Monday, August 31, 2009
I have a dream that I have often shared on my blog, it is a simple dream which includes having a little house, at least an acre of land, a couple of dogs, a few hens for eggs, perhaps a goat or two, and a rescue cat or three ;0) From my kitchen window I can see our garden and the hills & countryside which surround us, my children playing and fruits and vegetables growing in abundance. Right now this little dream is completely out of reach and may be for some time. I've always lived in cities or suburbs (both in North America and England) and when I began to love the countryside I wanted to live the life straight away. I used to find it depressing that I simply didn't have the resources to fund such a dream, but through some little changes I've found ways to bring the countryside into my every day life and have never looked back. I may still have the dream, but I also now as much as possible, living a country life in a city.
So I thought I'd share some tips for how to having the rural life (or perhaps some of the best bits of it) while having to live in the city or suburbs! Please do share any tips you have in the comments!
The first thing I did was start walking, every single day. At the time I was caring for several children full time as their own immediate family couldn't take care of them. How I wanted us to be able to spend more time with them exploring rivers and streams, yet with full time work, children in school and homework needing doing, all we could manage was a simple walk. The goal became to get out for 30 minutes every single evening and an hour each weekend. It gave us a chance to relax, regroup, chat about the day and enjoy some nature. Sometimes walks had to simply be around our neighbourhood and didn't involve any real exposure to nature, other times when we had a bit more time or the evenings were getting lighter we could drive to a local park or nature centre and then start from there. The goal was simply a chance to relax, get some natural form of exercise and escape the indoors!
I then began looking at what activities we were doing, yes there were swimming lessons and gymnastics for the children and I was pretty active at my gym (pre-kids) but I began to think about how we could get more exercise in the great outdoors while still being limited to a very strict budget. Some things we/I've enjoyed is hiking at the weekends, beginning with 30 minutes and working ourselves up to a good 2 hour hike on Saturdays and Sundays! We also tried canoeing, kayaking, swimming in the local lake/pond, skating on outdoor rinks and bike riding! By looking around and diversifying, I was able to stick within our $50 a month entertainment budget and yet make sure we enjoyed some of what the real outdoors has to offer!
Another change that made me feel more a part of the rural life was to begin to eat more local food. This was something I felt was impossible initially and to be honest resisted - I felt I simply didn't have the budget to support farmers or the time to "shop around". How wrong I was! By looking around, speaking to others, phoning my local council, I found out about little farmer's shops & stalls and local food co-ops. I now purchase about 50-75% of my fruits, veg, dairy and breads from farmers or markets and my grocery budget went down. In fact I slashed it by 75% which is something I've talked a lot about on my blog. Yes, it does mean I vary where I shop and yes I do often visit 2 shops in a week but the health benefits and feeling from supporting my local farmers and bringing the rural life into my kitchen is priceless!
Another food choice I've made is to try to grown my own. I don't have a garden and am on a very long (3 year!) waiting list for an allotment, what I have been able to do is take a small part of my mum's garden to attempt to grow my own and recently a friend has said I'm more than welcome to help her on her allotment. So don't hesitate to ask around, perhaps if you offer to cut someones lawn they'll happily let you use their garden for growing fruits and veg! Of course even without space you can grow window box herbs or have small plant pots by your door/window.
Finally one of the best ways I was able to enjoy some of the rural life while living in the city was to lessen our commitments to city pursuits and increase our time for rural pursuits specifically spending time with animals. I found two city farms which had various talks, volunteer opportunities, craft making events and great facilities to spend a lazy Saturday enjoying. I found out about several local reservoirs and forests that had trails, we started exploring more and more, making time to feed ducks rather than run errands. Instead of meeting friends for time at an indoor play place, we began meeting friends for hikes, farm trips, bike rides and nature walks. Spending time enjoying a picnic and drawing pictures of the animals we came across became a favourite activity!
I have turned from someone who rarely escaped the office, car & home to someone who every single day finds ways of bringing the rural life in. I now would much rather hike and chat then sit & chat. I've gone from feeling I'll never have the life I want to feeling I'm living in transition - transition that will eventually mean living in the country, a life I'll be really ready to embrace!
So I'd love to hear from you. How do you get nature or outdoors time when you are busy living and working in the city or suburbs? Have you got any tips for our readers?
Sunday, August 30, 2009
From Spiral Garden
Our children have been involved with helping prepare meals for a few years now. Initially it was my husband's idea, and I was hesitant to share my kitchen and deal with the mess! But by working one-on-one with my four older children, they are now capable of making meals by themselves.
Our 15 year old helps with two meals each week, I do two meals alone, and the 13, 12 and 10 year olds each help with one meal per week. First they wash their hands (or have a shower if they're quite grubby from outdoor play) and clear away dishes or anything else cluttering the bench space. We often wear aprons to protect our clothes, which adds to the atmosphere of getting on with something important. The menu is planned ahead, of course, so we always know how much time to allow. Some preparation tasks happen in the morning, also noted on the meal plan/family calendar.
Once the kitchen is ready to go we gather ingredients - they often start peeling vegetables or cutting up salad whilst I duck out to the garden for any home grown produce required. We put other ingredients from pantry and fridge onto the bench so everything is at hand. As we use it, we put the items away. We also rinse and stack utensils used along the way, and wipe up any spills. This is my way of using a kitchen, and I hope to pass the habit on to them so that cooking sessions don't end up with a big clean-up resulting!
Together we share the task of getting things cooking - measuring, adding, using the Thermomix or rice cooker and chatting as we go. Meanwhile, I am calling the other children in from outdoors to have a shower and clear and set the table so that by the time the food is ready, so are we. Our family eats together every evening.
Each week the children pick up a new skill or two in the kitchen, spend some time with Mum and help the family by preparing a meal. I encourage other family members to express gratitude for their efforts. I try to vary the meals they prepare, starting with basics like pasta. I also try to frequently schedule their favourite foods on the nights they're cooking, to keep them enthusiastic about the task. Since we bought our Thermomix a few months ago, they've been a little hesitant with using it, but as they watch and learn and try things for themselves, they appreciate it more.
We have had the odd burnt pan (not now with the Thermomix), some interesting herb or spice additions, and occasionally not quite enough to go around (because I wasn't on hand and they didn't peel and cook enough vegies, for example). But there's been nothing we couldn't eat, and a quick dessert of fruit and yoghurt or custard fills hungry tummies! And really, I could count the kitchen mishaps on one hand, so they're all doing really well.
Two of the girls are great bakers - better than me, I think! They bake at least once a week, which is more often than me, that's for sure. I rarely buy any prepared snack foods, biscuits etc, so that encourages them to make yummies for themselves and the family.
My younger two children are now joining me on "my" nights of cooking to peel some vegetables, put clean dishes away, fetch ingredients and just spend a little time together. Hopefully the six children will all know a lot about food and nutrition, cooking and cleanliness by the time they're grown.
Once we've eaten, the tasks of clearing the table, putting leftovers away, changing the tablecloth and doing the dishes are shared among other family members. It's true that many hands make light work and when we're catering for at least eight people each meal, it's more fun when we share the workload.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
We are taught from an early age to achieve the highest and best in everything we do. I'm no stranger to 4-H competitions or state fair contests. And the thrill of placing high and the angst of placing less than perfect can really set us up for how we view everything we do later in life. What does a blue ribbon on a quilt at the fair have to do with a garden? A lot really. I like nice, neat weed free rows but I also have learned to chill out a little when it comes to less than perfect produce and weeds in the gardens and hedgerows.
In our efforts to raise our own food, I think sometimes we forget the bigger picture. I can see a culprit has been at work in our brassica patch, but normally it is just a few nibbles. And really does a bug taking a bite of your plant really ruin it? If I see pests I do pick them off and either squish them or take the morsels to the hens, who relish the treat and will make that into eggs or nutrient rich manure. As the health of our gardens grows, the plants become more resistant to pest attacks, if an infestation is present, it may be more of a fertility/management problem than an insect problem.
With that in mind, we try to select our seeds and plants for pest and disease resistance and continually build our soil with composted manure and cover crops where appropriate.
I actually worry about food that is too perfect, when I think of what it takes to achieve that look. So take the insects with a grain of salt, literally and build a healthy eco-system in your garden, and enjoy the abundant harvests. Having an OK garden is actually OK.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Our other writer is Susy, who writes from Ohio. Do yourself a favour and check out her personal blog Chiot's Run.
Both writers will be posting here soon. I'm sure you'll find them an interesting and intelligent addition to our group.
We are saying goodbye to Julie from Towards Sustainability and Sarah from The Compost Bin. I'm sure you all join with me in wishing these wonderful women all the best in their writing and their blogs.
Thank you to the many people who applied to write here with us. The standard of blog writing is quite remarkable and I found the decision quite difficult.
The posts which get almost the most hits on my personal blog (second only to my homemade sandwich wrap) are the ones including recipes for Pesto! It seems that a great many people - like myself - love pesto.
Classic pesto is made from basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and olive oil, and what a wonderfully versatile taste of summer it is!
My basic basil pesto recipe is:
4 cups basil leaves
½ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
½ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
salt & pepper to taste
It's super quick to make with a food processor, although if you are like me, grinding it with a mortar and pestle makes for a wonderful chunky finish (and it's quite therapeutic after a long day ;-) Mince the leaves, nuts & garlic and then drizzle in the olive oil, mixing or processing all the while, until it is incorporated. Mix through the cheese and then season to taste.
Throw it through some hot pasta or gnocchi for a quick and easy meal; add it to cold cooked pasta, along with cherry tomatoes, olives and maybe some crumbled feta and cooked chicken for a fresh salad; use it on your homemade pizza, in sandwiches or as a dip with crusty fresh bread. Fabulous.
Basil is terrific, but in most places it won't grow in winter; have you considered using the basic pesto recipe but substituting other mixtures of herbs, nuts and seeds? I can grow many other leafy greens which also make for delicious pesto: spinach, parsley, coriander (cilantro) and arugula (rocket) for example, are all great. The best thing is that all of these greens can be grown in pots, so if you are short on space in your backyard or apartment, if you have room for a pot or two of herbs, you can enjoy pesto year round!
Pine nuts are expensive (at least where I live), so I regularly substitute lightly toasted almonds, cashews, walnuts and sunflower seeds, and I've read other recipes using pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds or almond meal to great effect.
Pesto can also be easily veganised, by substituting silken tofu, almond meal or nutritional yeast for the Parmesan cheese, so it's a great standby recipe for vegan friends (if you aren't vegan yourself of course).
Last but not least among it's virtues, you can freeze pesto. There is some debate amongst purists as to whether you should freeze pesto, but to my taste it is fine for up to six months in the freezer. I also add the cheese before freezing, however some like to keep it out and add it just before serving; it's up to you.
All in all, it's an easy and tasty way to incorporate some fresh greens into your day :-)
Do you have a favorite pesto recipe or combination to share?
Thursday, August 27, 2009
A posse ad esse (From possibility to reality)
First let me offer thanks to my fellow writers here for they're patience with my recent computer problems. I've been terribly remiss with my last couple of writing obligations here and I'm so grateful to get to be back amongst their great company and all of you who frequent here.
Such was the case with this clump of pseudo-wild sunflowers that came up this spring.Two years ago we planted sunflowers in this spot and have been rewarded by them every year since. Last year I pulled them, because I was still in the mode of thinking that the garden was "mine". This year, for some reason, I noticed that it is much much more.
I plan the layout and I plant the seeds and sprouts, but my family and I are not the only ones that reap the rewards. As it turns out, there's a whole other facet to the garden that I knew existed, but never really paid any attention to. The natural world around the garden. It seems, as I've given more and more thought to the way that I grow and care for our garden, by using organic methods and trying to mimic nature in many ways, I've created a better and better environment for the little critters around the yard.The numbers of bees this year has been phenomenal for instance, honestly it's been like no other year that we've ever had. Even the wasps that usually are such a burden to us have been so busy with the nectar and other small nuisance insects that they've largely left us alone.One really pleasant surprise this year has been our regular visits from this sweet little couple. I'm not sure of the species, some sort of finches I suppose, but they've dropped in every night just about and flit all around eating and enjoying the seeds from the dried flowers.
So here's the best excuse that I can possibly think of for being lazy with your deadheading and pruning. SEEDS! The natural order of things means that after those flowers have been attractants for bees; providing them with pollen and nectar, then they set seed and complete their lives.
That's not when their usefulness is finished though. Look at this bunch of old flower heads...They've been picked clean. (No doubt in no small part to my cute little finch family) Many of the seeds have fallen to the ground as well. They've been pollinated by bees aplenty and will perhaps bless us next year with some interesting new variety that hasn't been seen here before. That's just how it goes.
And they don't have to just be sunflowers. Take these columbines for instance. I planted them over four years ago, and they keep moving around our yard. Unless they've suddenly taken to walking around the yard in the wee hours of the night, I'm guessing that they're spreading seed the way they were meant to as well.
I guess when some folks look into our yard late in the year, they might think it looks a little unkempt. We have some columbines that are dried and gone to seed, some sunflowers that would be considered past their "prime" and daisies that would be considered dead. (They're home to a burgeoning population of lady beetles so they've stayed as is.) When I walk around the yard though I see nature in all it's glory. The birds and the bees at it's best.
So keep an eye on not just the beauty that your garden holds skin deep. Give it a chance to show you what is possible if you just stand back and watch.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
As you probably already know, I am a confessed Curd Nerd. I love making cheese, and of late my favourite cheese is Caerphilly. I have joined two of my original posts together so you get the entire process and result end to end. I have used both metric and imperial measurements to make it easier for everyone around the world without having to go to the trouble of converting.
I was yearning for a cheese that would be on the table quickly, so I chose Caerphilly. It has Welsh origins, and is a lightly pressed, salty cheese that ripens in 3 weeks.
Here is a bit of history about Caerphilly from Wikipedia;
Caerphilly cheese is a hard, white cheese that originates in the area around the town of Caerphilly in Wales, although it is now also made in England, particularly in the South West and on the English border with Wales. It was not originally made in Caerphilly, but was sold at the market there, hence taking the town's name.So here is my method for making it. I used the recipe out of Making Artisan Cheese by Tim Smith and modified it a little.
Caerphilly is a light-coloured (almost white), crumbly cheese made from cow's milk, and generally has a fat content of around 48%. It has a mild taste, with its most noticeable feature being a not unpleasant slightly sour tang.
It is rumoured that the cheese was developed over time to provide the coal miners of the area with a convenient way of replenishing the salt lost through hard work over ten hour shifts underground and so was a staple of the diet of the coal miners.
7.5 litres whole milk (2 gallons)
1 quarter teaspoon (about 2 ml) mesophillic culture
1 eighth teaspoon (about 1 ml) calcium chloride diluted in 60ml (¼ cup) cool unchlorinated water
1 half teaspoon (about 3 ml) liquid rennet diluted in 60ml (¼ cup) cool unchlorinated water
2 tablespoons non-ionised salt
Heat milk to 32°C (90°F) user double boiler (I use a smaller saucepan under the large pot).
Add the diluted calcium chloride if you are using homogenised milk. Stir for a minute. Then add the starter culture and stir for another minute. Cover and let rest for thirty minutes at target temperature.
Maintaining the temp of 32°C (90°F), start stirring, then add the diluted rennet to the milk, stir for two minutes, then cover. Let mixture sit for forty minutes at the target temperature, or until you get a clean break (which can be up to 60 minutes).
Cut the curds into 6mm (¼ inch) cubes, keeping the size as uniform as possible.
Slowly raise the temp to 33°C (92°F); this should take about ten minutes. Hold the curd at the target temp for forty minutes and be sure to stir frequently to keep the curds from matting. Let rest at target temp for five minutes.
Drain the curds into a cheese cloth lined colander, and let whey drain for a 5 minutes. Cut the curds into 2.5 cm (1 inch) thick slabs, and stack on top of one another. Turn the stack over, top to bottom, two times in ten minutes. This will assist in draining a lot of whey from the curd and is a basic form of cheddaring.
Using your clean hands, break the curds into thumbnail-sized pieces, and blend with salt.
Fill a cheese cloth-lined 1kg (2 pound) cheese mould with the salted curds.
Cover the curd with one corner of the cheese cloth, lay the follower on top, and press at 5kg (10 pounds) for ten minutes.
Remove the cheese from the press, take it out of the mould, and unwrap the cheese cloth. Turn the cheese, and rub a layer of salt on both top and bottom before rewrapping with cheese cloth. Press at 5kg (10 pounds) for ten minutes. Repeat the same procedure (salt), pressing at 7.5 kg (15 pounds) for twenty minutes. Repeat the same procedure, pressing at 7.5 kg (15 pounds) for sixteen hours. I finished this stage at 6 pm on a Saturday evening, so I had to wait until 10 am Sunday morning for the next part of the process.
Take the cheese out of the cheese mould, and let it air dry on a cheese mat and cheese board for about 3-4 days. Make sure you turn the cheese several times a day to ensure even drying and fat distribution.
When the cheese is dry to touch, it is ready to be ripened. Place in your cheese cave at 13ºC (55ºF) at 80-85% humidity for three weeks, turning several times a week. No need to wax this cheese. It will form a rind, and if any mould develops, simply rub the cheese with cloth dipped in some salty water. The salt in this cheese should retard mould growth anyway.
At this time of the year in Australia, you could find a cold cupboard to ripen your cheese in if you don't have a fridge that you can get warm enough.
So after only 3 weeks, Caerphilly is one fantastically tasty cheese I have ever made. Here is the finished product.
It has a rind that is about 5mm thick and it tastes divine. There is a little white and blue mould bloom on the surface which I think is a bit of cross contamination from when I was making 2 cheeses at once or from the cheese cave, but no matter because it adds to the exquisite flavour of the rind.
Kim (my lovely wife) believes that the rind tastes like Edam, and the middle has is similar flavour but not as strong. More crumbly than Edam though, but really, really nice with a plain water cracker biscuit. I think the crumbly centre tastes more like a mild cheddar, but each to their own. Everyone's taste buds are different.
The top and sides were a bit swollen, but that was just from natural 'eye' development as the cheese matured. You can see small eyes in the second photo.
It is so good that I have made three more wheels since my first effort. With only three weeks maturation and very edible at 15 days, I highly recommend it if you are into cheese making and want a quick result or are just starting out and want to give a hard cheese a try.
If you would like recipes to other cheeses I have made, just pop over to my personal blog, The Greening of Gavin, and have a look through the tutorials on the right hand side bar.
Enjoy, and I hope I have convinced a few of you to become curd nerds just like me!
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
by Colleen from frugalurban.wordpress.com.
There are lots of ways to save money on groceries, but often along the way something is lost. We all have our ideals and our lines we don't want to cross, but when saving money becomes very important, compromise often seems necessary.
However, there are ways to save money on food without compromising flavour, freshness, or the ideals of local, sustainable, organic, etc. Here are some strategies I apply with my grocery budget. The result is that we eat well (flavour, nutrition, etc.) without spending a fortune, and we feel good about what we eat too.
(One caveat is that these are Strategies, not Rules. Nobody is perfect, but if you have guiding principles that operate most or even much of the time, you are probably doing pretty well. I am far from perfect, and have even been known to order a pizza once in awhile! Gasp!)
Strategy #1: Plan Meals
Yes, the "organized housewife" blogs are right: planning meals is your first step in saving money on food. It's a good idea to develop a system. I use the following categories to cover five nights out of seven, and then plan for leftovers the other two nights: meat (this could be red meat or poultry), fish, beans, vegetarian, pasta. The bean and pasta recipes can include meat in them, but preferably as a flavouring agent, not a main note. Each week I write my meal ideas in my Moleskine Weekly Notebook with the shopping list on the "notes" side. That way I can reference past weeks' meals to inspire me.
Strategy #2: Cook from Scratch
The principle here is to shop for ingredients, not processed foods. So I buy flour, yeast and salt instead of bread. I buy ground beef, canned tomatoes and chili powder instead of a taco kit or frozen burritos. I buy chicken, onions and pasta instead of chicken noodle soup. It does take extra time, but I really enjoy cooking and baking. I enjoy the challenge of learning to make new things like tortillas, and of finding simpler and more delicious bread recipes. It's a very frugal hobby as long as you follow the next principle.
Strategy #3: Keep it Simple
These days, food porn abounds, but it turns out Gordon Ramsey is right: the truth is, fresh high-quality food prepared simply will taste fantastic and doesn't need fancy distractions to make it a good meal. There are many ways to implement this strategy. For example, we often have soup and toast for dinner, and don't feel lacking for it. I love pan sauces, but try for recipes that use things I have on hand. (Unfortunately) I've cut way back on my consumption of fancy cheeses, especially since Parmesan has skyrocketed for some reason, but it means that when I do get a chunk, I really really enjoy it. Keep it simple and let the food speak for itself, and you won't end up with expensive herbs & condiments languishing in the fridge. Which brings me to . . .
Strategy #4: Reduce Food Waste
It doesn't matter how much you saved on that loaf of bread, or how cheaply you made that soup; if it ends up in the garbage, you are throwing money away. This hit home for me a few weeks ago when I looked in my fridge after a week away and saw it was nearly full--of rotting vegetables and infested leftovers. Eating up leftovers promptly has been an important part of this strategy--if they aren't enough for the next day's dinner, I make a point of packing them for lunch. My freezer is another great help. If something is nearing its best-before date, I can slip it into a Ziplock baggie and put it in the freezer for inclusion in some future soup, sauce or casserole. The point is, look at any food thrown away as dollars in the garbage, and you will find the motivation to reduce food waste.
These four strategies help me to save money on food without compromising my ideals or the quality of what we eat. They can apply whether you shop at a big chain store, your local farmer's market, or your own backyard. They may take time, but then again, so does couponing! For my own part I would rather spend my time with my hands in some dough than searching down coupons and trading them online.
What other strategies or guiding principles do you apply to save on groceries? Let me know what I've missed!
Monday, August 24, 2009
Sharon: cdetroyes AT yahoo DOT com
Rhonda: simplegreenfrugalcoop AT gmail DOT com
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Living The Frugal Life
I went through a phase a few years back when I made solid perfumes from a mixture of beeswax, jojoba oil, and essential oils of plants. It was a fun project, but that was before I was a homeowner and gardener, and before I made a commitment to preparing pretty much all our food from scratch. I had more time back then to play around with less productive hobbies with rather expensive materials. The legacy of that hobby is a box of essential oils, which are admittedly nice things to have around.
I've found some uses for them that fit neatly into a frugal and sustainable lifestyle. The best one by far is as a replacement for room deodorizers. I detest those horrible aerosol sprays, and those plug-ins that suck electricity while stinking up the room are an abomination. In my opinion, they smell at least as bad as whatever odors they purport to disguise, even bathroom stinks. We now keep a tiny bottle of mint essential oil in our bathroom, along with a little ceramic bowl. When the bathroom is smelly, a drop or two of this oil in the bowl will mask the smell pretty well, and there's no horrible artificial stench to add insult to injury. The scent from just a few drops of oil will linger for a couple of days, and it never makes me want to sneeze or flee the room.
I also like to add essential oils to my homemade laundry detergent. I play around with the scents that I add with each new batch. My first batch was scented with just straight lavender, and the following one ginger. My current batch is scented with lemongrass and grapefruit. I've found that over the months it takes to use up the detergent (I make big batches and there are only two of us to wash for), the scent fades somewhat. But it's no big deal to add a few more drops of oil to the remaining detergent in order to refresh the scent. I really like being able to customize the scent of my own laundry. I would certainly still make my own detergent, even if I didn't have a stash of essential oils to make it smell nice. It's just an added level of fun to make it smell the way I want it to.
Now essential oils can be expensive things to play around with, particularly genuine rose absolute and other pure floral scents. It's quite labor and resource intensive to produce essential oils, so the expense stands to reason. However, some of the nicest scents for my purposes can be had relatively cheaply. All the citrus scents, coming from rinds rich with oil, are quite cheap. Peppermint, spearmint, sage, pine, eucalyptus, and clove are among the next cheapest essential oils out there. Even lemongrass, rose geranium, lavender, and ginger won't break the bank. Stray into some of the floral essences however, and you'll pay through the nose.
Compared to a can of room deodorizer, the smallest bottle of essential oil (5-10 ml) will give you many, many times more scenting capacity, and the price differential (if you stick with the scents mentioned above) will be no more than 2x-3x, if that. To scent a few gallons of laundry detergent, I need no more than 12-15 drops of essential oil, including a refresh by the third month. Really, essential oils are astonishingly concentrated. If you keep the bottles in a dark and cool place, they will store indefinitely. This is good, given that it will take me many years to use up the bottles I have. Additionally, the tiny glass bottles that the essential oils come in are less resource intensive than a few cases of metal cans filled with gas under high pressure.
I would definitely not advise someone to go overboard in buying a lot of essential oils to play around with as I did in my perfume making fad. The expenses can add up quickly if you indulge in too many of these scents. However, if you are currently buying those room deodorizers or scented detergents, picking a few of the cheaper essential oils to replace these ongoing expenses would be totally legitimate in my opinion, provided you're willing to really give up the purchased "convenience." Frugality doesn't have to mean asceticism. Pleasant, all natural smells can be an affordable sensual pleasure, which is good for the soul. Just be sure to store essential oils safely away from curious toddlers. Essential oils can be dangerous when ingested even in a diluted state. Many if not most of them can cause illness if consumed at full strength.
If you want to buy some essential oils, you can find them on eBay or Amazon. If you live in the US, I would also recommend the products from Lhasa Karnak, which has a slightly clunky online order form, or you can call them to place a mail order. The employees of this independently owned business are extremely knowledgeable about the herbs and other items they sell. I have always found them willing to spend the time to answer my questions and offer observations or advice. (I don't benefit in any way if you follow the link to their website or make a purchase from them. I just think they're a good business.)
Saturday, August 22, 2009
You know there are days when I look around and I can not believe that I am where I am right now. See, I have never thought of myself as particularly "green", nor do I see myself as particularly "frugal" either. The "simple" movement had never been something I ever regarded with interest.
See, I grew up in the 80s - the "decade of greed". I grew up at a time when "more is good" and successful people were those who worked hard, played hard and had HEAPS of stuff. I grew up at a time when the media (in the form of TV) had finally started marketing directly to children. Michael J. Fox, in his role as "Alex Keaton", in Family Ties was the very embodiment of who we should all be.
So how did I end up where I am now? I guess, one day, for me I just finally acknowledged that I didn't like how too much stuff made me feel. I just finally acknowledged that stuff didn't make me happy. It wasn't a big or sudden revelation - it just slowly creeped up and finally ended up with me doing my no-buying-brand-new for a year in Sep 2006 - the start of my simple, green and frugal journey...though I never thought of it that way at a time.
I know many readers here are "green" (or dreaming of being green). Why? What is motivating your actions and your thoughts? I know that for some of the writers here, like Gavin, it was very much about the environment. For some others, like Compostwoman, it was a combination of carrying on family traditions and the coming of her child.
While our motivations will influence our actions, I think that it would be fair to say that for most of us, the journey would mostly consist of a lot of little steps. And each step would bring new awareness - sometimes, of the whole path but more often than not, of just the next step.
A few weeks ago, I stumbled across this story and thought I'd share:
There’s a story about a young man hired to work in a coal mine. When they gave him his equipment, they told him: “Make sure you have an extra battery, so that your light will never fail.” They were talking about the light on his miner’s hat."
“But I have a question,” said the young man. “My light seems dim. It only shines for a couple of feet in front of me. If I’m underground in the dark, I can’t see what’s ahead in the tunnels. I can’t see anything except what’s right here in front of me.”“Don’t worry,” they told him. “If you have any light at all, you can see well enough to take one step. So take that one step confidently. And then there will be light for another step.”
A simple life is different for everyone. And for me, it has been something that I have defined and redefined over the years and over a number of small steps. I expect that as I grow, my definition of a simple life will continue to change as my needs change.
So what is *my* simple life at the moment? My simple life consists of:
- valuing and spending as much time with my children;
- buying as ethically as I can; and
- making choices that will help me physically, emotionally and, yes, even financially so I can do the above two.
The journey has been sometimes difficult but at all times, empowering.
What is simple living for you?
Photo by Globetoppers
Friday, August 21, 2009
(disclaimer: the following is all totally based on actual life experiences)
I'm not sure if it's the economy, or our current pace of life, but there seems to be a definite upswing in folks, especially younger generations, wanting to slow down to a simpler lifestyle with a do-it-yourself attitude. Once started on this track, the idea of canning and preserving your own food eventually comes up. I can't deny it - it's definitely an attractive proposition, but be forewarned: once started upon, it's a slippery slope.
Jams and jellies are the gateway drug. Maybe you spotted some fruit that could be gleaned from a tree in your neighborhood, maybe a colorful display at the Farmers Market drew you in. Whatever the source, you just have to try your hand at it. And no denying it - the results can be beautiful: sparkling jars full of jewel-toned goodness; the smug satisfaction of seeing them all lined up with pretty little labels; the warm contented feeling of a hunter/gatherer providing for your family. It's hard-wired into our DNA.
And it was so easy. You want to do more. Apples! Applesauce is easy! Soon, you'll move on to pickles (amazing how many things I've seen pickled). You start scouring garage sales for jars, haunting the second-hand shops for a pot big enough to use as waterbath canner or even, the Holy Grail of canning, a pressure canner. Everyone on your gift list (and even those that didn't know they were on your list) is going to get the fruits of your labor, your own home-canned goods, wrapped up in pretty fabric or tucked into decorated baskets. Now, don't get me wrong - that's not a bad thing (especially if you can get the recipients trained to return the empty jars).
But please, stop and think. Just how much processed sugar, salt, and vinegar do you and your loved ones really, actually, eat each year? If your canned goods aren't being used and replenished on a regular basis, you're just wasting both cupboard and jar space. I just checked - I still have a jar of peach jam made in 1998. We just don't eat that much jam. We have a friend that keeps bees - Aries would much rather put honey on his toast. I have another friend that makes the best strawberry freezer jam, and I'm on her gift list (and, I always give her one of my jars, right on the spot - I know how important that is). I've quit (pretty much, anyway - it's sooo hard to go completely cold turkey) making jams and jellies.
This suggestion is for those only thinking about canning too. Start tracking how much of anything you really do use in a year; and canners, how much is left over at the start of the next year's harvest (make a spreadsheet, start a journal, put hashmarks on a list taped inside your cupboard door - whatever works for you). You might not have to make every thing, every year. If spring frosts or blight kills off your harvest three years out of four, you might have to can enough to last for four years whenever you get the chance. Note too, the size of anything best suited to your family's use. If you only use a half-pint of applesauce at a time, filling up quart jars just because they were a good buy at a yard sale is crazy. Knowing, then making a plan, means you can optimize your jar space, storage space, and garden space.
Something else to think about: not only how you're going to store it (some preserved items I still need to keep refrigerated), but also how you're going to use your end product. Only high-acid items - fruits, pickles (made with commercial vinegar - homemade vinegars may not be acidic enough), and tomatoes (and with some varieties now being bred to be low-acid, I always add lemon juice to each jar, just to be safe) are safely preserved in a boiling water bath, and safe to eat cold. All other vegetables, and meats, must be pressure-canned, and then once opened brought to a full, rolling boil for a minimum of 10 minutes (20 minutes for spinach and corn) before tasting. I do have a few jars of green beans, but we much prefer the taste and texture of frozen. The canned ones turn to mush as a side dish - they're only used in winter soups, and I won't bother with canning them anymore.
Canning can be a wonderful and useful skill to have, but please, use it responsibly. I know. I've been there. My name is Sadge - I'm a canning addict.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
A recent craze that I have been very interested in lately is the Upside-Down Tomato Planter. There's a good chance you have heard of this before, known someone who has tried it, or even done it yourself. I thought I would add my two cents worth about them here.
The first time I grew a tomato plant out of the bottom of a planter was over 15 years ago, but in the past year or two it has become wildly popular. This is due mainly to the highly marketed Topsy Turvy Upside-Down Hanging Tomato Planter.
Before I tried the Topsy Turvy, I thought it was all hype. I tried it this year however and it actually does work well. You can read more about it on my blog. The fact of the matter is that you don't need a Topsy Turvy to grow upside down tomatoes. You can make a planter yourself and I've seen much written about different designs. Some of course are better than others but I've seen people use hanging baskets, buckets and two liter plastic bottles. The key to success when making your own is to have enough soil volume. The Topsy Turvy works because it is cylindrical which gives the roots more room. I'm fairly sure a two liter bottle does not allow enough root space.
If you have never grown tomatoes or any other vegetables from hanging planters before, you probably have some questions about doing it. I will attempt to address some here:
Why would I want to grow upside down tomatoes? Are there any benefits to doing so?
If you have plenty of space in the ground to grow your vegetables and you are not curious about growing upside down tomatoes then their is no benefit for you. If you don't have much room to grow crops in the ground however, then this may be great for you. Here is a picture of an inner-city dwelling that has zero yard associated with it. By using patio containers and hanging containers, they have a great little garden!
Half of their hanging planters are Topsy Turvys and half are made from buckets. As you can see, the results are about the same from both:
They also have chili peppers growing from one and cucumbers from another. Notice the cucumber hanging at the bottom of the planter on the right below:
These city dwellers illustrate the main benefit of using hanging containers for vegetables - They are a creative use of growing space. Other benefits are that you don't have to bend over to harvest your veggies and you can locate the planter close to your kitchen door and close to a water source. With tomatoes, upside-down planters are better than regular patio planters because there is no need for staking or caging the tomato plant. Last but not least, they are fun and great for kids too.
What kind of soil should be used in hanging containers?
Regular garden dirt should not be used in containers because it will compact too much. You should use a loose growing medium. I use organic potting soil with compost and coir (coconut fiber) or peat mixed in to hold moisture.
What about watering?
As with all container gardening, watering is the most difficult part. Vegetables need even more water than flowers, so you have to keep up with the watering. Just watch for the soil to be dry on the top few inches. If the plant begins to wilt, add water. Be careful not to be over zealous here though. Watering every day, even if the plant does not need it may cause more harm than good. Tomatoes especially don't like to stay wet and too much water can cause fungal problems.
Do you get more or fewer tomatoes with an upside-down planter?
That depends on a lot. If you are able to keep it growing well, a tomato plant will produce the same amount of fruit hanging upside down as it does right side up. The container aspect is what may change the outcome. I don't think you can expect as much harvest with container grown plants as you get in a garden bed. The roots do become restricted more in a container.
What are the drawbacks to upside-down planting?
As mentioned above, getting the watering correct could be considered a detriment. In addition to striving for the right amount of water, watering can cause another problem. When you water your hanging planter, excess water runs out the bottom of the container and gets the leaves wet. Tomato leaves tend to collect water because it is the underside of the leaves which can form a cup. This standing water can also cause disease problems on those leaves.
Another drawback for some people is that you have to find somewhere sturdy to hang them from. If your container has the right amount of soil, it gets pretty heavy and of course must hang for the entire growing season. Most people use a carport or porch roof to hang them from which can over-shade your planter. I have had success with hanging them from my deck's pergola.
The Topsy Turvy people offer a nice solution to the problem of where to hang the planters in their product, Topsy Turvy Tomato Tree which is offered on Amazon. This is basically one of their planters on a central stand and it is terribly expensive. A better looking solution but even more expensive is The Upside-down Tomato Garden. These are nice but at those prices, I suggest that if you don't have a place to hang upside-down planters - don't use them.
The final reason some people don't want to grow upside-down veggies is that they think it is ugly. Suspending a plant upside down is so unusual, it looks pretty strange and unattractive.
So what is my verdict? I like my upside down tomatoes and will continue to grow some. It is a bit of a challenge which I don't mind, and it is fun for me. I WILL NOT stop growing tomatoes in the ground the old fashioned way and don't suggest that for anyone.
If you have no ground growing space and want a tomato plant, I would give this a try. Upside down planters are also good as an addition to your regular garden, especially if your vegetable garden is on the smaller side.
So now its your turn - what do you think about upside-down tomato planters? Have you tried it? Do you want to try it? Do you think the drawbacks outweigh the benefits or does the fun and novelty outweigh the drawbacks? I'd love to know your thoughts.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
One Green Generation
As many of you know, Matt and I moved into a new home in downtown Seattle. With moving, of course, comes some amount of redesigning your home based on the new space, and replacing items that don't quite work with your new lifestyle.
We don't have much money, and we are trying to keep to a very low impact on the earth - in fact our goal is to have a net positive impact on the earth, rather than a negative one. Certainly there are a lot of things you can make, if you have the time. Nevertheless, there are some things that you just have to buy - because they are too difficult to make, or because you do not have enough hours in the day to make them. But one of the biggest barriers to buying sustainability is the inability to pay for a more expensive price tag on a sustainable item, right? Going into unsustainable debt to buy more sustainable furniture... is not really what we look for in life, is it?
Well, it has been a while since I have gone out and purchased household furniture, bedding, and so on. And what I discovered over the past two weeks is that fortunately, it's getting easier to find necessities that have a lower impact on the planet. For whatever reason - corporate social responsibility plans, consumer pressure, or a desire to have a lower planetary impact - mainstream retailers are beginning to carry ecologically- and sociologically- sound products. Sometimes you have to search the store for them - often they are tucked away in their own little section, or hidden between the less sound options - but they are there.
Now let me make clear right now that I am not advocating a sustainable lifestyle based solely on the idea of conscious consumerism. We can't save the world by buying things (and I highly encourage you to spend a year trying not to buy anything, as it will give you an interesting perspective). Most of the time, it is better for the earth if you can do without, make something yourself, trade via Freecycle or Craigslist or neighbors, or at least buy something used from a local thrift store. But there are times where buying is a more appropriate option, and when that happens, it is important to buy conscientiously and as sustainably as absolutely possible. It is these times that I am discussing now.
Yesterday my husband and I went to purchase pillows. We haven't bought pillows in several years and it was time. For years, I've searched online for sustainably-made pillows, but consistently they have been just plain prohibitively expensive. Much as I would love them, we cannot afford $100 for one organic cotton pillow. It's not an option for us. For that reason, I've waited too long to replace our old, old, old pillows. But with my asthma, it is necessary - and it was time to bite the bullet. So with a fair amount of guilt, we went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond resolved to buy a non-sustainable option that we could afford.
We made a beeline past the miscellaneous "as seen on tv" odds and ends, through the millions of cookware, the table cloths, the towels, and finally to the pillow bins. "Ah, ok, we said: $16.99. I guess those are our pillows." And I paused, uneasily. Biding time toward the inevitable unsustainable purchase, I browsed around a bit, and ... low and behold, there they were: hypo-allergenic, non-bleached cotton pillows, with recycled polyester fill, in a biodegradable bag. ... For $14.99!! Ah ha!
They're the most comfortable pillows we have had in a very long time. Sure, they're not organic cotton-filled pillows, but until we have the $100 to spend, $14.99 for near-sustainability is pretty darn good.
If you spend just a little extra time in any store, chances are you will find a more sustainable option. We moved from a very small apartment to a place that is literally twice the size - but with zero storage space - so we did buy a few pieces of furniture. And we found that by looking hard enough, we found low-cost sustainable options in Ikea, Cost Plus, Target, and Pier 1 - in addition to our local thrift stores.
Bamboo is becoming a popular low-cost, sustainable option when looking for furniture and other things normally made of wood (including our new bamboo coasters for under $5). Cleaning materials are easy - vinegar, soap, and water will clean 90% of what you need to clean. Moving materials - there are now several good eco options. Plus pens, paper, light bulbs, shower curtains, pots and pans, rugs, lamps, napkins, .... you name it, and generally you can find a more-sustainable option that is still low in cost. While not every one of our household items are made from sustainable materials, given our low budget, we do a pretty darn good job.
Oh, and getting rid of things we no longer needed? We gave EVERYTHING to neighbors, friends, and our local thrift store benefitting neighbors with HIV/AIDS.
So, if you have to buy a household item, take a bit of extra time to find that more sustainable option - you might just find it's even cheaper!
Monday, August 17, 2009
By Notes From The Frugal Trenches
I planned this post before I read the wonderful post yesterday by Bel about Burnout. It is a post I could really relate to. When I left the corporate world I had so many ideas, so many plans and oh so many lists. I wanted to learn to knit, sew, crochet, grow my own fruits & veggies, have flowers perfect for giving away, learn how to make jam & preserves, and bread too. I could just see myself being an amazing cake maker, flower arranger and seamstress. I look back now and see just how much expectation I was putting on myself and what a recipe for disaster it was going to be, of course at the time I couldn't see it. None of the veggies I tried to grow this year worked, neither did the strawberries. My knitting is moving along at a snail's pace, we won't discuss my sewing abilities or crochet skills.
The truth was, I was transferring the busyness of a corporate career into busyness at home. I was measuring success by how many new skills I learned and how bountiful my growing abilities were. Hardly simple and hardly joyous. It took one failed crop to make me realize that I was supposed to be learning to live a new, simpler, quieter more joyous life, not a life measured by the number of skills I had. I knew there had to be a better way, a more balanced way, a more wholesome way.
So I stopped, instead of daily and weekly lists of achievements I must accomplish, I created a vision of experiences I'd like to have and either realistic time frames or no time frames at all. I'd like to crochet a blanket for someone who is homeless or a child in an orphanage, not become an expert in crochet. I'd like to grow some fruit and make a fruit salad with fruit from my garden, not be inundated with more apples that I know what to do with in year one of my new journey - although I hold out hope for year 5 or 10 ;0). Simple changes & less pressure have made all the difference, I've gone back to seeing a simple life as a joyous one, not something I'm failing miserably at.
Over the past two weeks on my personal blog I've been blogging about reclaiming simple Sundays. There are no rules, just an acknowledgement that for most of us each day is filled with tasks we "need" to accomplish and lists of things to do. The point of reclaiming one day each week to do simple activities is to find joy, to make time for nothing in particular, to step away from errands, away from shops, away from stress and just be alone or together, making time for the joy found in nothing.
I've already found with just two days dedicated to nothing more than long walks, or a spot or knitting, perhaps some prayer or quiet reflection that there is a great deal to be said for nothing, and that nothing is perhaps filled with the most important somethings.
Do you practice setting time aside each week for quiet reflection, peaceful activities and rest?
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden
I'm a person who likes to stay busy. I homeschool my six children, cook a lot from scratch, run a home-based business, write, grow food and animals, volunteer and generally just DO too much. Sometimes I need to take a conscious step back. I'm sure it's true for a lot of us that too many simple things can create a complicated life!
As described by Sarah Ban Breathnach in her bestseller, Simple Abundance… “It’s burnout when you go to bed exhausted every night and wake up tired every morning – when no amount of sleep refreshes you, month after weary month. It’s burnout when everything becomes too much effort: combing your hair, going out to dinner, visiting friends for the weekend, even going on vacation. It’s burnout when you find yourself cranky all the time, bursting into tears or going into fits of rage at the slightest provocation. It’s burnout when you dread the next phone call. It’s burnout when you feel trapped and hopeless, unable to dream, experience pleasure, or find contentment. It’s burnout when neither the big thrills nor the little moments have the power to move you – when nothing satisfies you because you haven’t a clue what’s wrong or how to fix it. Because everything’s wrong. Because something’s terribly out of whack: you.”
For me, it’s simple living burnout when take-away, or packaged food, or not recycling, or buying something rather than making it all seem like better options. When it’s not fun any more. When we are no longer excited by our journey… If you feel like this, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your simple living route has come to its end, but perhaps it’s time to change your habits, your plans, or your environment. Or perhaps take a break from routine and get back to basics (and ‘basics’ will mean different things to each person.)
Despite much preparation and forethought, there are some moments when I lose sight of our reasons for choosing this lifestyle for our family, and just crave a bit of so-called normality, some time on my own, and a nap! At times I have a few doubts about my commitment to living simply, and begin to wonder whether or not mainstream alternatives are so terrible after all… Then as soon as things run smoothly, I find joy in the cream turning into butter or the first blossoms on the stone fruit trees, or the perfect white egg warm in my hand.
Remaining focused can be a matter of re-reading your favourite self-sufficiency books. Sometimes I will steal an hour to read and pore over photos of chooks, trees and fences - to daydream and plan and be grateful and proud of our achievements. A few moments remembering our goals and taking stock can be enough to refuel the fire.
It’s worth taking steps to avoid burnout even if it seems like it couldn’t happen to you. Your children, partner, plants, animals, friends, colleagues and family all need you to be as healthy and contented as possible. I’m reminded of Covey’s idea of “sharpening the saw”. Taking the time to sharpen your saw will assist you in getting through the tough times – in our family it is illness, too little time at home or financial pressures – for you it may be something entirely different. It might even be the build up of many things that bother you. And if you’ve no time for the garden, unread books on the bedside table, a fitness regime abandoned, yoga classes have gone by the wayside or [fill in your own unfulfilled needs] then your saw will be dull. Eat well, exercise and don’t take on more than you can cope with. Take time for you…
I’ve always been an advocate in remaining as organised as one feels comfortable with. For me that includes the whole plethora of organisational tools – a diary, a calendar, homeschooling plans, menus, lists for household chores, shopping and errands. Along the way I've had to learn to delegate by encouraging our children to do their chores and help me with other work. Sharing jobs around the home makes more sense than having one person responsible for most of the work. At one stage I had to take delegating a bit further and use paid help. For some reason it still seems a bit luxurious, but at that time of our lives it was the perfect option for staying afloat in the midst of chaos.
Simple living folk are contenders for burnout due not only to the workload we take on compared to many other households, but the isolation we often find ourselves in – with no one to bounce ideas off, have a whinge to or share resources with… We soldier on because we’re meant to - it was our idea to do all this! After deciding to undertake something ourselves – despite often facing a lot of negative response from family, friends, institutions and sometimes even our partners – we can feel that we must not ask for help in order to save face. Do you find yourself in this situation? Are you afraid to ask for assistance when you need it because you feel as though others will think you’ve brought all your woes upon yourselves? I am. Though I’m discovering the benefits of accepting offers of help, and being realistic about how much I can comfortably manage alone. The adage “It takes a village to raise a child” springs to mind. I think it takes more than one person to run a household or keep a property too. Sharing work makes sense.
Another way I find support is by regular contact with others living similar lifestyles. Sometimes this involves going to meetings, but I also enjoy conversations via telephone, letters, e-mail and internet forums. I’m also uplifted by reading others’ stories in books, blogs and magazines.
How do you avoid burnout?
* adapted from a 2002 article written for homeschoolers
Saturday, August 15, 2009
The harvest season is reaching a high point at this point in the season. Hardy winter vegetables are putting on growth in the garden, and the first apples are coming in. Our first apple to ripen is the Yellow Transparent. I wrote about why I think this variety belongs in every frugal garden that is concerned with self-reliance here.
I prepared some for canning chunky applesauce.
Made a pie.
Apple pies are the easiest to make of all fruit pies. No thickener needed, I don't peel these either, just add seasoning to taste, dot with butter and bake.
So I literally called on memories of what my mom had taught me about waste not, want not. When she made her chunky applesauce, she would save the peels and cores and cook those down for apple butter. After cooking, she would run the cooked apple peelings and cores through the food mill, add spices and cook the apple butter down to a thick, mahogany treat.
I need extra canned goods for Christmas gifts and this would be a perfect way to add to my Christmas canning cabinet.
Normally, I would share these apple leavings with the hens and milk cow, but I saved some damaged apples for them and decided to see just what I could glean from about 12 pounds of apples.
While I was canning my applesauce, I put the pie in the oven, and cooked down the peelings. I had about a 5 quart saucepan of peelings and cores, I added two cups of water to prevent sticking, cooked these until soft and then ran them through the food mill.
This is all that is left of that small box of apples. The yield for apple butter was about 7 cups of sauce.
For apple butter, I added sugar and spices to taste. As it cooks over several days, it will thicken and get darker.
Cook to desired thickness and can for long term storage or gifts, or you could store this in the refrigerator for several weeks.
To can this apple butter, heat apple butter in crock pot and ladle into sterilized jars leaving 1/4 headspace, process 10 minutes in water bath canner.