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Showing posts with label Memories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Memories. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

With Thanks

Saying thank you is more than good manners.  It is good spirituality. 

~Alfred Painter~




Posted by Bel

I hope I can tackle this topic without seeming all Pollyanna-ish...  I was explaining to someone the other day that my main tool for dealing with any challenging situation is gratitude.  The concept of conscious gratitude was first revealed to me in the Simple Abundance books by Sarah Ban Breathnach in the ‘90s.  If I can find at least one positive to every negative, then life’s on even keel.  And it is all about balance, after all!  If I can find lots of positives in my life, then life’s good!

Sometimes I almost believe my family and friends when they tell me I’m just too busy, overworked, or just plain crazy.  Juggling kids, homeschooling, relationship and friendships, a business, the farm and animals and volunteering in the community as well...  Yes, life is full.  But it’s really just a season.  Already I have one adult child, and within a decade all six will be grown up!  I am currently selling my business, after an enjoyable few years of nurturing it from a hobby to a real source of income.  Sometimes farm life is very demanding with lots of baby animals to nurture, gardens needing overhauling, the cow to milk once or twice a day (which leads to lots of time in the kitchen processing and preserving the abundance).  And sometimes it’s a lot quieter – waiting for babies, no milking, fallow gardens or just enough rain and sunshine to ignore the lot and let it grow!  So many 'seasons'.



image from HP

Remembering the quiet times, and appreciating them for what they are, fuel me through the inevitable hectic times of my life.  Sometimes I am so rushed that, for example, sitting and waiting for the cow troughs to fill with water could easily irritate me.  But instead of feeling frustrated about what else I could be doing, I feel gratitude for the chance to sit (even in the drizzling rain) and look around me - to Be.  I glance at the nut trees, feeling blessed at their maturity and abundant crops; the bee hives full of busy workers who not only create delicious honey for us, but also pollinate our gardens and orchard; the kilometres of fences my darling husband built and repaired so that we could keep large animals like by beloved cows and that crazy horse;  the water flowing from the hose – gravity-fed, clean, fresh spring water which keeps on coming all the year round; my cows and their offspring - the companionship, mowing, milk and even meat our herd provide us with.  I am surrounded by such abundance!  To everyone else it looks like hard work - muddy, smelly, physically challenging, expensive, responsibility-laden hobby farming!  But I know I am blessed and I am grateful for the chance  to live this dream I’ve held for so many years.

To read more about gratitude on the co-op, see:
Gratitude by Aurora
Being Grateful by Eilleen
Bloom When you are Planted –  a Note from the Frugal Trenches
Enough by Bel

Tell me, do you use conscious gratitude as a tool to cope with the pressures of your life?  Perhaps you keep a gratitude journal or have some other ritual?  Please leave a Comment with your experiences, or share something you are grateful for...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Safe Travel WIth Little Kids

By Danelle at The Stamps Family Farm

This weekend I traveled from the rural countryside to Chicago with my three kids, ages 7, 3, and 1. I did this on my own, since my husband has to take care of the farm animals and we're lambing. 

For historical record, this was the weekend of the NATO 2012 conference and Chicago was on high alert. I was delivering pork and couldn't reschedule. Chicago folks assured me that it was safe and navigable. And it was.

This got me thinking about sharing how I do museum and field trips with my littles. They are pretty young, like to run, and like to touch things. One of them also likes to lick things and she's not the baby. I usually like to take them to places during off hours with little to no crowds, but in Chicago that was not possible. It was loud, crowded, and busy. 

Here are a few things I did to make keeping track of them a little easier on me and safer for them.

Wardrobe: 
  1. Shoes without laces. I was not about to stop and retie over and over, nor did I want them tripping. 
  2. All kids and mama in the same bright colour the entire weekend. We went to a thrift store and bought 10 orange shirts in various sizes. That's all they wore for the trip, even for jammies. This way they (and me) get used to seeing each other in that colour and .can register it faster in a crowd or a panic. 
  3. Black permanent marker, written on their skin on their backs my name and cell phone number. Why? If they get lost, they can tell someone that's where the data is. It isn't somewhere they can see it and mess with it. If they were to get snatched (unlikely)- that data won't wash off and is easily checked for by authorities. I got the idea from a medical show, patients writing on good limbs or bellies to remind docs which things they didn't want done. It occurred to me that a kidnapper (again, unlikely) could change the kid's hair and clothes easily but permanent marker takes 21 days or harsh chemicals to remove if they even realize that the data is there. Ha. 
  4. Hair. Down. They usually wear pony or pig tails. Let's just be honest here- in close traveling quarters that style is too tempting to pull and yank on and sibling fights will escalate. Trust me, I know.
  5. Extra clothes. We had extra orange shirts. One of the girls threw up in the car, and changed right away into another orange shirt. Ice cream has necessitated clothing changes too. These are kids, kids eat messy. 

Food:
  1. Protein for breakfast. Forgo the hotel sweets and go for eggs and sausage (except for the last day and sugar crash them for the drive home!). 
  2. Bring snacks. We brought in our very small bag venison meat sticks, cheese, and water. 
  3. Water. Drink it.
  4. Dinner. Lunch. Snacks. Try and bring food the kids are used to. New foods or processed foods they are not used to eating can upset their bellies. Nothing like a vacation full of vomiting in the car, poop emergencies at the art museum.  Bring food you know they like and won't upset their digestion.
  5. Get them to eat, but don't force the issue. Excitement makes my kids not want to eat. Pick your battles.
The baby:
  1. Baby wear. Much easier than trying to haul a stroller. Sometimes my 4 yo will take off and I can chase her with the baby tied on. A stroller full of baby doesn't allow that.
  2. Only bring out of the car what you will need for the amount of time. 2 diapers max for 3 hours is what I need. Why haul a diaper bag all over for that? Two disposables will fit one in each pocket.  Cell phone with one, credit card and cash in the other (front pocket). 
  3. Water, sippy, snacks. I also try and plan the intensive activities around his nap (in the baby carrier) so I can guide and talk to the girls better. 
  4. He gets the marker treatment too, but really, since he is ties to my chest, he isn't really a flight or baby stealer risk.
In the Car:
  1. Music they like. Nothing is more aggravating to a kid than being forced to listen to talk radio for a 7 hour car trip. Find kid music that won't drive you batty either. I like They Might Be Giants. The Beatles is another favourite. Kids like oldies they can sing to. 
  2. DVD player. When things get tense, break out a never before seen classic cartoon. Works every time. No one can say they hate it if they have never seen it.
  3. New sticker books. Puzzle paper. Crayons. Fresh brand new crayons are always a treat at our house.
  4. "Box of ponies". My girls love My Little Pony dolls. They can brush their hair and sort the dolls while buckled in.
  5. Song games, I spy, just talking.  
  6.  Lots of potty breaks, big movement breaks, fresh air run around and play breaks. They are kids and kids need to move. 
  • General Reminders:
  • Keep phone charged and on at all times.
  • Don't carry a lot of cash
  • Be aware of who is around you and where
  • PAPER MAPS- GPS can fail, be wrong, or suddenly die. And then you will be scared and lost and a little freaked out (like I was in Houston two years ago). GPS is fine, but keep the paper maps close by anyway.
  • Print off a list of local hospitals


What do you do to keep kids safe while traveling?






Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fencing in the Wild


by Linda from The Witches Kitchen


I've ticked off one of my New Year's Resolutions. We've just come home from a week in wild weather at Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island - one of the most beautiful wild places on earth. I went swimming in the surf every day, collected seaweed for my seaweed brew, and walked around North Gorge every morning.

North Gorge walk at Point Lookout is spectacular. I never ever walk it without seeing wildlife - pods of dolphins surfing in on waves, sea turtles, manta rays, humpbacks in whale season. When we were kids the walk was a goat track round the rocks, a narrow unfenced track with sheer drop-offs 40 metres down to ocean so blue you can see turtles swimming metres underwater.

I vividly remember going round the gorge once as a child - I must have been about nine or ten - in wild weather. Lashing rain, huge waves crashing against the rocks sending spray up even to the 40 metre height of the headland, sea turquoise mixed with gunmetal, the gorge full of mermaid foam.

Gradually, over the years, the walk has been tamed, first with steps in the rock, then fencing along parts, then broadwalks. This time, for the first time, most of the way is broadwalk. It is a beautifully built broadwalk, and I can see the point. I have walked it with my kids with my heart in my mouth. I have feared to take other people's kids, especially in wild weather. But there is a part of me that mourns the taming.

We humans have an appetite for thrill. On the way there we passed Dreamworld themepark at the Gold Coast,  advertising "The Tower of Terror" where "riders soar 100m into the atmosphere dangling for several seconds of stomach-churning weightlessness at its peak before plummeting back to earth". Dreamworld says the Tower of Terror mark 1 had over 8 million "panicked passengers."

It's an odd idea. A hugely expensive, constructed mechanism designed to create the thrill of fear, the illusion of danger without real danger. Artificial. Unreal. A lie.

I don't think that kind of exploitation of the taste for terror is healthy, but I do think there is something valuable that is lost - maybe necessarily, but sadly - in the broadwalk around North Gorge. That walk taught me, as a child, some valuable lessons, like some risks are not make-believe but permanent. Wild nature is spectacularly beautiful and can take you to profound places, but it doesn't take care of you.  I can do things that are risky and keep myself safe.  Fear is not a reason to stop, or a reason to go, but a reason to take care.

North Gorge offered the opportunity to look at real danger, to experience the thrill, but to have total control over the risk. Fishermen have been washed off the lower rocks, but I can't find a record of anyone actually slipping off the track. It's a lot more relaxing and meditative a walk these days, and still spectacularly beautiful. But thrill that is both real and confrontable is rare, and it's a bit sad to lose it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Documenting the Firsts

By Megan at The Byron Life


This week I have been packing boxes in readiness for our return home and I came across Melody's cherished  "ballet book" - a simple scrapbook I made to document her first ballet classes. I wrote about its creation on my blog last year and I thought readers here at Simple, Frugal and Green might appreciate the idea that memory-keeping needn't be an expensive or elaborate affair. 


***


I’m no Martha when it comes to scrapbooking, that’s for sure. No designer layouts and special albums for me; I prefer to wing-it with whatever’s at hand. While my efforts wouldn’t pass muster with serious scrapbooking enthusiasts, I am happy that I have at least made the effort to document and celebrate some of the significant events and activities in my girls’ lives in this form.

Pictured above is a crazy-huge scrapbook of Ella’s very-first artwork from her toddler and pre-school days. We made this book together when she was a young child, I think she was four-years-old, and we took it off to a local copy shop to have it bound. For many years she would trot out this book to proudly show visitors and to this day it is still one of her most prized possessions. It is an especially important keepsake to Ella as she has developed into a most talented young artist and this book documents her “early years” (or her “bunny years” as I like to call them as that was about all she was interested in drawing for quite some time!)

This one is a book I made last year to document Melody’s first year at ballet. It has photos and mementos from her first ballet classes through to her first performance and I have written the text in very simple storybook style. It is now one of Melody’s favourite bedtime reads (what three-year-old doesn’t love to read a book all about themselves?) This book was made late at night, after Melody had gone to sleep, while I was pregnant with Maddison and finished just the night before she was born. So, for me, this book is also infused with those special pregnancy/birth memories... I gave it to Melody for Christmas and it was one of her favourite presents.

I think this home-made, free-form approach to scrap-booking works better for me because I get intimidated by expensive, “perfect” scrapbooks and I procrastinate over what is the “perfect” thing to write and add to them. If I am just winging it with less expensive materials, in a less structured way, I relax a bit more with the whole thing and don’t end up placing such huge expectations on myself that I never get around to doing anything.

The results are, in a word, wonky! That’s my style... But they are made with mama-love, and I reckon that’s what really counts.


We have some significant things happening in 2010 – Maddi’s first year being one of them - and Melody has oh-so-enthusiastically started pre-school a couple of days a week, so right now I am playing away documenting these major events.
This is the start of a scrapbook of Melody’s artwork from her first year at pre-school. As you can see, it’s made from a simple, old-fashioned scrapbook, and Melody is the creator-in-chief - from making the artwork to start with to sticking it in her book each week. I can’t wait to see how her drawings and paintings change over the year. The book is covered in one of her paintings and then clear contact paper is applied over the top.

While these books will ultimately be in the possession of the girls, I freely admit the making of these is as important, if not more important, to me than them! Childhood, that most powerful of times, scoots away from us so, so quickly... I want to savour, and remember, every moment with my girls while it lasts.

x
Megan

Monday, January 24, 2011

Blending Old and New Traditions

by Throwback at Trapper Creek


Times change and people pass away, and many times celebrations and family traditions are lost to the progression of time. I grew up in a family with several birthdays and anniversaries that were around the Christmas and New Year holidays. I noticed as a child that special efforts were made by my mother to differentiate those special days from the hub-bub that surrounds that time of year.

When you start a family you don't think of such things much, or at least I didn't. And then my daughter was born on my deceased mother's birthday - 3 weeks late. So now I had the task of making my daughters birthday her special day, and not go on and on about a grandmother she would never know. We also didn't want to go the route that many of our friends were taking with elaborate birthday parties and over the top gifts, we wanted to keep the day simple and special.

At our house the person whose birthday it is gets to pick the meal, (I usually pick someone else cooking it!) And sometimes we go out for a lunch combined with a shopping trip to a store of the celebrant's choice. Over the years for our daughter's birthday we have went antique shopping, to a reenactors fair, used book store and this year we went to a leather store for some tack supplies.

Establishing new traditions was important but keeping some old traditions going too was significant. My brother was born during WWII on Christmas Eve, times were tough and goods hard to come by. To differentiate my brother's birthday from the usual dinner and gift giving, my aunt and uncle gave him a very large candle for his first birthday. December 24th was also my aunt and uncle's wedding anniversary. A special night. The big birthday candle was always the centerpiece and was lit before dinner. We never thought about the candle, except to dig it out and light it for dinner and put it out later and pack it away again for the next year. The candle would flicker, and melt and get shorter and shorter. We always joked and speculated about how long would that candle last anyway? Sometimes the candle would burn until the wee hours of the morning, it seemed like it would last forever. Sometimes forever is not very long. My brother was diagnosed with cancer, and we started fretting about burning that candle on Christmas Eve - we didn't light it until we sat down to eat, and we quickly put it out as soon as presents were opened. No one had a plan, we just did it. We quit joking about the candle lasting. Somehow we thought if we didn't use it up, my brother would not be used up either. Secretly we all wished we hadn't let that candle flicker for hours on end in years past. But, it didn't turn out that way - my brother passed away 21 years ago, and the candle is still here.

We burned my brother's candle on his birthday until my mom died, and then I stopped using it. But, I really liked the tradition of the gigantic birthday candle, and the memories that surrounded it. In keeping with old and new, we bought our daughter a huge candle for her first birthday. May it burn for many years keeping a simple birthday tradition alive.

Please share traditions you have kept or shed in your family celebrations.


Friday, November 19, 2010

A Thanksgiving Timetable

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I'm the oldest of five children, so learned early how to cook for a crowd (in fact, I had to learn to cook all over again, for one, when I moved out on my own). Although there are just the two of us now, Thanksgiving Dinner at my house is usually for at least six, and sometimes even more. Over time, I've developed a timetable schedule that lets me get everything ready and on the table at once, with a minimum of stress. The menu doesn't vary much - we pretty much stick with tradition for this meal.

Things get started the weekend before Thanksgiving. The turkey needs to be out of the freezer and into the refrigerator by Saturday to thaw - it will take at least 3-4 days. I use my timetable as a reminder when making out my shopping list that day too (should you wish to refer to mine, clicking on the picture below should bring it up in a more-legible size).

By Tuesday, the turkey has thawed enough that I can get the giblet bag and neck out (when my sister first cooked TG dinner for the family, she didn't realize that those extras were inside. Mom discovered them, cooked inside, when she went to carve the bird) to use for making stock for gravy and moistening the stuffing. I submerge the bird in a bucket of brine, in the refrigerator, until Wednesday, and then let it air-dry, also refrigerated until time to get it into the oven on Thursday.

With the brining bucket out of the refrigerator Wednesday, I can start getting some of the other items prepped and in. I'd rather cook from scratch instead of out of cans when possible. Although the timetable says pumpkin, I prefer either a pink banana or butternut squash for my pie. Any of them will work, but where pumpkin pie can have a greenish cast to it, squash pie tastes the same but with a nice brown color instead. Whole sweet potatoes cook at the same time, later to be peeled and sliced into a casserole dish. Bread for the dressing, either cornbread or french bread, is baked, cut into cubes, and left out on the counter overnight to dry. I use the "day before" list pretty much in order for the most efficient use of my oven.

The "Make" list, I might leave until my sister arrives. I always have a "guest apron" or two available, and we enjoy the chance to talk, wait for the local radio station to play Alice's Restaurant, maybe drink a toast to the harvest, and work together preparing the dishes we've had on Thanksgiving since we were children.

For "The Day" I have two sets of serving times in the left margin. If my husband has the day off work, we can eat in the afternoon; if he's working (Nevada casinos are 24/7, so getting the day off is never a certainty), TG dinner becomes an evening meal. Since there is only enough room in my oven for the turkey, everything else goes in when the turkey comes out. The side dishes cook while the turkey rests; gravy is stirred and potatoes mashed; husband carves while everyone else gets their choice of beverage. Then everyone helps get the meal on the table. And then we all sit down together. I hope you and your families are similarly blessed this holiday season.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Some Re- Words for the Season

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Even in the earliest days of civilization, people realized that something happened this time of year. There was a change, a literal hesitation and then a swinging back in the natural world. As religions developed, each put their own stamp on this time, their own observation and celebration of the solstice - perhaps with a different name and focus, but recognition nonetheless. With the adoption of our modern calendar, the somewhat arbitrary beginning of the year was added. This hesitation time, between solstice and the start of a new year, is a natural time for what I'm calling some re- words.

Remember
Some memories are as fleeting as the time it takes to address and sign a holiday card. Others are more long-lasting. Traditions from childhood, even if no longer observed, are still there somewhere inside. This time of year is naturally full of memories of family, friends, and seasons past. It's an emotional time, and some of the memories brought back can be very powerful - some even painful. In a season everyone around you is calling joyful and wondrous, it can hurt to admit, even to yourself, that you might be feeling a bit down instead.

For some, the absence or loss of loved ones can be especially pronounced. I lost a parent not too long ago, and sadly, am old enough that I'm now starting to lose friends and peers. It's a consequence of growing older that you will outlive others - some now gone due to age, but others under more tragic circumstances. Especially poignant to me are those lost by their own hand. It's so hard to understand the depths of despair that can lead someone to undertake such a permanent solution to what might have been a temporary problem.

There are progressive stages one goes through in processing loss, whether bereavement or other significant life events, such as divorce, drug addiction, infertility, or unemployment - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. But the process is not of smooth transitions, nor accomplished in an orderly succession. The memories and emotions brought up during this time of year especially can bounce one back to an earlier stage, and this is completely normal. Humans developed as social animals, and there's nothing noble about suffering in silence. Please, find someone to talk to - a trusted friend, maybe someone qualified to give counsel, your pet, or even your version of a higher power - if the memories brought up by this time of year become painful.

Reflect
As the year comes to a close, it's a natural time to look back. Years like this one, ending in 9, can also call up recollections of the past decade. A lot has happened in the world, and in your own lives in this time, so it's a good time to think about how you and your life have changed. Maybe it's time to reassess your goals, and certainly a time to celebrate your successes.

Regret
But there are bound to be some failures too, and possibly even regret. Figure out what went wrong, and maybe even come up with ideas to fix it. Feelings of regret mean there's a lesson there to be learned. Think about why you're feeling regret, and figure out what that lesson is. If it's something that you can remedy, take action now - apologize, make amends, change your actions - and then move on. Regretting something done in the past is wasted time and emotion; continuing to do something you regret is just plain stupid. Learn the lesson, and strive for a life without regrets.

Resolve
'Tis the season. This year, I'm gonna get every bit of clutter out of my house, lose 50 pounds, grow all our own food, cook every meal from scratch, make all our clothing, run a marathon, never eat fast food again, go to the gym every day, never yell at the kids, save the redwoods, save the polar bears, save the planet . . . this year, I resolve to be PERFECT!!

Ok, whoa! Anything sound familiar? To save yourself lots of frustration and disappointment come the end of January, go ahead and write out your entire list. Then, pick just one, maybe two at the very most, items that are the most important to you right now. That is your ultimate goal(s), and it might take all year, maybe even more. Now, stash that list away for now (at least until the equinox - you can reassess your progress then, and maybe decide on something new to address). For now, figure out just one little tiny baby-step action to take. Bad habits are hard to change - the best way is to consistently substitute some other action every time. Commit, really commit, to just that one little thing for at least three weeks. Maybe then, but maybe longer, you can figure out the next tiny little baby-step to take.

Relax
Take a really deep breath - really, right now, do it. Hold it a sec. Now, slowly, gently, breathe out. It's an emotional time of year - looking back, planning for the future. Every once in a while, take a minute to just savor what's happening right now. Indulge all your senses, devoting complete attention to each one in turn - stop and notice what's happening in your world, right now, and just breathe. It's nature's little hesitation time - that perfect equilibrium before the earth starts tilting back, swinging back around the sun. It's the perfect time to find your own equilibrium too.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holidays Your Way

posted by Chiot's Run

"Oh look, yet another Christmas TV special! How touching to have the meaning of Christmas brought to us by cola, fast food, and beer.... Who'd have ever guessed that product consumption, popular entertainment, and spirituality would mix so harmoniously?"

~Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes


There are a lot of influences in our lives that try to tell us how to live, what to buy, what to wear, what to drive, where to live and what to eat. These influences are particularly strong during the holidays with people telling us how we should celebrate, what we need to buy, how we need to decorate and what we need to do to ensure a happy holiday season. It can be tough to back away from the mainstream influences and to keep and develop meaningful holiday traditions for your family.



Mr Chiots and I watched a special on PBS a week or two ago and it highlighted he different Christmas traditions in the countries and regions of Europe. We were delighted by all the different traditions people held and celebrated just as their ancestors had for centuries. We talked a little about our traditions and the traditions here in the United States and how it seems like we've lost a lot of what makes the holidays special in a traditional and cultural way. Perhaps it's because we're a country of many cultures, or perhaps it's the influence of consumerism.



I grew up in Colombia, their Christmas traditions are different than the ones here. Since we were Americans, our celebrations became kind of a mix of Colombian traditions and family traditions. Since my family was very religious, our Christmas celebrations always centered around religious traditions. We always had a nativity set out. We always lit a the angle chimes and read through the Christmas story on Christmas Eve. We enjoyed eggnog and Christmas cookies while opening our gifts on Christmas Eve. We never were a big gift giving family, a few small gifts were it, and generally they were useful items. On Christmas morning we'd wake up to stockings filled with candy and a few small trinkets, then we'd enjoy a big meal of ham and all the usual sides.



Mr Chiots and I have tried to establish a few traditions of our own along with a few family traditions. We set up a nativity set and a few decorations, we exchange a few small gifts, which are generally useful. We enjoy a big breakfast on Christmas morning and always keep the day to ourselves, watching vintage James Bond movies all day. This year I'm planning on incorporating a few Colombian traditions, like eating buñelos with hot chocolate, which are traditional Colombian food for Christmas. My nativity set is handmade from Colombia, and it was our family nativity set. We would love to develop more traditions or pick up some old ones from around the world.

What are some of the holiday traditions that you keep or have developed for your family?

Monday, October 5, 2009

When heating with wood

by Francesca
FuoriBorgo



chimney 1

In the old days, my elderly neighbor tells me, her husband used to hike each springtime up the valley to their part of the forest, fell trees, drag them to the stream at the foot of the valley and float them down it, and finally, haul them up to their house with a donkey. Then my neighbor and her father-in-law would saw them up with a two-handled saw, a job that took many days to complete, and that, like all her other farming chores, she'd do even when she was heavily pregnant.

Nowadays, getting firewood is a little less strenuous: my family, like our elderly neighbor and most of the other villagers, buy it from the local woodcutters, a husband-and-wife team with two grown sons who earn their living exclusively from this occupation. Most houses in our village are heated with firewood, and the thick forests on the hills around our village have for centuries been a source of fuel for the inhabitants. These forests are a jigsaw puzzle of separate, interlocking landholdings, indistinguishable to me but clearly mapped out in minds of the villagers: my neighbors will point to a specific tree immersed in the greenery far across the valley, and say, “That’s our tree.” The reason why these woods are still thick is that, with the wisdom of experience, the villagers have always managed them sustainably, cutting the trees selectively on a seven-year cycle to allow for regrowth. The woodcutter and his family still do this today.

chimney 2

Since moving here, I’ve learned the numerous advantages to heating with wood. I see how it supports a small local business, and employs a renewable energy source. Plus, by buying our wood from someone we known, we avoid using dubious scrap wood and certain kinds of pellets, which can be coated with paints or chemicals and thus emit toxic fumes when burnt. Wood, like any fuel, emits particles and gases as it burns, but the research I've done suggests that burning wood produces substantially fewer greenhouse gases and pollution than natural gas, the other heating option in our area.

Because it takes some work, we make the process of heating our house a family undertaking, and all of us pitch in: my 10 and 12-year-olds are in charge of restacking our indoor woodpile, collecting kindling, and sweeping up the ashes in the fireplace (some of which go in our compost bin, but only in small quantities, since wood ash is quite alkaline). And over time we've learned a few tricks that help us do our heating more cheaply and efficiently:

1) Get to know your local firewood
Hardwoods release more heat, make longer-lasting fires and produce better coals than softer woods. They cost more, but are often worth the extra money.
2) Dry out your firewood properly
Wet wood burns less efficiently than dry wood, and causes creosote deposits in the chimney that can lead to dangerous chimney fires. So it's always best to burn your wood when thoroughly dry. However, wet wood is often cheaper, so you can save money by planning ahead and buying your wood in late spring, when it's wet, stacking it outdoors in the summer sun to dry, and then moving it to a sheltered storage area for the winter.
3) Be ready to start your fire quickly
When you heat with wood, it takes more than just pushing a button to warm your house when you wake up in or come back to a cold house! Keep an ample supply of firewood handy, as well as firestarters to get the blaze going quickly. Store-bought firestarters are often expensive and sometimes even toxic, so I recommend making your own.

We use two different kinds of firestarters:

1) Pine cones

pine cones 1

Cones contain lots of pitch and therefore burn easily: they make excellent and free fire starters, and are fun to collect! As fall approaches, in fact, our family walks and the childrens' adventures in the woods often produce a supply of pine cones, which we'll use to start our winter fires.

2) Homemade wax & sawdust firestarters

fire starters 7

We make these with candle ends we've saved up during the year, and sawdust we've scooped up where the woodcutters saw their logs.

Here's how you can make them:

Homemade firestarter tutorial

Precautions:
- This tutorial is not for children, with or without adult supervision. It is intended for adults only.
- Be careful while making your fire starters: you're working with inflammable materials.
- Make several small batches rather than one large batch: don't risk having inflammable melted wax boil over onto a hot burner.

MATERIALS:

fire starters 1

Sawdust
Candle ends
Large can (a coffee can works perfectly)
Large saucepan, bigger than your can so that it will catch any wax spillage
Newspaper cut into rectangular pieces (size depends on how much sawdust and wax you use per firestarter)
Water
Hot pad

INSTRUCTIONS:

1) Melt wax

fire starters 3

Put at least 1" of water in the saucepan. Place a few candle ends in your can, and put the can into the saucepan. Put the saucepan on the stove at very low heat, until the water reaches a gentle boil. Wait for the wax to melt ~ remember, you're handling inflammable materials, so don't leave unattended.

2) Add sawdust

When your candle ends are completely melted, turn off the burner, but don't remove the can from the water: wax solidifies surprisingly quickly. Add the sawdust little by little to the wax, stirring, until all the liquid wax has been absorbed. (Hold the can with the hot pad - it gets pretty hot!)


3) Wrap up your firestarters

fire starters 6

Scoop out up to 1/4 cup of your mixture, and place on a piece of newspaper: roll up, candy-wrapper style. (PS I couldn't resist some local color: the newspaper reads "Lasagna, a warm castle made in the home," which sort of fits this tutorial!)

We've also used egg cartons instead of newspaper, pouring the wax and sawdust mixture into the individual egg cups and then cutting them apart when the mixture hardens. However, we found that this method took more time, and that the firestarters ignited faster when wrapped with a generous layer of newspaper.

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As someone with an incredibly low tolerance for cold, and a constant desire to improve my wood fire techniques and technology, I'd love to hear how other people go about heating their homes with wood!

Also, The Wood Heat Organization, a Canadian NGO, has an excellent free downloadable Guide to Residential Wood Heating here.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Our Next Generation

Heather Beauty That Moves


Many years ago, when my now 11 year old daughter was just 2 1/2, my husband entered law school full time. I went from being a full-time stay at home mom to a working out of the house mom... five nights a week. The schedule wasn't terrible, I was able to be home with her during the day and would leave just before 5:00 in the evening. On nights that went according to plan, she would go to bed at about 7:30. All in all, I didn't feel like I was missing that much, and it enabled my husband to pursue his degree.

At some point during that time, as a simple 'dinner' solution (according to my husband), movie night in our home was born (popcorn was the main course) and over the years it has become so much more than just another tradition for our family. It's more of an institution really and is usually only capable of being cancelled for weddings or funerals. It's a serious night around here.

I guess why I am sharing this here on this blog is not because of the inexpensive popcorn that we dine on each Friday night (for years and years now - that's a lot of savings!), or the simple hot cocoa that accompanies (gently heat up some milk in a pan, add a little cocoa powder, vanilla and maple syrup - so easy i can't believe the hot cocoa mix industry even exists!), it's the underlying thoughts and reflections that seem relevant to share and discuss in this space. Nothing fancy is required to make our family movie night happen each Friday, yet we start planning and thinking about it by Tuesday of each week because it is such a highlight for us. Every single one of our friends and family members knows that if it is Friday night, our little gang can be found huddled together with fistfuls of popcorn watching who knows what for probably the tenth time. But we don't care about how many times we've seen the movie, because we are safe and snug together, creating memories and living gently.

I know that when my daughter is grown she will remember our movie nights just as she will remember that we baked our daily bread, that we ate dinner together by candlelight, that our food didn't come from a box but rather the earth and that her mom cooked from scratch, that sometimes I sewed clothes for her, that we grew a little bit of our own food and personally knew the farmers that grew much of the rest, that we tried our best each day as a family to be good stewards of the earth... she will remember all of this and so much more.

I wonder, what homespun and simple living memories will your children or grandchildren take with them as they grow and become our next generation?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

In Their Footsteps

by Don A View From The Green Barn

My wife claims I was a farmer's wife in a previous life. I make artisan breads, I can or freeze everything I grow, I preserve four kinds of jams and jellies, I raise up baby chicks . . . and I love every minute of it.

It might be as mystical as a past life, or it may be as simple as following a trail.

My grandpa (Guy) was born in 1898 on a farm in Pennsylvania, USA. He was one of twelve boys. He decided early on that he wanted to build things, so he did. He worked on some pretty cool buildings in his day, from the tank plant in Warren, Michigan, during WW2 to Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit. During the hardest days of the Great Depression, Guy never forgot his family, and never forgot his farming roots. He would take my 8-year-old father with him, drive out to a local pig farm, buy ten feeder pigs, load them into the trunk of his car, and drive all over Michigan dropping the pigs off at his brothers' farms. In exchange for Guy buying the piglets and grain, he would return later in the year and receive part of the harvest: corn for feeding his city flock of chickens, wheat for grinding into bread, and best of all, several hundred pounds of home grown pork. My father has lots of childhood memories of not only helping out with the butchering, but holding half a hog in the back seat of his dad's Buick all the way home.

My father (Lawrence) carried on the traditions of his father, except for the pigs. He also became a builder. He built department stores, shopping centers and factories all over the American Midwest. As he built stores, at home he built gardens. He was a master gardener and preserver. I have years of memories of my dad peeling and chopping, canning and freezing. Everything from tomatoes to green beans. If he picked it, he canned it. He even had a small flock of chickens, which he skillfully butchered himself. He would share his eggs, meat and vegetables with needy folks at church or in the neighborhood. At the age of 80, Lawrence is still tending a garden in northern Michigan, and among other good deeds, he gives ten bushels of apples each fall to a large family, who wouldn't get fruit otherwise.

The trail I follow is well-marked.

Even though I was mostly raised in cities, I have a strong and undeniable urge to grow my food and preserve it for winter months. Even though I am not a builder of structures, I am a builder of a different sort. (I help build kids in my third grade classroom.) My goals for this year on our small farm include: raising at least sixty meat birds (chickens and turkeys), maintaining a flock of thirty-five layers, and growing a large variety of fruits and vegetables on my five acres. But I hope to do more.

One of my nephews has four children and they have a standing order for ten meat birds whenever I get a batch of chicks. I hope to expand that to other family members. I also have over thirty customers for my farm-fresh eggs, (and I can't keep up with them presently). I am planning on raising twelve turkeys this year. I want to keep a cool-looking pair around to give the farm a "farmy" feeling, but will butcher out the rest to give to family members and friends for their Thanksgiving feast. I also want to give a few turkeys and chickens to some local families. We have a local food cupboard that allows folks in the area to come in and receive food and clothing at no charge, and I plan on furnishing it with as much as I can spare.

I am just getting started on the farm and welcome any ideas you all may have on how to not just provide for my family, but also give to people who can use a little sharing in my local area.

What part do you play?