Monday, August 30, 2010


The world as we know it changed today in a significant and palpable way ... at least for us, living here, on this quarter acre in suburban southern Maine.

We experienced the loss of the family matriarch today.

In his essay, Nature Emerson talks about the futility of trying to use words to describe nature, in particular, but also feelings and thoughts. Words can not convey true meaning. They always fall short.

This evening, after Grammy passed, we were home, and I was outside watering the gardens and hanging out a load of laundry. The grackles are visiting us this week and in preparation for their long flight south for the winter, they are enjoying filling up on the black cherries from our tree in the backyard. We love watching them, although we usually prefer that they come a little later in the year ... with everything being two weeks early, the maples already sporting their fall colors, and the Farmer's Almanac predicting a cold one for us in the northeast, we're not terribly surprised they're here.

I turned away from the laundry line to move the hose, and when I turned my attention back to the clothes, I saw movement just above the clothesline. It was a tiny feather, a gift from the grackles, and if I want to go there, a message from Grammy that all was well.

I can't say how I feel right now. It's all a jumble, and while I know that she is at peace and that she is no longer in the severe pain she has been experiencing these last few years as her physical body slowly deteriorated, I also know that we have experienced a huge loss, and mingling in there somewhere is also an intense feeling of regret for failing to have learned from her what I could while I could. I know she had lessons for a willing pupil I failed to be.

Her daughter, our aunt, left us just over a month ago, and Grammy followed too soon.

So much ... feeling, and as Emerson so wisely observed, words fall short.

Our lives are forever changed by today's events, but change doesn't have to be bad. It just has to be.

I may be quiet for a while, while I finish processing ....

Evolution in Our Schools

My community is not named in the article as one of the school systems that is sourcing local foods and really taking huge strides to improve the school children's nutrition - not that it matters to me one way or the other, really, since I home school my children, and I know what they're eating, but ...

... it's really nice to see that it's no longer just about "individual" choice. One of our most influential institutions is making the change to a healthier LOCAL diet, and the generation of children who grow up eating "local" foods in their school cafeterias will learn the value of supporting their local farmers.

Looks like we're getting closer than ever to the 100th Monkey :).

Friday, August 27, 2010

{this moment}

A SouleMama Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment to pause, savor and remember.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sustainable Mouse Trap

Meet the newest addition to the Wyvern Heath.

The girls' music teacher had him, but he liked to chase the teacher's daughter, who is only three and didn't much like this very large cat chasing her. So, he's living with us now.

His first day was horribly uncomfortable for him, and he stayed freaked out for most of the evening, huddling in a corner and growling any time anyone got too close. He settled down a bit after the first night, and even purred a couple of times.

We sequestered him in a room out of reach of the dogs, and so with the exception of hearing them (and growling each time he does), he hasn't really had any contact. It should be interesting when they come nose-to-nose with each other for the first time.

The girls are completely smitten.

Hopefully, he'll settle in to our routines, accept the dogs as coinhabitants of the house, and decide catching mice is an appropriate vocation. Given the gifts the mice have been leaving all over the place, I'm pretty certain that he'll have plenty to do.

He is named Mr. Pumpkin. I didn't name him, but I have a strict policy of not renaming animals when they arrive with an assigned moniker. Maybe we could expand his name, not change it ... exactly, and call him Mr. Jack, the Pumpkin King. His nickname could be Jack ... or not.


I'll probably just call him the [expletive] cat ... or something ... especially if he latches on to my arm again, like he did the first night. I learned my lesson, though, but if I forget, the slash across my forearm will remind me - when the cat is growling and hissing, don't pick him up!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I've been making my own laundry soap for a while.

I started with a liquid, and it was okay. Then, I ran out. The liquid stuff is really complicated to make and requires cooking. If I have to be in the kitchen cooking things, I really want it to be food. You know?

As if in answer to my unspoken desire for an easier recipe, SouleMama posted her laundry powder. Ah! No boiling of water. Total score.

My daughters have just helped me make a batch of the laundry powder, and now they're arguing over who's going to do the load of laundry.

I hope it's always this easy with them :).

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Good and Gone AND Gone with a Long Before It

From this article ...

... respondents under the age of 45 were significantly more likely than older ones to say they had considered replacing their pay TV service.

Both Deus Ex Machina and I are under forty-five (in my case "just"), and we actually did "replace" our pay TV service ... except, we didn't really "replace" it, because that would imply that we still watch television shows, and really, we don't.

I didn't participate in the poll (we all know how much I just LOVE telemarketers, and if they had called, I probably wouldn't have talked to them ... very nicely), but I did call to have the cable disconnected ... over a year ago.

And guess what? Even though I know that I can watch a lot of television shows on the Internet, and even though I know that many of the shows I might want to watch I can watch "on demand" through Netflix or rent on DVD, I don't. Television just doesn't really have that great an appeal anymore.

Blogs, however, now there's a serious time sink. Perhaps we should consider getting rid of the Internet here at home ... and we could use the library.

At least it would get us out of the house ;).

Monday, August 23, 2010

WANTED: Suitcase full of money, small bills preferred (Gimmeville)

I'm not sure, but I think the "WANTED" post I saw today on my Freecycle™ group violates the spirit of the group:

WANTED: Fresh Eggs (Town Name)

Anyone have hens that have extra eggs to share?


According to their website, The Freecycle Network™ is ... a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills.

I don't know of anyone who would dump their "fresh" eggs into a landfill, and if it's not an item that would, potentially, be clogging up a landfill, then it's not really a "freecyclable" item, is it?

There was another one today asking for people's leftover garden produce.

It is a little annoying to have these sorts of requests clogging up my inbox. Often, I just delete the wanted requests without even reading them, because too often, they are for things like: "car that would pass inspection", "CLEAN refrigerator in good condition", "working washer and dryer." Seriously? Is it okay to make these qualifiers? I mean, I understand that people don't want junk, but if I have these things, and they are in "good working order" why in the hell would I give them away?

I get especially irritated with those who have that undertone of entitlement. "I need a television ...." Well, first off, you don't NEED a television. Or, "I need a dryer in good working order, because mine just failed and I have five kids." And that's my problem because ...? I want to ask people who post wanteds like that. Line drying clothes, even five children's worth of clothes, was good enough for my grandma, it's good enough for me, what makes "you" so damned special? No one NEEDS televisions and dryers. There are other options. Further, there are enough OFFERS of televisions and dryers that people should never have to request them. If they were just patient, there would be one offered, and the fact that they ask for "in good working condition" or "television with 32-inch screen" makes me bristle.

Several years ago, I had a usable, but in need of some sprucing, crib that someone had given me to give to my daughter when she was pregnant. My daughter was gifted a new crib, and so I Freecycled™ the one I had been given for her. I always fully disclose the condition of the item, and this was no exception. After the freecycler picked up the crib and got home with it, I received a really nasty note from the woman who declared that what I had given her was not fit for anything but a landfill and that she had wasted her time coming to get it. I was horribly offended, because in my opinion that crib was usable, and no, it was not new, and yes, it needed a new coat of paint. She chose to ignore the "needs work" part of my post and instead berate me for "giving" her an item she felt was substandard. There's some saying about gift horses and mouths.

I haven't decided if I'm more annoyed with the entitlement sorts of requests or with the people who will give those people the items they've requested. It's a toss-up as to which one annoys me more, because the people who give those people the stuff they want are fueling those outrageous requests. I mean, when someone posts a "wanted" for a "clean and in good condition refrigerator", why on earth should they ever expect to get it? If I were going to freecycle a fridge (which I hope I can do someday ... soon ... when I have a cold closet to replace it :) that I had planned to throw away, I damn sure wouldn't clean it first! If I have a pair of badly torn panties that I intend to toss in the garbage, I'm not going to run them through the washer, first. That's silly, and it's a waste of my time and energy (I know, not the best analogy, because I wouldn't freecyle the panties, but still ... you get the point, right? I was planning to throw it away). If I'm GIVING it to a person who doesn't have one, the very least she could do for this FREE, high-end appliance is accept it 'AS IS.' If I'm going to expend all of that time and energy to make it all purty and sparkly, I wouldn't give it away ... I'd sell it.

I know, that sounds disgusting, doesn't it? And my fridge kind of is ... disgusting, but my point is that if one is asking to be given an item that is ordinarily fairly expensive, one should be willing to expend a little effort, as well, and expecting that the receiver would be willing to clean the fridge is not too much, in my opinion. Just FYI, if I needed a fridge and someone offered to GIVE me one, as long as it works, I'd clean out the science experiment. Bleach is a wonderful thing, and I'm not too proud to use it, which if I'm asking someone to give me his fridge, I have no business being ... too proud, I mean.

The worst ones are the ones where people post a wanted, often something really outrageous (WANTED: Women's work slacks, size 12, in good condition) and then punctuate their request with: "but I don't have a car, and so you'll have to deliver it." Seriously? I should give you my old clothes, AND I should deliver them to you?

Freecycle™ rules don't prohibit people from asking for such things, but, perhaps, it should. If the point of the group is to keep things out of landfills, why should we be tolerating people who make such outrageous requests and demands on the rest of us?

But back to the WANTED: Fresh Eggs.


I have eleven birds that provide eggs for my family. Not once, even now when we have seven dozen eggs in our refrigerator, have I EVER considered dumping any of those eggs into the garbage. Not once.

If Freecycle™ is about keeping things out of landfills, and not as a charity service, then what part of asking for fresh eggs or produce from my garden does not violate the spirit of the group?

All of that aside, however, it's not the WANTEDs or the OFFERs that are most concerning. What worries me the most is that if we were to use Freecycle™ as a sort of Barometer for gauging the health of our economy, and if people on Freecycle™ are requesting outrageous things that they should be able to afford to buy (remember, Freecycle™ is not a place to get free stuff, and while that's a nice side effect, the purpose is to keep stuff out of landfills), like eggs and fresh produce, what's that say about our economy?

As irritating as it is to read Wanteds for eggs, it's more worrisome to note that there are people out there who need someone to give them eggs because they can't afford them, and feel like Freecycle™ is an appropriate place to request such an item.

Localier Than Thou

Two years ago today the following post appeared on my blog. It was deleted, along with the rest of my blog, in March 2009, and I thought it would be fun to rerun it ... and, yes, in fact, I would still watch Gilligan's Island ... if I watched television. I LOVE reruns :).

So, without further ado ...

August 23, 2008 - I was at the Farmer's Market the other day, arms heavy laden with all of my purchases from the various stalls, standing in front of a couple of baskets of melons and trying to get my girls to pick one (already. Hello! This stuff is heavy! I was trying really hard not to say.) I pointed to a seedless watermelon (Deus Ex Machina's absolute FAVORITE fruit and one he only gets in the summer, because watermelon only grows ... blah, blah ... blah).

I said, "How about that big one right there?" pointing to it with my toe. I had a heavy bag on each shoulders and couldn't even pretend I was going to bend over and pick it up.

This lady leans over to me and says, rather conspiratorily, "Hannaford has watermelon for $3.50."

The look on my face must have been incredulous, like "What in the hell did you just say to me?!"

I said, "Yeah, but they aren't local."

The look on her face was incredulous, like "What in the hell did you just say to me?"

Then, she told me that they were, that Hannaford gets produce from local farmers ... sometimes.

I know damned well that, while Hannaford does source a LOT of local foods, even some produce, which they sell at ridiculously low prices, watermelon is not one of them.

Apples, greenhouse tomatoes, greenhouse lettuce (sometimes), greenhouse basil, potatoes, corn, and the occasional berries - but no watermelon. I'm there EVERY weekend - fifty-two weeks out of the year.

We picked up a yellow watermelon for $3.90, probably half the size of the ones at Hannaford.

That woman moved away from me, carefully. I think she wasn't sure what crazy thing I might do next ... maybe pick out a rump steak at more dollars per pound than they sell rump steak for at Hannaford ... or spend $5 on fruit leathers from "Grammy", which for half the price I could probably buy at Hannaford in a nifty little cardboard box with Spongebob Square Pants dancing across the front.

She's lucky those cloth bags full of apples and potatoes weighed so much, or we might have had to have a long discussion about eating local, high fructose corn syrup, and CAFOs.

And why I don't think watermelon from Hannaford (and grown who-knows-where) is such a great deal ... at any price.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Habitual Change

The other day I commented ... somewhere ... that nothing worth doing is easy. That's how it was for us back when we first started this down this path. It was tough ... almost all of the time ..., and there were many times when I felt like I was butting my head against a brick wall.

I happen to be one of those people who like change. I used to rearrange my room every other month. I'm also the kind of person for whom the Nike slogan was coined - when I make a decision, I just do it. Don't get me wrong - I don't jump into things. I deliberate, usually quietly, doing some research and reading and thinking about it, but once I've decided a course of action, I just need to go ... git 'er done.

Deus Ex Machina isn't like me in that respect. If I move a chair, he gets uptight, and when it comes to making life-changing decisions, he really likes to think things through. And then, he likes to think about them some more. And he likes to hear the arguments for ... and against. I'll think the decision has been made and be waiting for the action to begin, when he'll start talking about what should be done ... again.

Back when I was pretty sure this was our path, but he wasn't completely convinced, it was often frustrating for me.

In September 2007, only a year after we'd started our journey toward self-reliance, I posted a commentary on how my childhood had shaped my early adult habits of consumption, and how I had to work really hard to change those habits. In the post, I lamented that it wasn't just changing "me", though. Thanks to the example I had shown them, my children were also walking down the consumer-lifestyle path, and if we ever hoped to be free, we had to break those addictions.

Back then, I wrote: Hopefully, my children will walk down the path I am blazing for them right now - learning to conserve and save rather than waste and spend.

I know we're off to a good start, though, because my children are excited when I say we're going to Goodwill and act like they've been given a treasure when handed a bag of second-hand dance clothes.

Next step is to change their stock answer to the question "What do you want for dinner?" from "Pizza Hut!" to some favorite dish that only Mom can make here at home :).

Three years later, I'm happy to note that, now, when I ask my children, What do you want for dinner?, the answer is never a restaurant name. Big Little Sister often answers pizza, because it's still her favorite food, but she doesn't need the restaurant stuff, and the pizza I make here at home is good enough (actually better, and it doesn't do awful things to Deus Ex Machina's digestive system like Pizza Hut pizza always did).

It didn't take three years for the change to fully happen, but honestly, I couldn't tell you when the switch was finally flipped. At this point, eating out is an occasional treat, and these days, we're just as likely to discuss eating out and then, decide to just cook at home. Like tonight - Big Little Sister has a friend sleeping over, and we talked about ordering pizza. In the end, I just made pizza here, and it was better, fresher, and quicker than it would have been to have ordered it from a local restaurant and then driven to pick it up.

And it was so much cheaper, too ;). In addition to saving, probably, $30 cash (which is what it would have cost us for a couple of large pizzas from the place up the road), we saved at least a dollar or two on gasoline, and with our homemade stuff, there's no packaging.

Homemade pizza = frugal AND eco-friendly ;).

Friday, August 20, 2010

{this moment}

A SouleMama Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment to pause, savor and remember.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


This is how I spent my morning ... millions of peaches, peaches for me.

And I also wanted to show-off (again) my tiny kitchen - just as a kind of, if *I* can do lots of canning here, then others out there, with their more spacious kitchens, should find it even easier. Right? That peach-strewn counter is the only counter I have. That's it.

I bought 30lbs of "utility" peaches (that is ones that aren't pretty enough for retail, but can still be used for things like ... well, canning, but frankly, my daughters don't really pay much attention to the titles, and they'll eat those canning peaches out-of-hand just as quickly and with as much enthusiasm as they will the fancy peaches - in fact, more, because the canning peaches are often more juicy and ripe, and so they taste better ... just FYI :). They cost around $0.75 per pound, and after I dropped Big Little Sister off at the Ballet Seminar being sponsored by her dance school this week (with the talented and very sweet Ryan Carroll as their teacher), I peeled and sliced and canned what was left of the 30 lbs after the girls had devoured a quarter of them.

I ended up with nine quarts (the eight pints are pictured here, and I have five quart-sized jars, too).

While I was finishing up and starting lunch, Little Fire Faery asked me if I "liked" canning, and I thought about it. Do I like it?

And I guess the answer is yes. It's tedious, and standing over a sink and peeling and slicing and shoving fruit into jars for two hours usually results in sore shoulders, aching finger joints and stiff knees, but it's also calming. I just let my mind wander while my hands do the familiar work.

My goal is to have one jar of something for every day of the non-growing season, which is around 200 jars. It's not a lot, especially since, for the purposes of my goal, I'm not differentiating between jar sizes. I want 200 jars of something. And it's also not a lot when one considers that a jar of sauerkraut (for the purposes of my goal) is equal to a jar of peaches, but when it comes to eating what's in those jars, especially to the palates of my very persnickety daughters, a jar of sauerkraut is definitely NOT equal to a jar of peaches.

Still, if I have 200 jars of something we won't starve, and that's the point of stocking up, right? Food security.

I hope to find more peaches, but apple season is quickly approaching. In fact, when I picked up the peaches, some of the early varieties (cortlands, specifically) were already ripening. Now to figure out which PYO apple orchard is picking first ....

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Survival of the Fittest


I had a dream a few nights ago. I often have very vivid dreams, and often these dreams are very disturbing. Sometimes I wake with a clear remembrance of what I had dreamt, and sometimes I'm only left with a vague uneasiness and a sense that whatever it was was unpleasant ... like the odiferous clouds some people leave in their wake - mildly unpleasant initially, but soon forgotten in the hustle and bustle of my mundane life.

There have been volumes written about dreams, and even some people who devoted a whole life's study to the phenomenon. I waffle between believing my dreams are just my brain's way to entertain itself while I sleep, but then, I have a particularly troubling dream, and I decide that I can't possibly be that warped and it must be that something out there is trying to tell me something while I'm asleep and my mind is not occupied by my mundane thoughts. That is, on some subconscious level I'm receiving messages, and my dreams are an allegory that I have to decipher.

I've heard that déjà vu (which literally translates to already seen) is a forgotten dream that is later remembered. In the camps that believe dreams are messages from the other world, déjà vu is seen as a precursor to great change.

I have a lot of déjà vu, and it's becoming more frequent these days. It's kind of unsettling, actually.

I had a dream the other night, though. It was vivid, but not unpleasant. I was outside cooking dinner from food that we had grown on our homestead. It was late summer time, because the gardens were full to bursting with ripening fruits and vegetables.

It was quiet, though. Much more quiet than it should be, and my present mind noted that there were no cars passing along the road. I realized that whatever "event" we - preppers, survivalists, thrivalists - believe is going to happen to plunge us into a lower energy world had happened, and my family and I had stayed here and were making a go of it.

I was pulling dinner off the fire, and Deus Ex Machina came out to help when a group of ragged people approached menacingly and demanded our food. I was not afraid. I was not angry, either, and I simply handed over the meal. They ate our food, with us watching, and then, they raided our larder and took most of what we had stored. They, thankfully, spared the garden and didn't seem to take notice of the animals in the backyard, but what they took was enough to cause us hardship, given it was late summer, and what they had stolen represented half a season's worth of canning and food storage. In short, we'd have no more strawberries or strawberry jam until the next year.

It should have devastated me.

Except it didn't. After they finished their pillaging and left, we simply walked back into the woods and foraged dinner. It wasn't as quick and easy as our home-grown meal had been, and by the time we actually sat down to eat, we were pretty hungry, but there was no desparation, no devastation at losing what we had worked so hard to gain, because in the end we had the tools we needed - knowledge and confidence.

Having stuff does not guarantee survival even in the most benign of cases. In an extreme survival situation, the single most important factor for survival is a positive attitude. Even the best prepared people die in the wilderness, because they lose confidence in their abilities.

It was an incredibly pleasant dream for me, because it reminded me that my family will be okay. There may be horrible people in the world who know nothing of self-preservation but to take what they want, and perhaps I'm deluding myself, but I know that we could survive out in the woods with only a knife. We would not be as comfortable as we are here, in our house with our electric lights and our freezer full of home-grown chicken and our indoor plumbing, but we could survive, and eventually, we'd begin to thrive, again, too.

How many others can be that sure?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Things That Make My Locavore Heart Sing

It's tomato season here and at the Farmer's Market on Saturday there were dozens of choices from the usual hydroponic greenhouse tomatoes to field tomatoes to an amazing looking heirloom variety (of which I bought several).

Precious (my youngest) LOVES tomatoes. The other two, not so much, but Precious eats them like apples, which is both astounding and amusing to me. I like tomatoes - a lot! - but I've never eaten one with quite the relish she does.

My tomatoes are always late, because I don't start my seeds indoors. I don't really have any space indoors, and I haven't really had much in the way of season extension. I've half-heartedly tried a cold frame for fall season extension, but nothing for spring season extension. I start my tomatoes from seed in the garden, but only after I'm certain that we're past all potential for cold weather. Tomatoes can not tolerate cold, which means no tomatoes get planted here at the Wyvern Heath until after Memorial Day.

As such, I have a lot of lovely, healthy-looking plants with some gorgeous green tomatoes, but nothing ripe yet, and so, when we went to the Farmer's Market and EVERYONE had red tomatoes, I just had to ....

One of the vendors had these lovely gold cherry tomatoes. I bought a quart.

After dinner, as a snack, Precious asked if she could have some. I said yes - of course!

A little later, she comes up to me and says, "I ate all my tomatoes."

"All of them?" I inquire.

She shows me the empty container.

How could one be upset about her eating all of the tomatoes, especially when only she and I are the ones who will eat them? And even if everyone else liked them, they're tomatoes, locally grown at a farm with organic practices (not certified organic). Could I, seriously, get mad about her gorging on such a healthful snack?

This is such an amazing time of year, and we're so fortunate to have so many wonderful, small, local farmers in our area. There's one local farm that even grows "fall" strawberries, and he's saving us two quarts for next week.

And there's another of the farmers from whom I often buy tomatoes in bulk. He has a glut this year and asked me today if I'd be interested in buying a large amount. Ummm ... YES! As I said to him, there's just no such thing as too much tomato sauce, because it's so versatile. He laughed, probably just happy to have a happy customer ;).

I read an article today about this year's harvest here. Everything is several weeks early because of the really warm summer and early spring we had. I've noticed it, too. Most things are early, and their time with us has been so short. I wasn't quite ready for them, and when they came, I couldn't give them the attention they needed, and so for many of our seasonal berries, for instance, we don't, really, have as much as I would have liked.

But what's worse is that just this week, I've been noticing that many of the maples are already changing into their fall colors. The nights are already getting cooler. It could be that we'll have an early winter this year, and our growing days are numbered at this point.

I mention it, because the article talked specifically about apples. Usually apples are a September thing, but according to the article, many of the early apples, specifically MacIntosh varieties, are already ripening enough to be picked. They're ripening early, and it looks like it's going to be a lean crop.

Apples are *the* winter fruit for us. It's the only "fresh" fruit we have. Everything else is frozen or canned. Apples are also a favorite canned food, when made into applesauce. There are several large orchards that sell to the chain grocery stores where I live, and I can usually find Maine-grown apples all the way up into March and April. I get a feeling that won't be the case this year, and it's likely, by January, Maine apples will be hard to find.

It's still summer, at least for another few weeks, and I know that I'm going to continue stocking up as much as I can afford to buy. In fact, I think I'll head over to the farm stand tomorrow and pick up my annual bushel of corn :).

Friday, August 13, 2010

{this moment}

A SouleMama Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment to pause, savor and remember.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Red-Headed Visitor

Whenever my neighbors see a plant or a bird or an animal that's unfamiliar to them, they ask us about it. More often than not, we don't know, either, but both Deus Ex Machina and I are good researchers, and the Internet is an amazing tool.

A month or two ago, Mr. Mooset told us he'd seen a giant red-headed bird, and he asked my girls what it was. They didn't know, and so they ran into the house to ask me. Not having seen the bird, I could only guess as to what it was, and so I printed off pictures of a couple of possibilities and the girls took them over to ask him which it was.

This morning, as Deus Ex Machina was leaving for work, I looked up into the trees across the road and saw this:

There were three of them hopping around in the treetops, sounding what the girls have dubbed the monkey call. It was pretty amazing, and I, now, understand the whole Woody Woodpecker laugh, because it's very similar to the sound the Pileated woodpecker makes. Guess those cartoonists actually knew a thing or two about real birds.

Seeing them was pretty cool, and after doing a bit of early morning Internet sleuthing, I am both relieved and concerned.

I'm concerned, because their diet consists mostly of carpenter ants. I was pretty sure we had carpenter ants in the area, and seeing woodpeckers confirmed my suspicions, which is what's concerning. Carpenter ants are incredibly destructive, and not something I want in my house.

Which is where the relief comes in. In our natural habitat, we don't use - icides of any kind. We allow nature to take care of that for us, and so far, we've been rewarded in our rather hands-off approach.

First the carpenter ants came, and the woodpeckers followed. In a normal habitat, they keep each other in check, and neither population will exceed the resources in their area.

As we move toward a lower energy world, we will very much need to start looking to nature for lessons on how to live. We can learn a lot, if we just listen and pay attention.

For the moment, though, Woody Woodpecker's pealing laughter from the treetops serves as a reminder that we haven't been learning the lessons. Perhaps, if we get smarter, he'll be laughing with us, instead of at us.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Local Dinner

It's been a couple of years since I was (forcing my family into) participating in an eat local challenge. Eating local foods has become just another part of what we do, and it's important enough that we made buying local foods a habit.

Tonight's dinner was the absolute best kind of meal - local and *almost* free ;).

The other day my friend, SnitchMom, called and asked if we wanted some cucumbers. She had been gifted a whole bag that were almost to that too large, too ripe stage, but she was going out of town for a few days and knew she wouldn't get around to doing anything with them.

She thought about who might use them. Two summers ago, she and I did a couple of marathon pickle-making sessions, and we're always trading stories about the various things we're canning and preserving. So when faced with a sure-to-spoil surplus of veg, she knew that I would not let a bunch of cucumbers go to waste.

And I didn't.

For dinner, using the free cucumbers, we had cucumber soup from this recipe. I'd never even heard of cold cucumber soup until we read The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events #3), but since reading the book, I've always wanted to try it. Frankly, I was not disappointed. The soup was DE-LI-CIOUS!

Even Deus Ex Machina liked it, which is saying something given it was a raw food with no meat ;).

I paired it with a grilled flat bread from this recipe. Deus Ex Machina likes the bread, because it looks like grilled chicken breasts. Big Little Sister likes it, because it's bread.

After a hot afternoon in the woods for our outdoor skills class, coming home and having a couple of bowls of a hearty, *cold* soup was refreshing.

I still have a couple of cukes on the counter. I imagine this weekend after a hot day of yard work we'll be looking forward to some more cucumber soup ... and, of course, some Naan, and perhaps, we'll score some shish kabob-worthy foods at the Farmer's Market, too.

I guess this eating local thing never really does get old ... even if blogging about it every other day does ;).

Monday, August 9, 2010

Giving Them Their Space

One of the challenges of suburban homesteading, that perhaps, people with larger, more rural and secluded pieces of land do not have to consider is the aesthetics, and for us, it's often a struggle to balance keeping things pretty with making things utilitarian.

Like, right now, my garden is an overgrown - almost to the point of being scary - mass of green, most of which is hubbard squash vines. It's like vines gone wild out there. To me, it's beautiful in a verdant sort of way, but as the season progresses, and the vines begin to die back, I know it won't look so pretty anymore.

Dying plants are expected though, especially where I live with four, full seasons, but the other clutter - tools lying around the yard, construction debris, untended animals on the loose - those things are less acceptable, and that's where we've always struggled.

I know that I've mentioned, probably ad nauseum, that we have a very small space, very little of which is devoted purely to storage. Unfortunately, due to the size limitations of our lot, we won't ever get approved for an out building ... unless we decide to tear down a portion of our house and build the storage space on the footprint of the old building (our lot is "non-conforming", but is "grandfathered", which means we can keep the current footprint of our house, but we couldn't build anything else).

We're working with it, though, and it requires some degree of creativity.

This is the latest.

After a winter of housing the ducks and chickens together, we had always planned to do something different for them. This year, we fenced off a portion of the back yard for the animals, and we built a second "coop" (that is a covered, wire enclosed run). The second coop will be for the chickens this winter. The "old" coop will house the ducks, and in the spring, we'll put a table or something in there and use it for a greenhouse. From our observations, so far, the ducks are less likely to jump up on the table and eat the plants.

The entrance to the animal yard is what Deus Ex Machina is calling the guard house (pictured above). I call it the garden shed, and truly, it's something I've wanted for a really long time. It gives us covered storage for our yard tools, which will protect them from the weather and prolong their lives, but also, provides us a dedicated space to store them so that we don't spend fifteen minutes looking for the shovel before we can start digging, or worse, find the shovel when the snowbank melts in the spring.

We're going to also put a couple of narrow shelves on the sides and in the roof area for storing other tools and such, and I was looking at the roof thinking that it would make a great place to hang herbs and onions to dry.

Someday, I'll have a little stone walkway back to there, and there will be lots of plants growing up and around the chicken yard. I've already planted comfrey and hostas (but the ducks keep sticking their heads through the wire and eating the hostas, which aren't as resilient and fast recovering as the comfrey, which is why you can't see where they were planted - silly ducks! ;).

The tree in the picture is one of our sad, dwarf peach trees. It's coming down. I've been threatening for years to do it, and Deus Ex Machina has finally agreed that they are really not producing, and with only a quarter of an acre, we can't waste space on something that is not producing for us. Currently, it's bowing over the potato bed, and in fact, almost touching the tops of the potato plants, and because it's hanging so low into the yard, we have to walk stooped over when we're back there. So, it's going.

There's a spot that's about four feet from the animal yard fence and four feet to the left of where the peach tree is growing where we think a larger tree, like basswood, or perhaps a nut tree, like chestnut, would be happy to grow.

Up the sides of the garden shed/guard house, we will grow Kiwi.

The other plan is to set-up a rainwater reclamation system on the roof of each coop. We're just trying to decide exactly how we want to make it.

The absolute best part about this year's construction projects has been the cost. Purchased materials include wire and the roofing. All of the wood, except the lattice on the side of the garden shed, was free, and we've discovered there's more where that came from ...

... hmmm?

- new raised garden beds;
- frame for the outdoor kitchen sink;
- new gates for the back fence;
- playhouse/outside storage for toys for the girls ....

Lots of possibilities.

Friday, August 6, 2010

{this moment}

A SouleMama Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment to pause, savor and remember.

World Kitchen Garden Day: 22 August 2010!

I received this message from Roger Doiron, who, among other things, is the founder ofKitchen Gardeners International.

It was important enough a message for me to pass along ;).

Yes, it's hard to believe but we're apparently not eating enough potato chips, cookies and fluorescent orange cheese puffs, at least not according to the Snack Food Association (SFA) which has joined forces with the National Potato Promotion Board to address this national crisis. Their response: christening February as National Snack Food Month.

As advocates for healthy, sustainable and socially-just foods and gardens, we can't let this hijacking of the country's culinary calendar go unanswered. Although we won't be able to outspend the SFA and their 590 members (Kraft, ConAgra, Fritolay, ExxonMobil...I swear I'm not making that last one up), we can outdo them in terms of people-power, spirit and creativity with a food holiday of our own which is as local, healthy and sustainable as it gets.

World Kitchen Garden Day is an annual, decentralized celebration of food produced on a human-scale. It is recognized each year on the 4th Sunday of August. It is an opportunity for people around the world to gather in their gardens with friends, family, and members of their local community to celebrate the multiple pleasures and benefits of home-grown and locally-grown foods.

Please help us make this year's celebration of Kitchen Garden Day a success. Here are some different things you can do depending on your interests, time, and talents:
1) "Attend" our event on Facebook and invite your friends to do the same (5 minutes)
2) Put your own Kitchen Garden Day marker on our global Meetup map (5 minutes) and use Meetup's tools to bring some like-minded people together in your area
3) Share the event on your website, blog, or online calendar using text from this message and one of the graphics (10-15 minutes)
4) Share this email broadly within your personal and professional networks (5 minutes)

On August 22, we will be enjoying homemade mead with some good friends in Poland, and perhaps, we'll bring along some of our garden bounty ... and maybe a chicken or a rabbit to roast, but they'll have to let us know if that will work for them, as it's their house ;). Hope ...?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Better Than Barter, Tastier than Cash

Occasionally, I regret having wasted my youth by not learning how to do the kinds of self-sufficiency tasks I'm learning these days. It's not so much that I regret having wasted all of that precious time, but more the fact that I had the perfect teacher. My grandmother could have taught me all sorts of low-energy canning techniques. She could have taught me how to harvest my chickens so that I could save $4 per bird (in fact, she's probably watching me now from that place beyond and shaking her head in dismay that I don't do it myself). But more, if I had learned it back then, when I was young, immortal and fearless, then it wouldn't be so daunting now.

Of course, the fact that something is difficult does not, in the least, deter me, and I love summer canning season, and I love marathon canning sessions.

This evening, we canned the sauerkraut that has been fermenting on the counter for the past week (about three days longer than it should have, actually ;). In addition, we canned about three-quarters of the 14 lbs of peaches I brought home from the farm stand ... the girls ate (or have saved for tomorrow) the rest ;).

We ended up with six pints of purple sauerkraut and the equivalent of four quarts of peaches.

Then, since we were cutting up peaches (and making a big mess of the kitchen floor with dripping peach juice and poorly aimed peach peels and pits that didn't quite make it to the bucket ... after I just scrubbed it this afternoon, no less), we decided to process most of the melons I brought home, too (at $2 to $4 each, I had to buy several more). We ended up with six quarts of melon puree in the freezer with one cantaloupe and one musk melon still waiting to be eaten fresh.

This is an amazing time of year and just looking around at all of the bounty - in my garden, at the farm stand, at the Farmer's Market, I feel full. It's an amazing time of year.

There is so much food! It's incredible, and I love watching my freezer fill up and the pantry shelves where I keep my home canned food getting full.

Unfortunately, I still do not have a very good handle on what would be enough food to do us for the whole winter. I know when I don't have enough (like four quart jars of applesauce ... definitely *not* enough!), but trying to figure out, exactly how much would see us through the winter is a little more difficult ... and as for testing ourselves and eating only from our pantry just to get an idea of what we eat ...? The idea of depleting our food stores just to test ourselves, when we never know if this trip to the grocery store will be our last and that we will be forced to depend on what's in our pantry is just terrifying.

Still, in a lower energy world, we would not have the grocery store as a back-up - at least not like we have it, today. At some point we really need to figure out exactly what we use, and then plan accordingly, because it would be a pretty horrible thing to suddenly have to depend on our stored food only to realize that we severely underestimated our usage.

Hmm? I wonder, in a lower energy world, can I give my daughters ration cards? Can I steal their chocolate rations?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Feast, not Famine ... Requires Only a Little Planning

The headline is Wheat prices soar as drought, wildfires destroy fields in Russia.

We are a global economy. What happens in Russia doesn't stay there, and this drought over there will affect us, too.

It's summer time - growing season for most of the US - and there is a bounty of food to be had. Our habit should be eat one now and put two away for winter.

Speaking of ...

I have three quarts of sauerkraut that need to be canned and another cabbage that needs to be sliced and fermented ;).

Yesterday we picked-up four melons from the farm stand - two at $2 each and two at $4 each. EACH - not per pound. This amazingly dry and warm summer we're having has been very good for the heat-loving crops.

So, don't forget eat one now and put two away for winter.

We've been warned, and if we've been stocking up all summer, when the price of everything skyrockets in January, we will have no reason to worry.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Honor, Integrity, Responsibility

I was watching the video posted here. In the piece, the Missouri Senator says, basically, that she is not going to back any bill that would force Missourians to make more positive choices for their energy needs if it also means they'd have to pay more money. She says that coal is what they have, because coal is what they can afford.

Having spent a good many of my formative years in a coal mining community, I have some pretty strong feelings about coal mines, and it's a conundrum for me, because I recognize that without the economic base of coal, the community where I grew up, and where a good many of my relatives still live, would become, in a very short time, a ghost town. The mall stores would quickly shutter, the fast food restaurants would pack up their factory-farmed meat products, and the movie theater would close. The nearest, chain, store would be a forty-five minute drive, but most of the people who stayed in them thar hills would be unable to afford the gasoline necessary to get them that forty-five minute drive.

Some people would stay. After all, there have been people in those hills for hundreds of years, living a kind of shadow existence while the rest of the United States experienced the rapid growth and expansion of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. My own lineage in that area can be traced back to the early 1800s, and based on what I've been able to discover were, most likely, indentured servants, who were drafted from the streets and hovels of Ireland on the promise of land, lots of land in the "New World", but found themselves working as slave labor on one of the many plantations in North Carolina. Many of them escaped into the hills of Kentucky, where they learned subsistence farming and assimilated into and later usurped the native populations (according to one resource, the natives weren't as good at having babies as the Europeans ;).

But those who stayed would be incredibly poor, at least by suburban American standards. The sad irony, however, is that they would probably not have a much different life from what they have now. The difference is that now they hope for a richer life that is full of the stuff that we suburbanites enjoy, and if coal mining were to leave the hills, they would no longer have that wish for riches, but would rather only hope to survive.

It's an unfortunate and incredibly unfair fact that the people who live in resource rich areas of the world are often impoverished, often to the point of destitution. The dozens of videos and news stories showing the horrific conditions people in places like Nigeria are left with after allowing big oil companies, like Shell, (who promised schools and medical facilities for the residents, but never followed through) to come in and take their resource are too familiar from what I know from having grown up in a similarly resource rich area, where most of the people who lived on the land have no rights to the minerals and so rather than enjoy some hope of financial security through a residual income from the multi-billion dollar companies who stripped their land and poisoned their water, they were left with ruin and disease and abject, life-destroying poverty.

It's not uncommon for these big energy corporations come into a resource rich area, pretend to have the best intentions, and then prove, through their actions that all they want is the money, and no act that increases their bottom line is too base, too heinous, too unethical, or too immoral. Some might argue that it was the people's own greed that landed them in their dire situation, and that may, well, be true, in part, but that doesn't absolve the energy companies of their responsibility to do the right thing ... often the thing they promised when they began negotiating for the mineral rights.

In the video link at the beginning of my post, the Missouri Senator first tells the young voter that she did not take one penny from energy companies, and then, a minute later (literally a minute later), she says that the paltry sums she accepted from the energy companies were nothing compared to what her opponents' campaigns accepted, and I have to ask, did she accept campaign contributions from energy companies or did she not? Because her comments are contradictory. She can not both have *not* accepted any funds and accepted negligible amounts. Either she took their money or she didn't.

For me, though, if a thing is wrong, it's wrong, and trying to absolve oneself by pointing out that others have done worse is simply no defense. People who make those sorts of backpedaling statements have no credibility with me. Don't try to appease me with your lies, and then, turn around and try to divert my attention from your wrong doing by pointing out the shiny thing over my shoulder.

Of course all of that is really beside the point. The real point with regard to coal (and oil) is this statement from the FAQs About Coal info site that states, The United States has about 275 billion tons of recoverable coal, which could last us more than 250 years if we continue using coal at the same rate as we use it today.

The United States declared its independence from Great Britain two hundred and thirty-four years ago. Every child knows that the Declaration of Independence, that little letter that started it all, was signed on or about July 4, 1776.

Two Hundred and Fifty Years is within our LIVING memory, which means there is only enough coal left in the ground to cover TODAY'S usage for a time period that is WITHIN THE FRAMEWORK OF OUR LIVING MEMORY.

Who can stand here, today, and say to our great-great-great grandchildren, "I'm sorry, Junior, but I really, REALLY needed that Wii, which is why you have to suffer through catastrophic climate change and energy depletion and all of the associated variables related to those things." Who, today, will stand up and say, "My comfort is more important than your survival?"

We have choices today. Two hundred and fifty years from now, after we've used up all of the oil, and then, all of the coal, and depleted the land of all of the other amazing and rich resources available to us, they won't have the kinds of choices that we have today.

Most of the changes we should be making are so simple, so easy, and so affordable - and will, in fact, save money.

I just don't understand why we refuse to make them, still, and in light of what we know will be happening in the future.

The FAQs About Coal site gives us two hundred and fifty years left of coal, which will become increasingly more difficult and costly to extract.

The question is, do we really want to invest all of our resources trying to maintain our consumptive lifestyles, or are we willing to be responsible adults and give up some of those things we like, but that we don't need?

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Berry Good Weekend

We found a PYO blueberry farm and after the Farmer's Market on Saturday morning, we picked four pounds of blueberries, a quarter of which were eaten before we even made it home ;). The girls and I went back on Sunday and picked another bucket's worth - about seven more pounds. Blueberries at the Farmer's Market cost around $5/lb. Wild blueberries from the freezer section at the grocery store cost $4/lb. The PYO berries were $2/lb, which is a really good deal.

After the PYO farm, we came home, put away our Farmer's Market purchases and went foraging, where we picked 3 1/2 lbs of wild blackberries. Except for a few scratches, a couple of mosquito bites and perhaps a bit of sunburn (on Deus Ex Machina's neck), they were free ...

... which is a berry good deal :)!

We, now, have half a freezer full of berries, which will give us a little variety from the squash we'll be eating all winter :).

**I counted nine Hubbard squash still growing on the volunteer vine in the backyard, and there are at least two on the volunteer vine in the front yard :). We also have at least two dozen pie pumpkins and some weird squash-type something that is probably a result of the volunteer Hubbard squash cross pollinating with the pumpkins.

With what's still growing outside (that is, not counting anything I've already preserved) - squash, pumpkin, tomatoes, potatoes, beets, corn, and beans ... not to mention eggs, chicken and rabbit - we might not eat three huge meals per day, but we wouldn't starve, either, and with the information we're gathering about wild foraging using Samuel Thayer's books as our guide, we might even be able to enjoy three, modest meals.