Friday, July 31, 2009

Three Days Early ...


Lunch today was baked chicken (our own) with salad (our own lettuce and homemade dressing), cheddar curds (Silvery Moon Creamery), and homemade (this morning) bread with butter (Harris Farm).

I did have iced tea (which is not local) to drink, but damn that meal was really close to being ALL local ;).

And I wasn't even trying ....

Maine Farmer's Market Week!

The week of August 3-9 has been proclaimed “Maine Farmers’ Market Week” by Governor John Baldacci ...." Read more ...

As a local food enthusiast, this news really delights me, especially the part about challenging us to eat a local meal during this week.

I discussed this with Little Fire Faery the other day. We realized that every meal, every day, includes something that is locally grown, and to her great delight, we often have meals that include foods we've grown ourselves ;) - even something as simple as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich includes many local ingredients: bread with local honey, locally milled flour and jam with local strawberries and made right in our kitchen. She loved that our salads are all locally grown (right here on our property), and my homemade dressing includes local cream, local mayonnaise, and local herbs (grown right on our property).

I will take Seth Bradstreet's (the Maine Commissioner of Agriculture) challenge, and we will have at least one *all* local meal this week - all local means that I won't be having my regular iced tea for dinner ;), but I think I can probably find an herbal substitute ... probably right in my garden :).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Things That Make You Go ... Hmm??

Do you think there was a group of people in the 1920s who predicted the Great Depression and started stocking up and doing exercises like the Independence Day Challenge or last year's Twenty-One Days 'Til Collapse?

I wonder if any of them wrote any books that were published.

Wouldn't that be a great book to read?

The Forest ... er, Garden?

I never planted this much bee balm. It just comes up, a few more plants every year. The milkweed in this bed is a "volunteer", too. I never planted any milkweed. It's funny to see this bed in the spring, after the snow melts. It looks like nothing will ever grow there, and here we are, three months later, and it's a crazy jungle.

The bees, the butterflies, and the hummingbirds love it. I think it's pretty, and I won't change a thing ... except I do pull some of the bee balm and milkweed, in an attempt to give some of the other plants that are in there a chance (see the Purple cone flower? And there's some tarragon and thyme in there somewhere, too ;).

The front yard has changed a bit this year, too. I'm planning to put strawberries along the road to the left of the grape. Hopefully, in another year, when the grape gets established, we'll actually have something to harvest. The far left of the picture is the edible flower garden with the scarlet runner bean on the PVC trellis I erected. It's just as pretty as I hoped it would be.

Here you can see the "edible forest garden." It started with the apple tree and has grown a little at a time. Hazelnut bushes are the borders on either side, and I've added some purple cone flower, chives (as pest control for the apple tree), chamomile, and a couple of flower plants the girls wanted from the garden center. My mother-in-law gave me a St. John's Wort for my birthday, and that's there, too. It will be fun to see this garden in three years ;).

Monday, July 27, 2009

Health Care Reform - Getting the Short End of the Stick

This new health care reform going through Congress infuriates me, and maybe it's just that I don't understand what they're trying to do. Maybe.

But from what I understand, all Americans will be FORCED to PAY a private health insurance company for a policy (or buy a government sponsored policy - but this is still being considered. The private health insurance avenue is the only current option) . I already know that a non-employer sponsored insurance policy for my family of five would cost between $8400 and $12000 - just for premiums.


We could buy a 1700 sq. foot house on a small in-town lot in a neighboring community for what insurance premiums would cost us.

But we can't afford another house.

In fact, if we're FORCED to pay insurance premiums, there's a good chance we wouldn't be able to afford our house.

Then, there's a 20% co-pay for doctor's visits, and a $10,000 deductible *if* something catastrophic happens and we have to be hospitalized or undergo long-term treatment.

When Deus Ex Machina's company cut his benefits three months ago, I looked into alternatives. I didn't like what I found. I didn't like the limited options for plans. I didn't like that the insurance companies didn't have plans for us that would simply cover our visits to the doctors for "check-ups." I didn't like that what I was paying for was the possibility that we might get sick, and then have coverage (after we paid the $10,000 deductible), but in the meantime, the insurance company is raking in thousands of dollars per month, we'd unlikely ever recoup.

The bill before Congress proposes a cap for out-of-pocket expenses. The proposed cap is $10,000 to $12,000 *per year* for families, which does not cover premiums, but can only be applied to deductibles, co-pays, and other costs in that year. Next year, it all starts all over again. So, for a chronic illness, we'd be looking at paying $20,000 per year, just for premiums and deductibles.

I am one of the 45 million uninsured Americans.

But I couldn't be more against this proposed bill.

What galls me is the fact that we will all be FORCED to pay for insurance.

What infuriates me is that our government is negotiating with private insurance companies, who will drop their "preexisting condition" clause and open their doors to everyone, IF the government will guarantee that people like me, who are relatively healthy, are FORCED to buy coverage, too, and, in effect, forced to pay the bills of the people whose premiums and co-pays will never cover the cost of their care.

It will be a law, and if we refuse, we will be penalized with fees.

We're damned if we do, and we're damned if we don't.

As usual, the rich will get richer, the poor with be coddled, and those of us in the middle, will get the royal shaft right up the keister.

Does this not bother anyone else? Isn't anyone else sick and damned tired of the government telling us how to spend our money? It's not enough that we are ALL responsible for the TRILLION dollar debt our goverment has now incurred, but they will also decide how we manage our health.

Other points that bother me about the bill are:

== Mandatory vaccinations (and we all know how I feel about that :). If this bill is to pass, the government could decide *for me* that the risks of Gardisil and the Chicken Pox vax are acceptable and require that I have the vaccines administered to my children. They will even send someone over to my house to give me the shot if I don't go to the doctor to get it done. So much for my right to parent my children or even my right to determine what substances are put into *my* body.

== A central database for storing of medical records. I don't use a credit card, in part, because I don't want anyone to be tracking my spending, but to have my medical records monitored by some central "health organization." Uh, yeah ... not really liking that idea.

The bottom line, for me anyway, is that by forcing us into paying for health insurance, the government is, once again, pandering to BIG BUSINESS (nine of the 100 Top grossing businesses in the US are health insurance companies, and there are also several pharmaceutical companies on the Fortune 100 List, as well). And I have to ask the question: who is benefitting from this proposal?

Definitely not my family.

Of course, there's a chance that I'm wrong about what is being proposed, and maybe there's something in there that I'm missing.

Maybe there's something good there, but from where I'm sitting, it just looks like one more opportunity to stiff those of us in the $50,000 to $125,000 income range. We'd be FORCED to pay between 10% and 20% of our income for PREMIUMS, and that doesn't even include any visits to the doctor. That's just for PREMIUMS, and even if there is something positive somewhere in the other parts of the bill, the points that I can not get around are that our government is proposing that we all be FORCED to pay for health insurance. FORCED.

Does this not bother anyone else?

As an alternative, I propose doing away with all health insurance *period* - including government sponsored programs. No one has insurance.

At the same time, I propose that the cost of medical care be more realistic. As things stand, my doctor charges me $XXX.xx every time I go to see her. If I had insurance, they would pick up 80% of that. Why? Why does the doctor have to charge me so much that I *need* the insurance company to pick-up part of the tab? If it didn't cost so much, I could pay for it myself.

Do away with the insurance companies, and reduce the cost of medical care to more accurately reflect the cost of providing it.

That's the way to handle health care reform and make it "affordable" to all people.

A poll I saw recently indicated that more than half of the American population is AGAINST this current health care reform, and yet, the government is pushing it forward. It was the same with the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. It was the same with the 2008 stimulus package. It was the same with the TARP deals.

For once, I'd like to see our government just STOP and actually LISTEN to the people they are supposed to be representing.

I'd love to hear other opinions - especially if you know something about the proposed reform that I'm missing.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

No Vampires Here

I was worried that I might not have planted enough garlic for the year - especially given what I purchased from Snell in the fall last year.

But I think I might be okay. This is the first harvest. All but one of the bulbs in the picture were planted around the apple sapling (as more of a "pest" deterrent), and I never (really) expected to harvest them, but here they are.

And, oh, the smell!

I love garlic ;).

What's funny, though, is that I've always understood that cutting the scapes results in bigger bulbs. The two that were cut are tiny, and all of the really large bulbs still have the scape attached.

I'll probably never really figure it all out, but I'm having a lot of fun just muddling through.

I can hardly wait to harvest the garlic bed.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Building Community Food Systems Day

Deus Ex Machina took our second batch of chickens to the butcher on Monday, and I picked them up yesterday. They dressed out at just under 6 lbs each. We had five of them cut up and left fresh. So, when I got home, I divided the different cuts into freezer bags. We have five packages of breast meat (one to two meals each package), two packages of thighs, one package each of wings and legs, and two packages of backs, which will be good for making soups and broths. We also took the organ meats, and I'm thinking I'll learn to make pate ;).

After I got back home and had taken care of the chicken, I cut up the zuchinni we were given when we gave the farm stand guy a jump, marinated it in vinegar and salt and made dried zuchinni chips. I also cut up, marinated, and dried the last of the beef from the quarter cow we purchased in December.

I knew a couple of weeks ago that our beef stores were getting low, and so when I was at the farm getting milk, I'd talked with the farmer about getting another quarter cow - whenever one was available. A week or so later, he told me that he was taking in one of his cows for hamburg and asked me if I wanted any.

Uh ... Yes!

I left him my name and number so that he could give me a call when he had the meat.

Yesterday afternoon, I got a call. He was on his way to the butcher (ironically, the same one we use for our chickens :), and he wanted to know if I still wanted some hamburg.

Uh ... Yes!

He asked for directions to my house, and after he'd picked up the meat, he stopped by and dropped off thirty pounds.

I mean, truly, is there better service than that? He raised the cow, he took the cow to the butcher, he picked up the meat, and he delivered it to my doorstep.

Deus Ex Machina and I had a conversation last night about building community and the gist was that we all do what we're able to do to help out our neighbors. Maybe our contribution, today, seems bigger than theirs, but it all evens out in the end. We raise chickens and a garden and share the meat and produce with our neighbor, and then the farmer up the road delivers thirty pounds of fresh ground hamburg to our doorstep.

Community is a wonderful thing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Why's on My Opinions About Vaccines

I started this as a reply to some comments, but the more I tried to explain my thoughts, the longer it got. As such, I felt like it fit better as a post.

I completely respect other people’s opinions and beliefs about vaccinations, and in the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that because I was in the military, and because I was a military dependent, *not* being vaccinated was not an option. In addition, there was a time when I just followed whatever my doctor recommended, which resulted in two of my five children being vaccinated per the “schedule” when they were infants, and several (what I, now, believe were) unnecessary surgical procedures. As such, after a great deal of research and careful consideration, I have determined that vaccines aren't the panacea that the medical establishment wishes us to believe, and with one exception, I have opted not to continue receiving them for myself or my children.

I don't think modern pharmacology has done us any favors, either, and that a healthy diet (which is not the same for every person), exercise (which again is not the same for every person), and some good, basic hygiene practices are much better alternatives than dependence on drugs.

In fact, in my opinion, the side effects of the drugs often cause more problems, and further, doctors often fail to treat the root cause of the problem, because they mask the symptoms using drugs. Case in point: a person very close to me was prescribed a drug, which she later learned she did not, in fact, need, and because of that drug, she sustained serious liver damage and excess weight gain. The problem is that once doctors have isolated a "major" symptom, they stop looking - in my experience and in my opinion.

In most cases, I think it's a better idea to allow the body to do its job. In a "normal" healthy person, who does not have a compromised immune system, most illnesses will "cure" themselves without any help. I'm very careful with the use of any medications - including something as benign as acetaminophen. Consider, that for YEARS, we were told to give our children aspirin, and now, we're told not to.

Also consider all of the drugs that are widely used, but that ultimately prove detrimental. How about the drug DES that was administered to pregnant women from the 1930s until the 1970s to "control" morning sickness, but later was shown to have serious adverse effects on the girls born to those women? They used it for FORTY YEARS before they realized that it was causing some serious problems in the adult daughters. FORTY years. Forty.Years.

And how about the “new” Gardisil vaccination? How many mothers have had their junior high school-aged daughters vaccinated against the possibility that she might contract an STD which might result in cervical cancer when she’s older, because they were told to? Which is worse, the devastating life-changing, neurological side effects some girls are experiencing as a result of Gardisil or the POSSIBILITY of cervical cancer IF they end up having unprotected sex with some guy who has genital warts? An estimated 20 million Americans have HPV – about 6% of the population of the United States.

Let's do some more numbers, though. Twenty-three million girls have been given the Gardisil vaccine as of February 2009. Of those, over 11,000 have reported "adverse affects." In 2006, a year before the vaccine started being administered, the National Cancer Institute estimated 9700 women would develop cervical cancer. That's an estimated 2000 fewer cases of cervical cancer than there are girls who've been adversely affected by the "cure."

In addition, Gardisil only combats four of the thirty strains that cause 70% of documented HPV cancers. They can't guarantee that their vaccine will do anything at all, and there's as good a chance of having an adverse affect from the vaccine as there is of contracting HPV - but at least with HPV, one has more control of the outcome, if one chooses to exercise that control (anyone watch the show 90210 when Brenda made Dylan get tested for STDs before she'd sleep with him?). And when it comes to this particular vaccine, I wonder what message the mothers who have gotten their girls vaccinated are sending their daughters about sex.

I do believe that modern medicine has resulted in some real miracles. Specifically, antibiotics are an amazing discovery, and without them, my youngest daughter would, more likely than not, have died within her first month. Unfortunately, they have been overused, and we all know what the result of that has been. Can anyone say MRSA?

Finally, vaccines aren’t guaranteed to work, and sometimes they make matters worse. The chicken pox vaccine, for instance, has been shown to cause “shingles”, which are a lot worse than chicken pox. And, come on. Chicken pox? It’s one of the most benign of all of the childhood diseases. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s not life-threatening – in a NORMAL, HEALTHY person. Even adults who get chicken pox don’t typically die from it and don’t usually have any lasting effects (except, maybe, some scarring). So, why is there a vaccine?

And that’s the real issue, for me. MOST of the diseases against which we vaccinate our children in the first year of life are not even life-threatening in a NORMAL, HEALTHY person. Yes, the mumps are painful and uncomfortable, but once you recover (and you will), you are guaranteed LIFELONG immunity. Vaccinations do not guarantee that. In fact, for many of them, a booster is recommended at varying intervals for the rest of one's life.

But let’s concentrate on the flu vaccine itself, because that's what sparked this whole debate. There are three “species” of influenza that affect humans. They are classified A, B, and C and belong to the Orthomyxoviridae family. Each species has several subtypes. In fact, Type A has at least eighteen different “subtypes”, including the most recent strain, H1N1. The flu is usually a cold weather illness, and one reason H1N1 has been so horrible is that it has thrived in areas of the world where they don’t typically see things like the flu.

The flu vaccination can only protect the recipient from ONE type of flu. It takes several months to develop a flu vaccine. As such, it is typically in the developmental stages LONG before anyone even knows what “type” of flu will be the predominant strain that year, and it often changes from year to year. As such, what the CDC is doing when it has a particular vaccine developed for use in the fall is trying to “predict” which strain will be the dominant one. It puts me in mind of using Tarot cards as a divination tool. If all of the factors shown by the cards continue to play out for the next six months, this is the possible outcome. But life doesn’t work that way, does it? Sh*t happens and things change. Sometimes they are wrong, and vaccinated people still get sick.

And that's the bottom line, for me - even if I accept the vaccination for a disease that will probably not kill me and will probably have no lifelong adverse affects after I've recovered, I could still get the disease or worse the *vaccine* could cause irreparable harm to my neurological system as a result of one or more of the adjuvants used as a filler in the vaccine. Which is the greater risk - the cure or the disease?

Since there's no guarantee that I (or my children) would be protected against getting sick from any of the diseases vaccines protect against, it doesn't make sense to me to take the greater risk posed by the vaccine.

In the end, I just didn’t feel like the “potential” benefits of the vaccine far outweighed the “potential” risks, and as such, I just couldn’t justify using them.

That said, there is one vaccination I have "approved" for use in my children, and that is tetanus, because the disease is FAR worse than the potential side effects from the vaccine. The others … not so much.

But, please, don't take my word for it. Do your own research.

Look up the usual "childhood" diseases against which our children are vaccinated, and then, study the symptoms and treatments (most are treated with fluids and rest). Then, look at the mortality rates for those diseases AND when the vaccinations started being used by the majority of the population. Here's a great article to start ... maybe a little biased on the anti-vax side :).

Then, you might want to have a look at the fillers used in vaccines and the potential side effects of those.

You may still decide that vaccinations are worth it, but at least you'll be doing so with your eyes wide open, rather than because you believe, per the marketing campaigns of multi-billion dollar companies like MERCK, that it's what you should do as a responsible parent/citizen.

But here was the final caveat for me: I was told that, as a parent, if I didn't have my children vaccinated, I was causing a health threat to other children. The question is, if those kids are vaccinated against an illness my child might have, and the vaccination is 100% effective, those other kids are immune, right? They shouldn't get sick, right?

So, if they are immune, how are my "unvaccinated" kids a threat to their health?

Swine Flu

Seven Minute Video About Swine Flu - what you should know, especially if mandatory vaccination is implemented in schools.

My children have never had a flu vaccine. They've also never had the flu - that we know of, but they may have. The fact is that my children are home most of the time, and when they're sick, they get to stay home and recover. They also aren't as exposed to other people as they would be in school.

In addition, *I* work from home, and so I'm not as exposed either, and when I feel poorly, I can stay home, which means that any illness I may suffer isn't as acute as it might be.

The key is that we can give our bodies time, the time to fight illness, and that's one reason I don't think we need vaccines. With very few exceptions NONE of the diseases vaccines protect against need much more treatment beyond, rest and lots of fluids.

I don't know how I would feel if my children were in school all day, but I know that I don't trust vaccines - especially this "new" swine flu vaccine, and I ESPECIALLY don't trust a "drug" that is being forced on me using fear-mongering.

It is still "just" the flu. Isn't it?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Independence Day Challenge 2009: Week 12

I just finished reading two books - back-to-back. Both were very fast reads, and while the topics were very different, there was a common thread in both books.

The first book was Good-bye to the Mermaids: A Childhood Lost in Hitler's Berlin. I borrowed it from the library, and it was fascinating. Told from the point-of-view of a young German girl growing up under Nazi influence, it was the other side of the story - the one we never see, because we want to believe that all non-Jewish Germans were horrible, horrible people. And yes, there is no denying that what happened to six million people under Nazi rule was horrific, but what the Nazis did to the people they purported uplift and protect wasn't so great either. Living in a war zone is always difficult, and most of Europe qualifies as a war zone from, roughly, 1939 to 1945. If we don't take a good hard look at the events that led up to World War II, and the ease with which the Nazi party was able to gain control of Germany, we could find ourselves in a similar situation. In fact, from what I understand of life in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, it's not so very different from Nazi Germany.

The second book was The Glass Castle: A Memoir, which I found on It is the story of a young girl who grows up in a kind of forced (upon her by her parent's choices) impoverishment in the US during the 60's and 70's. It was a fascinating story.

Two very differnt stories, indeed, but the one thing that stands out in both is the way the different individuals deal with their poverty - and that's the angle that I'm looking for these days when I read. My, current, favorite genre is memoir/biography and autobiographical fiction, specifically stories that deal with people who live in very basic conditions - lacking things as trivial as soap and water for bathing and as essential as nutritious food.

So, what's this have to do with Independence Day? I've lived a rather privileged life. No, I didn't grow up in a mansion with my very own pony in the backyard and a livery of servants at my beck and call, but I have lived the average middle class life with a few financial hiccups along the way. I've been "poor" - when compared to my neighbors - and I've had trouble paying the bills AND buying food for myself and my children, but I've never gone hungry, I've never had to wear completely thread-bare clothes, and I've always ALWAYS had soap and water (not always warm) with which to take a shower - every day. In short, I've always had enough ... usually more than enough.

I think most of us fall into that category - having more than enough, I mean -, but if some of the more famous "doomers" are to be believed, that will surely not be the case in the near future.

I was impressed this weekend when Deus Ex Machina fixed the rabbit cage. A couple of years ago, when we first got rabbits, we didn't have a lot of cash, and so he brought home a bunch of wooden pallets from work, which he used to build a cage. It's been around since then, and has gone through a few different metamorphoses. It has come full circle and is now a rabbit cage again. But it's rotting in a few places, and so the door needed to be rebuilt. Using some pieces of wood I'd saved from the burn pile for potential future projects just like this one, he built a new door.

Ingenuity and the ability to make something from nothing using some very basic tools and supplies always impresses me. Perhaps that's why the television program Junkyard Wars appealed to me, a decidedly non-engineer type. The participants accomplished some incredible engineering feats using only what they could find lying around in this junkyard.

That's what I mean by "more than enough." We can, in most cases, find a solution to most of our nanofarm needs using things we've collected over the years. And make no mistake, we don't have a "junkyard" - although there are some things stacked up here and there. We also don't have a basement, garage, outside storage shed or easily accesible attic. As such, we don't "collect" things like other people might. But we almost always have something that can be repurposed to fit the new need (like the old church pew that became garden trellis).

In the book, Good-bye to the Mermaids: A Childhood Lost in Hitler's Berlin the author states that all of the "modern" conveniences they had in their apartments in Berlin (washing machines, electric heaters, refrigerators) were useless, because during the war, electric service was unpredictable and unreliable, and often only occurred when most people wouldn't want it anyway - like at 3:00 in the morning. She said that the most useful items they found were, ironically, in the poorer sections of Berlin ... where the people lived without all of the modern conveniences, and were, therefore, better equipped to handle life without them.

Sharon posted a quote today from Paulson, who states that the Bush Administration knew there was a likelihood of complete economic collapse, and what that might mean (and the fact that the government chose NOT to reveal their findings and concerns to the American people because we might be too scared - kind of like the movie rating system - to protect us from too much anxiety, because we're all children, and can't handle it ... or something).

I read another article recently, I don't recall where. The argument was that simplifying our lives won't result in a turn-around of our economy - that individual changes won't make a difference in the greater scheme of things. I don't disagree, although I do believe that small ripples turn into ocean waves, and so, maybe in some ways, I do disagree. But I think it goes much deeper than the author's rather curt argument. No, my decision to line-dry my clothes won't make BofA soluble or strengthen the American dollar, but it will insulate my family in the event that our country's economy goes belly-up.

And, all indications are that this is going to be the case.

I've been thinking, and reading, a lot about poverty recently, and I have no desire to be down and dirty and destitute. I don't want to be dependent on money, because I know that it's unreliable. What I want for myself, and what I want to teach my children, is independence and living large on very little.

That's where the Independence Day Challenge has brought meaning to my life. It's helped me focus on what I can do "now", while I have the money and the resources to make some little ripples, and I probably won't save the world, but I can make my little corner of it more comfortable.

Plant Something:

Nothing in this category this week. I reseeded broccoli and spinach and peas, but the chickens got into the broccoli and spinach ... again ;). No, I probably won't ever learn :).

Harvest Something:

Oh, my, and how! Saturday morning Big Little Sister harvested as many black raspberries as she could reach, about one and a half pint-sized containers full. I went out a few hours later and harvested about a quart-sized container full. We ate a lot of them, but I snuck about a pint into the freezer.

Today? More berries are ripe and ready to come off the bramble. It's like, overnight they ripen, every night. Amazing!

I also harvested a pound of lettuce (yes, I weighed it, this time ;), and about two pounds of beets and greens.

We're harvesting green onions, too, and peas, which are consumed almost as soon as they come off the vines.

Preserve Something:

The only thing I've preserved this week is the raspberries. I need to harvest herbs to dry, but I keep doing the whole Scarlet O'Hara, "I'll think about that tomorrow" kind of thing.

Reduce Waste:

Deus Ex Machina's ingenuity reduced some of the wood lying in the yard - not waste, exactly, but clutter, of sorts.

Otherwise, I guess it's just been the usual recycling that we always do, that has reduced our household garbage to about 25% of the average American.

Building Community Food Systems:

The usual - Farmer's Market, farm stand, to the "farm" to get milk.

Eat the Food:

Again, more of the usual. We've eaten lots of black raspberries. For dinner, we've had things like roasted root vegetables (potatoes and carrots from the Farmer's Market with beets and onions from my garden).

I'm trying to use up all of the beef from the cow we bought in December - to make room in the freezer for the broilers we're raising. We have one pound of hamburg and several packages of liver left. We had liver for dinner last night, and the dogs had liver for breakfast this morning :). If anyone has a recipe that makes liver not taste so much like liver, I'd appreciate seeing it. I'm not a fan of liver, and my girls tried it and didn't like it, but it's one of those things that we have and need to eat.

I made bread pudding this morning for breakfast from leftover bread made this weekend.

I need to step up my efforts in the Prep and Storage category, but with trying to reduce our overall grocery expenditures, I'm not spending as much money at the grocery, which means not stocking up as much. And as for "prep", right now, the things we could do in "preparation" are fairly costly, or at least, are not expenditures I could justify. It's a balance, and I haven't quite found the middle. I'm tilting too far on the side of miser these days. In a few weeks, it'll probably tip the other way ;).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How (Not) to Cook on a Woodstove

I didn't know it when we bought our house in 1997, but one of my favorite features would end up being the woodstove. For the first couple of years, I didn't appreciate it - the woodstove, I mean. It was something that was little used. We had a furnace for heat, and afterall, what else good is a woodstove, except for heat?

Ah! That was certainly a question we ended up answering in some very big ways in the years that followed.

Sometime around the turn of the Century, heating oil prices started to rise, and then, about six years into the new millenium, we realized that our "way of life" (that is the over-consumptive, reckless wastefulness) was definitely bad, and maybe even coming to an end. Many authors call this time we're experiencing right now "the End of Cheap Energy", and I'm not one to argue with them.

Regardless, however, we haven't seen K1 Heating Oil (which we use because our tank is outside, and regular (cheaper) heating oil would freeze, whereas Kerosene does not) for the eighty-nine cents per gallon price tag we paid back in the late nineties, when we bought our house, for over a decade. Even if we didn't care (which we do) that reckless use of resources is killing our world, and therefore, us with it, it's expensive to heat our house with the oil furnace, which uses oil to heat the air, but electricity to push the heated air through the house.

Plus, it just isn't as comfortable as a fire.

So, we switched to using our wood-burning stove as our primary heat source, and as my long-time readers know, we replaced our older, less efficient woodstove with a cleaner burning, more efficient model last summer. This winter, we used only wood to heat our house.

Of course, we quickly learned, when we started using the woodstove more regularly, that having a hot surface all day is useful for a lot of things, not related to keeping us warm.

I'm an avid tea drinker and imbibe all day, all year long, enjoying the beverage both hot and cold, but especially hot. In fact, in the morning and late evenings, even during the summer (keeping in mind that the average temperature for a Maine summer is about 75°, and so drinking a hot beverage here in July isn't the same as having a hot beverage in, say, Florida), I'll drink up to five cups ... although I don't keep count. I just know I spend a lot of time heating up water.

Which is the beauty of the woodstove. I keep a tea kettle on the stove all day during the winter, and at any time during the day when I want tea, it's ready.

In fact, anything that can be heated on stove burner can be cooked on a woodstove. During the winter, we cook many of our meals on the woodstove, from soups to eggs and bacon. I've even made bread on the woodstove, using an inverted kettle to keep in the heat so that the bread will bake. It takes a lot longer than using my oven, but it saves energy (the energy is being expended anyway for heat, and I figure, we might as well take advantage of it for other uses).

When we had the ice storm in December 2008, I learned to appreciate our woodstove even more. The power outage didn't affect our water supply, and so we had water, but without the electric igniter, our tankless propane water heater didn't work. So, I heated big kettles of water on the woodstove, which I poured into a galvanized wash tub, and we bathed.

I love multi-purpose "appliances" - things that can serve more than one function.

Of course, there is one thing I would not recommend using the woodstove for, and that is cooking popcorn ... or more appropriately, if the popcorn doesn't pop on the woodstove, DON'T put it on the electric stove to try to finish the job.

One very early winter afternoon a couple of years ago, Big Little Sister asked if she could make some popcorn. Knowing my affinity for saving, she asked to cook it on the woodstove. I agreed, although I thought, maybe the woodstove wasn't hot enough, as it wasn't too cold outside, and so the stove wasn't stoked very hot. I ignored my concerns, however.

She got a pan into which she poured oil and dropped a few kernels. She placed the lid on the pot and put the pot on the woodstove. What seemed a really long time later, the popcorn wasn't popping. She asked if she could put the pan on the electric stove. I said, "Sure."

The woodstove is in the room where I have my desk, and so I can monitor it while I'm working. The kitchen is around the corner from my desk, and I can not see what's happening in there, if I'm at my desk.

From the kitchen, she asked, "What temperature?"

I said, "High."

A few minutes passed. I smelled something burning, and at that exact moment, the smoke alarm starting blaring, and at that exact moment, Little Fire Faery and Precious ran into the kitchen and started screeching.

"Mom! The pan is on fire! The pan is on fire!"

I jumped up and ran into the kitchen. A black cloud of billowy smoke hovered near the ceiling, and the pan was, indeed, on fire. The oil had boiled up under the lid and slid down the sides of the pan. The large burner, on high, ignited the oil, and the outside of the pan was on fire.

The inside of the pan held the charcoaled remains of the unpopped corn, which was smoking, like a green wood fire.

I turned off the burner and reached for the pan, which caught the hanging threads on the cuffs of my favorite, rather tattered, flannel shirt.

And Precious and Little Fire Faery changed their litany to "Mom! Your sleeve's on fire! Your sleeve's on fire!"

I patted out the fire on my sleeve, and the fire on the side of the pan burned out when the oil was "consumed."

I opened the windows and cleared the smoke alarms and took the smouldering pan outside.

It was a very exciting five minutes.

I made popcorn for Big Little Sister ... in a different pan - not on the woodstove.

I think woodstove cooking is awesome, and I still use the woodstove for a good portion of our cooking in the colder months and will continue to do so. What I won't do, however, is burn popcorn kernels on the woodstove, because the oil gets hot enough to cook the seed, but not pop them, and then cook the unpopped kernels into charcoal.

It was a good lesson for all of us.

Next time, Big Little Sister can have pancakes for a snack. They cook really well on the woodstove.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Independence Day Challenge 2009: Week (s) 10 and 11

I didn't post an update last week and am two days late for this one. It's not that I haven't anything to report, but rather that it's been one of those times when I have allowed myself to be swept away with the business of living, and the business of writing (which is not the business I get paid to do, but that of which I dream - constantly) this blog fell by the wayside.

But also, we had twenty-eight out of thirty days of rain in the month of June, and when the sun (finally) came out last week, I took advantage of the drier weather to do laundry and get outside in the garden. Deus Ex Machina used the opportunity to split some more wood, which I and the girls stacked along the fence.

We also moved our young broilers outside, but we still have the older ten. They are scheduled for processing next Monday. The ducks were moved out of their "yard", and the young broilers were put in there. The ducks now have free-reign of the backyard, and I found them a "new" pool - both of which are okay with them. We don't mow a lot in the back, and they enjoy snuggling into the taller grass, and they also spend much time foraging the bugs. I don't know if it's made a difference, but I enjoy watching them :).

The brooder is still "brood-ing." We have two new pullets for ourselves, and we're raising another two for a friend (like we did before - as he and his wife don't have the time or the space for chicks, but we do).

The sun is hiding again today and there have been a few sprinkles. Seemed like a good time to get back online and post my progress ... such as it is :).

Plant Something:

I seeded some more spinach and peas. I know they are cool weather crops, but with all of the weather we've been having and the fact that the bed they are in is back in a more shady area of my yard, I figured it would probably be okay.

I also planted the squash plants I was given, and mounded a volunteer potato in the same bed. I have several volunteer potato plants this year. I hope it's a good year for spuds for me, as we eat a lot of potatoes.

Harvest Something:

Lettuce, some beets, one garlic (to see how it was doing - it's a little small), garlic scapes, green onions as needed for flavoring, and peas.

The raspberries and service berries are ripening, and the girls have been picking and eating them.

Deus Ex Machina checked the blueberry field in the woods behind our house, but it looks like last year's bumper crop of blueberries is not going to be repeated this year. We'll have to find someplace else to get blueberries. I'd like to make some jam, maybe some syrup, a couple of pies to freeze, and definitely have more frozen for adding to things like bread pudding and oatmeal.

Preserve Something:

I have a total of twenty pint jars of strawberry jam and several pint-sized containers of frozen strawberries. I'd like to get more, but I'm not sure that we'll make it back out to the fields this year. I'm sure we'll run out.

I haven't put anything up this past two weekends, and I should be doing something right now. I have frozen cranberries from last year, which need to become cranberry sauce.

Reduce Waste:

Our "new" duck pool is from a fellow freecycler, who bought it for her dogs, but found that she couldn't use it. Her dogs hated it. My ducks love it.

Seems like it works out well for all concerned.

Preparation and Storage:

I think, at this point, Deus Ex Machina is doing more in the "prep" category than I am. He's been taking lots of walks in the woods and learning to identify various edibles.

We took a class recently, where we learned to carve wooden spoons. It was a great class - lots of fun - and the girls got to play with knives, which they enjoyed :).

Otherwise, I don't think we've done much in this category.

Build Community Food Systems:

I talked with the dairy farmer recently, and we're getting more beef from him. I've put my name on the list for another quarter cow, and he has some hamburg coming back from the butcher in another week or so that I'll get a share of.

And the farm stand here in town is open for the season! Yay! I talked with the owner about getting a bulk quantity of pickling cucumbers, and at first, she offered to pick the abandoned rows for me, and then, I thought it might be more convenient if I gleaned the rows myself - save her time. You know? And she agreed! Today, when I was there, I talked with her son, and he said I could probably glean the strawberries, too. So, while we probably won't be doing any more at the PYO places, I may be able to pick up a few more quarts of strawberries that the Farm Stand farm. I'm very excited. Cucumber pickles and strawberry jam are two of Big Little Sister's favorite foods, and there's never enough of either.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

How (Not) To Preserve the Fruit Harvest

If we lived further south, someplace where we had an extended growing season, things might be different, but we don't, and so we have to make our small space produce as much as we can in a very short period of time.

In an ideal world, we would be able to grow everything we need on our tiny lot, with the only inputs being stuff we foraged. Our very nutritious, all natural food would consist entirely of stuff we could grow or forage ... (and we'd be happy because that's all we'd know ☺).

Unfortunately, *we* don't live in an ideal world, and we end up buying a lot more of the food we eat than we grow.

And because we have to pay to get the yummy things we want to eat and preserve, we can't really afford to waste any of it. After all, the more money we have to spend, the more we have to work, and the more time we take away from the things we really want to be doing.

One of our favorite summer activities is PYO strawberries. We always pick so many, but we never have enough. Usually, they end up as strawberry jam, with a few going into the freezer, when I get tired.

Last year, we decided to try making strawberry wine.

Which would have been okay IF ...

** It didn't cost $2.00/qt for strawberries, and we used about thirty quarts.

** Anyone else in my family (besides me) liked (or could drink) wine.

** We hadn't ended up dumping all of it when we suspected the process we used harbored bad bacteria (botulism??) rather than making wine.

** We hadn't run out of strawberry jam in January, because I didn't make enough, as the last of the PYO strawberries ended up in the wine.

I have nothing against alcoholic beverages. The cider Deus Ex Machina made a few years ago from our neighbor's apples was outstanding - but free, because our neighbor had no intention of harvesting them, and they'd have ended up rotting on the ground.

I don't have a problem with purchasing stuff to make alcohol, either. In fact, if one is planning to purchase materials for homebrew, I highly recommend True Brew Bavarian Hefeweizen Homebrew Beer Ingredient Kit.

We made some of the best Hefeweizen I've ever had, and having lived in Germany where I had the opportunity to try some really good Hefeweizen, that's saying something.

The problem comes when what we've harvested with the intention of making wine could have gone to a better use ... something everyone could enjoy.

So, for us, from now on, strawberries = jam ... or when I don't cook it down far enough a kind of syrupy, saucy stuff that spreads a little thinner than I would have liked, but is tasty nonetheless ☺.

Monday, July 6, 2009

We interrupt this blog for an important message

Wow! THIS is *not* good. Not good at all!

How (Not) To Build a Chicken Coop

In 2006, we brought home our first three pullets (a term, which I found out referred to, not just adolescent hens, but any female chicken under a year old - boy chickens under a year old are cockerels). I'd read the book, Keep Chickens! Tending Small Flocks in Cities, Suburbs, and Other Small Spaces, about raising backyard chickens, and I still use it as my primary recommended reference for people who are just starting out in the backyard chicken business.

But, now, I also, strongly, recommend reading other, online and offline, resources.

Really, one should read as much as one can, prior to bringing home any animal - whether it's a pet or livestock (even better would be to know someone who has said animal to give advice on getting started, but barring that option, read, read, and then, read some more - and as many different resources as possible).

When I decided I wanted ducks, I read everything I could find on my chosen breed, and then, I bought a book on ducks, too. I just wanted to be sure, you know? Things happen.

But with the chickens, in the beginning, it was, mostly, just that one book. Which was good, but didn't fully prepare me for everything I'd need to know.

The first six months of chicken ownership were a breeze, mostly, except once they learned to fly, keeping them in their coop was a little tougher, but those eggs ... it was wonderful!

Then, I walked out to the chicken coop early one winter morning and found a dead chicken. She was fine the previous night and dead in the morning. It didn't appear that she had been attacked - there were no wounds on her, no blood loss, and she was still intact. The water bottle, which was in the henhouse, was knocked over and all of the doors were wide open. We thought, she'd probably gotten spooked by something, knocked over the waterer and got herself wet, pushed open all of the bottom-hinged doors, and then, with the house wide-open, she couldn't get out of the cold, and ended up freezing.

That was our first lesson in the fact that our coop design was flawed.

The idea in our first coop was to build it as cheaply (free) as possible. I wanted to be able to stand up inside it and I wanted a roof that would keep out the snow. It had both features, but the one thing that it wasn't, that it should have been, was secure.

The chickens kept escaping, and I kept tacking things (wire and boards) up to keep the chickens in, but the idea that I might need to keep something out never crossed my mind.

And you know what? If you find one of these ...

... inside your coop. You've probably failed in chicken coop design class ... and you'll probably need to get a few more chickens.

Doesn't she look comfortable? Even with the crazy human standing there with a camera, not four feet from her, it looks like that space was just made for her. It wasn't.

Raccoons eat chickens ... but not the *whole* chicken ... just the head. Ask me how I know.

So, we sat down and did a redesign of the entire structure. It still has all of the features we wanted with the old one - tall enough to walk into, roof to keep the rain and snow out, plenty of room for the chickens. But it's also secure enough to keep critters (except chipmunks, and they don't eat chicken) out.

In the end I did learn that it pays to do a little planning and take a little time. Your chickens will thank you for your efforts with lots of yummy eggs.

And the raccoon? There seem to be a few less mice around ... and I don't think I've seen even one squash bug.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day

On this day, two Hundred and thirty-three years ago, fifty-six men representing the thirteen American colonies, signed a Declaration of Independence, in which they stated, among other things, that they refused to be abused by a government that did not have their best interests in mind.

In that same spirit, I have declared my independence today - my independence from the corporate food monster, who cares not one whit for my health and well-being, but is only concerned with profit.

This is not a great deal different than what our forefathers endured under the rule of King George, whose laws and tax system were biased against the colonists and for those who had remained in England. The people and the government in England didn't care what the colonists were enduring. Harsh weather conditions, bloody conflicts, few luxuries ... the English didn't care, as long as they had their money.

Modern corporations don't seem to operate in a very different manner. It's all about the money.

A 2006 article in the Rolling Stone magazine revealed some not surprising, but still very disturbing truths about Smithfield Foods and the chairman, Joseph Luter III, who is everything every corporation wants, and everything we, as people of ethics and morals should abhor. Everything about his business and business practices are reprehensible. From reading the article, Smithfield is the Wal-*gag*-Mart of the pork industry.

I've boycotted Wal-*gag*-Mart for years, and, now, I will never have another bite of bacon if I can not find a local pig farmer from whom to buy it. Butterball is a subsidiary of Smithfield. We don't, usually, buy supermarket meat anyway, but ... well, now it's just a given.

Unfortunately, Josephs Luter III is not an anomaly. He's just like every other corporate CEO. When money is the bottom line, nothing else matters, and frankly, I, my children, and Deus Ex Machina are more important than whether or not he gets his house on the French Riviera.

I mean, seriously, why are we supporting these unethical people who make millions, and sometimes BILLIONS, of dollars per year? Why do we keep giving them our money just so they can poison us by feeding us meat that's pumped so full of antibiotics that eating a slice of bacon could cure *our* ear infection (not really - and for the record too many antibiotics is a bad thing)? Why do we when there are other choices?

And there are other choices.

It is my right as a human being to have food that nourishes my body and doesn't make me sick, and it is my right as a citizen of this country to decide for myself from whom I will buy my food, and I have made that decision. It doesn't include anything Smithfield sells.

Today, my family and I declared our independence from Corporate Food Conglomerates.

We did not eat CAFO meat.

We had barbecued ribs that came from a cow who was raised four miles from our house. She was humanely dispatched by a local butcher, who has a tiny little shop at his house, and he can butcher one or two cows a day. There is no feedlot. There is no "kill floor." There is no assembly line. It's the butcher, his son, and his granddaughter-in-law - and they all have all of their limbs and digits.

We did not eat factory-farmed produce.

To accompany our ribs, we had roasted root vegetables and sauteed beet greens cooked with garlic scape pesto. All of which were grown in my garden.

And I made some cornbread using Kate's butter, King Arthur flour, Maine-milled cornmeal, and milk from our local farmer friend - all of which are family-owned, regional businesses.

We had home-brewed Hefe-Weizen, which is an amazing beer. Isn't it gorgeous?

After dinner, we went down to the beach for fireworks and dug holes in the sand.

Happy Independence Day to you all!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

If I Knew Then, What I Don't Know Now ...

I watched a news blurb on this morning. China is stockpiling reserves of raw resources - oil, iron ore .... As their spokesperson said, it makes more sense to invest their money in resources rather than "bonds."

Makes me wonder if they know something we don't know.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Unlearning Old Habits and Starting Some New

On her blog post today, Rhonda at Down-To-Earth said, "It is so easy to become complacent and lazy." Her point was that without a regular evaluation of her life, it is too easy to fall into the old traps, the old habits, the way "normal" people do things.

And she's right. I notice it about myself and about my life, too. It's very easy for me to fall back into a way of doing things that I struggled to get out of.

In fact, I've been to the mall twice this week. Once was to buy some jeans and underclothes for Deus Ex Machina. In my defense, he hadn't bought himself any new clothes in a long time, and the ones he had showed it. I mean, it's one thing for me to wear clothes that need repairs, or that have obvious repairs - I work from home, and people don't see me much, but he has to go to an office and work.

So, I went to the mall and bought him some jeans.

The second time was to pick-up Big Little Sister after her sleep over at her BFF's house, which is about an hour's drive from here. The mall was a convenient place for us to meet-up so that neither parent had to drive the entire way.

I didn't buy anything the second time, and in fact, didn't really even make it into the mall (just to the food court area), which was fine by me.

But ....

At one point, during the day, as I was listening to my girls playing with their niece, the thought that maybe they might like to have another little Polly Pocket doll ....

Yes, they would like to have another Polly Pocket doll, because the forty-some-odd ones that they have need more companions.

What was I thinking?

See? See how easy it is to just fall right back into that mindset? It's scary how easy. I thought I was beyond thinking like that, and, yet, somehow that little thought just crept so easily into my little brain.

I've worked so hard to change that way of thinking, to change my attitude toward spending, it really was a shock to realize how ingrained the "consumer" habit is.

I was updating my "food" spreadsheet this afternoon. The month's total was $835.80. I'm pretty sure I missed a few things. The total is down $37.24 from May, but our eating out total was up by $26.56 - most of which was directly attributable to the first two weeks of the month that were devoted to dance recital activities.

Our overall grocery bill was down by $63.80, and that's because we only went to the grocery store twice last month - on purpose. One of The Frugal Zealot's recommendations is to limit visits to the grocery store, because the more you go, the more likely you'll succumb to "impulse purchases." Even with a list, I know we do that.

Of course, I didn't go to the Farmer's Market for a couple of those weeks, either. But we had $36.00 worth of butchering and $43 worth of strawberries (now mostly jam).

So, I guess, all in all, we did pretty well (except the eating out).

We're still well above the goal of $698.00/month on total food costs, but we seem to be making progress. The fact that I have to record it makes me a little more conscientious about where we're sending. Accoutability certainly makes one more mindful of one's actions ;).

I think, though, in the fall, after I've finished buying winter storage "stuff", that our overall food bill will be reduced - if we can kick the take-out habit. My plan is to can something every week from now until ... well, until the garden stops giving, I guess, which will be October or so (apple season ;). Even if there's nothing from the garden or the Farmer's Market, I'll put up something.

So far, I've done chicken soup, baked beans and strawberry jam. This weekend will (hopefully) be more jam and maybe I'll open one of the jars of jam from last week that didn't set as hard as I wanted and use it for fruit leathers :). Over at Fleecenik Farm I read about a great way to use (and store) garlic scapes. I definitely need to do more with dehydrating, and this sounds like a quick and easy way to take advantage of something I don't really have a lot of experience using :).