Sunday, May 31, 2009

Independence Day Challenge 2009: Week 5

Plant something:

I direct sowed broccoli and some more spinach seed this week.

I still haven't planted the valerian. Soon ;).

Big Little sister turned twelve today. She was given a gardening set and some seeds from one of her friends. She planted some sunflowers in the earthboxes.

Harvest something:

Deus Ex Machina was busy harvesting on Saturday. We've decided that this is the year that we are going to put to practice all of the knowledge we've gained over the years about edible plants in our area - things we don't normally think of as food - and start using them.

But there are a lot of plants to learn about. I mean, it's a veritable grocery store out there, just ready for the picking. The problem is that we just don't know how to prepare all of this wonderful food. So, we decided to concentrate on one thing, and decided it would be acorns.

Only problem is that acorns are a fall crop, and it's still spring.

So, he just disregarded all of our plans and went foraging. He brought home cattail and milkweed. Actually, he brought home cattail, but he just went out in the yard for milkweed - which we have growing prolifically all over my herb garden - an accidental planting many years, which we've always enjoyed because of the Monarch butterflies, who love it ;).

Anyway, milkweed tastes a like a cross between green beans and asparagus - very pleasant.

Cattail tastes like cucumber. Yum!

We still haven't tried to harvest and preserve either of them, yet, but Deus Ex Machina is working on leaching the starch out of the cattail root to make flour ... and from what we understand, milkweed can be canned just like green beans ;).

Preserve something:

Nothing, yet.

Reduce Waste:

Nothing out of the ordinary this week. Kitchen scraps go to the chickens. Animal wastes go in the composter or straight to the gardens (rabbit only). So, there's no waste, but it's also not something new.

I know. Boring. Sorry ....

Build Community Food Systems:

My friend, SnitchMom, came over, and I was (finally) able to repay part of my massive debt to her for all of the things she's given us by giving her some of the peppermint we have growing around the yard. We're not even close to even, but it was nice that, for once, I had something to offer her :).

Eat the Food:

Preparation and Storage:

I can not even think of one thing I did in this category.

Next week is dance rehearsals all week followed by a week of dance rehearsals and recital pictures. I won't be taking a "break" from the IDC, because, really, it's become such a regular part of just what we do. What I will, likely, take a break from is documenting our progress, because ... I may not be around much for the next two weeks.

I'll try to put something up here, though, as I hate stale content ;).

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cute Baby Shot

Our bunny, Patches, gave birth a couple of weeks ago, and I realized I hadn't posted a picture.

There are seven - five black and white (like their mama), and two dark gray ... I'm not sure why, as the sire is brown.

Here they are, in all their cuteness.

Patches is in the back of the picture saying, "Hey, what're you doing in here?"

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Plant Something

I spied a headline today from iReport on, and I was curious. It read Potatoes Planted in Protest. The video showed a peaceful protest in Iceland held in front of the Parliament building. People there are sick of what's happening with the banking crisis in that country and are speaking out. Their economy has already collapsed, and many of the citizens are having a really hard time.

There were a couple of speeches and some music.

But the best was the guy who was speaking a louder message while quietly going about his work and not saying one word. As the music plays in the background, he is busy with his trowel, digging, two holes at a time, into which he drops one potato seed per hole.

As the video explanation tells it, the message people want to send to the government is that they "don't have money to buy food." So what do they do?

The guy in the video plants potatoes.

And that is the example we should all be following.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Independence Day Challenge 2009: Week 4

I can't believe how fast my garden is growing. Everything I've planted so far is already coming up. The strawberries are full of flowers, the peas are starting to flower, the raspberries are flowering. It's incredible! Given that I've always been told to wait until this weekend to start planting, it just seems amazing that so much of my garden is so close to harvesting.

All of the perennials are up, though not flowering, but the herbs are crazy!

It's just been a crazy warm season ... with not a lot of rain, which kind of worries me, but ... well, it's too early to say if it will be a problem. Still, every day we get rain warnings (cloud cover with cool, humid days), but no rain, I get a little concerned.

Of course, it may not be concern, as much as it is laziness ;). If it doesn't rain, I have to water, and since I hand water all of the garden beds using water from the rain barrels, it takes a long time. It's better when my garden is watered by mother nature.

Plant something:

I direct sowed tomatoes and planted my edible flower garden this weekend.

My mother-in-law gifted me with a St. John's Wort plant, which I planted, and an edible valerian variety (not medicinal, though), which I've staked a place for, but haven't planted, yet.

Harvest something:

Lettuce, beet greens, and dandelion greens, which all went into a nice salad.

Preserve something:

Nothing, yet, but I've been gifted a big bunch of rhubarb that needs to become bread or something.

Reduce Waste:

I actually had a lot of fun with this one this week. Once, many years ago, we purchased a part of an old church pew. It didn't have any legs, and we figured we could do something to make it a nice bench. We used some MDF board to make some boxes (for storage) under the seat. It lasted a couple of years, and then, we replaced it with some chairs.

I tried to freecycle it, but all of the people who expressed an interest in it no-showed, and so, like a lot of other assorted debris, it sat in the yard for a few years ... and fell apart. What we ended up with were a bunch of different lengths of 1"x 1" hard wood boards ...

... which I used to make a trellis for my tomatoes, a trellis for the grapevine, and a sort of decorative fence around one of my garden beds to keep the dog out of the cabbage.

I'll also add the debris burning to this category, because the alternative would have been to take it all to the transfer station/landfill in town. While burning old construction debris may not have been the most eco-friendly option, we did use the fire for cooking potatoes, and so it wasn't a total waste of energy ;).

Build Community Food Systems:

Two words: Farmer's Market!

I was thrilled to learn that it was open, and I took Precious with me on Saturday. We visited all of our "regular" stalls, and they all remembered us. It was awesome. It's one of my favorite parts about the summer.

There's a farmer who was new there last year. He still doesn't have all of the fancy set-up, yet. It's just his truck and a table with no fancy signage or a tent, but he always has something no one else has. Last year it was plums ... grown right here in southern Maine. Quite a treat! Saturday it was asparagus, and I have to say that the fresh asparagus I got from this farmer is NOTHING like the "fresh" grocery store asparagus I've had in the past. His was tender with a flavor that just exploded in my mouth - even the big, fat pieces were bite tender, and crisp. The stuff from the grocery store is always a little stringy and tough.

He remembered me from last year, because I bought a bunch of his "field tomatoes", which he had decided not to sell, because they were ... well, they weren't perfect. I bought them to can them. I didn't care what they looked like.

So, we got to talking about rhubarb, and - long story short, he's going to bring me a recipe to make a sort of cement using the rhubarb leaves. I've been wanting to make some garden stones for a garden path and/or a patio. If it's totally cool, I'll definitely share it here ;).

The girls have resumed their "egg business", but because our flock is getting a little "long in the tooth" and several aren't laying reliably anymore, the girls are only hand-delivering about two dozen eggs per month to the neighbor. She still appreciates it and loves having my girls deliver the eggs.

I've ordered two new hens for July's delivery - after we've finished brooding all of the broilers we plan to do for the year - and we'll also be brooding two more hens for our friend, whose first six laying hens we brooded last year.

And I placed our last broiler chick order for a June delivery. We'll have raised a total of thirty meat chickens, four of which are for family members.

Eat the Food:

We did much better this week with eating and not wasting. I've been making bread each morning. One loaf of bread that is served with lunch and/or dinner. If there's any left over, the next day it becomes bread pudding. So, we've been eating all of the bread I can cook. No waste!

And, the other day, Deus Ex Machina cooked dinner, which is usually a euphemism for we ordered Chinese take-out, but this night, he actually cooked. We had some leftover pasta in the fridge to which he added ground beef and some tomato sauce and over which we grated mozzarella cheese. It was delicious!

Preparation and Storage:

In trying to reduce our monthly grocery store expenditures, I've been trying to skip going as often as we can, which means I'm not doing as much with regard to storage food items.

I hadn't planned to go to the grocery store this week, but our puppies needed food, and so we went. I didn't want to do a full-on shopping trip, but as long as we were there, I thought we should probably pick-up some children's acetaminophen, since we were out, and while I was at it, I picked up a little more than "just enough." According to the list that's one of the things one should try to always have on hand, because it will be hard to find. I'm trying to learn as much as I can about "natural" remedies, but until I find an alternative fever reducer and headache remedy, I'll try to keep the commercial stuff on hand. We don't use it much, but when we need it, it's good to have.

Deus Ex Machina was able to fix one of the two "good" adult bicycles we have, and it's rideable. It's a nice bike, too, and rides really well. The best part is that after all of the repairs to both bikes, we ended up spending a total of $160 for two, nice quality, mountain bikes. Now, if I can just convince him to consider the bike-share option I discussed with him today, we could both enjoy the bike and get some exercise :).

It was a really good week, and the long weekend was just what we needed to get pretty well caught up on things that had been neglected - like the yard ... and cleaning out the chicken coop ... and getting the tomato trellis built.

And we even had enough time to go out to the movies - which is a very rare treat ;).

Sunday, May 24, 2009

To Be of Use

With title acknowledgement to Marge Piercy for her poem:

To be of use
by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

"To be of use" by Marge Piercy © 1973, 1982.


We celebrated fourteen years of wedded bliss yesterday.

The word celebrated is a kind of misrepresentation of our actual day. There was no party with lots of boozing and loud music. We didn't invite friends or family to commemorate the event. We didn't eat cake. We didn't exchange gifts. There was no recognizable celebrating going on.

Instead, we spent the day working on our nanofarm, which is a celebration in and of itself. At least to us.

This morning, I was reading this article in the New York Times. The author holds a PhD in some brainy discipline or other, and even worked for a time as some head-guru of something very important. Now, he makes the equivalent of $20 per hour as a motorcycle mechanic ... and earns a few dollars as a freelance writer - on the side. The article is an excerpt from his book where he argues that the stereotype of manual laborers - those who work with their hands - as being less intelligent, resourceful and productive than those who work in a cubicle is largely a fallacy. On the contrary, he says, many "labor" jobs require the ability to do serious problem solving.

And more, the act of doing "real" work - work that actually creates something tangible - is exceedingly more fulfilling than any sort of cubicle work.

His whole premise is what I've been hearing from a lot of people these days, and what Deus Ex Machina and I discover every time we can spend a day working outside in the yard, cleaning, planting, building, developing this lifestyle that is about connecting with the earth, about building the soil, about encouraging a diversity of life on our simple quarter-acre and most importantly, about cultivating a sustainable, self-sufficient life.

Deus Ex Machina spent the day reducing the heap of scrap we had accumulated after a decade of trying to find the best solutions for our nanofarm needs.

We now have a (mostly) debris-free space in which to bring to life the plans we have for an extended storage unit, chicken coop, woodstorage area.

And the yard looks amazing ... for the first time in many years. Everything is neat and tidy ... except my herb garden, and that's not likely to change, because I like it a little wild ... and so do the critters.

I spent the day expanding and prepping the gardens. I (finally) built my tomato trellis bed and filled in the cinder-block raised bed that will be a Three-Sisters garden. I (think I) improved the duck yard - they seemed to enjoy it ;).

We talked about "doing something" for our anniversary, but the truth is, once all was said and done, what we were doing was just exactly what we both wanted to be doing - spending time here, where we live and doing the things that we really want to be doing when the busy-ness of the stuff that fills our days takes us away.

Despite what the calendar says, in our resort town Memorial Day weekend is the "official" start of the summer tourist season.

After I finished my "chores," and I was sitting in the backyard next to the amazing firepit that Deus Ex Machina built,

drinking from the liter bottle of home-brewed beer we were sharing, I realized that this, this that I was doing, was what people go on vacation to do - sitting by a fire, drinking a great bottle of beer after having eaten an amazing meal of

grilled steak, potatoes and carrots cooked in the fire, asparagus steamed in its own juices over an open fire, and a little piece of baklava purchased that morning (along with the potatoes, carrots and asparagus) from the Farmer's Market - and if we were still doing the "One Local Summer" challenge, this would have been our "weekly" all local meal - eaten outside on our "rescued" picnic table that would have, more than likely, ended up rotting or sent to a landfill.

I can't even imagine that going somewhere to "celebrate" would have made the day any more special.

And every day, I say a little thanks for my amazing life ... and the wonderful guy who makes it all possible ;).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


So, I was clicking around visiting some of my favorite places. I hopped over to check out what's happening down in Texas, and discovered that someone thinks I'm honest.

All I can say is, "Awww!"

Of course, as I was thinking about honesty, the refrain from this song kept running through my head. Thanks, Mr. Joel.

Anyway ....

I value honesty above most other traits. I think if a person can't give his word and be held to it, he's got nothing to say that's worth listening to, and if a person says something that's not true, and he knows it's not true, he's not worth my time. I really (really) hate people who will tell me what they think I want to hear, just because they think that's what I "want" to hear. No. What I want to hear is the truth, and if one can not speak the truth, one should simply be silent.

If silence is not an option, however, I think honesty is the best policy, even if it means getting into trouble.

For instance, a few years ago, I was pulled over for speeding. It was the first, and to date the last, time I've ever been pulled over for speeding. I've been driving since I was fifteen (although I didn't get my first license until I was almost twenty-one). I've driven, alone, from Kentucky to Florida, from Texas to Lousiana, from Louisiana to Georgia, and from Georgia to Kentucky ... and back. I've also driven overseas - and all of that driving experience occurred BEFORE my one speeding ticket.

So, when the cop comes up to my window and says, "Do you know why I pulled you over?" I didn't even stutter when I said, "I have a pretty good idea."

I mean, seriously, I could have made up something. I was very obviously pregnant, and three of my kids were in the car with me. If I had tried, I could have played it in my favor.

But that wouldn't have been honest. The truth is that I was in a hurry, and I was driving very selfishly, because I just wanted every other person on the Interstate to get the hell out of *my* way, because, of course, where I was going was WAY more important than where anyone else was going that day, which is why I was tailgating and weaving and driving too fast.

I deserved the ticket. I knew it. I couldn't lie.

So, I didn't, and I paid for my mistake.

But I haven't repeated it ... much.

Too much honesty, probably.

But according to the Honest Blogger Award that Kristi nominated me for, I have to list ten "truthful" things about myself.

So, that's two ;).

3. I usually remember the really nice things people do for me ... but I remember with even more clarity the slights. I wish it were the other way around.

4. When people are generous or thoughtful, I always say thank you, but I suck at sending cards.

5. While I value honesty, I don't think a person needs to divulge every sordid secret of her life. There are some things I don't talk about to most people. I don't talk about my religious beliefs, although I'll talk abstractly about my philosophies. I don't talk about my sex life, because that's no one's business, but I'm not above being bawdy for a laugh :).

6. Honestly? I hate that I'm dependent on my car, and I wish I could figure out a way to maintain our lifestyle without having to use that vehicle.

7. I don't want a million dollars.

8. Even if I were guaranteed to win, and even if they gave me the million dollars up front, I wouldn't go on Survivor ... ever!

9. The only thing I've ever really wanted to do that I still haven't done, is to be a paid author.

10. I wish I believed half the nice things people say about me.

So, I guess I'm supposed to pick seven honest bloggers, but ... well, I'm not so good at that sort of thing, but I do have a couple of folks I'd like to recognize, and if they want to play along, please do.

All of these bloggers share such incredible stories about their lives and lifestyles. Once I saw a game going around the blogosphere where we were asked to pick other bloggers whom we thought would make a good community. I'd pick all of these guys to be my neighbors. Most of them are either living similarly to me, or living how I wish I could live, and all of them have given me inspiration and information that encouraged me to do better.

Bezzie from Random Meanderings.

Karl and Tabitha from pile of o'melays.

Karin my blog-buddy from right here in Maine ;).

Matt from Fat Guy on a Little Bike.

Edson from Green, Blue Brown.

The Contrary Goddess

Alecto :).



Bayberry (who started out as my friend from a homeschool listserv and has become a real "friend" .. for real!)

And of course, Kristi at Rambling Woolysheep, but she nominated me, and so I can't nominate her back ;).

That's more than the seven required, but all of these guys have really given me a lot to think about, and they're all a big part of the reason I decided to take the fork back out :).

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Independence Day Challenge 2009: Week 3

I've decided that "microfarm" is too big to describe what we have here. As such, I've dubbed our quarter acre homestead a nanofarm.

And it is a very diverse piece of land. We have such an array of different things growing here, some we planted, some that volunteered. Every time I turn the soil, I'm both pleased and astounded by the amazing richness of it.

This morning, before the girls' dance show, we were all outside in the drizzle working around our nanofarm.

We discovered that most of the baby bunnies have opened their eyes (very exciting). So, Deus Ex Machina cleaned out the cage (while I held the mama, because she kept attacking him) and checked the nest to be sure we had all live ones. There are seven - all alive and all fat, roly-poly little bunnies.

After all of the animals were tended to, I did some planting ;).

Plant something:

I did a little better this week with this one. Last week, I was gifted Jerusalem artichoke (or sunchoke), and they were all planted this week - next to the house on the opposite side of the chimney from the iris/lily bed. The flowers on both sides should provide a visual balance to my house. As much as I don't really care what my neighbors think about how my house looks, the truth is that *I* care how it looks, and when I see the pictures of similarly-sized suburban/urban homesteads, I know I have a lot of work to do to improve the aesthetics of mine. So, pretty irises and lilies on one side of the chimney and pretty sunchokes on the other side, should improve the curb appeal ... a little.

This morning I planted more lettuce (I'm staggering the plantings so that we have mature lettuce over a longer period of time, but, hopefully, not so much at one time that it goes to waste), more beets (in between the seedlings that are just coming up - again, staggering the planting to extend the season), and cabbage (now I have to figure out how to keep the dog out of my cabbage bed).

Harvest something:

Eggs. Every day it's about four eggs. One of our hens will probably join the broilers when they go to *see* "Ken", and we'll be getting two new pullets, probably in July.

I also harvested a little bit of lettuce (it's still not quite ready to harvest) and some herbs for a salad. It was a very small salad.

Preserve something:

I didn't do anything in this category. I should be gathering and drying dandelion greens, but I keep putting it off until tomorrow.

Sheesh, for as far north as I live, I sure do suffer a lot from Scarlet O'Haraitis.

Reduce Waste:

We've been using water from our rain barrels exclusively for the animals, which reduces our water consumption. In fact, with as much rain as we've been having, I've contemplated filling 5 gallon buckets with water from the rain barrels to bring inside for flushing the toilets.

I had a massive failure in this category this week, too, though. I cleaned out our refrigerator and found way too many "science experiments" growing in there. A couple were really gross. For a long time, I was doing really well with incorporating leftovers into meals, or being sure that leftovers went to the chickens and not to "science." After dumping several containers this weekend, I realize it's time to start stepping up my efforts. The one that bothered me the most was the chicken bones that should have been broth, and what bothers me is that I could have boiled the bones into broth and put them in the freezer, but ... well, see above - Scarlet O'Haraitis :).

Build Community Food Systems:

Nothing new in this category this week. I'm anxiously awaiting the opening of the Farmer's Market this month ;).

Eat the Food:

With the exception of the SNAFU above, we do eat the food, for the most part. We still enjoy Chinese (or other) take-out once a week, but compared to three years ago, our eating out is significantly reduced.

In 2006, I started a spreadsheet, where I logged what we spent on food. I wanted to prove that we could "survive" on $600 per month for food (including eating out), which is the food stamp allotment for a family the size of mine. At the time, we spent more than $600 per month on just eating out - mostly fastfood. It was a real eye opener, and it was then that our eating habits REALLY started to change.

I've revived my spreadsheet, and it will be interesting to see how this year, with buying in bulk, cooking mostly at home, growing more of our food, preserving more food, and "eating the food" compares to prior years.

At very least, I hope I can feel better about how much we're not eating out ;).

Preparation and Storage:

I don't have anything new to add this week in this category.

We made it through another (long) winter, but next winter is already on our minds, and we've been "harvesting" wood wherever we can find it from the piles on the sides of the road from downed trees that were damaged from ice and/or snow this past winter. There's a lot to chose from, and we're hoping to glean enough wood to get us through the winter without having to buy any.

It already feels a little like the season is getting away from us. I have so many things I need/want to do (build a tomato trellis, get the new bed built for my edible flowers, build my three-sisters bed), but it's just not happening. There are so many things going on, and our weekends - the only "real" time we have during the week to work on our homestead - always seem filled with other stuff.

I'm hoping to get my hands on 18 cinderblocks this week so that I can build my 4'x8' three sisters garden and get it ready for planting on Memorial Day weekend (the traditional planting time here in Maine).

I'm hoping I'll find the time this week to build the new bed with the trellis system.

I'm hoping we can clean up some of the debris in our yard so that it's "purtier."

I'm hoping ....

For now, though, I'm wicked behind in work. I'll be babysitting my granddaughter, probably, every day next week. We're picking up our next batch of broilers on Friday, and we have to find some time to build an outside pen for the ducks, as they're still a little small to be safe in the chicken coop with a couple of our more aggressive hens.

It's going to be a very busy week, as usual. I'm looking forward to getting caught up with work so that I can get those overdue library books back ... although they tell me they very much appreciate that I pay my fines, ... er, make "donations" ;).

Monday, May 11, 2009

Independence Day Challenge 2009: Week 2

Plant something:

There's not much going on in this category ... there should be, but I had a rather crazy week.

Harvest something:

Dandelion greens - mostly for the bunnies. Big Little Sister has been harvesting baby lettuce leaves and comfrey for the bunnies, too, but we haven't eaten anything harvested from the yard, yet. I'm still waiting for the lettuce to get bigger. I probably need to tell BLSister to stop taking it all :).

Preserve something:

Does "my sanity" count?

Like I said, crazy week ;).

Reduce Waste:

*See below.

Preparation and Storage:

Most of my grocery bill this past week was in stocking up items. I bought a big, honkin' bag of flour and another large box of dried milk. ToolMom came over for dinner the other night, and when I opened my cabinet, she kind of chuckled. She said she loved looking at my cabinets, now, with all of the jars of beans and bags of flour and such. She said it's such a huge departure from when she first met me and would look into my cabinets with all of the brightly colored boxes of processed food.

Most of the time I do know that we've come a long way, but it is very cool to have someone else appreciate how big the change has been for us.

Build Community Food Systems:

I received a package in the mail the other day, and it brought such a smile to my face.

Thanks a bunch, Fleecenik, for sharing your Jerusalem artichokes with me!

My good friend, ToolMom, has Jerusalem artichoke growing all over her yard, and they are gorgeous flowers. She brought me a few bulbs, too. (Thanks, ToolMom! ;)

I've done quite a bit of research on them, although I've never tried eating them, and I'm looking forward to experimenting with them. I think they're the perfect permaculture addition to my homestead.

So, I had a lot of people sharing plants with me this week, but we also had the opportunity share some of our "local" food. ToolMom and her kids came over for dinner this week. We had homemade pizza and pie - both delicious! And Deus Ex Machina and I cracked open a couple of bottles of our home-brewed Hefeweizen.

I was never a huge fan of beer, in general, because most American beers are very harsh and bitter, in my opinion, but I was introduced to wheat beer when I was in Germany. Beer in Germany is an art form, and most towns have their own signature brew. My favorite type of beer is Hefeweizen, which is a heavy, darkish wheat beer, and since we've been back here in states, we've looked, but haven't been able to find anything that's even close to as good. The best we've found is crafted by Sebago Brewing Co., but it's a little too American, which is to say, it's not heavy enough or wheaty enough for my tastes. In short, I thought I would have to suffer with inferior beer, unless some quirk of fate sent back to Europe ... until now.

I could do a whole post just on how good this beer is, but I won't. I will say, however, that we all enjoyed a couple of glasses with our pizza, and it was good.

Eat the Food:

Last year there was a section for "cook something new." It's not on the list this year, but I was so proud of myself for, not only using up something that might otherwise have simply gone to the birds, but also because it was something I'd never prepared before.

I made bread pudding, but instead of using raisins, as suggested by the recipe (but which only one of my three girls likes), I used up a few more of the frozen blueberries we stored last summer.

And it was yummy!

In one of her posts last week, Phelan, at A Homesteading Neophyte talked about how food is becoming a concern for a lot of people. Reserves are being used up, and there's not a lot of money for restocking.

On the same day, there was an article on Yahoo with the headline 17 percect of US Children Under 5 May Face Hunger.

And a headline in a more local paper announced a food drive this weekend.

I've been striving - probably since starting the last IDC - to not "waste" any food, and to be clear, we don't throw food away. If we don't eat it, it goes either in the compost or to the chickens, but I've tried to go even further, in that our chickens don't get as many "leftovers" as they once did. Leftovers are incorporated into another meal ... or at least that's my goal.

And on Thursday, we had bread pudding. It was delicious, and used up all of the day-old bread ... and if I were still participating in an Eat Local Challenge, I could have listed this as my "local" meal for the week, as it used all local ingredients, too (except for the sugar and spice ... and the yeast in the homemade bread ;).

Speaking of bread, several months ago, I followed a link on another blog (I think it was Amanda's blog), and from there, I made a couple of jumps until I landed on a site where was posted a recipe for One Hour French Bread.

It claimed that the bread could be made, start to finish, in an hour (including time to proof and rise).

I was skeptical, but I needed something that I could not think about all day.

I found it. It is exactly what it says it is - simple and fast, and delicious! I can start dinner at 6:30, and we're eating before 8:00.

To make:

* Pour 1 1/2 c of hot tap water into a mixing bowl.
* Add 1 1/2 tbls of yeast, a palm of salt (probably 1 tsp, but I never measure salt), and 1 tbls of honey.
* Whisk vigorously.
* Let sit for a couple of minutes while you lightly grease a cookie sheet (I use one of my baking stones).
* Add flour, a cup at a time, until you have a soft dough that's not sticky. I use my hands to add the flour so that I can feel the dough, because like salt, when I'm making bread, I rarely measure the flour - but it's probably 3 to 4 cups. I knead the dough in the bowl, but not a lot, just enough to be sure everything is mixed and the dough isn't sticky.
* Flatten bread on cookie sheet (I use my hands, but you can use a rolling pin), and then roll, like a jelly roll, tuck the ends under, cover with a cloth, and let rise for about 15 minutes ... but not too much longer than that.
* Take a knife and make slits along the top about a 1/2" deep.
* Bake at 400° for about twenty minutes, or until bread is golden brown.

Note: this is not a bread pan bread! It should be baked on a cookie sheet or baking stone.

It's delicious. My family can't get enough of it, and I bake four or five loaves of it per week. They'd prefer I make it every day, though ;).

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Vanilla Extract ... For Judy :)

What I do, anyway ...

I purchase a couple of real vanilla beans from the health food store. It costs me about a dollar or two.

I put the beans in a pint-sized canning jar.

--I was gifted several of the old-fashioned ones that have glass lids with a wire band, and I use one of these --

Then, I fill the jar with vodka (the cheapest bottle I could find :), and I let it steep until I need it. The longer it sits, the more "vanill-y" it gets.

When I've used about half the liquid, I replenish the vodka.

When I've used half more of the liquid, I'll swap out the old vanilla beans for new ones.

Again, I don't know if it's better than the stuff we could get in the stores, but it smells good ;).

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Peppermint Extract ... for Jenny :)

I found the original post where I talked about making peppermint extract. Sometimes being a pack rat comes in handy ;).

Here it is:

Fill container halfway with Vodka.

I used a pint-sized canning jar - one of those ones with the glass lid held on by a wire-thingy. The old-fashioned kind that used a rubber ring to seal it.

Anyway, it was about a 1/2 cup of Vodka.

Add 1/2 cup fresh, chopped peppermint. I didn't chop mine, as the leaves were still pretty small. We just hand-shredded the bigger leaves and left the smaller leaves.

Fill rest of jar with water. I used filtered, room temp water we keep on the counter for drinking, but tap water would probably suffice.

Let sit for three weeks and strain through a cheese cloth to remove leaves, etc.

**I (still) haven't done this part ;).**

You can use, roughly, the same recipe to make Vanilla extract. You half the beans lengthwise and let them steep in the vodka. I actually don't strain my vanilla beans out, but leave them in the jar and just add more vodka when the liquid starts getting really low.

I imagine, although I haven't tried it, you can make just about any herbal extract/tincture in, roughly, the same way. And if you're into herbal vinegars or oils, they're made the same way, sans the water. Just stuff a container full of the herb and pour the warmed oil or vinegar over top of it, let it steep for several weeks, strain out the spent leaves, and voila! - gourmet oils and vinegars that are one-fifth the cost of what you'd spend at the store.

I don't know if my stuff is better than store-bought, but it's certainly less expensive ;).

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

We're in the Bunnies

"We've got a lot of little lapins in the yard ..."

Patches gave birth sometime in the last twenty-four hours. I counted six - four that will be black and white, like the momma, and two that look like they might have the coloring of their father - but I didn't want to bother the new mom, and so I'm not positive of my count.

The three little bunny-wranglers are very excited ;).

Today's homestead count: six hens, eight broilers, nine rabbits, two ducks, two dogs ... and five humans ;).

Monday, May 4, 2009

Independence Day Challenge 2009: On Your Mark ... Get Set

Last year I participated in the IDC and had a great time, and so when Sharon asked if anyone wanted to start up again this year, I raised my hand without a second thought.

The thing about the IDC that was very helpful to me (and the Twenty-One Days to Collapse scenario from Verde in September/October of last year) was that when it came to an emergency preparedness situation, I found that I *was* prepared. We lost power in December 2008 for four days, but because I had made being prepared a regular part of my day-to-day thought processes, we were fine. In fact, we had everything we needed right here.

So, I'm doing it again.

Plant something: This particular item will be pretty heavy for the next few weeks, at least. It's that time of year. Of course, that said, I don't have a lot of space, and so I have to really (really) plan what I'm going to do.

Today, I watched a video on about Victory Gardens, and the newscaster, with the help of a gardening "expert", was planting her first "food" garden, which consisted of one approximately 4'x 8' bed into which she planted several tomatoes, a zucchini, some peppers, and ... strawberries. Given my gardening experiences (and I am, definitely, no expert), I had an immediate reaction. There's nothing wrong with planting any of these items, but I think planting them all in the same bed is probably not the best idea or the best use of space.

I just thought the whole thing was a little sad, as obviously, very little thought went into what the home-gardener wanted to plant, and while I think the philosophy behind the story is a very good one, and I wholly support the Victory Garden movement, the idea of going to the garden center and just picking plants willy-nilly kind of makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. If *we*, as a society, hope to make a really significant dent in our dependence on the agri-food culture, we need to be thinking about things we can grow that 1) *we* will eat, and 2) *we* can grow in large enough quantities that for that one item we can be self-sufficient. I applaud her taking that first, small step, but ... I guess I just felt the "expert" should have said something about putting strawberries in the same (small) bed with the tomatoes.

My *one* food - the one thing I will try to dedicate the most space and energy to - is potatoes. During the winter, potatoes are a staple in my house. Everyone will eat them. They can be cooked into dozens of easy dishes and used in many ways. They're healthful and provide much needed energy during our long, dark winters. They store well. And, they grow prolifically, in my climate.

As such, I'm experimenting with as many ways to grow potatoes as I can find to give me the largest yield for my space. My goal is 100 lbs this year.

In addition to potatoes, over the past couple of weeks, I've planted peas, lettuce, beets, spinach and onions. Last fall I planted garlic, and it's about six inches tall right now. Most of my perennials have popped up, and I was very pleased to see the tarragon and the thyme survived and is starting to thrive.

Harvest something: We participated in the Wild Greens day and harvested dandelion greens, wild carrot, trout lily, and mustard for our salad. We also had dandelion greens cooked with cheese and Japanese knotweed pie.

I'm embarrased to admit that I haven't incorporated any of that knowledge into my family's daily diet, yet, but my girls did harvest a bunch of fiddleheads the day after the class, but they're past. It goes really fast. I keep seeing dandelions all over the place, too, knowing that once we see the flowers, the greens are more bitter, and it's "too late" to harvest ... for us to eat, but we have been harvesting for the bunnies.

I also, sort of, harvested some comfrey, which I used in a poultice for Deus Ex Machina's "broken" finger, which has been bothering him for a very long time (since he smashed it between the maul handle and a log two winters ago).

Preserve something: Preserving won't start happening in earnest for another month or two ... and then, it will be strawberry season ;).

Reduce Waste: This is an ongoing *project*, but we haven't done anything new in this area recently.

Preparation and Storage: This week, we went to the Tractor & Supply store, and they had long johns on sale - $4 per pair. I bought two pairs - one for me and one for Deus Ex Machina. They also had "Union Suits" for $7, and I almost bought one of those, but they didn't have my size ;).

One thing I started this winter, after our power outage, was to start storing gallons of water. Unfortunately, we have very little storage space, and so I had to be creative. I've been storing them in the freezer. A full freezer is more efficient than an empty one. As such, it seemed like a good idea to store an item that we might need anyway (potable water) in a place that will make one of our high energy users use less.

Build Community Food Systems: I joined a the Portland Permaculture "Meet-Up" group. It's been fun, so far, and Sharon was actually a recent speaker for the group, but I missed meeting her. Drat!

Eat the Food: This is an ongoing one, too. We still spend more money than we should on eating out, but we're getting better. It kind of comes in waves, and the busier we are with outside activities, the greater the chance that we'll succumb to the temptation. Our financial picture has changed a bit over the past month, however, and with that always on our minds, we're less inclined to give in, which means there are a lot of nights when we're eating after 8:00 pm, because it takes longer to cook at home.

That said, I was reading a blog recently in which the author mentioned that her home-cooked food was just better, and that's actually what I've found. Not "better", exactly, but at least, here at home, I can get *exactly* what I want, the way *I* want it ... and I don't have to wait for Andrew to bring it to my table ... or to take the time to actually inquire as to whether there is anything else I'd like to have ... and then leave him a tip because he bothered, once or twice, to provide some level of decent service.

There was another category last year ... I don't recall what it was. Maybe I'm thinking about the "preparation" category, but we have had an experience in the past couple of weeks that fits with the whole spirit of the Independence Day Challenge.

Both of our vehicles have been acting kind of wonky. For a couple of months, now, we've known that the Honda needed some repairs (the regular mechanic estimated a couple $$thousand$$ for parts and labor). So, we waited. Then, one day, it just wouldn't start.

Deus Ex Machina talked with a friend of his, who has a friend, who is a mechanic, and he said it was probably A or B. It was A. Deus Ex Machina talked with his brother-in-law, who works at an autoparts store and got the right part us, and Deus Ex Machina fixed it. It runs fine.

In his post today, Kunstler said that people will not likely be buying new cars, but rather will be keeping the ones they have running for as long as they can. I don't disagree. We still have an income (albeit a bit smaller than it was four months ago), but there's no way either of us wanted to buy a new car. In fact, if Deus Ex Machina hadn't gotten his car operating, my solution would have been to call the junk dealer and have it hauled away, or to strip it and sell it for parts. Either way, my plan wasn't to get another, but rather to reduce our fleet.

I'm very impressed with and proud of my wonderful, resourceful husband, who's proven, once again, how incredible he is, and I love that he never gives up. He keeps me wanting to be better, and it's because of him that I'm never afraid of the future ... mostly, I'm just thankful for each new day ;).

Learning through Living

I had a conversation the other day with another homeschooling mom - one who uses a curriculum, but as this is her first year, and there are a whole lot of other factors in her life that make having the sort of documentation a curriculum provides, she probably made the best choice.

She says she's fascinated with the idea of our unschooling philosophy. She wonders how we manage to "do" it ... or rather, "not" do it, as it were.

I can't explain. There are so many layers and nuances to the practice of unschooling that there is no simple this is how it's done explanation. It's not something that is simply done, like planting a garden, and actually, planting a garden is a pretty good analogy, because it's not done in "steps", like Step 1: prep the bed; Step 2: plant the seeds. Planting a garden is a process that starts in the gardener's brain and ends up with jars and jars of fresh, homemade tomato sauce on the pantry shelf. But in between there are all sorts of things that happen, all at the same time, and even a lot of things the gardener never really sees or understands that are an integral part of the process from idea to jar of food for winter.

There are times when the gardener just has to trust in the natural process that takes the seed from dormancy to food.

So it is with unschooling. I think when it comes to the whole "unschooling" thing it all boils down to trust. I fully trust my girls.

Earlier I was listening to Precious and Little Fire Faery playing with their Polly Pockets. They create these incredibly elaborate role-playing scenarios, and I usually butt out of their play, but sometimes I like to hear what they're doing, just because it's always fascinating.

In the game, they were trying to determine who would go first. They decided it would be alphabetically, by name.

I heard Precious say, "B-b-b ... Boo would go first."

And of course, I feel a very strong sense of pride when I overhear this kind of thing, and I think about all of the rote exercises I did as a student (and gave, as a teacher) to reinforce this skill that these two little girls managed to pick-up ... from somewhere. Goodness knows I never gave them alphabeticizing worksheets or exercises to perform.

That's the thing, though. It was important to them, and so they learned it. Alphabeticizing, in this case, has a real world implication for them - to be fair, the dolls go in order of the first letter of their name. Brilliant!

And they thought it up all by themselves.

The mom I talked with said she was comfortable with the "idea" of unschooling, except when it came to math. She told me that her eight year old daughter does really well with geometry concepts, but just can't seem to get simple subtraction. I tried to say that I thought she'd get it when she needed it, and I believe she will. I believe that there are concepts that we might not immediately grasp, the first or second ... or even thirtieth time we're exposed to them, but when that knowledge becomes something that we need, it's there.

I trust that when my girls need to know a thing, they will find the answer.

Like alphabeticizing to determine the order of their dolls' turns in the game.