Friday, December 31, 2010

The Last Few

As I was uploading pictures of the past few... the last few... days of our 2010, I was struck by the large role that animals have come to play in our lives.  I know, perhaps, I shouldn't be surprised by this; our pet bills for years attest to this already.  But I guess I am still surprised.  I didn't set out to have 5 pets, but that is, indeed what we have.

And, of course, if you count the Sea Monkeys... well, then, I guess we'll (hopefully - she is pretty excited for those eggs to hatch!) have even more...

The animals in our lives are now even beyond our four walls and the critters we feed and enjoy watching in the back yard. We have volunteered now for the last 7 months at a no-kill animal sanctuary.  We are surprised and often saddened at how thoughtless - and even cold - some people can be.

But our hearts are really made glad when they arrive at the sanctuary.  We know all the animals will be well-loved, whether or not they get adopted.  For some, the sanctuary becomes a long-time, sometimes forever, home.  For others, it is a brief stay where the animals will know they are safe.

I have been surprised at the number of pets that are returned a second, third or even more times.  Jewel, the kitty above, that my daughter is giving some furious-rubbing love to is back at our shelter for the third time.  I'm thankful for our return policy and realize that some situations for keeping a pet are too difficult to overcome, but I do wish that people would really think about the time and cost commitment of keeping a pet.

Take Luna, at the top of this post, for example.  After a year and a half of feeding her outside our back step, I finally dove in and had her tested and immunized so that she could come in and be with our family for more socialization.  Perhaps we'll find another home for her or perhaps she'll stay with us.  We have some events coming up in our lives that may make it difficult to add another to our home, but with below-freezings temps the past few days, I feel better having her inside. 

She was someone's pet at some time.  She was already spayed.  Abandoned, she is another victim of the recession I'm sure.  Because she was not completely feral, she allows us to pet her and seems to be adjusting better than if she were truly wild.  She does still seem a bit forlorn at not being able to run outside whenever she wants.  But I'm hoping she will come to enjoy the privledges of indoor living.  I am too concerned about her being hit by a car or other difficulty.  Plus, she was darn expensive!

Can I just say that not only are shelters a better way to find an animal compainion because of  - oh, you know all the reasons: overpopulation, euthanization, abandoned, frightened or abused animals, etc.?  But consider the excellent bargain you will get from adopting.  My "free" stray kitty cost me $263 for her good-health check-up and immunizations. (Thank you, Mom, for the Christmas money!) This same, sweet kitty would have cost me $35 if somehow Nate's Place had found her before I did.  And she would have received the same great medical care too.  I know, because I took her to the same vet the shelter uses.

C'est la vie.

In the meantime, calendars have been updated...

...and today is the day to begin putting our Christmas trimmings away for another year.

We'll chart a mellow path into our new year this evening playing games, exploring our Wii Fit that we've saved until today!  Have a very safe and Happy New Year.  Cheers to 2011!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bless This Mess

It's not always like this.  Not always... but, yes, quite a lot.  At least once-a-week we require the clean-up though.  The floor must be cleared for the vacuum, you know!

So, why in the world would I post something like this?  In the pretty, pretty world of inspirational blogging, of well-lit photographs, and magical-looking surroundings, why would I post this?

Because I have a 14-year-old, folks and I'm trying to choose my battles wisely.  The room is - evidently!- not at the top of my priority list! lol! 

To be fair, though, first of all, my girls are on Christmas break from our homeschooling schedule.  And what's more is that my teen has been working the whole of her break to catch up from falling behind in two online subjects without a complaint.  I'm very proud of her for this!  And little sister has been camping out most night's on big sister's floor, as evidenced by the sleeping bag, the pillow, and the bunny - always the bunny...
So, really, the mess belongs to both of them.

But here's the thing and the reason for this post.

There are many, many beautiful blogs out there (many that I love reading!) that have soft, fuzzy edges around the photos of their cute, little cherub-faced babes.  There are wooden toys, rainbow silks, woolen mats, and toys and decor made by Mother Nature herself. 

Did I ever tell you all the story about how we collected basketsful of acorns for math manipulatives provided by said Mother?  Oh, they were fun and lovely... and then about a week later all the little, fat, yellow wormies hatched out of them and were found crawling across bedroom floors!  Since then, our nature collections have been more carefully inspected and some even remain outside the back door!

Anyway... so there are lots of dreamy blogs for our little ones, but those little ones grow and I have to say that I haven't met one yet who isn't into all the technological bits that we adults love too.  And it could be that I haven't looked around a whole lot... I'm sure that there are blogs about parenting teens out there.  I'm just now starting to stick my toe in the water, despite having one year of teen-parenting under my belt.

All I can say is that so far, these remind me of the toddler years. 

And what do I mean by that?  Well, there is SO much growth and change happening in a brief span of time - especially when you take into consideration the push through puberty.  And like the toddler years, often what worked for you last month, isn't working this month!

Now, lest you think that all is one challenge after another, let me assure you that this is not what our experience has been thus far.  Like our toddlers, our kids provide us with great amounts of joy.  But it can be work.  And I have found myself stuck in some places.  The confidence I felt with little children and even with those childhood years has waned some and I find myself, as in the toddler years, looking for outside assistance. 

One of the best resources I have been blessed to receive so far, via my neighbor, a former youth minister, has been the book, Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens by Paul David Tripp.  Not only does Tripp knock down the world's expectation that we are to be expecting the worst from our teens and simply try to survive these years, he shines a light on something I think needs to be worked on, but is often overlooked in many parenting books: ourselves.

Tripp writes,

The tumult of the teen years is not only about the attitudes and actions of teens, but the thoughts, desires, attitudes, and actions of parents as well.  The teen years are hard for us because they tend to bring out the worst in us.  It is in these years that parents hear themselves saying things that they never thought they would say.

And imagine my surprise when I got to chapter two, entitled Whose Idols Are in the Way? and it was about idols of parents and not their kids!  There is so much to chew on here.

Ultimately, Tripp points to our teens' behavior and choices as heart issues. While it is often the slower and more tedious route to take, I know it is the right route and worth the effort.  Like learning the tools I used to effectively communicate with my younger daughter in her more tumultuous toddler years, I am intrigued and, quite frankly, fascinated at the continued development happening in my children.  I am inspired by what I am reading about their own brain development and the challenging, yet rewarding techniques I can use in more effectively communicating with and growing into deeper and more mature relationship with my girls.

There is so much growth and expansion happening for our kids at these ages.  And while they change, they are still our kids.  They still have that foundation underneath them that has been laid over the years.  And they are ultimately God's children and not mine.  They are in His hands and I trust Him.

Tripp says,

This world is not always exciting to the teenager.  Sometimes it seems scary and overwhelming.  There are moments when the teen is alive with the joy of discovery, and there are other times when he is shy and avoiding.  Sometimes he enjoys being a teenager, while at other times he seems afraid of the new expectations laid upon him.

There is no stopping the widening of his world.  It is a world of new friends, new locations, new opportunities and responsibilities, new thoughts, new plans, new freedoms, new temptations, new feelings, new experiences, and new discoveries.  All of the joys and insecurities of this widening world provide opportunities to help your teenager really understand and personally internalize fundamental truths.  These include the sovereignty and providence of God, the ever-present help of the Lord, the nature of biblical relationships, spiritual warfare, discipline, self control, contentment, faithfulness, turstworthiness, the nature of the body of Christ, the world, the flesh, the Devil, the principles of responsibility and accountability, biblical priorities, discovery and stewardship of gifts, and many other biblical truths and principles.

Crazy, right?  Is it any wonder that there will be difficulties that we face in these years?  Difficulties, yes, but challenges worth facing, I believe, and as Tripp refers to them, opportunities.

So the bedroom.  Yes, it's something we talk about.  Of course I would like it neater.  But, for me, neatness is not the most important character trait I am concerned about.  It's her space and it has a door, thank goodness, that can shut.  And, to her credit, there are weeks that go by where it is quite neat.  But now she is busy and working hard at adjusting to high-school level work with greater demands - demands that she has placed on herself because she has goals and dreams that she is chasing.  And that, to me, is worth a little laundry and clutter on the floor.

Monday, December 27, 2010

This Morning...

...I am trying to catch up on a few days of morning devotionals.  I have others, but I stick with Oswald Chambers year round and year after year, because he challenges me unlike any other.

... I am wanting to write.  But there is a sleeping girl in the living room that wake upon my arrival. She is surrounded by friends - new and old - a flashlight for reading in case she gets scared in the night and stacks of comics and books. And then the busyness of the day ensues. 

... I am thinking about goals for the new year, taking this last, slower-paced week before our homeschool days begin anew to reflect and look ahead.  It's one of my favorite weeks of the year.  The craziness of the weeks ahead is gone (some of it delightful, some of it not) and this week of pause is left.  I am thankful.

Some ideas for the new year - and I'm trying to keep it simple: more knitted items for me (a.k.a. a sweater that fits me well and doesn't require me to gift it away to someone that it fits better), more writing, and more photography.  I at least want to play around with my camera a bit more.  Drawing and painting may end up on the back burner for a while... for a while.  That may prove hard in a week when my art students return... and inspire me again! :)  But, I'm trying to simplify in order to develop my crafts.

... I am wishing you one more last good week of 2010. :)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Quiet, New Beginning

It's Christmas Eve Eve... and I'm just quietly making my way back to this space.  A few months ago I wrote my farewell post.  Don't bother looking for it, though, because I deleted it.  I guess I'm not really done here after all.  I've been surprised by my missing it here and the online blogging community and so, I am back.  It's as simple as that. 

I'm hoping that by this point, you will have gotten the last of your holiday crafting or shopping and wrapping done and you will be finally relaxing and be able to enjoy the PEACE of the season.  The full moon is always a peaceful sight to me, so please enjoy these shots I took of our recent, Winter Solstice full moon and lunar eclipse!  The night was clear and cool here on the Florida Gulf coast and made for great viewing!

Merry Christmas, everyone and I hope to be speaking with you more - lots more - in the new year! 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Step Six: Wash It

Part of the Going Lightly One-Step-at-a-Time Series.

I have returned from a week of family and friends visiting; a week that included a rash of ear infections shared by my family and my brother's family, one broken toe (my husband's - AND he got a double ear infection!), and a trip to Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 100 degree F temps.

You can see here that Hogsmeade maintains its frosty rooflines despite the soaring temperature!

So, we're back to taking one step at a time.  I suspect that as our first day of  home school - Aug. 16 this year (we take off 3 weeks in Dec. and finish at the end of May, hence the early date)- approaches, my posts will become spaced out farther, but I hope to see this series through to the end of my list! :)

So, today is Step Six: Wash It

I don't think I've bought paper towels in over a decade and maybe I've bought napkins once in that time - for something like a neighborhood block party or something like that.  Save yourself some money.  Save trees and the oxygen and diverse habitats they provide (no, tree farms do not provide the same diversity of habitat, by the way).  Save the energy needed to create all that paper that is used ONCE for a tiny moment in time.  Just use cloth.

Really, it is so easy.  My children's old cloth diapers are STILL in use as rags in our home as well as cut up, old T-shirts, old towels, and old washcloths.  We have a bin under our kitchen sink that is filled with rags that we use probably every day.  With 3 cats (and before we lost our poor Lucy dog), we have messes to clean up regularly.  Spilled water, glass to clean, dusting - all of it - is handled by our bin of rags.  And the dirty ones? They go in a bucket on top of the freezer in the laundry room to be washed on "rags and towels day"... which is Tuesday in our house if you'd like to know. :)

The dirty rag bucket resides on the freezer and its neighbor is our dirty napkin and dishcloth bucket.  We only need to use one napkin per day per person, unless, of course, we have a very messy meal!  At then end of our meals, we usually hang our napkin over the back of our chair until the next meal. 

Cloth napkins can be made, of course, or found for very little at thrift stores.  They make nice gifts for housewarming.  You can also make silverware holders with them that you can roll up and keep in your car for dining out, eating lunch at work and/or picnics so that you don't need to use disposables.  Here are some tutorials:

Pretty Homemade Napkins (you could use napkins already made)

Roll-Up Placemat/Lunch Kit

Another Darling Lunch Kit

To me, using cloth napkins and rags is so second-nature now.  We keep a basket of our collection of napkins on a shelf near our table.  There are plenty of napkins for company and I get new ones to add only every couple of years as the old ones wear out.

As I said, we have a special day that we do our rags and towels.  I know that some people don't like to think about cloth napkins, etc. because they think that it will add so much to their laundry.  We do one load of laundry every day, Monday through Thursday and the system works quite well for our family.  Monday is whites, Tuesday is rags and towels (two small loads), Wednesday is darks and delicates (two small loads), and Thursday is colors.

We generally line dry everything other than the rags and towels.  We have so many little rags that that chore was a huge one and fluffy towels seem to be desired by my family - though I don't really care if they are line dried or not, despite their stiffness.

The reason we have a bunch of little rags is also because we use cloth feminine care products as well.  Also, another reason these aren't hanging on the line! ;)  The disposable products were never even mentioned to my daughter and were just not considered an option.  She was given her own, special set that a friend made for us when she first began her cycle and that's all she's ever used.  These are washed with our rags.  I've had mine for years and can't remember the last time I bought disposables. There are many, many homemade products like this online.  It's easy and affordable to support a mama in her home-based business in this way.

Another thing that goes into my little rag bin I have in my bathroom (just a little covered trash can) is handkerchiefs.  I don't actually have nice handkerchiefs, but I have a stack of them in a drawer in my vanity that are essentially cut up cotton pajama bottoms!  Ha ha!  It IS just for my nose after all! I began doing this when my girls were babies.  If they got a cold with a perpetually runny nose, I found it much gentler to use a cotton diaper for their noses rather than tissues.  I realized I could do the same thing for myself and it works just fine.

You know, I know people get "grossed out" over this stuff, but it really is a "gross out of priveledge" and habit if you ask me.  Our ancestors did just fine washing and reusing materials for nose wiping - and other wiping for that matter.  Other cultures, for that matter, consider our use of dry toilet paper, for example, as opposed to a wash with a bidet or other spray, as quite crude and ineffective.  And, for heaven's sake, we use cloth to diaper our babies' bottoms and they are the messiest of all!  You don't even need to look at your dirty laundry; just dump your bin into your washer when it's ready. 

So, I hope I've convinced you to try reusable materials for some of your daily messes.  It's really quite easy, waaaaaay more comfortable than paper and as with so many other green habits, it will save you money too.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Step Five: Consider the Source

Part of the Going Lightly One Step at a Time Series:

It's so easy just to flip on lights, fans, the tap, and all conveniences of our 21st century lifestyle.  It has also, sadly, become a hobby, rather than a necessity, to make our own clothes.  The knitting that I love and the sewing that I dabble in are not necessary to keep myself or my family protected and warm and others seem particularly incredulous that I might want to spend my time knitting a dishcloth or a sock when Wal-Mart has them on sale for under a dollar a piece.  Everything is so readily available, virtually at our fingertips, and we don't have to pay very much for it either!

But, starting with electricity, before you walk out of the room, leaving the ceiling fan running, consider the source.  Some of the more recent mining accidents in West Virginia have reminded me how many people pay with their lives so that we can power our homes.  There is the environmental impact of coal, of course.  But I also think about the miners.  That is one job I don't think I could ever do: terrifying, mundane, cheerless, back-breaking work.  So, now I say to my kids when a light is left on, "There's some coal burning in your room!"  And I say it to myself too.

 It's too easy not to think about the true cost of our living.  Annie Leonard calls it "externalizing the costs."  That simply means that while something may be cheap for us, it does have to be paid for along the way somehow.  Often it is paid for with cheap labor or lack of benefits for workers or child labor or unsafe labor or environmental degredation (which may make living on the land impossible and therefore moves indigenous people off their land into cities looking for work - any work - and provides more cheap labor), or filthy conditions or a combination of any of the above.

So, consider the source when the lights go on and ask yourself if you really need them on at that moment.  If you do, just be sure to turn them off when your'e done.  Consider the source too, when the water is running.  Florida used to have a lot of water in natural aquifers below us.  We still do, but they are being depleted so much more rapidly with the growing population and industrial needs... and waste.  Sprinklers running during a rain shower?  Yep, I've seen it only too often.

Oil is the same.  It used to be bubbling up easily in parts of the U.S.  The U.S. quickly drained that resource, though, peaking out in 1971.  Now we have to dig deeper and use more and more resources just to get the oil in the first place.  We also have to protect our access to it in the one place left on the planet that still supposedly hasn't peaked yet and that is in, of course, the Middle East.  All of this is having disasterous effects: Deepwater Horizon and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are just two examples.  The least we can do in response to this is to combine our errands, carpool, take public transportaion if it is available, walk or bike when you can.  A longer term plan is to join or start or at least educate yourself and your family about the energy changes that will be a part of all of our futures.  You can start at the Transition Network website by watching their film and/or reading their book.  I'll have more ways you can educate yourselves on this issue in an upcoming post.

We need to think twice about nearly all our purchases from

 our food: How far has it traveled? What kinds of chemicals are on or in it? How were the workers who grew and harvested our food treated? Is your favorite coffee or chocolate  (the major brands in the grocery stores don't look so good to me anymore) tainted with child slavery (you can choose Fair Trade products instead)?

to our clothing: Where does it come from?  Who made it?  Is it made of sustainable material?  Does it have to be new or can you find it used?

I know there are so many questions and perspectives to think about.  It really can make your head swim.  But denying that these factors exist is not the answer either.  Being aware that every purchase we make is the cliched "vote" with our dollars, it  may cause us to rethink our purchases and begin - just begin - to steadily make wiser ones.  We can practice remembering all those affected along that production line into the product or service we are about to use.  We can practice remembering externalized costs.  Maybe we'll still use the product or service, but more sparingly, more wisely and with more respect.  Or maybe we'll seek out a new, greener, or fairer source for our purchase.  Or maybe we'll just choose to go without - that is a choice too, you know.  A lot of things can change for the better if we just consider the source.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Step Four: Collect Water

Part of the Going Lightly One Step at a Time Series.

We all know that water is a precious resource.  It is challenging to remember it , though, when we in North America can turn on the tap and it just flows out.  I heard Annie Leonard talking about this very thing in the recent Green Living Ideas, Green Talk Radio podcast where she was interviewed regarding her new book, The Story of Stuff.  Many of you know Annie's work through her fantastic talk made into a film that is available free online.  She has just released a book that details the information she gives in the film.  I can't wait to get it!  But I digress...

Annie was saying that it was hard for her, as a California resident, to recall that California is in their 10th year of drought when water is so readily available.  Our country rarely feels the effects of water shortage, but it is a growing problem that only becomes more precarious over time and certainly other countries have seen direct effects already.

So, of course, there are the gray water systems (not legal everywhere as of yet) and there are rain barrels.  We have one that is not yet in operation; we're still getting the few remaining pieces we need for it.  And I do think that, like a compost bin, everyone should really try having a rain barrel.  They're pretty low on the labor-intensive end of conservation.

But if you don't have a yard or space or time or whatever... you can still save water. Try not to think about it in terms of actually how much water you are saving, but the principle and motivation behind it.  If you have children, it is especially important that they see you participating in all ways - big and small - to conserve what is so important to all of us.

We have a pitcher under the sink for half-drunk water glasses left by kids or other guests.  I regularly use that on my two plants by the front door.  When the dry season is here, I also keep a watering can in the shower.  I have it sitting where the water is pointed so that when the water is running while warming up, it's not going down the drain.  You can do the same thing with the kitchen sink with that aforementioned pitcher.

Some people actually collect enough water in their showers that they can turn off the water leading to their toilet tanks and fill the tanks with the water collected passively around the house!  I think that's a great idea - especially if you work out of the home or practice limiting your flushing.

Our outdoor water spouts and hose connections are weird.  I can't explain  why they leak like they do (despite some changes we have made to them), but they do. So, we have a bucket that sits under the main one used to catch water too.  That water can fill the birdbath or the water the geranium in the pot out back.  I've also heard of folks who have put parsely or other plants under or around an outdoor faucet.  They get watered naturally whenever the hose is turned on.  I'll admit to trying the parsley, but my spot back there is too shady and that experiment was not successful.

So, nothing technical here (obviously!), but just a reminder to be on the lookout for little ways that you can save a little bit more here and there. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Step Three: Compost

Part of the Going Lightly One Step at a Time Series.

This one is so very easy it hardly bears repeating and yet, there are fewer people in my life that do it than I'd expect. 

Composting is not complex.  In fact, it can be as simple as having a pile - contained or not - in your yard onto which you throw all vegetable matter.  You can get more complicated if you want your compost to decompose faster, of course.  There are many sites online that will show you how to layer your compost to increase the temperature of it and increase breakdown.  They will show you how to layer the high-carbon materials with the high-nitrogen materials.  It really is a fascinating science, but it is not necessary and I will candidly admit, not one I presently have time for.

What we have time for is a large, black, thick, plastic sheet with holes in it that was given to us free by simple request from our county extension service.  In fact, my mother-in-law, being far from green, happily went along with us to pick up "hers" which she also happily gave to us.  Anyway,  this sheet is rolled into a tube and the circumference can be very narrow to very wide depending on your needs. 

We used to have ours next to the house, out of the public eye, but it got too much shade.  We moved it recently over to right beside the garden.  Genius!  It just makes sense there. And it is not really an eyesore; it just looks like it goes with the garden.  As I'm weeding or pulling out spent plants, they easily get tossed right in.

The only things you don't want to throw in your compost are any animal products (except for egg shells) or oils.  Those only serve to invite vermin.  And from experience, years ago, when I unknowingly put cheese in there, the stink was uproarious.  That smell won't happen if you "keep it clean."  Vegetable scraps, lawn clippings, leaves, paper, coffee grounds and tea bags are all things that can go into your compost.

For our family, our goal with composting is to be able to ammend our soil, but primarily it reduces waste.  Being a veg family, too, we don't even deal with animal products.

Now here may be the best tip I have for those of you who are already composting and have found nothing new with what I've shared.  I know that they sell fancy crocks for storing your vegetable scraps indoors and some of them even have carbon filters.  But what has worked for us for years is to simply use a large, old plastic container (the current one had store-bought cookies in it that someone brought to a function I attended three years ago) and keep it in your freezer.  A square or rectangular container is preferable to a round one to conserve space, but any old shape will do.  Keeping the container in the freezer will kill any bacteria that would otherwise form that creates the rotting vegetable smell and attracts fruitflies.  No fancy container needed.  No carbon filters.  When it's full, set it on the counter for a few minutes to thaw slightly so it slips out easier, and then take a leisurely stroll out to your compost and dump the frozen block.  You wanted to get outside and get a little fresh air today, anyway, didn't you?  We kept our compost bin even in the deep cold of Minnesota winters. 

So, there's really no excuse not to have a compost bin and it's just as easy as dumping your scraps into your trash bin.  Your only real effort will come when you turn your pile and that is to add oxygen to facilitate decompostion.  But you can do this as often or as little as you like, really.  We only add our compost to our family garden about once a year, so you won't find me outside with a pitchfork very often. 

There are fancy compost bins that screen the compost of the larger bits for you, but we don't have something like that either. I am not picky about not totally decomposed bits of banana peel or whatever else that make their way to my garden beds.  I happily work around the random peanut shell or peach pit. We're about as basic as it gets, but again, our goals are not primarily garden related, but waste and reuse related.  As my children get older, though, and I slowly devote less time to their schooling at home as they become more and more self-directed, I am able to spend more time cultivating food and I can see that I might get back into having a system that is more aimed at my garden than simply waste reduction.

Whatever your goals are, though, composting will fit in.  You'll reduce your waste and even if you don't have a garden, you can dig to the bottom of your pile every once in a while and pull out some "black gold" and sprinkle it on house plants, your lawn, or even donate it to that gardening neighbor of yours.  They'll love you for it!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Just a quick update on a few of the efforts I am making - following my own advice, so to speak.

The two steps forward are these:

I finished sewing all my produce bags and am preparing drawstrings in all of them today.  Then I'm just going to throw them in with my other shopping bags.  I had to stop at the market today and, at least on this visit, I am finding it not quite as daunting avoiding the plastic.  I am looking for the alternatives and am managing pretty well.  I am practicing waiting, when I can, to find non-plastic alternatives elsewhere. I couldn't find cauliflower, for example, that wasn't wrapped, so I'll try the health food store a few doors down from my health club for that and for finding some tea in bulk.

My regular market, Sweetbay, does a good job of offering its produce primarily in bulk.  They offer packaged alternatives for some things, but at least I have more options than the Publix store that only offers its kale, for example, in pre-packaged, sealed plastic bags, or zucchini on a styrofoam tray wrapped in shrink wrap. 

Keep in mind, our farmers' markets are all closed down for the season here in sweltering Florida.  They'll open again round about late September or October, so I have to do what I can with what I've got.  I am looking for things grown in the U.S. only, which is easier right now, since it is summertime and that means produce production for most of the rest of the country.  That is one good thing about Florida and that is a good variety of in-season produce pretty much year round, whether we are growing it ourselves or the northern states are growing things in the summer.  Ideally, I would have taken more time putting food by from our growing season for this one, but I really ran out of energy on that front.  I think if I make that project more of a community event - inviting friends in to help - that task would not seem as daunting. Something to think about for the future.

The second step forward is that I am revisiting the no shampoo (commonly known online as "no poo"), baking soda alternative to washing my hair and the vinegar rinse for conditioning.  I'd tried it once in the past and, as my hair was longer and pretty damaged to begin with, I think the baking soda dried it out even some more.  Also, I was using straight baking soda on my scalp, which was messier and probably too harsh.  I have a bottle of 2 c water to 2 T baking soda pre-blended in my shower.  I also made up a similar dilution with the apple cider vinegar and water. To that, upon recommendation of another person who does this, I added chamomile tea and some rosemary for fragrance (that I honestly don't really notice, but the ACV scent doesn't bother me either and it's aroma dissipates as your hair dries).  Anyway, using this mixture today, I was super happy with the results!  My hair is not greasy at all (though my hair is naturally drier to begin with) and just feels light and nice.  So, I'm going to stick with this for a while instead of trying the shampoo bar.  This is even less expensive than the shampoo bar and uses things I already have around the house.  I'll report back on how things are going.

My step back, really isn't a step back, but more of a disappointment.  I did a carbon footprint check of our family's impact using the calculator provided by the Global Footprint Network and despite that long list in my sidebar of everything we do, we would still need 4 and nearly 1/2 planets (40%) if everyone lived the way we do. :(  There is not too much we can do about this right now, because where our downfall comes in is that 1) My husband commutes about 50 miles to work (one way) every day - the only work in his field available in this area right now and 2) there is no public transportation nearby where I live.  So, while this doesn't make me feel like all is useless... how does one score, after all, if you are not doing all these things?... I am, like I said, disappointed.  It makes me glad that I am involved in our local Transition movement.  I am hopeful that we will be working as a group to pressure our local area to make efforts toward more public transportation offerings as well as safer routes for alternative transportation, such as wider bike paths off of busy roads.

Overall, I know I'm still moving in the right direction.  I continue to seek out alternatives and make changes every day.  It's an ongoing effort.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Step Two: Wet Yourself!

Going Lightly One Step at a Time Series
That's right.  For my North American friends, the temperature is soaring and it is a good time to just wet yourself.  Now, of course, I don't mean to simply go swimming (because I'm sure that's what you thought I meant, right?).  ;)  No, I'm talking about your time in the shower.

My mom's partner, Jerry, calls them "navy showers," because he learned to shower this way when he was in the navy.  Just as you've probably heard and teach your children to not let the water run while you are brushing your teeth, the same could be said of showering.  Now, I'll admit that as a cold-natured person, I like to keep that warm water on me in the wintertime.  But, certainly in warmer temperatures, there is no good reason not to simply wet yourself, turn off the water, soap up, and then rinse off.  It seems counterintuitive, doesn't it, to be trying to soap up one's body while simultaneously standing under or trying to avoid a constant stream of running water?  It only takes a moment to shut off that water, but it will literally save gallons and I don't think I have to tell you what a precious, limited resource water has become.  (If that is new information to you, do a search online or talk to your local park ranger or county extension office and you will find oodles of information that ought to convince you.)

And, like brushing your teeth, don't forget about turning off that water while washing your hands or even your produce.  Again, wet those hands, turn off the water to soap up, and then rinse. Quick and easy, doesn't cost you a thing, may save you some money, and will definitely be kinder to our planet.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Step One: Eliminate/Reduce Packaging

This is part of my "Going Lightly One Step at a Time" series.

So, this is step one just because it's something I'm currently working on in a more concentrated manner.  Recently I have been making attempts at reducing the amount of plastic I bring into the house.  A lot of it comes in the form of packaging. 

One of the things that I love about the challenge of living with less impact is that it causes you to really think and rethink just about everything.  Is there a better way to do something?  Often, it seems, there is.

So, we've all been encouraged to bring our own shopping bags to the grocery store.  I am so thrilled at the number of people I see doing this.  I have to say, though, that most folks are coming into the store with one or two bags at the most.  I wonder if they are lucky enough to have such a small grocery purchase or is that the total amount of bags that they own?

In regard to shopping bags:

*Keep your bags in your car or hanging right beside the door, so that you won't forget them.
*Don't just use your bags for groceries.  Anytime you shop - big box store, local boutique, or otherwise, bring your bags.
*Have a bag of bags that you take with you.  I think I have collected more than a dozen bags of various sizes that I bring with me every time I shop.  I just keep them all in the largest bag in the back of my super sexy minivan!  If I just need a couple of items, I can bring in just one or two bags, but for a big grocery shop, I'm set and am only carrying one in my hand. 
*Find more bags on Freecycle, from friends, and at thrift stores.  I just bought another nice canvas bag (apparently a "Martha Stewart Living" free giveaway bag with subscription) for .25 at a church thrift store the other day.
*This one is important and often overlooked: produce does not often need a bag.  Plastic bag after plastic bag is used to bring home the lettuce or the tomatoes or apples or whatever that could easily just sit in your cart without them.  For the smaller items, like fresh green beans or brussels sprouts or bulk items such as oatmeal, rice, etc., just use an old bread bag that you bring along in your bag of bags.  If you are attempting to eliminate plastic like I am, make yourself some reusable drawstring bags.  I've recently cut up some tea towels and some old pillowcases I got at that same thrift store and am doing just that.  I plan to use it at our CSA this upcoming season (for us, Nov. - May), at farmer's markets, and at the grocery.

Pillowcases below.  They were .25 a piece.  Out of the two kingsized cases, I got 6 bags.

There are also tutorials on YouTube on how to make bags out of old T-shirts.  Do a search; it's so easy!

In regard to other items:

*Buy in bulk
*Choose paper/cardboard wrapping over plastic
*Choose package-free over packaged whenever possible

This last suggestion is the one that really gets you thinking.  I'm experimenting with handmade soaps for washing my face in an attempt to rid myself of the plastic bottled cleanser I've used for a few years now.  I've switched to bar soap for my hands, but I have sensitive skin on my face and it will break out with too many perfumes - even natural essential oils.  So, I'm experimenting; I have to be careful.

From this:

To this:

Next, when my shampoo runs out, I'm goint to try a shampoo bar again.  I've tried a couple in the past, but I haven't like them.  I may try a Lush bar or something from Etsy next.  I'm not sure what I'll do about conditioner for my dry hair, but it's something to research. Does anyone have a recommendation?

A few posts back, I abandoned my dishwashing soap for a bar and a homemade scrub.  That still seems to be working fine, even though it has taken some getting used to.  But it's a teeny sacrifice to make in the face of the degredation occuring.  Certainly, I will survive!

I'm also practicing avoiding purchasing frozen veggies.  I don't buy canned to begin with, but frozen are often convenient.  Pineapple, peaches, nectarines and grenn peppers were on sale this week, so I bought extra fresh one and cut and froze the extras myself.  I do the same when there is an abundance with our CSA in season.  Yes, it takes some time.  But it means I don't have to buy more plastic.  I'm willing to try to make this a habit.

Remember that buying used or handmade goods often reduces or eliminated packaging altogether too.

These are just a couple of ideas in the great, grand sea of products we must or choose to bring into our homes.  Take a little time on you next shopping outing to see if there are other alternatives available to the ones that contain packaging.  If there aren't, do you need them?  Can you find another way to get them rather than the one way that is offered to you right now?

If anything, our shopping trips can become quite mundane.  A new challenge like this will have you shopping with fresh eyes.  Try it with your kids.  You might actually even have a bit of fun! :)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Series: Going Lightly One Step at a Time

Are you still thinking about the oil that is presently gushing into our precious Gulf of Mexico?  I know I am.  As a gulf coast resident, it hits closer to home for sure.  While our beaches in Manatee and Sarasota Counties have been spared thus far from visible tar ball damage (the last I heard it that the oil is presently estimated to be 100 miles to the west of our shoreline), every night on the local news (which I really don't watch, but see at the fitness club), there is coverage of actions being taken. 

One, for example, is that sea turtles are hatching on our shores and volunteers are very gently removing the eggs and transporting them to the east coast of FL for hatching and release there. No one knows if this will be effective in saving these turtles.  No one knows if the survivors, years from now, will return to the east coast to lay their own eggs, or make an attempt at the gulf shores.  There are so many things we do not know.  There have been oil spills before, but nothing of this magnitude.  Nothing that has continued to "bleed" into our waters.  It is unprecedented.

In situations such as this, my hope comes from the idea that maybe... perhaps this time... the catastrophe is big enough that real change will begin to take place.  That we will begin to prioritize addressing the changes that are absolutly necessary above our own comfort.

We don't always see the effects of what we are doing, but they are there.  They are real.  There really are people who are already suffering from the rising waters caused by climate change. And there are people who are already suffering from the toxins of our over-consumption.  Of course, the animals are suffering from the oil, the sea of plastic, and diminishing habitats. 

We don't often see these things, because at present, we are the fortunate ones.  At present we, who can afford to have computers and blog and read blogs and online news, are the wealthiest people in the world.  And it is the poor and those, including the animals, who are oppressed who suffer first.  But that doesn't make what we are doing and continuing to do right.  And just because we have the luxury of denial doesn't mean that we should do nothing.

There are those who believe that individual action is a waste, that it does not actually create enough change.  But for the majority of us who are women and men and the everyday citizens working in our own cities and towns and raising families or teaching children or caring for our parents or doing the myriad of things that we are doing just to keep all the proverbial plates spinning, it has to be small and doable.  At least in the beginning.  More importantly - and this, I believe, will make real change - it has to be sustained.

We can't simply award Al Gore an Academy Award and congratulate him and somehow, ourselves, on a job well done.  We can't change a few lightbulbs and think it ends there.  Yes, small changes.  But many, many small changes.  And many new habits and new conversations, and new ways of living must take place.  They can be small at first, but they must grow to encompass a life and then a neighborhood and then a town and on and on. 

There did, for example, used to be life without, say... margarine.  And there used to be life without margarine in plastic tubs.  And there used to be life without yogurt in little, plastic containers and plastic tubes and all the other ways that yogurt is marketed today.  But then the changes were made and soon it becomes hard to remember what life was like without said margarine and yogurt containers.  Pretty soon people are amazed that they can actually make yogurt at home!  Or pasta or granola or burger buns or cosmetics or cleaning products or sanitary napkins.  And some are even afraid of what might happen if you try.  Is it sanitary?  Will it harm me or my children? 

Is it therefore possible that we might be able to reclaim some of these unlearned skills?  That we might be able to change our patterns, our habits, the things that we now take for granted as "normal"?  Might our efforts grow and spread so that we, in our twilight years, could look back and recall, with incredulity, "Remember how we used to use that precious oil for things like tubs of margarine?!"?

I am a wife and mother in a suburban home.  I homeschool my two children during the school year, volunteer at an animal sancturary once-a-week, visit my mother and my mother-in-law once-a-week on different days, attend church weekly, work at running a small business teaching classes, and just do all the stuff that makes up a life.  I am not in a positon of power.  I do not run a multi-national corporation.  I do not hold a political office.  But I also don't believe that I don't count.  Of course I count.  I count in the negative in that my portion of impact is affecting the planet negatively.  I therefore continue to belive that my small actions can also affect the planet positively.

I have listed many of the efforts in the sidebar of this blog that my family makes at "going lightly" on the planet.  But I feel an urgency of late to do more and say more.  One of the things I am doing is getting involved in my local Transition group.  I am so very thankful that the movement has made its way nearby to me. 

But, of course, there are so many other things each of us can do.  I'd like to share with you some of the things we do in our home in greater detail over the coming weeks.  My hope is to inspire you to experiment with your own lives. Challenge yourself to live according to a new standard, a new paradigm.  My intention is not to judge, but challenge - myself and others - to begin or continue on a more caring path of living. 

My ideas certainly won't be new news to everyone and there are plenty of other fantastic websites and blogs out there dedicated to delving so much more deeply than I will here (some are found in my sidebar).  But this is just me participating, folks.  It's just me trying to do my part, trying to not let the conversation die, trying to keep these issues in the forefront of our minds so that we do not rest in the luxury of denial.

So far, I have a list of 55 actions of change that one could make in their everyday lives.  I don't plan that this series will be the exclusive content of this personal blog while I work on it. And my posts will not be in any particular order - of importance or otherwise -, but just in a way that makes the most sense to me at the time, I guess.

I hope to intersperse my postings with other current important things in my life.  But this feels important for me to do.  It feels important for me to do for myself, for my children to see that their mother did not remain silent in the face of an uncertain future, and for the animals who do not have a voice.  It is a small request for forgiveness.

Deerfield Beach Getaway 2010: Part 3

So, although I have many more pictures (a visit to a divine, little raw/vegan restaurant/yoga studio) to share, I am ready to move on from my getaway onto a new blog project I am going to be sharing.  But, I did promise some bonsai and a beautiful dress.

The Morikami had some gorgeous bonsai and if I didn't already have half a gajillion hobbies, I might give this a try too. 

There are many large trees like the one above in Florida.  I honestly don't know the name of the tree that creates those supports like that, but I always think they look so cool.

I love this one's twisy trunk:

And this one looks like a magical, little forest.  It is, I believe, a Florida red maple:

And although I liked my dress that I was wearing that day (I thought it had an Asian appeal)...

...THIS is the dress that Maia found at the antique store. Though not an antique and even though it is of Chinese origin rather than Japanese, she was quick to note that one of her favorite Manga artists often draws her characters in Chinese dress.  Plus it fit her beautifully and she wore it to dinner that night.  Here she is modeling it for us in our hotel room.  She is holding up a box of "Pocky," which is a favorite Japanese snack.  They are kind of like thin pretzle sticks - without the salt - dipped partway in a chocolate or strawberry or other flavored frosting.

She was SO excited to find the dress and at only $25, it's something special that she can be glad to have found: a good babysitting money investment! :)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Deerfield Beach Getaway 2010: Part 2

Our sightseeing continued on Saturday with a trip to the Morikami  Museum and Japanese Gardens.  We had heard great things about this place from online reviews, but you just never know.  Before we got there, Maia kept whispering, "Oh I hope it's not lame!"  It was not!  It did not disappoint and exceded our expectations.  I really have too many photos to post all in one post.  I'm hope to share with you only the ones that illustrate the quality of and the really cool, educational aspects of this place.

One of the lovely and impressive things the designers of this garden did was to use Florida plants, but showcase them in a Japanese style.  So, there were not plants from Japan, per se, but instead, beautifully manicured Florida plants that we recognized (some that we have in our own yard) that were creating this Japanese garden.  It was so great to see that these plants which often are trimmed into squared-off hedges in the U.S. could be trained to wander overhead, creating a tunnel of shade, or trimmed into a more tree-like shape with many different levels.  So creative!
Above: Looking across to the main museum that houses the restaurant, the library, the gift shop, a ceremonial tea room and various exhibits.

Above: Tri-colored Heron spied in a tree.  Below: The original museum, designed as a traditional Japanese home, that now houses the children's exhibits (our favorites!) and the outdoor bonsai collection.

Below: High school uniforms and various posters (fun info about school lunches).

Above: I took a picture of this map, because it struck me as so interesting.  I realized just how nieve I was in looking at it.  Notice that Japan is in the middle of the map where the Americas are "supposed" to be!  But, of course, they aren't supposed to be there; it's just what I, as an American citizen, have always seen.  But, no, we are not the center of the universe!!! lol! :) 

Below: The Japanese language is read from right to left. Notice the grades on the chart move sequentially that way too.

Next up: Bonsai and a Beautiful Dress!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Deerfield Beach Getaway 2010: Part 1

The last time our family took a weekend away for R & R, it was a wet, cold, camping trip in December.  We have been overdue, so we planned a small trip to the other side (the east coast) of Florida for a little exploring and relaxation.  My older dd, Maia, as you may recall, is into all things Japanese, stemming from her love of Manga & Anime.  Discovering that there was a Japanese garden and museum located around Boca Raton, FL, we decided that would be our primary destination and planned our hotel stay and excursions around that. 

No beach, you ask?  No.  Not when beautiful beaches are 25 minutes from our house and family is arriving from MN today, which always entails beach visits.  No, we wanted to check out some other things Florida has to offer besides its beaches. 

So, Maia wanted the Japanese gardens, Paul wanted to relax in a hot tub, I wanted to try out some new restaurants and find fun shops - not really to buy, just to look - and Eve... Well, Eve is 10 and is just pretty much happy to go wherever the family is going.  She didn't care what we did.  We were going together and on an adventure and that was enough for her.  Awesome. :)

She did manage to finish her first sewing project in time for the trip and she knew she wanted to wear it to the Japanese gardens. 

She really did a fantastic job!

After the 3 hour, 40 minute drive, we checked out our hotel (the girls checked out cable channels, since we don't have that at home), took a breather, and prepared for our visit to Delray Beach's, Atlantic Avenue.

I had designs on the Antique Mall that I'd read about, so we parked nearby and immediately spied this super cute cupcake shop!  We would have gone in, if Paul had not been on doctors orders to cut back on sugar for a while.  Going in just might have been torture for him, so we just looked instead.  This darling place is a fine example of why I love, love, love shopping locally.  I love unique, independent little places that you can't find anywhere else. 

A little view of the inside.  Check out the televisions in the oven doors!  So creative!

We stopped in at the Antique Mall and were really a bit disappointed.  I can't say that I've ever been to an antique mall where absolutely everything was behind glass.  It was kind of weird.  But Maia found something very special.  She didn't buy it on this day, though, because the next day we were visiting the Japanese gardens and she wanted to see if she could find something similar in the gift shop.  She didn't, by the way, and we returned for this special item on Saturday... but I'll tell you about it in Part 2!!

So, then it was just time to explore on this hot, Florida, summer day.  We strolled past a health food store and I just had to go in.  I love to check out these little places.  It had a great juice/smoothie bar and deli in the back.  We stopped back here on Saturday after we'd picked up Maia's special item and enjoyed smoothies all around.  Mine was called Hawaiian Sunset and consisted of OJ, banana, papaya nectar, dates, pineapple, and coconut milk.  Delicious, delicious, delicious.

Outside of a stationary/art supply store was this hand seat.  We especially liked the cup rest on the thumb!

Some of the shops - at least 3 or 4 that we saw - had these misters spraying down on their outdoor eating areas.  I suppose if you sat under them for the duration of your drink or meal, it might keep you cool, but though they kind of look cool, I thought that most of the water was likely evaporating, and when we walked beneath them, we really didn't feel much of a difference at all.  It seems a bit of an environmental extravagance to me, but I'm sure is a novel attraction for tourists, who don't necessarily think like I do.

We finished up the evening with dinner out at Olive Garden (nothing unique about this place, but I didn't have anything planned for that night and they do have a few vegan options), which the girls picked.  You can't go wrong with Italian food in our family.  Swimming under the stars was the big finish to our evening, made all the more fanciful with the participants in the ballroom dancing event happening in, what else, the ballroom of the hotel.  So, everyone swam and watched through the glass, the elaborately costumed dancers heading in for their performances. 

 A good start to our weekend! :)

*A brief note to say that my sister and her family are arriving today!!! Hooray!  We'll be making more fun with them until the 5th.  I hope to get a chance to post part two at some point, but with everything going on, it may be delayed.  If I am not back here before the 4th of July, I hope all my U.S. friends have a very festive time with family and friends celebrating our own, special day of Independence!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Good Idea

(I wear my watch on my right hand, just in case my arm is looking a little weird to you right there!)

The other morning after my morning devotions I was lamenting the fact that once I get sucked into my day, I forget about God.  I mean, not ALWAYS, but often, I am just so caught up in the events of what is happening in front of me that I forget the sacredness of life and that He really is always there.

I've never had a digital watch until a couple of months ago when I began training for the 5K I ran in April.  I haven't used all of its features, but one I AM using now is the hourly chime of the alarm.  When I hear it on the hour every hour, I am reminded of His presence.  And if I hadn't said hello in the past hour, I do it then.  And I give thanks, noticing everything I have to be grateful for in the day.  And if I'm struggling with something, I am reminded of the presence of the Holy Spirit as Guide and remember to ask for help. 

This is one thing that is working for me and I love it!  We don't have a church in our town that chimes bells on the hour (though I would LOVE that!), but this is the next best thing. It's the best use I've found for my digital watch!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Small Changes

The last couple of posts have held ideas for making changes regarding our plastic consumption.

Remembering that

plastic = oil,

I have begun to work on slowly reducing the plastic that literally surrounds me. I had a good opportunity to begin this past Tuesday. I had run out of my liquid dish soap and have decided not to replace it. I have one of those soap-in-the-handle-thingys too. The scrub sponge part is looking pretty nasty and I didn't have any of those replacements either, so let's see if I can "cut two carrots with one knife" (as Colleen Patrick Goudreau would say, because we both really like birds and wouldn't even want to kill one with a stone!) by getting rid of both the soap and the thingy and see if I can save myself some money too.

My new set-up is crocheted cotton around a bar of glycerine soap and a jar with baking soda with holes punched in the lid for easy sprinkling and scrubbing.  It kind of looks like milk and a cookie, doesn't it?

The crochet is just a quick pattern I made up.  It took me less than an hour and I was able to use cotton from a sweater I'd unravelled and recycled! Bonus!!

I cut another piece of yarn when I was done and wove it in and out of the ending round of crochet, creating a drawstring.  I knotted it so it would stay tight, but I made a loop so that I could cut it when the soap runs out and then re-string with another drawstring.

I'm also trying to switch my seemingly millions of food storage containers to glass.  I have 3 with plastic lids and I found two new round ones today (one shown on the left) with glass lids, which is what I really want.  That is acutally a baking/freezing container, which is just what you can do with the food storage ones too, but it is round.  I found it at the grocery store and noticed that it was $3.00 cheaper than the food storage ones are advertised as being.  Why??  Because they are round and not square and therefore won't store as neatly?  It bugs me, but whatever.  I do have one rectangular container (shown on right) that is vintage that I got at an antique mall a while back.  I actually used it upside down as a butter dish for the longest time, until I found the cool little butter dish  at Goodwill that I use now.

I also took a huge number of plastic bags from bread and the free newspapers that are delivered with me to the grocery store where they have a bin for recycling plastic bags.  I always wonder where they go?  Since our dog, Lucy, died in April there's no more picking up after her waste in the yard and that is pretty much what I used the bags for.  I also use the bags for purchasing bulk dry goods and storing some produce in the fridge, but I am going to be making some smaller cloth bags for those jobs.  I'll share those when I get around to that project too.  For now, I'm happy with my little soap project.  I hope it's something that will work for our family!
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