Tuesday, October 27, 2009

IDC : October 27, 2009

A quick and easy format for a Tuesday post via Sharon's "Casaubon's Book" Independence Day Challenge.

Plant something: Nothing this week yet, but there are still a few squares in the garden, since the spinach refuses to grow.

Harvest something: two cucumbers, a yellow summer squash, arugula, oregano, and two "sampler" radishes came out of the garden today.

Preserve something: I'll be skimming all the leaves off the oregano and drying it tomorrow for future use.

Waste Not: the regular recycling & composting, cutting up t-shirts from Goodwill to aid in Halloween costume making, using coffee filters more than once, using the light over the stove as opposed to overhead lighting (seven bulbs) in the kitchen during the day, passed on buying the big jar of prepared garlic and instead made my own jar with the girls helping me peel 8 heads of garlic, hung the whites out a day late, but at least I didn't throw them in the dryer, found a like-new bike and a pair of rollerblades that I had specifically been looking for at Goodwill yesterday

Want Not: cooked and froze pinto beans this weekend, finally juiced all the limes Mom had given me, chopped all that garlic in the food processor and stored it in a jar with a bit of water in the fridge

Build Community Food Systems: Joined the CSA!!!!! SO excited about this. Also shopped the farmers' market on Saturday.

Eat the Food: homemade bread, still cooking all breakfasts except for Saturdays from scratch (lunches too, but I was already doing that!), think I'll make some granola tomorrow

Sunday, October 25, 2009

No Impact Week Outcomes

Woo hoo! I just clicked on the "pay now" button on my Gamble Creek Farm CSA membership! I'm very happy about this; it's something I've been wanting to do for years now. We'd actually signed up in 2008, but had to retract our membership when my husband was laid off in the midst of this recession. He's been steadily employed for over a year now and we're ready to dive in with our commitment to supporting local agriculture once more.

Trying to shop and eat locally as much as possible is a challenge and a twist on the usual way of doing my shopping. To get the most out of our membership, it's going to mean that instead of making out my menu and then going to get the food, I will be getting the food and then figuring out what we can make from it. This should make things interesting to say the least. But I'm all for interesting when it comes to the kitchen. I've got years and countless hours under my belt in the kitchen and anything that livens things up in there is most welcome!

My mom, Jerry and I toured the farm yesterday at a membership orientation. Before that, though, we did some early morning shopping down at the downtown farmers' market. The crops won't be ready at the farm until the second week in November, so I picked up a bunch of lovely things grown right in our area. I bought: potatoes, watermelon (fabulous flavor!!), mustard greens, onions, cantaloupe, tomaotes, cucumbers, green beans, and sweet potatoes. Wonderful stuff. Today I'll be making out my menu and figuring out how to use all of these things in a timely manner, so that nothing goes to waste. The greens, for example, will need to be used up before they wilt, so they'll be used first. The watermelon has already been carved and is in the refrigerator, etc.

The results of my No Impact Project participation have been enlightening and, I'll confess, somewhat draining. It takes time to develop new habits before they become easier. And these new habits are also, specifically, taking more of my time too. It's not a bad thing, but just different. Making breakfasts for my family every morning, for example, has taken more of my time and energy. But one benefit that I didn't foresee was that not only are we not going through the boxed cereals so quickly and my family is getting better nutrition, but we also aren't plowing through the soy and almond milk like we ordinarily do. The only time soy or almond milk is used in our household is when it's poured on cereal or used in cooking; we're primarily water drinkers here. So, I was pleasently surprised when I saw that there will be fewer milk containers to bring home this week. This not only saves us more money, but continues to cut down on waste.

Even though my No Impact Week has come to an end, you can be sure that I will be continuing to make changes, little alterations here and there as I continue to strive toward walking ever lightly. One project this week will be to find a good recipe for homemade burger buns. I've used my bread recipe in the past, but I'm looking for something just a little lighter.

Finally, as if I needed any more reasons to spur on my actions, I watched this on Friday night. Sea levels have already risen for this village in Bangladesh. The effects of global warming, of climate change, are not just coming for this village, but have already arrived. I was stunned to see these people walking in waist-deep water trying to go about their business of rebuiliding their homes, of moving, and of children using hours of each day to fetch fresh water - a boat ride to higher land - for their families. The girl in the story fetching the water is my daughter's age. What would it be like to see my child doing this every day instead of working on her education? What would it be like to see my child having school in a boat - which is what these children now do since their homes are under water? What would it be like if these families, as the story suggests, become more and more displaced and became refugees in parts of the world farther in and farther up... or if they came by the thousands as more and more homes are swallowed up to the very places that caused these catastrophes in the first place. Because these are not the people responsible for climate change, but they - like the rest of poorer, more impoverished peoples - will be the first to pay the price.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Did you ever see the Walt Disney version of Winnie the Pooh? Do you remember how he would sit and poke his little head and go, "Think, think,... think, think..." That's how I've felt this week. The No Impact Project has been doing exactly what I'd hoped it would do and that was to cause me to really look at almost everything. There are many things that we do already, but I needed a fresh view, new or renewed reminders of new ways of doing things.

I haven't actually done a whole lot different this week, but because of these eye openers, I'm planning. For starters, I'm going to be looking around my area for a groomer for our dog, as I'd mentioned, so that I can get her there by bike instead of driving. Next, while I won't be able to not drive to the farmers' market or CSA, I plan to use those for more of my food needs and my food won't have traveled the average 2000 miles to get to my plate. I don't mind driving for that.

Today was the day to focus on energy consumption in the Project. All week I have been working in my kitchen with the lights off during the day. My kitchen is a bit dark, but there really is enough light to work in there via the light from the window if I don't rush to turn on the lights and just let my eyes adjust. I've been using the light over the stove if I need extra light for something, since it's one light as opposed to the 7 canister lights in my ceiling. At night, I turn on the lights. But during the day, I can keep them off. I can tell you, though, I'm reeeeeaaal interested in one of these for both our living room and kitchen. I have to look into it more to see if they are cost effective for us, but I think that would be fantastic.

I didn't have anything planned for lunch today like I normally do. So, I was standing there trying to think about what to make. If I'd planned better, I could have made something raw and that would have saved on cooking energy. I decided to bake some potatoes in our toaster oven instead, since I didn't really have the ingredients for a complete raw meal. As I was preparing the potaotes though, I started thinking about solar cookers. It seems pretty silly that I live in FL and hadn't really considered the possibility of using one of these until now. But as I said, I've been thinking...

I'm currently reading The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen. It's an incredible resource and of course I found info on solar cookers in it. They pointed me in the direction of Joe Radabaugh, the designer of the Heaven's Flame solar cooker. He says you can build one for under $10. That's my kind of oven! :) I can't say I'll be building one right away, but I'll be on the lookout to collect materials and then one day, I'm going to just give it a go!

Well, I'm off to bed now though. All this thinking has worn me out. Oh, but before I go, I did harvest a beatiful zucchini from our garden today! That'll be incorporated into lunch tomorrow. Can't get more local than that!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Thoughts on the Changes at Hand

Yesterday was Transportation Day in the No Impact Project. There wasn't too much I could do about it yesterday, since I had an appointment for my dog to be groomed and it is a necessary drive to do that. But it did have me thinking that I could call around to places nearer to me, say in biking distance, and see how the prices compare. My dog is fine to ride in the trailer we had for the kids and now use primarily for grocery runs. I'll need to look into it.

Overall, though, I am looking at ways of riding more often and taking the bikes whenever we can. The kids and I have been biking every morning, sometimes joined by my husband (he works second shift, so he's not always completely awake or ready to go when we are), to increase our endurance for longer rides as well as windy days.

Today is Eat Local day. I don't know how well this one will work out for me immediately, because I'm not going to junk the food I already have and purchase something different just to eat local today. That said, we will be visiting a CSA farm this weekend and are likely to purchase a share. You can learn more about CSA farms at LocalHarvest.org.

There, you can also find out about farmers' markets in your area, co-ops, and more. I noted our downtown farmers' market hours and read some reviews - all good! I've never been because it has been an off and on thing and seems to have been revamped of late. So, I hope to visit it soon (by car, not bike... still too far...sigh).

Another thing I am doing food-wise, to not only eat more whole foods and boost our immune systems, but also decrease the grocery food bill with an eye toward more fresh food, is to make breakfast 6 days of the week for my family, cutting out all cold cereal, save for Saturday mornings. Even the "healthy" cold cereals at average grocery stores are loaded with high fructose corn syrup. They may be cheaper, but at what other cost? I decided I wanted to purchase the cereals at Whole Foods that are actually made from whole food. They are, of course, more expensive. But when we have it only once a week, the cost evens out. Yes, it's more work for me, but I am looking at it in a couple of ways:

First, living intentionally simply takes planning. It doesn't always take more time, but you have to be prepared. The time is taken in the planning so that you're not caught off guard missing a necessary ingredient or something of the like. This week when I planned for tofu scramble breakfast burritos, I took the tortillas out of the freezer the night before. Likewise, I prepared the dry ingredients in advance for Tuesday's morning muffins. Menus are essential. While I rotate meals for lunches (that is our big meal of the day, since Paul works evenings), breakfasts will be different each day, but the same breakfast for the same day, i.e. breakfast burritos every Monday, muffins on Tuesday, pancakes on Wednesday, etc. There is variety within those things: different muffins, different hot cereals, but it takes the guesswork out of planning.

Second, I feel like I'm practicing for the future. The years of cheap oil are fading fast and even if we don't completely wean ourselves off of fossil fuels, the oil that remains will be - and is already becoming - harder and harder to acquire. I don't believe that a year-round variety of all the fruits we currently see on grocery store shelves is going to be a reality for too much longer. We won't be eating food from New Zeland and Chile when it's not in season in this hemisphere. Seriously, we won't. And if it's not our generation that sees these changes, then it will be our kids or our grandkids. Wouldn't you rather practice and be prepared, be equipped to know how to operate in a future that is surely going to happen?

Like the current economic recession, I feel that making these changes now - trying them on for size, tweaking them and getting used to them while there is still room for error is going to benefit myself and my family in the long run. For example, we have been living debt-free (save for our mortgage) and frugally now for almost the entirety of our 14 years of marriage. Despite the fact that my husband was unemployed for 3 months in the summer of '08 and then found a job that pays him substantially less, we have still managed to save money this year. I'm not trying to toot my own horn; I was actually pretty surprised! I think I was surprised because, while for a few months there we really tightened our belts, our style of living did not drastically change. We are used to saying, "no" to certain things. We are used to saying, "no" to unnecessary conveniences. By the same token, I want to get used to shopping locally and get used to using alternative forms of transportation and get used to not relying on convenience foods. I want to get used to this before I have to get used to it and I'm ending up reacting to an emergency-type situation. I believe that is how some people who believed they could live their lives on rotating credit feel now. I don't want to feel that way when these energy choices are going to be made for us.

And I want my children to know how to do this too. I want to prepare them for the kind of future they very likely will face. Can anyone do that with a constant stream of Healthy Choice frozen dinners, or other packaged "foods", or even meals made from whole foods, but that are shipped literally thousands of miles to make it to my dinner plate?

It is hard doing this now. While I have always had an affinity for voluntary simplicity, I think that I am beginning to learn that time is limited for the actions to remain voluntary. Now don't get me wrong; I don't necessarily see a bleak future. While I do think things may be challenging, they will be challenging because they are new and different and not what we're used to, but I don't believe it will be all bad. The very fact that there will simply be others joining in the effort (by that time, perhaps, by no choice of their own) will ease the growing pains. Learning to work together for the benefit of all the planet - its people and its resources - together and for each other could make the future I see one that is very rewarding. I simply want to be able to walk confidently into that future with my family and be prepared to lead, at least in some way, rather than to follow.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Garden Progress and Proliferation

This year we are gardening again. Hopefully, this year, we are gardening more wisely.

At the end of August I actually tested my soil before beginning the new garden, a new garden by the way, using the Square Foot Gardening practice. My soil was sorely lacking in many nutrients. In fact, the only positive thing that could be said about my soil was that it was PH neutral. But for all the compost and manure we have laid in past years, the simple fact was, with our torrential rainy seasons, the soil never holds those nutrients for long and the garden would simply need fertilizer - organic fertilizer, mind you, but fertilizer, nonetheless, in addition to the compost we continually create in our back yard bin.

So far so good! I've got arugula that will be used today for the first time (!) in sandwiches at lunch, baby cukes, zucchini, and crookneck squash on the vine. Thanks to a blend of 50% milk and 50% water, I've been able to fend off the fungus that likes to destroy my tomato leaves; I've got 3 healthy, growing plants so far. Beets, chard, radishes, nasturtius and parsnips are all babies in the garden right now too. My packet of spinach left much to be desired, though. I have very few sprouts.

The garden project is proliferating this year too as you can see from the above photo. The boxes behind mine are my neighbors' and are a project of our house church youth group. The kids filled the boxes, picked out the plants they wanted and the seeds, and planted them. They are helping to tend to the gardens regularly as well and all will share in the harvest! If our garden is successful, extras will go to share with other neighbors or even a food bank. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves, though. So far we've got baby sprouts, but it's a start and everyone loves it!

Here are some photos of the kids on planting day. It was HOT, but two hours of labor left us with nicely watered beds and tired, but happy kids.

Square Foot gardens are an easy way to garden with your children... and even your neighbors. What a beautiful sight it would be to see boxes like these in backyards across the country: feeding people, working together, and eating locally.
A peek at my crookneck squash babies:

And a view of my back yard from the vantage point of the neighbors' yard and the south side of the garden.

The latest photos of the prickly, baby cukes! It's amazing to me how something so small can make me so very happy! :)

And pretty zucchini looking healthy so far:

Monday, October 19, 2009

Thou Shalt Create No Trash

Today as part of the No Impact Project we are challenged to look at the trash we are creating and consider ways to eliminate it. Already, my family practices what I consider to be moderate practices of reducing our waste: we compost, buy in bulk, shop with cloth bags, reuse bags for our bulk purchases, and recycle cans, glass, and paper, including paperboard. And our efforts are visible in the rate that we drag our garbage to the curb and the actual amount that is in the bin.
Still, there is more that can be done which, I am noticing, will entail more effort on my part. I am not adverse to this, but I know that it will require not only physical effort, but mental effort as well.
You see, one of the things that Colin talks about in No Impact Man is that we often are in a great hurry to get so many things out of the way, to get, it would seem, much of our life out of the way.
Now it just so happens that I was sitting on the beach this past Friday enjoying what may well be our last really warm day of the year here in southwest Florida, and I was reading a book about slowing down and creating more happiness in our lives by remaining in the moment.
This is not news to me. I have known about and have practiced time and again, reamaining in the present moment. Yet, unless I am in dire need of it - such as to avoid anxiety - I often forget this practice and allow myself to get swept away by my circumstances. When a theme begins to repeat itself in my life, I attribute it to God tapping me on the shoulder and asking me to pay close attention... and so I am.
The mental effort I mentioned above will entail just this: remaining in the present moment - living in my life and not trying to escape even the drudgery that may come from many kitchen chores. The more I pay attention, the more I am living with intention and often (though not always) the drudgery is elevated from something I might rather avoid to something I may even esteem.
Paying attention today to what is happening in my kitchen and how much waste may be created has me rethinking habits and looking for alternatives.
Today for breakfast I made everyone tofu scramble breakfast burritos with lettuce and salsa. We had orange juice to drink. The orange juice was from frozen concentrate; all parts of the can, save for that little plastic band you use to pull off the lid, can be recycled. The tortillas are from Whole Foods and come six in a plastic bag. I've tried making tortillas. I do NOT care for it, though I can say my family LOVED the fresh ones. Don't know if I'll go for making them homemade again any time in the future... but never say never.
The tofu came in a plastic tub that can be recycled. I won't be making my own tofu, I'm afraid. I may even say never to this!
The salsa came in a glass jar, which can be recycled, but I am seriously thinking that I should try making fresh salsa again. I haven't liked some of the salsa recipes I've made in the past, but I have tried others' fresh salsa and loved it. I'll do some experimenting here and see if I can find a good recipe. Feel free to share if you have one!
I used garlic this morning too - chopped from a plastic jar. I have cut fresh garlic for years and only recently took to using the convenient, large jars already prepared from the store. Let me tell you, I hate peeling garlic! But I'll go back to doing it in large batches to store for myself in a reusable jar. Throwing it in the food processor is not a problem (until I get to no electricity... is that coming this week? I better get it done before then!), but the peeling is still a pain. Maybe I can think of something pleasant to do while I'm doing it. Perhaps I'll sit down at the table instead of standing and listen to a book or podcast on my iPod if I'm alone, or perhaps I can do it with one of the children at the table visiting with me.
A few other things I noticed today:
* While my tea bag is compostable, the little paper that wraps my Twingings Earl Gray is not, though I suppose it is recyclable. But the paper used is not post-consumer, so switching to loose leaves will be a goal of mine.
* I am frustrated that I can't buy peanuts in bulk anymore since the peanut butter scare last year. I was happily making my own peanut butter, but now I am buying again: glass jar, non-recylable plastic lid.
* I do make our own tofu mayo, but the tofu is in aesceptic packaging that is not recycled here. It's 1/4 the cost of Vegenaisse though, so I'm sticking with it for now. I'll look for silken tofu in the recylable plastic tubs I guess.
So, those are some of the things I've noticed in regard to trash today. I plan to ask my small house church I attend next door to practice using non-disposable items for coffee, etc. I'll be reminding my friends to bring their own mugs.
A few other non-trash choices for today:
* Took the van to get its oil changed. Took my bike in the back and rode home after stopping at the store with cloth bag for some fruits and veggies. Skipped the grapes in the plastic bag and took plums without packaging instead.
* The kids and I walked the two miles back up to pick up the van when it was done. A great afternoon in the cool air and sunshine!
* We'll be perusing Craigslist and Freecycle for the bike and some rollerblades for Eve, who's outgrown both of hers.
So, a fulfilling and thoughtful Day Two to my No Impact Week! :)
Photo credit: Steve Winter; print available at Allposters.com

Sunday, October 18, 2009

No Impact Week : Day One

Crazy. Here I am again! I didn't delete the blog, because I thought I just might need to come back and I didn't want to wipe out 2 1/2 years of my life in one fell swoop. But I'm ready to be back - at least for now. Ready to record and share my path and days of growing, stretching myself, challenging, changing and just being a witness to life - my life. More than that, though... or perhaps less than that, I hope to limit my focus somewhat to my continued efforts at living lightly, healthy, and sustainably. I will likely still have pieces to share about my family, homeschooling, and creative efforts from time to time, but the whole if it feels too broad to me at present and is more fodder for my personal journals rather than my public blog.

Today is the first day of the No Impact Experiment and I am taking part along with a few thousand others around the globe. I have enjoyed Colin's blog over the last couple of years and was excited to see the release of his book and movie. Unfortunately, his movie doesn't seem to be playing in our area yet, but perhaps it will arrive via the Sarasota Film Society sometime in the future. If not, I will be waiting for its release on Netflix.

In the meantime, I'm listening to the audiobook version of his book, No Impact Man, that I picked up from the library and I'm also waiting for the print version of it to arrive at the library via interlibrary loan, so I can copy down a few things I'd like to remember. I can't buy anything new this week, so certainly, his book was out of the question! :) I actually do plan to purchase a copy, but really... it will be a used one.

So, today, looking at the No Impact How-To Manual, I am supposed to begin by reducing my consumption. I am to try to purchase nothing other than food and if I do need something, I ought to try to buy used first.

Initially, I was thinking, "Easy, peasy." I went 9 months two years ago without buying anything new for myself and I try to maintain this as a habit. Looking more closely, though, which is what I am attempting to do this week, I can already see the challenges ahead.

My younger daughter needs a new, bigger bike. I continue to want to ride our bikes more wherever it is safe to do so around here. The girls and I have been biking every morning for exercise and as part of my plan to increase our strength and endurance for more regular riding. It is evident that Eve needs something bigger. Trying to find used will simply take longer and this may interfere with the goal of riding more and regularly until that happens. Maybe not, though. She's been riding her present bike well-enough for a while now without much complaint. Its me that feels uncomfortable for her when I see that the bike doesn't fit her properly. But truly, a couple of weeks shouldn't matter if that's what I give it to try to find her something via Freecycle or Craigslist before we buy new.

Another challenge I see is finding headlamps for our bikes. I'd like us to ride our bikes more often over to my mil's house when we visit her Sunday evenings, but, of course, I want to be visible and safe. The route primarily has sidewalks and uses back roads that are less frequently traveled, but that also means it is less well-lit. While I think finding a bike for my daughter is likely on the used websites, finding 4 bike headlights for my family will be a further stretch. I don't know if I'm willing to wait to find them, since the trade-off would be that we would drive until we do.

Ah, suburbia. The land dedicated to the automobile instead of the humans that live there. Well, we can't just up and move, so I've got to work with what I've got. "Peak Moment" is a YouTube channel that particularly inspires me. They discuss many issues related to the "peak oil" theory, but the videos I enjoy most of theirs are the ones where people are transforming their suburban homes and traditionally non-productive property into something more self-sustaining. One of my favorites is entitled, How Much Food Can I Grow Around My House and another featuring suburban permaculture. There are many more and not all are about growing food. But growing food in our yards is something I strongly believe in. Can you imagine how much food could be made available to our familes and communities if every suburban lot had at least a kitchen garden in it and chose to have food-bearing trees instead of so many for aesthetics alone? It certainly doesn't take a lot of space, as the Dervaes family proves every day (they have a YouTube channel as well).

Sometimes I believe that it would be easier to be "no impact" in the city, since there are so many places you can get to via bike or mass-transit. I am an urban-oriented person; I have come to learn that over the years. But my husband is not and so we meet halfway: in suburbia. It's not my first choice, and niether is it for him, but we compromise and are making the best of it. Don't get me wrong. We live on some beautiful property, for which I am extrememly grateful and I suspect there would be many things that I would miss if I lived with less land or as much elbow room as we have.

Still, there are things that I am continually frustrated with and one is, namely, as I mentioned above, access to necessities (doctors, dentists, libraries, etc.) has mostly to be gotten to by car. I continue to look for alternatives though. Recently, a new health food store opened in biking distance (and on a safe bike path) from our home. It's about 5 miles one way. But it's very expensive (more than the Whole Foods store I drive a half hour a way to about once a month) and so I don't know how much regular shopping wil will be able to do there. I am also considering a CSA membership that would, perhaps, decrease my need to travel too far for food and would be supporting a local food source. It seems I am continually reassessing our choices and hope to track some of the progress we make and the challenges and compromises we make right here. Participating in the No Impact Project is not a start for me, as I have been following a path toward greater simplicity for the last 20 years. But there is always room for improvement and re-focus. I am looking forward to a fresh commitment and the insights and change that it brings.
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