Friday, 31 October 2008

Budgeting - don't be a carbon copy

Rhonda Jean
Down to Earth

Graphic from the Carl Larsen gallery

Whether you like it or not, to live a simply or green life, you must reduce your spending. It's part of the territory. You will get away with not growing your own food, you don't have to keep chickens, goats, make soap, bake bread, sew or knit, you can live in the city or the country, you can work or not, you can be young or older, but the one thing everyone has to do is to reduce their spending. Every time you buy something, you also own the carbon released into the atmosphere in the making of your product, you own the petrochemicals used in it's manufacture and in the transport that gets it from where it was made, or grown, to your home. Living simply will reduce the amount of of money you need to live because you'll be satisfied with less and you'll be making a lot of what you use. Maybe you'll also do some of those things I listed above, like bread baking, growing food and sewing. You'll also make do with less, recycle and mend, and in the process of that you'll give old items new lives and reduce the amount of things you buy.

A simple life costs less than the life lived by most western people now.

So if you believe me when I tell you that you must reduce your spending, also believe me when I tell you the best way to reduce your spending is to have a budget. This is not a scary thing, it's liberating. A good budget will be one of the best tools you'll have to help you live the life you want for yourself and your family. I've said before that a simple life is not about deprivation and being miserable, so with that in mind, when you first start living this way, make your budget a document that will give you the life you want but allow yourself small things that you need to be happy. My only luxury is $10 a week that I can use to buy what I want. Many of you would wonder why I bother with such a small amount, but that is what this lifestyle is about, it's being satisfied with the small things and being happy with the life I live. If you do it well, your life will make you happy and if you do budget for small luxuries like an occasional cup of coffee, I bet you eventually give it up because you'll find other things you want to spend that money on - things that will be more important to you. But if you can't imagine a life now without being able to buy a cup of coffee, a magazine, a bottle of water or whatever, budget for it.

The only things you'll buy from now on will be what you've budgeted for.

This is how we wrote our budget. We got all the bills we paid in the previous year and added them up to make a yearly figure. That was four electricity bills, three gas bills, in the first year we guessed how much petrol we used. We added up our grocery bills, what we spent on medical, optical, dental, the garden, postage, house rates (or rents), water, insurance, phone, Internet, gifts, clothes, shoes etc - everything we spent money on was calculated out at a yearly sum. So we had a yearly figure for each thing - our electricity, our water, groceries, petrol etc. Then, because we shop monthly, we divided our yearly amounts by 12 to give us 12 monthly amounts. That is what we budget for - 12 amounts for our 12 months. If you shop weekly, fortnightly or bi-monthly, divide your amounts up by 52 (for weekly), 26 (fortnightly) or 6 (bi-monthly). Whatever the amount is that is what you have to spend for the period you have chosen.

We keep the money for our fixed bills - the things we don't have to pay in cash, like the electricity bill, phone, internet etc - in the bank. Those amounts are paid by direct debit directly from the bank when the bill comes in. For everything else, our grocery shopping, petrol, garden supplies, dog food etc, we withdraw that amount - for us it's $690 a month - in cash. That cash is then divided up and placed into a ziplock bag that is named for its purpose. For instance, I have one bag for grocery money, one bag for bulk food money, one bag for medical, dental and chemist. The good things about these bags is that you deal with real money, you see what you've spent and what you have left.

Hopefully, you've started tracking your spending because that will play a big part in your budget. When you've tracked your spending for a few weeks, you'll see the pattern of your spending. You'll find places where your money is leaking and you'll be able to stop those leaks. If, when you do your budget, you find you do not have the amount of money you need, go to your tracking, find those leaks or items that are not needed, stop the spending on those things and so you have it to cover what is in your budget. And remember, now you only spend what you budget for. If you've budgeted for your cups of coffee and you can afford them, that's fine, if you cant afford them, you will have to do without. My feeling is that if you've read this far you will be keen to get your money in order. My guess is that paying off debt and living a good life will replace your coffees - or whatever your luxury is - and you won't even notice the absence.

We try to be thrifty with all our purchases so we have money left over at the end of the month. Usually it's around $100. That money is then put into our emergency fund. If we have enough money in the EF, that leftover money goes straight into our savings. But if you're paying off debt, I would encourage you to build up an emergency fund, then put every spare cent towards paying off your debt. Put your left over money as an extra payment on the debt with the highest interest rate.

So that's it. That is my guide to budgeting or creating your own spending plan. I'm not going to say it's easy, I know it won't be, but if you can do this, it will be the thing that makes the biggest difference to the way you live. And as I said before, don't be fooled into thinking you can keep spending and also live simply - it's impossible. You do one or the other. I hope you can reduce your spending, I hope you see the worth of it, because if you do, you will be able to live well on less, you'll pay your debt off much faster and you live a life that is unique and not a carbon copy of all the others in your street.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Growing year to year

Posted by: Paul Gardener
A posse ad esse (From possibility to reality)

As we work to grow our gardens, bringing fresh, healthy and organic food to our tables it's easy to get caught up in the process of picking our plants, choosing varieties, finding recipes that we'll use to preserve our harvests and just generally revelling in the excitement of either a new growing year or in the harvests that we're so enjoying as they come in. I've done it, I still do do it to some degree, but I've also learned that there are other things that I need to find some time and discipline to do. One such thing that we've been really making a concerted effort towards this year is our record keeping. It's not one of the glamorous parts of homesteading but it is, I am finding, an immensely valuable one.
List of this years preserved harvest items.

We kept our records this year, in a couple of very cheap spiral notebooks that got incredibly beaten up throughout the year. They were effective and easy to add things to though, and now that the majority of the growing season has passed us here in the northern hemisphere it is time to reconcile all the notes and charts into one location. For us that means digging into a stash of three ring binders that we salvaged from my office that were bound for the land fill, no need to waste after all. The types of things that we have added or will be adding are lists of things like what we grew this year, what we'd like to try next year, what and how much we put up for the winter and anything else we want to keep track of.
Detailed Journal of 2008 harvest totals.

This year for instance, we made it a personal goal to keep records of the weight of every item that we harvested. It allowed us to not only get a very realistic idea of how much total food we were able to produce on our own land, (over 500 lbs so far.) but it also will allow us to go back over the records in the off season and see what really did grow and produce well in our garden. Maybe we need to start earlier or try a different location, or maybe we just don't think a particular crop is worth the effort. Good records will help us to remember until next year and aid us in making adjustments to next years garden plan.
Charts showing what was grown where to help with garden rotations next year.

And that's another thing we have in our records, charts of what we grew and where we grew them. This is probably one of the things that I would say is a mandatory thing in any garden record book. I don't know about you all, but I can't remember from spring to summer what I planted where, and have made the mistake of growing the same things in the same places many times. Good crop rotation is one of the best organic gardening practices you can implement. It helps to keep pests from building up in one area, and minimizes the chances of species specific soil-born diseases from taking over. They don't need to be too detailed either, the ones in the picture above took me ten minutes to throw down on paper. I did have some notes in the beat up spiral notebooks, but most of the info I still remember. That won't be the case in February or March I assure you.
Keeping good records isn't one of those romantic, back to the land, idealistic things that we generally have come to mind, but in my opinion is one of the basic skills that we can build from the start to help ensure our other efforts are "fruitful". I encourage you to at least get a basic notebook, and start building that habit of jotting things down as they happen. Keep track of what you harvest, what kind of bugs you're seeing, weather patterns or anything else you think you may want to remember. You'll thank yourself later!
Grow on!

Bringing the countryside to the city!

Notes From The Frugal Trenches

For those that don't know I live in London, England. London is a fabulous city with amazing galleries, museums and buildings to explore. There are tourist attractions aplenty and some pretty nice parks. Those same nice parks get pretty crowded at the weekends, filled with tourists from afar and in truth they rarely satisfied my need for open space. Over the last six months I've come to feel suffocated by the people and noise so I decided I needed to find a way to get more of the countryside into my city life and I came up with & tried some of the following strategies

1.Try at least once a week to get to one of the city's great parks before the tourists arrived. This often meant getting up early, which took some adjusting, but oh so worth it in the end!

2. Find out about city farms local to me. Many of them are small and rely on fundraising and volunteers to function, this means they are usually eager to find helpers! What a great way to feel like you're living the rural life - certainly being surrounded by pigs & chickens made me forget I was in the city!

3. Become a dog walker at an animal shelter - what a brilliant way to give back, help animals in need, get some exercise and see grass instead of concrete!

4. Participate in an outdoor exercise group - I found this so much more rewarding then simply walking on a treadmill!

5. Buy or rent a bicycle - concrete often looks more appealing when cycling instead of sitting on a bus or tube/subway!

6. Take up a new hobby - often cities have canoe clubs, running groups and other great activities.

7. Try to escape the city at least once a month! I joined an association here in the UK where you can stay at no frills hostels (including family friendly ones) for about £15/$30 a night (some even less!). This means I can take advantage of cheap train deals and escape for a night or two regularly!

8. Plan that yearly holiday - I'm really becoming a person who craves simplicity. On the whole I'd now rather rent a little cottage by the sea or in the countryside. As long as I have countryside to roam and hills to climb I'm pretty happy!

9. Plant a garden - if you don't have a garden get some indoor plants or window plants. Even with no outside space you can grow herbs!

10. Join your works social committee or away day team - often this means you get a say in where work events are held and you can suggest and encourage outdoor pursuits!

None of these allowed me to accomplish my dream of having a little cottage in the English countryside with my rescue cats and rabbits, but it did let me feel a bit of peace and simplicity in a very hectic and busy world!

Monday, 27 October 2008

Learning how to sew

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

I loved Sadge's post below. Since my journey into a simpler life, one of the things that has come as a surprise to me was how much I loved learning how to sew.

Prior to my 'transition', I did not consider myself creative in any way at all. I failed home economics during highschool (I got a 'D' for cooking and an 'F' for sewing). As an adult, I was the type that threw away clothes if a button fell off.

Later on in life, I started to think about learning how to sew (properly) but as a mother to two little ones and with no babysitting available to me, opportunities for me to go to a proper class were very limited.

This all changed when I took up the challenge to not buy anything brand new in 2006. At first, everything was fine, until - you guessed it - a button fell of my jacket. So after borrowing a needle and got given some thread from my neighbour (yep, didn't have those at all in my house), I sewed my first button back on. It was then that I realised that I needed to teach myself how to sew if I was to stick to my challenge.

So first stop was to the op shop, where I found some white acrylic wool and a large needle with a big hole on it... later on I was to learn that it was an upholstery needle.

Next step was that I needed to now have materials to sew it with. I didn't want to spend a huge amount of money of learn how to sew (and I couldn't buy brand new fabrics anyway without breaking my challenge). So fate came along and taught me a new word: "Reconstructed Clothing". Reconstructed clothing is clothing that was made using old clothes. Basically, you pull apart clothes and make new ones.

So armed with an old jumper (that I pre-shrunk in the wash) and with the help of the Internet (Google and Youtube are fantastic resources to learn how to sew), I made this outfit for my son:

Yes, the sewing's crooked and it took me about 2 solid days to do it, but I was so proud of this. Plus, I had the added bonus of my son looking cute (well, I think so anyway) in it and I could tell myself that this distracted people from the crooked sewing.

Since then, I have graduated from hand-sewing to finally using a machine (again bought second-hand). Slowly, I acquired the necessary sewing materials - pins, scissors, pin cushion, more thread. Everything I acquired was second-hand. My generous friends also gave me a whole heap of clothes to experiment on (not to mention my own clothes!).

Reconstructed clothing not only allowed me to learn how to sew very cheaply, but by pulling apart already made clothes, I learnt a great deal in how they were put together in the first place. And because I was using clothes that would've been thrown away anyway, it freed me to be more daring and experiment a lot more than I would have.

Yes, I have since made a few disasters but as the disasters didn't really cost me anything but my time, I was able to just concentrate on the learning opportunities those disasters gave me without thinking of the amount of money I might have "wasted" otherwise.

So there you go, that's how I learned how to sew. If you would like to learn, I would highly recommend learning by reconstructing clothing and/or using materials from op shops.

Anyway, here are a list of websites that have helped me in my journey: (lots of tutorials here for reconstructed clothing)
Sew, Mama, Sew Blog Tutorials
And also Youtube and just searched for specific items (eg. "sew a zipper" or "sew a button hole" etc)

For those who may be interested in sewing an outfit similar to the one I made for my son, this is the tutorial I used for the pants: The rest of the outfit, I just hand-sewed as I went along using my son's actual clothes as templates and somehow fluked it.

All the best!

ETA: THANK YOU Sadge for reminding me of this great site: I got heaps of inspiration from this site when I was learning how to sew (still do too). You can join them and pledge not to buy brand-new clothes for 2 to 6 months. Then everyone inspires each other to sew or to reconstruct clothing. I had a lot of fun joining in here and I would highly recommend it for newbies to sewing. :)

Oh Darn! Mending Socks (or Gloves)

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm

I've been quite busy, getting the harvest put up and the garden put to bed, so I hope you won't mind if I just adapt another old post from my blog. Since the socks I put on this morning were the same ones in this post, I thought I'd use it:

I went to put on my socks, and noticed a small hole in the toe of one. The saying, "a stitch in time saves nine" is so very true when it comes to mending socks. A small hole is easy to fix, but once it gets bigger than a thumbnail, almost impossible. To mend a sock, you wouldn't want to just sew it, because that would leave a ridge that could later cause a blister or sore spot. Mending a sock uses a method called darning, weaving a patch over the hole. So I went to get my darning kit.

I inherited my mother-in-law's darning kit. She kept it in a marbled bakelite box. The box has a broken hinge, but it's the perfect size and I really love it. Looking at some of the things in there, I might be the third or even fourth generation to use it. There are big cardboard spools of cotton darning thread in normal sock colors, and smaller ones with some very bright and odd colors. Some of the threads are on wooden spools, and others are wrapped around rolled paper, labeled 10 yards for 5¢. There's writing inside the rolls, but I haven't wanted to take the thread off to see what it says. An assortment of wool yarns and nylon thread are wrapped around cards, 30 yards for 10¢. The darning egg is a wooden oval mounted on a spindle, the varnish worn away on the end and the tip scarred with gouges and scrapes. I've added a plastic cigar case, perfect for mending holes in the fingers of gloves, and a better pair of scissors (and now that I'm looking at the photo, the handle end of my egg would work for mending gloves too).

But you certainly don't need all this to mend socks - just some embroidery floss or yarn, a needle, and an "egg". For a darning egg, you want something rounded you can stretch the material over, with a smooth surface the tip of the needle will glide over. A light bulb or plastic Easter egg are good options. To start, put your "egg" inside at the location of the hole. Thread your needle with yarn, darning thread, or embroidery floss that matches the type of material (and color, if you want - my sister likes to use a contrasting color so she can admire her work, but when I use a different color, I see it and think "not sock", and think I've got another hole). If at all possible, use wool yarn for wool socks, cotton floss for cotton socks, polyester . . . you get the idea. Double the yarn for heavier material - you want to match the weight of the material too.

Stretch the material slightly over your egg. Start below the hole where the material is in good shape. You don't want to knot the thread - that would create a lump - so anchor your thread by making a running stitch (dipping the needle in and out of the material) to 1/2 inch away from the hole, and then making another running stitch back towards the hole. Don't pull the thread tight enough to pucker the material. You want it to just lie smoothly in the slightly stretched material.

Make a boundary around, outside the hole, with running stitches. That helps anchor the darning and reinforces the edges. Then, working back and forth over the hole from top to bottom, lay down parallel lines of thread. When the hole is covered over, start parallel lines side to side, perpendicular to the first set, dipping the needle up and down to create a woven pattern that fills in the hole. Finish with a running stitch away from the hole, and one more back, trim the ends, and you're done!

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Getting back to basics

Rhonda Jean
Down to Earth

Have you ever thought about the cost of convenience? I've been thinking about it a lot lately, and wondering why we fell for it. When you think about it, most of us believed the hype that we could be super people, super mums and dads, wives and husbands and still have time left over for ourselves. And we could, when we bought convenience. I'm talking about the convenience of have pre-washed salads, precooked cakes, pre-marinated meat, pre-cooked chicken and any other type of food you can think of; unlike in days gone by, we buy most of the food we eat. We've fallen for shampoo and detergent when they're almost always made with some kind of petro-chemical. We’ve stopped making our own clothes and, instead, buy cheap dresses and jeans from Asia.

We now buy really expensive large homes and pack them with furniture that was made miles away and shipped in. When I was young, it was commonplace to move into a small flat or apartment, often with nothing more than a bed and a sofa, and work your way to what you wanted. Credit cards were unknown then. What did we do with the time that convenience bought us? We worked to pay for the convenience. Every time you pay for service – such as cooking, cleaning, dressmaking, or whatever else it might be, you pay, because it takes someone’s time to do that task – that price is added to the total cost of your goods. So what you’re doing is moving the work to someone else so you have the time to make the money to pay them to do it. I know it’s not as simple as that, and I know that life is never so black and white, but I’m trying to make a point. I am trying to show that every thing we buy has a price and that by paying that price we give away our independence.

And we forget.

We forget how to do those things that helped us live well – we forget recipes, skills, methods of production, short cuts and tradition. Essentially, we are forgetting our heritage.

I am receiving a lot of emails lately from people who are scared of the current international financial crisis. There is a lot to be scared about because there will be job and home losses, hardship and a lot of hard times ahead but there is also opportunity if you look for it. I see this crisis as a huge correction in the way we have come to live our lives. We all have this opportunity now to look at our lives and modify them in significant ways. That might involve being greener, living more simply or getting rid of as much debt as you can. Anything is possible now, take advantage of this time of change to make it work for you. There is so much free information and inspiration available in blogs for each and every one of us to cherry pick from and apply to our lives. My hope is that you will find some of that information at the co-op. All our writers here are living the life they write about, there are good examples of what is possible and what already has been done.

In the next couple of weeks I’ll be writing about ways to modify the way you spend and shop, how to conserve your resources and how to change in ways that will make a real difference to your life. Stay tuned, and let me know if there is anything in particular you need to know about.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Animals in the Garden, and Beyond

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

This article was originally written for Natural Child Magazine, as part of a series to encourage parents and caregivers to include nature in the everyday lives of children...

Animals are an exciting part of the gardening experience. We are blessed to have a garden large enough for many creatures, great and small. We also have a number of exciting wildlife around our place to enjoy. There are a lot of ways to incorporate animals into your gardens and your children’s lives, though, even without the luxury of having a lot of garden space.

Worms are fascinating to observe. They munch through food scraps and create fantastic fertiliser for your plants. There are often leaflets at your local council about how to build a worm farm; instructions are also readily available on the internet. Alternatively, you can buy a complete kit with worms and all requirements.

Bird feeders are a second option for those with limited space. A simple bird feeder can be created using a pot plant saucer and some string or wire, and hung from a tree or hook in a sheltered area. The type of seed used depends on which birds live in your area and which of those you wish to attract. Birdseed balls are another easy project. These are generally made with animal fat and seed. Alternatively, you can use egg whites and seed, and bake at a low temperature until firm. Don’t forget to insert a little wire to tie a string to later. Water is usually more scarce than food, so to attract birds you could also put a shallow container of clean, cool drinking water in a safe place.

Another way to attract birds, if you have a larger area, is to buy local ‘wild bird seed’, which is often sold in supermarkets. Dig up some ground or an existing empty garden bed, add some organic matter and sow the seed direct. You may need to protect the area with some mesh or shade cloth. Before too long your cheap bag of birdseed will have grown into a variety of grains, grasses and maybe sunflowers. When these mature, birds will come to enjoy the harvest! If you have a pet bird, you can plant their seed and feed it to them when the seed heads mature – they will love you for it.

More small-animal ideas include ant farms, bug catchers and simply keeping a caterpillar in a jar and feeding it the leaves of the plant where you found it. Watching the life cycles of these mini-beasts is an engaging activity for all ages. If desired, include notes, photographs and drawings in your journey of discovery.

You may be blessed enough to have somewhere nearby where you can observe various animals. Going to see them regularly, and then in different seasons, will explain a lot about the animal world to your little ones. You might observe insects, birds, farm animals, or even domestic pets – see them breed, make homes and nests, change coats or colours, or come and go as the weather changes.

A garden pond will attract a variety of insects, amphibians and perhaps be home to some fish. Ponds can be created quite simply using a container, rocks and suitable plants, kits can be purchased, or you could build an even larger version to fit in with your landscaping. Most plant nurseries will stock suitable plants, and some of these are edible for humans too. Ask which ones attract friendly insects and encourage frogs. Be aware of water safety with little ones, you may need to cover your pond with some sturdy mesh or take similar measures.

If you are able to keep animals at home, you can grow plants for them too. Cats often love catnip, catmint and catgrass (a.k.a. cocksfoot), wheat and oat grass, creeping Rosemary, Alyssum and Heather. Dogs often love to chew many things, and a lot of ornamental plants are toxic for dogs. Good plants for your dog include lucerne (alfalfa) and Pennyroyal. The lucerne grass is to nibble on and the Pennyroyal repels fleas. Guinea pigs (cavies) and rabbits appreciate a patch of salad items just for them, or you can grow some for you and share the outer leaves and occasional carrot with your furry friends. Sitting on the lawn munching snow peas with a lap-sized creature is a magical part of our children’s lives.

Chickens are fantastic pets as well as laying eggs for the household. They can often be quite tame and don’t seem to mind a walk around tucked under someone’s arm. Many of ours are hand-raised and quite friendly. A little handful of grain often convinces them to come and say hello if required. Chickens can be kept in mobile cages in smaller backyards, or allowed to free-range if you have a large enough area. They do require adequate shelter, though.

Growing chicken food is similar to growing seed for wild and pet birds. In our Chicken Patches, however, we add all sorts of greens and grains, cherry tomatoes, apple cucumbers and other bird-sized snacks. To create these gardens we choose a sunny area and dig up a circle of lawn. We apply organic matter to the soil and sprinkle some of the chicken feed (mixed seed) as well as other seeds we’ve bought and saved which will produce edible plants. Sunflowers and corn are fantastic and allow the beans and other plants something to climb up. Around the circle we put several stakes and some wire mesh. It might be necessary to cover the top with mesh if your chickens can fly. During Spring and Summer this garden will grow wildly. The birds will often keep it trimmed from the outside of the mesh. When the plants mature, pull up the mesh and stakes and let them feast!

Connecting with nature through observance and/or care of plants and animals is often lacking in the lives of many children today. For more information about nature-deficit disorder and to find out about initiatives in your area, see the Children and Nature Network site.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

warmth, a basic need

Beauty That Moves
If you are like me and are very much a beginner when it comes to knitting, you might appreciate this post. I have the most basic knitting skills imaginable. I aspire to someday whip up delicate sweaters for my daughter, and cozy, durable socks for my husband. Up until recently my skills and knitting experience had never moved beyond making a simple scarf. With winter coming and our plans to keep the heat turned down a few degrees this year, I knew my family would need some extra things to keep warm. I decided to stretch and grow my freshman knitting, not quite a sophomore yet... we'll call this summer school. I set about knitting myself a couple of simple rectangles, folded them each in half lengthwise, and sewed them up the side leaving a hole for the thumb. It couldn't be any simpler, I will give basic instructions at the end of the post.
My hands get cold easily and I love how practical fingerless gloves can be. Wearing these gloves I can sew, fold laundry, put away dishes, tidy, vacuum, play with my daughter, knit, embroider, unpack groceries, write, start a fire in the fireplace, make the bed, play cards... so many things. It's a little difficult to cook or wash dishes, but I have noticed they really do stay on my hands for much of the day.

If you plan on making some simple, handmade gifts this holiday holiday season you may want to add this idea to your list. The gloves use a small amount of yarn making them economical and they do knit up quickly. There are of course far more interesting patterns and styles to be found on the internet, but these were made with the beginning knitter in mind.

You will need:
-size 5 needles
-1 ball (120 yards) worsted weight yarn - wool is warmest
-yarn needle with large eye

-cast on 34 stitches for adult small/medium
-knit until it is 8 inches in length -garter stitch
-cast off as neatly as possible, weave in the yarn end
-thread the yarn needle with yarn, an arms length.
-fold in half lengthwise and sew up the side leaving an opening where you would like the thumb to be. I prefer the glove to reach over my first knuckles, that is how I gauge where I want my thumb hole to be. Finish the seam and turn right side out, repeat to the other glove, you're done!

Here is a useful link as I am sure my instructions could use a little enhancement by knitters who are far more experienced...

I hope you enjoy this simple idea. I'm imagining these little gloves warming busy, working hands all over the world...

My husband's Grandmother is a homesteader. She told me once that the more she can do for herself, the safer she feels. I really understand what she means by that, I imagine many of you do as well.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Organic from the start: Seed Starting Tips

posted by Marc from Garden Desk

I like to grow all of my vegetables and annual flowers from seed. Sometimes it would be easier to buy seedlings from the local nursery, but I prefer not to. Not only is it much more expensive, but I have no way of knowing if those seedlings were raised with chemical fertilizers or insecticides. When I start from seed I can control the environment from day one. My wife and I just finished building a greenhouse to help us with seed starting, but up until now I have been raising hundreds of plants per year without one. I start the seeds under florescent lights in my basement several times a year. Right now it is Fall where I live and I have lettuce and spinach under lights waiting to be planted outside under frost protection. Of course Late Winter/Early Spring is the busiest time for me when it comes to seed starting.

There are all sorts of expensive grow lights and light stands available for purchase but you don’t need a fancy setup or special equipment. I used to just hang a few inexpensive shoplights with chains and that worked fine.

This year I added a double-decker light stand that I built from an old table and scrap wood. I now have about a dozen four foot light fixtures.

I have made many mistakes along the way but I have developed a system that works well for me. There are a few simple tips that I have learned that might be helpful to you.

The five most often overlooked tips for growing successful seedlings indoors are:

1. Use a lot of light!

If you think your seedlings aren't getting enough light, you're right. And if you think they have enough light, they could still use more. With florescent light fixtures I am trying to mimic the bright and powerful sun, so the more the merrier. I like to have two fixtures per flat (four 40 watt bulbs). I don't use special light spectrum grow bulbs. They are an unnecessary expense. Although it is important to use new bulbs each year because the light bulbs lose some of their brightness as they age. I keep the lights on between 16 and 18 hours per day.

2. Keep the plants close to the lights!

I make sure the light fixtures are only an inch or so above the top of the plants. Remember, we are trying to give them the power of the sun, not the moon. I would rather err on the side of the plants touching the bulbs than too far away from them. Being too far from the bulbs causes tall spindly plants.

3. Use good growing medium!

I use the soil-less seed starting mix in the beginning and transplant up to a mixture of potting soil and peat moss. Do not use straight potting soil because it doesn't hold water well enough. You need the peat to keep the roots constantly watered.

4. Give them plenty to drink with bottom watering!

All of my containers have holes in the bottoms to allow water in (or out). Peat pots work well for this but many times I make the pots from recycled newspaper. I put the cell packs, newspaper pots or peat pots in a plant tray that will hold water. Then I fill the tray up about half way and the porous soil medium wicks up the water to feed the roots. I water almost every day. I am convinced that this is where the most mistakes are made with growing seedlings. Constant light can dry out the soil quickly which stresses the plants. If you try to spray your plants from above, they probably don't get enough water. This is why I am struggling with using soil blocks. Since they aren't in a pot you can't bottom water them. I did manage to grow corn and green beans successfully under lights with soil blocks and I will keep working with them.

Incidentally, making sure my plants are watered frequently enough is why I don't use automatic timers to turn the lights on and off. If I have to turn lights on and off manually, that's at least twice a day I can monitor the soil moisture.

5. Get your timing right!

Make sure you know when you plan to move the plants outdoors and the growth habit of each kind of plant you are raising. Research the recommended seed-to-transplant time for each vegetable or flower. For instance, tomatoes should only be under lights for 4 to 6 weeks before transplanting and you shouldn't transplant them until all danger of frost has passed. If timed correctly, you do not need to pot-up very often. Of course for my extra-early tomatoes I transplant them two or three times and have them under lights for 8 to 10 weeks but that is unusual. For most of my flower and vegetable seeds, I try to wait as long as possible before planting. Real-estate under grow-lights is at a premium, even for a big bench like mine. Be careful not to take up unnecessary space by planting too early.

Now, If you have never tried starting your own seeds indoors with florescent lights, I hope posts like these don't make it look too complicated. I love managing the plants under lights. For me it is great fun. It is especially rewarding because I know that I can truly raise organic vegetables from start to finish. It is also fun to grow seedlings because you get a chance to get your hands dirty when it is still too cold to dig in the outdoor garden. I would recommend any gardener give seed-starting a try.

Keep Growing!

- Marc

Redefining Normal


One Green Generation

Thank you all so much for your wonderful, thoughtful comments on my last post. I really enjoy comments and find they are very important to my writing and my thinking. So please don't be shy about leaving comments here!

I write a lot about redefining normal, so I thought it would be a good idea to share with you a post I wrote a couple of months ago about the subject...

Redefining Normal

Grain at a local farm

The Power of Consumption

The last couple of days I've been struggling with how to begin the Green Your Insides Challenge. And then it hit me that I needed to address this: the reason it is so difficult for anyone to green themselves, inside or out, is that society is constantly pushing us in the other direction. We have learned since we were wee tots that we are supposed to want more, want better, want now now now. And usually, we can have what we want... so we do.

There are studies that tell us otherwise, there are blogs like this one and many others that tell us that we have to stop consuming to save the planet, there are books that tell us that we should save our money for retirement. But the power of the here and now, of the signage, the advertising, the glitz, and the frenzy, says we should do it now Now NOW! We should buy, we should spend, we should get that house spic and span with harsh chemicals that kill all those germs, we should send our wools to the cleaners and put our delicates on the low laundry cycle and then iron to rid ourselves of wrinkles, we should use this product for dandruff, and that product for gum disease, the children need these toys so they aren't singled out as different, the lawn must remain lush and green because that's the American dream, we must have the latest technology or we are missing out on life, must buy this, must do that, must go now Now NOW!!


Breathe. Relax. Let yourself take control of this moment. Take your time to ponder your purchases. Take your time to figure out who you are and if this or that product really jives with your sensibility. Don't let yourself feel guilty buying things. If you want them, buy them with pride. If you don't want them, do not buy them. Just don't. Teach your children that it's ok to want but not have, to look and admire but don't touch, to only buy things that really matter to them.

Do you believe in climate change, peak oil - or at least that oil and food prices are rising and we need to alter our lifestyles accordingly? Do you believe in creating a safe indoor environment for yourself and your family? Do you believe it's time to make our communities stronger, more environmentally sound, more resilient, more enjoyable, and better places for our children?

Then don't let the momentum of our society keep you rolling down the wrong track. A wise man once said to me, "We have to stop the train from traveling at high speed down the wrong track, before we can turn it around and get it going in the right direction." If you're on that train, step off. And be confident.

It's scary to tear up your own lawn when others around you think you're crazy. But you are the one doing the right thing. And sooner or later, they will follow. Because it's beautiful, because it makes sense, because someone else is doing it too, and because they like it.

If you're in the toy store or the grocery store, and your son or daughter really wants something... stop. Cast away your tiredness, your crankiness because it has been a long day, your feeling that you just want to get out of there. For one moment, visualize five years from now, and then 50 years from now. Will that bit of junk food turn into a life-long habit that leads to obesity? I know it's a big question, but will it? Will that toy that may or may not have lead in it turn into a medical problem down the road? Will lots of little spending here and there eat away at your savings, or increase what you have on your credit card, so that you are always in debt? This is not about guilt, it's about staying true to who you are and who you want to become.

And I know these are difficult questions to ask yourself when you're tired, cranky, and hungry, but they are extremely important questions. Because what we do right now affects what happens to us and our world later. So it is time to ask these questions for ourselves, for our families, and for our planet.

Redefine Normal

Redefine Normal. Why are we as a society led into a pattern of doing things that harm ourselves, other people, our financial well-being, and the planet as a whole? I don't know. It probably has a lot to do with corporations wanting to make a profit, and inundating us with advertising that makes us want their products. It also probably has to do with a history of impoverished, malnourished people who wanted more in order to survive, and then we just got onto that train and didn't stop when we were satiated. And it probably has to do with an economic and political system that revolves around us buying things in order to keep the economy afloat - just because it has been that way for a long time, but not because it can't change. It can change.

So let's change it together. Because we can't wait for someone else to do it, we certainly can't wait for our politicians to do it, and grassroots non-profit organizations are finding it tougher and tougher to gain enough funding to do it. So it is up to us. And don't be bashful. A few years ago, when I spoke to anyone about climate change or a decline in energy supply, people looked at me like I was a purple alien from another planet. We have gained momentum. We can do it. Let's redefine normal. Together.

Because we can change, and because we must change.

How Do We Redefine Normal?

When we make decisions about buying, selling, and overall living, we must take into account the quadruple bottom line:

  • People (social impact),
  • Planet (environmental impact),
  • Profit (financial impact), and
  • Personal (self impact).

Don't buy things that will hurt you. Don't buy things that will hurt others. Don't buy things that will hurt the planet. And don't buy things that will set you back financially unless it helps you, others, or the planet.

And redefining normal is not just about buying, it's about living, breathing, working, and enjoying. Learn what harms you indoors, and take steps to change it. Smile at others walking down the street, because it puts a little more good into the world. When going on vacations, rather than contribute to or condone our world's problems (and most likely end up feeling guilty afterwards), go somewhere where you and your family can have fun, learn, grow, and contribute positively to the world. Jennifer talked about going on a camping trip in her backyard, complete with tent, s'mores, and a good imagination. What a splendid vacation!

Redefining Normal May Be Uncomfortable At First, But It Will Soon Feel Good.

I'm not asking you to give up everything you know as normal. On the contrary, do not become overwhelmed - the idea is to create a sustained change in ourselves, one that lasts a lifetime. So do it as quickly as you can, but don't burn yourself out, do only what you can do and keep working on it as you walk through life.

The same is true for any change toward sustainability, big or small: it may be uncomfortable now, you may feel out of your element somewhat, you may feel that you are alone or different from others around you. But be strong, keep true to your convictions, and wait: sooner or later, others will follow. And sooner or later, you will be addicted to the new you. And this will become your new normal.

Step Forward.  Now, Together.

Climate change is beginning to have a serious impact on our world. Oil and food costs are trending upward. An economic recession is taking its toll worldwide. It is time to take a good look at how we live our lives, and take steps to change that. Please start now. For yourself, your family, your community, and your planet. Redefine Normal.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Living deliberately

Posted by: Paul Gardener
A posse ad esse (From possibility to reality)

I went back through some of the things that I had written some time back, hoping to find some nugget that I thought would add to the dialogue here. I have a couple of posts that I though may be appreciated here, but one truly stood out to me. It was one of my personal favorites from May of 2007 and I think it holds just as true for me today as it did then. I hope you enjoy.

I was led the other day by the hands of inspiration. A little deep huh? Don't you sometimes feel like the stars align and you know that you are supposed to do something? I do. For whatever reason, the other day I was struck with the idea of digging up and reading my copy of Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I suppose that it was a culmination of a lot of things. As I began making incremental changes in the way that I live and what I want to focus my energies on, I have become more and more in tune with the choices that I make, and perhaps more to the point the choices that I don't make. The thing that brings me to Thoreau is a specific idea I took from it nearly 20 years ago when I first read it; an idea that I seem to just now be implementing, the idea that we could live deliberately.

What so I mean by this? Don't we get up deliberately? Don't we choose what to wear? We make the choice to buy what we buy. Don't we? To a certain degree of course we do. But there is, I believe a certain portion of our day that we just run on autopilot. How often do we just pick up something quick for lunch because we didn't think to make lunch the night before? Or perhaps we make two or three trips to the same store over a weekend because we can just jump in the car and run out real quick when we need something? I know I do these things all the time. When I say we can live deliberately I think the biggest point that I want to make is that we are the only ones that can plan and live our lives on purpose. As I have begun to focus more and more on my choices and my actions in life, I notice more and more the times that I am not making conscious decisions. It takes time, and in a lot of ways slows me down. But you know what? it's nice to know when I do make a decision that I am making it not my reflex. Whenever I walk into the kitchen I flick on the light, even in the middle of the day, that's a reflex. When I realize it and turn it back off, I am living deliberately. When I lay down at night and flick on the television, that's a reflex. When I turn it back off in favor of reading or writing, I am living deliberately.

I guess what I am really getting at is that although I am a long way from say, "No Impact Man", I can make a difference everyday by living deliberately and making choices. I can choose to eat a healthier diet, I can choose to ride my bike to work, I can choose to play a game of chess with my son rather than veg-out to another cartoon with him. In short, I can choose to be the power that directs my life rather than simply floating along the river of life and enjoying the view. It will be a long course I think, but so far, it's been interesting.
I'd love to hear your opinions on this, and maybe some examples that you've seen in your life of the reflex-vs-deliberate paradox.

A couple of quotes from Walden to round out the entry, if you've never read it, don't delay, go to the library and get one today. Or read some of it here.

When we consider what, to use the words of the catechism, is the chief end of man, and what are the true necessaries and means of life, it appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other. Yet they honestly think there is no choice left.
~The Economy (ch.1), Walden

•I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
~Where I lived and what I lived for (ch.2), Walden
Until next time. Be well...


Joyful Consumption

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

I thought I'd share a post I wrote on 2 January this year. :)


The New Year almost always compels me to reflect and re-define myself. I have been reflecting on my initial ideas regarding my own consumption habits and something has struck me - that 2007 was a great period of turmoil for me in terms of changing my consumption habits.

What propelled me to change my consumption habits pretty much stemmed from negative reactions. I was disgusted with how much stuff I had. I felt overwhelmed by it all. I was ashamed of how I got my quick "happiness" fix (and was it really happiness?). So there you go, Consumption Rebellion (and hence, [my personal] blog) arose out of:



It just goes to prove that negative emotions *are* good in that they built and built inside me until I was finally jolted out of my mindless consumption.

Having said that, I don't think negative emotions are good for me in the long term. There is something wearying about them and eventually its just a lot easier to give up the "rebellion". True change only happens when you are joyfully running TO something instead of desparately running AWAY from something.

The first time I coined the term "joyful consumption" in [my personal] blog was on the 14th of November 07. Reading back, I could see I kinda did it flippantly... the phrase, is mentioned in the second last line of that post. However, as flippant as it sounded back then, coining that term marked a very significant milestone in my journey. It was the day when my rebellion found its direction. It had taken me a good 1 year and 2 months to get there, but *finally* I am now running towards something.

So just to concrete that term in my own mind, here is what I think Joyful Consumption is:

- it is about being aware of the impacts of what I consume, and this gives me *FREEDOM* to choose only what I need;

- it is about surrounding myself with products that were created and sold with joy, and this gives me the feeling of *STABILITY* because I know that the care they have put into their products means that it will last longer;

- it is about re-using and reconstructing products in a creative and authentic way, and this gives me *FAITH IN MYSELF*.

So 2008 will be the year, where I can finally base my consumption habits on:


faith in myself

...wish me luck!


Sunday, 19 October 2008

Home production of simple needs

Rhonda Jean
Down to Earth

It's easy to get caught up in posts about producing food when we're trying to live a frugal and sustainable life but the truth of it is that there are other things we can be doing in our own homes that will help us move towards a simple life. Food and groceries are the easy ones because they are products we use everyday but other things can help up live well and remain green, and be doing it quietly in the background.

Above is a photo of part of our roof. Further down, unseen in this photo, is an unused satellite dish that we used to use for our pay TV, but what I have photographed is far more exciting than that - in this photo are our solar hot water unit, some skylights and a whirlybird. Australia has been making solar hot water systems for at least 30 years that I can remember. We have had solar hot water for 25 of those years. It's fairly cheap to install and free to run. Ours can be plugged into an electrical socket in case of a few days of cloudy weather, we rarely use that. When we know bad weather is coming, Hanno and I are very conservative with our water usage until the sun shines again. That way we have enough water for showering and we don't have to rely on electrical or gas to heat it. I think we've plugged into the grid with our system maybe twice since this unit was installed, which was about five or six years ago. This unit and our previous ones have all been Solarharts and we have never had a problem with any of them.

There are two skylights in the photo but we have three installed, they are in the kitchen, the spare bathroom and laundry room. We installed them because we needed more light in the house and I didn't want to have lights on all the time. Shortly after we came to live in our home we built verandahs front and back. We needed sheltered areas for drying clothes, storing bits and pieces and an area for the dogs to sit out of the sun and rain. But our main reason for adding the verandahs was to create cool air around the house. In the style of the old colonial houses, we wanted to create cross ventilation of cool air through our home and for this reason, our house is comfortable in all but the hottest summer weather. The air is cooled just outside the windows and doors, and by opening the windows and doors the cool air flows in one side of the house and out the other. There is more information about passive design here.

There is a price that is paid for that cooled air, the rooms are darker because of the verandahs. No sunlight reaches the windows and while that is fine, it makes the rooms inside darker. Enter the skylights. They give us good natural light every day and have paid for themselves over the 11 years they've been providing that light.

Whirlybirds are a great idea in any hot climate. We have two and they've made a big difference to the heat retained in the house during summer. True, there are days when nothing like this helps, but there are many days when it's hot outside but okay inside because the hot air is constantly escaping from the roof.

I've blogged about our rain collection tanks before. We have two tanks that hold a total of 15000 litres and that is the water we use to keep our vegetable garden going. The tanks silently collect rain water, with no help from us, and that water is stored until it's needed on the garden. If you can harvest some of your rain water it will be a great help in maintaining a sustainable vegetable garden.

So that is some of the hardware we're using here but how could I leave a post about home production of simple needs without mentioning sewing and knitting. The ability to sew and knit will help you keep your family clothed. Mending will help you look after the clothes you have and will keep them wearable for a much longer period. I think of the days I used to throw away clothes that needed mending as the 'dark ages'. That was when I had more money than sense and before I realised that by teaching myself a few simple skills I would be a much better custodian of my belongings, and in doing that would cut down dramatically on what I need to buy.

Simple living isn't all about cooking from scratch and stockpiling, it's a holistic approach to life that relies as much on your silent partners working away in the background, and your ability to reskill, to look after what you have and to produce as much as you can at home. Sometimes there is a price to pay to have the hardware installed, but often our lives are made easier and greener by just learning how to do something we couldn't do before.

I would be really interested in hearing about what you have at your home that helps you live simply. Do you have water tanks, knitting needles, a sewing machine, solar panels or a solar oven? How have you reksilled yourself? What do you know now that you didn't know last year? If I walked down your street today, what would make me know that yours was that one house where people were getting back to basics and living a simple life?

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Menu Planning for Many

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

My first post here at The Co-op is one adapted from my blog early this year introducing what became the bulk of my posts there for the year to date... Inspired by Eileen’s record and grocery challenge on her blog, about nine months ago I decided to share my menu plans each week.

Here’s how Menu Planning works at our place:

I have a sheet of paper on the side of the fridge listing all meals for the week, who’s cooking, baking to do, outings, birthdays and other reminders for the whole family.

On Sunday night I take one of these sheets of paper (they’re printed from a Word doc on the computer with days of the week etc and spaces to hand write all details)… I write the next week’s outings, visitors etc on the list. On the days we have busy afternoons or are home late, I choose a meal from the freezer (I cook in bulk and freeze), or a quick meal. Then I think about what fresh produce I have from the garden, markets or co-op to use up. This decides the available meals early in the week so that nothing spoils in the fridge.

Next I think about what’s already planned and choose other types of meals to slot into the plan - we divide our usual meals into lists depending on what they’re based on: egg, legumes, rice, potato, fish or bread. At times I challenge myself to include new recipes, other times I try to use up a lot of frozen homemade meals and pantry basics to save a bit of money. Overall, the menus are well-thought out so they work.

Sometimes we have unexpected visitors or leftovers to use up, and meals change or are inter-changed. But normally, the plan means that once I’ve spent 10 minutes thinking ahead on a Sunday evening, I barely have to think about meals again for a whole week.

Main meals at our place feed least eight busy people and I view it as an important family responsibility to ensure that they're nutritious, on time and within our budget. I share the responsibility of cooking with four of my children, aged 9 to 14 years.

If you go to the Downloads page on my blog, there are sample menus and grocery lists put together by my friend Sam a couple of years ago. Her menus rotate every four weeks. There are many ways to menu plan, I hope that by sharing ours someone else can enjoy the freedom of those ‘What’s for dinner?’ woes…

If you have any questions about our method of menu planning, please use the Comments function of this post.

If you’d like a helping hand to get started with menu planning, I recommend Mealopedia and Menu Plan Mondays at Org Junkie for inspiration. Some good advice can also be found on this page of the Hillbilly Housewife site.

For many examples of our family’s mostly-vegetarian menus, they can be accessed here. Happy mealtimes!

How I arrived on this journey

Posted by Frugal Trenches
Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Several of the wonderful bloggers here have posted excerpts from their blogs to help readers understand their journeys. I've asked a few of my readers and they chose this post for me to share with you.

My Little Inspirations:

Several people have emailed or commented recently asking me how I came to the decision to downshift and simplify so early in my life (I am in my late 20's). While I do think that downshifting is a journey created by many different experiences and reflections, there are several very special reasons why I came to this journey so young, and I’ll call them my little inspirations.

A couple of years ago, well before this journey was documented, a family tragedy meant that a large group of siblings needed a new home, for at least another 6 months, if not more. Many people’s names were tossed about, conferences were held, but in the end it was decided I would be the person. The proper channels were sought, the proper paperwork done, the proper supervision in place and in an instant I went from being a pretty carefree single with lots of savings to a single carer of a large sibling group ranging from pre-school age to nine! What an experience! I was filled with fear and trepidation, I was so unsure about whether I had it in me to do this, I was so unsure about how it would effect my life and in truth I was so unsure about what I had gotten myself into. If you’ve seen Baby Boom, let’s just say I was just as shell shocked as Diane Keaton’s character!

My days went from spending 10 hours at work, followed by evenings with friends at bars, restaurants and shows, to being desperate to leave the office so that I could pick the kids up from school and pre-school on time, I could explore parks and nature with them, I could get a healthy meal on the table, I could spend time reading and talking to them without rushing them and I could get everything done that needed to be done before the next day started. In truth all I did was rush, rush, rush!

In the beginning I started off enrolling them in before and after school programs, extra curricular activities galore, we spent weekends running errands, getting the shopping done and squeezing in “the fun stuff” like a quick trip to the park and library. I was giving them the childhood I knew and I assumed (although admittedly I hadn’t thought too much about motherhood at that point) that I would give my own children some day. And then one day, out of the mouths of babes came the following statement “thank you for giving me a family when my family went away, my favourite time is just being with you, watching the fire roar, colouring and making things and reading”. Out of the mouths of babes….

It hit me in that instant that all the expensive lessons I’d signed them up to, all the educational toys and books I bought wasn’t what they needed or wanted. What they wanted and needed was to just be. That night I made a very hard decision. I looked at my generous savings and decided if what they most needed was me, then that was what I would give them until they could eventually, possibly, return home. That next day I went into work with a formal letter ready to leave it all behind. Work was desperate not to lose me so we reached a compromise, I would work in a much lower position only 2 days a week and only around the children’s needs.

My days went from non-stop rush, to appreciating and loving everything around me. I went from having no interest in anything homemade to wanting to know exactly what was going into their bodies to nourish them and wanting to be very careful about what went into their souls. I went from having dreams of being a “power woman” to realizing that power and strength come from within and are not defined by the job that you do, or the professional company you keep.

For almost a year my days included so many firsts, like noticing the clouds, playing in the garden, making things, cooking, laughing, singing, playing homemade musical instruments, making up stories and poems. My days changed from being a woman who had a connection to work, to a woman who had a connection with herself, her soul, her community and her inspirations.

That year cost me 99% of my savings but made my heart 99% happier. It is my little inspirations that I have to thank for this amazing journey, it is my little inspirations that I have to thank for helping me find my heart and my soul.

Friday, 17 October 2008

"What Would My Grandfather Do?"

Posted by Melinda
One Green Generation

Hi everyone! We're working hard to create an informative, exciting, and nurturing place here for us all to learn and grow. I'm so pleased with the amazing posts and comments here so far. And I encourage all of you who are shy about commenting, to venture out and leave a comment today. We'd all love to hear from you!!

This is a post I wrote a few months ago, that I'd like to share with the new readers here. I hope you enjoy it!

"What Would My Grandfather Do?"

In The Garden of Their Retirement Home

Every Wednesday I take my grandfather and his wife out to lunch. "Wait - his wife? Isn't that your grandmother?" you ask. Well no, she's his second wife. On Sunday the whole family got together to celebrate their 10th anniversary. They're 97 years old.

Yes, when they were 87, they called both families together, paid for a lovely dinner, and then at the end of a wonderfully eloquent speech about the family and how much they loved each of us, they said in unison, "... But, we wanted to let you know that we're spending your inheritance!" And for the next five years they literally traveled around the world together.

She now has Alzheimer's, so she has good days and bad. Her quality of life is pretty good, though, because she has him. And my grandfather? He is still smart as a whip.

Yesterday we went down on the waterfront and had lunch composed of mostly local food: seafood and salad with berries. It was a beautiful day, we sat and watched the water and discussed how to change the world. Surprised you, didn't I? Yes, every week there is a new topic to tackle, a new problem to solve. It has ranged from homelessness to climate change to the recession to our problems of garbage (Seattle ships garbage hundreds of miles to Portland, Oregon... long story). Last week it was peak oil. Yes, peak oil. He knows about it, and understands it, and tries to figure out how to solve it. Of course he doesn't know the term, but who cares about the term - the concept is what is important.

Yesterday's topic was the bank crises. My grandfather built a couple of savings and loans from the ground up in the 70s and 80s. And he knew when to get out, too - a few years before the savings and loan crisis, he sold all of his shares and retired, because he saw it coming. Anyway, my grandfather mentored a guy named Kerry Killinger - gave him his first start and taught him everything he knew. Until recently, Killinger was the CEO of Washington Mutual. My grandfather says, with the shake of his head, "he knew better than to take those risks." But that's another topic. I want to get to the title of this post!

On Finding a Check Register

So, the other day I took my grandfather to buy a check register. It's #12. The same one he's used for 50 years. And he's bought it from the same guy for 50 years. So we drove to his old neighborhood in Ballard, turned down a few side streets and then an alley and finally pulled behind a tiny run-down building where the guy's shop was. It was closed, so my grandfather walked around and talked to the other businesses there to find out if the guy was still around. It was like walking through another era. In this little building there were three small businesses, all had been around forever, were run by the business owners themselves, and had people coming in as they had been coming in for years.

Well, the business owners said the man who sold the registers had retired, but it turns out one of the shop owners was the son of an old friend, so the two chatted for some time. Then the guy pointed my grandfather to Office Depot, where we did find the register. It was weird for my grandfather to go into that place, sterile and all, asking questions of people who worked there who weren't invested in the store at all. But they had the register! I leafed through its pages: the design, shape, style - all have remained the same for at least 100 years. And it fits into the same leather cover my grandfather has had for 50 years, and it lasts for about 10 years: "It will last longer than me!" my grandfather said.

And that got me thinking on the way home. I realized that over the past year or two, since I've really been thinking about living sustainably, I've found myself asking on several occasions, "What would my grandfather do?"

My Grandfather, His Grandson, and His Great Great Grandson

What Would My Grandfather Do?

I can't decide which item to buy: the inexpensive one or the nice one. What would my grandfather do? He'd first decide if he really needed it by making sure he didn't already have one, and then figuring out if he could make do with something he already has. If he still needed to buy it, he'd buy the one that will last forever.

I have a family member who is hard on his luck right now. What would my grandfather do? He'd help him get back on his feet, any way he could.

I have a friend who is ill. What would my grandfather do? He'd go visit, and he'd bring some nice home-cooked food for the family.

I need to write something down. What would my grandfather do? He'd take an old envelope from a bill and write on the back of it. (He wrote our wedding toast on the back of a card we'd sent him months before - he liked that it was so pretty and thought it added extra meaning to the toast. Then he gave it to us after the toast as a keepsake.)

I don't need these dishes any more. What would my grandfather do? He'd give them to someone who really does need them.

Should I go out to eat or stay in? What would my grandfather do? Stay in, unless it's a special occasion. And going out to lunch once a week with a granddaughter who has been out of town for 15 years is a special occasion.

The economy is going south. What would my grandfather do? Stop spending, plant more food in the garden, make sure all of his money is insured and in no-risk cds, and check to be sure everyone in the family is doing ok. If they're not, he'd help them. After all that, he'd try to figure out in his head how to turn around the economy, and how to help others in need. Then he'd put any extra money into programs that help others in need, and he'd bring up those problems to fellow board members at Kiwanis and other boards on which he serves.

It's big things, and small things. I don't know if these qualities come from growing up in the Depression, being a hard working man, not growing up in the computer age, or just learning to be a good person. But for my grandfather, every decision matters, to ourselves, our family, our friends, our communities, and the world as a whole.

Supporting small businesses, bringing family and friends together and being there for them - without fail, living a frugal and conscientious lifestyle, making himself aware of what is going on in the local and national economy and political arenas, and enjoying life to its fullest... These are things he does well. And for all of these reasons I often ask myself, "What would my grandfather do?"

Toasting At Our Wedding

What do you think?

Do you have someone in your life like this? Do you think about the "old ways" of doing things? Am I too nostalgic for a time when these things mattered to most people? Will we all live this way again: deliberately, happily, frugally, sustainably?

a simple summer meal

Posted by Heather
Beauty That Moves
Here in the Northern Hemisphere we are about to head into winter, which means as I write about simple, home cooked food over the next several months, it will likely be of the warm and comforting variety. This post is pulled from my summer archives and I offer it to all of you below the equator as you are entering your warmer months.

If you are visiting here as a regular reader of my blog, thanks for hanging in there for a few re-run posts. There will be brand new content from me next week, which I'm really excited about! It has been too hot around here to cook much lately. A family can survive on dinner of cheese, crackers, fresh veggies and ice cream for only so long. After a few days the veggies run out, and the body revolts, demanding to be nourished in a way that only a home cooked meal can offer. I'll graciously succumb and turn on the stove, but please don't make me go to the market, deal with the car, the asphalt, the crowds, the heat. As desperately as we need to go shopping, I just don't want to. I must have some ingredients of interest and quality around here.

The above is what I came up with. Inspired by the Spiced Peanut Sauce recipe from The Kripalu Cookbook, to which I tossed cooked (rinsed under cold water), udon noodles (or spaghetti), finely diced baby carrots (because we all have baby carrots kicking around no matter how low we are on groceries), and chopped fresh herbs from the garden. The herbs I used were parsley, chive, basil and lemon verbena which added a lovely, fresh Thai quality. Take the above list of ingredients for inspiration, change it to make it your own, and try the sauce recipe below, adapted from The Kripalu Cookbook.

Spiced Peanut Sauce/Dressing
3 Tbls. sesame oil
1 Tbls. ground cumin
1/2 Tbls. crushed mild chili peppers (optional)
1 tsp. ground coriander
tiny pinch cayenne pepper, or more for your taste
1 1/2 cups natural peanut butter
3 Tbs. tamari or soy sauce
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp, cracked black pepper
2 cups water
In a small skillet, heat the oil and saute the cumin, chili, coriander, and cayenne for 1-2 minutes.
In a blender, slowly blend together the spice/oil mixture, peanut butter, tamari, salt, pepper, adding water while blending to desired thickness. Toss with other ingredients, chill for a bit before serving, the salad and you.

There are a couple of things that I'd like to mention about this recipe. First, I know it seems to be a long list of ingredients for a "simple meal," but what I discovered as I roamed around my seriously understocked pantry on that hot summer day, is that most of us have the assorted spices listed on hand. This is not a recipe that is intended to get you to head to the market. There will be many other recipes to come on this blog, please don't add ingredients to your kitchen that you wouldn't otherwise use just to make this meal.

The second thing is that since I wrote this recipe we have begun growing a modestly sized vegetable garden, so it is unlikely I would be caught with such a slim veggie selection in the summertime again which is so great! This little realization made me smile. Isn't that why we are here? To deepen our understanding that the more we do for ourselves the better equipped we are to provide for our own needs? Yes, indeed. I enjoyed revisiting this post and sharing this recipe with you, but the fresh perspective for me was an added bonus, thank you.