Saturday, 6 June 2009

Small changes really do add up!

By Frugal Trenches

A little more than 6 months ago, I was a city girl living in London, working around the clock (often leaving my flat at 6am and arriving back sometime after 9 or 10pm), I was frequently flying for the day to Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh or taking trains across the country for meetings. I had a never ending list of things to do that I simply didn't have time to do. My weekends were often spent trying to get some work done from home, meeting a friend or two and simply crashing. The weekends were when I tried to recover, only in reality you can't really and truly recover from a 80 hour work week when confined by walls, in a city that doesn't sleep and when you know you have at least another 10 hours + of work to get done before Monday morning at 5am rolls around.

The last six months have involved a lot of changes, it was as if I knew where my destination was, but I wasn't so sure of the steps to get me there. I knew I needed to leave London, I knew I wanted to live back near family in another part of England, I knew I wanted to work on my health, stop being so exhausted and really live but I really didn't know how. So I started small and blogged through it all. Slowly I learned how to knit, began reading more. These two small steps brought me enjoyment and forced me to leave work at work and enjoy an hour or two in the evenings of a hobby that brought me so much enjoyment. I won't let you know how terrible my knitting skills still are 6 months later, but I live in hope :0). I joined a book club and helped form a knitting club. I worked out with my employer a different work schedule (part time) knowing that it was simply buying me time to leave. A couple of health difficulties and sick time really gave me the push to put myself first now rather than later. I had saved up 6 months worth of expenses so knew I could take the plunge when needed. I began swimming again, something I'd spend many hours of my childhood enjoying. I met a great group of early morning swimmers who while 50+ years older than me, are a great source of inspiration and determination. I resigned.

Many people questioned what I was doing. What I was doing was finding my life and learning how to live it. Instead of a complex, career & money driven existence I was embracing a simple, green and frugal life - a life filled with new experiences (growing veggies, making my own shampoo and soap, learning to make things), volunteering, helping others, working in order to live not living in order to work. I let go of the illusion that I needed my own house (I don't say home because a home is anywhere you feel at home and at peace) and decided more than that I needed balance in my life in order to live fully. I cut my expenses by 75% in the areas of housing, bills, travel, food. And I learned to live and love life.

I feel that by embracing simple, frugal and green living (and yes I still have a way to go!) I found myself. I awakened something inside me that lay dormant when only focused on following the herd - working full time, climbing the career ladder, building up my pension and owning a house. The reality is we need money, but my reality is needing money will no longer interfere with every other area of my life. It will no longer be the reason I do something, instead it will be 1 or 2 pieces of my puzzle. The reality is I'd rather have a lot less stuff and more experiences, I'd rather be true to myself, I'd rather have the time to help others and contribute towards a better earth so really the choice is simple.

Had anyone told me I'd be capable of these changes I would never have believed them. They didn't happen over night. It was a year long journey that in many ways is just starting. I didn't turn into a green thumbed, domestic goddess overnight and yes I'm still far away from reaching some of my green goals but now I have no doubt I'll get there because I have not only the motivation but the time.

I thought I'd leave you with this quote that really sums up the learning I've experienced:

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming, "Wow, what a ride!!!"

I'd love to hear from any of you who have made big changes, where did you start? How many little steps did you have to take before you realized just what you'd accomplished?

Friday, 5 June 2009

Salad Season!

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
My daily Garden Journal, started seven years ago, shows that we've had a freeze the first week of June half the time. A section in our local newspaper lists stories from 130, 100, 50, 20 and 10 years ago. Today's paper says ten years ago, a five-inch June snowfall knocked out power to 9,000 homes. I know lots of places have gardens up and going full-speed, but around here cold-season crops are the only thing ready to harvest.

So that means it's salad season! The earliest spinach and arugula, seeded last fall to winter over and sprout in February, started to bolt so I pulled those plants and gave them to some very happy chickens. But with my spring-seeded spinach, under a net to protect it from foraging quail, my harvest continues.

With this dressing, I like a salad of just spinach leaves, some very thin slices of a mild red onion, and sliced fresh button mushrooms. The egg yolks dissolve when shaken to emulsify the dressing, and the whites will sink to the bottom if the dressing sits for a while. If you're making an individual salad, store the extra dressing in the refrigerator, use within 3 days, and spoon the dressing on to distribute the whites of the eggs equally.

Egg Dressing for Spinach Salad (makes enough for one family-size salad, or 3-4 individual salads)

½ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon seasoned salt (I use Lawry's)
2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped into ½" dice

Put everything into a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake well. It's best to use one with a plastic or enameled lid, to avoid any interaction between the acidic vinegar and a metallic lid. Toss with salad just before serving.

I scatter seeds from lots of different lettuces, using them to shade the roots of my peas, using the pea plants to shade the lettuces. The first couple of lettuce harvests are cut and come again - snipping along the row an inch above the ground. Then I'll start thinning plants, eating the ones pulled and leaving others to grow bigger. As the lettuces get bigger, I'll pull or cut every other one. By the time they're starting to bolt, there will only be a couple of plants of each variety left. Harvesting those seeds gives me my seeds for next year - either separated by variety or tossed together to make a greens mix.

For mixed greens salads, I'll usually dress them right in the bowl - first tossing with a drizzle of olive oil, then adding some raisins or dried cherries, maybe some feta or blue cheese, some chopped nuts, and then a drizzle of some kind of vinegar.

When the romaine lettuce gets bigger, it's time for Caesar salads. I'll cut any kind of bread into cubes, spray with non-stick spray (or you can toss with a drizzle of oil), and put them on a cookie sheet in a 400ยบ oven for 10 minutes to toast. Classic Caesar dressing uses a raw egg (and some now use Egg Beaters), but I've found mayonnaise (either home-made or store-bought) makes for an easy shortcut. While the croutons cool, shred some Parmesan cheese, prepare your lettuce (chopped celery makes a nice addition), and whip up the dressing.

Shortcut Caesar Dressing (makes enough for one family-size salad, or 3-4 individual salads)

1 clove garlic, peeled
¼ cup mayonnaise (if you use non-fat mayo, it makes this a great low-fat dressing)
1 tablespoon vinegar (white, red, balsamic, whatever)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ teaspoon anchovy paste (I buy it in a little tube - lasts a couple of seasons)
⅛ teaspoon salt

Finely mince garlic (in a mini food processor if you use one - I don't, so I just smash and mince the garlic and then mix everything else in with a fork). Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until smooth. Can be stored covered in the refrigerator 4-5 days. Toss with lettuce just before serving, add cheese and croutons, and toss again.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Thinking of weeds in a different way

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Most treatises on weeds solely concentrate on the eradication of, or the opposite, useful ways to make medicines, eat or feed weeds to livestock. All are these facts are good to know, but weeds can teach us more. Why do weeds grow where they do? Usually a shrug of the shoulders, and a "weeds happen" look accompany that question.

An examination of weeds growing on our farmsteads, and in our yards will tell us what is going on below, in the soil. As gardeners and farmers we need to know about the terra firma beneath our feet and hoe.

If you are new to your land, or are just thinking of starting a garden from scratch, weed identification can be very helpful. Weeds like certain soil conditions, and can survive the worst environment. I took a walk today in some of our high impact areas and snapped some pictures of places and the weeds that grow there. If you see these weeds, don't locate your garden there without the expectation of a lot of work. Problem weeds can persist for decades in high impact areas. I will stick with common names, and common weeds, and even though some of my impact areas are caused by livestock, people can tread hard on the land too. Native Americans called Broadleaf Plantain, White Man's Footstep.

Location: Barnyard, wet soil, high animal impact during wet weather. Not much grows here during the summer except Broadleaf plantain, dock and sorrel. I doubt this spot would ever make a good garden spot unless you built raised beds and brought in soil and amendments.

Location: Barnyard driveway, some grass, and clover but mostly pineapple weed.

Barnyard, high animal impact during wet weather. This area receives full sun and is covered with dog fennel, and some pineapple weed. Sometimes both of these weeds are known as Chamomile.

Barnyard, high animal impact during wet weather. This area is even wetter as the buttercup or ranunculus shows. Ranunculus roots are very toxic to pigs.

Garden, with the dreaded quack grass. Quack likes a hard pan, if you can correct that, you can make the quack leave.

Quack grass propagates by rhizome. If you want more quack in your garden till it, and chop it up into little pieces. The more you till, the more you will have. It will thank you.

To get rid of quack, plant annual cereal rye and summer fallow. The rye breaks up the hardpan and has allelopathic properties that have a lasting effect on the quack grass.

Area near the barn, with high animal impact. Canadian thistle loves acidic and nitrogen rich soil. These spread by underground roots, tilling only gives you more thistles. Cutting just at bloom time will weaken the plant and eventually they will die out.

Pasture near the treeline, this area shows good grass growth, but the bracken fern is still persisting. Timed grazing, or mowing and generous compost applications would help this area.

Our most persistent weed - Himalayan blackberry. This species is very invasive, this shoot in the middle shows this springs growth, already 45" tall. The berries are good, but these plants get so dense and thick, and are so strong they are hard to eradicate.

Most of these weeds don't bother us too much, in our sacrifice areas near the barns there is no need to do anything for soil improvement, since we are not changing the use of these areas. The weeds are the earths way of protecting the soil. Irritating as they may be, they are just doing their job. It is our job to observe and learn from them and make changes if necessary.

What weeds, if any, are the bane of your life?

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Please Come Introduce Yourself!

Posted by Melinda Briana Epler, One Green Generation


Hi everyone. I thought it was high time we all had a little fun and learned a bit about one another. Shall we try it?

Come, introduce yourself in the comments.

I'll start....

I'm Melinda, I live in Seattle, WA, where I grew up. I've an artist in New York, a documentary filmmaker in Los Angeles, and I've had a whole slew of other careers in between. I also lived on a rural vineyard in Northern California for a year, trying to live self-sufficiently.

A few months ago I started my own business with 7 other people with very different backgrounds but one goal of making the world a better place. We've recently taken on our first client, a large mission-driven microfinance company that gives small loans to people in the developing world so they can lift themselves out of poverty.

My husband and I on our wedding day

My husband and I live in a small apartment in a dense area of the city, with a dog we rescued from a Los Angeles animal shelter and a cat we rescued from the vineyards. We do our best to live sustainably. Some days we falter, but we're forever getting better.

Please Introduce Yourself!

Ok - I would love to know about you now. Please join the conversation! Don't be shy - if you've never commented before, now is a great time to start!!

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Expensive Children?

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

A multitude of articles have been written recently about the massive costs involved in raising children. Estimates range between approximately $120000 and $600000 to raise one child to adulthood. As the mother of a larger family, that is not good news for me! When thinking about a lot of the expenses used in these calculations, though, I gratefully realised that our lifestyle allows us quality at a lesser price.

Money’s well-researched article on the costs parents are facing included a list from University of Queensland’s Dr Paul Henman. He divided the costs into 10 groups, listed below in descending order:

* housing
* childcare
* food
* energy
* clothing and footwear
* household goods and services
* leisure
* personal care
* transport
* health

How does a family save money on those criteria?

Housing –
* When choosing location, try to balance commuting and price
* If possible, with work and family commitments taken into consideration, a small town will generally offer better value for money housing
* Everyone doesn’t need their own room, take a tip from other cultures where sharing and multi-use rooms are the norm

Childcare –
* do the sums, is it cheaper to stay home while the children are little, at least part of the time?
* are you aware of all subsidies and refunds available to you for childcare?
* have you looked into all options for childcare?

Food –
* Grow your own
* Buy in bulk
* Cook from scratch
* Meal plan
* Save ‘treats’ for special occasions
* Don’t eat empty calories – price food items per kilo and learn where your money is better spent (eg: 1kg of potato crisps cost about $20, whereas a loaf of wholewheat bread costs only around $4 per kilogram – try to get some nutrition and value for your money).

Energy –
* teach good habits from a young age – eg: shorter showers, switching appliances off at the wall
* try to heat/cool fewer rooms by sharing spaces
* discuss energy use as a family, so everyone is responsible – it’s about treading lightly as well as the cost

Clothing and Footwear –
* for as long as possible try to use recycled clothing and handmade or altered items
* buy quality, make it last

Household Goods & Services – (includes education)
* wait – don’t rush out to get what you think you ‘need’
* look at all your options – consider secondhand goods, buy quality appliances to last, think about homeschooling (often described as the ultimate private education)

Leisure –
* don’t skimp on really important things, fun matters so make it quality fun!
* find cheap and free things to do as a family to strike a balance

Personal Care –
* looking good and feeling good are important, but needn’t cost a lot
* go for quality over quantity and learn some DIY beauty tricks – have a pamper session with friends or family
* stay away from products laden with chemicals – they’re not necessarily any more effective than cheap and natural alternatives, but they’re certainly more likely to cause problems for the person using them, or the planet

Transport –
*car pool
* maintain your vehicle so it lasts longer
* combine trips to save time and fuel

Health –
* prevention is better and cheaper than cure – eat well, look after your teeth, exercise and live a balanced life
* don’t skimp on health care, if everything else you have vanished into thin air, your health would be all you have left - it’s all that really matters in the long term
* Australia is extremely lucky to have a lot of free healthcare for children - from clinics for babies and children, to bulk-billed (ie: free) medical treatment by most GPs, quality care in many public hospitals, ambulance transport in our state, and free dental care for school-aged children, including a new program for teenagers

Those are just a few hints from our family. Do you have any tips to share for saving money in any of the categories above? Do you think the estimates are accurate?

Related Posts by Bel
Menu Planning for Many
Babysitting Clubs
Real Nappies (diapers)