Tag Archives: sustainability

I Should Have Known

Yes. I should have.

I should have known that my ickiness the other day was my old friend.

The period flu.

What is up with that anyway? I’ve never heard of anyone else getting the flu for two days every month before their period. Have you?

Headache, body ache, chills, just general yuck.

Two days. Every month. Since I was 14.

So the moral of this story is that my period started early. Which means I didn’t have my homemade pads ready. And I’m not ready to whip up a whole supply, since my first attempt didn’t work real well. (A pad that slips around upside down on your panties is not a good thing, IMO.)

I did work on a pattern and cut out enough fabric to make four pads.

I was pretty excited actually. I figured flannel for a moisture-proof barrier, then cotton flannel for the rest. I wanted to make an envelope, with a folded insert.

Unfortunately I didn’t get it right. I made the top, which is supposed to be two overlapping pieces, not big enough. And I sewed it on upside down.

So. Pfft. I wanted to try it out, but I didn’t want to waste a snap. So I safety pinned it on.

The result?

Meh.

It’s bulky. Sitting in my chair, I feel like I’m teetering on it, if that makes sense.

I’m going to have to keep working on this.

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Internal Homestead

What does homestead mean to you?

A little ranch far from neighbors, with chickens and goats in the yard?

Maybe a full-on farm with cows and fields of grain?

Maybe homestead means to you a farm stand and a CSA?

Horses in your own pasture, a brook running across your property, fertile soil, enough water.

But what if…what if homestead means something else? What if there is another meaning?

According to Webster’s the word ‘homestead’ is a noun that means a place where a family makes its home, including the land, house, and outbuildings.

So what if your land is a collection of tin cans filled with hardware store soil and compost made in a bucket under the kitchen sink? What if your outbuilding is the garage and your house is a condo in the city?

What if your homestead is a rented duplex in the middle of nowhere high desert, with very little rain, rock-hard soil, and no fencing?

Maybe that’s when you make your homestead internal.

Yes. I am coining a term. Internal homestead.

Internal homestead, for me, includes the following:

  • Building a source of income that does not depend on the traditional economic infrastructure. That means we work for ourselves. My goal for my family is a business that will travel with us where ever we find out external homestead.
  • Being prepared to teach our children ourselves. That means having a wide range of books, art supplies, paper, pens, glue- and Popsicle sticks, empty yogurt containers, beans for counting, volcano-building supplies, and patience to answer 1,000,000 questions. It also means, even if my kids are in traditional school settings, realizing that public school is a tool and not the total educational package. Grace Llewellyn calls it Guerrilla Learning.
  • Eating mindfully. Eating in season, storing food that is plentiful and inexpensive for times when it is not. Learning how to grow food so that when our external homestead allows it, we are ready. Believing that those saved tin cans and hardware-store soil, fed by kitchen-scrap compost, can be how we learn. It can also be fresh basil on our pizza.
  • Being good stewards of our resources. Resources meaning our money, our energy (personal and otherwise), and our things. Internal homesteading means managing our income so that we can live within it. It means being aware of our energy intake–electric power, travel time for our food and other purchases, gasoline, use of chemicals and plastics and other stuff. It also means being aware of our energy outgo. Are we spending our time doing work that doesn’t satisfy us? Are we so tired from this work that we don’t have time to enjoy each other? Our energy is precious, and homesteading means acknowledging that.
  • Taking care of our health consciously. That means no more forgetting that a certain-someone is over 40 and less than ten years younger than his dad was when he had a heart attack. Or that a certain-someone-else is nearing 40 and exactly ten years younger than her mother when she died of breast  cancer. Eating right, avoiding food that makes us sick (gluten), and moving some–it’s about feeling good and maintaining good health and energy when we’re focused on our internal homestead. Not about losing weight.
  • Learn skills that will make us more self-sufficient. From learning to sew, to making butter in a mason jar with Ruby. Even if I don’t have chickens now, teaching myself how to take care of them will come in handy when I do. Learning how to do useful things will only help us if or when there comes a time when things change sufficiently to make those things necessary. Teaching myself how to can marmalade might not be life-or-death when there is sufficient jam available in the grocery store. But knowing how it’s done will be hugely important if that stops.
  • Live from a place of optimism and hope. Even when I feel myself getting overwhelmed with fear over Climate Change and Peak Oil and War and $4 a gallon gas, my internal homestead allows me believe that it is possible to survive, and even thrive, in a changing world.
  • Connecting with people on a level that sometimes makes me uncomfortable. Reaching out to neighbors, to make sure that our elderly neighbor isn’t alone every day, or that our friend Albert can ask for a ride to the grocery store. Explaining to the people in the grocery store who give me funny looks when I buy cases of potatoes or apples what I plan to do with them. And doing it with infectious enthusiasm. Even putting myself out here, so that I can savor each and every connection I make with you.
  • Finding a place of peace and balance. Accepting that Thursday Afternoons are my happy place right now, and that’s ok because every day I’m moving toward something more. Something better. Not letting the bad stuff–the negative energy, stress, trauma–into our internal homestead.

Sometimes, lately, I find myself wondering if we are the engineers of the next revolution. Women–some of us wives and mothers, but not all–who have found a way to connect across space with such power that we can make a difference in the world. Will it be us who bypass the scientists, the journalists, the politicians, the industries, and find the innovation to bring about real change? Will it be us who band together and figure out a better way? Maybe it will be. Maybe it will be us, and our internal homesteads, who make the difference.

I’d love to hear about your internal homestead. Will you share?

More finer things here.

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Seasonal Cooking: Carrot Marmalade

(Don’t forget to enter my little giveaway here.)

Carrot Marmalade is an old-fashioned recipe. I found it in my 1973 copy of Putting Food By.

I’d never heard of such a thing. After I made it, and I offered Kevin a piece of homemade bread with some butter and carrot marmalade on it, he wrinkled his nose and said something like, “I don’t like carrot marmalade.” As if he’d ever heard of it. But I couldn’t get mad, because that was something like my first reaction.

(And after he ate a bite, his big blue eyes widened and he made that little good grubbin’ moan in the back of his throat that means … yes … yes this is good.)

But I had the carrots already grated in my freezer. I’d saved them from wilted trashdom. And I had to do something with them, right?

Also, I really, really wanted to try actually canning something. I’ve made jams before, but I always freeze or refrigerate it.

So I headed to the thrift stores, looking for canning jars. I couldn’t find any, which made me very sad. I ended up paying $10 for a dozen new quilted jam jars from the grocery store. I have a concrete plan this summer to look for canning jars at yard sales.

I tweaked the recipe a little. The original, in the book, called for six and a half cups of sugar. Yowza. Who needs coffee in the morning with that little wake-me-up on their toast, right? So reducing the sugar content by a couple of cups was my one and only change.

Carrot Marmalade

  • 4 cups grated carrots
  • 2 oranges
  • 2 lemons
  • 4 1/2 cups sugar
  • 5 12 ounce jam jars with lids and rings
  • pot big enough to hold all five jars with water an inch over the rim, plus room for not boiling over

Start by getting by filling the pot with water, adding the jars, lids, and rings and putting it on a burner over medium high heat. You want to boil the jars so that they’re hot when you add the jam and to kill any bacteria.

While that’s getting on it’s way, take out your food processor. Cut up the oranges and lemons and whir them until they are fairly finely chopped. It’s going to look like a slush almost. I kept the lemon seeds in there, because they’ll add some bitter to the marmalade, which I like, and their pectin will help the jam to set up. If you don’t have a food processor, you can just use a blender. If you want to totally unplug, use a knife. Just peel the fruit and cut the rinds into tiny pieces, then cut the fruit, saving the juice. If you use a knife, I’d take out the seeds and put them in a tea ball or muslin bag to boil with the jam without adding big chunks of seed to the mix.

You want to grate enough carrots to make 4 cups as well. This is about 6 to 8 large carrots. I didn’t bother with peeling, but I did cut off the top end (where the greens would be.)

Get a heavy pot out and put the fruit slurry, the carrots, and the sugar into a pot. Start is heating over medium heat. Use a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature. You’re looking for 220 degrees, but you don’t need to get there in a hurry. You don’t want the bottom to burn, so keep stirring. I kept the heat at medium and it took about 15 minutes for the jam to get to the right temperature.

At first it might seem like the whole mess is just too thick. But it only takes a little while for the sugar to start to melt and for the fruits and carrots to release their juices.

Meanwhile, start getting your canning area ready. I set up a TV table right next to my stove, because I don’t have any counter space near by. Use some tongs and a towel to carefully take the jars, rings, and lids from the boiling water and set them on a clean towel on your work surface. I put them upside down first, to let them drain.

When the jam has reached 220 degrees, turn the heat off under it. Use a ladle and a funnel (I bought one for $2 at the same time I got the jars) and fill the jars to 1/2 an inch from the rim. This is a little tricky, because the jars are hot and the jam is really really hot. Use kitchen towels or pot holders to protect your hands, and go slow. There isn’t a rush.

(I prepared 6 jars, but only had jam enough for five.)

If you don’t have a canning rack, which I don’t, use tongs to get a kitchen towel down into the same big pot to keep the jars from banging together. When all the jars are filled, use the tongs to set them each down into the pot of hot water. Use a pitcher to add more water if necessary. You want the water to come at least an inch over the top of the jars.

Set the heat to high and wait (patiently if possible…) for the water to boil. You don’t start the boiling time until the water is at a rolling boil. It took ages it felt like, but probably less than ten minutes.

At my high elevation (6500 feet) I boiled the jars for 17 minutes, which is 7 more than the recommended 10. The reason for the difference in time is that the boiling point is lower the higher up you get, so it takes more time to bring the food in the middle of the jar to the right temperature. Since I was starting with boiling jam, it wasn’t as critical as if I was canning raw food. But still, I wanted to get it right. So 17 minutes it was. I used the information in the book for altitude adjustments.

I boiled all five jars, even the one I knew I was going to open right away. I wanted to make sure it had a good, solid seal.

The worst part of the whole process is letting those delicious jars of homemade jam sit and cool. And cool. And cool. It took at least four hours for them to get to room temperature. I could see right away that the lids had sealed, because they pulled inward, away from the rings (you can kind of see it in the next picture.) I’m a little scared, untrusting of my canning skills. But when I finally did open the first jar, it was obvious that it was sealed. I had to pry the top off with a butter knife. And I’m going to have to trust that my nose and my eyes will tell me if something has gone wrong when I open the other jars.

To while away the hours of waiting for things to cool, I made some bread. I used a recipe from Gluten-Free Baking Classics for the Bread Machine by Annalise Roberts. I have a review coming soon, because OMG…yum.

So finally. Finally. I had an amazing treat of homemade carrot marmalade, made from cold storage oranges and lemons and rescued carrots, on homemade bread with butter. I’ve heard of the slow food movement. Now I have really, truly experienced it.

And the best part? Carrot marmalade rocks. It’s an awful lot like orange marmalade, but the carrots add a depth of flavor that is really amazing. The lemons give it a fresh, bright tang, too. I’m glad I didn’t use more sugar because it was perfectly sweet with the sugar I did use.

Was it economical? The jam on it’s own, yes definitely. I ended up with 60 ounces of jam for the cost of 2 oranges (25 cents), two lemons (25 cents), and 4 cups of sugar (50 cents.) That’s a dollar, and the prices are estimated high. (The carrots, 7 large, cost about 50 cents to buy. But I’m not counting them in the cost, because I know without a doubt that I would have thrown them away when they wilted prior to this instance.)

I had to buy the jars though, which cost about 85 cents each. Times five, that’s $4.25. So $5.25 total for five jars of marmalade, or just over a dollar a jar. (A dollar fifty if you count the carrots.)  And, of course, the jars are reusable, so each time I make jam the cost will go down.

I can’t grow oranges or lemons where I am up here in the mountains where it’s cold 9 months a year. (Well, maybe if I had a hot house of some kind? But I don’t.) But I can definitely grow carrots.

Not bad, considering that 12 ounces of marmalade at the grocery store is at least twice that much. And good marmalade that isn’t full of chemicals costs closer to $4 for a jar. This recipe has a lot of sugar in it, but jam usually does. I might play around with lowering the sugar content, or using something other than white sugar. The end result though, was a sweet, brightly tart, delicious treat. And a lesson in canning.

More frugal ideas here. And DIY ideas here. And just fun ideas here.

More recipes here. And here. And here. And here.

And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here.

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Independence Days

Sharon hasn’t posted an Independence Days update in a while, but I’ve had some stuff going on that I wanted to share so I decided not to wait.

You know I read her site, or her other blog, or Life After the Oil Crash, or even just CNN and it scares me. It scares me that I don’t live in a place that I believe is sustainable in the event of the things I am afraid are on their way. It scares me that when I try to talk to my family about this, not only do they not listen, they get angry and defensive. Or they laugh. It scares me that my husband believes that staying here another six months or another eighteen months won’t really make a difference.

And what I’ve been doing to ease my fears, to make it so that I don’t spend all my time obsessing over things I can’t control, is to spend some time  taking control over what I can.

I feel better with 45 pounds of potatoes and 80 pounds of apples in my laundry room. I feel better knowing that my pantries are stocked. I have to adapt where I am, just like everyone else does. I do not believe that I can make long-term sustainability goals while we are still living here. Because I don’t think that here is going to be a viable place to live in the long run. But I can do some thing.

So here is what I’ve done since the last Independence Days post.

Plant something: Still not. But I have started saving 2 quart apple juice cans to use as pots.

Harvest something: Again, still not. But I’m really looking forward to the day when I can answer this YES.

Preserve something: I bought 80 pounds of apples and have them stored in cold storage in my laundry room. I bought thermometers to monitor the temperature in the laundry rooms, which I’m happy to report I’ve managed to get to and keep at about 40 degrees. I have 45 pounds of potatoes stored as well. I had 5 pounds of carrots that were wilting, which I grated and froze. I bought some canning jars for carrot marmelade that I plan to make this weekend.

Waste not: Those grated carrots would definitely have been tossed not too long ago.

Want not: At the grocery store the other day they had a cart filled with 2 quart cans of apple juice they aren’t going to sell anymore, marked from $3.49 to $1. I bought all 13 cans. My plan is to use the cans as seedling pots. I also bought 3 big cans of high-quality cinnamon hot chocolate marked from $6.00 to $1.50. I bought 16 pounds of oranges for cold storage.

Eat the Food: I made apple onion gravy from the apples I have stored. That had a sort of accidental applesauce stage, so now I know how to do that as well. We’ve been eating our stored potatoes 3 or so times per week. I’ve done alot of research into where our meat comes from. It’s pretty disturbing.

Build Community Food Systems: I’ve shared some ideas here on my blog and have heard back from several readers that they are Brussels sprouts converts now! I’ve also shared what I’ve learned about meat with my family (with varying success.)

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Perceived Obsolescence

Every since watching The Story of Stuff the other night, I’ve had the concept of perceived obsolescence on the brain.

I keep seeing examples of it everywhere I look. I keep finding examples of it right in my own home.

Perceived obsolescence, along with planned obsolescence, is what keeps industry running.

We know what planned obsolescence is, right? Products designed to require regular replacement.

But perceived obsolescence?

Another word for ‘fashion’ that does a pretty good job of pointing out just how silly the human race can be.

When you turn in your cell phone every two years for a ‘free upgrade’, and the new phone makes you feel like your old phone was just a step up from those brick-sized things the very rich used in the 80s even though it still works like a charm, that’s perceived obsolescence.

When you can’t be seen in a pair of jeans with lots of wear left in them because the legs are too wide, too tight, or too flared? That’s perceived obsolescence.

In my own house, there is lots of talk about getting a flat screen TV. Our regular old TV, the kind with a picture tube, seems huge. Clunky. As out dated as a re-run of the Brady Bunch. (To be perfectly fair, we are currently using a TV that Adrienne’s dad gave her for Christmas a few years ago in the living room because our picture-tube TV bit the dust. Adrienne can’t get TV service in her bedroom, so her TV hadn’t been used in over a year. There is no reason why we couldn’t pick up a TV on Craig’s List or at a yard sale–a cast off from someone else’s perceived obsolescence. We will just have to fight off the feeling that we really need a new, fancy-pants flat screen.)

I think that going a step further, it’s easy to see that not only do Americans (I don’t know about other countries, but I’d assume that other rich countries have people with the same issues) suffer from up-date-itis, we also suffer from can’t-do-without-it-itis.

What, you might ask, is can’t-do-without-it-itis?

It’s what makes people think that they must have a dishwasher. Or that they can not live without Starbucks on the way to work. Or that their children will grow up to be degenerates if they don’t play five different sports a year.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for dishwashers, Starbucks, or after school sports. (Or that there is. I’ve been washing dishes by hand my whole adult life, and have so far survived my string of malfunctioning appliances. I’ve also lived for three years 250 miles from the nearest Starbucks and still manage to get through my day. My kids participate in one extracurricular each. It works out fine for us. I have to admit that I donated my flared jeans to the thrift store, though.)

Think about it. Even those of us who consider ourselves environmentally conscious, could probably find at least one or two instances of regular consumption in our lives that are driven by the same social pressures that cause perceived obsolescence.

We probably can’t control the media. It’s all around us. More than we are even aware of. Until I started paying attention, I had no conscious idea that I was getting direct messages about weight loss 20 or 30 times a day. We live in a multi-media world, and just like anything that is done and done and done, it’s become invisible.

Except it’s not really invisible. What makes us think that flared jeans are out, or that picture-tube TVs need to be replaced?

What would happen if we kept wearing the same style jeans until they wore out. Or didn’t buy a new TV/phone/computer every three years? It would certainly put a cog in the industry machine, wouldn’t it?

But the fish might breathe a little easier. Our great-grandchildren, too.

We can’t control what they try to sell us. But we can certainly stop letting them slip in unnoticed.

Here is my confession: I have found myself unable to honestly consider the use of reusable feminine products. Especially washable pads. It just seems too weird to me. I feel like I have to have the disposable stuff. I also can not imagine asking my teenage daughter to use these products.

I wonder what kind of environmental atrocities are committed so that once a month I can use bleached cotton disposable pads instead of going through the tiny trouble of washing some flannel ones. And so that I don’t have to face talking to my daughter about it, too.

I blame not using washable ‘family cloths’ instead of toilet paper on Kevin. How convenient for me.

How about you? What perceived obsolescence has caused you to toss a perfectly good item? How has the can’t-do-without-it bug bitten you?

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I want

An old house with history and character. And a harvest kitchen. A big fireplace. A root cellar.

A big front porch with rocking chairs and a pretty view of mountains in the distance.

Shelves filled with jars of jewel-toned summer tomatoes and home-grown pears. Pickled green beans and tart jam.

An acre of my own.

Maybe two. Then I can share the bounty.

Work that doesn’t cause so much stress that I grind my teeth at night. Work that never results in days where Ruby is asleep both when I leave in the morning, and when I come home at night.

A community of people who understand.

Enough rain, but not too much.

Chickens and goats and a dog in my yard.

Fresh eggs and goat’s milk cheese and soap.

Time to write. Time to play with my little girl. Time to bake and garden and dream.

No more days when I only see my husband for ten minutes in passing as I come home and he leaves for work.

To get through the scary stuff I see on the horizon with grace and in safety.

Kevin thinks we need to stay here until summer 2011. He has good points.

What kind of mother wants to move her daughter just before her senior year? What kind is willing to move her son away from his one very-hard-won friend? What kind of wife can’t be patient for one year?

I know we should stay. We should figure out a way to make here work until Adrienne graduates, anyway.

My brain gets that. But my heart is screaming that we need to leave. We need to find a new place as soon as possible.

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The Story of Stuff

I stumbled on this link today.

It’s a fun, very interesting, twenty-minute video about … well, about the story of stuff.

Did you know that only 1 percent of the goods that American’s buy are still in use 6 months after purchase. One percent.

It has a really simple explanation of planned and perceived obsolescence, too. I love that it’s all presented very straightforward, with no guilt or shame tactics. Just–Whoa, something is wrong here. Let’s fix it.

I’m going to have my kids watch this over the weekend.

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