Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Room

Over a year ago, we had the back wall and part of the roof removed from our house . It was not a cosmetic choice to renovate, but rather one that was prompted by a phone call from our neighbor the winter before during a really wicked windstorm.

"Hi, this is your neighbor across the road. Your roof is blowing off."

It wasn't the entire roof, but rather the roofing material, and yes, it all blew off. The part that was most annoying - other than losing our roof, was that it was less than ten years old, but was supposed to be good for thirty years. Someone lied to us. No, we don't have any recourse. Sometimes we feel a little like Fletcher, Jim Carrey's character in the movie Liar! Liar! when he's dealing with the impound yard:

Fletcher: You - -LIAR! You know what I am going to do about this?

Motorpool Guy: what?

Fletcher: Nothing! Because if I take it to small claims court, it will just drain 8 hours out of my life and you probably won't show up and even if I got the judgment you'd just stiff me anyway; so what I am going to do is piss and moan like an impotent jerk, and then bend over and take it up the tailpipe!

So, we started looking for contractors, and finally got one to take off the roof.

Then, we spent several months trying to get it insulated, but ran into a bunch of issues with that, because it got cold, the room isn't heated and wasn't insulated, and there's this thing called condensation.


Blown-in insulation doesn't stick to wet walls.

In the meantime some really awesome things happened. I entered a contest sponsored by the Biddeford Savings Bank for $500 to go toward a renovation project ... and I won!

More than a year later, we finally had the drywall delivered. This weekend, we're putting it up.

I am thankful.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Black Friday Special: Recycle/Reuse

There are so many products we could buy to allow us to live a greener lifestyle. Some in the "green" community call those things "greenwashing", and the point is that it doesn't make a lot of sense to try to live more lightly, more simply and more frugally, if one is also purchasing things.

I mean, yeah, okay, it does save money to bring one's own water in a reusable water bottle than it does to purchase a plastic bottle of water. I wonder, though, what did people do before there was bottled water and reusable water bottles. Oh, I remember ... public drinking fountains, or bubblers (depending on the part of the country from which one hails). Do those even exist anymore?

I used to like the cute little reusable plastic cups for cold beverages. I started bringing my own iced tea with me wherever I go. What I don't like is that keeping them clean is really tough. Mold (or something yucky and probably toxic) grows in the threads of the cup and the lid, and get under the seal, and then, since most of those cups are double insulated, sometimes the two layers come apart ... and then, well, it has to be replaced. Planned obsolescence much?

The reusable coffee cups are similar. I haven't had a reusable cup that I've been able to keep and use for the long-haul - and by long-haul, I mean every day ... forever.

So, I found a different solution, and I keep modifying the solution and improving on it.

It involves the plastic straw from the useable plastic cups, a reused glass jar (and I purchased that brand of sauce specifically because the jar lid was the same size and style of a standard canning jar), a reused plastic lid (and I bought that brand of salad dressing specifically because it came in a glass jar, it was organic and gluten-free, AND it used a jar with a lid that was interchangeable with a standard canning jar) ... and a drill.

The lid for the salad dressing is black plastic, but fits perfectly on any regular canning jar. So, I drilled a hole the same size as my straw, et voila, a reusable cup that is easily cleaned and reuses a bunch of stuff that might have been considered trash.

I love that many of the products I can find at the store use packaging that is so easy to keep and reuse. The jars are especially useful, and if I changed the lid, moving the hole closer to the rim, for instance, I could have it serve double duty as a coffee cup and a cold beverage cup.

Hmm ....

I wonder what I can reuse to make a sleeve to hold the jar when it's filled with hot coffee ...?

*Note: I haven't found a jar, yet, that fits in my car cup holders, and glass or metal straws would be better, but for now, I have a completely reused reusable cup and I'm really happy with it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Ultimate "Pantry" Challenge

Last November, my daughters had an appointment at the dentist. Next door to our dentist's office is a food pantry. I've been hearing about this pantry for a while, but I never knew exactly where it was.

We're volunteers at the local animal shelter, and my daughter decided that she wanted to do a "12 Day of Christmas" donation to the animal shelter. I decided that I wanted to match her, but take my donation to the food pantry.

So, while my daughters were getting their teeth cleaned, I walked over the pantry, introduced myself, told them what I wanted to do, and asked if they ever needed volunteers. It's turned out to be one of the best impulsive things I've ever done.

Ten months later, my daughters and I are still volunteers. We go once a week and work the entire shift (from 9:00 to noon). We also help out with fundraisers, like the yard sales that are every other week during the summer. Last weekend, we got to go to a Blues Festival in town to sell raffle tickets for the pantry. The weekend before, we were part of the crew that manned a drink station for runners in the Rev3 Triathlon. It's been an awesome experience working at the pantry, and definitely it's been quite an education - for both me and my daughters.

One of the biggest challenges our patrons face is being offered food that's unfamiliar or not terribly appetizing looking. And our patrons actually get to choose what they take, unlike some pantries where the pantry personnel packs a box with x amount of each of the four food groups, and sometimes people end up with cans of creamed spinach and shredded pork, or maybe they get a can of tuna, some Kraft Mac & Cheese, and three cans creamed corn. Each patron in our pantry gets to pick a certain number of items based on family size. Bread, fruits and vegetables are on a take-what-you-need basis.

The problem is that we often have no idea what WE will have, because everything is donated. We have no idea what we'll get from each delivery. It could be a box of rice, which is versatile and goes a long way ... or a case of generic-brand tomato soup.

Sometimes we get odd vegetables that are completely unfamiliar. Like Jicama. I had to look it up. It's a tuber, native to the southwest, and used in a lot of southwestern cuisine. We have a friend from New Mexico. He knew what it was. I still haven't tried it - although I should so that I can give an informed opinion.

I've been having a lot of fun with talking to our clients about what they can do with the food we have available. Last year, we were inundated with tomato soup. One can only enjoy so much soup with grilled cheese, before it gets old. So, I found five or six recipes, and we handed them out. I had no idea that one could make French Dressing (for salads - used to be my sister's favorite dressing when we were kids) with condensed tomato soup.

This week, we have cabbages and cucumbers, because a local farmer donated a lot of it to us ... and I wondered if I could come up with a recipe ... maybe a twist on the coleslaw theme.

I did.

And it's delicious.

Most of the ingredients are things we have at the pantry. The only thing our patrons might have a challenge acquiring are the spices, in particular, cumin, but for those interested, cumin comes in a 2 oz bottle and costs between $2 and $4, but it will last a long time. It's one of my favorite spices, and I use it on everything from steak to chicken ... and now, coleslaw.

The dressing is a play on the Indian Raita and a tzatziki.

Coleslaw with Cucumber-Yogurt Dressing :

1/2 large head of cabbage shredded
1 overly large cucumber, deseeded and finely chopped
1 c plain yogurt
1 tbsp. fresh mint leaves finely chopped (or 2 tbsp of dried could be used)
1 tsp of vinegar (I used red wine vinegar, but any will do ... or substitute lemon juice for a different zing)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Mix yogurt and spices together until well blended.
2. Add finely chopped cucumber.
3. Toss with shredded cabbage.


The dressing can also be enjoyed with flat bread and spicy meat.

For this dish, the cabbage, garlic, and mint were from my garden. The cukes were from a local farm. The yogurt was made by a local farmer, who has just started making yogurt. Vinegar and cumin were not local.

Finding interesting, nutritious and tasty ways to prepare the kinds of food that we often receive at our community food pantry can be quite a challenge, but it's a lot of fun to imagine the possibilities.

Monday, August 10, 2015

We are the Tin Man

Being a Thrivalist/Prepper/Survalist/Suburban Homesteader is all about preparedness, and we may not all agree on what we're preparing for ... or it may just be a sense that all things are not right.

Way back in the day, I started following several authors - both on line and off - who considered themselves part of the Peak Oil crowd. Peak Oil, for those of you who may be new to this stuff (because we don't hear as much about Peak Oil these days as we used to), is the point at which the world has used "half" the oil there is available. It's like climbing a mountain. When you get to the "peak", your journey is not concluded. You still have to come back down.

The Peak Oil crowd, based on extensive research by experts in the field (most notably M. King Hubbert), states that the Peak for US oil production happened in the 1970s. That doesn't mean that we're not producing oil anymore, because we are, but that the amount we're getting and the quality of that crude is considerably diminished. It is very telling we discovered the Bakken Tar Sands back in the 1950s, but didn't start drilling until recently, after the pumpjacks in Texas and Oklahoma stopped pulling the black gold from the ground.

Recently, I stumbled upon this article with the very ominous title Oil Collapse Couldn't Come at a Worse Time for the Industry, which made me think more about Peak Oil. What's interesting is that, currently, the price of oil per barrel is under $50, but we're still paying almost $3/gallon at the pump. The article explains why: oil companies are heavily in debt, and Saudi Arabia has flooded the market with their oil (producing around 10 million barrels per day).

What's very telling is this quote from Fadel Gheit, senior energy analyst at Oppenheimer, who said, "At the end of the day, borrowing is borrowing. Having this huge amount of debt is never, never good. Especially, you see what the companies are doing right now. The oil companies are running on cash flow, not on earnings.... So all companies that I know of are not living within their means.... How long can that last? Every company I know of, including Chevron, Exxon, BP, Apache, Anadarko, every company, you name it. They are all exceeding their cash flow. That's not sustainable. Something's got to give."


According to the article, the banks reevaluate their outstanding loans in October and decide what to do. Also according to the article, some smaller oil companies many find themselves without any financing, which means, they may have to close their doors. Maybe they'll get bought out by bigger companies ... unless those bigger companies don't have the revenue (or credit worthiness) to buy them out, and then, who knows.

Whatever happens, it looks like it's going to be an interesting fall and winter, and it doesn't look like the consumer price for gasoline or oil is going to drop, even as the price of crude hits the rocky bottom.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Watch Out, Angels! I know Victoria's Secret

Yes, I have often purchased overpriced undergarments at Victoria's Secret.

It started several years ago when I was in the same room with two other homeschooling moms who were ignoring me and entered into a discussion about undergarments (not sure how the subject came up, but whatever). They started chatting, very enthusiastically and animatedly about a particular style they enjoyed from the above mentioned lingerie retailer. I'd never thought much about my underwear brand. I guess I just figured they were all uncomfortable, and it was just one of those things we had to endure if we planned to stay clothed. They spoke about how comfortable their panties were, and so, naturally, I wanted some, too.

Then, I assumed that, because it was a niche market, and VS specializes in the product, what I got from their store would be a higher quality and would last longer. What I'm finding is that it isn't true. The underclothes are comfortable enough, but it's incredibly disheartening to spent $5 on one single pair of panties that are unwearable in less than a year. Okay, I could understand if I only had one pair and it wore out after a year of use, but when I have multiple pairs, and they're still rags after only a few months, it's frustrating.

Last December, when I was making holiday gifts, one of those was to be new undergarments for Deus Ex Machina. I made a pattern and sewed them. They came out pretty awesome - although since flannel doesn't stretch in the same way that the fabric used in the boxer-briefs I used for the pattern does, they ended up a bit too small.

After throwing away, yet, another pair of my panties (sans the salvaged waistband elastic, which I reuse), I thought about those boxers, and I decided I could use the pattern to make some undergarments for myself.

In a true thumbing-my-nose-at-corporate-America, not only did I make a wearable undergarment, but I also reused a stretched out camisole from Victoria's Secret for the fabric. Ha! Take that ;).

I needed one and a half camisoles (I used one pink one and one white one - hence the two tone panties :)) for the final product, and I even reused elastic from the "shelf bra" for the waistband.

They fit, and they are comfortable, and I will make more pairs, when I find a material I want to use.

Forgive me if I don't post a picture of me wearing them. They are underwear, after all, and I'm no "Angel." :)

What are you recycling/reusing/repurposing today?