling water into them before filling while the yogurt is in the fridge draining, or actually go all the way and sterilize them in a boiling water bath. Your choice.

Directions (this really isn't hard ... at all -- my long winded-ness just makes it seem long and labor-intensive. It isn't!)

  • Set 1/2 Cup plain yogurt starter aside at room temperature
  • Put the gallon of milk into the pan and heat it to 185 degrees F over medium heat to kill of any "bad" bacteria -- stirring from time to time to prevent the milk from sticking (or worse) burning on the bottom of the pan.

  • Remove the pan from heat -- and if you'd like to move quickly -- put the pan into an ice water bath in your sink with the top of the pan on -- thermometer sticking out of the side until the milk is brought down to 105 degrees F. If you use the ice water bath method it's really very fast. Otherwise, stick the pan on the counter and wait.
  • Stir 1/2 Cup of the room temperature plain yogurt into the milk - well.
  • Turn your heating pad(s) on medium heat and set them on the counter.
  • Take your pan of 105 degree F milk with yogurt starter stirred in and put it on top of the heating pad. I put another heating pad (set on medium) on top of the pan (with the top on the pan, obviously), but this might have been overkill.

  • Then, cover pan / heating pads with two towels, tucking in the ends to avoid drafts.

  • Let sit for 12 hours -- over night is great. (I made mine during Ripley's nap -- set it to brewing at 3pm and woke up after a good nights sleep at 5:30am - perfect!) The longer the yogurt "brews" the better it is for you -- that good bacteria really gets going. As you pass the 12 hour mark the yogurt is supposed to taste tarter (not necessarily a good thing in my book). I "brewed" mine for 13 1/2 hours (because I was sleeping) and it isn't sour or tart at all -- go figure.

  • In the morning - line your colander with your clean cheese cloth or muslin and set the colander inside a large bowl to catch dripping liquid -- or Whey.
  • When you take the top off your pan and peek in, the yogurt should have formed into something that looks like a custard. There will also be a clear yellowy looking liquid on top and around the sides -- this is your Whey. (as in Little Miss Muffet ... you know) Pour as much Whey off as you can without dumping out your yogurt -- keep the Whey and use as you would buttermilk for baking, or if you're feeling adventurous -- homemade Whey Ricotta.
  • Dump the sloppy yogurt into the cheese cloth / muslin that's inside the colander. Pull up the sides of the cloth, twist and tie a knot on the top so that the cloth is tight around the blob of sloppy yogurt.

  • Put the Yogurt, cloth, colander, bowl into the fridge for 2 hours. I poured the Whey out of the bowl a couple of times to be sure it was draining well, but that might have been overkill.
  • Spoon and scrape the yogurt the yogurt off the cloth and into clean jars.

  • Chill in the fridge
  • Serve with honey and homemade granola.

    My sister-in-law Tanya (a Greek Yogurt connoisseur) taste tested and agreed that it was .... YUMOLA!!
    Incidentally; Ripley, Benjamin and I are downing homemade granola and homemade yogurt like mad ... can you believe it?! Ripley, eating super good for you homemade granola? He even asked for it for lunch. I'm going to have to make more next week at this rate -- I'll take pictures and update this post. Good Luck!


Ripley to Benjamin "Do you want some campelope?"

New Info on Plastics

BPA that chemical that seeps from our plastic into our food is rearing it's ugly head again in the news. Tongith on NBC Brian Williams reported on it. Here is an excerpt of the "pre-release" on the web and the link to the whole article. Bottom line ... use glass, eh?
"We are doing a report tonight on the latest results on the possible danger of a chemical that is very common in our environment. Most of the research up to now has been in mice and rats. This latest study was done in monkeys and indicated possible brain damage at low amounts.
The chemical is BPA or bisphenol A. It is found in millions of plastic bottles and other containers. It is back in the news and will be for a while. BPA has been known for decades to mimic the female hormone estrogen. It has also been known that tiny amounts of it can leak into the liquids the containers hold. As a result almost all Americans have tiny amounts of BPA in their bodies. Some animal studies, including the one we cover tonight, indicate it could be a hazard But is it really dangerous to human health? There is no definite answer yet.
But this week the National Toxicology Program, an interagency group set up to advise the government on questions about possibly dangerous chemicals in our environment issued a final report on BPA.
That agency concluded there "some concern for effects on the brain, behavior and the prostate gland in fetuses, infants and children at current exposure levels"
Is your plastic bottle safe? by Robert Bazell
There are many ways ... and very GREEN ways ... to avoid this junk. You could just pretend you are living in the 1930's and you'd pretty much be all set.
But, if you want a list here are a few ideas:
  • Buy glass storage containers for your leftovers.
  • Use and reuse a metal water container to drink your water -- like SIGG or Kleen Kanteen.
  • Get rid of plastic sippy cups.
  • If you have access, order you milk locally from the milkman. We get Monroe Dairy here delivered the old fashioned way in glass bottles.
  • Buy food stored in glass whenever possible.
  • Just look through you life and household for places where your food and drinks run into plastic and ask yourself if you can eliminate it.
  • Can or freeze fruits and vegetables - and cook from scratch as much as possible. Unfortunately at some point aluminum cans started being lined with a thin plastic film. The aluminum can lining may actually leech more BPA than a water bottle -- read about it here.
  • Make your own yogurt! (more on that later -- easy!)

I've gotta go put dinner on the table, but you get the idea -- right?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

First Day of School!

Aren't they cute? Today Benjamin started 4th Grade and Ripley started Preschool. Both were excited to go and enjoyed their day. Ripley only has 1 1/2 hour days this week (???ugh!) so there wasn't much free time for me, but I did put my laundry out on the line in complete peace -- listening to the birds and the goings on in the woods behind our house. I also tried to make my own yogurt for the second time. Stay tuned.
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