Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Fast Food from the Larder?

I looked at the clock. Oops! It was 6:30PM. I guess I should start thinking about dinner, right?

So, of course, I asked Deus Ex Machina what he wanted, and he responded as expected.

My daughters and I volunteer at the food pantry on Tuesdays. Today, the owner of a local hamburger joint donated a bunch of rolls - his special recipe, he told me. It was very cool! But the rolls are for tiny burgers, called sliders, and growing up down south, I was introduced to Krystals, and later when I moved a bit further north, I discovered White Castles. They make these tiny square hamburgers on soft, white-bread rolls, that are seasoned with cooked onions and served with ketchup, mustard, and a pickle. In my memory, it's simply delicious, and when the restaurant owner brought his donation, my taste buds remembered that taste and wanted it.

No, I'm not suggesting that either place has good food, but the burgers were always cooked with onions, and the buns were so soft, and the combination, in my memory. was actually pretty yummy.

I'm pretty certain that the memory is much better than the reality. Regardless, I was thinking how delicious some of those burgers would be, and I headed into the kitchen thinking of burgers and onions.

All of our hamburg is frozen, and ground beef cooked from frozen, even if I added onions, wouldn't be, quite the same.

As part of our cowshare, however, we also have stew beef, but no potatoes or carrots. So, I couldn't make stew. But there are several jars of pickled beets, and I thought, how about Borscht ... or some made up version using the ingredient I had in my pantry?

So, I grabbed the stew beef, chopped it into tiny pieces, and started to brown it. Then, I added some chopped onions, a bit of sea salt, pepper, cumin, and burgundy cooking wine.

The aroma was heavenly, and exactly what I wanted, and I realized that I did not want soup.

I decided to leave the pickled beets for another day, and I served the beef with leftover cornbread, leftover rice, leftover rice pudding, popcorn, and pickled green beans.

Remember a few days ago when I said that our meals would probably start to get a little weird? Yeah. That was tonight.

But hours later, I was still feeling stuffed, and it was delicious.

I think there are even a few leftovers.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Seat of Knowledge

Many years ago, I received a call from the Director of my local library. I was a regular patron to our local library, because we homeschool, and also, just because I love the library.

Living in the kind of culture that we live in means that most of us pay taxes to a collective, and among the many amenities that are offered to us in the collective is a public library. There are so many amazing things that the library offers, and most of us, unless we are regular patrons, don't realize how vast the services are. It's not just books anymore. It's DVDs, CDs, and periodicals (did you know you could check out magazines? Yes. You can - and if the library doesn't have a subscription to the magazine you want, if you ask, they'd probably get it); Internet connection and computer access; printing; tax services; daily newspapers; ebooks; and just good company. I've long said that of all of the "services" to which I am entitled as a taxpayer, the one service that is available to all residents, regardless of age, race, or socioeconomic status, is the library. We can all enjoy the library.

I've been a huge supporter and patron to the library, and so when I received that call, asking if I would be interested in being on the Board of Trustees, I was honored. It was a big deal to be considered worthy of such a lofty position. At least it was an honor to me.

One of the key things we hoped to accomplish as Trustees was the expansion of our library. The original building was constructed back when our town was one-third of the size that it is today. My house wasn't even built back then. It was still three, separate vacation cabins, and the couple who would, eventually, become my neighbors, hadn't even purchased the home they've lived in for the last thirty-plus years.

It was an old building.

Today, I had the pleasure of visiting the new building in the Grand Reopening of my library. It's beautiful. And it was good to see my old friends again.

I live in a small town, but we don't have a general store. For those few of us who don't have children in school, there really is only one place to get information, and to find out what's happening in town ... and that's the library.

Hmmm ... there's some deja vu for you.

But I am thrilled that my town agreed to allow our library to expand, rather than doing what some other small communities in our country are doing. I'm so happy that my town's people said YES to our library.

It's a beautiful space - one that residents can be proud to say they made happen and visitors can enjoy.

Here's to the library! If civilization is going to collapse, let's hope we can hang onto our libraries ... at least for a while.

Dessert from the Larder

What's been very cool about this challenge is that I've been making dessert more often. Usually, we have really big meals, and there's not enough room left for dessert (although my daughter would say that there's always room for dessert :)). Or, probably, more accurately would be that after cooking a huge dinner, I don't feel like making any dessert, and so I don't. Dessert is usually something we have on Thanksgiving ... or ice cream ... or a piece of chocolate bar.

But when dinner is just a roasted meat and some pickles, and I know my daughters aren't going to indulge in the beets and carrots, I like to offer something in addition to whatever I've made. A few days ago, I whipped up a quick peach cobbler (to use up the open jar of peaches in the refrigerator).

Monday night for the stir-fry, I made a huge pot of rice, and so, for dessert, I made rice pudding using this recipe.

So, you know what's cooler than just making rice pudding using that recipe? It's the fact that we had some grapes in the refrigerator that no one was eating, and so to minimize the possibility of waste, I put them in the dehydrator (which has an honored position on the end table next to the outlet, because we use it so much) and made raisins ... and then, I added those raisins to our rice pudding.

One of the things that has struck me as interesting throughout the challenge is the fact that we're adding to the larder at the same time that we're emptying it.

Does that make the challenge, kind of, an exercise in futility?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Monday Night ... From the Larder

Deus Ex Machina gets home from work, and we start the, now, familiar dialogue.

Me: What do you want for dinner?

DEM: I don't know. What do you want for dinner?

We banter back and forth. Sometimes he'll say something like, "I asked you first", which means "I don't care what you cook as long as you make it soon, because I'm hungry."

So, we went on like that for a few minutes, and then, we started talking about what we have in the refrigerator, and we knew we had half a chicken leftover from last week, and that dinner would include chicken. The question was: stir-fry or soup.

We decided on stir-fry, because we're out of most of the things we'd ordinarily add to chicken soup (like potatoes), and we'd have to cook rice either way (for chicken and rice soup).

I diced the chicken and some onions, sliced a few small Jerusalem artichokes I took out of the garden the other day, and chopped up the dandelion greens Deus Ex Machina foraged for me. I'll stir in a couple of eggs (fresh from our chickens), add the rice, and sprinkle all of it with some Organic Tamari (gluten-free soy sauce).

Simple, quick ... and all from the larder.

Who says cooking has to be hard, or take a long time? In fact, while I'm typing this, the rice is cooking. How's that for multi-tasking?

Eating Down the Larder - Week 3 Wrap-Up

I was doing a really good job of writing down our evening meals. I only cook one meal per day. The rest of the day is, kind of, pot-luck for my girls. Deus Ex Machina makes his own breakfast each morning, because he gets up before the rest of us (usually eggs or gluten-free pancakes - and he has used up all of the buckwheat flour and most of the gluten-free baking mix we had). He packs a lunch for work (usually leftovers or some soup from the pantry), and then he's gone for the day.

The girls are all old enough that they can make their own breakfast and lunch (usually it's a "brunch" followed by periodic snacking). We've had some interesting combinations of foods as the accepted breakfast-type foods have been exhausted. This morning, for instance, I had leftover chili. Of course, I'm not a fan of breakfast food, in general (except eggs ... and bacon), and I don't think any particular food should be relegated to a particular time of day. Curried chicken salad is as good at 9:00 AM as it is at 6:00 PM. Just sayin'. My girls are starting to agree.

This week, I forgot to write down a couple of days, and honestly, last Sunday feels like it was forever ago. It's been that kind of week. We picked up our foster puppy last weekend, an event which falls into the realm of what was I thinking?

Last week was also Spring Break, not that that really means anything to us, except that we didn't have co-op. Instead, the girls went to a friend's house for a painting party for decorations for their upcoming prom. Yes, homeschoolers can actually have a prom. The friend lives more than an hour's drive from here.

So, I drove them up, and I came home, and the next day, I drove back and came home. It was over five hours of driving. That's a lot of driving, especially for someone who hates to drive, and I was thinking, during those long, long hours winding through the mountains, that I love the scenery, and I love the ruralness, and I dream, often, of having a little piece of land up ... somewhere. And then, when we arrived at the beautiful house on a hill above a lake, I thought how lovely it would be to look out at that everyday. Then, I drove back, and back, and back ... and I realized that, while I would LOVE to live in a more rural area on a larger piece of land, if it included driving, I have to say no. I already drive more than I want to drive, because we only have one car, but there is simply no way we could be a one car family if we lived rurally. Not if we had the lifestyle we have at the moment.

To our credit, even with the busyness of our lives and all of that extra, unplanned, driving, we managed to eat from home, and since I don't, in general, buy convenience food, it means that I cooked.

On Sunday, according to my notes, we had braised rabbit. We harvested half of the bunnies from our winter litters, and so that's probably accurate. We also made rabbit sausage, and I'm pretty sure that was breakfast on Monday morning. I didn't write down what we had for dinner on Monday. I wish I could remember. I'll bet it was yummy.

Tuesday I baked a ham steak (from last fall's pig share). I always get our hams uncured, and so, I slow cook them, usually in a liquid. In this case, it was apple cider. Yum! I also made a peach cobbler using canned peaches, and we had pickles and some leftover quiche on the side.

Wednesday was Earth Day. I spent most of the morning cleaning up the yard and getting the garden ready for planting. The grandbabies came over in the morning and had a good time playing outside with us. For dinner, we had slow-roasted chicken and as an accompaniment, we had cornbread and pickles (not cucumber pickles, but pickled beets, carrots, and green beans).

Thursday, the girls ran off for the evening to their painting party, and the oldest grandbaby stayed the night at Grandma's - a treat for everyone. Deus Ex Machina and I took her to the movie store and had her pick out a DVD. It was turning into a very late evening, and a very long day for the grandbaby, and so we deviated from the challenge and bought some take-out burgers and fries. After drinking most of her milkshake, however, she didn't have any room for her burger and fries.

Friday night I made "Burrito Bowls", which is a gluten-free burrito option, a la Chipotles. I've been reading the Tightwad Gazette (a compilation of the 1990s newsletter from Amy Dacyzyn, a.k.a. the Frugal Zealot). A reader had sent in a tip on how to prep dried beans so that they cook faster, and I decided to try it. The technique calls for soaking the beans (the one step I never had time for) and then, freezing them. According to the letter writer, freezing them after soaking them breaks down the cellulose in the same way the boiling for two hours does, and so it only takes about 20 minutes to cook them from frozen. It worked pretty well, although I actually like my beans a bit mushier than these came out, but I'd do it again. In fact, I soaked black beans yesterday and will put them in the freezer today.

Last Friday, our burritos included seasoned beans, rice, seasoned ground beef, salsa, sour cream and grated cheddar. I found some store-bought tortillas in the back of the refrigerator for the girls, and they had actual burritos. Any leftover rice usually ends up in the dehydrator and leftover meat and beans will be made into chili.

I'm sure you've noticed a rather marked lack of any "fresh" foods. The wild greens are just now, just this week, starting to show. We'll probably harvest some dandelion greens and stinging nettles (if the bulldozer hasn't destroyed our patch) this week to add to our meals, but here in Maine, this time of year, eating locally, and especially from our larder, means that we don't really have fresh fruits and vegetables as an option. I've planted peas, which are just starting to sprout, and we have chives ready to harvest in the garden, but for the most part, nothing is growing in the garden, which means we really are, wholly, dependent on what is in the larder - what we stored from last year's harvest or what we've managed to keep extras of from our purchases at the grocery store.

Which made me think, perhaps, a better time of year to eat down the larder, for us, would be in June, after the garden has been planted and some things are starting to produce. Something to think about, anyway.

This is the last week of the challenge for us. We've saved about one-third what we normally spend at the grocery store, which tells me that, when we shop, we aren't buying food. I guess we spend a lot of money on coffee and other beverages ... and it's also interesting to note how much we spend on non-food items.

Are you doing the challenge? How've you been faring?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Eating Down the Larder - Week Two Wrap-Up

I have a confession. We have a spring ritual. It really is a thing for us, and while we could have just not done it this month, because of the food pantry challenge, we decided that we like our rituals, and we did it anyway - even though it violated the challenge.

Maine winters can be tough. It's cold. On the beach, the wind coming off the winter ocean is so cold it feels like it's ripping the skin right off our faces.

During the summer, the beach and downtown areas are so inundated with tourists, we can't even move down there. I avoid downtown during the summer, except on certain weekdays, in the middle of the day, early or late in the season when it's still summer, but some tourists have to get their kids home to go to school. So, like, the whole month of July we avoid downtown. Early June and late August, we might go down, but only during the day (before noon), and only in the middle of the week - Tuesday or Wednesday - because there are fewer tourists.

We've had friends who tell us how lucky we are that we live at the beach, and I won't disagree, except to say that we, residents, don't get to enjoy the full splendor of the beach, because we have so many summer visitors.

With all of that in mind, our first visit to the beach in the spring, when it's warm enough to go barefooted in the sand, is a big deal. It's usually in April. The visit always includes a stop at Lisa's Pizza, one of the only places downtown that stays open all year. It's a walk-up pizza place (they sell fried foods and pizza) with no seating, except the benches on the sidewalk, and every order is always "to go." During the winter, they put up a temporary wrap-around enclosure so that they can stay open. When Lisa's Pizza takes down their winter enclosure, it's spring. We take a walk on the beach, and then, stop at Lisa's for some fries before we head home. It's a thing. We've done it every year since the 2007 Patriot's Day Storm, when we walked down to the beach the day after, and then, had fries on the walk home.

Last week after volunteering at our local Food Pantry, it was a beautiful day, and we decided to stop at the beach on the way home. Lisa's enclosure was down. It was time. We had some French fries - not from our own kitchen.

Every other meal, however, was from our own pantry, including breakfast, and snacks while the girls were at dance and lunch on Thursdays when we have co-op. Popcorn is a featured treat for snacking. We also made some granola using blueberries we dried last summer.

For Sunday dinner, I made an amazing roast chicken with vegetables (using up the last of our carrots). Chicken ... on Sunday. How cliché, right? Monday was pizza. Tuesday we picked up the cow share, and so dinner was a roast. Wednesday we had Tacos. Thursday we had chili. Deus Ex Machina was craving steak, and since we had the cow share, we had grilled steak with mashed potatoes on Friday. Saturday we whipped up a stir-fry.

We have managed to use all of the potatoes, carrots, and squash that we had stored, but the Jerusalem artichokes are ready to be dug. We're out of apples, although we still have a couple of jars of applesauce, plus a bunch of berries in the freezer. The garlic is gone, but we still have onions. We still have rice and beans aplenty and also lots and lots of meat in the freezer (not even including the beef). We have plenty of bread, plus: flour (buckwheat, wheat, and sunchoke), corn meal, and gluten-free baking mix. We have fresh eggs, the chives are coming up in the garden, a few wild edibles are just about ready to pick, and the rabbits born over winter are ready for harvest.

We're not even close to starving, and we're not close to running out of food. Meals might get more bland, or more weird, in the next week, but we'll still probably eat well.

Are you doing the challenge? How have your meals been?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Eating Down the Larder - Week One Wrap-Up

When I agreed to do the challenge, I really thought we would have a hard time - not because we don't have enough food, but because our lives are so incredibly busy. A couple of years ago, I went to see my doctor. We chatted about my health and my concerns - one of which was my increasing waist-line. The issue is that we eat so late at night. Some nights, dinner (my primary meal of the day) is served as late a 8:00 PM. I know families whose kids are in bed before then.

My doctor agreed that eating so late was probably my biggest issue and asked if I couldn't change it. Three years later, nothing has changed. We're still eating dinner really late on several nights during the week.

Which is our other issue, because some of those late nights end with carry-out, and we can't have carry-out during the Pantry Challenge.

Luckily, my daughters are very committed to this challenge - interestingly - and on those days when I just wanted to cheat (who would know? :)), they would keep me in line. The fact is that we have a lot of food, and we managed, for the first week of the challenge, to make dinner at home, even when our busy, busy lives would have encouraged us to take the easy way out.

We officially started the challenge on Monday, April 6. That night, we had chicken soup. Tuesday, we had pasta. Wednesday, we had sandwiches and chili (from the freezer).

Thursday is a crazy-busy day. We leave home in the morning, drop Deus Ex Machina at work, and go to co-op. After co-op, I drop the girls at their dance classes, and go home to let the dogs out and check on things. Then, I pick-up Deus Ex Machina, and we go back to pick-up Precious at the dance school. On a usual Thursday, there would be just enough time to go to the grocery store before Big Little Sister and Little Fire Faery were finished for the evening, and then, back home.

We walk through the door, after that whirlwind day, at 8:30 ... and then, it's time for dinner. It's always been very easy to pick-up something quick at the grocery store (they have a salad bar and some prepared foods in the deli area), or to stop and pick-up a pizza. This week, we just came home, and we had eggs for dinner. It was delicious.

Friday, I cooked the last of our stored Hubbard squash. Big Little Sister made squash bread, and we had the bread, some of the cooked squash and pork chops for dinner.

Saturday was another of those crazy busy days. Big Little Sister and Little Fire Faery have dance until after 3:00 PM. In the morning, Deus Ex Machina usually has music, and Precious has group music lessons right after. Usually, Deus Ex Machina plays chauffeur, because he also has music lessons, but this Saturday he stayed home to boil sap. Saturday night we had a dance show for the girls, but we had just enough time between them finishing their dance classes and us having to travel back out to the dance show to put the maple syrup into jars, douse the fire, clean the pans, and gobble a couple of bowls of curried squash soup.

I picked up our cow-share from the butcher today, and so this week will feature beef in the latter part of the week. We're almost out of potatoes and carrots (clearly, we don't store enough of those!), and the cheese is just about gone - much to my daughters' dismay.

But we still have a lot of food! We just may end up with some very odd combinations for dinner in the next two weeks. Steak with corn muffins and pickled green beans, anyone?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

It Must Be Spring ...

I found a Post-It note on my desk a few weeks ago. It said something about how it had snowed somewhere out west of us - Michigan or somewhere like that - on April 14, 2014. I guess I don't understand why we're so surprised by what we woke up to this morning.

Except that, perhaps, it's not surprise, but dismay. People keep talking about how hard our winter was, like we got so much snow exclamation point. This winter's snow totals weren't the most snow I've seen in a single winter in the time I've lived here in Maine.

The problem is that it all happened, mostly, in the month of February. In February 2015, it snowed, here in Maine - significant snow of more than 6" each time - every three days or so. In fact, it was so bad that Deus Ex Machina had his first, ever in my memory, snow day.

Businesses closed down. People were advised to stay off the roads. It was tough cleaning up with so much snow all at once.

That's what made it a hard winter. And that's what made last night's storm difficult. We ended up with a couple of inches - enough to cover the exposed grass. Two inches of snow? A dusting! Most people haven't even bothered to shovel. It's been that kind of winter.

But it's not winter anymore, in spite of the snow. It must be spring, because we have baby chicks.

We ordered three new hens, and two straight run (we wanted hens, but didn't have that choice). The breeds this year are: light Brahma (one of the white ones), two silkies (the straight runs - one black and one white), one Cuckoo Maran (because we wanted chocolate brown eggs :)), and one Plymouth Rock.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Eat Down the Larder Challenge 2015

I can give up if it's not working, right?

So, Erica, over at Northwest Edibles, has decided to make her Eat from the Larder Challenge an annual thing ... I guess. Well, anyway, she started it last year, and she's doing it again this year.

Last year Deus Ex Machina and I weren't in the right place (mostly mentally) to participate in the challenge, although we probably had the food. There was a lot of stuff going on, including Deus Ex Machina having just started a new job, and our need to find a contractor to do some repairs on our house (which we're still working on - and for the record, it's not just "home improvements" - although it's certainly that - but rather it was a repair, as we had a leaky roof that was too serious for just putting down new shingles, a door that wouldn't open, because it was improperly installed to begin with, and mold. Yep).

This year is a new year, and when I proposed the idea to Deus Ex Machina, he was actually interested in giving it a go. Wow! Right.

So, I forged right ahead, and we're in! We got a late start. Deus Ex Machina was traveling last week (he got home on Saturday night), and so we didn't "officially" start until Monday, but we're really excited to see how well we do, although there are a few areas where I can see that we're already going to be lacking.

First, though, our rules:
  • No buying groceries for the month of April. In spite of raising all of our own chicken and having a respectable garden each year, we still spend a lot at the grocery store. We eat well and never skimp on getting exactly the food we want to eat, which means we spend a lot on organic/fair trade foods, and yes, we still do buy groceries, which is what makes this challenge even more exciting, but it will definitely test our food storage.
  • We can use any food that is already here at the house, was "on order" before the challenge started, is foraged, or is given to us, that is, if we are invited to dinner, we can feel free to go without guilt. That box of Girl Scout cookies my sister-in-law gave us today is also allowed.
  • There will be no last minute purchases to "stock up", and this one I may regret.
  • Beverages are excepted, including milk purchased from our local farmer.

What makes challenges these days really difficult is that our schedule has gotten incredibly crazy. We have classes and/or volunteer obligations five days a week, and Deus Ex Machina and I still have "day jobs." Plus we only have one car now, and I'm spending a lot more time driving than I ever have.

What makes it much easier than in the past is that Big Little Sister has turned into quite a talented and resourceful little cook. In fact, on her sister's birthday, she had planned to make a rainbow cake. No big deal, right? If that's what you thought, you'd be wrong.

Her plan was to make a sheet cake for EACH color of the rainbow. Yes, it was, a six-layer cake. The problem was that Little Fire Faery's birthday is during a time of year when our chickens aren't really laying very well, which means we didn't have enough eggs for six layers. So, she improvised. She found several substitutes for eggs in cake recipes.

But then, we also ran out of baking powder, and she found substitutes for that, too.

As such, I'm actually pretty excited for this challenge, because I can't wait to see what she improvises later in the month when we don't have as many choices as we have right now.

As for areas where I'm sure we will be lacking, I can already see that the cheese is going to run out, which will be really disappointing, because the cow-share will include hamburg, which we haven't had in a few months, and we would make chili or tacos, but without cheese, it won't be as much fun.

My goal is to blog, at least, once a week to share what we've been cooking. It should be fun, but don't look for any super exotic meals.

Well, except, maybe some of this for dessert some evening, because I was given some very overripe avocadoes, and I need to use them in something.

If you're interested in joining the fun, be sure to visit Erica's blog. This is going to be fun ;).

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Suburban Homesteading

In 2013, I was privileged to be invited to speak at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania (for the second year).

For years, I've referred to myself as a suburban homesteader, and I knew that there were a lot of people around the country who were doing just what my family was doing. The key difference seemed to be that the people who were making the biggest splash in the area of having a tiny farm on a miniscule piece of land were childless couples or families with adult children. So, I began to wonder about the "average" suburban family, and whether or not I could find people, like me, with kids who were also trying to farm their suburban lots.

There are, actually, several families, like mine, close enough to me that I could drive to their homes, and I called them, asking for an interview. At my presentation in 2013, I featured three families: mine, a family who lives on a small "town" lot on the Cape Elizabeth/South Portland line in Cumberland County, Maine (very urban), and this family, who live in a rural suburb.

The 17 year old featured in this piece raises our pig for us each year. They have a pretty remarkable farm, and when I asked the Mom, if she thought they could turn their hobby into something that could make them more resilient in hard times, she thought for a second. She said yes, with hesitation, but only because she admitted that farming as a way of life was not their goal. But she also admitted, in our interview, that if they had to transition to supporting themselves with their farm, small as it is, they probably could. They would just have to do a lot more with gardening than they do (she said it was, usually, a haphazard endeavor that yielded more weeds than produce, and I, promptly, encouraged her to eat the weeds ;)).

She also said something else that was pretty profound, and I thought made a lot of sense. For them, it wasn't so much a pursuit of self-sufficiency for her and her husband, because she never wanted a farm, but rather that she has given her daughters some incredible skills.

In addition to the animal husbandry lessons (and there are many given that they raise so many different kinds of animals), they've also learned how to make soap and cheese (from goat's milk), they've learned the value in a day's work, and they've learned to keep very good records (Lucia has to know how much it costs to raise our pig so that she knows how much to charge us). They've learned some business skills (they sell their soap, for instance, at craft fairs) that will carry over into other endeavors.

And all of this, because they had a little hobby farm on their rural suburban homestead.

I often tout starting a homestead so that we, the PARENTS, can be self-sufficient, and I don't, often, talk about the great lessons that kids can get from growing up on a small farm. One of the best lessons is self-confidence on one's ability to fend for oneself.

Here on Chez Brown, we're in the midst of the maple sugaring season, and my family is boiling sap today to make syrup. It's a lot of work, and they're all working pretty hard at it. If all goes well, by the time we're headed to our relatives' house for dinner this evening, we'll have a half gallon of syrup cooling on the counter.

My daughters may not be homesteaders in their future, and the Almeida girls may decide that they don't wish to raise sheep when they get older, but the bigger lessons, the important lessons, they won't forget, and those will be the things that propel them into a life of self-sufficiency and independence.

If you asked me if our nanofarm was worth all the bother, I'd say yes, every time. I'm pretty sure Wendy Almeida would, too.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

What Goes Up ... ???

I love going to the thrift store. In fact, for a year or two, the only clothes we bought new were underclothes and socks. Everything else was from the thrift store or hand-me-downs (mostly for my daughters).

The thing about thrift store shopping is it's kind of like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get, and good thrift store shoppers (i.e. one's who always find the best price on what they really need) make frequent visits, but never buy what's not on the list. A good thrift store shopper will have a list of items that they are usually looking for, be willing to wait to find that item, and rarely, if ever, make impulse buys.

I'm a mediocre (at best) thrift store shopper, but mostly that comes from not being a very good shopper in general. I tend to buy what I need when I need it (or buy what I want when I want it). Sometimes that instant gratification is what I need more than whatever ended up in the bag at the register. I fully recognize that shopping that way is bad, and so, my solution is to spend as little time in a store as is necessary.

Today, after taking Little Fire Faery and Big Little Sister to the dance school, Precious and I took a detour through the local Goodwill. I've been looking for a pair of flats to wear at the theatre when I usher, and since the shoes will only be worn occasionally, I didn't want to buy them new.

The first thing I noticed when we walked into the store was that all of the prices have gone up. The cost for children's clothes has almost doubled (from $1.99 for everything to "$3 and up" for most items - those not marked are $3 - most of the things we saw today were marked at $5 or more). Adult clothes are "$5 and up", which is a $1 increase). They still have the half-off-color-of-the-day deal, and a thrifty shopper would take advantage of that deal.

The other day, we saw an Old Navy ad for women's cotton "tees" (just a regular fitted shirt with no logo or design) for $5. Sometimes they even have better deals than that, and it gets tough for me. New shirt at Old Navy or used shirt at Goodwill for the same price?

Back in the day, *the* reason we started shopping at thrift stores was because the clothes were second-hand. We were keeping clothes out of landfills, and we were decreasing the demand for cheaply made clothes manufactured by near-slave labor, mostly in third world countries, by purchasing used clothes.

But what we've found too much of, over the years, are so many of these same cheaply-made-in-China (or wherever) clothes at the thrift store, and it's become a quandary, because sometimes the used stuff doesn't really last very long, which makes it not much of a bargain. So, we can get it new for about the same price we can get it used, wear it out to the point that it can't be resold at the Goodwill, and then repurpose it into a rag or some other usable item. We're still keeping it out of the landfill, and also it would take a bit longer for us to wear out the new one than it does to wear out the used one.

Or we can buy the used one and stick to our ethics, but we end up spending the same amount of money, or maybe, more, because we have to buy 1 1/2 x as many shirts to replace the one that wears out too quickly. And then, there's the question - if we are so willing to buy these cast-offs, does that encourage those other people (people who don't care about overflowing landfills or slave labor in Indochina, or downtown Los Angeles) to be crazy consumerists knowing that they can just donate their stuff to Goodwill (for a tax write-off), and then, buy the new stuff anyway.

Is a shirt worn by more than one person for about the same length of time more ethical than a shirt worn by a single owner until it's no longer wearable?

I guess, I'm wondering if there really is any savings - either to my pocket book or the environment.

Some things are great for finding at the thrift store. I still wouldn't buy new picture frames, unless I needed a very specific size that I couldn't find second hand. I wouldn't buy new plates or glasses, because there are so many choices at the thrift store. Curtains, cloth napkins, table clothes, and baskets are all thrift store finds.

And cool little gadgets, like manual coffee grinders, will always be something I buy used.

And some clothes, too. Like my wool pea coat, was a very good purchase. I bought it years ago, and I'm still wearing it. In fact, I just replaced the buttons that fell off, and so I think I'll probably be wearing it for a few more winters - assuming it still fits.

I was a little surprised ... and maybe a bit disappointed ... to note the pretty sharp increase in the prices at the thrift store today, but I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised, as prices have been going up every where for a long time. I guess I was just taken aback by discovering that it might, actually, be less expensive to get a women's fitted tee-shirt new at Old Navy (if price is the only consideration) than to get the same item used at Goodwill.

The positive is that, maybe, these increases in prices will, finally, force me to pull out the sewing machine and start making some of these ideas in my head a reality - like my plan to repurpose some old tee-shirts into a skirt.

Have you noticed prices going up in places where you didn't expect them to increase?