Friday, 31 July 2009

Peer pressure and food choices for young children.

By Julie,
Towards Sustainability

When my children were very little it was easy to control what foods they ate, after all I was in charge of putting it on their plates. But as they get older, and particularly, after starting grade school, they are becoming increasingly aware of the difference between what they eat, and what most of the other kids do.

I am lucky that my eldest daughter (aged seven) isn't particularly interested in what other kids are eating, but my extremely sweet-toothed five year old, on the other hand, started school this year and is intensely aware of the contents of everyone else's lunchbox and what they buy at the canteen! The inevitable pressure to let her eat or buy whatever everyone else is eating is relentless - I'm sure almost everyone who has had anything to do with kids knows what I am talking about :-)

We often talk at home about what are good food choices and we regularly make homemade versions of takeaway foods like pizzas and hamburgers. I am also fortunate that they love nuts, fruit and vegetables so I know that 99% of the time, they are heating healthy choices but it got so that if we were visiting friends or at a party, my girls would literally sit over a bowl of sweets or crisps, devouring them until they were gone! A tad embarrassing for me, shall we say ;-)

After some consideration - and the knowledge that for better or worse, we live within a circle of people with different eating styles to us - last year we introduced the concept of "treat day" at home. Simply, the girls take turns every Thursday in picking what they will have for afternoon tea after school/ preschool, which can be (within reason) anything they like.

I try to steer them (gently) in the direction of foods which aren't quite so bad - and I won't buy anything packed full of trans fats for example - but iced donuts are a perennial favourite LOL. Within these constraints, I also try to buy items which minimise packaging for example and I'll explain to the girls why a slightly different item may be a better choice. Sometimes the 'treat' for my older girls might be lunch order at the school canteen, where a white bread sandwich - like everyone elses - is a treat at the moment!

So far, this strategy has worked really well for us. I also have an 'out' when we are out and about and the girls start asking for a lollipop or packet of chips - it's not treat day! It doesn't stop all of the whining unfortunately, but they know I won't cave in, so it's not worth too much effort :-)

I know that as they get older, have more pocket money to spend and greater access to shops, it will inevitably be spent on 'junk' food, but I have my fingers crossed that this strategy might encourage them to consider saving their money for more worthwhile purchases.

What about you? Do you have a strategy which works well for your family to share with us?

Thursday, 30 July 2009

How to Start Decluttering

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

Out of all the things I have done in my quest for a simpler life, I think one of the hardest things that I've had to do was to declutter.

This was my pile of tops (yes tops only!) before my declutter of my wardrobe.

When you've lived most of your adult life accumulating STUFF, as I have, letting it go is hard. Its hard for a number of reasons.

Sometimes its hard because there's so much just the thought of doing it is overwhelming.

Sometimes its hard because there's a lot of emotional baggage attached to the stuff - memories or unfulfilled expectations associated with that stuff.

See, I have learned that when I bought stuff, I was often buying for several reasons - there's the actual "use" for it but sometimes I bought it because I wanted it to help me "be the person I wanted to be".

Therefore, getting rid of it is letting go of that fictional person I made up in my head.

Sometimes its hard to let it go because then one is truly confronted with the amount of waste and excess that one has. There's nothing more daunting than facing up to the fact that this "landfill in one's home" is still LANDFILL. I have often felt guilt when decluttering because I'm confronted by evidence of how much I am contributing to landfill.

Still, in my journey, I have realised that too much stuff and living a simple life just didn't work for me. Too much stuff meant a lot of work - a lot of work in finding storage for it, maintaining it, constantly re-organising then trying to keep track of it.

Too much stuff also meant that when it came time to actually use something I often couldn't find it amongst the pile of stuff!! Which then resorted to me going out and buying the item all over again... it was an awful cycle really.

I've found that the hardest thing about decluttering is starting to do it. I wonder if its the same for people out there?

So here are my tips for how to start decluttering:

1. Make a commitment to STOP procrastinating and just DO IT!!

This is the hardest step for all the reasons I've stated above. Procrastinating takes a lot of energy. Stop using up your energy procrastinating because you'll need that energy for the actual job.

Commit yourself to STOP procrastinating first. For me, usually it means just stop finding excuses why you can't declutter....then a few days later actually *do it*.

2. Set a date.

Make sure that everyone knows you'll be busy on that date. Eat well and have plenty of sleep the night before. Decluttering (at least for me) is physical AND emotional work. You need as much rest and nutrition beforehand.

Make sure that your decluttering day is on a day when the tip/dump is open. That way you can take all the rubbish to the tip that day without it just hanging around.

If available in your area, make sure that your decluttering day is on a day near "hard rubbish pick-up" or on a day when you can access the large Charity bins. You can even make a set appointment with some charities to pick up your excess stuff so you then HAVE to declutter by that date. (Note: make sure it truly is worth donating and not just rubbish!)

3. Set a goal.

Sometimes, that goal for me meant tackling one room on that date. Sometimes that goal meant that I had decided to only have so much number of items. Then I stick to that goal.

And that's it. Just do it.

After decluttering my wardrobe - all my tops in one drawer only! Full post here.

Of course, once you've decluttered, its another story to make sure it doesn't happen again. But perhaps that's something we can talk about another time.

In the meantime, what are your tips for starting the decluttering process?

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Dreaming Of Being Green

by Gavin @ The Greening of Gavin

How do you make the transition from just dreaming or thinking of being green to actually doing something about it? It has often been said that every great journey begins with a single step. That is how I found my journey towards a sustainable lifestyle started out.

My journey started with a jolt into a place that I had dared not to venture. That place was reality! The reality of the world around me and I finally saw what a sorry mess we had made of it all. Sure, the city I work in looked nice enough on the surface, but under that thin veneer was a behemoth of an energy guzzling machine, spewing millions of tonnes of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and trashing the natural environment around it. Some awakening, and this was not new to me. It had been going on for decades. It seemed like no-one cared (even me up to that point in time) except a handful of kindred spirits who cared and dared to take action.

So what can one person do to lower their impact on the environment and turn a lighter shade of green? Well, the first step my friends is to do a self assessment, or in other words, take a good hard look at your own behaviours and spending habits. You may already be a little bit green and not realise it! if you already practice some frugal habits that you have learnt from reading essays at this Co-op, then you have already taken your first step. This is because I believe that being frugal = being green. A simple life is a green one in disguise.

Let me give you an example. You go to a op-shop/thrift store and buy some second hand cookware. Firstly, you have not used any new resources such as steel, oil, or aluminium for the pots and pans, including the energy required to manufacture, transport, and store them before sale. Secondly, you have rescued that resource from landfill, and have given it a second life and a good home for a bargain price. So by purchasing second hand goods or reusing materials you have around the home, you help to reduce your carbon footprint.

So what else can you do? As I mentioned, spending habits are easily formed in today's society. You have probably heard the term 'Retail Therapy'. Have you ever felt excited about buying something new, purchased it on credit with money you don't really have, only to return home with said item and then get a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach? You suddenly realise that you have to work harder to pay it back, and that you probably didn't really need it anyway! Not a very nice type of therapy if you ask me. If I had to go to therapy it would be to heal, not to help me suffer more.

How do you change this behaviour/habit? Well the only way I know how is to assess your needs verses your wants. Needs are usually items, goods or services that you purchase or make yourself to survive. Things like shelter, food, water, hygiene, love, clothing (up to a point), and transport. Wants are essentially the opposite. Wants are things that people desire that do not really enhance their lives or happiness levels above and beyond their basic needs.

Here are a few examples;
  • You have a small appartment that serves your shelter needs, but you want a McMansion out in the 'burbs to be like everyone else.
  • You have a functional TV that your parents gave you, but you desire a massive wall mounted Plasmas/LCD TV to watch sport on all weekend.
  • You have a basic wardrobe with basic items of clothing that mix and match well throughout the year, but you absoloutely would die for that latest designer jacket and matching handbag so that you can dine out most evenings.

All of these types of wants are destroying the environment! Here is why I believe this is true. The more we consume, the more we have to manufacture stuff. The more manufacturing, the more raw natural resources we have to use. Things like wood, water, oil, minerals, etc. We cut down rainforests in other countries to make way for plantations and mines to feed our wants. The simplest way to start your green journey is to reduce your excessive consumption of stuff and make your way back to basic needs. That is how our forefathers managed to live fruitful lives. Less excessive consumption = less resources utilised = less greenhouse gassess emitted in the process. You can also be assured of treading lightly on your part of the planet which we only have one of.

It is not an easy task, but certainly a worthwhile one. When you consider that the future of our children, grand children, and all those humans who follow, not to mention every other species on the planet, is what is really at stake. We may or may not see the full impact of the last few decades of our present behaviour in our lifetimes, but rest assured, our decendants certainly will if the majority of scientific evidence is to be believed.

All food for thought, and no better reason to take that first step. You may never dream of where it may take you. I never did, and our family have not only stopped needless consumption, but we have saved a fortune and some of the environment in the process!

Monday, 27 July 2009

My Cloth Revolution

by Colleen

Over the past year and a half, I have been a Cloth Revolutionary at my house. Little by little, disposable paper items are disappearing from our landscape, only to be replaced by colourful, reusable Cloth replacements.

The first step in our Cloth Revolution was the switch to cloth diapers. We did this when our daughter was 11 months old, after visiting with some friends whose daughter was using cloth. The cloth diapers seemed so cute and cozy, and more "natural" than the crinkly perfumed plastic ones we were using. I was nervous about the workload, but found them not to be that much work. We have a small washer that plugs into our sink, and we dry them (as pictured) on our collapsable drying rack.

The main benefit I saw right away was cost. We went with cotton prefold diapers, which are about the cheapest you can go, and we used some high-tech fleece-lined, microfibre-insert pocket style diapers for night time. I think the four night time diapes cost around the same as our two dozen prefolds with four or five covers. It has been great not to worry about having to drive out to Costco to get the best deal on diapers.

My next Revolutionary Act was to replace my tampons and pads with a set of beautiful, comfortable, reusable Lunapads. This was after doing some reading about how tampons have dioxins in them left over from the bleaching process, which can then be absorbed into your body when you use them. Also, after having my baby, I found them uncomfortable to use, and pads were bulky and expensive.

As the stickers say, "I ♥ my lunapads"! They are so comfortable and beautiful. The nicest thing about them is that I never run out! I had bought myself an "Intro kit", and then after using them for a couple of months, I got another kit to round out my collection. It has a good selection of sizes, thicknesses, etc. for different stages of my cycle. My only disappointment is that I got pregnant again right after my second kit arrived! At least I know they are waiting for me when I start my cycle again.

Next I replaced paper towels with cloth napkins. On a trip to Sudbury to visit my parents I stopped into an adorable new store called Mimi & Lulu. They have all sorts of beautiful handmade clothes, aprons, bags, toys and crafts, as well as a selection of fabrics so beautiful I thought I was looking at a magazine or something. I honestly don't think I've seen such gorgeous fabric in stores, ever.

The best thing (for me) was their remnant bags, a bunch of colour-co-ordinated fabric bits from their collection, mixed with some cute vintage finds, all for $13. Inside was enough fabric (in the right size) to make more than 10 napkins, some of which I kept & use, and some of which I gave away as gifts.

It's so nice to use cloth napkins, especially ones in such cute fabrics. They seem to add a touch of class to every meal.

Home-Made Toilet PaperThe next item is a bit more . . . unusual, and I hesitate to mention it in my first post on the Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op, but here goes: the next paper product I replaced was toilet paper. Well, not entirely, but I made some lovely wipes that my daughter and I use for #1. Being pregnant and having to drink a lot of water, this saves me a huge amount of toilet paper. I just throw them in with the diapies and wash them often.

My most recent Revolutionary change was to make some cloth kleenex (tissues). Once again, so cute! Once again, so comfortable! I made them from some cloth I had in mystash, so I consider them basically free to me. We haven't yet been through a major cold or flu with these, but I will report back on how they fare. I just throw them in any wash I'm doing (except for darks!) and they stay nice and absorbant.

Besides these recent changes, I have always used cloth rags for cleaning rather than paper towels or even J-cloths. It's a great way to re-purpose old towels and t-shirts, and if a rag gets too dirty, I just throw it away.

For me, this process has been about saving money, being green, and more importantly, finding a better product to replace the cheap disposables in my life. If you have replaced something I've missed, please let me know! I'm always open to making more frugal & green changes in my life, and sharing them with the world.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

The Pantry: Cornerstone of Home Cooking

by Kate
Living the Frugal Life

Another one from the vault. I've dusted off this older post from my blog because I think it bears repeating for those who are new to either home cooking or a more frugal lifestyle in general.

When you're new to the frugal lifestyle and you're not used to preparing your own meals, the kitchen can be a daunting place. One thing that distinguishes the kitchen of a practiced home cook from that of a drive-thru habitue is the pantry. Having familiar and versatile ingredients on hand really does make a huge difference when it comes to the ease of preparing food at home. You can think of the pantry as a sort of personal dry goods store and as the potential foundation for all your meals. A thoughtfully stocked pantry along with a productive vegetable garden can usually provide the ingredients for any number of meals at any given time.

It's best to slowly and naturally build up a pantry for yourself, paying attention to sales on shelf stable goods that will really be used in your day-to-day cooking. What you put in your pantry will depend on your family's tastes, your budget, your skills in the kitchen and perhaps your culture as well. This doesn't mean that you must stock enormous quantities of your pantry items, nor that you need to have absolutely everything on hand at all times. The purpose of a pantry is to provide a steady supply of staples that you use to prepare a large variety of dishes.

With a well stocked pantry, you won't have to run out and buy every ingredient in the recipe when you want to prepare a meal. And if you happen to get low on something you normally have on hand, a good pantry can provide alternatives that save you an unplanned trip to the grocery store. For instance, milk is the single most common item that drives us to the store. Keeping a packet of powdered milk in my pantry allows me to extend our liquid milk for a day or two, so that we shop when it's convenient for us, and not because we've suddenly run out of something essential.

Beware using pantry-stocking as an excuse for buying any esoteric ingredient. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if you can think of at least three dishes in which the ingredient would be used. Have you prepared any of those dishes in the past year? If not, it's probably best put back on the shelf (unless it's a really common item and you're a complete novice in the kitchen).

All of your pantry items should be listed in your price comparison book. Because you know that you will be using them steadily, it's always a good idea to check for sales on these foods when you shop, even if you don't have immediate plans to cook with them. When these items go on sale, stock up!

Your "pantry" isn't only a shelf of dry goods. It can include items in your refrigerator, such as condiments, as well as frozen assets in your freezer, particularly common vegetables such as peas, or anything you grow in your garden that freezes well. If you're lucky enough to have a root cellar, that could also broadly be considered part of your pantry.

I especially prize those pantry items which I produce at home, either by growing them in the garden, or preparing them in some way, or both. This gives me an added layer of self-sufficiency and a feeling of accomplishment.

Here's a list of things I commonly keep on hand in my kitchen. You do not need to replicate this list, but if you're totally new to cooking, it might be a good springboard for ideas. Take what's useful to you and ignore the rest. Add more items that make sense for your family.

Long-storing produce (some of these vary by season)
fresh ginger
winter squashes

Canned/jarred foods
baby corn
bamboo shoots
water chestnuts
canned chickpeas
canned tuna
tomato paste
canned tomatoes
tomato sauce
sweetened condensed milk
canned sliced pineapple
coconut milk
apple butter

"Dry" goods
baking powder
baking soda (aka bicarb)
salt, kosher and table
corn meal
rolled oats
steel cut oats
flours (all purpose, bread, whole wheat, rice, etc.)
whole spelt berries
whole wheat berries
sugars (brown, cane, powdered, etc.)
beans (chickpeas, split peas, navy, lentils, pinto, etc.)
rice (sushi, basmati, wild, brown, etc.)
dried onions
dried apple rings
dried pumpkin slices
powdered non-fat milk
chicken broth
beef broth
vegan bouillon cubes
cooking oil
extra virgin olive oil
vinegars (balsamic, apple cider, red wine, rice, etc.)
dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, currants, figs, dates, etc.)
crystallized ginger
candied citrus peel
dried chestnuts
peanut butter
sundried tomatoes
smoked cherry tomatoes
dried unsweetened coconut flake
tea, black and herbal, many kinds
noodles/pasta, wheat and rice, several kinds
cocoa powder
chocolate bars
corn starch
bread crumbs
soy sauce
Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco sauce
mirin (Asian cooking wine)
shelf-stable tofu
vanilla extract
almond extract
nori (dried seaweed for sushi rolls)

Refrigerator items
toasted sesame oil
prepared mustard
prepared horseradish
pickled ginger
Thai curry pastes, red & green
cheeses (long storing cheeses such as parmesan and pecorino)

Freezer items
nuts (walnut, almond, pecan, roasted peanuts, etc.)
raw seeds (flax, pumpkin, poppy, sesame)
fresh orange and lemon zest
stock ingredients (chicken bones, herb stems, leek greens, etc.)
blanched, chopped kale
blanched, chopped spinach
blanched, chopped chard
roasted corn kernels, loose
yeast (active dry and instant)

Do you keep any out of the ordinary items in your pantry? If so, what do you use them for? Do you have any tricks for extending the storage life of perishable pantry items? Please share in the comments!

Friday, 24 July 2009

Meaningful birthdays for my children

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

In my personal blog, I recently talked about homekeeping chores as family rituals. After I posted that story, it was interesting to see the related post widget thingy digging up an even older post of mine: What We Do For Birthdays.

To save you from going through all the above links to work out what I'm talking about, here's a summary:

I have always felt that shared rituals are an important part of family life. Its the rituals that help us consciously celebrate caring within our family. So its important to celebrate day-to-day life AND milestones in a way that is meaningful.

However, back when I first started my journey (and right about the time I wrote my post on birthdays), I had forgotten how to celebrate milestones in a meaningful way. Birthdays consisted of *presents* - and presents fell into two categories - more or bigger.

As a child I would rip open birthday presents only to discard it 5 mins later because it had become just another toy. And the next few days afterwards was spent nagging for the next bigger present or more of the same (eg. must collect all dolls in the series).

I think such a cycle was damaging to family unity (as well as the environment) and I wanted to avoid it. the time, I stopped giving birthday presents all together.

Don't get me wrong, I still gave presents - but I no longer tied presents to birthdays. Instead when I saw something meaningful that I know the children would appreciate, I bought it or made it and gave it to them then and there - I didn't wait till their birthdays.

And for their birthdays, I concentrated on the experience - not the product. I wanted to give my children experiences that they will remember all their lives.

Now at 6 years old, my daughter still remembers her 3rd birthday - when we went to Questacon and I organised a special tour with staff members just for us. She also still remembers her 4th birthday - when I took her to see Hi-5 (a children's music band) and I organised for the Hi-5 group to wave specifically to her her. (I couldn't quite swing a personal meet-up with them). I also did make her a pressie - it was a little book of her being 4 years old and I placed pictures of her as a baby and then as a "kid" (her term). She still loves reading that book. She remembers the special sleepover she had with 2 select friends and me for her 5th birthday (we "camped" in the spare bedroom). She remembers the tractor ride my ex-husband gave her as treat for her 6th birthday.

However, as I said, that post was written some time ago. And looking back at the last birthday celebrations for both my children, I realise that I *have* given my children birthday presents. It happened without me really noticing it. Perhaps its because presents *are* a deeply ingrained part of birthday celebrations? I have to say though, the presents I have given them are not *just another toy*.

My son still remembers his 4th birthday (he will be turning 5 years old soon) present. My son LOVES the Wiggles. So for his 4th birthday, he and I worked all day to turn him into a Wiggle. He helped me make his yellow Wiggle top and he watched me as I drew a caricature of him on a large piece of canvas, solemly handing me the next crayon. Then we had his birthday party where many of the adults referred to him as "S---, the yellow Wiggle". He can not remember the presents he got given except he does remember "helping Mum make me into a Wiggle".

So have I strayed from my original ideals? I guess technically I have. And that's normal and just part of growing and changing with life. However, I think in many ways, I have actually truly broken the cycle of giving *more* and *bigger* presents to make up for the lack of family ritual.

The biggest lesson I've learned from this little experiment?

That the best thing I could give my children is my 100% attention and truly sharing with them their experience of turning yet another year older. Presents can only matter when it is made or given in a way that enhances that shared experience.

I wish all of you a wonderful weekend.

(Another blog post of interest - not written by me -: Christmas Presents - Breaking the Cycle)

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Water for Wildlife

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Spring here was cooler and rainy-er than usual. But now it's July, and summer has finally arrived, with a vengeance. It's hot! And that means making doubly-sure that the outside creatures have enough water.

The chickens' water dishes stay cleaner and cooler under a shade structure, blocked in to ensure they can't tip them over by standing on the rim (thrifted stainless steel pans are easy to clean, and can stand up to pounding against frozen ground to dislodge ice in the wintertime).

But there are lots more creatures out there that also need water - from birds, to bees, and even bunnies. If the only water available is in the garden or chicken pen, that's where they'll go (and if there is no water, they'll eat your tomatoes as a source of moisture). But by providing water elsewhere, I can keep them out of the chicken feed and away from my vegetables (that's the plan, anyway).

I have a couple of large, shallow, concrete birdbath-like dishes out in the open on my property. They're heavy enough to be stable, and tough enough to withstand freezing weather. One is situated for easy viewing from kitchen and living room windows, under a pine tree and close to the lilacs to provide safe cover for wild birds. The other one is farther away from the house, out by the fruit trees. Set on the ground, they're accessible to all manner of wild creatures. The rough and gently-sloping sides provide bees the opportunity to drink safely (if you have a birdbath with slippery enameled or steep sides, put an irregularly-shaped rock inside to allow bees a way to climb out if they fall in - butterflies prefer seeping moisture, so here they drink from the soaker hoses).

My concrete dishes are heavy, but easily tipped to empty and rinse out each day. I like watching the wild birds splashing about, but don't want to take any chances with their feces transmitting avian flu to my own flock (another reason to keep them out of the chickens' water dishes). While the chance of migrating birds bringing the flu here is quite low, West Nile virus is much more common. Dumping the water out daily means disease-carrying mosquitoes never get the chance to breed.

Ready to make your own? With a bag of Quik-crete and a bucket, some sand, and a bit of water, it's easy to sand-cast your own concrete bird bath/water dish. Mine are rough and heavy-duty, built around a wire reinforced center. Or maybe you'd rather get creative and make something more decorative - perhaps add some pottery pieces to make a mosaic; or make one in the shape of a leaf, like this one from Garden Gate magazine (instructions here). Whatever you put out there, the wildlife will thank you.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

A Multitude of Uses for Castille Soap

dr. bronners, originally uploaded by Doug Gaveld I.

Julie has already given us some great information on cleaning with lemons and getting stains out of laundry and today we'll talk about the many uses for pure castille soap.

As you start to research homemade soap or shampoo recipes you are probably going to notice that castille soap is almost always an ingredient. That's because it's so versatile and because its readily available in most health food stores, natural food stores and online.

So what is castille soap? Originally an all-vegetable based soap was made in the Castile region of Spain from local olive oil. Now a days "Castile" refers to any vegetable oil-based soap, versus animal (tallow) fat-based soap. Dr. Bronner's makes a "Pure-Castile" guaranteeing that what they are using is a real ecological and simple soap, not a complex blend of detergents with a higher ecological impact due to the waste stream during manufacture and slower biodegradability.

What can use it for?

1. Soap you can use it as is as hand soap or body soap. I find the full strength to be a bit much so I dilute mine with water. I save some money and it is just as effective.

2. Shampoo

3. Toothpaste. I have never tried this but supposedly you can use a couple drops and it works. Has anyone tried this? Thoughts?

4. Laundry. 1/3 to 1/4 of a cup in a regular load of laundry.

5. Pet shampoo.

6. Aftershave.

7. Vegetable/fruit rinse.

8. Pest spray. 1/4 oz to 1 Qt water.

9. Massage oil. I got this from Dr. Bronner's site and I have to say I'm not sold on using soap as a massage oil.

10. Cleaning- counters, floors, etc 1 part castille soap to 40 parts water for light cleaning or 1 part castille soap to 20 parts water for heavy duty cleaning.

11. Dish soap.

12. Shaving lather.

13. Bubble bath

14. Carpet Stain remover. A drop or two on a clean damp towel should do the trick.

15. Cleaner/Disinfectant. 1 part white vineger 3 parts water and a squirt of castille soap and off you go.

16. Face Wash.

17. Clean makeup brushes. I imagine you could use it on things like paint brushes as well.

18. Wood cleaner. A drop on a microfiber cloth will do the trick.

19. Foot soak. A capful of soap into a basin of water will ease your tired feet.

20. Backpacking. Because it is so versatile and biodegradable you can take one small bottle with you and use as needed without worrying about what you are putting into the water.

There you go I thought of 20 different uses, are there any I missed? If you use castille soap I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Try Something New to be more Sustainable

By Marc @ GardenDesk

I might be the only writer on this blog who has never written about raising chickens. I have always been a big vegetable gardener and love harvesting fruits and vegetables for the table. I never even thought about the possibility of raising animals as another way to add food to the table.

Renee and I have really enjoyed reading about all of the animal farming on this blog and on the members blogs and other commenter's sites. You all encouraged us to venture into something new to us - raising animals.

Our first try at raising animals will of course be raising chickens for our own organic egg production. We got day old chicks back in April which I showed on my GardenDesk blog. We raised the chicks in our garage while we built our outside coop. We built the coop mostly out of wood that we already had from an old deck that I took apart a couple years ago. The coop construction took much longer than anticipated but here it is:

We were able to put it right in front of the garden and beside the greenhouse.

When we would read about keeping chickens, it seemed that many people let them roam around during the day. Around here experienced farmers were telling us to watch out for the many predators, some even during the day. We have to watch out for hawks, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, opossums, weasels, rats and the neighbor's dogs. Many people told us that we wouldn't be able to keep our chickens alive.

With this in mind, we tried to build a very secure coop. The building that they sleep in is in the very center, up on stilts with no outside walls. The small window openings have two layers of wire over them and we even put wire mesh down under the floor boards.

The rest of the coop is all under tin roofing with two kinds of wire around the perimeter. The wire is also buried in concrete at the bottom about 18 inches under ground! The door has a second latch about a foot off the ground so nothing can squeeze in.

If anything does manage to sneak in during the night, they shouldn't be able to get in the wood building. The chickens have a small door that they use during the day.

They go inside at dusk and then I lock their door.

Here they are coming into their building:

The other wall is hinged for us to get inside for cleaning. It also has the nest boxes built into it. When closed it also has a heavy duty latch. Here is what it looks like from the outside:

Here is part of the inside:

I can hardly wait till when we are collecting eggs from those boxes! The chickens' main feeder and water hang from the building under the nest boxes.

We also feed them plenty of grass, fruits and vegetables and an occasional worm. Soon I hope to build a "chicken tractor" - a big portable cage with an open bottom. We will be able to put the hens in to let them graze in the yard.

I didn't intend this post to be about the chicken coop we built, but it sort of ended up that way. I guess we are just very excited about having our own chickens. The whole family loves spending time with them and they will help us become a tiny bit more self-sustainable.

That is really what I intended to discuss here. I encourage all of you to think about trying something new that can help you become more sustainable. For us, it was getting our own chickens. For you it will be a different area. This co-op has so many great ideas for becoming more sustainable and/or frugal.

Next, we hope to learn how to raise meat rabbits. It feels good to learn new things and apply them for the betterment of your family!

Keep Growing!


Monday, 20 July 2009

Is Technology Sustainable?

By Melinda Briana Epler, One Green Generation

by robhawke on Flickr

This past week I have been hopelessly trying to catch up with the technological side of my life: my blog, my online calendar, my online research for work, my web and social media design for work...

I took two weekends off in the past month, and my technological world seems to have surpassed me!

How did that happen?!

This week, I've begun walking to work 2 miles each way, stopping by my community garden patch on the way home. It's wonderful - I feel my body rejuvenating. My brain has the time to relax, and I end up having incredibly productive ideas along my walk. My body feels alive and burning needed calories to get back down to the weight I'd like. My senses love the walk to the garden, love picking the weeds and feeling the dirt, and talking with my neighbors as I water.

But every time I go through a period of adjustment like this, where I simplify my life to make it more sustainable, I find I struggle with the other half of today's existence: technology.

I would imagine I am not alone in this struggle between technology and simplicity.

First, does living a simple life mean living without technology?

Are technology and simplicity mutually exclusive? That would mean that, by nature of being an online community builder - with One Green Generation and with my own business at Re-Vision Labs - I am never going to live simply. Or if I live simply, this would mean I cannot live a technologically-infused existence.

There are certainly ways in which technology has helped us live more simply. We learn from one another here - sharing recipes, ideas, and patterns. We find out where our local farms and markets are located (we could probably do that without being online, but it would take more time and likely wouldn't be as informative). So maybe it's ok to participate in online communities, if it gives us more knowledge and willpower to live more simply and sustainably. But where is the line? How do we find the balance?

Secondly, is technology sustainable - or can it become sustainable?

I do wonder at times if technology is personally sustainable. For instance, when I first began reading and writing online about sustainability, I soaked in more information that my mind could hold. I actively participated in forums, blogs, and anywhere I could. But as I learned and grew and began doing, I felt I needed less information online, and I felt I had less time to learn. Now I participate in forums, blogs, and other places far less - and I feel I miss some of that online community. But I don't know how to put more hours in my day!

Also, I often wonder if technology is environmentally sustainable. I believe very strongly in the power of community to change the world. Here in the blogosphere, we have the power to traverse amazing distances in order to learn and grow and create real, lasting change.

Of course participating online alone isn't enough - I firmly believe in the power and synergy created when online and offline communities work together. But the technology that drives the online communities is driven by non-renewable resources, and made with materials that when created contribute to global warming and environmental destruction. This struggle with personal and environmental non-renewable energy makes for a love-hate relationship with technology, doesn't it?

How do we make the technology in our lives more incorporated into our values of simplicity and sustainability?

Is there a way?

How do you find the time to participate in your online and offline communities?

I've asked more questions than I've answered here - but this is something I am struggling with today, so I would love to hear your thoughts!

Creating a new normality!

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

We live in a completely over-scheduled society. Gone are the days of working 8-4 and spending evenings with your family or within your community, now a significant percentage of people spend evenings running errands, chauffeuring their kids to one activity & another, working, working from home, checking emails, hitting the shops. When I lived in North America, my local shops were open until 9 or 9:30 pm every night, my chemist aka pharmacist was either 24 hours or open until midnight, the book shops were open until 10pm as were coffee houses, cafes and many other establishments. Even though I wasn't necessarily accomplishing anything I was often out 3-4 evenings a week just doing "stuff" aka buying stuff. Then I moved back to England and a smaller town in the West Country where shops shut at 5pm, coffee shops 4pm or 6pm if you are lucky. And I hated it, yes this anti-shopping, simple living girl hated that there was "nothing open". Oh how I've changed.

Once I started my simple life, I started living. My evenings became time to be home, time to learn to cook, bake, sew, knit. I began joining activities like book groups and knitting clubs within my community, I began to volunteer an evening each week and 1/2 a day at the weekend. I began to meet people, neighbours, people in surrounding villages.

Today it hit me, as I sat looking at the sea in front of me, at a social event in the community next to mine, that my turning away from consumerism, from buying, from "stuff", I had created a new normality. A normality that gives me time to help others. A normality that gives me time to reflect and pray. A normality that gives me time to learn new hobbies and explore my interests. A reality that means I can work part time and follow what I really want to do in life, rather than working for a paycheck. None of this happened overnight, I had to pay off my debts, I had to have an emergency fund, I had to have changed my spending, established a difference between need and want, turn my back on the latest anything, but I for one couldn't be happier.

This week I lost a very good friend, far too young (early 40's) with young children and it was such a stark reminder for me about how important really living is, how important it is to have time rather than money or a bigger house; to follow your passions, to make a difference; to really live.

I'm really living now. Are you?

Saturday, 18 July 2009

To Market, to Market...

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Today I went to our local market, as I do on the third Saturday of every month. There are other markets in nearby towns on other weekends, but this one is 10 minutes’ drive away so I never miss it.

I was totally impressed (again) with the quality and selection of local products and thought I’d share with you what I noticed there today…

Sweet Potato
Pumpkins and chokos
Green veg of all types
Herbs – fresh, dried and potted
Tomatoes, eggplant (aubergine), capsicum (peppers)
Bananas, pineapples and paw paws (papaya)
Nuts – peanuts, pecans, macadamias
Dried fruit
Baked goodies
Jams, pickles and other preserves
Coffee (we also grow tea and sugar and produce milk locally – didn’t see it there today, but it’s worth mentioning!)

As well as fresh produce, there is a good variety of handmade food to cooked to eat – Aussie BBQ, ice-creams, pancakes, curry, German-style sausages, juices, smoothies, coffees, spring rolls and more.

Plus there's soap, lotions and potions, plants for food and beauty, books, toys and all sorts of goodies new and second-hand.

Are there local markets near your home? What sorts of things can you buy there? Do you plan your shopping around a regular market visit as I do?

Friday, 17 July 2009

Tend your own garden

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

It is the busiest time of year on the farm - planting, weeding, harvesting, and preserving in preparation for the cold winter months. But it is also a time to reflect, and take in our surroundings and be thankful for what we have, and the life we are creating. The world problems will not go away, some will be solved and some won't, and different dilemmas will surface. But to truly make the world a better place, we first have to make our part of it better too. Not just the ground under our feet, but our relationships and homes and anything that is under our care. Something that sounds so simple, but is sometimes hard to do in our busy, modern lives.

These are the things I am thankful for this week...

The rain on the garden. It will make the weeds grow, but the vegetables will flourish too. And the rain drops on the camera lens will be a dim memory when we are eating the fruits of our labors this winter.

Delicious cherries and the skills to put them by for winter desserts.

Abundant pastures for my livestock to graze so they stay healthy and productive.

And enough room, so the calves can play and pretend to be wild, and courageous Bos taurus' of days gone by.

Fresh eggs, enough said.

Fresh milk that doesn't come in a plastic container.

A teenager who picks the berries when they need it and before I remind her to do so.

And a wonderful husband, who can build or fix anything he sets his mind to, and that we have equally talented friends whose skills complement ours.

How are you tending your own garden these days?

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Campfires...Revisiting an old friend

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

For millennia humans have had a romance with fire. For most of human history we've lived by the flame to some degree or another. Whether it was to cook food, heat ourselves or light our way in the dark, Fire has been there for us. So...what happened?

You may be thinking to yourself, "Well I still use fire don't I? I have a gas stove and furnace." and yeah, your right, to a great degree we still do use fire for many of our needs. There's really no way we could do with out it is there? My wife and I got to thinking last year "Why can't we use our backyard fire pit more often? We couldn't think of a good reason. I thought today I'd go through a couple of my previously posted pieces about some of the ways we use our fire pit and share them with you. I should mention at this time too that before you build a fire pit in your backyard that you should check with the codes and laws in your local area. Also, always make sure you have a hose or fire extinguisher available. Fire is safe when we're careful with it, but proper respect for it is essential.

One of the first things I tried was baking.I made sure that since this was a food product that was going to be exposed somewhat directly to the smoke from the fire, to use clean wood and not OSB or other treated woods for this. I burnt down a good deal of coals, and placed our large cast iron stove on them to preheat. After prepping the loaf and coating the bottom with cornmeal (to reduce sticking and allow me to slide it off the cutting board) I dropped it into the pot and placed a few coals on top. And here's the finished product. You can see that the pot was a little too hot by the thick, blackened bottom, and the little too-dark top crust. All in all though I'd say it wasn't an all out loss. The texture and crumb of the bread was very good. The best part was that we managed to cook this bread in the middle of August heat without heating up our kitchen. That is, by the way, one of the best and most frugal benefits of using a campfire; it keeps you from heating up your house in the summer time. This reduces the need for A/C or other cooling means.

And speaking of that, one of the biggest things that we do during the hot parts of the year that really hinders our ability to keep our house cool is canning. Boiling those jars in the hot water bath for 20 minutes or so adds a lot of unneeded heat to the kitchen. Hmm, why not use the campfire?Using this little setup of a couple of pieces of rebar and a portable grill cover, we were able to get the water boiling and keep it boiling by simply adding a few pre-cut pieces of wood at a time to keep the flame up. NOTE: ONLY DO THIS WITH WATER BATH CANNING. Pressure canning requires much more control of the heat and cool down times and needs to be consistent during the process.

Last summer we went to one of our local you-pick-it farms and harvested a huge number of chilis. We decided to can green chilis and freeze chipolte peppers (fire roasted jalapenos) for the year. Both of these require fire to remove the skins from them. Perfect excuse to enjoy the smell of local grown chilis roasting over an open fire with a cold beer!So you can see, there's a lot of great and very easy things you can do with your fire pit to save some energy, reduce the heat in the house and cook great foods. There was one other thing I wanted to mention though. Entertainment.

Few uses of the fire brought us as much joy as spending time outside together around it. A few candles, some Christmas lights and a fire pit and you can have a great night outside with the family. Cooking almost anything over a fire is an adventure for kids and playing a game of lawn bowling by fire light is a great way to spend the evening.So then, if you have a fire pit available give it another look. It can be for more than roasting hot dogs or burning off old wood. If your a little creative, cautious and safe, you can really have a great time and get things done to boot!

All the best to you all till next time.

Homemade Cloth Facial Wipes

By Julie
Towards Sustainability

Around 18 months ago, I was working steadily on getting rid of all the disposable, one-use products in my home. I was still using cotton wool balls in the bathroom to apply (homemade) facial toner, so I decided to make my own cloth wipes to replace them.

It was very simple! I raided my stash of old flannel nappies (diapers) and cut one of the plain white ones into small rectangles, folded them in half to make a square - and add some bulk to the wipes - and sewed up the three remaining sides on my sewing machine. Voila! Homemade facial wipes.

The beauty of these is because they are so small, any small fabric scraps or remnants in a suitably absorbent fabric could be used, as can old or thrifted flanelette sheets or pillowcases, for example.

If you have one, using an overlocker/serger to whip around the edges would make them twice as quick to make, but if you don't have a machine, hand sewing them wouldn't take very long either.

I made them squares merely because it was the most efficient use of the fabric, but I know some of my blogger friends made round ones.

When I have used one I pop it into a mesh washing bag (the kind you use for lingerie) I keep in the bathroom drawer. When it's full, I pop it all into a hot wash with the tea towels and dishcloths and dry them in the sun.

Simple, green and frugal!

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

The Lunch Box Post

Heather Beauty That Moves
Today I am bringing you a post from my personal blog archives, it was written last October as a collaboration between some of my readers (they sent me many ideas) and myself. This post also contains my everyday bread recipe which many of you have asked for. :)

Although the calendar does not currently mark the beginning of a school year for any of us right now, we still all eat lunch each and every day! Whether you are mid-school year and in need of refreshment, pack a lunch to take to work, or you are on summer vacation and packing many, many picnics to take on your daily activities, creatively packing a home made lunch is economical, generally treads lightly on the earth, and is always tastier! Okay, here we go...
Here we are, stepping into October. There is very little that is more beautiful than October in New England.

Most of our children have been back to school for about a month now - and you know I've been trying to collect some good information to formulate one (as it turns out very long) blog post about packing lunches. I'm finally getting to do that and I hope you are still in need... I do believe whether your children attend public, private or home school - making lunch an interesting, likable and fresh experience is somewhat of an art form. I have a lot to learn myself and your links and suggestions have been a tremendous help. I'll be sharing each and every one here. I'll also be sharing a few recipes and ideas from my own kitchen, but mostly this post has been written by each of you! Sorry it's taken me so long to place it all here in one easy spot.

Cropped 1

It is fitting that a lunch post from this household starts off with chocolate. You could say it is part of our daily lives. Have you ever made your own chocolate sauce? Does your little one (or you!) love chocolate milk with their lunch? You will never buy the throwaway land-filling bottle again once you make this recipe, and you will know each and every ingredient that goes in. Makes a mama feel good.

Homemade Chocolate Sauce

1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup water
1 cup sugar (we use evaporated cane juice crystals)
splash of vanilla extract

Sift cocoa and sugar into saucepan, add water. Heat, whisking often until it comes to a boil. Let it simmer for a couple minutes. Add vanilla, turn off heat and stir. Cool for a bit and bottle it up! Store in the refrigerator and shake before each use. I haven't done the math but my guess is that this costs less than .50 cents per bottle to make. Pretty economical and easy as can be.
I've tried many, many bread recipes with the hopes of finding a good, soft sandwich bread. One that would stay soft for longer than a single day... it's been important to me that I replace store bought (nice and soft) wheat bread for one that we could make here and Emily would go for... I came up with this recipe, it fits the bill perfectly. And again, I know what goes into it. Let's just say that is my lunch-making mantra.

Our Sandwich Bread
2 cups warm water (110F)
1/2 cup agave nectar (honey or sugar is fine)
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 cup light vegetable oil (your preference)
4 cups all purpose white flour (we use organic white whole wheat, germ still in)
2 cups whole wheat bread flour

1. In a large bowl, dissolve the agave in the warm water, add yeast. Allow to proof until yeast resembles a creamy foam, about 10 minutes.
2. Mix salt and oil into the yeast. Work in 6 cups of flour. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Use a little more flour if needed. Place in well oiled bowl, and turn once to coat the entire surface of the dough with oil. Cover with a clean damp cotton cloth. Allow dough to rise until double in size., about an hour.
3. Punch dough down. Knead for a few minutes, and divide in half. Shape into loaves and place into two well oiled 9x5 loaf pans. Allow to rise for 30 minutes.
4. Bake in a 350F oven for 25 minutes. When you thump the top of the bread it should sound hollow.

TIP: My house tends to be on the cool side, even in the summer. I turn my oven on 200 and allow the bread to rise on the stove top. Works really well.

For a buttery crust, brush hot loaves with butter. Cool on a rack and enjoy!

Ideas From My Kitchen

  • fruits and veggies are tastiest when pierced through a toothpick or wooden skewer. an assortment on a single stick is even tastier and keeps the kiddos from getting bored with one veggie.
  • leftover pasta tossed with a little pesto is always a big hit.
  • i tell emily to eat her fruit and/or veggies first and then she won't have to worry about it. she somehow listens to this. if i don't suggest it each morning though, she will not remember to practice it.
  • sandwiches made with the cut-n-seal are a huge favorite. the crust provides our pup with a rare human food treat. this tool is also great for making mini-fruit pies. use regular pie dough, fill, crimp and bake. really hard to eat just one!
  • i keep my freezer pretty well stocked with an assortment of baked goods that are pre-portioned and wrapped in packages appropriate to a weeks worth of lunches for adam and emily. for instance: recently i made a texas sheet cake (chocolate zucchini style). we can't finish a 15x10 sheet cake before it turns stale... i froze about 2/3 of it, all cut up, in a few packages. i can then just go into the freezer on sunday and select a few different baked goods for the week. it works really well. i have a pretty good rotation going and nothing sits in the freezer for more than a few months.
  • the above idea is also great for when you quickly need to provide something for a playdate or get together with friends. many professional bakers agree the freezer is the most under-utilized tool in the kitchen.
  • quesadillas. i make them in the morning and let them cool to room temp before packing up. eaten at room temperature they are still yummy.
  • the moosewood vegan chocolate cake is my go-to recipe for chocolate cupcakes. these also freeze beautifully (frosted even) and can be taken one at a time from the freezer for an occasional treat. they will thaw by lunchtime.
  • i try to set an example of being a good earth steward by having minimal to no packaging in the lunch box. if it isn't picked from a tree, or baked at home, we try to make our snack selections from the bulk bins at the co-op. emily's current favorite salty snack is flaxseed corn chips.
  • homemade leftover pizza - huge hit!
  • a thermos of homemade soup or macaroni and cheese.
  • overall, emily is a pretty plain eater (as many of you know by now) and thinks simple things are better. i think her favorite part of lunch every day is the note i slip into her lunch box. i know she looks forward to it and it only takes but a moment to do. i keep paper, stickers and pens in a drawer right next to where lunch is prepared. i never forget, and she saves every single one. the daily note is perhaps the most important lunch ingredient.
  • smoothies! current favorite is strawberry/banana/chocolate.
  • bagels and cream cheese - even cuter if min-bagels are used.

Ideas From Your Kitchen

  • Cyndyava: A thermos filled with warm chicken rice soup, or broth and pastina! She's a soup girl. She also gets a lot of great ideas from this great food blog.
  • Jessica: I make a pot of soup on Sundays and then put it into crocks to eat at lunch time at work. Every week I try a different soup so it doesn't get too boring. I add fresh veggies to dip into dressing or salsa (I'm a dip person as well!) and a piece of fruit leather or an apple. I'm pretty seasonal with my lunches so in the fall there's apple sauce and in the spring lots of fresh salads.
  • Amy: I like to roast a turkey breast on Sunday and have slices of turkey for lunch during the week. Sometimes it turns into turkey salad with grapes and or dried cranberries (we're not into nuts here, but I think walnuts would be nice also)
  • Sarah: I make two meals for each girl so they have a hearty snack as well. I used to serve porridge every day for the first "meal" but now I serve porridge for breakfast every day, so need something new.
  • Iris: I love talking lunches...dread making them each day though. New ideas are KEY. Now that Jonas is almost 10, I have him involved with side-by-side preparation of lunchmaking (I still do most of the work for the 6 y.o.'s lunch). We do this at night (can't face any more morning details than absolutely necessary, plus Jonas sounds quite different than Emily...He sort of meanders around a bit in mornings, though he is an early riser. I find my boys like smaller amounts of food, but with greater variety. So I think about lunch food as a bunch of small and healthy snacks...Nuts and dried crans, half of a sandwich, crackers and cheese, Pirate Booty (a favorite), some kind of homemade power bar, fruit slices, veggie sticks and dip, goat cheese with a tiny spreader and rice crackers, etc. etc. My boys are NOT into thermos items, no way no how. One friend uses Sundays to whip up some "deli" type items, like soups and salads that her four children can avail themselves of come the lunch-making week. The whole lunch thing can kind of get maddening. I hate it when lots of food comes home to me uneaten and wasted (or for chicken food!). I also hate having someone come home and tell me I didn't pack enough. So getting their input has helped this somewhat. Woah, maybe I better do my own lunch making blog post! Yikes! Hope this helps...
  • Elizabeth: I haven't had to prepare a lunchbox since I made my own when I was a kid, but in those days the best best thing to have for lunch was a cream cheese and olive sandwich. Cream cheese slathered on wheat bread with sliced green olives.
  • QT: There is a blog I go to everyday that you should check out for your lunches. I usually just look on in envy - Lunch In A Box.

Web Inspiration

I hope you were able to find an idea or two within this post, I really appreciate all your help in putting it together (just sorry it took so long). Please feel free to continue this post within the comments, it really is a never ending subject. I for one would love to hear even more!

Monday, 13 July 2009

Natural Toothache Remedies

posted by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

Back in January this year, I had a killer toothache. You know the ones, the kind where you would do just about anything to make the pain go away. In my case, one of my top molars had given up the ghost and the nerve had died, which was causing excruciating pain, and giving me terrible headaches as well.

Now I found that antibiotics work in some cases, however if you want long lasting pain relief you either have to turn to something stronger that may make you very drowsy, or you can always give a few natural remedies a try to attempt to relieve the pain. So during my ordeal earlier on in the year I found two that worked during various stages of the pain.

Picture this;

On Sunday night I was nearly ready to get the pliers out of the tool box and extract it myself, Kim (my thoughtful wife) started searching the web for something more natural that would ease the pain. The painkillers were only working for a very limited time, and at about the 3 hour mark after taking them the pain came back stronger than ever.

She discovered a remedy where you cut a clove of garlic in half lengthways and press the cut side into crushed rock salt. You then place the garlic/salt mix on top of the affected tooth and gently press the juice out of the garlic for about 5-10 minutes. I was a bit sceptical at first, but after about 30 minutes the pain became less intense, and after about an hour it was just a dull throb, which I could handle. I applied this at about 2300, Sunday and it lasted until about 0700 Monday, at which time the pain came back stronger than ever. I tried the garlic/salt method again Monday morning, but it only worked for an hour or so and was then unbearable. So it was back on the painkillers for most of the day.

Tuesday morning, I took some my dad's advice. He remembered back to his youth where his mother (my grandmother) used to give him whole cloves and clove oil to ease the pain of toothache. Well I had some whole cloves and I was given a metal tea ball for Christmas, so I put about 10 whole cloves (the spice) into the ball, and infused them in boiling water for about 5 minutes. A weak clove tea with a teaspoon of sugar, helped relieve the mouth pain associated with the infection, and it provided a numbing relief for my entire mouth.

I then took out one of the cloves from the ball, which were now moist, and placed it on a tooth in front of the infected one and gently chewed it. In about 5 minutes my entire mouth went numb, like the feeling you get after a Novocain injection at the dentist. The pain went back to a dull throb again, and I managed to keep this up all day, putting in a fresh moist clove from the tea ball about once every two hours. A potent remedy if there ever was one! I used this remedy to good effect for four days until I managed to get in to see the Dentist to get the tooth extracted.

I am very impressed with these two natural medicines, and it make me think that there are so many more out there to be found. What other natural remedies do you use for aches and pains. We would love to hear about them here at the Co-op!

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Sunflowers in the Garden

by Kate
Living The Frugal Life

One of the few kinds of flowers I go out of my way to include in my garden each year is the sunflower. Irrepressibly cheerful, these sturdy plants shrug off aphid attacks and will struggle back from the most fatal looking damage to tiny seedlings. I love sunflowers for their visual appeal, but also for the many services they provide.

When in bloom, sunflowers offer nectar for honeybees, other bees, and other insects that pollinate my vegetables. Because the sunflowers are so attractive to aphids, these pests largely ignore my other plants. Paradoxically, the ready habitat for aphids means a better balance between predator insects and pests. Without plenty of food for predatory insects to munch on, they wouldn't spend much time in my garden.

The sturdy stalks of sunflowers can also support peas or beans that like to climb. I never seem to have enough trellis space for climbing plants, so this is much appreciated, particularly for late season peas.

Once the sunflowers have bloomed and the heads have slumped to face the ground, I know the seeds are mature. The fringe around the head also turns pale yellow at this point. That's when I cut the heads and let them dry in the garage. These seed heads provide food to those birds that winter over in our chilly climate. I place them just outside our living room window so that I can watch them during the housebound months. Free bird food when the feathered ones need it the most! I like feeling this intimate connection with nature in the depths of winter. Something that I grew and saved is helping keep these tiny and beautiful creatures alive. They also disperse the seeds all over my property so that there are plenty of volunteers in mid-spring. I rarely need to germinate seeds myself. If you leave the seed heads in place on the stalk, the squirrels will be happy to eat them too.

Sunflowers can of course produce food for humans. There are specific varieties bred to produce exceptionally large and oily seeds for cooking oil. I'm told that the fibers of the heavy stalk also make an excellent paper, for those of you who enjoy the papermaking craft. So far I haven't pursued these possibilities, but the papermaking is somewhat tempting.

These multiple uses of the sunflower illustrate the "stacking" principle I apply to candidate species for my garden. However pretty, a flower that I can't eat must give me a few good reasons to give it space in my garden. It's also a useful exercise to really examine all the "work" that any given plant can do. Even a non-edible plant may perform several essential functions that greatly enhance your garden. Knowing the many services that each plant provides is extremely satisfying to me too.

Important to bear in mind with sunflowers are their allelopathic qualities. Allelopathy is the ability of a plant to create chemicals which deter other plants from growing near them. These chemicals are most often deployed underground where they will affect the root systems of competing plants. Walnut trees and their close relatives are probably best known for this ability, but all plants use allelopathy to one degree or another. The allelopathic chemicals produced by sunflowers are nowhere near as potent as those of the walnut, but they're respectable enough to be taken into consideration.

Fortunately, a sunflower's tall habit means you will probably want to situate them at the poleward edge of your garden each year (e.g. north edge in the northern hemisphere, south edge in the southern hemisphere). The allelopathic chemicals which build up in this border area over the years will help to keep other plants from encroaching there. Even when a plant is unfriendly I can turn it to my advantage!

What non-edible plants have earned a place in your garden? And why?

Friday, 10 July 2009

I drink tap water... and I'm okay.

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

A few weeks ago I went to Sydney for the weekend to celebrate my Dad's birthday. On the way there, I passed the turn off to a little town called Bundanoon. Now I've passed by this town so many times in the two decade or so that I've lived in this part of Australia. Not once have I ever considered stopping by until recently...

A few days ago, Bundanoon became the first town in Australia (and perhaps the world?) who have banned the sale of bottled water.

I have to admit, the bottled water phenomenon has been a puzzling one for me. I remember growing up as a child here in Australia and happily drinking from bubblers (water fountains) and taps in the park. While I admit that these days, we now see more and more public taps connected on to grey water (and with appropriate signs saying so), I still don't get why people regularly buy bottled water.

Now I admit to buying the odd bottle now and then when I can't see a public tap around and my water bottle is empty. I think though, the time when I realised that bottled water was a norm was when I was filling up my daughter's water bottle (then she was 2 years old) at a public tap. I heard a gasp from another person and she very concernedly asked me "are you giving her water from that tap?!"

Me: "erm, yes."
Other person" "but its dangerous!"
Me: "But why? Its the same water that comes out of our tap at home."
Other person: "You mean you drink from your tap at home too?!!"
Me: "erm, yes."
Other person: "but its dangerous!"
Me: "since when?"

And I've never really received a clear answer to that one. Searching through the internet, I find loads of information for and against bottled water. (I will provide links of those I consider better sources at the bottom of this article.)

However, the one thing that convinces me that tap water is safe to drink (aside from the fact that I've been drinking it now for almost 30 years without any side effects) is that I have actually *seen* unsafe tap water.

I was born in a third world country. I have since visited other third world countries. I have seen what inadequate sewage and water treatment can do to water supplies. The water is literally polluted to the point that it is undrinkable. The smell arising from this untreated water is enough to turn your stomach, let alone try drinking it.

According to the WHO, about 1.1 billion people do not have access to drinkable water. As a direct consequence:
  • 1.6 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases (including cholera) attributable to lack of access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation and 90% of these are children under 5, mostly in developing countries;
  • 160 million people are infected with schistosomiasis causing tens of thousands of deaths yearly; 500 million people are at risk of trachoma from which 146 million are threatened by blindness and 6 million are visually impaired;
  • intestinal helminths (ascariasis, trichuriasis and hookworm infection) are plaguing the developing world due to inadequate drinking water, sanitation and hygiene with 133 million suffering from high intensity intestinal helminths infections; there are around 1.5 million cases of clinical hepatitis A every year.

Given those statistics, the arguments against tap water, here in Australia seem...well.... a bit "precious". I think we are lucky to have access to drinkable water that meets appropriate standards and are regularly tested.

And even one doesn't agree with the standards, there are also a lot more green alternatives to buying bottled water. The most obvious one is to have water filtration at home.

Anyway, I won't belabour the point. :) I'm just proud that a small country town near my city has banned the sale of bottled water. I will certainly be visiting that town in the next few weeks or so, just so I can show my support...and drink from the public water fountains like the rest of its residents. :)

**Note that I am talking of tap water available to most Australian cities - I know that there will always be exceptions.

Arguments For Bottled Water

Australian Bottled Water Institute (includes the Australian standards for Bottled Water)

Arguments Against Bottled Water

Choice Magazine - while trying to be neutral, article comes to the conclusion that bottled water is not safer but it is 'convenient' when out and about.

Kindred Media - compares Australian standards for tap water and bottled water

Market Watch - compares US Standards for tap water and bottled water

Environmental Working Group - Bottled Water Scorecard

Which - discusses UK consumption of bottled water and at the end of the article provides water FAQs