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Showing posts with label realistic expectations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label realistic expectations. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Butter Production on the Farmstead

by Throwback at Trapper Creek





Often times the only thought of dairy products on people's minds is fluid milk, and with a weight conscious society, butter is frequently overlooked.  I happen to think though, that good fat is what's missing in many people's diets.  Enter the family cow, a real workhorse for the farmstead if you have adequate land and pasture to support a bovine.  Milk, cream, butter, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream are all delicious and are necessary items for the home kitchen.

If you're reading this blog I am probably preaching to the choir, so I'll just run through my butter making scheme to give you a general idea of what is possible for stocking the home larder with butter.

Jane is raising her calf in addition to providing enough milk for the house.  A purebred Guernsey, she is currently giving about 6 gallons of milk each day.  Two plus for the calf, and four gallons for the house.  As the calf grows larger it will drink more to support its growth and we will take less. 



I milk twice a day, and strain the milk into wide mouth gallon jars with the idea in mind that I will be skimming the cream for butter.  It takes about 24 hours for the cream to rise completely, so I skim the cream from the milk after that time, and when I am going to make butter.  The real method to my madness (and it is madness this time of year) is to make as much butter with early lactation cream as I can and store it for later.  I freeze my butter, but you could also make ghee if you don't want to use electricity to store your butter.  Why early lactation you ask?  Because I am a lazy churner, and during the early lactation period the fat globules are larger and it churns faster.  Of course, Mother Nature designed this to benefit the calf, but anytime I can hop aboard the lazy train and make hand churned butter in 7 - 10 minutes I do it!  So I churn to beat the band in the first three months and about the time I have a good amount of butter stocked up, and the calf is needing more milk, the fat globules are getting smaller and the butter takes longer to come.  Sure, I could buy an electric churn and who would care how long it took to get butter, but also the urgency to stockpile is part of our genetic make-up and I am harvesting sunlight after all.  That means I have to behave in a seasonal manner and stock up on the bounty when there is truly a bounty, not a faux bounty that the store bought mentality has given us.

Fitting butter churning into an already busy farm schedule takes some planning, and is dictated by the amount of milk in the fridge.  I can only store so much milk, and I only have so much time.  It doesn't take any longer to churn two pounds of butter than it does one, so I go with my two gallon churn and churn every other day, rather than use a smaller churn and make butter every day.  That works out the best for me.  It's half the cleanup too, which is where the largest portion of my time is spent when I say I spend and hour and a half a day "milking" the cow.  The actual milking, "pails" in comparison time-wise to the milk handling and processing. 

I skim the cream into squatty wide mouth half gallon jars that I have just for cream.  With hand skimming, it takes about 4 gallons of milk to yield a half gallon of cream, mileage may vary depending on the cow, stage of lactation and your hand skimming skill.  To keep from exposing the milk to bacteria over and over, I wait until a few hours before I am going to churn to skim, and I skim all the jars at the same time.  The cream needs to be at about 60 degrees F to churn fast, much colder it becomes grainy  - much warmer and it is greasy.  I know that sounds funny, but butter has lots of similarities to dough and all its quirks, once you see and feel these subtle differences you'll know what I mean.  After skimming, I leave the milk to reach room temperature or 60 degrees and then I have a little leeway to do other chores or fit in churning while fixing dinner.

After churning the butter needs to be washed and worked thoroughly to get out all the buttermilk, this is very important for longer storage.  Adding salt at this time is a personal preference, I have never found that it makes much difference in the keeping quality.

To figure out how much butter I need for the year, I use my loose 52 week plan I keep in mind when I am canning.  How much butter do you use per week?  One pound, three pounds?  Multiply that figure by 52 and see what you get. We fall somewhere in between that number, and luckily that works out to be an attainable goal for the resident butter maker.  At this point I am getting about a pound a day, so if I can keep up that pace, in four months time and when the sunlight is starting to fade I can have 120 pounds of butter stored up, maybe. 

So there you have it, from 4 gallons of milk, you get 1/2 gallon of cream, which magically turns into a pound of butter and a 1/2 gallon of buttermilk.  Plus you still have almost the 4 gallons of milk that is perfect for cheese of some sort, or clabbering for hens and hogs.  And after all that there is gallons of whey too.  The family cow, the true workhorse of the farmstead :)

Jane Butterfield

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Creating A Positive Vision Of The Future

By Gavin Webber from The Greening of Gavin


Writing most days about living a more sustainable lifestyle is so very rewarding, and I have come to treasure telling my family's story via this blog and my own.  I strive to keep my posts as positive as I can, given the ever approaching post-petroleum future and climate chaos that we now face. Most of the time I succeed.  I have come to learn that positive visions are increasingly important in engaging people which help them to avoid and overcome fear and inaction due to these issues being constantly bombarded at them.

So many activists and environmental messages are filled with doom and despair which attempt to engage via negative emotions in an attempt to urge people into action.  It is not working, because I believe that this is backfiring more and more.  It is simply alienating ordinary people further by disengagement.  People do not want to hear negative messages by choice.  I know I don't.

However, people are becoming increasingly aware that our current consumer culture is not exactly Earth friendly, or is conducive to a long and fruitful future for mankind.  Without a positive vision to be drawn to, or role models from which to learn good examples of simple, green and frugal solutions, they probably just switch off and continue on with business as usual or get stuck in denial of these events.

I have come to realise that there is no us and them, and that we are all in this together.  People want a better future for their descendants, and are willing to work hard at a better life, but will only strive in the right direction if given all the facts, and a positive vision of what they can achieve.  The future is not set in stone, and with each decision we make, they can have a remarkable effect upon it.

So I urge you all to paint that positive vision in everything you do, say or write.  As we begin to share our positive vision of the future, we will find that more and more people will become interested and engaged, and hopefully strive towards one that will have the best outcome for all life on Earth.

Chance favours the prepared mind.
-Louis Pasteur

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Exiting The Rat Race



Back a few years ago, I remember thinking many times that something was missing in my life. I could never put my finger on what it was, and strived for answers. I would buy the latest consumer and electronic goods, upgrade my computer yearly to a faster model, buy the latest PC games to spend endless hours of my free time on. I worked hard and long in my quest to earn more money so that I could afford more material possessions in the vain hope that I would find satisfaction and fulfilment. 

It didn't work, but like many other people stuck in the rat race, and due to my inaction and consumeristic habits, it was as good as it got. No-one wants to be unfulfilled in life, but sadly many of us are still looking for that "something" that is missing. Credit card balances were through the roof, and I was living a lifestyle way beyond my means.

I also found it hard to unwind each day, and realised that my head was swimming with so much stuff that my mind raced a fair bit of the time. I wasn't in touch with my surroundings, sometimes out of tune with the wonderful people I shared my life with, and I certainly was not in tune with the plight of the planet. I was blissfully unaware of my impact on it and to the ecosystems that exist upon it. I had drifted on the tide of a life half lived for far too long.

What a sorry state of affairs! I had an inkling of what might be wrong, so Kim and I started to attend meditation classes so that we could both learn to relax. I really enjoyed the experience, and things began to change. After a meditation session, I felt connected to my inner self in a way I hadn't experienced in my life.

Then came the day that I went to the cinema to watch a free movie provided by work, and it changed my life. It was as if I awoke from a horrible dream, and if you have read this my personal blog from the beginning, you will know the rest of the actions I have taken to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

All the actions aside, I think I have only once described the emotions and personal changed that have taken place with in me. Firstly, I have taken a step back, and had a really hard look at myself and the way I lived before my epiphany. I have managed to come to grips with who I am, and what I want to do with the rest of my life. I found that by looking within, rather than searching for answers in the outside world, I found that I was already complete and that my life was complete. I found that a simple life had meaning, albeit occasionally hard work, and it was not about blatant consumerism that the TV blasts at us, day in, day out. In fact, I found myself watching less and less TV, and began the research and learning that ultimately helped my understanding the climate change problem, and the ways I could reduce my carbon footprint.

At first my family thought I had lost the plot, but found that their husband and father began to talk about more interesting things, and made them think about things that challenged their own understanding of how our civilisation works. I had another purpose other than the daily grind of work. Not only did I feel fully connected to my family, which brought me great joy, I began to feel connected to the Earth, through my gardening endeavours. I may have said this before, but growing your own food is one of the most uplifting and spiritual things I have ever done, and certainly one of the most fulfilling. All of the things that my family and I have done over the last two years have brought us closer together, and we spend more meaningful time together. I now stress less about work, and am more relaxed at home, but more active and took a pay cut so that I could work a 9 day fortnight. I have also lost 10 kg in the process and now know that by looking at my inner self, I changed who I was for the better.

Nowadays, we rarely go out anywhere by choice, but we have a fuller lifestyle. We have comfort in knowing that we produce our own solar electricity and solar hot water, drive less, and have reduced our consumption across the board. We make things together, we grow food together, we cook together, and most of all we have fun together, which is really the simple home truth that people caught in the rat race just don't realise. Living simply, and honesty, like our grandparents, is what a full life was, and still is, all about.

It makes me sad some days, when I realise that it took me about 42 years to get it, but my goodness, I am making up for it now. I still work to pay off the house, and actually enjoy work without the stress, and find it a great way to spread the word about my lifestyle. I stopped sweating the small stuff. We are paying off the house and our other debts very quickly, so we should be debt free in about five years time (maybe a little longer). We don't live in a McMansion (never did anyway), and now live within our means. Credit card debt has gone, with the nasty consumerism troll now living at the bottom of the compost heap like the rotting matter it is.

It feels great to be alive, and to have a goal as big as the planet for the rest of my time on it. I have found the "something" that I was missing. It was inside of me all along, and I just didn't know it at the time!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Making New Habits Stick

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Ah - a new year, accompanied by those ubiquitous resolutions. Now, myself, I'm at the age where strength and flexibility are at the use-it-or-lose-it stage. And since there are still a lot of items on my bucket list that require just those qualities, plus endurance, I certainly don't want to "lose it."

I already try for at least 30 minutes cardio workout, five times a week, usually by simply walking around my hilly neighborhood. I've found the best workout aid to be an eager and insistent dog, with an Ipod full of music a close second. Luckily, I live in an area that, while it can get cold in the winter has mostly clear skies, any snow on the streets is removed in a timely fashion, and any remaining ice melts off the dark pavement quickly. Then again, I lived above 10,000 feet for 10 years. I do believe there is no inclement weather, only inappropriate clothing.

That said, I do have a backup indoor cardio plan, with a few dance exercise CD's for when the wind is really ripping or those infrequent but totally impossible storms blow in for more than a day. And my living room decor now includes a cross-country ski machine, picked up cheap, secondhand, facing the tv.

But life gets in the way too sometimes - more often than not, it seems. Besides time devoted to family and friends, home and garden projects, I also have multiple volunteer commitments plus a part-time job. I can't just say I'll walk every day at this time, make it every week to this exercise class. My schedule is too erratic to plan so absolutely. As with any life-changing resolution, you have to make it a habit. It just gets a bit more difficult when you can't link the new action to a particular circumstance.


So I use my big decorative calendar, hanging there to disguise the ugly well tank, in my kitchen pantry. And stickers, just like back in kindergarten. I've used shiny star stickers for the cardio workouts for years now. It's such a simple little reward, but it works for me. When my life gets a bit too hectic, taking care of myself seems to be the easiest thing to discard. But too many empty days on that calendar nags me that I need to get things back on track. Use it or lose it!

As I said at the beginning, this year I want to add strength and flexibility workouts too. I picked up a little booklet of stickers at the grocery store. There are little smiley face stickers, that I'm using for a flexibility session. I found a $3 yoga class, that meets a few different times a week, or I also count a half-hour of stretches on my living room floor - and am aiming for two times a week. The little round star stickers are my reward for strength workouts - arm exercises with five-pound weights, squats and lunges, you know the drill - also aiming for two times a week. Now I just need to find some little musical stickers. I've picked up my childhood accordion again. I want to start practicing regularly - gotta have some stickers. There's still room on those calendar days. The stickers just remind me to make room in my life.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Pondering the Concept of Intellectual Property

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Writing my own blog has often caused me to ponder the concept of intellectual property, and who profits from it. I don't really have any answers. I'm just using this co-operative blog post to ruminate on some of the questions, and hoping to hear what some of you have to say.

My most recent preoccupation with the concept has come about because of a hot sauce recipe. I have a recipe for jalapeno green sauce, and later adapted it using red cayenne peppers. A few years ago, I was experimenting using Habanero chiles. Now, a few years before that, I'd bought a bottle of Habanero hot sauce in Belize, and was so impressed with it that I'd saved the ingredient list from the label. Using a combination of the original recipe techniques and ingredients from the list, then a few tweaks here and there in subsequent years, and I finally have a pretty, tasty hot sauce.

I made a double batch of the stuff this past summer - so I could give some as Christmas gifts. I made up a label for the bottles, and wanted to show them off on my blog. As I did that,  I debated about posting the recipe (in fact, a first draft of the recipe was there, on an old post. I went back and deleted it for now). I started my blog in order to share my recipes with my family. But I've done searches on-line, and nothing like my current hot sauce recipe shows up anywhere. However, and maybe you've noticed the same phenomenon, there's a recipe for Belize-style Habanero hot sauce using carrots that shows up multiple times, especially in quite a few recipe compilation websites. Someone somewhere developed and posted that Habanero carrot recipe, but there's now no way to track it back to who and where it started. Admit it, despite saying your blog is copyrighted, don't re-post without permission, yada yada yada, you really can't put the Genie back in the bottle. Once you post something nowadays it's common property.

Those recipe compilation sites have advertising, so someone somewhere is profiting from the intellectual property of others. I don't really mind someone making a batch of hot sauce for their own use, but I don't know if I want my hot sauce recipe to be common knowledge. Realistically, I probably never will go into commercial production of it, but I don't think I want that option taken from me.

Maybe 25 years ago, I ripped a recipe for One-Hour French Bread out of a newspaper. I don't even remember which one - I just have the ripped and yellowed clipping. It's a great recipe - one of the earliest ones I shared on my own blog, and again on this one. It's been interesting watching where and how it turns up out there on the world wide web. Sometimes someone links back to my blog, sometimes they'll cite it as Sadge's bread recipe. Occasionally, I find it's been copied and re-posted wrong - one blogger left out the rising time, so anyone using that post is going to have a tasty doorstop. The photo is on Pinterest, as are a few more of my posts (which I really don't mind, since that site links back to my blog, and I like the additional traffic). Sometimes it's a bit of a pain watermarking my photos, but at least the name of my blog is out there when someone re-posts a photo.

I crochet, so wonder about patterns too. I made some potholders from a pattern in an old book, and realized it was wrong - the first one turned out lopsided. I made the necessary corrections to make them turn out square, and have since used my corrected pattern a few more times. My last set are finally getting pretty worn, so I'll be making some new ones soon. When they're finished, I'll post a photo, but can I post the corrected version of the pattern, and call it mine? Can I post the pattern at all?

Copyright law is so confusing, and I want to do the right thing. I inherited some really old crochet and knit pattern booklets - the oldest is from 1916. Can I scan and share some of those? How about Victory ones from WWII?  Old Workbasket booklets? Patterns I bought in the 1970's? Most everything is certainly out of print by now, but does someone still hold the copyright?

I've seen vintage Aunt Martha's embroidery patterns posted on-line, but some of those same ones are still for sale in my local craft store. Is that sort of thing ok? I know there's something about so many years have passed, but then something else about if it's been renewed, or is still in print. If I buy a pattern from someone, can I then make and sell the things I've made? Does it make a difference if it's at my local farmer's market or in an on-line store? Can the pattern-designer set and enforce a limit on how many I make?

And what about my own writings elsewhere? I've been a writer on this co-op since the beginning. I've seen quite a few co-writers come and go over the years. I wonder, does everyone still have access to the posts they wrote, or did the administrators take their names off the permissions list? Will I still have access to my own work if I quit? For the most part, I research and write different things here than on my own blog. What if I'd like to put some of the older posts on my own blog? Should I copy and post them, and have them in two places? Should I just delete them here, or put a "this post has moved" notice in their place?

And I don't even want to start in regarding the music business - debates and enforcement of that issue has been on-going for decades. As I said in the beginning, I don't have any answers. These are just some things I've been thinking about. Your thoughts?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Silver linings

By Aurora@Island Dreaming


The UK is heading full tilt into another recession, not that it feels, for most people, like the last one has actually ended. We are warned daily of the possibility of the collapse of the Eurozone, on the need for austerity, on the consequences of high unemployment, high inflation, a 'lost generation', riots, civil unrest, a 'lost decade', or even permanent decline. Where once you would read of these things only in peak oil and select 'doomer' forums, these concepts are being trotted out before our very eyes in mainstream newspapers and news programs. There was even a lighthearted comment piece on stockpiling (and why it might not be so dumb and reactionary) in one of our broadsheets this week.

I know that many of us would have seen these events looming on the horizon and have been exasperated every time a politician or economist stood up and said that the turbulence of recent years was caused by 'black swan events' or 'unforeseeable circumstances'. Whilst the joys of a simpler life are self evident when you have actually adopted that life, the other upside is that you are exposed to the reality of a world intent on cannibalizing itself. When you begin to pay off your debts, reduce your consumption and start to take care of your own little patch of earth, the din of those around you running in the opposite direction is deafening.

One of the silver linings of all this, is the number of people who are starting to turn in our direction, whether through necessity or by choice. Some will rally hopelessly against the new limits being imposed and stretch every sinew to maintain what they see as their 'standard of living'. Others will hopefully start to look instead, in the absence of material goods and perhaps increasingly for many, material comfort, for the contentment  that can exist beyond those things.

I occasionally check in on Facebook and more so in recent weeks, because the nature of the comments and status updates have changed. I haven't changed my friendship group, but the nature of the comment feeds has definitely improved for the better in my eyes. Where once there were reams of updates about shopping, clubbing, needs, wants monthly overspending and excess, I  now see lots of references to home baking, to gardening, to making Christmas presents this year instead of buying. There is even the odd beer brewing comment. There are groups of friends getting together to knit, to fund raise, to cook.

This is reassuring for someone who has always felt a little out of step with the majority of her friends and acquaintances. It is keeping me sane through some tough times, that the response to this newest crisis is slightly more creative than the response to the last one.

Where are you finding your silver linings these days?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gratitude





I am envious.

I can step outside of my door every day and choose to see what I want to see; and like most people, my default is to see what I lack - a surprisingly easy task in such a wealthy country. It is so much easier to compare myself to those 'doing better' - to see the flash cars, billboards, airbrushed magazine covers, aspirational homes - than to see the reality of those struggling below me. Some days I am filled with angst for all the things that I don't have. My neighbours own their home, I only rent. My colleagues go on several holidays and weekends away each year, I might have just one week away. Some of my acquaintances can spend money without a second thought, I have to balance a food budget. Poor, poor me.

If I didn't take the time to stop and really look, I probably wouldn't appreciate the roof over my head, rented or otherwise, until I lost it. I would take for granted that we have running water, running HOT water. That my children are growing up in peacetime, on UK soil at any rate. That I can afford and can access good healthy food for us all.  That I had an education, that I can read and write and do maths. That my partner and I both, for the time being at least, have jobs. That I have an awful lot to be thankful for, in comparison with the vast majority of humans on this planet; and even some of my close neighbours. There are some things I lack. Sometimes things are a little tight. But mostly, I am blessed.

I sometimes wonder what is the most important skill for living a simple life and I change my mind regularly. I know that it isn't bread baking, or sewing, or knitting or cooking from scratch, these are merely means to an end. I wonder if it is knowing when to say 'enough' - and to acquire this skill is to be able to look at your life once in a while in the light of all of the things that you do have and be filled with gratitude for them.       

I am envious that we do not have a day in the UK dedicated to expressing gratitude for all that we have.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our American friends.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Slow Food: buy less, spend more, don't waste!

by Francesca @ FuoriBorgo




My family and I recently went to an event organized by Slow Food, the Italian non-profit organization well-known internationally for its commitment to local food traditions and communities, and its mission to promote food that's good (fresh and seasonal), clean (safe for our health and the evironment), and fair (fairly priced for both the consumers and the small-scale producers).  (You can read more about Slow Food philosophy here.)  It was a Cheese festival, and I wrote about it on FuoriBorgo here and here.


Carlo Petrini, the charismatic founder of Slow Food, held a press conference, where he discussed many interesting issues about the economics and ethics of food, including:


-    22,000 tons of edible food are thrown away every day in American households, and 4,000 tons in Italy.

-    Consumers spend 20% less on groceries than they did 30 years ago.

-    By buying cheaper food, consumers give their money to industrial food concerns, rather than to small-scale, sustainable producers of quality food.

We live in a time of colossal over-production and waste.  In fact, according to a study prepared by the FAO in 2011 ("Global Food Losses and Waste"), roughly one third of the food produced for human consumption every year - approximately 1.3 billion tonnes - gets lost or wasted.  According to Carlo Petrini, the results of this runaway waste coupled with the widespread industrialization of the food supply, are far-reaching and severe:  the soil is being impoverished and depleted, water is becoming scarce, bio-diversity is being lost, and small farmers are having a harder and harder time making a living.

Petrini calls for a new paradigm.  He says we need to stop wasting food, buy less food overall, and spend proportionately more on the food we do buy - on high-quality food that's safe, healthy and priced to give the farmer a fair income.

This press conference was a real eye-opener for me in many ways, and a call to action.  I found the level of food waste deeply disturbing.  Yet what Carlo Petrini said about spending more, made perfect sense.  We need better, fairer food in our homes, and less of it.  And we need to stop wasting food.  All these steps go together - I'll be writing more about this.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Small living

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

We live in a small house. At first it was a necessity - it was the only two bedroom house we could afford to rent at the time. The rent is still incredibly cheap and so we are using the opportunity to build up our savings. The house is a mid- terrace, with a total living space of just 51.5 square metres (approximately 625 square feet) including the bathroom, stairway and hallways. There is also a small patio yard at the back, about 3.5m x 4m. There are now two adults, a toddler, a baby and two homebody cats packed into this space. The house is not exceptionally small for the UK and there are many in almost identical houses down our street who have an extra child, or a dog, or an extra adult packed in.

I have been into a few of my neighbours' houses. Some of them are kept completely clutter free, with minimal furniture and decoration - absolute bliss to my eyes that are more accustomed to scanning various piles of stuff from toys to laundry to bubbling demijohns in our own home. Yes, those homes are lovely. But contrary to appearances they do not lack stuff - it is just the kind of stuff that can be tucked away out of sight, single purpose gadgets and inert objects. The TV is the sole source of entertainment with a few DVDs lined up neatly on shelves. Very few books to be seen, certainly no arts or craft materials. Nearly every function of life has to be outsourced for lack of space and tools. In short, there is absolutely no resilience. Disruption to the food supply chain? You will be hungry in three days. Your internet connection fails? You will be bored.

I love the idea of minimalism - of having as few possessions as possible, of not being defined by the stuff we own. It would be very easy to do in the city too, with 24 hour shops and every kind of service under the sun within walking distance. At one point last year I became completely enamoured with the 'Tiny house' concept. Could a balance be struck between lack of stuff (actually a very green concept) and a modicum of self reliance? Some of the approaches I wish I had learnt, or implemented, when we first moved in:


  • Resist the temptation to hoard things for a rainy day unless you have a project, a timeslot and an adequate storage place in mind - fabric that will only become mildewed before it is finally used, packets of seed you will never have the room to sow and a down winter jacket that sees daylight once a decade are no good to anyone.
  •  Stack as many functions into as few objects as possible. Have a large hob to oven casserole instead of a casserole and a saucepan. The baby is bathed in the kitchen sink in our house - I don't know how we ever justified a plastic bath cluttering up our tiny kitchen the last time around.
  •  Ensure you have like minded friends with whom you can pool resources. Resist the temptation to own every tool  - everyone can justify a clothes airer, but everyone owning a pressure washer is ridiculous.
  •  Make sure your possessions reflect your priorities. Sell the fiction books if you no longer read them to make time and space for craft supplies. My knitting needle collection has been pared down from around twenty five pairs to eight that I will use regularly - and now I focus on simple patterns that I will actually make and wear as opposed to the wonderful but complicated fashion pieces in magazines. Knit to live, in my case, not live to knit. In effect, pare down your ambitions and you can pare down the amount of stuff you need to own, whilst still being productive.
  •  Do not feel guilty for limiting the number of toys your children have. We have given up buying toys as family and friends tend to furnish our house amply at Christmas and  birthdays. It is a sad fact that many lie discarded at the bottom of packed toy chests, or are broken within a few days. Our son tends to play with the same few things he has since he began to be aware of toys - bricks, marble runs, the odd figurine, musical instruments, art materials and his all time favourite, the cardboard boxes they came packaged in.
  • Learn to use the space you have unconventionally. Store bulk food under the bed in airtight plastic boxes. Make stored pumpkins decorative book ends each autumn. Use the space under sofas for yarn and the space under the bath for tinned food.

I now understand that our house will never be entirely uncluttered, but that is the price to be paid for cheap rent and a continuous succession of interesting experiments - usually involving some form of living organism that needs to be watched. There can be no tucking bread dough or drying seeds in a drawer out of sight and mind.  Our tiny kitchen windowsill currently has assorted trays and papers with saved seeds spread out to dry, along with the teapot, washing up liquid, a triffid like house plant that I have been meaning to re-pot for an age, some children's paint brushes soaking in jars and a few stray bulbs of garlic hanging from the window catch. There is a box of brewing equipment and a 25kg bag of barley stashed in our wardrobe. The living room windowsill is covered in green tomatoes interspersed with bananas (for all the street to see) in the hope they might ripen up.

We are still prioritising our stuff and gradually reducing and replacing it until it suits our small living quarters. Frugality and resilience are not synonymous with possessions and hoarding 'just in case'. They are states of mind that encourage creativity and problem solving, balanced with just the right 'things' to achieve an ends - in effect, living much better lives with less.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Chickens for the Freezer, Final Stats

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

We butchered our meat birds yesterday and so now I have all my final facts and figures in place enabling me to see just how much it costs to raise this portion of our food.



I used the standard Cornish Cross meat bird because I appreciate the growth efficiency that has been bred into them. They provide lots of bang for the buck. Not to say that they can't be fraught with problems if you don't follow the instruction sheet. Basically these are race car chickens and they need the high octane fuel, My old 6 banger hay truck doesn't need race car fuel and it is slow as heck, but it gets the job done. So if you want,need, or desire a slower growing chicken by all means grow that type of chicken, but please don't try to fit the industrial Cornish into the slow growing, low protein type feed, it can end up very sad for both birds and the people raising them. There's plenty of opinions out there on what breed of bird, type of feed, and raising methods to use. I am not addressing any of that here, I am just reporting what it took to from hatchery to freezer on my farm. My equipment is already off the depreciation schedule so I haven't included start-up costs. And labor costs vary depending on how much you think your time is worth or what you are willing to pay someone else to do your work for you. Obviously the longer you raise your birds the more time you have into them.

EXPENSES
$ 126.00 - Chick Cost (day-old includes shipping)
$ 450.00 - Feed (custom mix non-organic broiler feed)
$ 5.00 - Electricity(brooder)

$<581.00> - Total Expenses


*VALUE (*reflects comparable product available in my area)

$1764.00 - Meat 441 pounds @ $4.00 per lb
$14.00 - Hearts/livers 10 lbs @$2.00 per lb
$ 29.00 - gizzards 14.5 lbs @ $2.oo per lb
$72.00 - feet 18 lbs @ $4.00

$1885.00 -Total Value

$1304.00 - NET

I started with 77 birds and lost two, one within hours of receipt, and one a week later when I stepped on him. Ouch. He ran off, but was dead the next morning. Looking at the figures above my birds cost approximately $8.00 each to raise. More than the Fred Meyer version and less than if I had to buy them. By the time I get my husband's lunch meat for the week, 2 more meals at least, and 5 quarts of broth, plus dog food I have gotten my moneys worth. Most of the birds weighed in the 5 and 6 pound range with a few outliers at 4.5 pounds and 7.5 pounds. I used 1500 of feed for the Cornish and pullets in the 8.5 weeks, which works out to about a 3:1 feed conversion rate. The leftover feed from the ton will be used for my pullets and with some cutting of protein my adult hens can eat it too.

Another factor that you have to take into consideration is processing costs. I butchered at a friends house, and will help them butcher when their chickens are ready. Processing at a state facility in my area starts at $3.50 per bird. Which is worth it if you're squeamish.

As for feed, I co-oped with a neighbor who needed pig feed. I did the ordering and delivered the minerals, and when the feed was done, they picked it up. Still we had some costs involved in time, and fuel. I also raised my replacement pullets for eggs with this flock and it would be hard to track what they ate in the 8 weeks.

And certainly with some ingenuity and attention to detail you can really gather some good chicken manure for your garden in the time you are raising these birds. I have some good material from the brooding stage and used the birds to renovate a small pasture that needed some help.

So while not for everyone, raising chickens for meat is certainly a good place to start. Chickens are small and easy to handle and in two months plus, you have a product to eat. Much quicker than any other type of meat animal.

And it is delicious!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Rhubarb Curd

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

I affectionately call rhubarb "Poor Man's Citrus", but maybe I should call it Northern Man's Citrus. Poor ol' rhubarb, the ubiquitous kitchen garden and sensible farmyard perennial has made its way into the foodie culture. A spring herald around here, and the first fruit abundant enough to be eaten and preserved, tart and tangy rhubarb deserves the attention it is getting; a secret farm wives have known for years.

Faster than you can shake a stick, well not quite, you can pull a few stalks, slice, add a tiny bit of water, sugar and vanilla to taste, cook in covered pan for 10 minutes more or less and you have sauce for...the possibilities are endless.



We have always called this rhubarb pudding, but many call this rhubarb curd. Take your pick, it is delicious, eaten plain or used as a filling for tarts or pies. This dish is common on our table in the spring when eggs and rhubarb are abundant.

Rhubarb Pudding or Curd 5 one cup servings

4 - 5 stalks trimmed rhubarb or enough for two cups of rhubarb sauce.
1/3 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
6 egg yolks
1 stick butter, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon vanilla

Wash, trim and cut rhubarb into one inch slices. Combine rhubarb slices, 1/2 cup sugar and water in covered saucepan. Cook on medium heat until rhubarb is tender - about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool. Measure 2 cups cooked rhubarb sauce and purée in food processor or blender until smooth.

Separate egg yolks and press through a fine mesh sieve into double boiler (this removes any egg white left behind). Add puréed rhubarb, remaining one cup sugar, butter, and vanilla, whisk together. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture is thick and coats the back of a spoon. This takes about 10 minutes. Spoon into serving size dishes, chill before serving, or not, it is delicious warm on ice cream!

As an aside, I grow the hardier green rhubarb that has flourished on our homestead since it's inception (1881), and have just a few plants of the red variety which have yet to show much growth this cool spring. So as you may have noticed my rhubarb curd is almost tan, which may appear unappetizing to some. Growing up with food coloring in the kitchen cabinet, I have chosen to eschew this practice and present food in my kitchen as it appears. The newer red commercial variety will yield a pretty pink curd, but the taste is the same. Also pressing the yolks through the sieve is only necessary if you don't want a guest getting a tiny piece of rubbery egg white stuck in their teeth. Often when short on time and weary of washing dishes, I skip this step - it's all food.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Realistic Budgets

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches


















Every now and then I think I can trim more off my budget and I try to convince myself that I don't really need to have as many items budgeted for in my monthly plan. Little conversations will run through my head, the more determined side convincing myself I don't really need to keep adding to my health fund because I so rarely get sick. That same voice would seem so sensible when it suggests I don't need a clothing jar because I don't need new clothes. And yet again the voice rears it's ugly head when it tells me mad money is just a frivolous spend. Only what the weaker voice didn't state loudly enough is that mad money is great fall back money, new clothes may be needed if your winter boots break in half and medication may need to be bought if you suffer from eczema.

Living the frugal life can be a worthy pursuit, but if you aren't careful it can make life more complicated instead of helping you simplify. Sometimes in my effort to have as simple a budget as possible I have actually made my life more difficult. Overspending because you haven't spent enough, pulling money from the wrong place, dipping into other funds and feeling overwhelmed are in direct contrast to the simplicity the frugal life can bring. And when you aren't realistic about your needs & aren't actively and practically planning for the worst - you can be in a situation which is a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

I use a jar system to allocate my money and the truth is, whether I like it or not, whether I add in $1 or $50 a week I need to budget each week & month for all of my costs. Even if I wish I could eliminate more in every season of my life I need money jars which represent the truth. And right now my *truth* is I need jars for:

Grocery Shopping
Bills
Health
Pet Costs
Emergencies
Giving
Clothing

And while health and clothing usually don't entail monthly spends, knowing there's some money rattling around in a jar to help deal with inconveniences like itchy skin & boots which split in half {and are much needed items since we have yet another 2 months of snow storms ahead of us} helps me live a simple, green & frugal life!

How do you keep your budget organized and on track? How do you make cut backs that are realistic? What are your budget necessities?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Starting a new garden, slowly

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

I have started a few gardens in my time. My first was a borage patch in a plastic pot on my windowsill. Then I started a chili pepper garden in our old studio flat. When we finally upgraded to a house with a patio, I expanded to a few tomato plants, some salad leaves, herbs and a potato plant. As you can tell, I am quite the expert gardener. Quite.

Delusions of green-fingered prowess aside, I am all too aware that I am a novice. I have managed to keep plants alive and I have even harvested a few edible morsels from my modest container gardens over the years. But container gardening a small space has frustrations of its own, the supreme one being that the scope for experimentation and skill development is quite low. Having now acquired a 75m square allotment plot, I am well aware that I will have to cast aside my vision of having an intensively productive, beautiful and ecological plot within the space of a year.

One golden rule I have come across time and time again in permaculture books is 'to observe' - which sounds quite dull when you are shut up inside, longing for a time when you can take action. Now much of what we had planned for the plot has actually been abandoned as we spend time on it. We have a blank canvas in effect; but our plot has limitations, dictated by the soil and climate and by the rules of our tenancy agreement. Instead of our planned quick fixes, a longer term approach to planning our plot is now taking shape.

In recent weeks, with food price inflation and threatened fuel blockades on the horizon, the desire to produce calories as efficiently and cheaply as possible has subsumed other considerations. After quiet reflection, I realise that a small plot is not going to be much defence against these issues; and a plot born of a love of organic tasty ingredients rather than a fear of hunger has once again begun to take shape.

As well as being organic and productive, we would like to experiment with lower-yield but unusual varieties. We would like the plot to be an educational space for our son where he can explore greenery and creepy crawlies and learn to garden. We would like to be as self sufficient in water, compost, nutrients and plants as possible. A sociable space with room for a few fold up chairs and a picnic rug would also be welcome at the end of a hard day.  All of this needs far more forethought than knocking together a few raised beds and planting high yield crops with abandon.

It it also means that we can relax a little. There is no rush and there is no need to get everything right the first time (although not breaking the spade in the first week would have made for a more productive start). We can experiment and make mistakes and when we have observed how the sun moves across the sky and the wildlife and the elements ruin our best efforts over the next year, we will be in a position to make some more permanent decisions.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Preparing For The New Year - A Simple, Green & Frugal 2011

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Slowly but surely I find my confidence growing. I've blogged before about a little internal battle I faced, feeling like I wasn't ever going to succeed at the green or frugal life because I couldn't knit or sew and didn't have a homestead for my own chickens, bees and garden. In 2010 I finally understood the truth, there isn't one prescription for a simple, green and frugal life, in fact I imagine if there were it wouldn't be so simple!

Looking back 2010 was the year I accomplish many changes in my life that were simple, green & frugal. 2010 was the year I semi learned to knit, I canned fresh produce (under expert instruction), I volunteered overseas, I learned how to make my own shampoo & conditioner and I began using re-useable toilet paper. It is only through recognition of the little changes I made in 2010 that I'm able to think about realistic yet optimistic goals for 2011.

One of my main goals for 2011 is to drastically change how I eat. The plan is to have a whole foods year, nothing pre-packaged, everything ethically sourced and made from scratch. I hope 2011 is my vegan year, or at the very least 95% vegan with a bit of ethically sourced feta cheese from a local farmer. Yes, my name is Frugal Trenches and I have a slight addiction to feta cheese! ;-)

My simple, green and frugal goals for 2011 are:
1. Begin using a worm composter
2. Volunteer to clean up a community garden or park
3. Make my own soap
4. Follow a 100 mile diet
5. Veganism {or as near as possible!}
6. Foster dogs or cats for the local animal shelter
7. Take sewing classes
8. Give up caffeine

All are realistic and represent changes I feel I'm now ready for and looking forward to!

Some may think it is a bit early to discuss goals and plans for the new year, but one thing I've learned on this journey is that I need a "settling in period", a time to adjust to change and get my head to follow my heart. So for the month of December I'm eating vegan 5-6 days a week and reducing my caffeine. On top of that I just found a sewing class which starts in January and while I'm not taking the path of insisting from January 1 I've made all these changes in full, I'm slowly getting there one simple, green and frugal step at a time.

What are your plans for 2011? Do you set yourself & your family goals for the New Year that will help you in your simple, green and frugal journey?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Simple Does It

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches


















Every now and then I realize I'm making a mistake, I'm over complicating life. Sometimes I feel a need to have things a certain way, like I'm failing if my plate doesn't look, smell and taste all together epicurean. Sometimes I put so much pressure on myself to make things perfect that I seriously contemplate making something bought look homemade and fret (for a quick second!) at the fact I'll never have the skills to make something fit for a food magazine. And then a little voice inside me whispers some home truths, usually at the same time I smell toast toasting and marvel at it's succoring nature, it's ability to evoke so many wonderful emotions, it's ability to say so much about the beauty of simplicity. And somehow, by the time the butter is spread, toast has taught me a valuable lesson. Food, like life, doesn't need to be as complicated as we make it. Sure it's good to occasionally stretch oneself, but one's feet need to stay firmly planted on the ground.

With the stress of moving and new challenges, coupled with a few kitchen baking disasters (I may never try to make lemon tart again...) I've decided, as I ease into winter (-12 tonight....brr) and long work hours that I need to take lessons from toast with butter. Sometimes simple is all you really need. And so this week, I noticed a little change in my kitchen. Gone were the piles of dishes, dread about what to prepare and grumbling and instead simple, basic, joy.

And for the curious, my new simple favourites are:

Breakfasts
- Toast with peanut butter
- Yogurt with homemade granola, almonds & fruit

Dinners
- Fish with salad & green beans
- Homemade soup with homemade rolls
- Homemade curry with rice & veggies
- Beans on toast :)

Snacks
- fruit with peanut butter or almond butter
- cheese and crackers
- canned apple sauce

Lunches
- leftovers
- cut up veggies with hummus
- winter veggie pasta

















One day I'm sure I'll try something more complicated, but right now I'm savoring in the simple. And after a simple meal and a simple evening spent knitting, my heart and soul tell me I'm in the place I'm meant to be, even if I never succeed at lemon tart!

Do you get little reminders to focus on the simple things? What does your food say about you?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Adding Diversity to the Garden

by Chiot's Run

I'm always trying find ways to increase the biodiversity in our gardens and to broaden my knowledge of the benefits of of biodiversity, even in the small scale garden. Every year we add a few more native/local plants, especially ones that are beneficial for insects (like milkweed, queen anne's lace & goldenrod). We also garden without the use of any kind of sprays or dusts, even the organic ones, which still be hard on or kill beneficial insects. Our methods of pest control are limited to luring beneficial insects/birds/animals to our property and companion planting. If our cabbages get decimated by cabbage loopers we try companion planting or we try to lure beneficial birds to the garden. One of the reasons I don't spray or do anything to limit the insect population of any kind is because I believe the "bad" insects are around for a reason. If we didn't have them, we wouldn't have the good ones either, or the birds/animals that rely on them for food.



What got me thinking about this was something I read a long time ago about some trees in one state. This particular type of tree was plagued by web worms (which we have a lot of around here). The state started a spraying program to control the worms, but then they noticed the trees started dying off. After further study they found out that the worms defoliated the trees right at the time the dry season started. The defoliation allowed the trees to lose less water and thus survive the dry season. When they killed off the worms, they inadvertently weakened or killed the trees. We have such a limited view of the natural world, what we often see as a "pest" if often doing a specific job, if we interrupt that natural cycle we often do more damage.



Adhering to these self-imposed rules hasn't always been easy. We've had times when we've been overrun with earwigs, HUGE wolf spiders, and slugs and I've lost crops to insect damage. But we have noticed that each and every year we have a greater variety of insects, birds and other creatures in our gardens. Along with all these new species comes a healthier ecosystem and fewer problems with overpopulation of one species. I've noticed that we don't get overrun any more. When the cabbage worms start getting out of hand, the wrens eggs hatch and mama goes to work collecting all those big juicy fat green worms to feed their young. At that moment I'm thankful that I didn't dust the cabbage or those little wren babies might not have enough to eat. The more I pay attention to these natural cycles the more thankful I am that I read that article so long ago. I love spotting a wasp patrolling a broccoli plant in search of a caterpillar or birds flitting around the tomatoes looking for giant hornworms.




My newest attempt to add biodiversity to my gardens is in the way of a small pond. We've been wanting to add some water for the insects, frogs, toads, birds and other wildlife. I have small saucers of water I around the garden (change water frequently to avoid breeding mosquitoes), but I have been wanting to add something larger. My parents gave us their old pond when they upgraded to a larger one. We installed it a couple weeks ago and 2 days later we found a few toads in it already. We bought some fish to help with mosquito control and it looks like we're on the way to even great diversity on our small 1/4 acre lot. I've noticed bees and wasps drinking from the pond and the birds love it as well. I'll keep thinking of new ways to make my little slice of the world a refuge for the insects and animals of all shapes.

Any great tips and ideas on increasing the biodiversity in the garden? Have you noticed a greater abundance and variety of insects, birds, and other wildlife in your gardens?


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.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

What's The One Thing You Do?

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

















This month I'm in the throws of month two of a new demanding job, a broken computer battery (for which I can't find a replacement), a broken phone and two very very ill (potentially terminal) family members. Life is certainly not simple as of late, yet I know making teeny tiny choices to continue living a simple life, make such a huge difference. It is times like these, where you have to really focus on what you can do and accept that in this season you may not be able to achieve it all. Currently I can not blog, I can not make three healthy simple meals a day, I'm not able to use my washable toilet paper system or find the time to make my own shampoo! I can: spend time caring for sick family members each week, meet elaborate targets at work, volunteer, recycle, compost and buy fairtrade and organic, if not all local.

So today I come to you, knowledgeable readers of this blog and ask you:
What are the one or two choices you make to help you lead a green, simple and frugal lifestyle? What choices can you commit to even through the tough times?

For me the two choices I'm trying to hold onto are exercising (outdoors) every day and making one balanced & simple meal each day!

I can't wait to read your responses, I am sure they will help anyone else who feels a tad overwhelmed like I do!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cognitive Dissonance

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin.

Back in September last year, I wrote a post about this subject.  It around this time in my journey that I felt a little burnt out from all the environmental and sustainable living activities I had been undertaking and were continuing to volunteer for.  I had been doing all of this work in the community, with little outcome to visibly show for it and was beginning to feel that I was the only person, besides a few friends that I knew, that actually cared about any of the big issues that were facing us.  I was totally wrong of course, because when I attended the yearly Walk Against Warming in my city three months later, over 40,000 like-minded people joined in to show support.  My spirits were also buoyed by the overwhelming and global uproar that the Copenhagen COP15 conference caused, even though the outcome was not the best for the planet.

Looking back, this term aptly described my state of mind about other peoples actions that I saw everyday when I was at a low, and how I felt just before my own green epiphany;

Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. The "ideas" or "cognitions" in question may include attitudes and beliefs, the awareness of one's behaviour, and facts. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours, or by justifying or rationalising their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours.

So my two contradictory ideas that I held simultaneously in my head, that were causing me an uncomfortable feeling;
A.  That we are on the cusp of a global emergency, with a changing climate, resource depletion, overpopulation, and the end of cheap oil, and obversely,

B.  Everywhere I look around me, everyone was going on about their business as if there was nothing wrong and everything is smelling like roses.  Even the global recession was over, so many commentators said (which I didn't believe for a second and I was right about).
Was it just me with this battle going on in my brain?  Some days I felt like my head was going to explode, because everything I believed to be true about these issues constantly manifested themselves in events I could see around me and read about everyday.

That was last year, so I don't think this way any more, well not as often as I did.  I have come to realise that cognitive dissonance is the first stage of awareness about an issue, and although it is very confusing for a while, you suddenly realise that these massive issues are not all full of doom and gloom, but are filled with hope and opportunity.  I now accept that everyone are at different stages of understanding, and that those of us who have a better understanding of these issues better can assist others in seeing the bigger picture. Some won't accept what you are telling them, but the majority will take it as food for thought and research further.

Thinking of the worst case scenario only paralyses people (and yourself) with fear, and you fail to act.  By describing a message of hope and a better life without loss of lifestyle, it is an easier way to engage others and keep them interested in the simple changes you have made yourself.  It took me a while to figure this out, but hey, I have always been one to learn from my mistakes (eventually). 

I have found that when I talk about my lifestyle at work in a positive way, I get far more interest than if I had started telling people about the big issues that face us.  It is in this manner that I have influenced the most people without them even realising it.  They are motivate and happy as they change to a simpler way of living.  Gardening always seems to be the easiest subject to talk about, and then I supplement the conversation with how I prepared the harvest, what I cooked, and how I preserved the surplus.  It brings a smile to my face when my work collegues tell me how their veggie patch is thriving and growing, and then they ask for more tips to save money and simple changes they can make.  It is great fun to share experiences other than just those at work, and bringing in home made cheese to sample always helps stir up interest!

So, take hope if you are feeling cognitive dissonance right now, as it will pass as you learn more.  I suggest that you don't ignore it, but act upon it.  Seek out others who can help you understand the issues in a realistic way, and can explain to you why simple living has so many other benefits other than saving you money.  Take my fellow writers and all of our readers on the Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op for instance.  I have never had such pleasure in sharing thoughts, ideas, and experiences with such a wonderful group of people.  The simple fact that this blog is visited by thousands of people each day gives me the biggest boost of hope that we are providing a valuable service to the global community.  Simple, positive actions break down cognitive dissonance quickly and then you know that you are heading in the right direction, this feeling disappears and fades away. 

Have you ever had environmental cognitive dissonance, and how did you react to the opposing thoughts or ideas?  We would love to hear your experiences via a comment.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Making A 5 Year Plan






















By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

I began making 5 year plans in my late teen years and have continued ever since. I've learned, through trial and error, not to make my plans and goals too specific and to focus on being on a journey. Five year plans work well for me because they fight my tendency to want everything here and now! They also allow me to work backwards with my planning, which helps keep me focused on baby steps and allows me to see how each year I'm working towards my long-term goals and dreams. One example is my desire for livestock within the next 5 years, so my currently yearly plan includes the goals of learning about raising goats and sheep and volunteering on a farm. These steps are easy for me to accomplish in this season of life and are great training for what may be to come.

My current five year plan includes the following topics:

Family Plans
House Plans
Emergency Preparedness
Animal/Pet/Livestock Plans
Green Plans
In The Garden
Crafting
Other New Skills
Volunteering and Giving Back
Faith
Savings
Education
In The Kitchen

Under each heading I have steps for Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, Year 4, Year 5. I monitor and change these steps as needed and as my goals change. My 5 year plan is fluid and reflects the changes in myself, my family and society. I keep my plans in a scrapbook, where I can add recipes, articles on keeping livestock, decorating ideas and financial tips. I also print of articles and jot down ideas, notes and thoughts.
Having a 5 year plan has had made me see firsthand that my dreams are not unrealistic, that I have passions, convictions and values which I will be able to live up to, with a bit of time and baby steps which move me in the right direction. Who knows, maybe one day I'll even own my own cow ;)

Do you have a 5 year plan or something similar? Has it helped you achieve your dreams and desires?

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.