Filed under: Alternative Energy, Biking, Energy Savings, Growing Food, Local Food, organic gardening | Tags: Bike Kitchen, Blackberry Winter, eggshells, epsom salts, growing food, plants, water heater timer, worm tea
It’s that time again when I’ve got a few things I want to share with you, none of which are enough to write a whole post about. But here’s proof that good news comes in three’s:
Our one year old hot water tank quit working recently. I wanted a tankless, on- demand water heater to replace it. The good news is, the company that made the old heater is a LOCAL MANUFACTURER! American Water Heaters are made right here in good old Johnson City and are sold nationwide at places like Lowe’s and Sears. They agreed that it must be their defect so they replaced it. With the exact same model. They don’t make tankless heaters That was also the ‘bad’ news, because they wouldn’t give us a credit or refund, only an even exchange. So, we installed the next.best.thing. to a tankless -a $42 water heater timer. We set it to come on at 8 AM and go off at 8 PM but of course, you’d set yours for whatever works best for your lifestyle, since there are 14 possible settings on them. It’s a well-known fact that water heating is the single largest energy user in American homes, and installing the timer has reduced our electric bill quite a bit. Even though it goes off at 8 PM there’s always plenty of pretty hot water at 8 AM the next morning too! That tells me none of us need to be heating our water 24 hours a day, it’s merely a convenience we’ve all come to rely on as a result of decades of cheap energy. A timer like this is a completely painless way to reduce your household energy needs and make your life a lee-ttle bit more resilient in the process. Now granted, it’s no solar panel, but then again, it didn’t require a second mortgage either. I also found out that if we’d had to trash the old heater, the metal in it had some monetary value and could’ve been recycled; we had 4 people stop by and ask for it in the couple of days it laid in the yard waiting to be picked up by the company! Just sayin’…
If you have an adult bicycle you no longer use, I know of three places that could use it. First is the local Family Promise organization; they help homeless families transition to homes of their own. Sometimes those families have no transportation and a bike can certainly make their lives easier. They can be reached Mon-Fri by calling Aaron at 202-7805. Next is the ETSU Yellow Bike program that fixes up donated bikes, paints ‘em
red yellow, then ‘rents’ bikes to students for free to help them get around campus more easily. Contact them about your donation at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And last, but not least, if your old bike is in pieces, those pieces can all be used by the nonprofit Little City Bike Collective, which rebuilds and repairs bicycles for FREE. Their shop is located at 209 E Unaka Ave in JC. Here’s the link to their Facebook page. Make some space in your garage this spring, and make someone’s life easier by donating to one of these fine causes. And if you’re reading this and don’t live in Johnson City, I bet these same types of organizations in your community could use your old bikes too. Just sayin’…
After recently experiencing ‘Blackberry Winter’ here in Appalachia,we’re finally moving into a season of daily gardening now, and I hope to share tips with you over the summer that will help make your food growing more successful. I sure hope you’ll do the same and share any tips you’ve found that work for you in the comments section below. We started long ago saving our eggshells all year long, drying them, then grinding them in a little mini food processor-a mortar and pestle works well too, as long as the shells are good and dry. Then we add a handful to the planting holes of peppers and tomatoes which provides them with calcium and prevents blossom end rot, something we rarely experience any more. We also add a Tablespoon of Epsom Salts to those holes to provide magnesium as well. What better way to use your egg shells, eh? We finish by adding some compost to the hole, then fertilize with some ‘worm tea’ and stand back! Just sayin’…
Filed under: Alternative Energy, Climate Change, Community Gardens, Global Warming, Growing Food, Local Food, organic gardening, Peak Oil, Resilience, Transition Towns | Tags: Farmer's Market, growing food, hive bodies, raised beds, Solar Cooker, sustainable energy sources
I’ve been pretty busy with spring chores lately: building raised beds for our community garden plot…
cutting grass and making hot compost with the clippings, playing music, hosting company, working out and watching it rain a lot. But it’s mid-May folks, and I’m still making soups! I normally don’t make soups in warm weather, I like to reserve it for those cool days of fall and winter but last Thursday I had a guest for lunch and even though we were able to enjoy eating out on the patio for the first time this season, and it was sunny enough to cook it in my solar cooker…
the fact remains, I was making soup on May 2nd! Then, last weekend we had a house full of company from Nashville, so we decided to go to Asheville for the day. It was so windy and cool there that folks had coats and hats on all day. ‘course, we had fun in spite of the wind…
By the time the company left on Sunday, it was so cool and rainy I decided to make soup again, which we enjoyed again on Monday-May 6th and I gave the last bowl to my brother on May 7th, another cool day. It has gradually warmed this week, and I’ve been busy weeding and planting, but lo and behold, Sunday and Monday night low’s are forecast to be in the 30′s!!! If that ain’t soup weather I don’t know what is! My fall-planted pansies are still blooming their hearts out, and the lettuce hasn’t gone to seed yet. So I keep cutting it, thinking that any day I’ll see it elongate and begin going to seed, but so far, it’s holding well. And because it was a fall planted variety, it’s especially well suited for cool weather. Last year, I harvested a huge batch of honey in May, which was the earliest my bees had ever filled their supers, and that was simply because spring had arrived so early in 2012. This year, there’s not much honey flow at all because it’s been so wet and rainy. This week saw a RECORD BREAKING heat in Michael’s hometown in California, with 18″ of snow last week in Minnesota. “Record ‘latest ice out dates’ have been and will be set this year for many Minnesota lakes; a problem for some anglers this weekend as they gear up for the Minnesota fishing opener. Some may actually take their ice augers with them across the far north rather than lugging the boat along“. My friend from Oregon writes that her normally rainy, rainy season that used to last through May and often June too, has been replaced this year with weeks and weeks and weeks of dryness. You know, Portland, that rainy place.
This weather weirdness has made gardening difficult for me. I still haven’t planted my tomatoes or peppers, and just this week finally planted summer and winter squash, green beans, edamame and limas. Last year I picked my first beans in early June! If all this rain keeps up, I’m afraid my potatoes will rot before they produce, and the seeds I planted will be washed away. The good thing about raised beds in wet weather is that they drain faster. Conversely, the bad thing about raised beds in dry weather is that they drain faster.
So, why am I rehashing the spring weather? I just want folks to recognize and accept the fact that climate change is real, it’s happening and our weather is going to become even more unstable because unfortunately, we’ve reached the tipping point and the planet simply can’t ‘normalize’ anymore. We can’t change the weather, that’s a fact. All we can do now is to take steps to become more resilient. In order to survive and thrive in turbulent times we need to organize ourselves at the grassroots level to carry out a series of transitions-not only in terms of food and farming, but also in transportation, housing, health and education. From the state-wide climate action meeting I attended this week, to realtors touting a home’s walkability score as a selling point, we’ve started that transition. Just this week, Sebastopol,CA became the second town in that state to mandate that solar panels be installed on every new home built. The economic law of supply and demand ensures that the new mandates will begin to bring the price of the roof top electricity makers down to an affordable level for many more of us eventually. Community supported agriculture, community gardens and farmer’s markets continue to grow each year while 54 public schools are being closed in Chicago next year because of their being underutilized. Tennessee Transitions tries to explore some of the ways that we can gracefully make our own transitions to a rapidly changing climate and economy. After all, it’s not just the weather that’s weird.
I went to a meeting this evening of the LCAT- Local Climate Action Team. I was grateful to see over twenty people in attendance, but I found it incredulous to find out that (only) 18% of the American population is ‘ALARMED’ about climate change. Going around the room, we introduced ourselves and told why we were there. For me, my personal concern for fighting hunger has made me keenly aware that our current globalized food system is being affected by both Peak Oil as well as climate change. (Thanks Rev. John Shuck for linking and sharing this guide from your blog) For others that were present, their faith and their feeling that they should be involved in ‘Creation Care’ brought them there. Still others were scientists and researchers that have studied hard data and know the issues. Last but not least were the activists that have long seen “the writing on the wall”.
The speaker for the meeting was Dr. Tony Delucia, a public health expert that explained to us exactly how climate change is affecting our collective health. His computerized research data shows that, beginning in about 2020, rising temperatures and CO2 levels will cause an additional 18,000 heat related deaths each year! Climate change is relevant to all of us, unless perhaps, you’re already 90 years old. That said, the elderly are among those that will be hardest hit by heat waves-and of course, the droughts that often accompany them. (That’s where the food system gets involved too, and my personal concerns as well.)
Everyone present was interested in a better quality of life, and we plan to advocate for a cleaner, cooler future by working with the network of energy distributors throughout Tennessee to reduce our dependency on dirty coal by encouraging energy efficiency. We’re not just talking about changing our light bulbs here. We’re talking about smart meters, renewable power, monetary incentives for customers to purchase Energy Star appliances, bulk light bulb purchases, energy-efficient measures and other new programs. A sheet was passed around for each of us to check off ways we might like to help in this effort, and there really was something for everyone. I decided to be a blogger and letter writer, attend regular climate vigils, be a phone bank volunteer and serve as a musician when appropriate-maybe I’ll even write a song! How can you help? In the interest of promoting a deep understanding of the issues we face, please consider passing this post along to someone you care about, or leave your comments below so we can all be part of the discussion of how we can effectively create a better quality of life.
Filed under: organic gardening, fall gardening, Local Food, Sustainability, Resilience, Buy Local, Composting, Seasonal Eating, Growing Food | Tags: Farmer's Market, growing food, plants
I was in the grocery store the other day and overheard the produce manager telling a customer that the store had no lettuce, and wouldn’t have any for a week because the refrigerated truck hauling it across the country from California had broken down and the lettuce rotted before it could be off-loaded to another truck. This is one of those ‘Things that make me go, “hmmmm” ‘. So, let’s think about that… According to Purdue University’s Dept of Horticulture and Landscape website, (a most trusted source of food growing info for me) 81% of our nation’s lettuce is grown in California and 17% is grown in Arizona. Lettuce is a cool season crop, and needs lots of water for best growth. I have to question, why are we growing this staple in the freaking dessert??? Then of course after harvesting, it has to be immediately washed, chilled, packed, and then loaded onto refrigerated trucks for its’ 5 day trip across the country, where it’s then unloaded at distribution centers, then reloaded onto yet another truck for delivery to our favorite stores. Then we DRIVE OUR CARS to those stores to buy it, DRIVE HOME and put it in our refrigerators. Does any of that make sense to you? Nah, me neither.
That’s a picture of my current lettuce ‘patch’. This same amount could be grown in two window boxes with about 50 cents worth of seed. I consider growing lettuce a super bargain because it’s what I call a ‘cut and come again’ crop. Many many many bowls of lettuce have come from this little four-foot row. You can also see I’ve got my tiny bok choi planted beside it, for once it turns hot, the lettuce will be pulled out to make room for this new veggie, followed by collards in summer’s heat, followed by kale in the fall. All in about 4′ of space. There’s also some onions growing there, so I have a ready-made salad, free of e-coli and chemicals, and grown without any fossil fuels. My lettuce is nutrition packed because I always cut it the day I plan to use it. Factoid: once a fruit or veggie is cut, it begins to immediately lose it’s nutrient density.
If ever, in the course of a life, there was a time to plant food, build a pantry and invest one’s money in one’s life, it is now. Between Monsanto pouring millions of dollars into its’ efforts to control the world’s food supply…
the mystery of the disappearing honeybees still unresolved, with the 2013 Farm Bill losing its’ clout to help small farmers, and broken down lettuce trucks all over the interstates, the time to secure YOUR future is now. This spring. Here’s a money-and-fossil-fuel free way to start your own seeds…
When you’re cracking your eggs, tap them 3/4 of the way up the shell, rather than right in the middle. Don’t rinse the shells, that’s a waste of water and nutrition! The resulting ‘egg pot’ will be deep enough to start lettuce plants in, then you can transplant the whole thing right into a bigger pot, or a window box or your garden row. The shell will provide the little seedling some calcium, while it composts away to nothingness.
My favorite farmer..
is going to help me put together another small raised bed tomorrow. I plan to add homemade compost and manure, then plant it to a fast-growing green manure crop of buckwheat-followed by clover. By fall it’ll be ready to plant with more lettuce, some beets and broccoli, and I won’t be worrying about the truck breaking down, the price of fresh veggies, or what’s for supper! It’s a good feeling
Filed under: Climate Change, Earth Day, Global Warming, Green Cleaners, Reducing Waste | Tags: growing food, Waste reduction
On this Earth Day, I’m in the middle of a thoughtful and troubling book with the same title as this post. It’s written by Helen Caldicott, and her message is so much on my mind today that I felt inspired to tell you some of what I’m learning from her book. First let me say that the author spoke right here in my city last year, and I MISSED HER TALK!! Michael heard her speak many years ago, out in California, but I wasn’t able to go hear her locally, and I’ve regretted it ever since-especially now that I’m reading this book. Ms. Caldicott is a co-founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility and was named one of the most influential women of the twentieth century by the Smithsonian Institute. She hosts the weekly radio program “If You Love This Planet” and is the author of numerous books, none of which I’ve read-until now. Since I don’t want this post to turn into a book report, I decided to pick one thing that I can do to make a better world, and let you read the book for yourself (yes, it’s in the library).
After a lot of thought, several conversations, and some quiet meditation time on this matter, I know what I can do to make a better world. It came to me while recalling a conversation that I had at church yesterday with my friend Deanna. She said my blog inspires her; not necessarily to DO something, but it simply inspires her. And you know what? That’s good enough. I hope I can inspire you too, just like Ms Caldicott has inspired me with her writing. I changed my damn light bulbs years ago, I gave up meat, I grow food, geez, I even moved to town so I could become more dependent on my feet and my bicycle to get me to the places I need to go. I carry my tote bags to the store, I make my own green cleaners, and I don’t throw things ‘away’ (since there is no ‘away’) and still, the CO2 levels are rising, the seas are rising and the temperatures are rising. In other words, I don’t feel like my individual actions are having much effect except on my own personal life. But yet another conversation just this morning has given me a new idea. Tonya said ‘we need POLICIES’ to be made to protect the earth and our grandchildren. President O’bama will make his decision about the Keystone Pipeline project by the end of the year. The State Department’s official public comment period about it is now. You can sign a petition against the Tar Sands project by signing it here: http://act.350.org/letter/a_million_strong_against_keystone/ OR you can make your voice heard by sending an email to: email@example.com. I’m trying to make a better world by inspiring you to help make policies that will be best for the future of our country and our planet. I’ve never asked anything of you, dear reader. But this is important.Please take one minute-today!- to comment. One minute. One Earth. Pass it on too, then let me know in the comments section below if you’re inspired enough to take action. Together, we can do this.
Filed under: Backyard Chickens, beekeeping, Climate Change, Community Building, Community Gardens, Creating Community, Earth Day, Peak Oil, Resilience, Urban Hens, Urban Living | Tags: next door
I thought you might need some good news, something to brighten this dreary post-bombing day. Here’s what’s beautiful in my neighborhood this week:
* My daily walk took me on a different route, where I discovered a lively new beehive in one neighbor’s suburban driveway! I wrote a card and told ‘them’ I was very happy to see their bees and that I support their efforts, then delivered it in person to their door. If you see your neighbor planting a garden, tending their chickens, hanging their clothes out or some other such similar effort to live their urban life in a way that supports the things you care about, a supportive voice might be appreciated by them~and, you may make a new friend in the process!
* I’m making more of a point to engage the two young men that live next door to us. They have a new puppy, are grad students at the local university and seem truly nice. They’re slowly warming up by asking questions about us, our dog, our current backyard project of raised bed building, etc. It’s nice to know Ryan and what’s-his-name OK, so I forgot one name, but I’ll make it a point to ‘get it’ again soon-the pup’s name is Pippa)
* We’re taking part in our neighborhood’s annual cleanup tomorrow, as part of the Great American Cleanup. I plan to go over early to help the graffiti cleanup team, then Michael and I are giving a ‘State of the Community Garden’ address at the community center.
* Our ‘neighborhood association’, a fun, loose-knit group, is planning a walk-about porch party May 4th. Similar to the Christmas walk-about, neighbors walk to the designated hosts porches this time, where we’ll be served each family’s signature drink and a
#!hor derve?&% snack. I love this idea and am already looking forward to my new hood’s annual July 4th party too! You can start a similar group for your hood by signing up at: https://westholston.nextdoor.com/refer/?is=nfhd (and if you let me REFER you before you launch your own website, we’ll BOTH win a $50 Starbucks gift card. It’s an easy, relaxed way to stay connected with your neighbors, I promise. And of course, if you ever ARE in a ‘lock in/cell-phones-down’ situation like those folks are in Boston today, you can still connect and communicate.
“From oil dependence to local resilience”. I feel strongly that building community with our neighbors is going to be KEY to our ability to respond to the challenges of climate change, resource depletion and global inequity that we are facing. Seeing the residents of cities and towns come together when they are under duress-from Newtown to Boston-proves that it’s our neighbors and friends that we’ll turn to when times are hard. Making those connections is so much easier, and definitely more fun, when you’re NOT in a stressful or tragic situation. It’s spring- get out and find out what’s beautiful in your neighborhood too!
Filed under: Composting, Mindful Consumerism, organic gardening, Peak Oil, Uncategorized, Urban Living | Tags: Consumerism, frugal, growing food
We’ve been busy here these last couple of weeks on our little patch of urban. We planted 7 blueberry bushes that were dug up from a friend’s blueberry patch. They’re only ‘sticks’ now, but in two years we’ll be blueberry rich!
We’ve also built two more 4′x20′ raised beds for our community garden plot, planted peas, onions and potatoes and are nurturing our tomato and pepper seedlings in the greenhouse, which has required twice-a-day watering and venting this week with the heat we’ve had. So, even though that’s a pain for sure, it’s only for a month or two, and raising our own seedlings allows me to choose my very favorite varieties and is much cheaper than buying transplants. Because I have more time than money, it makes sense to take the time to do this and I’ve learned what I call a ‘life skill’-how to reliably raise healthy plants from seeds. Now, about those raised beds…
I’m always searching for frugal and healthier ways of doing things and I’ve found a good alternative to using treated wood for my raised beds. This ‘recipe’ for treating your own wood is as close to organic as I’ve found, while being effective in it’s ability to protect wood from rot. And it’s a much healthier choice for my vegetables and for the environment than pressure treated woods. I got the idea from Organic Gardening magazine many years ago, and the beds we left behind when we moved last summer were still holding pretty firm 8-9 years after building them-from plain pine lumber. I put 5 coats of this on every surface of the wood, using an old cheap brush for the chore, letting it soak in and dry between coats. Years ago, I got lucky at a yard sale and bought 8 boxes of paraffin wax for $2. About the same time, I was given several gallons of boiled linseed oil, so I haven’t had to buy those things to make this preservative until now. When we made our beds those many years ago, paint thinner was about $6 a gallon; now it’s $10.95 and a box of paraffin wax is at least $6! (By the way, if you have a veteran’s ID card, show it upon checkout at Lowe’s or Home Depot for a 10% discount) Before I buy any more paraffin wax though, I’ll just save candle stubs and melt them to make it, unless someone gives me a good reason why that wouldn’t work. Anyway, here’s the recipe:
1. Slowly melt 1 ounce of paraffin wax over low heat in a double boiler (do not heat over a direct flame).
2. Outdoors, carefully pour just under a gallon of solvent (mineral spirits, paint thinner, or turpentine, at room temperature) into a bucket; then slowly pour in the melted paraffin, stirring vigorously.
3. Add 3 cups of exterior varnish or 1½ cups boiled linseed oil to the mix, stirring until the ingredients are blended.
4. When the mixture cools, either dip your lumber into it or brush it onto the wood, making sure that you thoroughly coat all surfaces, especially the cut ends. Dipping the boards for 5 to 15 minutes allows the repellent to soak more deeply into the wood.
When we constructed our first bed in our new garden space last fall, we drove our 26 year old ‘farm’ truck to a nearby horse barn and filled it with free manure and bedding, then mixed that with the garden soil and compost and let it rot all winter. But we want to plant these two new beds right away, so we’ll have to wait until this fall to add horse manure to them, or risk frying all our seedlings. Frugal note here: If you have an old truck that you only use for hauling stuff occasionally like we do, you can register it as a farm vehicle and your insurance is much, much cheaper that way. Ain’t she a beaut? You should see the other side
All this is simply to say that frugality allows us to live well on less. Much less. I’ve found that by waiting for things to ‘come to me’, rather than buying them right away almost always pays off. Yesterday during my bimonthly thrift store trip, I finally found the right sized lamp shade I’d been searching for for 50 cents, the exact burgundy-colored set of placemats I’d been wanting for $1, and a cool set of professionally framed prints in the perfect color to match my bathroom for $6. I’d been on the lookout for all these items for months, it’s just that the stars and moon must’ve lined up just right on this particular day. Planning ahead and being patient paid off.
I’ve also found that growing your own food is like printing money. Just like the sharply higher prices I quoted for the paint thinner and wax, food prices have risen sharply too. Growing our own allows us to eat fresh, organic food for a fraction of what that same food would cost in the store or at the market. I harvested a large produce bag of kale and a head of cabbage this week from last fall’s garden and I still have lettuce and parsley going strong too.
Combined with a few basic staples from my pantry, that’s enough for a gourmet meal of Soba Noodles with Kale and Peanut Sauce with a side of stir-fried cabbage on Friday, a pot of Potato-Kale soup with a side of Fusion Slaw on Saturday, and finally, a fiery Chinese stir-fry on Sunday, using the last of the shredded cabbage and kale, along with home-grown sprouts, red and green peppers, carrots, snow peas and celery, all ‘put by’ last fall.
The purpose of this blog is to share ideas that might inspire you to begin transitioning to a lower-energy, lower-consumption, lower-income lifestyle-if times get hard or even if they don’t. Even though I’ve been on a media fast for a few weeks, I’ve still managed to hear about many scary things going on in our government, in our country and in our world. I may not be able to control those things, but I can sure as hell control how I spend my money, who I vote for, how I spend my time and what I eat. And that’s saying a lot, don’t you agree?
Filed under: Frugality, Green Cleaners, Sustainability, Urban Hens | Tags: frugal, leftovers, vinegar, voting
It seems about once a month I have several little ideas I want to share with you, none of which could make a complete post by themselves. So I’ve decided to make ‘Just Sayin’ a regular feature of this blog so I’ll have a way to do just that. Many of you have told me you like it and it gives me a way to clear my head of what I wanted to tell you-any of you that know me well, know that my memory sucks, so it’s best if I do it this way.
I’ve come across an idea that is so simple, frugal and useful I can’t believe I haven’t tried it before now. You know those household cleaners that are orange based? If you’ll save your orange peels (minus the white, pithy part) in a jar covered with white vinegar, let it sit a few weeks, then strain it into a (repurposed) spray bottle, you can use it diluted or full strength for cleaning anything but wood and clear glass. It smells nice, uses up all those winter citrus peels, and is One.More.Thing. you don’t need to buy. Just sayin’…
Speaking of vinegar… did you know that if the vinegar you buy doesn’t say that it’s made from ‘whole grains’, ‘fruits’ or ‘wine’ that it’s made instead with a starter that comes from petroleum? How UNsustainable is that? Check the labels on off -brands of vinegars since I assume if you are eco-concious enough to be making and using your own homemade green cleaners, you care about such things. One of these days I’m going to make some vinegar from my own starter and when I do, I’ll write about it here. In the meantime, check out this new Heinz Cleaning Vinegar, with 6% acidity, compared to 4 or 5% for other brands. Just sayin’…
Another ‘a-ha!’ moment came to me recently. Years ago, when I first began using cloth bags for carrying my purchases, I’d forget to bring them to the store with me. That is, until I started keeping them in the car. I don’t eat out often, but I’ve noticed that many times, it’s more food than I can eat so I’d have to ask for a f-f-f-ffoam container to hold my leftovers. I solved the problem by keeping my own takeout container in my car too. Ditch the foam. Just sayin’…
I’ve attended a couple of city commissioner candidate forums recently and have narrowed my choices down to the two that I feel will best be able to guide my community during these transitional times of energy depletion, climate change and economic sequesters, fiscal cliffs and recessions. They also assure me they’re okay with backyard-hens, and that sounds good to me. Please find out where your candidates stand on issues that are important to you before you vote. Just sayin’…
Filed under: Global Warming, Herbs | Tags: cyber attacks, European banks, Monsanto!, North Korea
Destroyed by MTV,
I hate to bite the hand that
Feeds me so much information
The Pressure’s on the screen
To sell you things that you don’t need
It’s too much information for me
Duran Duran – from the song, Too Much Information, 1993.
This was a hit song twenty years ago. I didn’t even own a computer then and had no idea that today the Internet would be such a big part of my life. I never have watched much TV, but the modern-day miracle of the world-wide web has allowed me to “take a trip and never leave the farm”. It is my go-to source for everything from recipes to world news to this blog. This weeks’ massive global cyber attack caused me some minor irritations, while I was also dealing with some major computer hassles due to problems with my virus protection software. Not a good combination on yet another coldish, gray day at the end of this long-ass winter. But you know what? Because I couldn’t get to Word Press to write this post, and because I was running an hours-long scan on my system, I was forced (oh no!) to do other things with my time. Here’s what I did instead:
Visited a friend who sent me home with potted herb plants and fresh cut arugula
Went to my tai chi class AND worked out in the gym
Cooked a delicious slooww food meal and used the arugula, along with lettuce and kale from my raised bed, to make a fine salad to go with it
Finished reading my library book
Made a big bowl of popcorn and watched an old VHS movie-yes VHS! (as part of my ongoing effort to declutter and get rid of stacks of them that are taking up valuable real estate in my den, I’m rewatching all the oldies before making a decision on what to keep, and what to get rid of-it’s a tough job but somebody’s gotta do it. Watch for them soon on Freecycle!)
Took the dog for a walk
Dreaming of summer, I hemmed a pair of shorts
Walked down to the community garden just to see how everyone’s plot looked
Made phone calls to some of my mom’s old friends in Florida and Alabama
Practiced music pieces that Michael and I are working on for upcoming events
Because I ended up having SUCH a fine day sans computer yesterday, I decided today was another opportunity to disconnect from my virtual online life. So this morning I visited another friend, ran lots of small errands I’d been putting off for two weeks, enjoyed seeing more friends that stopped by to visit us, did some house work, cut the grass, straightened up the tool shed, met even more friends at a new-to-us-restaurant for dinner tonight, practiced our music again, worked on my ‘brain games’ and now, here I am, sitting in front of the computer that is, once again, behaving ‘normally’, and enjoying writing again, while wondering where the line crosses between enjoyment and TMI.
I’ve been feeling pretty blue lately, blaming it on the lousy weather, personal grief, and this weeks’ bleak news of Monsanto’s Protection Act victory, more climate change denial from lawmakers and those hell-bent on the X#%##%*!L Pipeline, the fragile European banking system, North Korea rattling their sabres and more. And that was just THIS WEEK in the news! I’ve decided to go on a news fast. I’m feeling powerless and hopeless and I don’t function well when I feel this way. So, a big “Thank You” to the cyber attackers for helping me overcome my internet and news addiction. It lifted my funk and brought me a renewed awareness and appreciation for all I have to be thankful for. The break also helped me to refocus on the very intent of this blog, which is to discover ways for you to unplug from mainstream assumptions about learning and living, disconnect from the artificial process of life and discover the freedom and joy in learning and living more authentically within your community and without overwhelming you. Let me know if it ever becomes ‘TMI’, ok?
Filed under: Frugality, Mindful Consumerism, Voluntary Simplicity | Tags: simplicity
My 86-year-old mother died Monday, twelve years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Being a child of ‘The Great Depression’ defined her, and ultimately, me too. She was one of the few moms that worked a full-time job when I was growing up during the 50′s, but because of her sheer thriftiness and frugality she was able to keep making her house payments long after she and my dad divorced, finally paying my childhood home off. When President Carter closed Air Force bases around the country as a budgetary measure, she was forced to transfer to Florida in order to keep her civil service job, so she sold that very modest home, and used the proceeds and her savings to pay cash for a new condo right on the water. Over the next 25 years I believe she saved close to a quarter million dollars, all the while only averaging about $18,000 a year. I did the math just now for the first time ever. She must’ve saved close to 50% of her income every year!
Oh, but she led a good life, even on so little. She took ballroom dance lessons, tithed to her church, enjoyed wearing fashionable clothing, eating out, drinking wine and laying on the beach in her down time. She sent me and my four children a gift check for every single birthday and Christmas, took occasional weekend gambling cruises on Mississippi River boats, once or twice enjoyed a Caribbean cruise on a luxury liner, and came to visit us in Virginia and Ohio twice a year. In other words, she didn’t lead a deprived existence at all. She was a creative genius when it came to finding the funds to do the things she enjoyed, all while saving 50% of her paycheck. The dance lessons lasted for almost 15 years and began with a free trial lesson, followed by paid ones until she got good enough to compete. At that point she got to participate at greatly reduced prices and enjoyed good health and great joy while doing so. Her clothes (2 very full closets worth!) came from the base thrift stores and yard sales. (All that dancing allowed her to wear the petite sizes that were always available in such places) She drank Two Buck Chuck wine (or it’s local equivalent), went to gamble with a $10 limit and quit when she lost it or won, whichever came first, always bought used furniture and appliances and paid cash for her new cars, although I only remember her ever buying two new cars during that 25 year period that she worked. I believe the 10 day cruises were offered to her half off because she agreed to spend her evenings dancing with the other paying guests. And last but not least, while she was teaching Sunday School and supporting her church financially, she was teaching me to be frugal too. She also taught me there’s a huge difference between being frugal and being cheap. Frugal is delaying pleasure and instant gratification to make a big purchase or to pay off debts. Cheap is when your spending habits affect your quality of life, or when you never splurge a little even when you do have the money to spend. I believe the difference also lies in the mindset we have around money. If you feel deprived, neither cheap nor frugal feels good or right. Mom never complained about money or the choices she made, so I don’t believe she felt deprived. “Satisfied” would more appropriately describe her attitude.
So, what’s the point of this tribute to frugality? The Alzheimer’s diagnosis and subsequent assisted living and nursing home care took every dime she had, but I’m forever thankful she had saved and planned for that possibility. As a young bride and mother, I went through a period when I wanted nothing to do with Mom’s frugality. I saw it as deprivation. Of course my overconsumption and overspending finally led me to a personal ‘fiscal cliff’. I could jump off, or retreat. I chose the latter. And by applying the lessons I’d been taught, I began to see how it really was all about the choices I was making, not how much or how little money I had. As I began to experience the joys of living debt free, and the freedom it brought to my life, it became easier and easier to change my own relationship with money. Far from feeling deprived, you can color me satisfied too. Following Mom’s examples of living
within beneath my means, and without debt, has enriched my life immeasurably. Thanks Mom!
One more thought before I close: I hope none of you will confuse frugality with poverty. The course I took when I reached my fiscal cliff, and eventually shared with others because of its profound affect on my life, was called “Voluntary Simplicity”, never to be confused with INvoluntary Simplicity, which IS a forced deprivation of the basics of life. Our national economy, as well as those of countries from Greece to China, has reached its own fiscal cliff but no one seems to be paying attention. A continually growing economy is no longer healthy, but a cancer. Like Alzheimer’s, we’ve collectively forgotten how to live within our means, choosing instead to borrow from tomorrow to pay today’s debts. Teach your children well, they’ll thank you some day.
Filed under: Alternative Energy, Backyard Chickens, beekeeping, Closed Loop Systems, Emergency Preparedness, Energy Savings, Food Storage, Herbs, Rain Barrels, Resilience, Urban Hens, Urban Living | Tags: beer making, Summer Kitchen, water systems, wood fired oven
Here’s an example: Let’s say you have a beehive and a little coop with a couple of laying hens in the backyard. And let’s also say you have a modest vegetable garden, a few fruit trees, a strawberry patch and some blueberry bushes planted out by the shed. The one thing all those things need for survival is water. Now, suppose your region suffers through a drought like the one that’s been going on in the midwestern states for several years now and water rationing becomes a reality in your town. Or suppose storm-produced flooding or power outages overwhelms and shuts down your city’s municipal water system. How would you take care of your water needs? Our great grandparents had wells, springs, cisterns and outhouses for dealing with their water needs but we modern urban dwellers are completely dependent on complex, energy- intensive water systems.Why not put in place your own water system? Here’s some ideas to help you do just that:
- Landscape your yard with a rain garden to capture and divert excess rainwater into an area that your bees and fruit trees can easily access
- Set up rain barrels, using your roof as the channel device
- Install an underground tank in the yard, a dirt-floored cellar or even under a deck to store even more rainwater. If underground storage isn’t feasible, above ground tanks are available, and now you can buy slimlined tanks that form a fence, serving dual purposes:
One option for an almost endless supply of drinking water is to purchase a gravity-feed counter top water filtration system that uses no electricity and very long-lasting carbon filters that can clean raw, contaminated water well enough to allow you to drink it. This is our home’s ‘drinking station’ and I’ve read where this particular type of filtration system is used by Vista and Peace Corps workers to enable them to have clean drinking water while working in third world countries.
At the very least, you can also store extra drinking water in jugs in the basement or even under the beds-anywhere it won’t freeze. Humans and pets can go for weeks without food but only a couple of days without water. When tornadoes or storms are bearing down on us is NOT the time to think about emergency water. Plenty of clean water can be provided right from your own home with a little advance planning.
What are some other ways your home can become empowered to support YOU?
- A small solar array can provide you with some hot water or generate a bit of electricity, and with prices at an all time low, coupled with tax incentives, solar has become more affordable
- Using your backyard to grow a mini orchard, a garden- and perhaps raise some meat rabbits in hutches- could go a long way towards feeding your family
- Hanging your clothes to dry outside on a clothesline or inside on a rack
- Growing fresh herbs for cooking and medicinal purposes
- Brewing your own wines and beers in the basement can make hard times a little less so
- Adding a small solar greenhouse over a south-facing window of your home can provide you with fresh food in winter AND be an extra source of heat
- Building a wood fired brick oven on the back patio can provide you with a wonderful way to cook food and heat water if the power is out-or not
- Or convert that patio into a full-blown screened in ‘summer kitchen’ with running water from, you guessed it, your stored rainwater
- … the list of things your home can be empowered to do is almost endless.
Many people make money by using part of their home for a purpose other than simply shelter and refuge; from renting a spare bedroom to offering daycare, the possibilities are endless. One very popular family owned pizza shop in the heart of our downtown has built a wood fired brick oven that’s used for baking their pies, and they live upstairs. Root cellars and basements can be mighty useful for food and pantry storage as well as work space. Garages can be converted to workshops, studios and more.
The systems you put into place in your home make you able to produce more, become less dependent, and live a better life. Whether it’s a water, energy, or food system, the synergies between these systems compound this effect. Just like in the case of modern-day financial assets, savings or investment accounts get increasingly valuable due to compounding over the long term. Empower your home to take care of your needs!
Filed under: Climate Change, Community Building, Global Warming, Peak Oil, Resilience | Tags: simplicity, woodstove
There’s a useful parable about a man who comes upon a sparrow along the edge of a road. The sparrow is lying on its back with its feet sticking upward. The man asks the sparrow what it is doing. “I heard that the sky is falling,” the bird replies, “and I want to hold it up.” The man laughs at the bird. “You believe that you can hold up the whole sky?” “No,” the bird says. “But one does what one can.”
With all the problems of the world, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, or to feel as though the things we’re doing can’t possibly make a difference. Been there, done that. In fact, I still feel that way some days. Happily, today’s not one of ‘those days’ though.
I’ve had the luxury of keeping warm with an energy-efficient wood stove for the last 10 winters, but that all changed when we moved to our current home last summer. Now we’re keeping the thermostat low while trying to stay comfortable in a 113 year old house. It seems my hands are always cold, especially at night while I’m in bed reading, covered up to my neck with quilts. The hand that holds the book outside the covers freezes! Or when I am at my desk, my ‘mouse hand’ always seems extra cold. Then I saw this idea on the internet and knew that even I could do this simplest of things to feel more comfortable. I’ll let the pictures tell this simple story:
I really can’t believe how much warmer and more comfortable I feel using my ‘new’ fingerless gloves! The pictures I saw online of this project all showed them made using heavy knit sweaters, but I felt I wouldn’t be comfortable with all that bulk and I was right. The thinner knit is perfect for me. If you haven’t already tried this remedy I suggest you go to the back of your closet right now, find an old sweater you don’t wear anymore and cut the sleeves off, then cut a thumb-hole. You can sew it all up and make it nice and neat, or you can do like I did and just leave it as is and be warmer within 5 minutes. Whatever your choice, you won’t be disappointed in the comfort they offer, I promise you. Oh yeah, if you don’t cut too much sleeve off the sweater, you can turn that raw edge under and have yourself a vest or shell to wear under other things. It’s still hard for me to believe that something this small made such a difference in my comfort.
Of course my cold hands aren’t part of the world’s problems, but the reality is that we are fast approaching a tipping point tin terms of climate disruption, food production, financial
sequestering meltdown and Peak Oil. (Yes, I KNOW the stock market is breaking records and I personally couldn’t be happier about that, but knowing that what goes up must come down concerns me too.) So, cold hands aside, with problems this big, what can I do about them? Like the sparrow, one does what one can. Whether it’s growing a tomato in a pot, or participating in a rally against the proposed XL pipeline, we can all do something.
What are you doing to help mitigate the coming changes in our world? What are you doing to make your life and that of your family and community more resilient and self-sufficient? Do you feel overwhelmed~ or empowered? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Tomorrow might be ‘one of those days’ for me and your comments might be exactly what I need to get through it.
Once again, I’ve got a number of things on my mind, none of which would make a complete post here, but collectively, add up to some kind of whole at least.
I’m doing more and more Asian/Indian cooking these days, because their way of eating focuses on grains and veggies, with a tiny piece of meat or fish used almost like an afterthought. This kind of plant-based eating appeals to Michael and me because it’s healthy for us, it’s more frugal to eat this way, and it’s certainly more sustainable for our planet. This new-to-me way of eating is a far cry from the deep-fried diet of meat and potatoes that Paula Dean and I grew
fat up on. I’ve been on a steep learning curve, but I’ve discovered a couple of things that have saved me some time and money (and really, it doesn’t get any better than that does it?)
Did you know you can freeze fresh ginger? Growing up in the deep south, ‘Ginger’ was a girl’s name, not something you ate. Ever. But it turns out that if you peel the root then wrap it in waxed paper, and slip that into a freezer container, you can then remove it from the freezer when you need it and slice off a chunk the size you need. Frozen ginger is pretty easy to slice, and easier to grate than fresh! And after grating my knuckles one too many times, I got a ginger grater, which I really enjoy using. Because it’s a well made and simple tool, has no batteries or moving parts, I’ll have it the rest of my life I’m sure. Just sayin’…
Speaking of ginger, I’ve been reading about that it’s not as hard to grow as I once thought, so I’m going to start some in a pot this spring and see what happens. Freezing will kill the plant, so by planting it in a pot, I can bring it inside each winter. That might become one less thing to add to my grocery list. If you’ve got any experience growing ginger, I hope you’ll share it in the comments section below.
Another item used often in my new favorite way of cooking is curry powder. The mixes I found weren’t to my liking, and pricey to boot, so I made up the following recipe and it’s got just enough ‘heat’ for me and a great flavor. By the way, buying fresh spices in bulk online saves me a bundle. Just sayin’…
Homemade Curry Powder (medium heat)
4 tsp cumin powder
3 1/2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp. ginger
2 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne or chili powder
Now, on a completely different track, I wanted to share with you some repurposed things I’ve been having fun with lately. The first was making tote bags from empty 40 lb bird seed bags. Use a Micro Tex needle and nylon thread for this. I spent a fun snowy afternoon with a bird feeding friend recently and we made this. You can find directions all over the internet so I won’t repeat them here, but these are durable, cool looking totes. Just sayin’…
I was at a local thrift store recently and saw a bed skirt/dust ruffle in a cheerful blue and yellow print that reminded me of a dear friend’s kitchen. This friend had celebrated a milestone in her life recently and I had been trying to come up with something special for her to commemorate the occasion. So, I bought the skirt for 50 cents and made this for her in less time than it would’ve taken me to ‘go shopping’ for a gift. I didn’t have a pattern, I just wrapped it around me and cut where I thought I should. Turns out, I’ve got enough of it left to make 3 or 4 more just like it. Not a bad way to say “you’re special” for just about a dime, eh? Just sayin’…
OK, so what do all these things have in common? Seemingly not much. BUT! creating a way of living that’s based on self-reliance, creativity and frugality will enable us to re-create and transition to a future in ways that aren’t based on cheap, plentiful oil, but on our own skills. Whether it’s sewing, cooking, repairing things or making new ones, those skills will save you money and will enable you to be far more resilient during hard times. Just sayin’…
Filed under: Canning, Climate Change, Community Gardens, Composting, Frugality, Peak Oil, Rain Barrels, Resilience, Voluntary Simplicity | Tags: Consumerism, frugal, growing food, outdoors, simplicity
I can’t believe February’s almost over and I haven’t written a post all month. I’ve been quite busy working on some small home projects, tackling a small mountain of sewing repairs, finishing up January’s library loans, and taking part in some time consuming committee work at my church. They’re all fine, indoor activities for what I’m hoping will be our final Winter month, but I’ll be sooo happy when I can get outdoors again and begin planting and gardening.
My New Year’s resolution to slow down to the ‘speed of
light life’ is starting to have an effect. I’m finding more time to be spontaneous, and more time to do those things that are most gratifying to me. I gain a lot of pleasure in being a domestic Goddess and don’t consider it ‘gender inequality’, but that’s just me. And even though retirement has certainly given me extra time in my daily life, that extra time had become so filled with activities, that I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by them all. Retirement also comes with a fixed income and I wanted to focus my life energy on trying to maximize that income, all the while increasing my happiness and well being quotas. Slowing down and eliminating some of the to-do’s allows that to happen. After a hiatus from gardening last summer due to our mid-season move to town , I truly missed the growing, preserving and of course, the fresh food that we’ve come to depend on from our garden. We’ve witnessed rising food prices this winter; $4 a pound for butternut squash, for example, along with questionable food products (horsemeat burgers anyone?), Listeria and Salmonella scares at our beloved Trader Joe’s stores, and according to the January 15th ‘U.S. Drought Monitor’, moderate to exceptional drought still covers 58.9% of the contiguous U.S. (And by the way, what the hell has happened to gas prices this week?)
So,what’s a body to do? My plan is to grow more food and then find ways to do it more sustainably. This is the year I hope to become more adept at having no- or-low-till beds, seed saving, cover cropping and succession planting, mulching and capturing rainwater to irrigate with during the dry spells, making compost with nothing more than leaves and urban-sourced manures, and tending vermiculture bins- all of which will reduce my dependence on ‘store bought’ inputs. Market prices for food and gasoline, the lingering drought, the state of Georgia making thirsty gulping noises again along with North Korea behaving very badly all serve to make life feel so out of control that I find growing food is the best medicine for my personal angst. It’s a 2-part strategy since it’s not just the food, but the actual being in the garden that offers me peace in troubled times. I’m gardening this year as if my life depended on it.
P.S. I thought some of you might be interested in attending this lecture:
Filed under: Backyard Chickens, Food Storage, Food Waste, Frugality, Peak Oil, Reducing Waste, Urban Living | Tags: beans, food, frugal, the good life
Some of you know that my hubby is from England, but some of you also know that I’m originally from Alabama, and where I’m from, ‘Hodge Podge’ never referred to food, but to a confused mixture of things. Seems his use of the word is perfect for leftovers though, right matey?
It’s the last day of January, and my last day of blogging about food~at least for now. I’m not feeling too well this evening, but luckily, I’d managed to put together Pad Thai for supper tonight before I started feeling icky, and coupled with a slice of homemade bread, it was wonderful. Putting a good meal on the table is really easy though when you have “Hodge Podge”, which is Michael’s word for ‘cleaning out the refrigerator and making a meal of it.’ For some reason, I think it sounds more appetizing to call it Hodge Podge, rather than ‘leftovers’~ I mean you KNOW what your leftovers were from supper last night, but Hodge Podge, well, you just never can tell! Whether it’s a few leftover potatoes or polenta, a bit of beans or greens, a cup of pasta topped with parmesan cream or pesto, a crust of bread, or half a jar of fruit, it doesn’t matter whether it ‘goes together’ or not, it’s always an eating adventure to have Hodge Podge and a good way to clean out the frig and resist the siren call to ‘eat out’.
But tonight, we’re going to talk about the southern version of this term too, because I have a little of this and a little of that I wanted to share with you, and since none of it is seemingly related, I’ll call it Hodge Podge too:
1. My C.O.O.P. cofounder friend Emily and I will be offering a new ‘Backyard Henkeeping’ class this coming Saturday morning, Feb. 2nd, at Mize Farm and Garden supply in Johnson City. The class will be from 10 to noon and if you stay til the second hour, you’ll receive a $5 off voucher for anything in the store! Please call to preregister: 434-1800
2. Did you know that you can rehydrate and plump dried plums (aka prunes) by simmering them in a little pan of water for 5 or 10 minutes? They are sooo good that way!
3. Storing fresh cilantro or parsley in a jar of water in the frig keeps it fresh for about two weeks! Snip off the bottom of the stems, insert into half full jar of water, then cover loosely with a plastic bag… PS Make sure the leaves are dry when you cover, so don’t wash them until you’re ready to use them.
4. I save the dessicant packs that come in new shoes, backpacks, and pill bottles. The little bags are used to absorb moisture and adding them to my jars of dried fruits, herbs and vegetables, keeps them from molding. Once the bags stop absorbing moisture, they can easily be rejuvenated by putting them in my dehydrator at 300 degrees for about 3 hours. If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can recharge them by placing them on a cookie sheet in the oven but I’d sure try to find a way to do this when I had the oven on low for some other purpose; perhaps while baking some potatoes, or even a crock of baked beans. You can also buy silica gel at a craft store and make your own dessicant packs, but why not ask everyone you know to simply save theirs for you and you’ll have plenty of them in no time!
Well, I guess those four things ARE related, seeing as how they’re all about food, but regardless, I’m calling it a Hodge Podge of ideas, just because I think it’s a cool term. Let this be the year that we start to lay the groundwork for a way of life that’s many, many times more productive, meaningful, and bountiful than the one we have today. Peak Oil and Climate Change be damned, transitioning to a different way of living is a journey~ enjoy it!
Filed under: ENOUGH!, Frugality, Mindful Consumerism, Plant based diet, Resilience
Grocery store clerks have told me that they’re often amazed and amused by the customers that tell them “I only came in for bread”, yet they’ve also got a can of refried beans, a package of Oreos, a pound of cheese and a frozen box of Stouffer’s Lasagne on the checkout belt, right along with that bread. A $2 loaf of bread turns into $20. Or more. I’ve done it myself of course but the reminder remains: “Step Away from the Store!” The tendency to pick up impulse items is even stronger when there’s a storm forecast. You know, “just in case”. In this month of winter storms, W4 tax forms, new year resolutions, and a promise on my part to spend January writing about food on this blog, today seemed to be perfect for continuing that theme. (For non-local readers, Tennessee is under a ‘state of emergency’ as I write this, due to icy and snowy conditions.) But I digress…
My post earlier this week focused on a way to easily prepare healthy and delicious food, at minimal cost. Homemade soups are filling and are an excellent way to use up leftovers or small amounts of beans, grains and veggies, that by themselves, wouldn’t feed more than one, let alone a hungry family. Now granted, my ‘souper’ meal didn’t compare to the meal served Monday to President O’Bama and his 220 guests at the inaugural luncheon. Celebrating the theme of the inauguration, “Faith in America’s Future”, artisanal, sustainable and, where possible, local foods were used, though some items came from the West. The three-course farm-to-table menu included steamed lobster tail topped with a New England clam chowder sauce, placed atop vegetables. Hickory grilled bison tenderloin (sourced from South Dakota) with a wild huckleberry reduction was the entree, joined by vegetable sides, including a red potato horseradish cake. The grand finish was President Obama’s favorite dessert, pie: Hudson Valley Apple Pie, with sour cream ice cream and maple caramel sauce, accompanied by artisan cheeses and honeycomb. Wines were from New York and California. The very fact that this Presidential meal was planned to highlight local and sustainable foods tells me that there’s real change in the air concerning our food system. I’m not so sure about that whole “Faith in America’s Future” theme, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?
Meanwhile, moving back to the reality of feeding ourselves and our families within the confines of our personal budgets: those impulse buys can wreck your food budget. The safest and easiest way I’ve found for sticking to my own budget is to stay out of the stores, food or otherwise. There’s an old saying that goes like this: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”. It’s my personal mantra and I always feel positively virtuous when I can follow it. It’s probably saved me thousands and thousands of dollars over the years, yet at the end of the day, I never feel deprived, but rich beyond the normal measure of what money can buy. I am a lucky woman, and I know it.
Making a menu plan and a shopping list really help me stick to what I need when I finally do go to the store. I try to go only once a month for my main shopping, and rarely will go again for just one item. I’ve found I can often substitute one item for another, or leave an ingredient out altogether without degrading whatever I’m cooking. ‘Doing Without’ can save a trip to the store and a twenty spot.
I read a book several years ago named “Hungry Planet” that was a pictoral essay of what other families around the world eat. I picked three from it that I thought might better make my point:
Food expenditure for one week: $31.55
Favorite Food: Potato soup with cabbage
The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp
Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23
Favorite food: Soup with fresh sheep meat
United States: The Revis family of North Carolina
Food expenditure for one week: $341.98
Favorite foods: spaghetti, potatoes, sesame chicken
Filed under: Canning, Emergency Preparedness, Food Storage, Food Waste, Frugality, Herbs, Local Food, Plant based diet, Resilience, Seasonal Eating, Sustainability | Tags: beans, clothing, Consumerism, food, frugal, growing food, homemade vegetable broth, Hoop House, Soup
I began January by promising I’d write about FOOD this month and have covered ways we keep food costs down, seasonal eating and the value of keeping a well-stocked pantry. Today, it’s more of the same, tied up in one big pot~of soup!
The next couple of days are forecast to be some cold ass days, so what better way to feed the fam than by making a big ass pot of soup? There are entire cookbooks devoted to soups but it seems most of them start with “saute chopped onion, garlic and celery”, add broth, then the main ingredients. In preparing for the coming cold, I decided to harvest some kale, parsley and lettuce from the hoop house before tightening the plastic…
Then as usual, I took a quick survey of what I had on hand and decided last night was Minestrone night, since I had small amounts of lots of different fresh veggies on hand. I added tomatoes that I’d frozen in bags last summer, fresh potatoes and carrots that were grown by a fellow gardener, the remaining cabbage and broccoli that I’d harvested from the hoop house last week when the weather was warmer, herbs and peppers that were dried last summer and stock from my pantry.
Stock+Veggies and Leftover Beans+’Store Bought’ Bay Leaves, Fennel and a handful of Pasta=This:
Total Cost: About $1.00…at most. There’s at least a gallon of delicious, healthy and filling soup in this pot with enough to share with my brother and a cup over the dog’s kibble too! We enjoyed a salad prepared with the lettuces I’d picked earlier in the day, topped with another fresh vegetable from my windowsill ‘garden’:
This pint jar full of fresh alfalfa sprouts was made from one tablespoon of seed. Sprouts are considered to be a ‘super food’ meaning they have benefits that are so nutritious they’re considered a superior food. Right up there with blueberries, which I don’t have a lot of this time of year But I’ve got a LOT of sprouting seeds that will last for many, many years if I keep them dry in a sealed glass jar in a cool dark place. For about a dime, I can have fresh sprouts of any kind to add to casseroles, salads, soups-even breads-in 3 days! The sprouts we enjoyed tonight were exceptionally fresh and tender, and can really perk up an otherwise ‘plain’ winter salad. Dressed with our own honey/mustard dressing, we ate like kings for under a dollar, with plenty left for lunch tomorrow.
Learning the skills of growing some of your own food, preserving some of that food for winter time use, planning and cooking meals from scratch, and taking care of your health by eating a nutritious diet will help you stretch your food and health care dollars while offering you resilience and self-sufficiency during uncertain times. Learning to ‘make do’, whether it’s in the kitchen, keeping an older car running, living in a smaller house, or repairing and wearing older clothes is a mindset that can help us truly learn to ‘live MORE on LESS’. Ain’t that souper?
Filed under: Canning, Climate Change, Emergency Preparedness, Food Storage, Frugality, Peak Oil, Plant based diet, Resilience | Tags: beans, frugal, growing food
Now that December 21st has come and gone, and seeing that the world didn’t come to an end, I feel safe buying green bananas again. How comforting to know that all is well in the world! not. Having a mother and grandmother that always had a well-stocked pantry, overhearing my parents’ late night conversations during the 60′s about building a bomb shelter in the backyard, combined with the reality of sitting in long gas lines during the oil embargoes of the early 70′s, listening to Jimmy Carter’s ‘Fireside Chats’ about wearing warm sweaters in the house, and having 4 babies while living on a shoestring budget, all set the tone for what has now become a way of life for me. Even though I’m now only feeding Michael and myself, along with supplementing a daughter that struggles financially, the ever-louder drum beats of Peak Oil, climate change, and economic ‘austerity measures’ making headlines around the world are insistent enough that I continue to ‘stock up’. You know, just in case.
I no longer get newspapers and magazines in hard copy formats, so I have no access to coupons. Very few of the things I buy come from food and drug manufacturers, so that doesn’t matter anyway. The foods I buy tend to come in bulk or bags or cans, rarely boxes. We’re lucky to live in a region that provides us with such a diverse choice of foodstuffs and I’m usually able to find what I want at local natural foods stores, Asian and Mexican markets, as well as bulk food stores and online suppliers. The government recommends keeping enough food for at least 72 hours in your home. I think that’s a reasonable ‘starting point’ but what happens after 72 hours? What if the ‘disaster’ is a job loss, a prolonged power outage, a super storm, or, our latest threat and a HUGE one, a shipper’s strike? (*The lack of media attention about this astounds me, but in a nutshell, here’s the impact: “Any backup of freight and equipment in the affected ports will have a domino effect on domestic transportation systems, resulting in costly delays, supply disruptions and scheduling hardships on customers.”) That’s putting it mildly. But I digress…
My definition of being ‘shelf sufficient’ is more like having three to twelve months’ worth of human and pet food stored, along with toilet paper, charcoal, kerosene and water. I’ve gotten lax in the last year though. We purposefully ate down a lot of our stores before THE MOVE back in July, since we didn’t want to move any more than we had to. Then, shortly after we moved in, a ’100 year storm’ dumped 5″ of rain on us in 45 minutes, flooding the root cellar in our 113 year old house. We lost a lot of stored wheat and dried beans in that incident and haven’t fully recovered since. The near certainty of flooding happening again, combined with less storage space in this old house than what we had before, has stymied my efforts to rebuild my larder. But the same certainty that we may be in for hard times ahead, and the peace and satisfaction that having sufficient stores of food allow me, will drive me to rebuild it over the coming year.You know, just in case.
It’s been said you should store what you eat, and eat what you store. In a true disaster, the last thing you’d want to deal with would be having to change your diet or eating foods you wouldn’t want to eat in good times. Because we eat a plant-based diet, our garden serves as the best source of emergency preparedness money can’t buy. Along with what we grow, we always have lots of brown rice and pasta, dried beans and powdered milk, nuts, oats, flour, yeast, salt, canned fruits and jams, juices, teas and honey, veggies, oils, soups, spices and condiments in the pantry. We store the smaller things on steel floor-to-ceiling shelving and bulk items in free-for-the-asking five gallon buckets with sealable lids. The buckets can be stacked three high, and labeling them on their sides makes identifying what’s inside easy.
Adding some convenience foods and snacks will keep everyone well fed and satisfied during a crisis. Using a FIFO (first in, first out) rotation system (date everything!) along with organizing like foods together will help you keep track of what you have and what you may still need. By gradually building up your pantry, at the very best prices you can find, you’ll find that your monthly food bills will eventually decrease, regardless of outside factors that may influence food prices. There will be fewer trips to the store, plenty to serve unexpected company, plenty to share with others in their time of need, and it will greatly simplify things when you ask yourself, “What’s For Supper?” . There are many, many creative ways to store extra food shown on internet websites so I won’t go into that here, since your needs and your home’s space will be so different from mine. Being shelf sufficient is cheaper and more likely to be needed, than any other type of insurance policies you may already have in place. You know, just in case.
Filed under: Buy Local, fall gardening, Food Storage, Frugality, Herbs, Local Food, Plant based diet, Resilience, Seasonal Eating | Tags: beans, Farmer's Market, food, frugal, growing food, plants, root crops, vegetarian
...for ‘winter’ foods. I know it’s positively spring-like outside, but we’ll be back to, ahem, ‘normal’ in a couple more days so let’s talk about what’s ‘normal’ for this time of year, food wise. I went to the Farmer’s Market today and was pleasantly surprised to find a fair variety of things to eat. There were pickled beets, meats and cheeses, fresh loaves of bread, jams and jellies, greens and more. Here’s what I brought home:
The bag in the background contains fresh ground corn meal, ground right at the market from locally grown corn. (He had grits for sale too and I wish I’d bought some) The eggs, onions and turnips were beautifully fresh and everything I bought was a bargain.
Not only was this food locally grown, it was appropriate for this time of year. You may be asking yourself, “what the hell can I eat besides turnips in January?” If so, let me offer some ideas. The fall crop of potatoes and apples is on sale everywhere, as are cabbages, carrots and greens. Luckily, I still have lots of garlic and shallots and Cushaw squash stored away, and we have broccoli, 4 kinds of lettuce, bok choi and cabbages in the garden, along with parsley and cilantro growing in pots. Yesterday, we roasted our last homegrown potatoes in the clay cooker, topped with 20 or so of our spring-grown garlic cloves and a handful of fresh rosemary. (Note to self: plant more potatoes this year.) Our Christmas oranges yielded enough zest and juice to make “Orange Teriyaki Rice” tonight, and some of the green onions we’d bought were sliced and sprinkled on top . We had fresh, steamed broccoli that I harvested yesterday and a big bowl of lima beans from the freezer to go with it.
It’s definitely more of a challenge to eat seasonally during the winter months, but it’s also definitely more satisfying when we do. Soup and cornbread is our mainstay in cold weather, and has proven to be easier to prepare, more filling, cheaper to make and most accommodating of my desire to eat seasonally. If you’re one of those people who says that they “just don’t feel satisfied with a bowl of soup”, then you must be eating the canned stuff, because winter soups simmered on the stove and filled with dried beans, herbs, sweet potatoes or squash, kale or cabbage, summer tomatoes and dried peppers, and served over rice, are filling, healthy and takes advantage of the foods that are normally associated with winter anyway.
Eating foods when nature produces them is what people the world over have done naturally through most of history, before mega-supermarkets dotted the landscape and processed foods became ubiquitous. Seasonal eating is also a cornerstone of several ancient and holistic medical traditions, which view it as integral to good health and emotional balance. Here’s a gentle reminder of what I’m trying to say:
To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun.
A time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill and a time to heal …
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance …
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to lose and a time to seek;
a time to rend and a time to sow;
a time to keep silent and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace.
Filed under: Buy Local, Canning, Food Waste, Frugality, Local Food, Plant based diet, Reducing Waste, Slow Food | Tags: beans, beekeeping business, Farmer's Market, food, growing food, vegetarian
promised in my last post, today’s topic is familiar to everyone. Since I’m trying to lower my food bills and wastes while at the same time eating a healthy diet, I thought it might be helpful to offer some tips that I’ve found for getting a decent evening meal on the table without a lot of fuss or money. I no longer have young children living at home, nor do I have a day job anymore (writing this blog is my ‘night job’ ) but I haven’t forgotten the challenge of putting together the evening meal. I had four kids and a picky husband that I fed 3 times a day, 365 days a year, for oh, at least 25 years. Eating out happened only once or twice a year back then.
Michael is not picky, except for his desire for our meals to be as low-fat as possible. Since he contributes almost as much time in the kitchen as I do, and since I’ve learned the dangers of a high fat diet to my health, I’m accommodating. That said, my desire for keeping the food budget low so that we don’t have “more month than money” is important to me too. Where do we start then?
Breakfast for us is always crock pot oats (bought in 50 lb bags for $26) doctored up with apples (dried or fresh), raisins and cinnamon. A dab of honey is mixed into the crock at the end of cooking so that it mixes well into the hot oatmeal. A potful is stored in the ‘frig and lasts us 4 or 5 days. Lunch is always leftovers from the previous night’s meal, so we simply make sure that we prepare enough to provide us with that noon time meal, even if it means stretching it with extra beans or potatoes. Or, if there’s not quite as much left from supper as we’d like, we simply supplement this meal with a salad from the garden, leftover cornbread from the night before or perhaps green beans or peaches that were canned last summer. That just leaves supper to deal with.
Since we eat a plant-based diet, we don’t have to worry about the price of meat. Instead, we spend our grocery dollars on what’s fresh and seasonal. We buy in bulk when it’s cost-effective to do so, doing a monthly (or even bimonthly) shopping trip to stock up on staples. Trips to the store ‘between times’ are limited to fresh soy milk or produce specials.
I believe the one thing that makes it easiest to stick to my ‘food values’ is planning ahead. After a full day of activity, staring into the refrigerator at 5 PM with no idea of what I’m going to cook, is a recipe for disaster. I like to determine ‘what’s for supper’ each morning by taking a quick peak in there to see what needs to be used first. Then I plan the evening meal based on that. Wednesday I made a big pot of curried split pea/cauliflower soup, because I had a half head of it that needed to be used. We enjoyed the soup with slices of the homemade bread Michael had made over the weekend, and had sweet cranberry/nut bread for dessert, using up the remaining fresh cranberries we’d bought at Christmas. Last night he made ‘Lentil Tacos’ using the lentils I’d cooked ahead and frozen in the 2 cup portions that we need for most recipes. I do this with all kinds of dried beans since it doesn’t take any longer to cook a pound than it does to cook a cup or two. Adding condiments and spices to the thawed lentils gave them a taste and texture very much like real beef tacos. We enjoyed it wrapped in fresh corn tortillas, topped with chopped lettuce from the garden, diced tomatoes, plain homemade yogurt (in place of sour cream) and summer-canned salsa. (I forgot to take a picture of the tacos-from-lentils that he made, but I did take one of the ‘Sloppy Lentils’ and oven baked ‘fries’ that we enjoyed recently. It was yummy too!
Because I had cooked a big pot of brown rice earlier in the day (an everyday staple also bought in bulk) he made a big bowl of rice pudding for dessert that used up the remaining cup or so of plain soy milk that had been opened for mashed potatoes recently. Adding creamy milk, raisins and spices (bought in bulk too!) like cinnamon and cardamom to the rice reminds me of chai tea. YUM! There’s still enough pudding for several more bowls and tonight’s stir fry will be served over the remaining rice. Like beans, cooking rice in bulk saves time and energy.
For a balanced diet, I try to rotate meals by including rice, potatoes, pasta or beans as the basis for the main entrée, then add sides of salads or fresh cooked veggies that we’ve grown or purchased fresh and on sale at the little grocery store that’s within walking distance of our home. Soups are a limitless mainstay around here, and a great way to use small amounts of leftover foods. Salads don’t have to be filled with exotic or expensive veggies to be good. Letting the lettuces be the ‘belle of the bowl’ keeps costs way down, as does making your own dressings.
The point is, by planning ahead, growing and preserving what we can (oh! we’re going to miss our bees’ honey when it’s gone!), eating seasonally and cooking from scratch, we’re able to eat on less than the USDA’s recommended ‘thrifty plan’, which is about $4 per person, per day. Not buying sodas and juices, processed or snack type foods keeps our food costs down and our bodies healthy. We drink cups of (bulk) hot tea or water with our meals and snack on a wide variety of fresh or dried fruits, popcorn, sweet breads and muffins, nuts, smoothies and fruit tarts made with little effort. We collect recipes the way most shoppers do coupons and enjoy the cooking process and discovering new ways to use old ingredients! I’ll occasionally use a coupon for the weekly deal at Earth Fare, which is close to our home and sells the kind of food we enjoy, but otherwise, I find they’re just not needed for rice, beans, oats and fruits.
Having a food system that’s COMPLETELY dependent on oil, huge monocrop farms and globalized transport makes me feel powerless, but sticking to the basics of fruits, grains and veggies enables me to make easy substitutions when those factors that are out of my control affect price or availability. This built-in resilience assures me that the eternal question of “what’s for supper?” gets answered every day.
Filed under: Backyard Chickens, Buy Local, Canning, Community Building, Community Gardens, Food Storage, Food Waste, Frugality, Local Food, organic gardening, Peak Oil, Plant based diet, Reducing Waste, Resilience, Slow Food, Sustainability, Urban Hens | Tags: growing food
I’m going to try something new, in this newish month of this New Year. For the rest of January, I plan to write about everybody’s favorite subject-FOOD! We’ll discuss seasonal eating, growing and preserving tips, local food, plant-based recipes, nutrition, food costs, food waste, food storage, and…well, you get the idea. I may run out of month before I run out of topics!
Michael and I have kept track of all of our expenses since Day One. So after a dozen years of tracking, we know what’s ‘normal’ and what’s not. We’re seeing an upward trend in our monthly food costs, and in trying to figure out why, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about all aspects of our food, which is why I thought this may be a good month to write about all things foody. I’m betting many of us have resolved to eat less, spend less, waste less, cook more, or in some way do something different where our food is concerned. May these January posts inspire or in some way be helpful to you.
Before I get into any specifics though, I have some wonderful news to crow about. The friend that co-founded the local C.O.O.P. group with me last year received a letter today from the city that said in part: “Thank you for helping resolve the complaints we received. My codes officers tell me they see no health issues at this time…therefore I will close this case.” I was with Emily last Friday when the zoning code/public health officers came to her house to inspect her chicken coop and hens. As always, the hens were clean, quiet, and happily enclosed in their predator proof, moveable chicken tractor. He couldn’t find one.single.problem. He took a picture, and left postcards at her neighbors’ homes informing them of her chickens’ presence in her backyard (they already knew it though) and said he’d be back this summer to further ensure there are no smells. This small revolution is a HUGE HUGE victory in our city folks, and gives new meaning to the terms “Local Food”, “Sustainability”, and “Resilient” for those of us that want nothing more than to put food on our family’s dinner plates. (Or breakfast plates, as the case may be.) If you are inclined to get your own little flock, please please follow all the rules so that you don’t run aFOWL and ruin it for the rest of us that want to enjoy our own backyard flocks too. Here are some simple and common sense things to remember:
1. NO roosters!
2. Maximum 4 hens
3. Hens cannot be allowed to run loose, they MUST be in an enclosed area, with a MINIMUM of 4 square feet per bird
3. Feed (grains, scratch, etc) must be stored in a galvanized steel can with a tight-fitting lid, secured with a bungee if necessary
4. No slaughtering of birds
5. Scoop the poop and keep the roosts and nest areas clean
6. Build your coop like Fort Knox or raccoons, dogs and other critters WILL dig under and kill them. Chicken wire is NOT a suitable barrier between your ‘girls’ and predators. Use hardware cloth instead.
7. Be respectful of your neighbors. Talk with them before you get your hens, educate and inform them, and by all means, share eggs with them! Consider carefully the location of your coop and run area, so that the birds are comfortable and accessible, yet are not looking into your neighbors’ bedroom or kitchen! (All this is to say, once again, that building community with your neighbors is the single best way to help you both transition to a future of climate changes and rising food or oil prices)
8. Attend the free, on-going chicken care classes that Emily and I will be teaching throughout the year. The next one will be held at Mize Farm and Garden, in Johnson City, on Saturday, Feb. 2nd, at 10 AM. Please register beforehand by calling the store: 434-1800
One final word about this initial C.O.O.P. victory: this first-time inspection and approval is fragile and will have to be REconsidered if there are any neighbor complaints. I encourage you to seek out and support those candidates in the upcoming commissioner elections that will support our local food efforts. We’ll also be monitoring the ongoing city code revisions that are currently being considered and will let you know if the current code regarding hens in the backyard comes up for ‘discussion’. Next post: What’s for supper?
Filed under: Alternative Energy, Canning, Climate Change, Community Building, Community Gardens, Energy Savings, Peak Oil, Rain Barrels, Resilience, Sustainability, Uncategorized | Tags: Consumerism, Empowered housing, simplicity
It’s Saturday morning and I’ve spent this week reading news, blogs, new library books and magazine articles. With the holidays past us now, with the winter veggies under hoops, and my cold body under wraps, reading is my activity of choice. No other time during the year offers me the time to read like I do during these winter months. Because we’re trying to keep the thermostat in this bigger home set low, I’m spending as much time as possible close to the oven or the gas fireplace, so reading and baking help. I wish I knew how to knit. But I digress…
The overall sense of things I’m getting from reading all these current events, is that the fiscal cliff is, in a sense, still a cliff hanger, and that job growth is still cool as the recovery grinds on. Most economists expect the US economy will be held back by tax hikes this year as well as by weak spending by households and businesses, which are still trying to reduce their debt burdens. The US Congress this week passed legislation to avoid most of the tax hikes and postpone the spending cuts. Even with the last-minute deal to avoid much of the fiscal cliff, most workers will see their take-home pay reduced this month as a two-year cut in payroll taxes expires.
In other words, we’re still in the same boat. Climate change continues to be ignored by Washington, Mountain Top Removal has moved into Tennessee, and the oil-drilling ship Shell had planned to use to tap oil reserves in the Arctic Ocean ran aground this week (Happy New Year Alaska!) dashing hopes that massive new oil fields would be found there. Same old stuff, different year.
Rather than being in denial or getting depressed by this buffet of crappy news, I choose to be quietly active about it. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I wonder whether my individual efforts to lower my carbon footprint really make a difference, (especially when I see so much waste around me.) But those efforts are all I’ve got. MY personal efforts mean a lot to me and so I’ve decided NOT to give up but to ‘branch out’, shall we say. I’ve already publicly committed to picking up trash on my daily walks but I’m also quietly committing to living a slower, smaller, quieter and yes, poorer life this year. Michael and I are making plans to challenge ourselves in new, untried, ways in 2013 in order to lessen our reliance on fossil fuels and to live well on less. And herein lies the key for me. Living on less sounds dreary, doesn’t it? But living WELL on less sounds intriguing, yes? Every piece of advice I read concerning ”how to become an effective writer” tells me to ”know my subject”. So if I’m going to continue writing about the issues that this very blog is based on, I feel I should be able to offer practical ways that we can gracefully transition to a Peak Oil World. Before I even tell you about the challenges though, let me say this: we view them as FUN, not as deprivations or we wouldn’t do them at all.
First, we plan to go for a month sometime this year without using our car. It won’t be January or February though, I can tell you that- it’s too damn cold! (Hey! This is OUR personal challenge so we get to set the rules!) It will likely be in March or April before we get too deeply involved with the community and our own personal gardens (in case, you know, we need to fire up our old 1987 truck to haul manure ) . The second challenge will be to eat for a month using the same USDA food cost guidelines that are used for food stamp recipients. Again, we get to choose the month, and it may well be the month we’re not driving since those food stamp guidelines do NOT include any restaurant meals anyway. I think these two challenges will help me to have better insight as to what it might take to live in a world where everything is more localized and one in which sustainable and resilient aren’t just trendy buzz words, but become part of everyone’s everyday life. As a writer, I want to be able to offer you, my reader, some realistic and doable solutions to the problems we’re facing as a society. I believe that the best thing average Joe’s and Jane’s like us can do to adapt to the real world challenges I often write about, is to learn to live in ways that keep us robustly happy and healthy, while being engaged with our neighbors and ‘empowered by our homes’. Remember that phrase, ‘empowered by our homes’, because you’ll be reading more about that in this blog during the coming year too. Our homes are places of shelter and rest certainly, but also places that can work FOR us, rather than US working to support our homes! Investing in them as infrastructures where we grow and preserve food, supply some of our energy needs, capture rainwater or serve as neighborhood centers could go a long way towards keeping us warm and fed and yes, empowered! in good times or bad.
Constant debt, stress and mindless consumerism makes life harder than it needs to be. A life that’s slower, smaller, quieter, and poorer sounds like a good alternative to me. And what if we never do fall ‘over the cliff’? Here’s your answer…
Quick! Before you throw out those Christmas cards… please consider sending them to St. Jude’s Childrens’ Ranch instead. Operated by Kids’ Corp, a program for the children at St. Jude’s Ranch to learn entrepreneurship skills, the children participate in making the new cards by removing the front and attaching a new back. The result is a beautiful new card made by children and volunteers. The kids remove the card fronts and attach new backs and the resulting ‘new’ cards are sold 10 for ten dollars.
Card Donating Tips:
- All types of greeting cards, including Christmas are accepted.
- Only the card front can be used (please check to be sure the backside of the front of the card is clear of any writing, etc.)
- We can not accept Hallmark, Disney or American Greeting cards
- 5″ x 7″ size or smaller is preferred
- To mail large quantities in the least expensive way, use the United States Post Office in a Flat Rate Box (available at the Post Office), which holds up to 70 pounds
- Mail donations to :
St. Jude’s Ranch for Children
Recycled Card Program
100 St. Jude’s Street
Boulder City, NV 89005
I’ve sent mine to them for several years now and I love knowing those old cards are being reused. They currently have a need for birthday and thank you cards too!
Filed under: Climate Change, Liveable Communities, Reducing Waste, Uncategorized, Urban Living
The Holidays all have one thing in common: traditions. From cookouts on July 4th to decorating the Christmas tree, we all have them in one form or another. Part of my traditions center around food; cornbread dressing at Thanksgiving and homemade buckeyes for Christmas. And for the New Year, it’s always Hoppin’ John and an iron skillet of cornbread with a side of cooked greens (and a coin hidden in the pot for good luck). Soul food. I’m not particularly sentimental, and I’m certainly not superstitious, but tied up somewhere in all that teary, starry starry night, lady luck, hocus- pocus is a certain comfort and pride of heritage as well as a longing for peace and a good life. If a coin in the greens is the key to that, then, by golly, drop the coin in the pot!
Other than family, there’s not a whole lot we can count on that remains steady and cherished throughout our lives, is there? That’s where traditions come in. The beginning of a new year is always filled with hope and resolve for me. I usually make a resolution or two, and occasionally I manage to actually keep them. Like in 2011 when I resolved to write and send out a card or letter each week ~ I called it “52 in 52″ and it was a fun ‘chore’ that I got a lot out of. After living in town now for 6 months and walking to the places I need to go, I’ve noticed a lot of trash lying about. So, in the spirit of 52 in 52, I resolve to take a plastic bag with me on my daily walks and pick up that trash. I’ll recycle what I can and it’ll be a good way to reuse those pesky plastic bags that are breeding under my kitchen sink in spite of serious birth control efforts on my part to keep them from reproducing. In researching this post, I called Johnson City’s Iris Glen landfill and was told that it now costs $42 per ton, with a one ton minimum, to take garbage there. That’s up from $15 per ton just two years ago! The reasons for that big jump? “Landfill space is at a premium and we’re dealing with increasing fuel costs”. Just a sign of what’s yet to come.
If you know anything about me or this blog at all, you know that I’m concerned about our collective futures~both yours and mine! I sincerely believe that the best way to deal with Peak Oil, Climate Changes and a sour economy is to work together on solutions to these issues. Picking up garbage and trash in my neighborhood sure ain’t life changing, but it’ll be a way, MY way, of showing my neighbors in a non confrontational way that we’re all interconnected, even if it’s only through our trash. I hope my ‘new tradition’ will help make ours a more livable community and will, best of all, feed my soul. I don’t know about you but I need all the soul food I can get these days folks. Happy New Year friends!
Filed under: Backyard Chickens, Biking, Buy Local, Composting, Crowdsourcing, Uncategorized, Urban Hens | Tags: Farmer's Market, growing food
The annual local Christmas tree shredding event, “Chipping of the Greens”, was begun in 1990, with an all time high of 20,000 trees donated for chipping into mulch in 1998. Last year, the number of trees collected was down to 3,000. The is no longer cost-effective and will be discontinued, even though the city will continue to collect trees and shred them for landscaping mulch. There has been a significant reduction in the number of real trees used in decorations. Artificial trees are the ‘New Normal’ it seems. Trees can be placed curbside in Johnson City and Kingsport for residential collection beginning the day after Christmas through the third Saturday in January. Trees may, also, be unloaded at Winged Deer Park boat ramp parking lot. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency creates fish habitats in area lakes by sinking the trees.
What are some other ‘new normals?’ Serial shootings. Fiscal cliffs. Smaller wage hikes. Cell Phones. Long Term Care Insurance. No insurance. Staycations over Vacations. Long Term Unemployment. Higher climate temperatures. Lower blood pressure standards. Stronger and more frequent storms. $3 plus per gallon for gasoline. New Iphone releases. Type II Diabetes. GMO foods. Higher food prices-hey! I thought those GMO’s were supposed to save us all! Planned obsolescence.
You know what? Just for fun, I’m going to list some POSITIVE ‘new normals’ that I’ve also noticed:
Social Networking and blogs. Civic awakening. A weekly TV show called “The New Normal” about how a gay couple and a mother form a family unit when she helps them have a child (which I’d never heard of until I began doing some research for this post). Open source software. Crowd Sourcing. Crowd Funding. Eating and shopping locally. Lower thermostat settings. Forever Stamps. Recycling. Composting. Victory Gardens. Farmer’s Markets. Cities in the US that allow backyard chickens. US manufacturers moving their operations back home. Transition Initiatives.
Increased Bike Sales…
Here’s the point: The world is rapidly changing, and many of those changes are coming about as a response to the challenges of climate change, resource depletion and global inequity. We can use these challenges as opportunities to transition to a way of living that is significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. That’s a ‘new normal’ we can all embrace!
I’m ready for Christmas and have enjoyed the journey getting to it as much as I will the big day itself. We’ve always loved Christmas, but for the last dozen years Michael and I have tried to focus on the special things about the season other than the gifts, and now we enjoy it even more! We both remember too many years of simply being exhausted and broke by the time the actual day arrived. Some years we’ll buy one another a little gift, sometimes we don’t, but we no longer buy just because it’s Christmas. Our grown kids are on board with this simplicity, and it’s taken a lot of pressure off of all of us! But I do love having the girls and my grandkids visit, love cooking a big family dinner for us all, love seeing the lights and decorations everywhere I go, enjoy the beautiful music that is so special to the season, and all the festivities leading up to This Night. But after being out to special events three nights in a row, here it is Christmas Eve and we just don’t feel like going out in the rain tonight to the candlelight service at the downtown church like we’d planned. So, we’ll stay home by the fire and watch “A Christmas Story”, and pop some popcorn instead. Simple and quiet tonight, but when the family arrives from Ohio tomorrow, the noise level goes WAYYY up! Oh what fun!
I wish you a happy and memorable Christmas with your families, friends, neighbors, pets and loved ones. I hope you all have enough, however you define it and that you’ll take a moment to say a prayer or a meditation for world healing and peace. Merry Christmas everyone!
Filed under: Backyard Chickens, Biking, Community Building, Liveable Communities, Local Food, Urban Hens | Tags: Cannery
I’ve had writer’s block lately, in case you noticed my lack of posts. Maybe BLOCK isn’t the right word, but more like HURDLE. I started writing a couple of different times over the last week or so, and both times it turned ugly-as in snarly, pessimistic, and disgusted. So both times, I slept on it, and realized that now, more than ever, people need to feel uplifted-including myself. We’re all aware of the sad and bad news going on in the world, I don’t need to rehash it here. The Sandy Hook thing has everyone feeling like we’ve been beat and defeated. But we haven’t, and to prove it, I’ll make this post about some of the good things I’ve witnessed or heard recently.
1. Gun control support is higher than EVER. Even the NRA has ‘no comment’ at this time.
2. My new neighborhood is having their annual ‘Holiday Walkabout’ Sunday evening that’s kind of like a progressive dinner, but instead of dinner there will snacks and libations at each of six houses open for touring, oohing and ahhing over the decorations, and getting to know the family dogs by name. I really missed having any kind of community when we lived out in the country, so I’m hopeful this will help us to get to know our neighbors better. My neighborhood also has a formal association that holds quarterly meetings, manages a neighborhood webpage to keep us all current, as well as a July 4th cookout with fireworks! Recent discussions are about doing some neighborhood recycling and cleanup drives. I’m happy to be a part of such a wonderful community spirit!
3. Speaking of neighborhoods… Yesterday I attended the monthly meeting of the ‘Liveable Communities Development Group’ and there were 25 of us there, all looking to make the downtown area a more walkable, more bikeable and more likeable place to live. There are SOO many simmering projects-from the current and long-needed flood abatement project to bike rack installations to exciting plans for the new Farmer’s Market, park and community center, monthly First Friday celebrations and the annual Blue Plum festival, to name a few. At this month’s meeting we were also educated about the Unicoi Cannery/Entrepreneurial Incubator project that’s received a $300,000 grant to help make it a reality. That will be a real boon to Farmer’s Market vendors that would like to make and sell their own salsas, bbq sauce or other ‘value-added’ projects, and this fully licensed and inspected commercial kitchen welcomes folks within 150 mile radius!. The more opportunities folks have to sell their products, the more those foods and meats will be grown right here where we live. Thank goodness we’ve left tobacco in the dust and are finding other crops and animals to raise in its place.
5. Which brings me to ‘growing your own’. My friend Emily that worked so diligently with me earlier this year to bring C.O.O.P. (Chickens On Our Property) demands before city council got another letter from the city’s zoning department telling her she has 15 days to get rid of her two hens. Yes, two. Emily has decided she’s tired as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore and so found a local attorney to represent her at a private hearing on the matter. The city has given her a ‘reprieve’ until they reach a decision on the matter after the holidays. We are feeling ‘potentially positive’ about the outcome, and that’s a Christmas gift I wanted to share with ya’ll. I was all set to ask you to write letters to the editor, to rally, petition, and so forth, for the right to have backyard hens, but Emily has asked us to refrain from this type of support until she knows more. So, while we ponder the right to bear arms (see #1 above) please ponder the RIGHT to keep a few backyard pets that can be kept quietly, cleanly and safely in your own backyard while they do their job of providing you with eggs and compost. (Do your dogs do that? Do your guns do that? Just sayin’…)
4. Tupelo Honey Cafe’s impending renovation of the historic train depot and subsequent reincarnation as a wonderful new eatery AND the upcoming One Acre Cafe has both teams talking about working with local growers and farmers to source some of the food they’ll be cooking up for us all. That’s good news for ALL of us, but this news is like another Christmas gift for me… a gift that will keep on giving as these establishments not only make old places new again, but provide long-lasting job opportunities for local growers.
5. One final positive thing I’d like to share: I’ve had not one, but TWO different friends tell me of their immediate plans to convert their front yard lawns from grass-cutting places to food-growing spaces. I emailed the city’s ‘development director’ a few months ago asking if it was legal to do so, and got a resounding YES, NO PROBLEM! (I saved the email reply, just in case you know) So, even though we’re still getting harassed about chickens in the backyard, at least you can grow food in the front. So many edible plants are beautiful, that it wouldn’t be hard at all to make your landscape edible and attractive. Perhaps it’s not too late to ask Santa for a new red shovel and some blueberry bushes?
One hour later: I feel better now that I’ve focused on the positive but there’s more: My kids and grandkids are coming from Ohio for Christmas, I’ve lost 5 pounds recently, Michael and I are playing some fun music lately, and I’m daily harvesting the biggest, best tasting broccoli and kale I’ve ever grown, right from my little backyard raised beds. To top off all of that, I hear it may snow a bit just in time for Santa next week! I hope your Christmas is filled with many positive things too. Just look for them, they’re there! Merry Christmas everyone!
Just $64 huh?
I feel strongly about this whole ‘support your local business thing’, not just during the holidays of course, but year round. If you must buy ‘gifts’ to celebrate the birth of Christ, might you at least consider treating the recipient to dinner at a local, perhaps ethnic, restaurant, one that might turn out to be an unexpected pleasure, rather than the same, tired experience? Or could you buy a special bread or pie from one of the many local bakeries that are putting out fresh, beautiful and delicious goodies each morning, still warm from the oven? How about a locally raised ham and fresh greens from the farmers markets for a special family dinner? Supporting local businesses impacts the economic wellbeing of your community. It’s the easiest and best way I know of to give the gift that keeps on giving!
Filed under: Buy Local, Community Building, Creating Community, Liveable Communities, Transition Towns | Tags: bike racks, Farmer's Market
I attended the monthly meeting of the Liveable Communities Development Group last week and was pleased to learn about some of the things they’re looking at to improve our community. Like adding bike lanes and walking paths as well as highly visible bike racks around town, developing new green spaces and outdoor event areas, expanding the Farmer’s Market to a year round operation, expanding public transportation options, and developing a community identity that values caring, safety, and consideration. I want to live there. OH! Happy Day, I DO The next meeting will be held on December 18th, 4:00pm at the offices of the Washington Co. Economic Development Council. They’re on the 4th floor of the King Building, 300 E. Main St., Johnson City. The public is always invited to attend.
I’ve got a number of things I want to share with you, dear readers, but they’re centered on events that are happening in our region of NE TN. For those readers in New Zealand and Australia, you may be inspired to share some of the seasonal event happening in your part of the world in the comments section below. These are all examples of the ‘liveable community’ Johnson City is fast becoming.
Thursday, December 6th, Grammy Award winning guitarists Ed Gerhard and Bill Mize return for their annual Christmas Concert at NE State Community College.
Michael and I will be going for the 6th or 7th year in a row. We always look forward to it and consider it the official start to our personal Christmas season. Here’s the info you need: 7:00 p.m. Wellmont Regional Center For The Performing Arts Free and Open To The Public Call (423) 279-7669 for more information. This is a beautiful, state of the art performance center-hope to see you there!
Then, “First Friday”!
Also on Friday night:
You are cordially invited to attend the very first Memorial Park Community Center Artist Reception, showcasing the collections of local East Tennessee State University artists: Maddison Gray, Hunter Hines, and Melanie Norris.
The event is free to the public and will take place in the Gathering Area of the beautiful, brand new Memorial Park Community Center on Friday, December 7th from 6-8pm.
Come enjoy local artists work along with refreshments. hmmm, ART and FREE FOOD. I’m there! Then off to the King Center for a free contra dance, more art, live music and food. Oh yeah, did I mention it’s all FREE?
Saturday events include:
Memorial Park Community Center Grand Opening Saturday December 8, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Breakfast with Santa at 9 a.m., guided tours of the building, fitness demonstrations, dance demonstrations, arts and craft demonstrations, arts and craft sales, aquatics demonstrations, storytelling, pictures with Santa, entertainment, sports, Ribbon Cutting at 11 a.m., and more! 510 Bert Street!
Also: The annual downtown Christmas parade will be held Saturday evening. Here’s the info and the parade route:
Last but not least, Sunday: A benefit concert for one of my favorite local charities:
Now, what does all this liveable community stuff have to do with transitioning to a peak oil world? I’m so glad you asked! The best defense we have against the triple threats of a lower energy world, climate change and an uncertain economy is to re-create our future in ways that are not based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being. I think all of these events fit that bill, don’t you?
Filed under: Canning, Energy Savings, ENOUGH!, Food Waste, Frugality, Mindful Consumerism, Reducing Waste | Tags: Christmas simplified
Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is over, I suspect many of us are feeling as stuffed as our turkeys were yesterday, with leftovers filling the refrigerator. It’s interesting to see how the first three-day Thanksgiving celebration of praying, fasting and feasting, (yep, we always forget about that fasting part, don’t we?) held in late fall of 1621, and celebrated between the grateful Pilgrims and their new Native American friends, has morphed into a three-day eating and shopping extravaganza. When I think about how difficult life was for all of those settlers, compared to how good we have it today, I feel almost ashamed of my own excesses. But that’s just my good ol’ Southern Baptist
guilt and indoctrination upbringing edging in to bother me. I suddenly realized today that the only reason for feeling guilt over my own enoughness would be if I wasted it, so I have vowed to make sure that during the upcoming holiday season I make an extra effort towards mindful consumerism and reducing waste. Now I’m a natural born soap saver and bag washer, but sometimes I find myself becoming complacent (again!) and that’s where I’ve been more than I like to admit lately. I think recently reading about the strife and the bombings between Israelis and Palestinians, and then revisiting the whole Thanksgiving story yesterday has combined to make me keenly aware of just how privileged I am. I wanted to turn this rekindled awareness into practical ideas and practices that I incorporate into my daily life and then share them with you in this post, especially as they relate to the very premise of this blog.
So today, as I’ve gone through a rather ordinary but quiet day, I’ve tried to pay close attention to some of the little things I do to reduce waste. I’m a firm believer in how the ‘little things’ add up. I might not be able to install solar panels on my roof, but I can find ways to reduce my energy needs, so that when the day comes that I can afford those panels, I’ll be able to ‘live within my solar means’, so to speak. Keep in mind that waste can occur in a lot of different areas: food, water, energy, money, time, whatever. Thinking about food wastes in particular, led me to consider extravagance in general, which led to thoughts about how this is ‘Black Friday’, and how, exactly one day after we Americans give thanks for all our blessings, we start shopping for some more! At noon today, I drug the leftovers out of the refrigerator and realized how unethical it was for me to even consider feeding them to the dog, when so many humans are hungry. In anticipation of tonight’s predicted freezing, I liberally watered my garden before setting up a protective hoop house, and found myself thinking about how many US farm crops failed this year due to droughts, AND how much oil was used to produce the very plastic that I covered the hoops with. This afternoon I brought in the cushaw squashes from the front porch to protect them from the coming cold weather, and thought about the struggle my daughter (and many, many others) will have with being able to afford to keep warm this winter in poorly insulated, run-down homes and apartments. The whole day reconfirmed my privileged status, and inspired me to share a few of the things I plan to do over the next 40 days to not only celebrate the season, but to do it sustainably and ethically. Why 40 days? Simply because that’s the number of days left in this year and I feel like I can find 40 ways in 40 days.
Let’s begin with food: Even after sending home my dinner guests home with ‘care packages” yesterday, I still had plenty left. And we ate them today, but slightly in disguise. Turkey carcasses can be boiled down to make rich soup broth. Pick the bits of meat off the bones, add some noodles, chopped onion and celery, and you can feed the whole crowd again. So I made a big pot to share with my daughter and her boyfriend. I saved the really thick, rich drippings from the roasting pan to: make gravy, pour over the dog’s dry kibble, and to make into stock for adding to recipes. The baked sweet potatoes will be made into a pie, while the remaining mashed potatoes and green beans went into a Shepard’s Pie tonight for supper. (I thought such a dish was a great kick off to this particular season, don’t you?) I vow to look through my refrigerator and garden each morning for the next forty days left and plan my meals around what I find there. Research shows that eliminating food waste is the easiest and most effective ways to improve your own family’s food costs, by the way. I also vow to eat less.
Seasonal Decorations: We’ll be putting up the same Charlie Brown Christmas Tree that we’ve enjoyed since we got married, and just like the family in “A Christmas Story’, we’ll be holding our breath that the lights we already own will glow again. If not, they’ll be replaced with more energy-efficient LED lighting. Call me crazy, but I like the things I’ve collected over the years and see no reason to buy more. That said, I do enjoy crafting natural wreaths or mantelpieces from things I collect in nature, and they cost nothing but time, perked up with some repurposed ribbon or dried herbs. I also love burning candles during the long, dark nights of winter so I vow to shop for soy based candles this year, which aren’t made of, you guessed it, petroleum.
Gift Giving: Michael and I sometimes buy one thing for ourselves at Christmas. Last year it was a Vitamix Blender and the year before, a Kitchen Aid mixer. But this year, there’s just nothing we need and since neither of us feels that a gift is necessary to help us feel festive, I may just vow to buy some really good Fair Trade dark chocolate
for him to give to me. The rest of my family has slowly but surely reprogrammed their idea of what constitutes a ‘good’ Christmas and they’ve found that it ain’t Just about the gifts. The whole season has become more doable, manageable, affordable and FUN with this mindset. We put the emphasis on seasonal music, special rituals and foods, family games, visits, video nights and time together, with occasional small, thoughtful gifts that are often repurposed, regifted, recycled or consumable. One daughter gives me a case of tangelos, bought to support her local school, each year. Tangelos now SMELL like Christmas to me, and I look forward to them all.year.long. My most economically challenged daughter often receives a box with everyday items like toothpaste, shampoos, soaps and light bulbs in it. It helps her meet her daily needs and offers her some financial relief. And I always include some kind of little luxury in the box, to add to her fun. The point is, none of us are rushing out to attend the Black Friday sales, and yet, we don’t feel we’re missing anything. And when it’s over, there’s no gift returns, credit card bills due in January or huge trash bags filled with trashed gift wrap either. This simplified approach may not work in all families, and it sure hasn’t been an overnight success with mine, but a slower, smaller, quieter Christmas agrees with all of us.
Gifts Wrap and Cards: For the 13th year in a row, I vow to not buy any wrapping paper or bows, nor any Christmas cards. Not because I’m a scrooge, but because I’ve found alternatives to both that satisfy my desire to give a prettily wrapped gift and to reach out with my pen to out of town friends and loved ones. I save every suitable metal tin, gift bag, yarn, ribbon and pretty paper I can to present the requisite homemade Buckeye candies that mean Christmas to my clan. I also send out the many unsolicited new cards I receive in the mail after my name is sold to yet another non profit’s mailing list, and pass on those I can’t use. I save the fronts of any cards I receive throughout the year and bulk send them to kids at St Jude’s Ranch to be made into new greeting cards that they sell for a small profit.
Water: I vow to shower every other day and flush less. I also vow to wear an apron when cooking and wear my clothes more than once before washing. I’ll wash FULL loads of clothes and dishes. Using a dish pan allows me to reuse dish water to scrub the shower, rinse the toilet, or scrub the floor. I also drain any liquids from canned veggies over the dog’s dry kibble- she loves it and I like to think it adds some nutrition to her diet. When I make that turkey stock this weekend, I’ll be sure to reuse the water that I sterilize the jars with to wash dishes in. Then, once the canning is completed, I’ll cool the canning water and use it to water houseplants or fill the dog’s bowl. Canning and processing foods takes a lot of water and energy, so eliminating food wastes saves both, by the way.
Speaking of energy: We’re only in the first heating season here in our new home, but have been pleasantly surprised to find our 112 year old house is fairly tight and comfortable and can be heated primarily with a little natural gas stove that sits in the fireplace. Still, I vow THIS WEEKEND to install those foam insulators behind all the light switches and electrical sockets. And I vow NEXT WEEK to make a couple of those old-fashioned draft dodgers to put underneath the front and back doors. I’ve got a bucket of sand in the garden shed that I hauled here from our old house for just this purpose along with lots of fabric scraps suitable for making the tubes. Now that I’ve publicly made this vow, I’ll be sure to get it done!
More energy savers I’ve used with much success: I’ve always used the heat from the kitchen oven to cook multiple dishes, and have found that if recipes call for temperatures that are no more than 25 degrees difference, they can be easily cooked together at the lower temp. If you use a clothes dryer, clamp a knee-high hose over the end of the dryer hose and vent that hot, moist air into your house during the winter. Open your dishwasher to air dry after it completes the wash cycle, have your family shower back to back so the warmth from the bathroom is retained, run your ceiling fans on low in a CLOCKWISE position to push warm air from the ceiling down, and hang insulated curtains or even quilts at your windows to conserve energy. Caulking and weatherstripping are still two of the cheapest energy savers there are though!
I challenge you to use my ideas or come up with your own 40 Ways in 40 Days to simplify your holidays, while saving resources of every kind forever. Little things do make a difference, I promise.
I am positively, absolutely, without a doubt, BLESSED in my life. I don’t deserve it anymore than you do, but I cherish it regardless. Will you indulge me for a moment?
I: enjoy fabulous good health, have a loving husband and family, and a supportive network of good friends. I live in a beautiful part of the country that I love, in a warm home in a safe neighborhood. I’ve got plenty of good food with enough to share, endless clean water, enjoyable pets, a life filled to overflowing with music and gardening, with a (mostly) nice balance of work and play. And wonder of all wonders: I HAVE ENOUGH. ‘Enough’ means having enough to live, and enough to be happy, and enough to thrive. ‘Enough’ DOESN’T mean just the bare necessities of life. For me, it’s having a computer, my bass, books and my bicycle. For you it may mean tools or a camera or musical instruments. It’s taken me many years to answer the question in my life of “How much is enough?”. I once was blind, but now I see. There is nothing I need or lack for (well a little dark chocolate or some fresh tangelos for Christmas would be nice). This Thanksgiving, I’m savoring my enough-ness, right along with the turkey and pumpkin pie, because it may not always be so.
Lest you think I’m bragging- I’ve also got ‘enough’ problems- just like you. My mother is in her 8th year of Alzheimer’s disease and no longer recognizes me. I have a daughter that suffers from a debilitating mental illness that will never go away, and a brother that will probably require my care before too much longer. I’m 20 pounds overweight and my eyesight sucks. I worry every day that I too will get Alzheimer’s and I pray every night about the state of the Earth, and our collective future, about Peak Oil and the economy, about climate change and how very toxic our lives have become as a result of ‘too much’. It’s because of the ‘too much’ stage that I went through earlier in my life, that my ‘enough-ness’ feels perfect now. Knowing how much I need to be happy and to thrive has given me balance, and brought much gratitude into my life.
So, with Thanksgiving upon us again, and THE.HOLIDAYS. right behind it, I hope you’ll be able to discover the right amount in your life too. Ask yourself: “How much do I need to thrive?” Or, maybe the better question we should be asking ourselves is: “How LITTLE do I need to thrive?” Or, “Am I still running out of money before payday?” “Am I still paying off old debts?” “Am I still eating too much?” “Do I really need another pair of shoes? Will they make me happy? REALLY?” ” Would helping someone less fortunate make me happier?” “Would applying that shoe money towards old debts give a longer-lasting ‘high’? Only you can answer these questions, but doing so is a critical step in our efforts to learn to not only live a life that’s outwardly simple yet inwardly rich, it’s also an absolute requirement in living more sustainably, with fewer resources and less money. I know I sound like a broken record, but I’m going to keep saying it:
If we collectively plan and act early enough, we can create a way of living that’s significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. Now is the time for us to take stock and to start re-creating our future in ways that are not based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being. Happy Thanksgiving Ya’ll!
Here’s some pictures of the bounty in my life:
As Michael and I enjoyed a walk through downtown Johnson City recently, we came upon a couple of trees near the intersection of Roan and Main Streets. So, what makes the trees special enough to write about? Their SOCKS! Check ‘em out!
I think they’re fabulous and like to think they represent many pleasant hours for some local knitter. But more than that, I love the spirit of the idea behind the socks. Someone cares enough about this little piece of his or her life to dress it up and make it noticed. Who thinks this stuff up? A quick internet search tells me that all the best-dressed trees are wearing handmade knitted socks these days. Somebody has quietly wrapped our downtown trees with warm hugs and I hope they stay warm all winter. And I hope next spring someone will give them new socks in tulip colors. If I knew how to knit I would consider it myself. But what this project also tells me is that there are as many ways to care about and create community as there are skeins of yarn in the world. Check it out next time you’re down here.
Speaking of downtown… We took friends that live in Baileyton on a walkabout before dinner last night. They’d not been in the area since Blue Plum in early June. They both remarked how things looked so different, hardly recognizable. Of course, there weren’t 10,000 people in the streets last night and that might’ve been part of it, but with the flood mitigation project going on, the demolition and rebuilding projects, new historical markers, outdoor art and construction projects galore, in addition to the tree socks, they were impressed. I guess you could say, it knocked their socks off!
Filed under: Closed Loop Systems, Composting | Tags: nature, recycling, reusing, Waste reduction
It’s 8 PM on election night, and I decided to write a new post here to take my mind off the voting results for a while. It’s not my intent to discuss politics (or religion) on this blog, so if you’re here for that, moooove on.
Next Thursday, November 15th Johnson City Public Works and Keep Johnson City Beautiful will be holding a recycling symposium called “Closing The Loop” at The Millennium Center, from 8:30 AM-1:30 PM. Local and regional recyclers will be sharing their ‘best recycling practices’ with us. I understand there will be two tracks for this event: One for residents, the other for businesses, so there promises to be something for all of us. We will learn how our local efforts affect our world resources, but I am hoping specifically to find out how we might start a city-wide metals recycling program. Tickets are ten dollars and include lunch-served on something recyclable or reusable I assume. If it comes on styrofoam I’m going to protest~ loudly! Registration is required for this event, so you can call Eva Hunter at 423-979-6318 to have your name added, and then you can pay for your tickets at the door.
Closing the Loop.. what exactly does that mean? It refers to the continuous life cycle of a product from production, consumption, recycling and ultimately, returning to production. Examples of closing the loop include the use of recycled materials instead of raw materials during the manufacture of new products or the recycling of food wastes into composts which are then used to help in agriculture and food production. Nature operates under the condition of limited and finite resources. It therefore reuses, recycles, and rebuilds everything it needs to sustain life. Take trees, for example. They drop their leaves in fall, those leaves break down and return nutrients to the tree, which in turn take the nutrients from the soil to grow and make new leaves. In nature, one organism’s waste is another’s food or building material. In nature, (which really is perfect), everything is interrelated and part of the natural food chain. It’s the only way nature can thrive and survive. We humans are the only part of nature that break that loop by taking more than we return. EXCEPT this little guy…
Living in a Peak Oil, lower energy world that is rapidly undergoing environmental and economic changes means that we MUST learn to create closed loop systems for everything we produce, buy and use. I want to live in a place that is based on local resilience, rather than oil dependence. Please consider supporting our city’s efforts to teach us how to do this! If WE show up for these kinds of events, they’ll offer more of them. However much I can do, we can do more. However much you can do, we can do more.
Filed under: Alternative Energy, Buy Local, Climate Change, Energy Savings, Peak Oil, Plant based diet | Tags: growing food, LED's
Have you wondered, like I have, why our Presidential candidates haven’t even discussed climate change? Their silence is deafening. That’s even though poll after poll shows deep concern about climate change:
- Two-thirds (67%) of Americans, including 65% of independents, see solid evidence of global warming, up 10% in the last 3 years. That’s according to a new Pew Research Center poll.
- Government action to regulate the release of greenhouse gases from sources like power plants, cars and factories in an effort to reduce global warming is supported by 74% of Americans, according to an August poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
- Among sportsmen, a conservative-leaning group, two in three (66%) believe we have a moral responsibility to confront global warming to protect our children’s future. Additionally, 69% agree the U.S. should reduce its carbon emissions that contribute to global warming and threaten fish and wildlife habitat.
New York City’s three-time mayor, Michael Bloomberg, had this to say today, two days after ‘Frankenstorm’ Sandy blew through his city:
“Our climate is changing,” he wrote. “And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it may be — given the devastation it is wreaking — should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”
New York’s Governor Cuomo got the message by replying: “It’s a longer conversation, but I think part of learning from this is the recognition that climate change is a reality. Extreme weather is a reality. It is a reality that we are vulnerable.”
If governor’s and mayors are willing to admit the reality of it, why not our national candidates? I’m so tired of waiting for our government to step up and take a stand and lead the citizens of this country to take steps to alleviate the inevitable suffering that’s begun and will continue to happen because of the frequency and severity of droughts and crop failures, heat waves, wildfires and storms. Too many federal policies are moving us in the wrong direction and making communities and wildlife more vulnerable.
So, what can we do? It will require significant changes in how we live our lives, so we must start by taking responsibility for our carbon emissions and footprints. All of the following suggestions offer positive results to us as individuals AND collectively, as well as opportunities to ‘live more with less’. I like that! Living more with less appeals to me on many levels, and I’ll be writing more extensively about these ideas in future posts, so for now, I hope you’ll just read ‘em and give them serious consideration…
1. Plant native trees. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the air and use it as their energy source, producing oxygen for us to breathe
2. Drive less-driving a hybrid car twice as much because you get twice as much mileage from a gallon of gas doesn’t reduce your emissions!
3. Eat a plant-based diet or at least eat less meat-beef cattle produce a comparable amount of methane in a day as a car
4. Switch to renewable or sustainable fuels for heating your home’s water, cooking and heating and make the ‘Green Energy Switch’ for just four dollars from your local energy supplier. That’s one Starbucks coffee. TVA offers the credits here: http://www.tva.gov/greenpowerswitch/green_formres.htm
5. Turn down the heat, turn up the AC-Heating and air conditioning draw more than half of the energy that a home uses in the United States. Give cuddle duds and sweaters for Christmas gifts this year.
6. Insulate and caulk. Install window quilts, insulating curtains, draft dodgers, foam receptacle covers, blinds or awnings to block cold and/or sun.
7. Replace compact fluorescent bulbs with even more energy-efficient LED’s. They’ve really come down in price- I even saw strings of LED Christmas lights at Family Dollar today for $2.50
8. Get out of debt and learn to live beneath your means. Downsize your home, your car, your stuff. In other words…
Someone said to me just today: “Our lives are filled with cheap plastic crap from China”. Amen! Reducing your debt load can also reduce your stress levels, the hours you need to work, the clutter in your home and carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere as well.
9. Act globally, eat locally. If you shop at a supermarket, the food you buy may travel in a plane from the other side of the world, burning fossil fuels the entire trip. Grow your own or shop at a local farmers markets, and you will find fresh and healthy food, and help save our climate.
10. It’s time we put some serious pressure on politicians, locally, nationally and internationally, to implement policies that support a transition to worldwide sustainable energy. VOTE WISELY ON TUESDAY! Be the change you want to see.
Filed under: Climate Change, Community Building, Community Gardens, Creating Community, Crowdsourcing | Tags: growing food, walkabout
Because I can’t seem to find the time or energy these days to do the research and writing to put together a single feature blog post, maybe it’s time yet again for a little of this and that-things I wanted to write about, none of which would make a full post.
Walkabouts…not just for Australians anymore. Michael and I went on a walkabout of Johnson City Thursday night, with 130 other folks interested in all the new stuff going on in or near downtown. Aside from the fact that it was a perfect late fall evening, this ‘guided tour’, which began at Nelson’s Fine Art Center, then proceeded to several historic and new business sites, was informative and fun!
Many of the participating stops offered free food and drinks, ending with pie and coffee inside the old train depot, soon to be Tupelo Honey’s newest eatery! Future walkabouts are planned and I highly encourage you to join in the fun while learning first hand all the absolutely wonderful things that are developing in this town. And it’s a nice way to meet others in YOUR community~just sayin’…
Another growing season at the Carver Peace Community Gardens has come and (mostly) gone. It was successful, but not without its share of problems. From the flooding on August 5th, to the city rats that discovered how good sweet potatoes are, we all managed to coax lots of veggies, flowers and herbs from our plots. But the time has come to take steps to make the garden more sustainable-not just with our gardening practices, but as a community, economically, environmentally and politically. So I plan to begin the long-dreaded process of applying for 5013c (non-profit) status this winter. Doing so will allow me to apply for grant money as well as enable it to partner with sponsors and other service organizations. I’ve delayed this obvious next step because of the paper work and governmental reporting it will require, but one of the loyal gardeners has offered to help with this process, so it’s given me the incentive I needed. Remember the line from the old John Wayne movie, “This town ain’t big enough for both of us”? That doesn’t apply to community gardens and I feel strongly that for urban growers with tiny, shady yards it’s the best way to get control of our food supply, get to know our neighbors, save money and put food on our tables, regardless of who wins the election, regardless of how much gasoline costs and regardless of the economy. We’re lucky to live in an area that gets plenty of rainfall, and where there’s still lots of green spaces for growing. If you know of an empty lot that might be suitable for establishing a community garden, let me know, and I’ll be glad to share my experience with you. Remember, behind the apartment complex, in the cul-de-sac, beside the school, anywhere there’s sun and a patch of land can be made productive. Just sayin’…
Speaking of communal growing and caring… Crowdsourcing, according to Wikipedia, is “the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor to a large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call.” It’s something I’ve been hearing about more and more these days and is an idea that makes a lot of sense. Evidently it’s an old idea becoming popular again, especially with the advent of the internet in our lives. The Oxford English Dictionary may provide one of the earliest examples of crowdsourcing. An open call was made to the community for contributions by volunteers to index all words in the English language and provide example quotations of their usages for each and every one. They received over 6 million submissions over a period of 70 years! This summer found Chicagoans watering 10,000 young trees in their city parks that were suffering during the record heat and drought. You can read about it here: http://www.treehugger.com/lawn-garden/chicago-crowdsourcing-watering-10000-trees-during-drought.html Other recent examples include how folks in New York City came out to help harvest this year’s crop of organically grown Mexican vegetables and herbs at El Pablano Farm when the growers suffered setbacks, retailers seeking customer input for new brand or company names, software companies asking users to test their products, and as a matter of fact, it’s EXACTLY how Wikipedia works! I believe as we transition to a lower-energy world with growing climate changes, we’ll begin to see more and more of this type of communal problem solving. Just sayin’…
Speaking of climate changes, helloooo ‘Frankenstorm Sandy’! We here in TN are incredibly lucky to be out of harm’s way from this storm, but not so for millions of others on the eastern seaboard. Yes, yes, of course we’ve always had hurricanes, but this storm is an extremely unusual combination of Hurricane Sandy, an early winter storm in the West, and a blast of arctic air from the North. It ain’t normal folks!
Filed under: Community Gardens | Tags: food, nature, plants, raised beds, soil compaction, soil erosion, traditional beds
We finally got around to planting a small fall garden last month, and tomorrow I plan to harvest the first bok choy from it, with kale and lettuces hopefully by the weekend. Take a look:
A second raised bed, with brick sides, is filled with cabbages and broccoli, but I’m not sure if they were planted in time to produce full heads before freezing weather. So I’ll put a hoop house over them soon, where they’ll continue to slowly grow until very cold weather settles in. (The stakes shown on the wagon were soaked in the bucket of wood preservative and are drying there.. they’ll be used to stabilize the new bed.)
After gardening both with and without raised beds, I definitely prefer ‘raisin’ the bar’. Here’s the pros:
1. No soil compaction: if you’re walking around on top of your raised beds, well, you’re an idiot.
2. No soil erosion: The soil stays within it’s boundaries and doesn’t get scattered into the paths or other areas
3. Easier on the back -’nuff said
4. Less Labor: Raised beds require more initial labor than traditional beds but less labor once established. Constructing the bed takes time, but once the bed is constructed and filled with soil, it only requires minimal maintenance.
There are some disadvantages too, such as being more costly to install rather than planting directly into the soil, needing more frequent watering (due to better drainage), and densely planted beds can be more prone to fungal problems. Nematodes and disease organisms may also buildup in the soil, although you can diminish these issues by growing different plants in the bed each year, which is wise to do in traditional gardens as well. And obviously, tilling is out of the question, unless you have a small hand held tiller. We donated our big Troybilt Pony tiller to the community garden a couple of years ago where almost all the beds are traditional, and only do light tilling now, with our Mantis, when absolutely necessary. The earthworms and frogs are spared because of the no till methods, and the soil structure maintains its integrity better as well. All in all though, we’re raised bed advocates.
Recommended by Organic Gardening Magazine
1. Slowly melt 1 ounce of paraffin or bees wax over low heat in a double boiler (do not heat over a direct flame).
2. Outdoors, carefully pour just under a gallon of solvent (mineral spirits, paint thinner, or turpentine, at room temperature) into a bucket; then slowly pour in the melted paraffin, stirring vigorously.
3. Add 1½ cups boiled linseed oil to the mix, stirring until the ingredients are blended.
4. When the mixture cools, either dip your lumber into it or brush it onto the wood, making sure that you thoroughly coat all surfaces, especially the cut ends. Dipping the boards for 5 to 15 minutes allows the repellent to soak more deeply into the wood.
Bill, I’ve asked this question myself-and still don’t understand the utter obsession with a damn telephone!! I’ve read accounts recently of almost mass hysteria over the iPhone5. Will people be committing crimes of desperation when the #6 comes out? And it will come out, you can be sure of that! But when you add the cost of the phone itself to your voice and data plan, it’s going to cost you at least $1,640 over two years — and that’s for the absolute rock-bottom plan on AT&T, the cheapest iPhone carrier in the U.S., with pay-as-you-go texting. (AT&T is also the most expensive carrier; its unlimited plan will set you back more than $5,500 over two years!) That’s right, $5,500 over 2 years! Not counting ‘accessories’ and ‘apps’. What’s that, you say? You can only afford to make the minimum payments on your credit cards? What? You can’t afford braces for Suzy or a winter coat for Bobby? You NEED it? OH, I see!
I personally don’t care what folks do with their money, but I do care about the effect all our gadgets are having on the Earth’s resources. Did you ever stop to think about what happens to all those iPhone 3, 3GS, 4 and 4Ss now deemed out of date? While there are many recycling programs available, research shows that most smartphones are not efficiently thrown out or properly recycled. Apple’s iPhones are far from the only culprit — most every smartphone, hard drive, hybrid car, satellite, MRI machine and GPS, along with dozens of other tech gadgets, are made from Rare Earth Elements. Now, I’m not a Luddite- I’m writing this blog on my home computer after all, and I own a cell phone too. (“My phone isn’t smart, but it works rea-ul good” she said, in her best facetious, hillbilly-style voice)
Are people lining up to buy new smart phones, fashions, and so on, to help their self esteems? I hope not, here’s why: The only time I remember wanting something so bad that I was close to hysteria, was in the 6th grade, 1965. I wanted a Villager brand skirt and sweater, (with matching knee socks of course!) so bad I was willing to do just about anything to get it.
And when I finally did, I still didn’t have any friends. “Imagine that!”, she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. No doubt my dear grandmother remade the eventually-outcast-woolen-wear into some kind of hot water bottle cover or felted wool slippers or something useful. Unfortunately, our grandmothers aren’t able to remake our e-wastes into repurposed items. However, children in China ARE being taught how to stand on a chair while they dip circuit boards and chips in acid to recover small amounts of gold, while older kids are taught to dismantle our ‘old’ techno-gadgets to get to other ‘precious’ metals inside. Would that ever happen in the good old USA? Surely not.
So, how smart is it really, if that new phone is putting you into debtor’s prison, if it’s not going to bring new friends into your life, if it’s contributing to the world’s e-waste and using up her natural resources at an alarming rate, and if kids are being exposed to hazardous and toxic wastes? Please think about it at least. And call me, I could use a friend
Filed under: Alternative Energy, Backyard Chickens, beekeeping, Biking, Emergency Preparedness, Energy Savings, Rain Barrels, Resilience | Tags: barter, skill sets
“We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy – sun, wind and tide. I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”~ Thomas Edison, 1931. That’s right~Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb and founder of General Electric said that.
We’ve put a man on the moon, invented computers and the internet and a bajillion other things since then, but our dependence on oil and coal has only increased, even though ‘sun, wind and tide’ have proven that they can be strong contenders for powering our lives. I’d like to add ‘human power’ to that list of renewables. These infinite energy sources will never be able to produce the amounts of energy that cheap oil has allowed us to
waste use, but if a person were to first reduce their energy usage, they could sure make a difference between surviving and thriving in a lower energy world.
When I think about what I might miss most if we were to have locally the ‘rolling brownouts’ that I experienced first-hand while living in central California, it would be: lighting, cooling, and communication with my family. For others it might be refrigeration, your computer or a washing machine. Our individual wants and needs are as varied as we, the people! I remember one hot summer day at work, in a corporate office on the second floor, when the brownouts began. The first time it happened, we were sent home from work early. The next time we were told to do paper work in offices nearest the windows (for lighting only mind you-the ‘modern’ corporate office windows didn’t open and close!) My job was telephone and internet-driven, so the paper work was quickly caught up with. The next time it happened, we had phone service, but still no computer-or air conditioning! In no time I was sweltering hot and the interior bathrooms were pitch black, and like walking into an oven. Those short-lived brownouts left an impression on me: BE PREPARED!
But how can I be prepared, when practically everything requires some form of energy? I’ve found a few things that really can make life easier when the grid goes down, whether for an afternoon or indefinitely…
4. Human (AND solar!)
I rarely endorse buying new things, but this hand-cranked or solar application is an exception because of its’ practicality, reliability, low-cost and safety:
This little jewel is an AM/FM/Weather Radio that also includes a light and cell phone charger!
And this little jewel gets me where I need to go:
OOPS! Wrong picture! Let’s try that again…
These ‘alternatives’ certainly won’t take the place of everything that electricity and cheap oil provides in our lives. When combined with staying out of debt, learning to grow and preserve food, maybe raising a few hens in the backyard, tending a hive of bees, insulating our homes or learning a barterable skill, they can help us keep our heads above water when shit hits the fan! And if shit never does hit the fan, you still win because you’ll have no debt, good food, comfortable shelter and a skill that you can trade. The end.
Look carefully at the picture above: Notice the “Honor System” sign? When we visited this beautiful rural farm market with our grandchildren on a weekday, we were a little surprised to see it. We spent $20 there that day and we HONESTLY loved picking out our pumpkins and cushaws and leaving the payment in their simple lockbox! Then, last weekend, I noticed this sign at a festival we attended:
Honor boxes have been around since as long as I can remember and remain a point of nostalgic pride and practicality. I love the convenience and simplicity of this system, and I have to believe most of us really are being honest, or the farmers and vendors would never survive. Here’s what I see in this behavior: When you sell me something I want, and trust me to pay you even when you’re not looking, you’ve made my life good in two ways. I get something delicious, and I also get a good feeling about myself. Both of those things make me feel good about the world— that I’m in a good place. And I also see you as a contributor to that good — as somebody I want to reward. It’s a win-win. The people at these businesses are not pressured by starvation or poverty or some extreme behavior warping condition, so they are naturally relaxed and eager to do the right thing. When our level of satisfaction is high enough we can allow ourselves to consider others. If we feel well served, we do in fact want to reciprocate. The basis of a more connected and cooperative society will always be formed by meeting everyone’s basic needs first and the rest will work itself out as in the above examples. I see a brighter future for all of us if we can live simply and work now to meet each others’ basic needs instead of waiting until everyone is overwhelmed by unnatural pressures of survival. If we work at it, honor farms can become our preferred self-regulating method of food distribution.
These are no ordinary times we’re living in folks, but by reweaving our connection with community and with one another through simple actions like honor systems, we’ll all be able to survive and thrive – trust me!
Filed under: Food Waste, Frugality, Plant based diet, Reducing Waste | Tags: beans, Farmer's Market, reusing, Waste reduction
I’m lucky (I realize that now) that I grew up with a frugal mother and grandmother to learn from, and their lessons have certainly stuck with me to the point that not being wasteful is just second nature. I consider it fun to see how much I can save, whether it’s food, money, gasoline or shampoo, so I never feel deprived doing these things. And it’s the doing that enables me to live well on less. I sincerely believe that a depression/transition/ recession like my generation has never seen is on the horizon, one that will change our ‘American Way of Life’ permanently. That’s why I write this blog, to help me sort this sometimes scary future out in my head, and to hopefully share ideas that will allow all of us to weather whatever our collective future may hold, all the while enjoying all that life has to offer.
That said, people are often intimidated by the feeling that if they can’t do a job perfectly, they won’t even try, and even though I’ve suffered from that myself, I’m also realizing that just because I’m not a purist vegetarian, or just because I’m not a perfect organic gardener, I can’t let those things get in the way of trying. Because I DO believe that little things DO add up. With almost 315 million people in the US alone, those little things can amount to HUGE differences! So, I was just trying to observe some of the little things I might do on any given day that either save my family time, money or energy. The observation itself was an eye opener, because, like I said, I’ve been doing ‘the little things’ for so long now that I was no longer really aware of them.
So, here, in no particular order, are my observations thus far today:
1. Here’s the ‘disposable’ eye shadow brush that fell apart in my hands this morning:
2. The napkin I laid it on to take the picture came from our supper last night…we had walked to the corner restaurant “Wok and Hibachi” where I ordered Sweet ‘n Sour Shrimp (aren’t shrimps kinda like a vegetable?) It was more than I could eat, so of course, I asked for a to-go box to bring home the leftovers in. Now that I know how big their servings are, in the future, I’ll bring my own ‘to- go box’ with me. (see? not perfect)
Anyway, the napkin had gone unused, and I knew they’d throw it away when we left our table, so I brought it home to add to my assorted paper napkins that always come home with me if they’re clean. We use cloth napkins for at-home meals, but the paper ones come in handy for little clean up jobs or to lay my
donut kale chips on when I’m snacking. Anyway, I digress…
3. This morning we shopped at the Farmer’s Market, and I actually remembered to bring my tote bags. Tonight’s supper will be the local, late corn on the cob and tomatoes, along with the baby beets and sourdough bread we bought, as well as that leftover box of rice, veggies and shrimp from last night and a side of soup beans that were left over from another meal. It’s a balanced meal, and a perfect dinner for two, with very little actual cooking on my part. Gardening has certainly given me a better appreciation for what it takes to grow good food, as well as how much better it tastes than processed stuff, and eating a plant based diet helps us stay healthier too, while keeping our food wastes and costs low.
4. From the market we went to a brunch at the JC Senior Center, where they were giving an informational program on all the cool things the center has to offer for its’ members. As new members we got to eat free, and we ran into a couple and another friend we were already acquainted with, so we felt comfortable in that strange, new setting, and I think they felt the same way. From learning to play the dulcimer to hiking, from zumba to clay sculpture, the center offers regular classes, many of them also free. We ate our regular breakfast here at home, then went to the brunch where we enjoyed slices of breakfast pizza, fruit cups, yogurt with granola topping and cookies. That was our lunch, enabling us to save those leftovers for supper tonight. And yes, the remaining paper napkins that we didn’t use were brought home rather than being thrown away. Is that being cheap? Call it what you will, I call it frugal and smart.
5. Speaking of frugal and smart…have you heard about FREECYCLING? It’s 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. Here’s the link for the national network. You can find a group in your area from there: http://groups.freecycle.org Freecycling embraces all the elements of living on less and transitioning to a lower energy world that I value. Yesterday I asked if anyone in the JC group had any full size sheets, and I got 3 offers! I recently gave away a truck load of leftover yard sale items that I didn’t want to deal with, so it works both ways obviously.I’ve learned to go to Freecycle first for many of my needs, saving myself lots of money and keeping stuff out of the landFULL!
6. OK, last observation for today. We’ve been practicing flushing less for years now. The old adage “If it’s brown, flush it down. If it’s yellow, let it mellow” is good advice. Older toilets can use up to 5 gallons per flush! Even though the new toilets in our home are water savers, using only a quart or so, we’re still not finding it necessary to flush every.single.time. Futurists predict we’ll be fighting wars over water instead of oil before long, but learning to incorporate water (and energy!) saving into your daily life long before it’s mandated will make the transition all the more easier if that does happen and will lower your water bills in the meantime. Flow restrictors, rain barrels, gray water systems and common sense things like only running the dishwasher or washing machine when full can all help lower your water consumption with no decrease in lifestyle satisfaction. Color me cheap if you want, I still say the little things we do, all day, every day, make a difference in our wallets, our lives and the world.
Filed under: Canning, Composting, Food Storage, Food Waste, Frugality, Herbs, Peak Oil, Reducing Waste, Resilience | Tags: food, frugal, homemade vegetable broth, reusing, Solar Cooker, Waste reduction, woodstove
Stocks are up at my house today. Homemade vegetable stocks, that is It’s one of those eazy- peazy things I do to save money and eat healthier, while helping us to reduce our dependence on store-bought goods. If those weren’t good enough reasons, I’m able to make it from otherwise wasted foods, and I wrote recently about how I’m trying to reduce that too. Here’s how easy it is. I save all my onion, celery and carrot tops, mushroom stems, squash and tomato ends and other vegetable scraps in a gallon sized plastic bag in your freezer. When the bag is full, it’s enough to make about 7 or 8 quarts of rich, golden brown, good tasting stock that can be used in any recipe that calls for it. Here’s the before:
Dump the frozen contents into a large stock pot, and add 8 quarts of water, 4 bay leaves, 12 whole peppercorns, 4 crushed garlic cloves and 1 heaping tsp of whole thyme. Then I usually add a couple of diced sweet red peppers that are diced and frozen or dried when the garden’s is pumping them out faster than we can eat them, 2 or 3 quartered potatoes or turnips, (a good way to use culled potatoes, with the bad parts cut out) and then, depending on how much celery, carrots and tomatoes I see in the bag, I’ll add a few more of those things if necessary. I also added the leftover cooking liquid I had from a pot of fresh green beans I’d cooked earlier in the day to make part of my 8 quarts. Notice too, there’s no added salt. Most commercial stocks are heavily salted because I don’t think they add things like red peppers and thyme. Salt is cheap, after all. Anyway, bring it all to a boil, then simmer while covered for a couple of hours on the stovetop, woodstove or solar cooker. Strain the stock, discarding the vegetables and seasonings. Ladle hot stock into hot, sterilized jars and process at 10 pounds for 35 minutes. Pints for 30 minutes. I’m guessing that you could add chicken or beef drippings to this recipe for a meat-based stock, but I’ve never tried that. Seems it would be a good way to use up those pan drippings after cooking those things. Chickens and worms both LOVE the soft-cooked veggies that are left over from this, or you can toss ‘em on the compost pile. Here’s the after:
Spot checking at a local grocery store, a quart of Swanson’s vegetable broth costs $3.29. At that price, the 8 qts I made today then are worth $26.32 (plus tax!). And since I’ve started using Tattler Brand Reusable Canning Lids and Seals, I don’t have to pay for metal ones anymore either. All my canning jars were collected free over the years, and my canner is now 38 years old. My total cost: about 60 cents worth of carrots. The self-sufficiency and pride in producing something that tastes so good from food waste~ PRICELESS!
So, what’s this got to do with Transitioning? Skills like growing food and preserving it for later use, being able to repair things rather than buying new ones, or repurposing something old into something new can help us cultivate an inner resistance and resilience that, regardless of where the stock market ticker stops at the end of the day, can help us feel in control of our lives, at a time when many of us are having a hard time with that. Even if Peak Oil was a myth, even if our futures turn out rosy, isn’t that a good feeling to have?
It’s also National Raspberry Cream Pie Day, but I couldn’t find a cool picture for that, so we’ll just forget it, ok? I try to follow a plant-based diet as closely as I can, but sometimes I find myself in situations that force me to compromise my own values. A recent outdoor wedding, and my bands’ participation in an outdoor music festival in Alabama this past weekend are good examples of what I’m talking about. I suppose I could plan ahead and take all of our food to events like this, but I find it hard enough to get myself packed, not to mention all the necessary instruments, gear and arrangements for my dog and fall garden to survive in my absence to pull that off. So, what’s a veg-head to do? I’ve been told many times by other vegetarians that they haven’t eaten meat in 10 years or more, but I can’t say the same. Here’s the thing: I LIKE meat, I just feel it’s not a good choice for my health, nor for my planet and especially for the animal that’s killed. All of those things bother me about eating meat, yet, this weekend I ate fish and bacon! I haven’t eaten bacon in many, many years because there’s just no way in hell I can justify it as a good food choice, yet Saturday morning I succumbed to the smell of it cooking outdoors (is there any other smell on earth quite as tantalizing?) and ate two slices with my breakfast. I thought about the poor pig it came from that whole day, and by Sunday morning, when I was greeted throughout the festival grounds with that same wonderful smell, I was able to resist by thinking of ‘Onion’. Here, take a look at him:
(Do you think he’s smiling because he felt safe with me?) I do find it ironic that on this World Vegetarian Day I woke up to the news of yet another big beef recall going on because of E-coli bacteria and ‘foreign materials’ found in meats from a packing house in Canada. I’ve got several friends that I admire greatly, that are doing all they can to produce humanely raised, grass-fed meats and cheeses to sell at our local Farmer’s Markets, so I’d just like to suggest that if you’re going to eat meat, at least consider supporting hard-working farmers like them. And perhaps those ‘Meatless Mondays’ really could become a regular part of your weekly diet-it is Monday after all. And remember, it doesn’t have to be ‘all or nothing’. Just ask me about that part
Hi blog readers. Below is my letter to the ‘Lot Manager’ of the Johnson City Farmer’s Market. If you too care about local food, please consider sending him and the market board your concerns. Rising food and energy prices affect us all. Buying and eating seasonal foods that don’t require trucking across country, or via Trans-Atlantic jets can enable us all to eat well, regardless of what our collective futures may hold. Thanks for ‘walking your talk’ and helping build a stronger, more resilient, LOCAL food system~Sam
Hello Mr. Benfield!
As a new resident of Johnson City, I would like to tell you how much I’m enjoying visiting the market each week. But I’d like to ask why your produce vendors are allowed to bring in produce that they haven’t grown themselves, some of which I suspect is not even from this area? I recently bought some loose apples out of a bushel basket at your market, and when I got them home found one in the bag that had a supermarket type sticker attached to it with a bar code on it that said “Ginger Gold Apple”! Reading your vendor bylaws, I see that Article 2 states (in part) that “…The objective is to help and to promote small farm interests.” Do Ginger Gold Apples purchased from a commercial orchardist, perhaps several states away meet that objective? I think not and I wonder if other shoppers are feeling ‘deceived’ as well.
I truly do want to continue to support your farmers and producers, but I also want to support a local food economy. Providing shoppers with LOCALLY grown foods (say, within a 50 mile radius) offers us the opportunity to connect with the growers, learn how our food is grown, and provides us with ready access to the freshest foods possible. Farmer’s Markets all over the country require their vendors to adhere to this policy, and have enjoyed much success in doing so.
As you can see in the map above, Johnson City is surrounded by no less than six other counties! With a new, permanent home on the horizon, I do hope that you and your board will reconsider your own governing policy and that 2013 will be the year of supporting those of us that live and eat RIGHT HERE!
Thanks so much for your efforts.
PS I would also love to see your website updated with current event and board members’ information, as well as a working Facebook link.
I know I sometimes sound like a broken record, but if we hear a message enough, it tends to sink in eventually. I wanted to share a recent experience with you that I thought may influence your next buying decision. I get a monthly prescription, and have been getting it at Walmart, for $6.86. Refilling it monthly involves driving there to pick it up, waiting in a usually long line, and also usually involves some kind of ‘impulse’ purchase too- “Oh, I NEED to get …” (fill in the blank here)
As you know by now, I’m all about supporting our local farmers and businesses, but at the same time, I expect a certain degree of personal convenience and a price at least somewhat comparable to what I’ve previously paid at other places. During the exploration of my new neighborhood, I’d begun to notice a little drugstore tucked away in a nondescript shopping strip, a mere 5 minute walk from my kitchen door (I timed it). So, I took my pill bottle and insurance card into them and told them I’d LIKE to transfer my RX, but that I’d been getting it at Walmart, and though I didn’t expect them to match the Walmart price, I was curious what it might cost. They very graciously (and immediately I might add!) called my insurance company, then quoted me their price of $6.17! That’s right, 69 cents less than the big box! So, I made the switch-just.like.that. I didn’t have to drive there, and I didn’t have to wait when I came back later to pick it up. At 33 mpg, and the nearest Walmart 8 miles and many redlights away, I figure I also saved about $1.75 in gasoline in addition to the 69 cents savings, and about an hour’s time too. One more thing… while in the drugstore (http://www.mooneyspharmacy.com/) I did a quick price comparison of some vitamins and local honey-uh huh, GREAT prices and service with a smile! Check out YOUR nearest small business-maybe you’ll have a pleasant surprise too, all the while helping to keep those mom and pop operations going strong. Just sayin’…
Filed under: Food Waste, Plant based diet, Reducing Waste, Uncategorized | Tags: beans, Farmer's Market, frugal, homemade vegetable broth, Waste reduction
That’s an awful lot of food piled up in the picture above, isn’t it? I’ve been reading a lot about food waste lately, and then NPR did a ‘Talk of the Nation’ show last Friday called “The Ugly Truth About Food Waste in America” about the growing problem of it all. You can listen to the 20 minute program here. It just seems to be a subject calling me to write about, hoping in the process that I can challenge myself and my good readers to reduce our own food wastes. I’ll begin by admitting that I thought I was doing a pretty good job of not wasting food, until I began this little experiment of mine, and have realized the ugly truth is, I do waste more than I’d like to admit! So, I’m being more mindful of it now and consequently I have been able to reduce it some. I’ve also learned that the average food stamp recipient receives approximately $4 per day, per person to feed themselves. That’s $112 a week for a family of four. Could you meet that challenge, week after week? It’s obvious you couldn’t have much food waste, or you’d run out of food before you ran out of month! Of course, making wise purchase decisions plays a large part in how far those SNAP benefits will stretch, but I digress…
I’ve never really considered it food waste if the dog eats it and I’m then able to reduce her daily kibble a bit. But in reality, with billions of people on this planet literally starving to death, feeding the dog that last spoonful of leftovers really does count as food waste. The dogs in those places are starving too, and I’m pretty sure a starving person wouldn’t give his last bite of food to a dog. So, with that in mind, and learning that 1 in 7 kids in the US are on Food Stamps, I’ve set out to reduce my own food wastes.
Onion, carrot and celery tops go into a bag in the freezer and then made into veggie broth once it’s full. The onion skins give the broth a warm, golden color too by the way! I started this little personal challenge last Monday, so I began the week carefully going through my frig to see what needed to be eaten first. I’d thawed a 2-cup box of cooked Cannellini beans over the weekend, but had only used one cup, so I spent a few minutes going through the indexes of my recipe books until I found one that called for that one leftover cup of beans. Because it was a coolish, rainy day, I decided on “Mushroom-Barley Soup” which also used up the quickly drying fresh mushrooms AND a medium-sized head of spring cabbage that were in the frig! Yes, harvested fresh and stored properly, cabbage will keep for months in the bottom of the frig. This was a great soup that gave us 2 big bowls for supper Monday night, as well as 2 more for lunch the next day, with none left over. The dog was NOT happy however. I made a skillet of fresh corn bread to go with it and we polished our meal off with grapes and fresh-cut pineapple we’d bought on sale the week before. Tuesday evening we enjoyed ‘Aloo Gobi’, a curried dish that used half the head of cauliflower that I’d bought on sale for $2, our spring-grown red potatoes, fresh tomatoes from our garden, lots of spices that we buy in bulk, and 1/3 cup of cilantro that was beginning to droop. I usually cook a pot of brown rice on Mondays, and use it up by week’s end in endless combinations. We ate the Aloo Gobi over cooked rice, and I cooked sides of Chana Masala and stir fried kale to go with it, using up some leftover garbanzos and the rest of that droopy cilantro in the process, plus the last of the Farmer’s Market kale too. We ate the leftovers for lunch on Wednesday, but after a busy day of gardening and biking and appointments, we decided to order a pizza for supper-something we do only once or twice a year. This pizza was from Scratch Bakery, a small, wood fired, family owned pizzeria, and Michael was able to walk to the corner to pick it up, saving both gas and delivery fees! We both agreed, it’s probably the best pizza we’ve ever eaten and as you can imagine, there were no leftovers of that either after lunch the following day. Thursday I was able to use up some zucchini and yellow squash, more tomatoes, black beans I had in the freezer, rice and homemade salsa to make killer burritos wrapped up in homemade corn tortillas that Michael has learned to make with our little $10 tortilla press. The last of the cilantro was chopped into the burrito filling. Friday was an Indian dish, called Harira that used the last of the celery and carrots in the frig, as well as lentils, spices, fresh hot chiles that came in the pizza box and yep, rice. Michael made fresh chapatis to go with it and we were in heaven. Saturday we ate our main meal at a wedding reception we attended and Sunday I put the leftover lentils that I’d cooked on Friday into the slow cooker for a meal of ‘Sloppy Lentils’ which we ate with Oven Baked Fries. We ate the leftovers for lunch today and we’re back to Monday! The dog is a little thinner I think, which is a good thing, and my refrigerator doesn’t have any questionable food in it. My compost bucket didn’t get emptied as often this past week either I noticed. Just some cabbage, apple and pineapple cores, some tea leaves and tomato tops went into it last week, for the most part.
So, with a little more awareness on my part, some advance planning and a willing spirit, we ate healthy, delicious meals all week and didn’t have any waste. Can we pull that off forever? Maybe so. The self-challenge makes it fun, a game almost, although I’m fully aware that not having enough to eat is no game at all for many people. We made sure to make JUST ENOUGH chapatis, and JUST ENOUGH corn tortillas, with one extra for the damn dog.
I was going to end this ‘no food waste’ litany here, but last night I ground some corn in my mill for my friend, and in return, she gifted me with a pint of her home-canned salsa verde that I’ll use to make tempeh/black bean enchiladas with tomorrow, and this morning I was the lucky recipient of a quart of homemade vegan kaboucha squash soup that another friend brought to us when she stopped for a cup of tea! We ate the soup for lunch today with those leftover Sloppy
Joes Lentils, and we felt positively rich!
As we head into fall and winter, I’d like to encourage you to turn to soups, international foods, meatless meals and seasonal foods to round out your family’s meals. Food prices are predicted to have sharp increases this winter due to this summer’s wide-spread droughts that affected so much of the soybean and corn crops, which are the mainstay of livestock diets and many other foods. By not wasting a single thing, you should be able to save yourself enough to offset those increases. Let me know what you’re doing to decrease food wastes at your house. Leave it in the comments section below.
Filed under: Community Gardens, Day of Peace, fall gardening, Peak Oil | Tags: growing food, Hoop House
I’m a long time member of an international, interfaith group known as United Religions Initiatives (URI). There’s a small but active local chapter here in NE Tennessee that wants desperately to promote peace among faiths. We are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Pagan, Jew, Buddhist and more. We’re all different, but united in our hopes to see and experience world peace. Is that too much to ask? We don’t think so, and to commemorate International World Peace Day on September 21st, our chapter will be showing a PBS film, titled “Talking Through Walls: How the Struggle to Build a Mosque Unites a Community”, this coming Sunday afternoon at 3 PM at the Johnson City Public Library. If you don’t know where the library is on Roan Street, I’d like to suggest that simply finding it and making it a part of your life might be an excellent way to promote peace! Our group is using this auspicious date to begin a whole series of films with the hope that we “Watch a Film, Start a Dialogue, and Make Peace Happen”. The only commitment from you is a desire to have peace-in your life, and in our community. Even if you can’t attend the film, I hope you’ll use the day to contribute to peace in whatever way you see fit. The UU church that I attend will be planting a new Peace Pole right after our regular service Sunday morning, with the words “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in Arabic, English, Spanish and Swahili written on it. Two years ago, the Carver Peace Gardens came together on Peace Day for a harvest potluck and peace pole planting at the entrance to the community gardens. Check it out:
Speaking of the community garden… Michael and I will be offering a workshop tomorrow (Wednesday) night at 6 PM on how to erect a low-cost, reusable, hoop house. This workshop is open to the public, there’s no charge to attend, and we’re hoping it will enable and encourage folks to construct their own simple hoop houses so that they’ll be able to grow fresh food right through the winter, without using any fossil fuels to do so! We’ll meet out in the garden, located at Carver Park, 322 W Watauga Ave in Johnson City- the weather’s supposed to be nice.
Future News: I’m going to be the guest this week on Rev. John Shuck’s radio program called ‘Religion For Life’. He and I will be discussing ways that we can transition our lives and communities to the post-petroleum reality that is coming. It’s actually just a rehash of the same ideas that I write about in this blog, but if you’d like to listen in, you can catch it
Thursday, September 20th at 8 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Sunday, September 23rd at noon on WEHC, 90.7.
Sunday, September 23rd at 2 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Monday, September 24th at 1 pm on WEHC, 90.7.
Via podcast beginning September 25th.
Rev. Shuck writes his own blog called “Shuck and Jive” which is where I first learned about “Peak Oil”. He’s a goldmine of information about the subject and is a kind, funny and inspirational man to boot. Listen in!
Filed under: beekeeping, Community Building, Resilience, Transition Towns | Tags: Farmer's Market, food insecurity, honey, master gardener program, Master Gardeners, old time music, One Acre Cafe, pantry shelf, worker bees
I’ve finally completed this year’s requirements for my Master Gardener certification, and if I can stick with it, in two more years I’ll be eligible for lifetime status. I’m far more impressed with the honeybees lifetime commitment to making honey. The worker bees only live an average of a few weeks in the summer, because they literally ‘work themselves to death’ flying from morning til nightfall gathering pollen and nectar and doing their share to keep the hive alive. The hours that I put into the Master Gardener program pale in comparison. Look at that honey on my pantry shelf-it really is liquid gold-and I try not to waste a single drop. The young couple that bought our old house this summer wanted my hives as part of the deal, so I’m grateful the ‘girls’ got to stay in their old digs, but I miss them a lot. Anyone wanting a hand with extracting their honey, or with helping prepare their hives for winter in exchange for a bit of honey? As a gardener and a slightly crunchy environmentalist, I always like helping our pollinators! Plus, such an exchange of labor for gold would be a su-weet deal for both of us! Let me know if you’re interested…
Speaking of a sweet deal: One Acre Cafe is coming to downtown Johnson City! This is a newly formed non-profit program whose mission is to address the issues of food insecurity experienced daily by an estimated 20 percent of East Tennessee residents by providing sufficient, safe and nutritious meals in an environment where all members of the community can “eat what they want and pay what they can.” Let me repeat that: “eat what they want and pay what they can.” Pay.It.Forward. in action.
Like the new Farm Cafe that recently began operations in nearby in Boone, N.C., the new One Acre Cafe will focus on three key elements, job training, volunteerism and community cooperation.
Diners could be me or anyone who comes in to see what’s up in this community or it could be an individual who cannot afford a meal at all but can work one hour at the cafe in exchange for their meal, according to a recent article in the Johnson City Press.
To eliminate food waste, the cafe will offer meals in three proportions, at prices ranging from $5 to $10 that those who can afford to pay will know is going to positively impact the life of someone less fortunate.
Everyone will be welcome to eat at the cafe regardless of their ability to pay and will be given an opportunity to gain job skills and experience in food service and restaurant management.
Filed under: Biking, Buy Local, Community Building, Resilience | Tags: beans, Crunchy Living, food, frugal, growing food, simplicity, the good life, vegetarian
I was told today that I am ‘CRUNCHY’. For the uninitiated, ‘crunchy’, as defined in the ‘Urban Dictionary’, is used to describe “persons who have adjusted or altered their lifestyle for environmental reasons. Crunchy persons tend to be politically strongly left-leaning and may be additionally but not exclusively categorized as vegetarians, vegans, eco-tarians, conservationists, environmentalists, neo-hippies, tree huggers, nature enthusiasts, etc. Also used to describe establishments where alternative foods and products are sold, i.e. natural food stores.” So, I’m taking the comment as a compliment.
I have definitely altered my lifestyle recently, partially for environmental reasons, by moving from the country to a walkable neighborhood near downtown. I’m relearning how to use my feet and my bike to get around now, I’m a vegetarian, a tree hugger, a gardener and a left-leaner but I am NOT a neo-hippie, which the same dictionary defines as ‘modern day suburban pot heads that play a lot of hacky sack’. For what it’s worth, I don’t know how to play hacky sack
Since a picture’s worth a thousand words, I’ll share some recent crunchy things at my house:
Have you tried grilled peaches? These babies are filled with my homemade blackberry jam and they top my list of favorite foods. I hear grilled pineapple is excellent too. Have you tried this yet? Is this considered crunchy?
Speaking of good food, we had company for supper last night and enjoyed chile made from our homegrown beans, tomatoes, peppers and onions along with this blue cornbread, made from the Indian Blue Dent corn I grew last summer. I’ll admit, the cornbread was dense and chewy, with a crunchy crust actually- just the way I like it. I love using my grandmother’s cast iron skillet to make it in. No pan in my collection equals it, and it’s probably 75 years old. Simple, healthy meals shared with good friends and home-made music or board games like ‘Quirkle’ are some of the best of times in my opinion. Can you say “Crunchy Quirkle” five times, really fast? Me neither.
How many peppers did Peter Piper pick? I have no idea, but Michael and I picked a five gallon bucket full out at Larry Thompson Farms over the weekend. This afternoon I diced and froze some of the bell peppers, put the hot ones in the dehydrator, and will pickle some of the mild banana peppers tomorrow. I sure hope they don’t get soggy, and that they’ll remain…wait for it- CRUNCHY!
Another friend had asked me on Friday if she could borrow my Excalibur dehydrator this week to dry some of her peppers. I fully intended to share it with her tomorrow, after mine had finished drying, but that was before I went to the ‘Tree Streets Annual Yard Sale” on Saturday morning. Look what I picked up for her there, for just four dollars! A perfect way to start dehydrating on her own, and a great bargain, since their website sells this model for $129! A crunchy deal if there ever was one!
I’ll say it again: If we collectively plan and act early enough, we can create a way of living that’s significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. Now is the time for us to take stock and to start re-creating our future in ways that are not based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being. My choices of growing and preserving food, composting, recycling, staying closer to home, hanging my clothes to dry and being frugal with my money, all while supporting local businesses and community building, isn’t a hysterical response to Peak everything, but a slightly crunchy lifestyle that I cherish. Who knew?
Filed under: Buy Local, Canning, Community Gardens, fall gardening, Food Storage, Local Food, Resilience, Sustainability | Tags: Farmer's Market, food, growing food
My freezer is overflowing with hope these days, in the form of bags and bags of tomatoes, okra, peppers, diced squash, beans and more-all giving me hope for the future. Hope that first of all, no power outages occur that would cause me to lose all that garden bounty, but just as importantly, hope that it’ll be enough to last us through the coming winter months, supplemented by whatever we can keep growing under a hoop. I normally don’t like to freeze our veggies, for fear of losing them to an extended power loss, but we finally have our generator up and running well, so I feel a little more assured that we could keep that food frozen if we should ‘lose the juice’ for a while. Bottom line though, we’re still depending on fossil fuels to keep our hopes alive and that makes me uneasy.
I much prefer the taste of home canned vegetables to most frozen ones anyway, but because of ‘THE MOVE’ this summer, it really managed to mess up our normal gardening efforts. The soil in our community garden plot still needs a lot of organic matter, compost and nutrition added to it before it will be able to produce large amounts of anything. Add to that fact the flood of August 5th turned Carver Gardens into Carver Lake, and it was, shall we say, less than a banner year for gardening for us. The food came in fits and spurts, rather than in tidal waves of goodness like it usually does. Freezing takes advantage of those occasional windfalls very well, but canning is well suited for the normal GLUT that takes over my kitchen every summer, and I hope to return to it next summer.
But, like the frozen bags in the freezer, I have high hopes for our fall garden. We’re busy preparing the new beds and will plant as soon as we can. Especially kale. Lots and lots of kale. It’s become our very favorite green. In fact, so much so, that we’re not going to bother with any other kind this year, other than lettuce. I also have high hopes for a long, warm autumn so these tiny seedlings will have ample time to mature before the deep cold of winter sets in. Luckily, kale only improves in flavor and sweetness with hard frosts, so it should be ok. With fresh greens, and our stored garlic, onions,squashes and potatoes, along with all those bags of frozen hope in the freezer, plus the jars of food left from last year’s canning efforts, the dried greens, herbs and peppers, we should be able to continue to keep our grocery bills fairly low, even though I’m seeing rising prices on almost all of the things we do buy (and there are plenty of those!), including spices. The owner of a local produce stand told me last week that he’s seen the price of some of the spices he carries triple in 2012! I don’t know if those higher food prices are due to the nationwide crop losses this year, the once-again rising fuel prices (almost to $4 a gallon again!), or simply because it’s an election year, and what better way to sway hungry voters over than to point to higher than normal prices for everything come November? Do I sound a bit cynical these days? I call it realistic-but by God, I’m still hopeful that I can continue to grow food for my table until I’m too old and frail to lift the trowel. My garden gives me hope. My garden IS hope.
A nice bright spot to note: ETSU Farmer’s Market will begin again on Thursdays, from 10-2 PM. Since it won’t be competing with the other area markets for their traditional WED/SAT spots, it will give us shoppers another day each week of just- picked foods to choose from. I’m pretty sure NOTHING we buy at any local grocery store was picked that morning. Along with all the seasonal favorites, it will also feature booths of groups that are working to end hunger in our area and to foster resilience through local sustainability efforts: think COOP. There will be local farmers, bakers, and candlestick makers, along with a beekeeper or two, free range eggs, grass finished meats, great live music and more! Hail to the Kale! And hope!
Filed under: Biking, Community Building, Composting, Creating Community, fall gardening, Local Food, organic gardening, Sustainability, Uncategorized, Urban Living | Tags: growing food, networking
Michael and I attended the monthly meeting of the West Davis Neighborhood Association last night at Carver Community Center. After a 4-minute stroll there, and stopping to say hello to a fellow community gardener along the way, we met with a representative of the city and about 15 or so of our new neighbors to discuss our neighborhood’s needs, wishes and problems (there’s that old needs vs wants cropping up again!) There was high praise for the local police, fire and parks and rec departments, but lots of criticisms of the zoning, planning and solid waste departments. The Association is considering applying for Historic Registry status, and members have started a social networking internet site called Next Door where neighbors must live within specified boundaries to belong to the network and then are kept abreast of ‘all things pertaining to our neighborhood’. Neighborhood activity like this is EXACTLY what I was looking for when we decided to buy this house and everyone was very inviting and nice. They’re planning a ‘walk through’ of a number of our members homes next month and will invite representatives from different Johnson City departments to come into our homes to see how beautiful and special they are, in hopes that the visibility will promote awareness of our neighborhood when it comes to city planning efforts. I have never worked with such a group, and I’m intrigued by it so far. I’ll keep you updated.
More neighbor news: Tomorrow night, Friday, we’ll be taking part in the monthly JC Bike Party. Michael and I are the only ‘seniors’ on this ride, and this month’s promises to be quite tame, not too long. We’ll meet at 5 PM at the Downtown Square parking lot and we’d sure love to see some gray hairs like ourselves come along, so we don’t feel like the old hippies! Riders leave at 5:30 and these young people truly know.how.to.have.fun. Their Facebook page simply says: “Building Community Through Bicycling!” This is all of us at last month’s Bike Party…
And last, but certainly not least, I have an old friend that is now a new neighbor, and she offered me her leftover shredded leaves that she’d had delivered last fall. She wanted to clear her driveway to make room for a new delivery coming before long. I offered her our old seed starting rack, and we’re both happy! I jumped in ‘Big Red’ (our 1987 red Chevy S-10 truck) and in no time at all had a truckload of leaves that had broken down to a dark, rich compost. There were earthworms in it so big they looked like small snakes! It just so happens that our very plans for tomorrow were to begin tilling and amending the raised beds that were in the backyard when we moved here, but are in dire need of attention before fall planting. This load of composted leaves, mixed with manure, will fill the beds and no doubt grow some fabulous food! The lettuce, kale, cabbage, parsley, Swiss chard and Bok Choy I planted is all up and growing well, and will need to be transplanted soon to the beds, so this gift of black gold came just in time.
All this is just to say that urban living can be just as satisfying and sustainable as country living, depending on how it’s approached. This week alone, we’ve walked to the library, grocery store, to our plot in the community garden, to the neighborhood meeting last night, and to the Farmer’s Market. In the morning I plan to walk to the nearby garden store to buy some more fall veggie transplants. Walking instead of driving saves us gas and money, helps keep our weight down, and puts us into intimate contact with our neighborhood. I believe our Peak Oil futures will be based on localized living- Imported and shipped food, foreign cars and globalized businesses will be replaced with locally grown food, mass transit and bike lanes,and small locally owned businesses that will offer the goods and services that we need, rather than ‘Made in China’ crap. I like knowing we’re living in a place where we know our neighbors, working with them when we need to, playing with them when we want to, and depending on one another when times are tough. It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood!