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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Positively Committed

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

















For just shy of the last three weeks, I've been volunteering with children in orphanages some of whom are special needs and others are in hospice care. It was, hands down, the most amazing experience of my life. There was intense sadness and grief and yet incredible joy and peace. I learned so much about simple happiness and joy from those special special souls. And I came away with an incredible determination about how important the simple life is.

While I was away a friend emailed me the saying "living simply, so others can simply live" that phrase had made her commit to sponsoring another child bringing the grand total to 3 and making the commitment to build a school in Africa next year instead of taking a holiday. Like me, these decisions will mean what most would think of as major sacrifices. Personally, apart from buying 1 new pair of leggings pre-trip, I couldn't tell you the last time I bought clothing, or books or mindlessly spent. I don't have a lot of money but I love what my money is spent on since I left the rat race behind and began to embrace the true joy found in simple living.

This trip provided much needed affirmation about just how much I love that I no longer need expensive girly weekends away taking money from my budget, when I can use the money in other ways or simply work less. I no longer need to meet friends on a Saturday and shop for things I don't need, when I can hike, volunteer at my local animal shelter, bake or sit around with a wonderful group of women discussing books and knitting.

On my trip, I had four outfits, limited choice of food, a tiny tiny room to call my own. I was with the children 10 hours + a day and yet everything about it was simple, through the whole trip there was no need to go anywhere or stress and nothing to distract me from my calling. It was simple, it was joyous.

Since I arrived home, I've been thinking about just how amazing a reminder of why we are on this path is, just how necessary and important. I had mine over the last three weeks, I'd love to hear yours?

What reminds you that making these simple, small changes is important? What helps you keep focused on the goal of living how you want to live and what your success is vs. what society thinks success is about?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Little Cash on Hand

by Chiot's Run

There are so many types of emergencies that we need to be prepared for big ones, small ones, short ones and long ones. Chances are, most of us will never experience a big major emergency, but it's wise to be prepared. Your preparation efforts for these large scale emergencies can be built over a period of time (stocking the pantry, water filters, generator, emergency heater, etc). The small emergencies are the ones we really need to be ready for right now, they can happen to any of us at any time. What kinds of things do we need to be prepared for a small emergency, especially those you might encounter while away from home? Here are a few things you should carry in your vehicles or in your purse so you're prepared for those small emergencies that may arise while you're out and about.

In our cashless society it's easy to never have to carry any cash, but there are times when it's necessary. You may think you can run to the ATM for some cash if you need it, but if a storm comes through and the electric is out that might not be the case. Several years ago we had the remnants of a hurricane roll through and we were without power for 4 days. Not only were we without power, but so was the surrounding area. The bank didn't have power at first and the ATM was not working, the local gas station didn't have power to run their credit card machines and they were only accepting cash. Fortunately we had some cash to cover what we needed at the time. Maybe you won't experience a loss of power and the ATM being closed, but it could be something much more simple. Like being somewhere and needing $10 in cash and realizing you don't have any in your wallet, perhaps your husband grabbed it or one of your kids needed it for school. Or maybe you stop for gas and realize they don't take credit (there are still stations around here like that). It's always wise to have a little cash stashed in the car just in case. You can determine what amount makes you comfortable, or what you think with comfortably cover any "emergency" you many have, perhaps enough to cover a tank of gas is a good rule of thumb. Keeping some cash around the house is also a good idea, keep whatever amount you think will comfortably cover a few emergency needs.

Make sure you have supplies in your vehicles for minor medical emergencies. Keep a first aid kit in your vehicle at all times and make sure it's stocked. We have a kit in each of our cars and each year I get it out and make sure it's stocked with fresh supplies, swap out aspirin/meds and check to make sure the bandaids are still sticky. You don't want to be stuck needing them and not having them or having them be out of date. You don't have to buy a special one, but they are handy if you don't have the time to make one yourself (here's one that's only $9). Although making a few with your children would be a good way to teach them the value of being prepared.

Keep a few flashlights in your car and even in your purse and a small pocket knife or multi-tool. You never know when a flashlight might come in handy, drop your keys in the ditch, the lights go out in the store, your trunk light goes out. They sell all different sizes of flashlights to fit every need you have, from tiny keychain lights that only cost $5-$10 to big maglites that can take a beating rolling around in your trunk. We have a few of the large ones and I have 5-6 of these Mini Maglites placed all over the house. Of course you need to make sure you have some extra batteries and maybe a spare bulb or two as well. We keep candles in the house, but those aren't really convenient to keep in the car.

Having some water and snacks on hand is also a great idea when you're away from home. It's a great habit to get into, not only will you save money but you'll have some in case you need it. I have a bag that sits by the back door with some homecanned applesauce and bottles of water. Before we head out the door I'll throw in some nuts and dried fruit and a few other snacks. Not only does this allow me to have some healthy snacks in case I'm out longer than expected (which happens often when you're running errands, especially when the closest store is 30 min away), but I also save money because I don't end up buying water or food while I'm out. There area few other other things you might want to consider carrying in your car as well: some string, scissors, jumper cables, blankets in winter, an extra coat, etc.

How do you prepare for those little emergencies? Do you have any great tips for things to carry in the car "Just in Case"?


I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Not Dabbling in Normal, and you can follow me on Twitter.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A simple garden recipe

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

The long days of summer are full of activities, and I find I have less time to cook, even though fresh ingredients are abundant this time of year. Here is a simple recipe I gleaned from a local CSA newsletter. I use this frequently and mix and match greens depending on what is available in the garden. This week it is Bok Choy, Silverbeet, Spinach and garlic scapes. I don't have pine nuts or golden raisins on hand either, but have found that hazelnuts, or pumpkins seeds provide a good stand-in for pine nuts, and dried Italian prunes, cherries or cranberries can offer as much flavor as golden raisins. Just use what ever you have in your garden and pantry and experiment, that is half the fun of cooking!


Swiss Chard with Raisins and Pine Nuts

Adapted from Food to Live By, by Myra Goodman

1 bunch Swiss chard
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons garlic scapes, minced
grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup raisins (golden raisins have a nice flavor, but any kind will do)
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Rinse the chard and cut the ribs off the leaves. Cut the ribs into 1/2 inch dice and set aside. Stack the leaves and cut them into 1/2 inch strips. Set the leaves aside separately. Heat olive oil over medium heat in large, heavy pot or large, deep skillet with a tight fitting lid. Add the garlic scapes and chard ribs and cook, uncovered, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the chard leaves and cook, stirring frequently, about 1 minute. Add 2 tablespoons water, most of the lemon zest, and the raisins. Cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chard is tender and the water has almost evaporated, 4 to 8 minutes. If the water evaporates before the chard is tender, add an additional splash of water. Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the pine nuts, and season the chard with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately garnished with remaining lemon zest.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Simple Party

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

We have just hosted a party for over 100 people. We had live bands, dancing, a buffet meal, cake and coffee. And it wasn’t expensive or a lot of work.

Initially, I began with a huge 2-column to-do list. First I booked the hall – a country hall with well-equipped kitchen, huge stage, dance floor, all tables and chairs, crockery and cutlery. There isn't enough room or facilities at our place for such a large event.

I figured out a menu including vegetarian options and got a few guests and LETS friends to make some of the hot dishes. I bought the meat and fish frozen in bulk in the weeks preceding the party and arranged for two BBQs to cook with on the night – my husband’s wonderful friend cooked the BBQ for us again. I ordered all of the bread, rolls and a cake from a local bakery. I took some of the condiments etc from home, and bought the rest with the salad ingredients on the morning of the party.

Decorations were simple balloons and “40” printed from the computer in Joker font a few dozen times, and cut into squares of about 10cm a side. Our children stuck these all along the stage, the bar, in the entrance, and other places, along with a lot of balloons. Tables were covered with lengths of blank newspaper roll I bought for $5 from the newsagents.

I asked guests to bring their own drinks, and either some pre-dinner snacks (chips, dip, crackers, cheese, etc) or a sweet. Several guests stepped in to help set up tables, cut up salad, clean the BBQ, wash dishes and other tasks. This cut down on the work and expense for us considerably!


All of the entertainment was provided by our family and friends as we are blessed to have a lot of musicians in our lives.

Overall, it was a fantastic night and another example of good preparation and keeping things simple working out very well for our family! How do you keep things affordable when entertaining? Any good tips to share? And what about all of these leftovers! Wow!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Make Your Own Takeout: Hot and Sour Soup!

By Abby of Love Made The Radish Grow

I have had a hot and sour soup recipe in queue to try for awhile. This one is soooo fast, soooo easy and soooo good. It was a great, fast lunch today, and will be on a regular rotation now at our house. I started with a recipe I had found at The Kitchn, but modified it quite a bit to make sure it fit what I had on hand, and to make things a bit more local. Even my toddler ate a big bowl! This makes quite a bit-enough for a meal, and is far better than what you can get with normal takeout, saving time and money and using up some of those eggs that, I don't know about you, but my gals are laying like crazy!

Hot and Sour Soup

6 button mushrooms (dried shitake or straw mushrooms would work well here, too, but you need to soak them in boiling water for at least an hour before making this. Really, any fresh mushroom will work, just slice them in and put them in the soup, no soaking needed)
1 pound ground pork or breakfast style pork sausage
1/4 medium onion, chopped
1 quart chicken stock, fresh or canned
salt
soy sauce
1/2 t ground pepper
3 tbsp vinegar
3 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 4 TBSP. cold water
1 egg, lightly beaten
Sesame seed oil
1 scallion, finely chopped
****edited to add fresh grated ginger, about 1/2 T to 1T. Add when you add the other seasoning (before the egg)

In a large stockpot, brown and crumble the pork. Once it is mostly cooked, add the onion, and saute a bit, until it starts to soften. Add the mushrooms and chicken stock. I added another 2-4 cups of water to this, in order to make enough soup for the whole family as a main dish. At this point you will add the seasoning base, then start tasting until you get the flavor just right. This really varies from person to person, so you NEED to TASTE the soup as it heats through, otherwise it will turn out too bland or salty. So...
Start with 3 T soy sauce and 3 T vinegar, plus the pepper. If the salt tastes fine, you don't need anymore soy sauce. If you like your soup spicy, add a little cayenne or hot pepper flakes, but let it cook a minute or two before you taste again or add more. It takes a minute for the flavors of those items to develop. The vinegar is what makes this soup sour, so don't skimp. I start with the three T, but ended up adding quite a bit more. You just never want to start with a large amount-you can undo too little, but undoing too much is far trickier. This last time around I used a red wine vinegar, but about any will work. Once you have the flavor right (salty, sour, slightly spicy is what you're shooting for) mix up the cornstarch. This, once again, is a personal preference. If you like your soup really thick, mix up more cornstarch, if not, then the original amount should be plenty. Once you've got that added, beat your egg and add it, a little at a time, and mix it in so you have strands of egg throughout the soup. Then you can serve it!

Addition ideas:
bamboo shoots
water chestnuts or jicama
cabbage or carrot shreds
other meats, in pieces

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Deviating From The Norm

written by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

I have found that by living my life in a less complex, more greener, and by spending my money wisely, that I have begun to drastically deviate from the normal way of living that others expect.  I will try and explain what I mean by this by way of examples.

I don't use credit cards.  As I have explained in my own blog, I believe that Debt = Slavery, in another guise.   Debt is a contract that you enter into with a financial institution that you must honour, by law.  It is a burden that must be repaid.

So, to be truly free, we must become debt free, and owe nothing to anyone in the form of loans that bare interest.  No Debt = Freedom.  So therefore, I am attempting to pay down all my debt, including my mortgage in the next five years!  When I tell other this in general conversation, I get so many questions and weird looks that you would think I had a big letter L branded on my forehead.  Not normal.

I make my own stuff.   I build things, like chicken coops, garden beds, greenhouses, and to make cheese, jams, preserves, bread, to name a few.  Friends know why I do these things, but acquaintances always ask me how much it cost to make, or how much time it took, or that they would never have the time to do that.  Well, I let them know that it is for the pleasure of having done it myself, and to learn new skills that may be required in the near future.  Even more strange looks and heads shaking in disbelief.  Not normal.

I like to have my voice heard.  Sometimes, when I attend climate change rallies, or write letters to politicians about important issues, I tell other what I have done.  You should see the look of shock on their faces, as if the things I do went out in the 1960's.  I think that I am more hip than hippy, so I don't actually understand their lack of action.  More people should stand up for what they honestly believe in, because these days we really need more activism if we are help others understand the urgency that is required.  Not normal, but becoming more common amongst others which is encouraging.

The above points are just a few examples, but even my thought processes are different than the norm. However, I think that that is enough abnormal behaviour for now, and I will talk about that subject in my next post in two weeks time. ;-)

How do you deviate from the norm in the context of simple, green and frugal living?  What do you do so differently that no-one else around you does?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Chronicles of a New Garden: pesto from home-grown basil

by Francesca
FuoriBorgo

Today I noticed my basil had grown enough to allow me to make the first pesto of the season. Below is the traditional Italian recipe for pesto from home-grown basil, which I originally posted on FuoriBorgo here.

trofie al pesto


Few foods embody the Mediterranean summer better than pesto, a traditional Ligurian herb paste and pasta sauce that perfectly blends the diverse fragrances and flavors of this land. Pesto can be made very easily - and cheaply - at home. You can adjust the flavorings to your own tastes, and even grow its chief ingredient - basil - in your garden or in pots on your terrace: just 6 to 10 basil plants, planted correctly, will grow into bushes that yield a nice weekly crop, enough for a weekly supply of pesto over the summertime.



Traditional pesto is made with ingredients that are the essence of the Italian peninsula: the leaves of basil, a Mediterranean aromatic plant (there is also a very local Genovese basil variety); garlic; extra-virgin olive oil; Parmesan or pecorino cheese; and the seeds of the Umbrella Pine, a Mediterranean evergreen.



Pesto is easy to make, and is the perfect summer sauce for pasta and lasagna, as well as a tasty spread on bread. It keeps for several days in the refrigerator, and can also be frozen. Homemade pesto doesn't have the emerald green color of store-bought pesto, because what you buy in stores has added antioxidants. Basil, in fact, oxidizes easily, but with a few precautions you can reduce its natural darkening.



~ HOW TO MAKE PESTO FROM YOUR HOME-GROWN BASIL ~



40 fresh basil leaves
1 handful of pine nuts
1 clove of garlic
5 tbsp grated Parmesan (or 4 tbsp Parmesan and 1 tbsp pecorino)
salt
extra-virgin olive oil



(Quantities are from a recipe from this local cuisine book. Once you've made pesto a few times, you'll find that you really don't need to refer to a recipe at all, and can start improvising based on your own tastes and ingredients.)



~ Growing and harvesting basil - 40 fresh basil leaves

basill leaves


Growing Season:
Basil is an annual aromatic pant, and can be grown surprisingly easy at home, if you follow a few basic rules. Basil must have a full-sun exposure, and be sheltered from wind. Also, it doesn't do well if nighttime temperatures dip below 50F (10C), so if you grow it outdoors, plant it well past the last frost date, and harvest it when the summer temperatures begin to decline.



Spacing:
Basil can grow into a fairly tall, bushy plant, but it needs space - 6" (15 cm) between plants - and if you buy it in pots you must divide the little plants before transplanting them.



You'll find more information on how to grow basil from seeds and/or indoors here.



Harvesting:


harvesting basil

top of basil after harvesting


Harvesting basil when it reaches a height of 4" (10cm) strengthens the plant. Always cut off the top of the plant and of the larger branches when the little side leafy shoots start to appear - this encourages the growth of more leaves, and soon your basil plant will become a vigorous bush.


basil flowering


Whenever you see a flower beginning to grow - green at first and shaped almost like little leaves - prune it immediately. Flowering will inevitably happen by the end of summer, but you want your plant to grow and produce leaves as long as possible!



When you plants have grown to about 8" - 20cm long, and have become generous bushes with lots of side branches, you can start harvesting the larger leaves as well.



Washing and storing leaves:
Wash and dry basil leaves, handling them gently because they bruise easily. If you don't use them immediately, you can store them for a couple of days in the refrigerator in an air-tight container, a damp paper towel placed at the bottom for moisture. (Otherwise they wilt.)



~ Pine Nuts - one handful

pine cones and nuts


Umbrella pines produce roundish pine cones full of oblong little nuts. They are small, with a soft, buttery texture, a delicate aroma, and an almost sweet taste. They are expensive in stores, but are an essential ingredient in pesto. (I've had pesto made with other nuts - cashews and walnuts are a common substitutes - but they just aren't as good.) You only need a handful to make pesto; refrigerate the rest or they may go rancid. (You do not toast pine nuts for pesto!)



~ Garlic - one clove


garlic



~ Parmesan - 5 tbsp grated


parmisan



~ Extra-virgin olive oil


A little olive oil goes into the pesto as it's being made, but mainly the oil is used in storing the paste, and drizzling over the pasta at meal time.



~ Making pesto


mortar


Traditionally, pesto was made by pounding the ingredients with a wood pestle in a mortar of Carrara marble (available here). There is a reason for this: pounding tears up the leaves and releases the essential oils in the basil, bringing out its full flavor.



Mixing ingredients:

pesto paste


Otherwise, though, use an electric mixer - not so traditional, but much handier. First grind the pine nuts finely. Then add grated Parmesan (I actually add it in little cubes and let the mixer do the grating), garlic, basil, a little olive oil, and a pinch of salt, and mix until you get a thick paste.



Storing:
You can either freeze your pesto, or store it in an air-tight container in the fridge. In the latter case, press the pesto down into the container so no air bubbles are left inside it, and pour over enough olive oil to cover it completely: the oil helps prevent oxidizing and acts as a natural preserving agent. Pesto keeps up to a week in the fridge.



~ Trofie al pesto


trofie


Fresh trofie, a thin and twisted shaped pasta, is the traditional accompaniment for pesto. Whatever pasta shape you use, just before you drain it, scoop out some of the cooking water with a ladle and stir it into your pesto paste, to make a creamy sauce. Stir this pesto sauce into your drained pasta, drizzle olive oil over the top, and serve it up hot!


eating trofie

Buon appetito!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Of Beekeeping and Enchanted Groves


by, Danelle Stamps at The Stamps Family Farm (My Total Perspective Vortex)


Most of the week our farm has looked like this. We have had a lot of rain, flash flooding, 50-70 MPH winds, and in general a whole lot of mud sloppery. Our pigs are in hog heaven with all the mud and cool rain. Our tomatoes also seem to like it. Two of our bean beds were washed out and I missed the window for a lot of things to be planted. Now the ground is WET and more than wet. I can't plant beans in a marsh. So instead of wallowing in the mud I decided to get things done that I can do in this weather. Paint the kitchen. Make jam. Play with and read to my lovely children. Run outside and quickly do bee chores when we get an hour of calm sunshine.


One of the sunny hours I rushed out to do bee chores and Lily grabbed the back up camera to take a couple pictures of mama in the spacesuit. 


You will see that I do not wear a full suit. I still wear gloves and the veil and the white shirt though. I found that my normal clothes are too predator like in colour. Also that the bees get stuck in my hair. My hand are too busy for their liking as well. This is the get up that prevents me from getting stung. I also usually wear boots, but I forgot and wore rubber clogs and was totally fine. Also, I work the back of the hives because my belly and my knee tend to bump the front and that makes them get buzzing more.

I also had to add a box. The cranky hive (the ladies that gave me 10 stings) was finally full and needed more room.  The boxes are beautiful. I am so glad I am apprenticing with Sean at Blue Gate Farm. He really puts a lot of care into the construction of the hives and doesn't mind that I get chatty and ask a lot of questions.


Lily took this picture. She says its proof the grove is enchanted and full of faeries.  My Aunt Deedle will appreciate this, she's a big believer in cameras capturing the supernatural. I think it's poor lighting and a 1.2 MP with a dirty lens. Still, it does look magical in real life too. Minus the ghost bubbles. (Also, see the mud in the foreground? The whole farm is a marsh.)


We chose this grove because of the trees that block the Western sun and the trees that block the Northern wind.  It is near a water source, but not too close that they would be flooded. Close enough to the house to check on easily. An opening enough to keep mowed and relatively flat ground. It was all just right. Just so right.

Hope the weather is treating you all well!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Time for a Shot?

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
This is a repost from last year; but still a timely reminder. When I first posted it, many of the comments were about the pros and cons regarding infant immunizations. This is an informational post aimed strictly at adults. Parents will want to do their own research, and make their own decisions, regarding the health care of their children. ~Sadge

When I was about eight years old, and visiting my Granny on her farm in Texas, I stepped on a rusty nail while exploring around back of some old sheds. I limped back up to the house, the inside of my shoe squishy with blood. Mom washed my foot with soap and hot water, checking to make sure no debris was left inside the deep puncture wound. Then Granny sat me down in the kitchen, my foot soaking in a pan filled with hot water and a heaping handful of Epsom Salts, "to draw out the toxin," she said.

"Lockjaw!" I heard from every adult relative that came in and saw me sitting there. I'd seen The Wizard of Oz. I imagined the rust from the nail creeping up through my body, freezing me up just like the Tin Woodman, until I couldn't even utter the word, "oilcan" (good thing I didn't know it would also mean painful muscle spasms throughout the entire body, plus elevated temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate, on-going for weeks). Mom assured me I'd be fine - I'd had my DT shots, before I started school just a couple of years earlier. I didn't know what a Deety was, I was just glad I had it.

Ten years later, when I was ready to go away to college, I first had to submit my immunization records. The university told me I needed a DT booster vaccination (which I now knew stood for Diphtheria/Tetanus) - the immunity lapses after 10 years. I've made sure to keep my immunity updated every decade since.

So why am I writing about this in a sustainable living blog? I now know rust doesn't cause Tetanus, but rusty cans and nails can often be found in areas harboring tetanus bacteria. The rough surface of a rusty object provides the perfect habitat for the tetanus bacteria to reside, and the sharp edges can make just the sort of break in your skin that provides the bacteria a route into your body. Tetanus bacteria spores are carried in the feces of animals, such as horses, cattle, chickens, dogs, cats, and guinea pigs. Anyone cleaning up after animals, making compost from manure, or using it in the garden, comes in contact with tetanus bacteria. Just getting your hands dirty while in your garden means you're probably carrying the spores on your skin. Tetanus bacteria thrives in hot, damp climates where the soil is rich in organic matter - exactly the type of environment organic gardeners strive to create.

Tetanus occurs when an open wound becomes contaminated with the bacteria. I know there are plenty of opportunities to cut, scratch, and puncture myself while working in my garden - splinters, insect bites, working around the cut ends of chicken wire, pruning roses and my particularly vicious blackberry brambles, to name only a few. Mom knew, even if you have a current tetanus vaccination, it's still necessary to immediately wash open wounds thoroughly with soap and water. Regarding Granny's Epsom Salts treatment - soaking in salt water really does draw toxins out of a wound - certainly not a substitute for a doctor's care in serious situations, but I do think it a natural remedy worth mentioning.

Vaccines can prevent tetanus, but the immunity needs to be updated every 10 years. Since it can take up to two weeks for the antibodies to form, if you need a booster shot try to get it before your gardening season starts. Tetanus is fatal in 10 to 20% of reported cases (death occurs mainly in adults over 60, also the most likely to have let their immunity lapse), but even in less severe cases, with treatment, full recovery can take more than a year. Being sick and miserable, especially when it's easily preventable, makes no sense to me. I'd rather be safe than sorry, and stay healthy out there in my garden.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Loving the Seasonal Life

by Chiot's Run

As I strive to eat more seasonally I find myself enjoying each item more than I ever have. I've always loved strawberries, and usually we consumed them mostly during their season, but I'd occasionally buy them at the grocery. They were never as good though, a shell of what a sun ripened strawberry picked in the back yard or at a local farm is. No doubt because they were grown thousands of miles away, trucked to a supermarket near me then purchased by me a week or so after they were picked green.



Now that I'm focusing on eating seasonally I know that the fresh strawberries I'm eating now are the only ones I'll get until next June, save for a few I freeze. That makes me enjoy them all the more. My favorite way to eat strawberries: on shortcake. And not those spongy too sweet round cake discs, I make a lightly sweetened biscuit flecked with crystallized ginger. We crumble the biscuit in a bowl, top with freshly sliced strawberries and pour some fresh raw milk on top. You just can't beat that as a deliciously fresh seasonal summer meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

What's your favorite "in season" food at the moment?

I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Not Dabbling in Normal, and you can follow me on Twitter.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Making do when challenges come your way

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

It has been a challenging year here in the Pacific Northwest weather-wise, for gardeners and farmers. I wrote several weeks ago about my gardening challenges during the rainiest spring (since 1888) on record. This week I will share some of the challenges the rainy weather has had on our other livestock.

While our cattle have enjoyed the cool, damp weather and the pastures have flourished, our meat chicken flock has been in a holding pattern waiting for more moderate weather.

Ideally, we brood our chickens for about 3 weeks and then move them outside to their floorless pasture shelter for the remainder of their grow out time. This year the challenge was finding a window of 3 days or so for them to make the transition. It didn't happen. During the month of May and now into June our location never had more than about 20 hours without rain. I learned a long time ago not to be afraid to break the "rules." I could have stuck to my guns and pastured those birds from 3 weeks, but it wouldn't have been prudent to do so. On one hand we want them to have access to fresh pasture, but the flip side of this too, is that we also don't want them to be miserable, and consuming food just to keep warm. So we waited and we brought greens to the chickens, and patiently waited for spate of sunny days.


Finally, a stretch of dry weather was forecast, so yesterday we caught the broilers and pullets and moved them outside to their pen. The easiest low stress way (for them and us) is to just use a piece of plywood to block a few in the corner of the brooder at a time. Any scrap will do, this one happens to be my hanging plant shelf, and is about 2' x 8'.


Moving to greener pastures.

To move the birds a short distance and to make the move easier on everyone, we use what we call the CHICKSHAW. Basically a wheelbarrow with a lid of some sort. My husband had fashioned quite an elaborate Chickshaw out of an old wheel barrow, complete with a hinged lid, but it has seen better days. So we just improvised, and used a scrap piece of hardware cloth for a makeshift lid on our stable cleaning wheelbarrow.


Arriving at their new home.



Ideally, I would have liked to have the birds on pasture sooner, but we have to play the cards we are dealt. There are always pros and cons to everything and on the positive side, while the birds were in, we were able to add to the compost pile with the extra manure and bedding.

Signing on to raise our own food, sometimes means changing direction and following a different route.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Growing food for Livestock

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

We have 20 acres of grass which supplies most of the food required, year-round, for our 2 horses, house cow and calves. It doesn’t snow here, and frosts are mild only browning off the lowest sections of grass. The grasses grown here are tropical varieties on which cattle do well, but horses do not always do so well. We supplement the horses with minerals and have a mineral lick available for all of the grazing animals to access as they need it. One of our horses is a bit fat, the other has been affected by the high levels of oxalates in local pasture and doesn’t do so well here. With supplements we hope he can improve condition. It is interesting that they metabolise the same feed differently, like humans I guess.

Choko leaves are a favourite food of our muscovy ducks

When I’m keeping any of the animals in a small paddock, for whatever reason, such as training the horses or keeping a close eye on the house cow or calves, I feed them other plants to prevent over-grazing of that space as well as offer variety. In the larger paddocks there are many shrubs and a wider variety of grasses to choose from.

In addition to the grazing animals we have a few ducks, a few dozen chickens, and several guinea pigs.

Queensland Arrowroot - tubers for us, and leaves and stalks for the livestock

Some of the plants I feed the animals include:

Queensland Arrowroot

Choko Vines and Fruit

Sweet Potato Vines

Ceylon Spinach

Banana Leaves

Pigeon Pea branches - leaves and pods

And ‘trimmings’ from the garden. I normally remove the outer leaves from celery, comfrey, spinaches, cabbages and lettuces. I feed them corn stalks once I’ve taken the cobs for us (and feed them the outer husks of cobs), I throw in any excess herbs – parsley is a favourite, and add some land cress, nasturtium, dandelion and other suitable 'weeds', and kang kong as well. We call this a “salad” and mix it up in big buckets for the animals – choosing what is best for each one. They search through, tasting everything and eating their favourite foods first (just like children) and nibbling on new flavours or discarding bits they dislike after that. Sometimes we will harvest different grasses as well, which grow only in certain areas but I know are okay for stock.

Nasturtiums are pretty and make a nice addition to a salad for humans and animals alike

We also feed kitchen scraps to the chickens, ducks and guinea pigs – each has their own bucket as they prefer and tolerate different foods.

I would like to grow more grains, and harvest more hay, as these are feed items I buy in for the animals, especially the chickens.

I wish we could provide more homegrown food for our cats. They eat mice who dare to venture in or near the house, but otherwise rely on bought food. We don’t eat very much meat ourselves, but I imagine if we were eating more chickens, ducks and beef there would be leftovers for the cats to eat.

Are your animals eating homegrown food? Tell me more…

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What Does Your Body Tell You?

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches


















I'll be honest, I never used to listen to my body, in fact if you'd of told me my body was trying to tell me something I probably would have looked at you like you had 100 heads, or maybe 101 ;-) Slowly but surely as I started to work less and live more, stop running and instead being I learned that my body has a natural rhythm that I need to, when possible (or perhaps more correctly, as much as possible) respect.

I never really felt, or understood when my body had too much sugar, or needed more water, more rest, or perhaps more correctly a more restful life. As I began to make different, more homemade food choices, I noticed when I reverted to unhealthier food choices, I was thirsty or would get a headache. I found when I went to bed late and woke later, I had less energy than going to bed early and rising earlier. Gradually, I began to see my body as a story teller, of a tale which was beautiful, complicated, intricate and delicate. I began to see the link between how I was feeling with what was happening internally rather than externally. Before it was so easy to blame a busy day or a disgruntled co-worker or even the weather, now I know for the most part it is much more about me.

Health is defined not merely as the absence of disease, but according to the World Health Organization is about a complete physical, mental and social well-being. So what exactly does this wonderful story telling entity tell me now:

- When I need more water
- When I need more rest
- When I need time to myself
- When I need time with friends
- When I need to pull in
- When I need to branch out
- When I need to eat veggies or fruit or have more fiber
- When I need to pray, reflect, meditate
- When I need to exercise
- When I need to make amends
- When I need to be outside
- When I need the sun
- When I need to dance in the rain
- When I need to feed my brain
- When I need to nurture my soul
- When I need to nurture other's souls, give and serve

And last but by no means least, it also tells me when I need to knit. Yes, knitting is most certainly a need! ;-)

What does your body need? Do you listen to it's rhythm? Do you nurture your soul?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What about dinner?


I gotta say that I have trouble trying to decide what to talk about when it comes time to blog-especially this time of year when time is at a premium. So, I think I'll talk about something along those lines.

By this early part of summer we are just about finished planting until the fall crops go in, yet the amount of work is still incredible. We are mulching, weeding, harvesting, mowing, raking, tending the animals, maintenance work like deck care, painting and tending decorative beds, plus the usual day to day. It gets pretty crazy. It seems most nights I come in from working and dinner is that last thing I want to deal with. We have several things to help keep us out of the local eateries (though supporting local small mom and pop joints isn't a bad thing every now and then). I use my crock pot for easy sandwiches, and the grill for a burger, pizza or steak. But we get tired of even those. About six months ago I started a freezer meal group-a group of six ladies who gather at our home once a month to cook all day. At the end of the day each family goes home with six different meals for the freezer. We go so far as to rotate categories so each member cooks from groups they may not regularly like lamb, goat and vegetarian. We also post all the recipes to a blog so that others can make what they ate. It is wonderful having those meals on hand when I walk in the door late. I am also very blessed to share time with a dear friend and her family, which includes a husband with mad kitchen skills. While my friend and I work on various tasks around the farm (they reap the benefit of sharing in harvests) her husband works on feeding us, which is awesome. The last backup we have is the newest. A friend has started a microbusiness supplying meals to others in the area with gourmet dinners. Each week this chef-gone-mama sends out an email detailing what that week's two options are. You can have one or both. In a couple days she makes things up and you can either have them delivered (if you're within 8 miles of her home) via bicycle or you can pick them up to put in the fridge until you need them during the week. After accounting for one freezer meal, two chef-mama meals, one mad skills friend meal and one crockpot meal, that leaves the weekend, when we work the hardest, but often also reward ourselves by eating out a meal or two for rest. Without all this, so much less would happen as coming inside in order to get dinner on the table would cut back on time substantially. I get creative during the winter months when I am cooped up-summer ends up being fresh veggies and grilling, but even that is tedious sometimes. Our lunches end up being chopped fresh veggies and cheeses with hummus or a sour cream dip. I love the fresh produce available this time of year, and luckily it is easy to enjoy without much effort. Even so, I love that we have found ways to still eat great food all year round, even when mama can't be in the kitchen all day working on it.

What are your strategies for getting dinner on the table on those crazy days?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dirt Therapy

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin.

Over the last few days, due to a major kitchen renovation, I have been unable to get outside into my garden.  For someone who loves to spend time with their hands in the dirt all weekend, the absence of doing so has a strange effect on me.

Call me weird (or not), but because I have not been able to garden, I began to feel a wave of the blues coming on.  Symptoms were irritability, snappy at family members, grumpy and just a feeling of being down.  Some would have been the so called 'seasonal depression' due to our winter here in the Southern Hemisphere, or the stress of the kitchen renovation, but I certainly was not myself until today and now I know why.

Because the builders were jack hammering up all of the old floor tiles, my wife, me, plus our two dogs had the pleasure of spending the entire day in the carport in 10C temps with the occational rain shower.  Some may think that this would be a miserable way to spend their day, with the thumping sound of a jack hammer in the background all day, but not I.  I spent the entire day in the garden, weeding, fertilising and just performing a bit of general maintenance like composting and talking to the chickens.  It was such a good feeling to plunge my hands into the dirt, and with it all my worries and melancholy faded away.  Such relief from such a simple act. 

All I can add is the simple fact that working in my food garden is worth more than all the shrinks in the world.  Free therapy, with the side effect of free food thrown in!  Who could ask for more than that?  I feel calm and looking forward to another day of jack hammering so that I can spend the day in my front garden doing some weeding.

Wacko or not?  What do you think?  Do you feel the need to get out there in your garden after an absence, just to take away the blues?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Chronicles of a New Garden: zucchini blossoms

by Francesca


zucchini blossom

When I saw the first bright yellow blossoms among the still sparse greenery of my garden, I was ecstatic. So far my garden has only produced several different kinds of lettuces, and a few radishes, but nothing else! Thanks to a very late spring, my peas and fava beans (the first vegetables to ripen in this area) are just beginning to flower now, a month behind – I'm not sure whether I'll ever harvest them at all, as it's now getting too hot for them to thrive. These yellow blossoms mean the beginning of some serious harvesting in the garden, and we celebrated their arrival with two zucchini dishes, of which the blossoms were the key ingredient.



If you grow your own zucchini plants, make sure to harvest the blossoms too, which are considered a real delicacy here in Italy. They're hard to find in stores, because they wilt in no time at all, and their paper-thin petals tear easily. It's best to pick them early in the morning, and use them the same day: zucchini blossoms are quintessential local, seasonal and fresh produce.



Preparing zucchini blossoms


zucchini blossoms 3

Pick zucchini blossoms early in the morning, when they are fully open. You can use both the male zucchini blossoms, which grow on a stem, and the female blossoms, which grow at the end of the zucchini. Gently remove any bugs. Keep the male zucchini blossoms in water in a vase, like any other flower, and the female flowers in the fridge, on a damp paper towel in an air tight container. Cook the flowers as soon as possible, as they spoil easily.



Before cooking, remove the stem and the inside of the flower with the point of a knife (see photo).



Fried Zucchini Blossoms



Fried zucchini blossoms make a delicious hors d'oeuvre: the fresh, moist, slightly sweet petals inside, with the hot, crispy batter on the outside. A real summer treat!

fried zucchini blossom

To make them, first prepare a light beer batter. There are many ways of making it, and thousands of recipes online. My favorite is traditional and very simple: mix about 250 grams of white flour and a pinch of salt with cold beer (or fizzy water) until your batter gets thick but still pourable (about 200 ml of beer). Coat the prepared blossoms in the batter, and fry in hot oil on both sides until crisp and golden, which usually takes only a couple of minutes. Serve hot.



Summer Frittata


zucchini blossoms 2

We used our first zucchini to make a frittata (omelette). I often make frittate in summer, mixing in whatever ingredients the garden has to offer on that day, to the basic frittata recipe: eggs, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, a dash of milk.


frittata

In this case, I first lightly cooked the grated zucchini together with some baby chard leaves, garlic, marjoram and summer savory. Then I added the rest of the basic frittata ingredients. Finally, halfway through cooking, I placed zucchini petals on top of the frittata, making a decorative and delicious topping.



For more on how we use zucchini blossoms and zucchini in my part of the world, see my Zucchini Time post over at my blog.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Lessons on the Farm for the Novice Farmer

By Danelle at Mytotalpv

There are things I thought I'd learn and things I never thought of in a million years.

I thought I'd learn more about astronomy and yet the moments I've had to stare up at the sparkling night sky, while overwhelmingly beautiful, have been fleeting. I could wish for more time, but if I did it would be for more time inside snuggling with the babies. Their childhood is way more fleeting than billion year old stars.

I can tell you what that smell is and from which animal it came. Some people can sniff the bouquet of wine, I can tell you which manure came from what animal based simply on smell.

I was quite proud of my garden last year until it just withered and died. I know where I went wrong and it was almost exactly when I was marveling at how I never had to water. I should have. I should have mulched better too. I did get a fair amount of dry beans and pumpkins though.

Pigs are interesting animals. More affectionate than I anticipated. Quite a bit like 4 year olds. They have an insatiable appetite, are ornery as all get out, and escape at inopportune times. They will find every breech and run gleefully to the pond or the road. They respond poorly to threats and ignore frantic pleas. They love fruit. They love milk. They really should have a bath after every meal and when they get muddy somehow manage to ruin my clothes too. All of that exactly describes Lil'Bug's summer. The only difference is that the pigs will be bacon in three weeks and she'll still be 4.

I love our small town. I love the people here, the town square, the parks, the weather, the kindness and curiosity, and the ice cream. It all fits us so very well. So many of the people we have met are just like us, recent transplants who are thriving in the fresh air. Thriving we are.

There were times, weeks at a time where I was just having impossibly bad days. Nothing that would make me give up on farm life, but still difficult. Many involving poop of various degrees. Last summer has taught me that we are in exactly the right place, but also that I really want to, perhaps, need to, focus on the trees and bees dream and not try so hard so fast to expand into all possible farming ventures. A CSA is not likely in my future. A berry and fruit and pumpkin stand perhaps sooner than our full out farm/orchard operation will be ready.

Worms. Worms are gross. Not the earthworms some people keep for kitchen compost or fishing worms.....no I mean gut worms, tape worms, round worms- worms in poop. No animal of mine has ever had worms.

Then we moved to a farm. The pigs had worms, three kinds. We took care of that and all was well. I never thought twice about the domestic animals though. I read that chickens can get worms, but I figured we deal with that in the Spring.

Then one of the dogs pooped in the house and was sick. As I was cleaning it up I noticed the noodles, um, worms. Great. The vet was surprised that I was surprised by this. It is apparently something all the farm folks know, farm dogs and cats need to be wormed 1-2 times every year. So on my great big list of things people should know who are considering farm or rural life: worms, get to know all about worms. Ew.


Poop. Farm life is all about poop. You or I can romanticize it plenty and talk about bacon and apples and honey and fresh milk- but really my life right now is about 80% poop. Cleaning out the chicken coup- poop. Pig poop. Cow pies. Identifying predator poop outside the chicken pen. Septic problems/ maintenance, worms in poop, watershed concerns, manure for garden fertilization, horse apples, diapers (ok, that's just because Blueberry is potty training but not yet there and not just because we live on a farm), ect. It just seems like I am constantly scraping poo off my boot. Like I am just surrounded by a bog of poop. I have even learned to tell the subtle difference in the scent of each critters poo- so I KNOW what I have stepped in or which way the wind is coming from. Not all the smells out here are woodsy pine or fresh cut hay. Alas.


I thought pig poop was the most foul smelling substance on the face of the earth. Bog of eternal stench material, as it is called when one slips in and gets thoroughly slimed with it. But no. The most foul smelling thing ever is dog vomit, after he's eaten a belly full of pig poop. Worse yet, in my kitchen the night before my sister's wedding just as my lovely aunt is unloading her bags from her rental car, bringing them in through the kitchen to the adjacent guest room. Not just poor pup, poor everyone. I thought dog skunked was bad. Seriously.

Oh yeah, skunks. There are a couple seasons where the skunks are worse than usual, where you are more likely to encounter them with your vehicle for example. However, don't think that skunks only magically appear in April and September and hide the rest of the year. No no, they are always out there waiting to spray which ever animal you have decided can live in your home and sometimes they steal eggs and bees too or just generally muck up the normally heavenly smell of fresh farm air.

Add to the list of critters you'll have to deal with as a threat to your own livestock and/or kids and family: coyotes, opossums, raccoons, snakes, rats, owls, weasels, muskrats, foxes, skunks, neighbor dogs, feral cats, deer, bob cats, reckless hunters, mink, hawks, moles, loose cattle/bulls, mice, spiders, ticks, lions, tigers, and bears oh my. Oh and poachers/tresspassers/reckless drivers. Just saying. It is not all fantasy land safe to let the kids run around outside, there are different things to worry about, but things to worry about none the less.

Utilities are ruthless. Not that I have ever been late, but there is no grace period. If you are late with a payment, and they are up front about this, your utilities get shut off. In the city, you have a month of grace and can work something out if something comes up. Not out here. That applies to water, electricity, Internet, and propane. I have to read my own water meter which is 1/2 a mile away from my house and then calculate my own payment from a confusing chart. Also, utilities are more expensive by unit here, though we use less than we did in the city so they are lower payments for us compared to what we are still paying in Des Moines for the house that won't sell.

Gas is more expensive than in the city. In Des Moines, Iowa right now gas per gallon is about $2.56 but in the nearest town to us it is $2.76.

Trash. Burn it or haul it. Disposable diapers and the like do not burn. It is a good thing we use cloth. You know what though, much of what we throw in the garbage doesn't burn either so we have to haul it and the dump is 45 minutes away. $10 per truckload though.

Tires. We have had more flat tires here than in the city and tires made for gravel and dirt roads are more expensive. Tractor tires go flat too. A lot.

4 wheel drive. Required. Often. Sometimes it is not enough.

I am sure there is more. I know that as we were getting ready to move out here I asked people to share these kinds of tidbits with me and none of these things except the flat tire issue came up. None of these would have deterred me though. I would have just liked to know.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Stretching the Corn Harvest

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Old-timers' wisdom said to have your water boiling before you go out to pick corn for dinner. With today's super sweet varieties, the sugars don't convert to starch quite as quickly as the old heirloom corns did, so ears of corn nowadays do hold their sweet flavor longer. But nothing beats really fresh sweet corn, straight out of the garden in the summer.

Birds and bees lecture time (hint: for corn, it's wind). Each little piece of corn silk leads down to one kernel of corn on the ear. At least one grain of wind-blown pollen from the tassel on the top of the stalk has to fall on each strand of silk to get a fully filled-out ear of corn to eat. So you have to plant enough corn, in a square block (not just one long row), to get adequate pollination (or, play artificial corn inseminator - shake the top tassels into a paper bag, and then immediately pour out over the silks just emerging below).

But a whole block of corn all maturing at once means feast or famine. You might get a week's worth of fresh sweet corn to eat, more getting starchier by the minute, and end up freezing the rest. Nothing wrong with freezing some - frozen corn goes great in winter soups and chili. But I want weeks of fresh corn, right out of the garden.

So, following the conventional wisdom, I tried successive planting - another short row or two every week. And found that didn't work very well for me. The colder early summer weather around here would slow down the maturing of the earliest plantings, and then the later ones, planted when the weather was a bit warmer would grow quicker. I still ended up with everything maturing at once - it just made more work for me. Sometimes, the latest plantings wouldn't have enough roots to deal with the onslaught of summer heat, and they'd fry instead. And sometimes, I'd get busy elsewhere, get behind on the planting schedule, and then have nothing. Time to figure out a better way.

So I did. I now plant all my corn at the same time, but have my fresh-eating harvest stretching from the end of July into September. Instead of planting the same variety of corn at different times, I looked at days-to-harvest times instead. I start with the upwind-most rows, and plant a 60-day variety. The middle rows in the block fall more around the 75-day range. And then the last rows are the 95 to 100-day ones - enough of those to both eat fresh and freeze for later. If I could count on a long enough frost-free season, there are even 120-day varieties, but getting a harvest from those here would be iffy at best. I help the pollination along on the earliest-maturing varieties, rubbing the top tassel between my hands then dusting them off above the new silks below. Letting the little side-stalks grow, plus the wind, takes care of the later ones.

This same technique can work for other veggies too. I have the earliest leaf lettuces coming along now, the small heads of buttercrunch will be ready a bit later, and the romaines even later. Little round red radishes are ready in just a couple of weeks, the longer french ones a little later, the daikons after that, and then the winter storage ones keep growing into the fall. Differing days-to-harvest instead of successive plantings can mean more eating time, and less work.

Friday, June 4, 2010

First Fruits of Perennial Plantings

by Kate
Living The Frugal Life

It's likely we'll soon see the first tiny harvests from several of the perennial plants we put in over the last couple of years.  We took just a very modest harvest of asparagus in April, since our plants are now only two years old and so cannot support a full harvest.  Cherries, blueberries, grapes, elderberries and pears should also grace our table this year - sometimes in very small quantities.


I counted seventeen cherries on our Mesabi cherry tree.  It's covered in netting to keep the birds away.  At this stage they look like Maraschino cherries.  I hope they darken a little more.


This will constitute our entire blueberry harvest this year, provided the birds don't get them first.  I pinched off all the blooms last year, the year we planted our first blueberry plants.  I probably should have done the same this year, to let the plants put all their energy into just growing.  A harvest of seven blueberries (there are a few behind the visible berries) is hardly worth the name anyway.


On the other hand, seven pears from our Collette pear tree is worthy of the name "harvest."  These beauties are so tantalizing.  I know there are still plenty of things that could happen to these fruits before they ripen.  But I'm hoping, against my better judgment.


One of our two elderberres is blooming, and another is getting ready to bloom.  Oddly, the blooms on this particular plant have little fragrance.  This plant died but then grew back from the rootstock.  So we really have no idea what qualities the fruit will have.  I've begun harvesting the blooms in stages, as they open fully, to make elderflower cordial.  I'll let a couple of blooms from each plant set fruit if they can, to see what we get from each one.  Again, removing most of the blooms allows these young plants to concentrate most of their energy on development of roots and branches.


The grapes have decided to produce this year.  We'll see if any fruit makes it to a harvestable stage.  My husband put in five wine variety grapes two years ago.  This will be our first harvest, and possibly our first small batch of real homegrown wine.


The figs are growing exuberantly in their self-watering containers.  No sign of fig drupes yet, so we may not get the promised small harvest this year.  But at least the plants look healthy and happy.  So do the hazelbert plants in the same containers; we don't expect any nut crop this year though.  That's one of my self-watering. potato buckets next to the fig, with shallots and garlic behind them.  The garlic plants are still sporting their scapes, soon to be harvested.  And almost totally obscured in the back right, some of our raspberry canes - more perennials.  These produced insipid fruit last year.  They're getting one more year to prove themselves since they were young and 2009 was a bad year for gardening.  If the fruit isn't much better this year, they'll be replaced with something else.


While I caution my eager gardener's heart not to count on these tiny first harvests, it is satisfying to see our work in establishing these edible perennials begin to bear fruit.  It has been a heavy workload over the last few years.  The motivation that I used for myself is that though the perennials take more effort to plant, they only need be planted once, and then will give returns for many years.  We're still not done planting all the perennials we'd like to have, so it's a relief to see the returns starting.

Any perennials in your garden?  Or plans for some?  What perennial food crop would you most like to add to your garden?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Volunteering and the Simple Life

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

















Somebody recently said to me if you are going to have a simple life you need to focus on you, yourself and I, that people must learn that simplicity is about focusing only on yourself, your home and your direct family. I found this quite an interesting, if not sad, perspective, I guess because I don't equate giving of oneself as complicating my life in any way. I do find that running around shopping, errand doing or bombarding myself with media images or too much tv complicates my life immensely, but would never say that any of my volunteering roles have done anything but add another beautiful layer to my life.

As a teenager I volunteered with children in a hospital, doing admin for a new hospice which had just opened in my home town and collecting for various charities. While studying at University I volunteered in a health centre which provided medical appointments as well as health education programs, volunteered in a speech and language centre and a school, and voluntary tutored two children with learning difficulties whose parents could not afford private tuition. Since I've officially become an adult I've volunteered as a youth group leader, lead a youth group, volunteered as a cat socializer and dog walker, volunteered in a cafe whose proceeds went to charity and had various roles through Church. For over a year I cared for four children in my home while working, obviously at that time my roles needed to change so instead I was able to volunteer in their schools and collected for charities - I did this not because I had a great deal of extra time on my hands, but because I knew how rich and beautiful a life of volunteering is and I wanted the children to understand the importance of serving others and appreciating all that you do have. This wasn't learned through grand gestures, but simply every day actions like sending cards or notes, making soup for sick friends and taking food to the food bank.

It is conceivable that volunteering could add stress to your life, but I don't think you limit stress by focusing on oneself. Through my volunteering I have learned to appreciate what I have, I've been able to peek into the life experiences of someone with no vision or with no legs. I've made friends, basked in the beauty of knowing there are good people everywhere and begun to understand what simplicity truly is - it isn't shutting everyone else out, it's appreciating the richness from little.

Next week I board a plane, I'm off to volunteer overseas in an orphanage and working with special needs and dying children. People comment that I'm doing something good or mention how much they'll learn from me. The reality is, the blessings are all mine, I'm the one who needs to learn from these children what beauty, richness and simplicity is all about.

I'd love to hear from you! Do you find volunteering fits into your simple life? What have you learned about simplicity through volunteering and serving others?

For those interested, I will be blogging while I'm away!