Tennesseetransitions


Ding! Ding! Ding!

 

Image I recently touched on a concept called “The Green Triangle” that was put forth by author, editor, and simple living adherent, Ernest Callenbach. Seems he was able many years ago to put into words a principle that I’ve often used to guide me in my daily choices and decisions concerning my money, my health or the environment. The principle that relates these three points is: Anytime you do something beneficial for one of them, you will almost inevitably also do something beneficial for the other two – whether you’re hoping to or not.

I’ve also written several times about ‘win-win’ situations. Here, here and here for example. The Green Triangle is a ‘win-win-win’ situation in my eyes and as someone who cares deeply about those three things, I find it a helpful tool. I’ve used it so often over the years that I rarely ask myself anymore, “Self? What does the Green Triangle indicate in this situation?” But, it wasn’t- and isn’t- always that easy, so I thought perhaps it might be helpful to you if I could tell you of a few instances when it’s been a guiding light for me.

I long fretted over “Which is best? Local? Organic? Grass Fed?” Where my food is concerned, my health was my first consideration. So with staying healthy as my primary motivator, I felt comfortable with answering those questions by adopting a plant-based diet. Period.  As it turns out, by not buying meats, I’m improving my arteries, while saving money (beans, grains, nuts, eggs and greens are far cheaper sources of protein than meat)  AND protecting the environment from the harm that Big AG conventional meat producers are causing. Green Triangle =ding!ding!ding!

Whenever I walk or ride my bike, I’m putting the Green Triangle into effect. I’m saving gas money and wear on my car, I’m improving  my clogged arteries, and not contributing to the CO2 emissions that driving causes. ding!ding!ding!

Occasionally though, it’s not so clear-cut or even when it is, it’s not so easy to adhere to my own principles. When Michael and I were dating many years ago we had an old, heavy cooler that I couldn’t give away, try as I might. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, we simply wanted to buy a lighter one, with wheels and drink holders and little dividers inside that kept your hummus from touching your lettuce or whatever. I distinctly remember standing in the backyard and Michael saying to me that he felt we are responsible for the things we purchase until the end of that things’ life cycle. That simple statement stayed with me, and  the longer I live with it, the more I see how true it is. We didn’t buy the new cooler then, nor have we ever bought another one, because the karma of keeping the damn old thing boomeranged, as karma does, you know. Years later, a friend was moving and offered us his ‘old’ cooler-and it was just what we’d wanted! We still have the ‘old old’ one, which I use for protecting tender young plants on cold spring nights ;),  as an extra camp seat, and  as storage for camping gear during the off-season. We never did have to spend the $30 dollars a new one would’ve cost us, the landfill is STILL minus one steel cooler, and  I rest easy knowing I made a good decision. ding!ding!ding!

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Before I close, I want you also to understand that making good choices, whether using the Green Triangle or by following the advice found in my fortune cookie, is still really hard. I don’t always make the best food choices or purchasing decisions (did I ever tell you about my weakness for chocolate chip mint ice cream or my Imelda Marcos style shoe collection??), and some days I don’t gave a rat’s a## about the polar bears (ok, that’s not quite true) but being ever-mindful about my consumption of every thing that comes through my life has saved me lots of cash, helps me stay healthy and hopefully, has saved a polar bear somewhere as well. Maybe this Green Triangle thing can help you make better choices too. ding!ding!ding!



Frugal Friday- April 11, 2014

I’ve stayed at home most of this week, either in the garden or finishing up some easy ‘indoor’ projects that were on my winter ‘to-do’ list. Un huh, I KNOW winter is over but such is life. I save the most time, energy and money when I stay home, because I don’t spend money here, so there’s not a lot of dollar savings this week, but one special one I want to share with you.

Monday: In my position as the Carver Peace Gardens coordinator, it falls to me to make sure the tools and equipment we offer the community gardeners are kept in working order. Enter: ‘Big Red’ the 20+ year old Troybilt tiller that’s still got plenty of life left in her if people would just treat her kindly. Anyway, seems a gardener pulled Big Red out of the toolshed and ‘she was broken’. As in, one of the handlebars made of 1″ steel tubing was sheared in two. We are a nonprofit of course, and our bank account reflects that. (There’s really no bank account, it’s all kept in an envelope in my desk drawer ;) because the bank wanted a $3 a month service charge for balances under $1000.) Which is every month. But I digress..I figured a weld would fix it so I called the nearby high school and spoke with the weld-shop instructor there, who said if we’d bring Big Red to their on- campus shop, the students would fix her pronto. I did, the instructor was the only one on hand when I arrived, so he welded it expertly for free for me in about 5 minutes. I don’t know what this would’ve cost to have it welded at a local shop but the instructor’s good nature and encouragement to bring all my future welding projects to the school was: Priceless

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See that large black spot of welding on that handlebar, down near the engine? Fine job!

Tuesday: Last week Michael and I met friends at a local bakery for breakfast. Smoky Mountain Bakers in Roan Mountain has great breakfast sandwiches, along with fresh breads and pizzas that are baked in their wood fired oven. We paid $1 a piece for bagels to bring home and it inspired Michael to try his hand at making them. Though not as beautiful as the bakery’s -YET- the cinammon/raisin wonders were really delicious and we figured they only cost about 10 cents a piece to make. He made six on his first attempt, saving us $6.00 since there was also tax on those bakery bagels. Let me say this about those bakery bagels before I move on:  The hard working couple that own that Roan Mountain bakery (and all other entrepreneurs like them) deserve our business and support but that’s simply not possible since their bakery is a 35 minute drive from my home. To my knowledge, there are no locally owned bagel shops near me, and until there is, we’ll continue to make our own baked goods. The Farmer’s Market is opening next weekend, with several vendors selling fresh baked bread there that we’ll try to support during the summer months when we don’t like to heat up the kitchen with oven baking anyway. But, that’s next week. Just sayin’

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Wednesday: This time of year finds us watering trays of seedlings twice a day, using almost 1/2 gallon each time. We’ve started pouring the water collected in our dehumidifier into the watering can and using that de-gassed  water for this chore. Savings: 7 gallons a week x 4 weeks= 28 gallons, enough to wash my car and a sink full of fresh spinach! I’m noticing more documentaries, webinars, books and blogs devoted to our growing water crisis, and I heard a speaker at the local college last night say our next wars will be over water, not oil. If not already, we all might as well get accustomed to being as frugal with our water as with everything else in our lives. Do  your part, don’t waste a single drop!

Thursday: About that speaker: our local college brought him here from Berea College in KY as part of their month-long Earth Day celebration. His name is David Cooke, and he is the director of Grow Appalachia, a nonprofit that is planting seeds for a sustainable future here in the Southern Appalachians. His foundation is doing good work and he’s trying to expand their reach into my area of TN, which is why he was here. There was no charge for the presentation, there were great snacks, and I got a free Earth Day tee shirt, all while listening to an engaging speaker talk about some of the very things this blog ponders! Again, if you live in or near a college town, take advantage of all they offer beyond the paid classes! My new teeshirt —————————————–>sam with t shirt 4

Friday: OK, I’m stretching here, including this on Frugal Friday, but it’s definitely consistent with what this blog is all about, and that is eating locally, using resources wisely, and building community. New neighbors have been moving in this week and I decided to take them a spring time loaf of Lavender Tea Bread as a ‘welcome to the neighborhood’ gift. I’ll be dropping it off to them this afternoon when I walk by their house to go to the drugstore. As a special bonus, I’m going to give you the recipe for this bread because it is frugal and fabulous. It used my home-ground locally raised wheat, eggs from my friend Sandy’s eggs, lavender from my own plants and sugar, lots of sugar ;)

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Lavender Tea Bread

3//4 cup milk (I used soy)

2 TB dried lavender flowers, finely chopped or 3 T fresh flowers

2 C all purpose flour (I used half AP and half wheat)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

6 TB butter, softened

1 C Sugar

2 large eggs

 

 



“The Hungry Time”

If you or someone you know eats, you’re part of this conversation. Native Americans referred to this very time in our annual trip around the sun as ‘The Hungry Time’; that period between the last of the stored fall provisions and the beginnings of the new spring bounty. For all of wildlife this is that time. It is believed that many of the early Pilgrims, already sick and weak,  finally starved during the Hungry Time in this strange, new land. Many beekeepers will often successfully see their hives make it through a long cold winter, only to have them succumb to starvation now since there is very little available for them to eat, and all of their stored honey from last fall has been eaten.

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Gardening, canning and storing food in my pantry or root cellar increases the personal food security of my family and makes it easier for us to eat well year ’round. But for someone that tries to eat seasonally as often as I can, this can be a time of ho-hum meals made from the last of the butternuts and spaghetti squash that we enjoyed so much from November to March, the last of the beets, sweet potatoes and parsnips and the over-wintered kale and spinach that we fought to keep alive in the garden rows throughout the deep freezes! Looked at from the perspective of a hungry bird or a starving Pilgrim though, I am rich indeed. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re not hungry either. I’m thankful for that, as I know you are too.

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But what about those that are hungry, and getting hungrier? Their growling bellies are loud, but their need is silent. The price of food and gasoline is creeping upwards while many of them are still struggling to pay those February and March heating bills that are overdue. Undeveloped areas for wild animals are being displaced by mega-malls and soccer fields, while farmers are spraying their fields to kill every living thing in them so they can plant their GMO crops of corn, soybeans and cotton yet again this summer. Is there any help or hope for the hungry ones? I know this problem up close and personal and have come up with a few ideas that might help all of us survive and thrive during ‘The Hungry Time’ and beyond.

1. Start at home: Vow to STOP, not just reduce, your food waste. It’s simple really: plan your menus before you shop (and then eat or share your leftovers). This one practice saves me more time, money  and waste than any other single thing I do in my life.

2. Plant some milk weed, bee balm and sunflowers for the butterflies, birds and bees this summer. Your pretty petunias in a pot on the porch and the stale bread you throw out on the lawn don’t offer any nutrition for them. While you’re at it, put in a birdbath and feeder.

3. Plant a backyard (or a front yard!)  garden, and in there, ‘Plant a Row for the Hungry‘.

4. Volunteer at One Acre Cafe, a local not-for-profit restaurant that is making big strides in our community to see that ‘everybody eats’. If you don’t live in NE TN, find a similar place where you live. A soup kitchen, a community garden, or food pantry would all welcome  your help and help someone that’s hungry sleep better.

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5. Consider a fast fast. That’s not a typo. This is simply done by eliminating one meal a week from our diets and instead, giving the food or money we would’ve spent on that meal to someone that’s hungry. And please know that even though Second Harvest and other pantries will lovingly accept your food donations, they have the purchasing power to feed 4.3 meals for EVERY DOLLAR YOU DONATE.

6. Give food as gifts. I suspect many people could use the food but are ashamed to make that known. In place of yet another can of car wax or tee shirt, consider restaurant or grocery store gift certificates. Cookbooks, kitchenware, cooking, canning or gardening lessons, bags of worm castings or organic compost, potted herbs or seeds would all make thoughtful gifts that can help with hunger. Such gifts also cut down on consumer waste and unwanted clutter.

Growing, planting, donating and fasting are all effective ways to reduce hunger, but of course they won’t eliminate the problem. What would? If I was Queen of the World, I’d start my reign by teaching every child how to grow some food and then cook what they grew. From scrambling an egg to cooking dried beans to grilling some veggies, if they know how to grow and cook it, it would open doors for them all their lives. Many people have never been taught, nor had the opportunity, to learn how. The unknown is scary. Those of us that are lucky enough to have these skills take it for granted that anyone can cook. Not. Make it less scary by teaching someone to do this. And did you know that folks that receive SNAP benefits can purchase food plants and seeds with SNAP? I don’t believe it’s so much a factor that they WON’T buy those things with their benefits, I believe most of them DON’T know what to do with a cabbage or tomato plant or seed once they get them home. And before I get dethroned? I’d require every school yard and park in the country to have community gardens. If they became as plentiful as grocery stores, it would become second nature. The last thing I’d do before they pried my tiara off? I’d outlaw GMO’s and Bayer’s famous neonic pesticides, making what foods we do have safer for all of life on this planet. But then again, that’s probably why I’m not the Queen. But at least my subjects wouldn’t be hungry!



Frugal Friday- April 4, 2014

Ahhh, another day, another dollar fifty cents-and my two cents worth. I hope you’ll share with me in the comments section at the end of this post how you’ve managed to save  your precious time, money or energy recently. And speaking of saving time, this’ll be relatively short because I’ve got a busy afternoon and evening planned-playing music with a friend and then going downtown for the monthly First Friday celebration-both frugal and fun choices!

Monday: We had our annual income tax returns prepared for free by AARP volunteers. This is the 5th year for doing so, and they’re always pleasant, well-trained and helpful. Savings: I just called a well-known national tax service to see what the basic charge is for a simple joint return and was quoted roughly $125-$250! So, I saved a lot going with AARP. You must be over 55 to qualify for this service. Um, let’s just say I qualify.

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 Tuesday: I’ve mentioned this several times before, but since it’s such an easy savings and I can make it basically from what would otherwise be food waste, I keep making  fresh  vegetable stock when I run out. This week I canned 7 quarts plus an extra 2 quarts for the freezer. Cost of a good quart of store-bought broth is $1.89. Savings: $17.10 plus tax and all those metal cans or tetrapaks!

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Wednesday: Because it was such a beautiful spring day, and because I knew I’d be hard pressed to get supper on the table with all I had to do that day, I decided to make a ‘Solar Stew’ of pinto beans, tomatoes and butternut squash. I put all the ingredients in the cooker about 9:30 AM, and when we were ready to eat at 6 PM it was perfectly done! Savings? Well, we’re often tempted to eat out at the end of a busy day when neither of us wants to cook so there’s that. And of course, the peace of mind that comes from knowing that I didn’t have to leave my crockpot plugged in all day while I was away is priceless.

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Thursday: I try really hard not to take advantage of this freebie because I don’t want to abuse it and lose the privilege for everyone: at my local library, no late fees are due if  you are 60 or older. (Yet another reason to enjoy being a senior) I had borrowed a book a few weeks ago that I needed as a reference for a presentation I was giving and was late returning it. Fines forgiven: $1.60!

Friday: We don’t make many new purchases but when we do, we always do our homework first and that’s how we managed to save big bucks at the register when we bought our new gas grill today. A completely unadvertised fact is that Lowe’s gives a 10% discount if  you present your Veteran’s ID card at checkout. Tonight: Grilled Portobello sandwiches on Onion Faccocias, with the mushrooms bought from Kroger on Tuesday with a 5% senior discount, and the buns bought from the day-old bread store at 75% off regular price. We’d been using charcoal for the last two summers, but I like the additional security that a gas grill offers me in case of an extended power outage. But listen up: new gas grills don’t come with a propane tank. That’s an extra $49.95, which you lose when you exchange it for your next filled tank anyway. So, I drove over to my local recycling center where I picked  up what looked to be an almost new (empty) one for free. We took that with us when we went to buy the grill and exchanged it for a filled tank for $19.95. Savings: With the veteran’s discount, we saved a cool $25 on our total purchases, plus I saved $30 on a the tank. A total of $55 saved just by practicing a bit of mindful consumerism!

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This girl loves saving money, but I also love reusing, repurposing, reducing and recycling resources. I find it more than coincidence that these activities often seem to be interrelated. I also find it pretty cool that choosing what’s best in terms of money or the environment often turns out to be best for my health as well. That concept is called ‘The Green Triangle’ and is a useful tool when you’re trying to live lightly. We’ll talk more about it next week, ok?

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Resilience Rocks

I write about resilience in this blog fairly often. I read or hear about extraordinary resilience among other people seeking their freedom through their own actions and get inspired. And as I seek resilience in my own life, I often feel as though I’m thriving, in an abundant and meaningful way. My household waste is minimal, and the inputs into my life seem to equal the outputs-some days. But I realize that every time I turn the key in my eco-friendly car, that so-called balance is destroyed. Every time I flip the switch on a compact fluorescent bulb I’m reliant on the electric company. Every time I eat fair trade, organic store-bought food, I’m reliant on a producer, and a truck and some oil somewhere along that long line. Every time I turn on the low-flow shower, I’m reliant on my water company, and rain, and God, and dams and waste water treatment plants. So how resilient am I, really? By myself, not very I’m afraid. Resilient communities are another matter altogether. They are the future. Communities that can supply food, water, energy and needed services are literally a detox for Western countries and are even being embraced in rural India as a way to help individual villages improve nutrition and food supplies, stop migration into large, crowded cities and improve quality of life.

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<———–Rooftop solar panels in Saudi Arabia!                        

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Chard and Sweet Potatoes growing in downtown Charleston, SC

 This NOT an impossible dream folks. I see evidence of transitioning taking place every week it seems, in one form or another. Author James Kunstler writes: “Much of America east of the Mississippi is full of towns that are waiting to be reused, with much of their original equipment intact. The lucky suburbanites will be the ones with the forethought to trade in their suburban McHouses for property in towns and small cities, and prepare for a vocational life doing something useful and practical on the small-scale, whether it’s publishing a newsletter, being a paramedic, or fixing bicycles.” 

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So, I traded in my suburban life for a country cabin and now for an urban lifestyle in this medium sized town I live in and love. “Prepare for something useful and practical on a small-scale?” I want to be the ‘Herb Lady’ in my neighborhood. You know, the person you’d go to if you had a headache, a toothache or an upset tummy and couldn’t get to, or afford to go to, a doctor. The sort of eclectic old sage you’d seek out for advice about how to treat a burn, a sore throat or iron-poor blood. I enjoy very much growing things, and have been learning about the many practical uses of apothecary herbs. We’re all familiar with the culinary herbs, but medicinal herbs, now that’s a whole other world! I’m going to start experimenting on myself, beginning with using rosemary to improve memory. As soon as I remember where I put it ;)

rosemary

 So, tell me, what are  you doing to become more resilient in  your personal life, or in your community? Are you working in community gardens, or planning biking trails? Is serving as a midwife or backyard mechanic  your thing? Is your town talking about a future based on local and small scale, rather than always bigger? I hope to have some super exciting news about resilience in my community to share with you very soon. In the meantime, please leave your own ideas and comments below. Inspire us all-please.



Downtown Farming

Most of my readers know that I live downtown and am excited to be a part of the urban revitalization that is taking place in my community. For two years, the very premise of this blog has  been about finding ways and means that will enable us to transition, gracefully if you will, to a lifestyle that is more sustainable, resilient and fulfilling than the one that we find ourselves in today. It’s about 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. For me, the good life involved moving from our acreage in the country to an urban area with high walkability, a nearby community garden, and where I can work alongside my neighbors to help ‘be the change I want to see’. What I discovered this afternoon is all that.

Housed in an old brick bakery just behind the Farmer’s Market, on the corner of Buffalo and Cherry St is ‘DOWNTOWN FARMING’, a great new store for organic and hydroponic gardeners. I know this isn’t a great picture, but wait ’til you step inside! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was raining like crazy outside but the worn wooden floors and brick walls were as warm and welcoming as Kyle’s smile was. The store been closed for 2 hours when we arrived, but the shopkeeper, Kyle, opened the door and invited us in like we were old friends when he saw us peeking in the windows. He told us about all the products that were for sale; many familiar, some new and strange, but he also shared with us the owners’ mission: to be an integral part of this urban community while advocating the growing of sustainable, local, organic food. There were bags of organic worm castings, soil mixes, and fertilizers, along with the fans, lights and other components to put together your own hydroponics system. In fact, we took pictures to show you what they had growing there, at the tail end of the most vicious winter we’ve seen in recent history:

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A 5 foot tall blooming sunflower, along with fully grown peppers, lettuces and tomatoes were all growing there in the confines of those brick walls!

We bought a package of sage seeds from Seeds of Change but they also had a full rack of heirloom seeds from Sow True Seed Company, from nearby Asheville, NC. I could see this store becoming  a wonderful replacement for the recently-moved Mize Farm and Garden store, minus the poisons. They had growing pots and trays for sale, but could use some tools and a few more familiar gardening needs to fill that niche easily. I hope you’ll pay them a visit, support their early efforts and let them know what you’d like to see them stock. I think they’re ‘all ears’ and might be willing to fill the empty spot in our hearts and gardens that Mize once occupied. ‘Downtown Farming’ indeed! Those two little words embody the very essence of this blog.

                           Store hours: Monday-Friday 10 AM to 6 PM

                           Saturday 8 AM to 2 PM

                          Closed Sunday and Monday

                          downtownfarming.net

                          downtownfarming@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Frugal Friday- March 21st, 2014

Boy howdy, can I tell it’s spring! I am busy every day with community garden and personal garden stuff, as well as all the other things that fill up my calendar. It’s during times like this that I see money slip through my fingers more easily, spending more on things like restaurant meals or car washes or bakery cakes instead of home cooking and backyard car washes. Tracking our expenses for 15 years now tells me instantly where our money goes so it’s easier to stop the bleeding when it begins. As busy as this week has been, I’ve tried to be frugal:

Monday: Put a new double-edged blade in my old razor. I bought the razor new for $5, along with 10 blades, in 2008. Since then, I’ve bought another box of 5 blades, with 2 left. So, that means I’ve used 12 blades in about 6 years. That’s right, 12 blades in 6 years! The secret? After every single use, I drag the wet blade across a scrap of denim, then coat it with baby oil using the handy little brush that came with it, before putting it back in its box. I read the tip about using the denim right after I’d bought the razor and have been amazed at how long the blades can last by taking the few seconds it takes to sharpen and oil them after each use. If you try this, all you need to do is make a few quick strokes UPWARDS, against the ‘nap’ of the denim, like you would if  you were shaving. I think I paid about $3 for the box of five extra blades. I’m very pleased that I’m no longer throwing away ‘disposable’ razors and that I’m saving $1-$2 a month on their cost. Savings over 6 years? A LOT. And I get a MUCH closer shave than I ever did with triple edge blades. Just sayin’. (yeah, you get used to the sharp blade after just a couple of uses and I rarely cut myself)

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Tuesday: I’m putting my Sam’s Club membership to good use. I’ve started buying #10 size cans of peaches, then dividing them into smaller containers which I freeze. Michael did the math for me: we were buying the smaller cans at 4.2 cents per oz, the larger ones are 2.3 cents an oz. When thawed, they are as good as they were when the can was opened, with no degradation in texture or flavor.  Savings: 50%! I’ll be looking for other bulk buys like this in the future.

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Wednesday: Notice that large can pictured above: See how it says “California Peaches”? Nope, not local. Michael’s chemo treatments have left him with compromised taste buds and he CRAVES the cool sweetness of them so much that he blew through all the Georgia peaches that I’d canned last summer before Christmas! Who am I to deny him peaches simply because they’re not local? But this day wasn’t about peaches, it was about tomatoes instead. I told you recently that the president of the California Tomato Growers Association was quoted on NPR as saying that because of the ongoing drought there, as well as the lack of high Sierra snow pack (and spring melting) that this year, instead of that states’ farmers providing US consumers of tomato products with their normal 90% of all processed tomato products, THEY WOULD BE PROVIDING ZERO PER CENT! There’s simply not enough water available to grow them this year. What’s a person to do? Well,  you can convert your front yard to tomato production and can your own sauces and salsas OR you could hope that  you run across the sweet deal I found yesterday at the discount grocery: 30 full-sized cans of seasoned diced tomatoes, all with long ‘sell by’ dates, for 25 cents a can. I found the same brands in Krogers for 90+ cents a can, so savings on the tomatoes alone were $19.50 or more. I also bought 4 name brand jars of salsa for 50 cents a jar and some organic cooking sauces for 30 cents a jar! Be sure to check out your local ‘discount grocery’ too for super savings like these, but when you find great deals, stock up, because chances are they won’t be there when you go back!

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Thursday: This was Michael’s birthday. I cooked his favorite meal, African Peanut Stew, using  many ingredients that we’d grown and preserved. No restaurant meal for him, he wanted this instead. A pot of it, served over rice, costs less than dessert would’ve at any restaurant in town. Plus, we had enough left for 2 more full meals. I had made some chocolate chip cookies for a meeting the day before, so that’s what we had in place of a cake, along with some of his beloved peaches, and called it a birthday. He was happy, so that was priceless.

Friday:  Planted peas, onions, potatoes, beets and carrots. Walked to the drug store, Dollar General, the music store, the community garden, the library and the Buddhist Dharma Center. Ate “leftovers and peaches” for lunch. Washed and vacuumed the car in the back yard. Gave myself a manicure. Attending a fund-raiser dinner tonight for One Acre Cafe, and will make a donation with the money I saved.

“Living well on less” is my mantra, I hope you don’t get tired of hearing about it and I hope it inspires you to seek out all the ‘little ways’ that you can keep money in your pocket too, all while making your life more resilient- and fun!



Unfinished Business

My home is starting to resemble a plant nursery and I’m missing the sweet little greenhouse we had at our old place. It required a pretty large investment of time and money to put that kit together, but it was done with patience and care, and still stands, over 10 years later, on top of a windy hill, seemingly no worse for the wear…

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The cheap-ass greenhouse that was erected on the nearby grounds of a local city park just two or three winters ago is falling apart, with the doors ripped off of their cheap plastic hinges, one ventilated window gone and a whole side panel broken in two. But the basics are there, along with water and electricity to it. I’ve tried to steer clear of it, because I foresaw it as the ‘problem child’ that it’s actually become. It sits completely empty, while the trays and little pots of herbs and vegetables I’m trying to start here at home struggle to find enough sunlight to thrive. It would take time, energy and a real commitment to get that greenhouse back into usable condition, and to work out a system for making it productive and useful.

I took part in December in the inaugural planting of our city’s first ‘Food Forest’, on the grounds of a nearby church that offered the flat, sunny lot next to it as a place to plant native species of fruit and nut trees that will someday offer fresh food to passersby.

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Summer plans are to add berries, build an outdoor cob oven, set up rain barrels and plant sunflower hedges there, all while using permaculture and sustainable growing principles. This project will require sustainable human-powered energy and a long term commitment to be successful.

My friend Sarah, a full time student and mother of two with a hard working hubby that struggles to keep his company afloat, writes that she would like to transition to a gluten-free diet, but a perfunctory check revealed that one pound of almond meal cost $12.99! This very issue has been simmering on my brain’s back burner ever since watching a ‘Transition Towns’ documentary about how a once-struggling food co-op in a small Oregon town turned the tide when they added a worker-owned bakery to their little natural foods store. Then, serendipity showed her head and this month’s issue of the long-running magazine Mother Earth News arrived in my mailbox the other day, with a feature article about the money saving and community-making opportunities that are open to members of buying clubs and food co-ops; yet another worthwhile project requiring a long term commitment, but since we all have to eat, doesn’t this one make long term  sense? Here’s a picture of the market I belonged to many years ago…

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What do all these things have in common? They’re all unfinished business-projects or ideas that need a  bit of attention, dedication, money, or energy to make them useful and workable, as well as helpful and sustainable for our entire community! I’ve only named a few projects that could quickly improve our resilience and self sufficiency if we’d just get behind them and see them to completion. From this blog’s outset, I’ve written that “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 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.” We don’t necessarily need to start from scratch to make this a reality. Let’s help complete what’s already been started and grow from there. If you’re reading this as a local reader, please join the bimonthly ‘Livable Communities’ group when we meet at 5 PM today at my house to find ways to do just that. There will be cookies.

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Go Tell the Bees
March 11, 2014, 9:08 PM
Filed under: beekeeping | Tags:

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Honey bees, honey bees, hear what I say!
Your Master, poor soul, has passed away.
His sorrowful wife begs of you to stay,
Gathering honey for many a day.
Bees in the garden, hear what I say!

Northern Europeans brought to Appalachia a custom that when a beekeeper died, the survivors must go tell the bees of their master’s death, persuading them to stay rather than take wing and follow the master to heaven. When we moved in 2012 from our country home to the urban home that we live in now, the new buyers wanted me to leave my bees with them. Luckily, since I wasn’t dead but simply leaving,  I felt I should be the one to tell them so. One of my very first lessons as a new beekeeper had been given to me by a man who had been keeping bees for over 40 years. I was so afraid of being stung, I would actually hyperventilate when it came time to get in the hives. He told me to take off my gloves and to rub my bare hands all over the wooden hive parts so that my bees would become acquainted with my smell and would not attack me as if a stranger. I did as I was instructed, knowing that a honeybee’s sense of smell is their strongest natural sense. And from that magic moment forward, those little girls only stung me if I accidentally crushed one. (Well, there was that time that I made the fatal mistake of returning the honey supers to the hives at the end of a long honey harvest day after dark…) Anyway, it only made sense when I left them in the care of their new owners that I should say ‘goodbye’. I cried that day, but the  young couple that had bought the place were eager and happy to become their new caretakers, so I knew they would be ok in the end. I even gave them a copy of ‘Natural Beekeeping’ as a house-warming gift.

I’m very thankful that this area of NE TN has a large, active beekeeper’s club. This coming weekend they’ll be holding their annual ‘Bee School’. Rather than me write out all the details about it, I’m just going to link you to them here. I’ll be giving a class at the school on Friday night about ‘Natural Beekeeping’. I  killed kept bees unsuccessfully for the first five years I had them before finally accepting that what I was doing simply wasn’t working very well . It was then that I began to follow my own instincts about what might be best for the bees, and that lead me to a wonderful book called, appropriately enough, “Natural Beekeeping”. I borrowed it three times that winter from the library, and finally realized I had to own it for myself. It revolutionized my thinking about what was really best for the bees and I began to follow the advice the author had given. The following three years I stopped using harsh chemicals and began learning and using other methods of keeping them healthy. It involved a completely wholistic approach, akin to having a successful organic garden by starting with building healthy soil. Guess what? The bees not only survived, they were thriving, and that last summer before moving, I not only had the best honey harvest I’d ever had, I was able to split hives because their colonies had grown so large!

We’ve all heard about Colony Collapse Disorder, and the serious issues honeybees face. I’d like to simply say this: if you can’t keep bees yourself, please plant native flowers and trees that bloom at different times to provide local bees with the pollen and nectar they need to survive, avoid using toxic chemicals in your garden and yard, and continue to fight against GMO plants. And please, go tell the bees how much we love and need them!

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Frugal Friday: March 7, 2014

I’ve had lots of opportunities to save money lately. Some by sheer luck, some because of diligence on my part. I’ve learned that normally though, the best way to ‘save money’ is to not spend it to begin with, and that’s always my first line of thinking. I’ve also found it to be true that if I will wait a day or two before buying something, I often realize I didn’t need it after all. Or, if I wait LONG ENOUGH, often the very thing I need comes my way anyway. From a swatch of turquoise fabric to repair a pillow sham to  an electric heater that I needed in my cellar to keep pipes from freezing, planning ahead and being patient always pays off. Of course, sometimes opportunity knocks in the most unexpected ways and places and I have to ‘listen’ to hear that knock when it occurs.

Monday: Got my teeth cleaned at the local dental hygienist school. My dental insurance only pays for two cleanings a year. Because I have a tendency towards gum problems, I’ve found that if I have mine cleaned 3-4x a year, that really keeps the problems minimized. The dental clinic at the school will clean them twice a year, and for seniors, it’s free. They’ll also take x rays for free, then make copies for me to take to my regular dentist for $20. To top off that sweet deal, they always send me home with a ‘goodie bag’ that has a new toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste and a box of floss in it. Sometimes there are samples of mouthwash, specialty brushes or coupons for toothpaste too in the bag as well. Because I’ve been getting my teeth cleaned so regularly for years now, (even though I begrudge having to go) I haven’t had to have any other work done at all. Prevention is the best medicine, that’s for sure. If you live near a university, check out the services they offer. I’m able to ride my bike to the college, and my dentist is so close I don’t bother, I just walk there. Savings: Good Dental Health?=Priceless!

Tuesday: Speaking of the local university: Michael and I volunteer for the School of the Arts in order to earn free tickets to the event of our choice each spring and fall. We like to deliver the posters for those events because many of them are close enough by that they can be delivered while on our daily walks to the nearby businesses. Sometimes we’ll usher too, allowing us to see a show that way. Many of these events are followed by a free buffet of fruits, veggies and hors d’ oeuvres (did I spell that right?) that we’re invited to enjoy. Savings: Most tickets to these events are $15-$20 each. Date Night of Music/Film/Presentations and food=Priceless!

Wednesday:  I’m cooking multiple things together more and more often, to save time and energy. This week I again filled my clay cooker with recently-harvested carrots, parsnips and brussels sprouts, along with some leftover cubed chicken, and tossed it all with about a quarter cup of needs-to-be-used Italian dressing and some fresh sprigs of rosemary. Cooking the dish at the same time Michael’s home-made bread baked saved an hour of electrical usage, and provided us with two delicious meals! 

clay cooker    bread

 

Thursday: My favorite nearby farm and garden store held a ‘moving sale’ recently, and just like with ‘moving’ yard sales, things were marked down to rock-bottom prices. We snagged bags of organic soil amendments for 75% off!. Savings: Home-grown organic food-You guessed it-Priceless!

Friday: My nearby IGA grocery store closed last Friday, but I’ll use this example for today. I went in on the last day they were open, searching for a bargain, on foot. I ended up calling Michael to come pick me up and to bring some of my cloth tote bags because I got many many bags of food at 75% off! I spent $35 so that same stuff would’ve cost about $140. Savings: $105! I’m not happy about this though-I’d lots rather have this small hometown grocery open and within a 6 minute walk of my back door. The closing of this store leaves me and everyone living within a 4 mile radius living in a food desert now, forcing US to drive to the nearest store, or to catch a bus. I could go on and on about the issues this raises, but this post is not about that so I won’t go there-for now.

Frugality is one of the most beautiful and joyful words in the English language, and yet one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and enjoying. The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things.”

Elise Boulding  from the blog http://otrazhenie.wordpress.com/



Hope Springs Eternal

Last Saturday our temperatures here in NE TN were a perfect promise of spring, so I got to my plot in the community garden and spent a very pleasant hour or so turning under the green manure crop of Crimson Clover while adding some organic amendments to the soil. The next day’s rain was the perfect finish. Now it will have a couple of weeks to break down before I plant ‘spring things’ there. It’s a rare fall that I get the planting of my winter cover crop timed perfectly so that it will fill in, without going to seed, before the cold weather fully hits, but I managed to last fall. Remember this?

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The now-brown quilt of clover served as a natural cover through the winter, and will now finish its’ part in the garden’s life by adding nitrogen-rich organic matter to my slowly improving soil. I added blood meal, rock phosphate powder and homemade compost to the bed and then tilled it all under. I plan to try a no-till method in some of my beds this year, in hopes that the earthworms will drag the compost and other amendments down deep to the plants root area where it’s needed most. I vowed when I started these beds from scratch last spring that as soon as the clay was broken down I’d stop tilling. I hope that time has come, for using a tiller is not sustainable and my goal is to garden productively without using fossil fuels or the pesticides and fertilizers that are made from them. I’m still not there, this picture proves it, but I do hope to be some day soon.

diggin' in for spring

In the meantime, I’m babying my starts of onions, kale, chard, cilantro and parsley that are growing on a make shift book case-turned-plant-rack.

Veggie Starts

They’ll get transplanted to 4″ pots, slowly hardened off, and tucked into the prepare beds by the end of the month, along with potatoes, peas, beets, carrots, cabbage and broccoli-all ‘cool season crops’ too. After many satisfying meals this winter using our stored, canned and frozen fruits and veggies it will be wonderful to once again have fresh foods to add to the table. While I wait for the lettuce, peas and strawberries, I’ve started sprouting seeds in the kitchen to give us ‘something fresh’ right now. Sprouting is easy-peazy- something even I can’t mess up!

The winter was really tough on the fall-planted kale, chard and lettuces. The ‘polar vortex’ ripped the plastic off both hoop houses the night it blew in and all that survived was the spinach. This picture was taken on December 17th, when those things were holding some promise for spring:

spinach

All that’s left of that promising bed are the spinach plants, (lower left) which are still too small to harvest. Hopefully, not for long.

In writing this post, I realize how many times I’ve used the word ‘hope’. My garden is always full of hope, if nothing else. I hope the seeds will sprout, I hope for a bountiful harvest, I hope the food we grow will nourish us and I hope that by showing you, my reader, how much can be grown with so little time, space and energy that it will inspire you to try your hand at growing something this spring too. All indications are that we will definitely see rising food prices as the year goes on. We already are actually. Hoping that won’t happen isn’t enough for me though. In a world where I often don’t feel I have much control over much of anything, growing my food empowers me like nothing else does! Right along with filling my pantry and my belly, gardening fills me with peace of mind and the knowledge that regardless of what happens in the world, I’ll always have the knowledge and skills to provide for myself and others. Hope really does spring eternal in the garden!



Good to the Last Drop

It’s been said our next wars won’t be over oil, but water. When I lived in California a dozen years ago, everyone living in the suburbs had sprinkler systems, set on timers, that would come on and go off at predetermined times and days. Most houses didn’t have individual water meters, and were only billed a set fee each month. This of course led to serious water wastefulness and more than once I witnessed sprinklers running while it was raining. I also witnessed sprinklers that had gotten knocked awry and were simply filling the gutters. I saw first-hand the giant irrigation sprinklers on wheels that covered entire fields, the canals that had been built EVERYWHERE to channel snow melt water down to the valley from the Sierra Nevada mountains, and yet more growing fields that were customarily flooded to give the food grown there the moisture it needed to survive. I even remember seeing road side signs in some areas asking voters to ‘say yes’ to allow water to be channeled from the Colorado River to the Central Valley. It’s a freaking desert there folks, yet it’s considered “our nation’s breadbasket”!

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Meanwhile, record-breaking droughts are occurring on the West Coast of North America, as life-changing flooding is occurring in England-both events that have long been warned would occur due to our changing climate. And we here in the modern world keep right on shitting in our clean water supplies and using tremendous amounts of water to extract shale oil from rock for crying out loud! I know I’m not alone in my concerns about the ability to grow enough food to feed ourselves in a water-challenged world, not to mention the health challenges and risks that such a scenario will pose. It’s no longer a matter of IF this comes to pass, but WHEN. Looks like it’ll be 2014.

So, what can we do, as individuals and as communities? I say WE because if you are alive, you’re part of this conversation. There are many small things we can do in our homes and daily lives to reduce our water needs, and even though I suspect I’m preaching to the choir  repeating them here, just consider them ‘gentle reminders’. I disagree that individual efforts to use fewer resources of any kind are for naught so I’m always looking for creative new ways to conserve them. And with water savings, I often get to see the tangible results, whereas with other resources it’s not so immediately apparent.

1. Shower Less-because Michael has had surgical wounds and vacuum systems and chemo pumps attached to his body since last June, out of necessity he’s had to shower less often. NO ONE has refused to hug him yet, so it’s a water intensive ‘habit’ we Americans need to seriously reconsider. As per their custom, his English family only bathed him once a week as a child.  gasp! yet he STILL managed to survive!

2. Flush Less- “When it’s yellow let it mellow, when it’s brown flush it down”.  Better yet, install a composting toilet. Here’s a download for a FREE book to help you in that direction: http://humanurehandbook.com/contents.html

3. If  you MUST water the lawn, convert it to food growing areas first. Then MULCH those areas to prevent evaporation and run off. Most municipalities will deliver a load of shredded leaves in the fall for just that purpose. Mine does anyway.

Grow Food, Not Lawns

4. Harvest rainwater-in barrels, buckets, ponds or whatever you can manage and use it to water your garden, house plants, etc.

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5.  Use low-flow shower heads and flow restrictors on all your faucets. They’re easy to install and will pay for themselves quickly.

6. Only run your dishwasher and washing machine when full. If  you need more dishes or clothes to last until they’re full, figure out a way to get enough extra to make that happen-yard sales often have dishes, glassware and clothing to make that an inexpensive and earth friendly option.

7. Use a phosphate-free laundry detergent, then reroute the drainage from  your washing machine to a home orchard or garden or permaculture swales. I used to do this when I lived in Florida, and had THE BEST oranges and grapefruits with no other irrigation used. This concept is called “Gray Water” and there are lots of books and websites that explain it in detail.

8. Wash your own car at home, with a spray nozzle on the hose. Save money, save water, get exercise and free Vitamin D while you’re at it!

9. Water your garden or landscape plants in early morning, and at soil level rather than from above. If watered during the heat of the day, much of the water can be lost to evaporation.

10. Route the water from your dehumidifier to somewhere BESIDES the drain. Taking the drainage tube off completely will fill the reservoir, allowing you to capture it for watering houseplants, filling the dog’s bowl, filling the washing machine or flushing the toilet. You can do the same with water harvested from window air conditioners, rinsing dishes, washing vegetables, or rinsing sprouts.

11. Plant native and drought tolerant vegetables, berries, small fruits and trees. They naturally use less water.

12. When rinsing recyclable food containers, don’t wash them separately. Rinse them when  you are already hand or electric washing the rest of the day’s dirty dishes. Try using one of the other sources of ‘free’ water I’ve mentioned above. I’ve watched people quite devoted to recycling use 5 gallons of water to rinse out one ketchup bottle before placing it in their recycling bin. REALLY?

13. Cover cooking pots, preventing much evaporation and preventing the food from .

14. Protect your water shed: Don’t flush drain cleaners or medications. Don’t use drain cleaners, bluing agents or garbage disposals. Don’t spray your lawn with weed killers or other poisons-there are many environmentally-friendly alternatives available now. Fence your cows, horses or other livestock out of creeks and streams. 

These ideas and practices are small steps, but there are much larger ones that can be taken to protect our oceans, rivers, lakes and streams as well. For example:

DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE LARGE OIL TANKERS.

LINE YOUR COAL ASH PONDS TO PREVENT LEAKING INTO PUBLIC WATER SUPPLIES.

MAKE SURE YOUR FACTORY’S WASTE REMOVAL PIPES DON’T HAVE LEAKS. 

DON’T BUILD OIL PIPELINES THAT ARE 2,151 MILES LONG WITHOUT PLANNING FOR SPILLS AND LEAKS.

wait! INSTEAD, DON’T BUILD OIL PIPELINES TO BEGIN WITH.

AND FINALLY, WHEN YOU BUILD YOUR NEXT OCEAN-SIDE NUCLEAR REACTORS, MAKE SURE YOU INSTALL THE POWER GENERATORS ABOVE SEA LEVEL. YOU KNOW, JUST IN CASE THERE’S AN EARTHQUAKE OR TSUNAMI OR SOMETHING. 

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It’s About Time!

clock     As I listened to my husband’s metronome keeping time while he practiced some music, and as I heard the minutes ticking by on the old mantle clock, I realized I haven’t been able to post here as often as I like lately because of time constraints. But, I always seem to make time for the things that are most important to me, and this blog is one of those things. I’m currently putting together a presentation on ‘Natural Beekeeping’ for the local beekeeper’s annual school that’s coming up in March; it’s a topic that would never have been considered 10 years ago when we first got into beekeeping! But with the passage of time has come new knowledge of how to be better beekeepers without using all the harsh methods that we were advised to use then. Now there are practices that offer the bees kinder, gentler, more natural ways of maintaining good health in their hives. (here’s a link to more info about the bee school: http://www.wcbeekeepersassociation.com/

Michael and I are also marking time again while he undergoes his final chemo treatments. We’re on Week 3 of 10, spaced every other week, so we’re looking at mid-June before it’s all done. With spring  just 3 weeks away, the demands of serving as the coordinator of the community garden are at a seasonal high, marked by meetings, plantings, grant writing and more. To that end, there will be a seed swap and giveaway this evening at the Carver Center, (where the gardens are located) at 6 PM.  You don’t have to have seeds to swap, just a true desire to plant some, whether at the community garden or in your own home garden. Following that will be the application and screening process of potential new gardeners to fill the five vacant plots that are available this spring. If you’d like to have a plot, be sure to be there at 7 PM for that. It’s important to be ON TIME. Michael has decided to start a monthly newsletter for the Community Garden and has been spending a lot of his time putting together the first edition.

There’s also our church that we like to contribute our time, talent and money to, friendships to nurture, new songs and music to learn and play, soups to simmer and loaves of bread to bake, errands to run and exercise to make time for each day as well. Oh yeah, and watching Netflix too! All these things take time, and when  you’re ‘our age’, they demand plenty of rest as well, but luckily, I find writing is restful for me. I like writing this blog, sharing with you ideas that we can use to make our lives more resilient, healthier or simply more joyful! The ideas take time to research, to write about, and certainly to implement, but I consider it time well spent. Our retirement years have been fulfilling and busy to say the least, but these activities serve to give meaning and purpose to my life, and I get back far more than I give.

I’ve recently accepted the position as the chair for the ‘Livable Communities’ group that is a subcommittee of  a larger group called “Community Partnerships”. We have developed a strategic plan based on feedback that was given at the Economic Summits that took place in 2011 and 2012. Turns out that the results of the surveys that were taken at those summits show that some of the very things that I’ve been  writing about here are also the very things that folks felt were most important to them: supporting local food growing efforts by developing community gardens while at the same time increasing our resilience, beautifying the city by increasing greenway spaces, improving public transportation, developing interconnected beautiful, clean and safe bike and walking paths, and encouraging new and repurposed commercial and residential development in the downtown area, are just some of the things that our group will be looking at. They’re important enough to me to make the time to help implement them, and will be an endless source of  things to share with you on this blog in the months to come. I like the solutions-oriented approach we’re using, and feel it’s a good use of our time together. Our meetings will be held only every other month, with the next one scheduled for March 18th at 5 PM at my house. A schedule any more ambitious than that might prove to be too time consuming, but, every other month? Even I can fit that in, and I hope you can too!  We’d love to have your input and ideas, as well as your TIME, in helping our community become a more livable and resilient place to live. Yes, it IS about time you joined us. If  you need directions, let me know. Check us out on Facebook in the meantime:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Livable-Communities-and-Community-Partnerships-Group/163798207018404

One final note:  After giving this post a bit more thought, I want to make this clear: this is NOT meant to be a guilt-inducing blog post! Working parents, students, business owners, caregivers and all you others that are already busier than you want to be shouldn’t feel that my invitations to ‘come’, ‘join’ or ‘help’ are slanted at you. You’re already doing your part! I’m appealing here to those lucky souls like myself that have empty nests, work only a few hours a week, or just, in general, find themselves with time to spare. Forming friendships and working on projects that help me as much as the one’s they’re designed for, all while improving my own life as my community becomes a better place to live, is a win-win situation for me. Pick something that’s important to you and carve out some time for it. You won’t be sorry, I’m sure of it.

DO something!



Happy Valentine’s Day- just another Frugal Friday
February 14, 2014, 3:10 PM
Filed under: Frugality, Mindful Consumerism | Tags: ,

Those of us in the South have had quite an interesting ‘weather week’ with lots of snow and ice. Yeah, even the beaches of North Carolina have turned from white sand to white snow.

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Weather like this induces a very strong cocooning, or nesting, instinct in me, so I’ve spent a great deal of time at home, especially grateful that I don’t HAVE to get up and out to work in the mornings anymore. After several days of it however, even I can get a case of ‘cabin fever’, and with today’s sunshine, that’s kinda where I am.

Monday: Our trash is picked up on Mondays, and this snowy one found me with no garbage bags to reline my kitchen can with.  Necessity is the mother of invention: I emptied a bag of cat food that morning…. You guessed it already:

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Works great, and repurposes something that would’ve been difficult to recycle, since my city only takes printed single layer type papers and this heavy duty bag has a ‘plastic’ type coating. * A Star Is Born!!  Bags that hold 25-50 lbs of dog food, bird seed, potatoes and other ‘stars’ will no doubt debut in my trash can from now on. Savings?? I don’t know but I think it’s priceless when I can find a new use for something that would otherwise be thrown away.

Tuesday: Speaking of finding new uses for things in order to avoid throwing them away: We don’t buy much prepackaged food, but I always save those that come with waxed-paper bags inside and use them for layering between tortillas and pancakes before freezing or to wrap sandwiches in. You can easily pull the bags apart to make a flat sheet of strong waxed paper for this purpose:

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By the way: Can  you read the 25 cent price written on the package of whole wheat tortillas on the left? That was a bargain that came from the discount grocery I wrote about a couple of weeks ago here. I hope you can find one in your area too!

Wednesday: I like to mail cards for special occasions to my grandteens and this Valentine’s Day was no exception. I bought the cards last year AFTER Valentine’s Day for 25 cents each. Savings: The cards were originally $2 each, so I saved $3.50 AND I used some of my ‘recycled’ stamps on them! That kind of savings allows me to slip them each some cash in the cards too! They’re old enough to have their own spending money and it’s always nice to have a little extra jingle in your pocket when  you’re a teenager! 

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Thursday:  A quick walk to the thrift store last week yielded a scrap of turquoise fabric from one of the store’s ‘craft bins’. It was perfect for a patch job I needed to make on a pillow sham that I’d also bought at the same store some time ago. The scrap was so small that they store didn’t even charge me for it!

                        Before:                                                                                                                                                                                          After:

sample   sample2

I know, I know, a small hole is no big deal, but this sham is part of a comforter set, and my eye was always drawn to it when I looked at it on my guest room bed. Now I really have to look for it. Savings: ”Nothing ventured, nothing gained”. I’m happy with it now, and it only cost me a bit of time, which, as  you can see, I had plenty of this week!

Friday:  OK, here’s this week’s BIG savings: When my mom passed away last March, my brother and I split the remaining cash she had in one of her accounts but because the account was tied to MY social security number, I recently received the IRS 1009 Form showing the whole amount as my income! I called the company where the account had been held, and they told me you have to make changes like this before December 31st in order to have two separate 1099′s issued. Hmmm… Gentle but firm questioning on my part revealed that there’s a special form that I can include with my tax return, and that my brother will include with his tax return, which will make us equally liable for the portion we actually received. The form arrived in the mail today, and it’s quite simple to understand-apparently, even ‘Jack and Diane’ can do this, since those were the names used on the form’s example! Long story made short here, splitting this tax liability will keep my annual income down into the level that I want it to be in order to be able to take advantage of senior tax savings on my county and city personal property taxes, as well as keep me within the income limits to continue to qualify for my sweet O’bamacare health insurance policy. Savings: Literally, hundreds of dollars!

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Here’s my last thoughts on this snowy week to share with  you, my sweet readers:

 winter



Resilience with Oven Canning?
February 10, 2014, 10:23 PM
Filed under: Alternative Energy, Canning, Food Storage, Oven canning, Resilience | Tags: ,

I canned my first jars of green beans when I was 21 years old. Forty years and thousands of jars later, I’ve never poisoned anyone with the foods I’ve put by. I attribute that to the fact that I am a complete NAZI about always, always, always using the safest approved methods for canning fresh foods. Cutting corners during canning is like cutting your own throat. Now, all that said, I want to introduce you to a ‘new’ method of canning I tried recently. It is NOT an extension approved method, but I was so intrigued with the idea I had to at least try it. You can google ‘oven canning’ and find ten sources for it and ten against it. It’s not meant to be used for wet foods, or those with fats in them, only for dry goods.

I like to buy foods in bulk because when I do, I’m supporting a small, locally owned business, packaging is greatly reduced, and because it’s usually more cost efficient to do so, both in terms of price per unit and in terms of environmental impact. The only con is having to store the stuff. I often store bulk items in five gallon food grade buckets, plastic lined tins, or gallon sized jars. My thinking is that by sealing some of those dry goods in smaller containers, (including the bags and boxes of  ‘regular sized’ products that I open) I can store them more easily on my pantry shelves and that those sealed jars will be far better at keeping oxygen, moisture and bugs out of the pantry, which are the big threats to any food. Please understand, I’m not depending on this method to make the food safe to eat later, I’m just hoping it will keep the already safe foods that I do keep in my pantry, fresh longer. That’s a big difference from canning fresh foods! This method is being touted as being able to keep food fresh for 10-20 years, but my plans are simply for 1-2 years, just like with my regular canned goods.

This method was just as easy as it looks. I sterilized and dried two dozen jars, set them upright on rimmed cookie sheets, and then filled the jars, leaving 1/2″ headroom. Putting them on cookie sheets keeps them stable while in the oven, catches any spills, and if breakage were to occur, would make it lots easier to clean up. I then placed the cookie sheets with the filled jars in a preheated 200 degree oven for one hour. Just before the hour was up, I simmered my lids and rings in a saucepan of water to sterilize them and to soften the rubber seals. After reading this tip online (and you know, if you read it on the internet it MUST be true ;) ) I sterilized some USED lids that I had saved for a craft project and screwed them down tight with the rings, returning the jars to the oven for another half hour. I let everything cool there overnight, and this morning, voila! All but one jar had sealed, even though I’d used the recycled lids. I love being able to see at a glance what I’ve got stored in the jars! Now I’m planning to use some half-gallon canning jars that were given to me but that were too tall for my canner, to oven-can some whole grain flours, dog biscuits and the freshly ground grits and corn meal that I buy at the Farmer’s Market.

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The news is full of dire weather and climate change forecasts, predictions of food and energy shortages due to the prolonged drought in our western states, and rising prices because of it all. I’m certain our futures will be lived under dramatically changed circumstances and resilience is the key to improving our quality of life, regardless of all that. Using resources I already have on hand to keep food fresher longer (I’d LOVE to get away from a freezer altogether!) is just another form of resilience. And that’s awesome. Next up this summer: using this same technique in my solar oven!



A Mid-Winter Festival of Bannocks, Roots, Seeds and Groundhogs

groundhog-day-groundhogA little history lesson today dear readers:  February 2nd was an important day in the Celtic calendar. This ancient holiday earmarked the midpoint of winter.  As winter stores of food began to be used up, Imbolc rituals were performed to ensure sufficient food supplies until the harvest six months later. Imbolc was a feast of purification for the farmers, and the name oímelc (“ewe’s milk”) is likely in reference to the beginning of the lambing season, when the ewes came into milk. Imbolc celebrations were marked by bonfires, special foods, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens~ perhaps a precursor to the North American Groundhog Day.  One of the special foods that was prepared for the feast was bannocks, or bannock bread. A blogger that I like to follow posted a recipe for these last summer and today was the day I finally tried my hand at it. These little breads were quite good!

Easy Bannocks

  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil or melted butter
  • 3/4 cup water

Measure dry ingredients into a large bowl.  Stir to mix.  Pour oil (or melted butter) and water and stir to make a ball.

Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface, and knead gently about 10 times.  Cut the dough ball into 4 equal balls and pat into a flat circles ~ 3/4 to 1 inch thick.

Cook in a greased frying pan over medium heat, allowing about 5-10 minutes for each side. Best when served hot.navajo-fry-bread

This is a perfect recipe to round out a meal that may be a bit on the lean side, and has ingredients that most of us have already on hand. (Other recipes suggest adding a bit of sugar or blueberries to the dough) They were more biscuit like than I imagined them to be, so next time I’m going to flatten them more, cook in less time and I imagine it will make more than four that way too. I’m going to try making them over a fire the next time we go camping! Imagine-hot bread when  you’re camping!

To go with our bannocks, I made a  stew of sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, cabbage and tomatoes simmered in a quart of  home-made veggie broth, all of which we’d produced ourselves, so the only thing store-bought was the peanut butter, soy sauce and spices that made this recipe from my favorite old Moosewood cookbook perfect for the affair!

As we ate this ‘root crop’ feast, we were reminded of how concerned over their stored food supplies the ancient Celts must have been at this time of year, hoping the rituals they performed during Imbolc would protect their food and their farmers and  see them through ’til spring. We were also very thankful that we live in a time when food supplies are available year ’round.

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To ensure my own crops were ‘sufficient to last until spring’,  I decided today was the day I’d go back to my plot at the community garden and dig those parsnips that I’d deliberately left behind, so I could see how they would fare with the minus zero temps we were expecting at the time. The parsnips were crunchy and in good shape!  They had actually begun to sprout new green growth underneath that 2″ layer of leaves I’d piled on!

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I found one more Imbolc-like reason to celebrate today:  Our annual seed order arrived in the mail AND a local nursery donated lots of seeds to our community garden, so there’s PLENTY to celebrate and look forward to!

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To everything there is a season… and for every purpose under heaven. During these dismal final weeks of winter, I sometimes have to look really hard for those signs, but they’re there! The sun was out just long enough this morning that when Phil the groundhog poked his head out, he saw his own shadow, so, according to the legend, spring will arrive early this year. If that’s not something to celebrate, nothing is! Join me next year for the SECOND ANNUAL IMBOLC FESTIVAL-you’re all invited!

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Frugal Friday-January’s over!!!

I spent most of this week just like last- trying to stay warm. In between times I cooked a fair amount, wrote some long overdue letters (on yard sale stationary and mailed them with ‘salvaged’ stamps~read on!), and did a lot of reading. Not too much excitement when it’s this cold.

Monday: Mailed my annual bundle of used greeting cards to St Jude’s Ranch. Children that live there use the card fronts (if they’re not written on) to recycle into new cards that they then sell to earn money. I wrote here about it last year, but I have a lot of new readers since then, so I thought it might be something they’d like to know about too.  Repurposing those cards is even better than recycling them, and makes me even happier when I can mail them for free. Yes, that’s right…this week I mailed the cards and a small package to my daughter, all free, because I keep getting things in the mail that don’t have their stamps canceled! And just to add frosting to the cake, I was even able to reuse the original envelopes that those uncanceled stamps were stuck to, which meant I didn’t have to peel off the stamps, nor buy mailing envelopes!  Postage savings: 8 stamps at the new rate of 49 cents each= $3.92 plus whatever new mailers might’ve cost me!

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Tuesday: After reading more than once about how the ongoing drought in California is forcing farmers to reduce their crops this year, and in some cases not plant at all, I decided that it would be prudent of me to increase my supply of almonds, which I truly enjoy eating as a healthy, out of hand snack almost daily. Sure enough, the price has already increased a bit, but not nearly as much as predicted so I stocked up and decided it was time to get out my Seal-A-Meal and vacuum seal them all in order to keep them fresh longer. Nuts will be stay fresh for 6-12 months in the freezer, but by sealing out all the oxygen they’ll last 2-3 years! Perhaps by then the drought will be over and almond growers won’t be forced to pay premium prices for the water their orchards need to survive. That is, if there are any bees left to pollinate them.   Anyway, this sealer came in handy, and I even made up some snack-sized bags to throw in our backpacks when we go hiking or travel. I bought my sealer and several rolls of bagging plastic for $20 at a yard sale, so I know they can be found second-hand, but it seems to me it would be one of those things that could be part of a ‘tool lending library’ since they’re not used every day. Just sayin’…

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Wednesday: Made my second visit to a ‘Discount Grocery Store” near my home. If I’m very careful, I can find some good bargains, but most of their stuff is boxed, convenience type foods, canned goods and snacks, all things that I try to avoid. They did have a small section devoted to some healthier things like name-brand organic products, protein bars and milk shakes, along with many condiments and international style cooking sauces. There were fresh Pepperidge Farms breads and buns for 99 cents, and lots of bulk packages of frozen foods like fish, chicken and burgers too. I didn’t find any out of date items though, so I got a few things that really were rock bottom prices but I’m sure their inventory changes daily and you may not be able to find the same things I did. The point is, there are more and more of these discount stores popping up, and perhaps you might get lucky enough to find one in your town too. They’re certainly worth a try! The first time I visited this little store, it was summer, and they had a fair selection of fresh fruits and vegetables too, but not any this week. I didn’t take a picture, but I was able to buy a Nutella equivalent, Jif brand Hazelnut Butter,  for $1.00 a jar! I bought five jars to give to my daughter who loves the stuff, but can’t afford  what I thought was normally $3-4 a jar, even though I now see that Amazon is selling it online for $10.00  a jar! Savings: $45.00!!! (and now that I see that ridiculous price, I may go back tomorrow to pick up some more jars for her)

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Thursday: Stitched up a long tube of fabric cut from an old curtain, filled it with sand and used it to block the cold air coming into my bathroom from the unheated bedroom connected to it. I could’ve used grits, rice, buckwheat or kitty litter, but sand was what I had on hand. Yeah, I could’ve rolled up a towel too, to stuff underneath the door, but the tube can also be moved around to different doorways and is easier to ‘move out of the way’ when I do want to open the door, and it hangs over the knob when not in use.

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Friday: Found a brand new 3M scrubber in the street when I took my walk. I’ll cut it into 3  pieces (sharpening my scissors at the same time) and use them for scrubbing pots and pans. Savings: $2 or so for three scrubbies?

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That’s it folks! I may not have any Frugal Friday tips to share next week IF the weather warms and I get to be outside more. As important as I consider frugality is to our being able to live well on less, living a simple life that focuses on mindful consumerism and built-in resilience is even more so. Reduce, reuse, repurpose THEN recycle is what I strive for in all my buying decisions. For example, before I bought the Jif for my daughter, I called her and made her promise me that she’d wash the plastic jars when they were emptied and use them for storing things around her kitchen and apartment, or at the very least recycle them. Being the good recycling Nazi that I am, I’ll take pictures of the ways she finds to use them and include them in a future post. And as much as I like the convenience of sealing bulk-bought foods in smaller quantities I really HATE using rolls of plastic to do it. So, I’ve decided to try ‘Oven Canning’ to get the same results and I’ll be reporting on that method next week. What are YOU doing to “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without?” Please feel free to post your comments and ideas below, and to share this blog with anyone you think might enjoy it-or not ;)



“I’m Mad as Hell and I’m Not Going to Take it Anymore!”

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Let me begin this long rant by saying I already miss Pete Seeger and I’m quite tired of freaking five degree temps, so maybe that’s colored my usually optimistic outlook on things. I should also tell you that the provisions put forth in the new Farm Bill are confusing, and that I voted for O’Bama. Both times. I think his State of the Union address last night was beautiful oration, and I did like a lot of what he had to say, but I totally disagreed with his call to retrofit our economy for natural gas. He’s going to make it easy for businesses to open factories that run on natural gas, by cutting governmental red tape. He never mentioned that 90% of the oil and gas wells drilled in America today are fracked — there could be no oil and gas boom without it. Everyone knows that there are no easy answers to the problems of Peak Oil and the fact that we’ve, well, peaked. However, he did say “… the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact.” Thank  you Mr. President for that acknowledgement. But shouldn’t the conversation from our nation’s leader at this point include at least some mention of alternatives to an energy-dependent future besides “In the coming months, I’ll (build on that success) by setting new standards for our trucks, so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump“?  By God, if we had to pay the true costs of gasoline at the pump we’d ALL be riding our bikes, taking a bus, a train or walking! Our pump prices don’t even begin to reflect the environmental costs of that fuel.  Just sayin’… And our food prices don’t reflect their environmental costs either, but I’m digressing here. 

WHERE is the conversation about plans for mass transit and alternative transportation systems? WHERE  is the conversation about retrofitting older buildings and factories and homes with simple systems like insulation, solar panels and windmills? WHERE is the conversation about our nation’s cities and towns converting public lands and commons areas to growing spaces, to food forests and community gardens? WHERE is the conversation about Americans needing to learn the skills needed to produce the foods and goods and tools and services we need to become self sufficient? Those conversations really do take place on millions of websites, in magazines and living rooms, but they’re never spoken of by our government. Well, I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!

In the last year or so I’d begun to feel somewhat hopeful that maybe the economic and financial experts hadn’t gotten it quite right, and that maybe our economy IS recovering. I’d also begun to feel that maybe the energy experts hadn’t gotten it quite right either and maybe we haven’t reached Peak Oil-yet. But as O’Bama said himself: “climate change is a fact”, and those of us lucky enough to live in First World countries can not ‘carry on as usual’ and expect that to change. I truly fear for my grandchildren at this point. I fear that they won’t have enough food, clean water and air to live healthy and productive lives. The government is paying some growers in California to not plant again this year because of lack of water. Let me say that again: The government is paying growers in California to not plant again this year because of lack of water. The ongoing drought in our nation’s breadbasket is so very serious and when I hear our President speak about ‘setting new (MPG) standards for our trucks’ it makes me angry.

You ask, “So, what are you gonna do about it?” I’m going to keep on writing about, talking about, and working for, the changes I think need to take place. But I’m going to write a little longer, talk a little louder and work a little harder. I’m going to continue to grow and preserve as much of my food as I can and teach others to do the same. I’m going to walk and carpool more-the walking keeps me healthy and doesn’t add to our environmental problems. I’m going to support local organizations like One Acre Cafe and The Livable Communities Group that are working to make a difference in our community, not by offering handouts, or asking for them, but that are “leaning in”, to use a new catch-phrase, to find out first hand what’s needed to make lives better. I’m going to learn new skills and share them with others whenever I can. I’m going to get more involved with politics so that the type of leaders we need to make big change get elected. I’m gonna write letters to the editor and sign petitions. And that’s just for February folks!  I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!

The ‘About’ page of this blog, written exactly two years ago states: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 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. This blog is simply about my attempts to visualize and help create that new way of living!” I still believe in this statement fervently. I hope you do too.

lomax



Frugal Friday- January 24, 2014

With the extreme cold, I’ve found myself staying home more, cooking a lot, and making some minor changes in order to stay warm without having a $400 electric bill. Maybe one of these tips will help you reduce your energy costs and keep your home cozier too!

Monday: It was a  pleasant day but I knew the cold was returning that night so I washed the car at the quarter car wash then brought it home to vacuum it. I also spent time in the sunshine, soaking up Vitamin D while cutting back all the frozen and dead leaves from my kale plants and reinstalling the plastic covered hoops that had blown off in the last ‘Polar Vortex’ (which is why they froze to begin with!). My hope is that they will resprout once things begin to warm up again. Gardening is always a learning experience, and this is just part of that. Savings: $2.50 for the vacuum job, and if the kale resprouts, it will seem quite valuable indeed, coming back from the dead and all. At the very least, the knowledge I gain in growing food is always invaluable.

Tuesday: I fixed my own food dehydrator!!! It was no longer putting out any heat, even though the fan was blowing. I took the back of the dryer off, found a loose wire that seemed to lead to a sheared-off doohickey. I called the toll-free number for the manufacturer, where I spoke with their tech guy, who diagnosed it as  needing a new thermostat. After trying to find the part online at a cheaper price than the $35 that was quoted me, I bit the bullet and ordered it and was able to install the new part with very little trouble. High Five! The dehydrator now works even better than it did when new so I spent a very cold day drying a bunch of apples that were beginning to shrivel in storage. Now I have a 3 lb coffee can FULL of dried apple slices to use in my daily oatmeal. Dehydrating foods is a practical and easy way to preserve fresh foods for long term storage, and actually retains more vitamins that other preservation methods. They take up much less storage space and weigh a lot less than canned or frozen foods, and if, like me, you have limited storage space, that’s a big plus. Savings: 15 lbs of organic apples=$30. Feeling of self sufficiency and competence: pricelessIMG_0131

Wednesday: The cold sets in…Michael made bread, using bread flour bought in a 25 lb sack for less than $9, 2 teaspoons of yeast bought in one pound foil-packed bags for less than $5 and a tsp of salt. Total cost per loaf: about 25 cents. But wait! The savings continue…while the baking stones preheated, I decided to use that time to bake some white and sweet potatoes on them, along with a pan of Shepherd’s Pie and a tin of egg shells (yes, egg shells are saved year round and dried; after drying them I grind them up for adding to my tomato and pepper planting holes each spring-doing so adds calcium and helps prevent blossom end rot).  The Shepherd’s pie and one loaf of bread made 6 servings, which fed us, along with some unexpected overnight company.  Then we enjoyed the company, along with the baked potatoes and some chicken and veggie leftovers the next day, finishing the impromptu meal with some summer-canned peaches for dessert. Heating the oven once yielded two loaves of bread, and two large meals. I’m already considering what other things I can cook while next week’s loaves are baking. Spinach lasagne maybe, more potatoes and a pan of macaroni and cheese perhaps? With just a little advance planning, cooking multiple meals offers time and energy savings.

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Thursday: The deep freeze continues…more time spent indoors, playing music, making soup, and dreaming of spring. I don my silk long johns underneath my clothes, and add more quilts to the bed. Heat pumps are notoriously ineffective in this kind of weather and we’ve found that by closing off unused rooms and dressing in layers we stay warmer. I stream free movies and hem pants while drinking herbal tea and staying by the gas stove.

Friday: Zero degrees overnight last night, and I’m feeling like I live in Antarctica instead of Tennessee. Michael dons his long johns. We bring in the old kerosene heater from the shed, and fill it with $4 a gallon fuel. Using it and the gas stove in the living room we stay toasty without having to use the heat pump much at all. Two weeks ago I went shopping for an electric space heater, but the cheapest I found was about $40. Instead, I bought one for six dollars at the thrift store. It’s running on low down in the cellar, keeping our water pipes from freezing.  I also installed some more foam insulators behind the wall switches and outlet plates, after buying a package of 14 for less than $2.  Savings: $34 on the heater and perhaps hundreds of dollars and much aggravation saved over NOT having frozen or burst water pipes. Feeling cozy: priceless.

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Seed (and other) Freedoms
January 20, 2014, 9:36 AM
Filed under: Growing Food, Seed Saving | Tags:

If we wait for governments it will be too little too late. If we act as individuals it will be too little. But if we act as communities, it might just be enough.. just in time.”~author unknown…

Today, January 20th, thousands of folks in communities all over Europe are coming together in mass force to show that they do too. They are coming together to let their Parliament know that the recent proposals around seeds are NOT acceptable. Their demands are quite simple really:

1. People, whether they be farmers or gardeners must not  be obliged to buy seeds or other “plant reproductive material” from commercial providers. Any regulation must guarantee the rights of farmers, gardeners and all collectives to use, exchange and sell their own seeds and plants, to respect all Human Rights Declarations and the International Plant Treaty (ITPGRFA).

2. The industry standard should not be the adopted standard for the seed and plant market. It implies a technical and legal definition that natural plants cannot comply with and it does not recognise the significance of biodiversity.

3. Freely reproducible plants should not be subject to compulsory registration for varieties or certification of seeds and plants. Biodiversity should take precedence over commercial interest, as it is a public good, just like water.

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 Seeds are our future. Even if you’ve never grown a single basil plant, your very life depends on seeds. There is absolutely no reason to be passing laws like the European Parliament is considering. The very Pilgrims that settled on our shores of North America brought with them their favorite seeds. The Native Americans shared more seeds with them, keeping them from starvation. What if England had not allowed those Pilgrims to save and bring their own seeds? How different our history would’ve been! Seed saving is as individual a right as any article of the Constitution and Europeans are smart to stop the regulations before they take hold. Would you march for seeds in this country? Does it take much for you to imagine the US making laws that govern our seed supply? Can you say Monsanto?

This spring I hope you’ll consider planting an open pollinated seed and letting it grow, away from other plants like it, so it won’t crossbreed. Consider sharing a few with a friend or neighbor. When it’s time, pick a few leaves or beans or whatever it bears, leaving some to stay on the plant. Leave it alone then. Let it simply sit there storing all its’ remaining energy in the seeds that its’ forming. When the plant dies and when the seed pods are fully dry, pick them then and store them away for next year. Seeds are the best insurance money can’t buy. In brutally difficult times, seeds have been used in place of money. Could that happen again? Do you want our seeds to be regulated in any way? Neither do I.

I haven’t done a lot of seed saving because I don’t have a lot of growing room and because seeds have historically been so cheap and readily available. Seed saving can be a gamble if not done properly, and, by nature, I’m not much of a gambler. Hybrid seeds are dependable, cheap and easier to grow than open pollinated for the most part. BUT they’re  a false insurance, offering absolutely no protection for the future-you know, our grandchildren for example. I’ve written here a couple of times about saving seeds from my beloved Hopi Lima Beans..

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and I’ve saved cilantro, edamame and a few others but I think it’s time I begin to learn the complexities and vagaries of seed saving from plants that would truly offer lots of flavor and nutrition in case of ‘hard times’ or seed regulations. I also like the idea of learning a new skill. If seed saving is something that interests you, I suggest reading a book titled “The Resilient Gardener” by Carol Depp. Even if you decide not to save any seeds, it’s an interesting read and may inspire you to give it a try.

Since today is Martin Luther King’s birthday, I’ll be part of the noon parade to commemorate his life and the struggles that blacks have gone through to gain their personal freedoms. How appropriate that Europeans are marching for theirs today as well! I’m using the day as a reminder to protect my own freedoms. I hope you’ll join me!

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Frugal Friday- Christmas Revisited

Christmas has come and gone again but it’ll be back as soon as I get all the holiday decorations put away, so I thought perhaps it’s not too late to share with you some of the frugal gifts that were given  in our household this year. Maybe  you’ll find an idea that you can use for your next gift giving occasion. Remember I wrote about my intention to give my family members the gift of an EXPERIENCE, rather than a THING? We had a really fun Christmas weekend, eating at  locally owned restaurants and driving to nearby Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge, TN where we spent many fun-filled hours at Wonder Works.

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A good time was had by all, and I think they’ll remember our time together far longer than they’d remember yet another DVD or blouse. I didn’t spend any more money than I normally would’ve, and there was nothing to wrap. However, over the last few years I’ve started gifting them with little things I find at yard sales or thrift shops; things that I think they may need or enjoy, and I always tell them they are second-hand, right along with the wrapping paper, which I haven’t had to buy in many years, since I save all kinds of ‘gift wrap’-from flower bouquet cellophane wraps to wine bags to baskets!  The ‘wrap’ is half the fun! They are always AMAZED at the quality of these sometimes-found gifts and I really enjoy the creativity of wrapping them.

For example, Daughter #1 collects an expensive Pfaltzgraff dinnerware pattern called “Naturewood” and for several years running I’ve been able to find at least one piece to add to her ever-growing collection, often for only a dollar or so. (Psst! If you see this pattern at a yard sale this summer, pick it up for me, will  you? I’ll go as high as TWO DOLLARS for the right piece ;) )

plateOther gifts included  a beautiful pair of black leather ladies’ gloves, size Small, that I found in an alley on one of my daily walks last winter, and that fit Daughter #1′s tiny hands perfectly, a brand new  turquoise-colored  Kitchen Aid mixing bowl that I found on top of a trash pile on another daily walk, and that matched Daughter #2′s new kitchen colors exactly. She tells me it is now the most used and loved thing in her kitchen. Go figure-that’s it on the bottom…bowl

There were brand new tubes of ‘Silk and Shine’ lip balm for Daughter #3, (that I’d received in a free  bag of socks from a fellow Freecycler). The tubes fit perfectly in a beautiful little purple satin/jewel-crusted  box I’d received as a wedding favor and amazingly, this daughter is positively ADDICTED to ‘Silk and Shine’ so I knew she’d love them. She did…      silk

And last, but not least, there was a brand new ‘gift set’ of Tarot Cards for Daughter #4 that I bought for $1 at a thrift store, then wrapped in a ‘silvery’ scarf which I’d paid 50 cents for. Since Daughter #4 loves all things blingy and all things mystical, it was a magical little gift for her.

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I didn’t intend for today’s edition of Frugal Friday to be all about Christmas gifts, but maybe by sharing these ideas with you, it will inspire you to be on the lookout throughout this new year for your own little finds that will make thoughtful and fun gifts for your loved ones next Christmas. Don’t be ashamed to share with the recipient the origins of your gifts either! If they are as delighted as my kids were with their gifts, they too might be inspired to gift others with found objects, and so on, and so on, until maybe some day Christmas gift-giving will become an acceptable occasion to ‘trade’ things we don’t want for things we love. It’s become an accepted practice now with my family, (but really, do they have much choice?)  and my hope is that it will be with yours too. Even if we spend a lot of money on gifts for everyone in our family, nothing we buy could give them as much happiness as the gift of attention and love. That said, it’s lovely to have a beautifully wrapped gift under the tree with your name on it! I dislike waste, whether it’s food, money, or tangibles but this practice of repurposing, regifting, buying used and offering more experiences and time together not only uses fewer of the earth’s dwindling resources, it results in far less clutter (and waste) for everyone involved and it allows me to give freely to my kids while staying true to my values. Not to mention, it’s a lot of fun to practice Frugal Friday every day and in every season!

PS About those daily walks: you wouldn’t believe some of the things I’ve found lying in the streets, on the sidewalks and in the alleys! Either people are extremely careless with their things and are losing them somehow or, in the case of those items that have obviously been deliberately thrown away, they have so much unwanted ‘stuff’ they can think of nothing else to do with it. In either case, I’m irritated by the gross excess and happy if I can find a new owner for it. We lived out in the country before moving to this urban area in 2012, and in my 10 years of daily walks there, I don’t think I ever found anything more valuable than a deflated basketball and a rotten jack o’ lantern! Do you find this to be true where you live? Have we really become such mindless consumers that we throw stuff away just to make room for more stuff?  I’ll take pics from now on of the things I find and share them with you on the pages of this blog. Feel free to share  your ‘finds’ with me too. Surely I’m not alone in this ‘discovery’!



I have a dream too
January 15, 2014, 9:38 PM
Filed under: Contributionism, Resilience | Tags: ,

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 If you knew that I am from Selma, Alabama and that I suspect my father was a Klan member, you might assume I am a racist. I used to be. Talk about transitions…

I’ve felt rather uninspired and unmotivated lately. Typical winter blahs. That is, until today. I spent some time reading some of Dr. Martin Luther King’s letters and speeches, and doing so has lifted me up. After reading his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” I felt shame in my ongoing pity party. His reply about “being unable to sit idly by while injustice prevailed” to the  criticisms he had received from his own colleagues about his actions being “unwise and untimely” reiterated my innermost thoughts. My purpose in writing this blog is not precisely about injustice, at least not the civil rights injustices Dr King gave his life for. But there was a lesson for me in his letter, and I don’t feel I can sit idly by either while the injustice I see all around me continues. I witness the earth being destroyed (mountaintop removal legislative action is underway in Tennessee, my adoptive state), as our oil-weary world continues to chase the ‘false prophets’ of shale gas and ‘clean coal’. I witness economic injustice, social injustices, joblessness and homelessness, hunger and poverty. I see politicians that set their own rules (can you say Gov. Chris Christie?) and corporations that do too. And yes, I still see racism. Using the occasion of Dr. King’s birthday, I realized that I have a dream too! I don’t want to make a name for myself, I just wanna make a difference. So I’ll continue to write this blog, since I don’t know anything else to do.

I can only write about those things I know, and the longer I write this blog the more I realize how precious little I really know about the larger world. But I know what works for me, in my life, and I can continue to write about those things. You don’t have to read it, the writing is cathartic for me; But I hope you will. My dream is that perhaps it will inspire you to find ways to make a difference, to do things differently, to overcome your own biases and to become as resilient as Dr King was. We can’t all be world leaders, but we CAN learn ways to lead lives that are significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. All together now: “Now is the time 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.”  Martin would be proud, I’m sure of it.

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The Long Winter
January 8, 2014, 8:41 PM
Filed under: Uncategorized

williams-the.long_.winter-1953-cover-cMy children used to love for me to read the ‘Little House’ books by Laura Ingalls Wilder to them, and since I still have the complete set I read them again myself every few years. This is one of those years. Between the ‘Polar Vortex’ and ‘The Big C’, my world has narrowed considerably this winter. Luckily I’m (mostly) quite happy to be a homebody and reading is something I truly enjoy. That Ingalls family had a tough life, but daughter Laura recounts their true family stories as though they were fairy tales. I don’t have that rosy view she enjoyed but I do enjoy a good story and so I thought on this long winter’s night, you might too. So, gather round chil’rens..

Once upon a time there was an old hippie hippy hip couple that sometimes couldn’t even agree on how to spell what they were. Ma liked to write, while Pa liked to read. Ma liked to make soup, Pa liked to make bread. Pa liked to play banjo, and Ma liked to play bass. In spite of their differences, they were happily living in the mountains of Tennessee. But then came the winter of 2014, and one night the temperature dropped to a frigid -4 degrees! The old couple found themselves not feeling very well and looking for ways to stay warm too. They had installed pull-down shades and heavy lined curtains on their windows, they were wearing multiple layers of clothing, including what Ma liked to call ‘indoor gloves’. But they were still cold! And so they cooked. Ma made big pots of soup using fresh ingredients from their outdoor hoop houses and things they’d grown and preserved during the summer and Pa made crusty loaves of hot bread to go with it all. And it was good…

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But the old couple still felt cold and out of sorts. Just about the time that frost had begun to form on the dog’s water bowl, a good friend very much like “Mr. Edwards” from the Little House books (who coincidentally had described himself as “a wildcat from Tennessee” and which came very close to describing this friend too) came by with a jug of homemade ‘tonic’, thinking it might be just the thing to help them ‘feel better’…

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And so ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’ and ‘Mr. Edwards’ commenced to ‘feeling better’ after their fine meal of soup and bread. They lit some candles and lit a fire and sure enough, the magic tonic began to help them all feel better, including ‘Mr. Edwards’ who had never felt bad to begin with! Before they all knew what hit them, the guitar and banjo, the fiddle and the bass came out and the three friends picked and played and sang and danced for hours. When the tonic was finally gone, they threw one final log on the fire, crawled into their feather beds, pulled up the thick homemade quilts to their ears and fell fast asleep. The end.



And the beet goes on…

My beloved grandmother died 10 years ago today, at the age of 100. She taught me a lot of things growing up; from useless nonsense like: “Never wear white shoes after Labor Day”,  to priceless information on how to cook vegetables and raise “Food”…

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But this Southern girl had never eaten, nor even seen, a parsnip, until I married my London-born husband. Nor did I care to. His love for this carrot-like root vegetable prevailed however, and now I love them as much as he does. So much so that I now plant them in my fall garden. Much like cool weather greens, parsnips ‘sweeten up’ after a few hard frosts. Since we recently had some nights down in the teens, I figured that was cold enough to sweeten them, so I walked down to my plot in the community garden today and harvested some of the parsnips and carrots I’d planted there last August. Aren’t they beautiful? They look good enough to eat, huh?

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I harvested 5 pounds of those fat, stubby carrots that grow so well in the fall, and 3 pounds of the parsnips, along with some ‘spring’ onions too! None of these veggies were protected in any way except for a 2″ ‘blanket’ of shredded leaves, proving that you don’t have to use expensive greenhouses or heavy cold frames or even plastic covered hoops for these cold-hardy varieties. As an experiment though, I decided to leave some of them in the ground because I’m curious to see how they fare after being in the ‘deep freeze’ we’re expecting next week-temps are predicted to be -4 Monday night! I’m hopeful they won’t freeze and get mushy but the only way to find out is to let them be. I’ll post later to let you know how they fare. I couldn’t bear to lose a single beet though so I harvested all of them.

Even though this time of year can certainly cause the window of locally grown foods to narrow considerably, there are still many fresh foods that can survive winter growing conditions or can be stored fresh without any or much preservation. Last week I took the fourth cutting of broccoli side shoots since the main heads were cut in early October and harvested 2 fresh heads of cabbage at the same time. Brussels sprouts look like they’re surviving with the sheet of plastic I put over them around Thanksgiving. I’m harvesting kale and parsley from my hoop house twice a week, but I’m pretty sure I lost my Swiss Chard during the recent cold night when the wind took the plastic off the hoops that covered the plants. That happened a few years ago, and even though the plants looked completely dead I left them in the ground, and because they are biennials, they literally came back to life the following spring in a beautiful flush of growth! I’m hoping for the same this time too, because I failed to save the seeds from those plants that reinvented themselves in spite of the odds, but you can be sure I will this time if I get a repeat performance. I did notice that the tiny spinach and bitter greens that were in that same hoop house didn’t seem to be bothered too much by the unfortunate exposure so I fully expect to be eating them by late February. 

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I went to the grocery store today and noticed price increases in canned beans, tomatoes and milk. I suspect that may be due to the continuing severe drought in California. It’s been said that our next wars will be over water instead of oil. Those of us lucky enough to live in a place with an annual rainfall of 52 inches don’t have to worry too much but that could change tomorrow. I like knowing that I can grow fresh food year round with very little irrigation necessary, but a few rain barrels under the downspouts is still a good insurance policy! But there’s been no increase in the costs of my beans and tomatoes-in fact, I want to show you the last four Longkeeper tomatoes I have been waiting on to ripen-we ate fresh tomatoes in our salads the day after Christmas and I suspect these last ones will fully ripen in the next week or two… note to self: plant earlier next summer so we’ll have enough to last through more of the winter.

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Starting the new year with boxes of locally grown apples and tangelos from Florida, white and sweet potatoes that still have our garden’s dirt clinging to them, baskets of butternut squashes, garlic and shallot bulbs, and all the other canned, frozen and dried goodies that I’ve put up and written about in the pages of this blog gives me a sense of gratitude and comfort. Having the skills needed to provide yourself with good food, regardless of winter storms or droughts, regardless of Peak Oil or ruined Fukushima nuclear reactors, will hold you steady all your life. No doubt I’ll suffer some losses to this extreme cold snap that’s headed our way-probably my beautiful rosemary bush or some of the fruits and berries that were planted last summer. But it’s not the end of the world, and the setbacks continue to teach me new lessons that were begun by my grandmother 60 years ago. The BEET goes on.

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Good Luck with That!

I cooked my traditional dish of Hoppin’ John today, using home-canned peppers, tomatoes, veggie broth and a package of the frozen Sofritos that my Puerto Rican friend Daniel taught me how to make last summer from my garden’s excess. IMG_0104

So today, all I had to do was open the jars, pressure cook the dried peas for 15 minutes, and add 2 cups of last night’s leftover rice, along with some precooked vegan sausage crumbles I had in the freezer. I love this time of year when I’m able to cook most of our meals using the fruits of my summer labor and dried beans and grains bought in bulk! Eating this way also helps me get ‘back in the groove’ of eating healthfully after the excesses of the holidays. I know, I know, “good luck with that!” Property taxes, car insurance and the season’s highest heating bills all have to be paid in January and cooking this way feeds us well for mere dimes. Really. I also took advantage of the warm, sunny day to uncover my raised beds and cut some fresh kale to go with this. Quickly stir fried in red-pepper oil, it was the perfect go-with for the Hoppin’ John. We eat this dish (with a coin hidden in the pot-whoever finds it in their bowl will be blessed with wealth) with greens every year. Don’t you love family traditions?

New Year Resolutions; I have two:

Resolution #1. Get Fit. I want to ride my bike UPHILL  (important skill when  you live in the mountains), run in the annual Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot 5k race again (along with 5,000 close friends), and climb Chimney Top Mountain on January 1st, 2015 (with a much smaller group of friends) that do it every New Year’s Day. We did it with them in 2008 and have always said we’d do it again. One year from today, we’ll be there and I’ll post a picture. I know, I know, “good luck with that!” Here I am after the last time I did that climb:

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Resolution #2. Become a better bass player, which is going to require a lot of daily practice on my part. I know, I know, “good luck with that too!”

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Eating healthy, staying fit, staying out of debt and living ‘well with less’, making home-made music, gardening and canning, hiking, bike riding and spending time with family and friends is really how I want to live my life, this year and always. May YOU be so lucky too! Happy New Year! 



Transitions R Us
December 29, 2013, 9:20 PM
Filed under: Christmas, Economic Collapse, Transition Towns | Tags: ,

 I got an Earth Fare gift card and a tiny blue tooth ear receiver for Christmas. I got a cold and  a box of tangelos too. But I am very happy. The cold is almost gone, the tangelos will soon be too. I’ll use the gift card to take advantage of those Earth Fare weekly freebies that require you to make a $5 to $10 purchase, extending its’ value even further, and I’m looking at the ear piece as an investment in my health since I’ve heard that holding a cell phone to my ear could be unhealthy for my brain. My Ohio family members came for a visit, and my “locally grown” family members joined us for fun, food and games around the table. I’m really happy that our celebration was such a simple affair. No one had to worry about ‘outdoing’ one another gift-wise, or had to be concerned about how they might afford more expensive gifts and none of us have to find a place in our homes or closets for yet another doodad or article of clothing. We’ve left Gifts R Us behind.

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Looking back, the transition we’ve gone through to get to this happy place has been a perfect example of what this blog is about. Transitions take time, and in my family’s case, more than a decade. How long might we expect it to take a society, one based on infinite growth, using finite resources, to transition to one that’s built on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being? If our economy and society collapse, I’d say we’ll do it (one way or another!) in less than a decade, but it would be a time of great duress for everyone. Just ask Cuba. I propose that we not wait for a societal collapse but instead begin the hard work NOW of transitioning to that new way of living and being that we want to be a part of. A gradual and graceful transition to that new lifestyle is still my Christmas wish and my New Year’s resolution. I hope you and your family will join me and my family for Transitions R US. To inspire you, here’s a link to a full length film about the Transition movement. It’s an amazing story about how Transition groups around the world are responding to the challenges of depleting and costly energy resources, financial instability and environmental change.

http://www.transitionnetwork.org/transition-2



“So This Is Christmas”…

…”and what have  you done? Another year over, a new one just begun”… and so the song goes. The tune has been stuck in my head for days, and at one point almost drove me mad, until I stopped long enough to really listen to what the universe was trying to tell me, and realized I needed to write it down. After looking forward to Christmas for weeks, now it’s finally here. I relax, knowing  the anticipation of an event contributes to the happiness of the event itself.  Vacations and family visits and concerts are like that too. Last night I sat alone in my candle-lit living room, reliving how much fun it was to wait until my four young daughters had finally fallen asleep on Christmas Eve so Santa could then begin fulfilling their dreams. It was the anticipation of their Christmas morning delight that was so meaningful for me. I am taking some time today to reconsider what Christmas means to me now that they’re all grown up.  At first glance, this post may appear to have nothing to do with transitioning, but as I re-read my own words on the “ABOUT” page of this blog, I realize that the changes I am going through in regards to Christmas are very relative to seeing the world in a new light, and so I’d like to share these thoughts with you today:

I remember one year asking my Grandmother, who was in her 70′s at the time, what she wanted for Christmas and she said there was no longer any thing she desired. She told me that some day I’d feel that way too, but at 24 years old I couldn’t imagine ever feeling that way. At the time I saw the world as FULL of things that I wanted! But here I am now,  agreeing with her. Don’t get me wrong…the lure of advertising and bright, shiny new things call out to me just like everyone else but I very rarely feel moved enough to buy them. I’ve found my groove where money is concerned and my life has actually become simpler and richer because of my personal refusal to consume, just because I can

 I wanted curtains for my living room for close to a year and a half after moving here. I knew what color and style I wanted but couldn’t justify the cost. Then suddenly, the very curtains I desired were offered to me by a good friend back in September- she found them hanging at her windows when she moved into her new home, but didn’t need them. I love them and am so glad I waited until they came to me, rather than me moving heaven and earth to get them right now! I feel lots more satisfaction with them than if I’d gone out and bought them right away. Again, I think it was the anticipation of finding what I wanted, (with a zero price tag to boot!), that made the bare windows easy to live with for so long. In this culture in which instant gratification abounds, the fun of anticipation is often forgotten. 

Today finds me anticipating the arrival tomorrow of my family and grandchildren. It’s a wonderful feeling and extends the whole Christmas ‘event’ out another day. No post-Christmas let down here! Michael and I plan to go to a friend’s house this evening and share coffee and desert with them and several other close friends. The anticipation of that is wonderful in and of itself, and reminds me once again that we don’t need to pursue happiness since we have the ability to create happiness all around us. 

As the curtains draw closed on another Christmas day, I realize “so this is Christmas…” and I am happy. I hope you are too. Merry Christmas!

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Frugal Friday- December 20, 2013
December 20, 2013, 10:24 PM
Filed under: Buy Local, Christmas, Food Waste, Frugality, Mindful Consumerism, Reducing Waste | Tags: ,

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve entered a period wherein I’m ‘looking for the easy way out’ and frugality is lower on my priority list than usual. It’s due to the fact that we’re facing the winter equinox tomorrow, and, like clockwork, I’m feeling ‘old and gray and in the way’, I’m wearing my fat pants again, and I have a lot of extra things going on each day.  So, saving a buck seems pointless right now. Luckily, my winter blues always disappear when the days begin to lengthen and by the New Year, my resolutions seem bright and promising. So, given the current context, I’m digging deep this week to find things I’ve done that promote my own motto of “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”. 

Monday- Fully aware that this is a ‘first world problem’, I decided I needed to clear out the refrigerator and top freezer of leftovers, both frozen and fresh, so this has been a week of…leftovers, both frozen and fresh. I’ve managed to use up withering potatoes, a sprouting onion, bits of corn, bread ends, tomatoes and broccoli as well as repurposed butter bowls filled of various soups. Our meals have been…creative. And extremely frugal. Savings: nothing fresh was bought at all this week, not even bananas! But we did have fresh greens and cabbage from the hoop house, as well as local apples we’d bought in October (and stored in the cellar), tangelos bought from a band student’s fund-raising efforts, and smoothies made from frozen berries and bananas. Let’s put it this way: we’ve eaten plenty well this week, and I’m still wearing my fat pants, so we sure didn’t go hungry. And now I have room to accommodate the holiday goodies and meals that will surely be a part of next week’s meals when family arrives!

Tuesday- This really works. Rub a walnut meat on a scratch and it will cover it. I’d read about this many times but finally decided to try it. These pictures don’t do it justice but I thought it was amazing how well it worked. Savings: $3.49 plus tax for a ‘scratch remover’ pen.

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   Wednesday:  Used Freegal™ Music Service to download three more free MP3 songs. You can do this once a week from the Freegal catalog that contains millions of songs that includes Sony Music’s legendary artists catalog. I’ve managed to download entire CD’s by  going here and entering my library card number. Savings: $3 each week!

Thursday: One day not so long ago, I hurriedly poured one cup of water through the top of my coffee pot, but forgot to push fresh coffee in the basket. The resulting brew was as fresh and good as the coffee I’d made that morning with those same grounds! So… I’m getting one extra cup a day now without using any extra coffee. The trick is to pour the water over the spent grounds, because simply adding the extra cup in during the first brewing of the morning just seemed to make the original 2 cups weaker. It’s like reusing a tea bag for a second cup. You DO reuse your tea bags, right?  Savings: one extra (free) cup of home-brewed coffee per day= what? $1.40 a week?

Friday- Made my dog a happy one by pouring the liquid from a jar of veggies over her dry kibble. I didn’t do this JUST today, I’ve been doing it for  years but it did occur to me today that it was something I could share with you on this Frugal Friday. She loves the extra bit of flavor that the liquids from canned or cooked foods (think tuna, corn, potatoes, pasta) provides to her boring meals.  Plus they would otherwise be poured down the drain, so it’s one more way to reduce my food waste too. Savings: good pet health is priceless and I think the extra vitamins in the liquids are good for her!

There won’t be a frugal Friday post next week because I’ll have a house full of family visiting from Ohio then, but there’s certain to be some good tips the following week…waste always seems to be more abundant during the holidays but I’m going to make an extra effort this holiday season to eliminate it as much as possible-starting with reusable gift bags, recycled paper and bows, and repurposed gifts in some cases! One more thing while we’re talking about spending (and saving!) money this holiday season:

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In the ‘Nick’ of Time

Even though the full moon that’s been keeping my kitty-kitty prowling and meowing around the house during the night is postcard beautiful…

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the cold, short days really are cause for prayer and Prozac. For those of us that love to garden this is the time of year that we begin to truly miss kneeling at our weedy altars. The answer to this annual crisis is found in my mailbox, right there with the Christmas cards and end-of-the-year requests for charitable donations. Just in the ‘nick’ of time, the seed catalogs arrive! The colorful, mouth-watering, dream-inducing wish-books can transport me right back to warm days and garden plots.

Today’s ‘crop‘ of catalogs…

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inspired me to get outside and remove the plastic from my hoop houses so I could harvest some fresh kale and parsley… 

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to add to tonight’s soup…

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In my winter hoop house and in the kitchen, kale is king. After some hard frosts, it sweetens up, is easy-peazy to grow, and hearty enough to withstand serious cold with just a little protection. And check out the nutritional qualities of this super food:

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While I was in the garden, I took a peek at another bed that I’d planted with Red Sails lettuce, chard, spinach and some micro-greens called Claytonia and Mache’. Here’s that bed on Oct. 25th:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here’s what it looks like today, Dec. 17th:

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Come late winter, when I feel like I can’t possibly look at another plate of kale, the spinach and chard will be filling this space with their tender sweetness that can’t be duplicated with winter varieties. Just in the Nick of Time.



Adapting to Change

This is a long, picture-less post but I’ve got a lot on my mind…

I had a bad day. Hell, I had a bad week! Michael had to have a second unexpected surgery on Tuesday (that went very well) , the weather’s been gray and cold, I’m not ‘ready’ for Christmas, nor do I have any spirit for it, and I’m simply tired of cancer and all it entails. Even as I write this, I realize I’m whining and that people don’t read this blog because they want to hear about my problems.  I hope you’re reading it because you are, like me, looking for inspiration and optimism in finding ways to deal with the challenges of Peak Oil, Climate Change and Economic Collapse that we’re facing in our lives and our world. You can delete this post now if you can’t handle some negativity because that’s how I’m feeling today, with a sense of urgency about the transitions that need to take place in our lives, in our households and in our communities. Surely I’m not alone?

Over the last five years I’ve studied countless books, blogs and articles to try to understand the issues that I then try to relay to you in this blog, without any hysteria or hype, just the facts ma’am. However, I’m noticing a change of tone in the things I’m reading these days. Rather than authors writing about mitigation techniques, which the dictionary defines as lessening the force or intensity of something unpleasant, they’re now discussing adaptation, which is defined as altered behaviors. In other words, it’s the next step after mitigation. The latest things I’m reading are now focusing on how we’ll have to adapt to all kinds of differences in our daily lives, as the energy supplies, infrastructure, resources, money and water dry up. We’re wayyy past changing lightbulbs and clipping coupons folks!

Locally, I’ve heard stories from people I know and trust about how they’re trapping and killing backyard squirrels to supplement the beans on their dinner tables. I’ve listened to a well-educated and intelligent family member cry over her inability to find a decent paying job, even though she’s living in a major metropolis area and has put out many applications. I’ve seen firsthand the uptick in folks coming to the churches, food pantries and soup kitchens for food,  some WHILE ON THEIR LUNCH BREAK from school or work. I’ve heard from car dealers about the shortage of affordable and reliable used cars for sale across the country and from renters about the shortage of affordable, decent places to live. I’ve witnessed the progression of gold and silver buyers, the ‘cash for your title’ outfits, and the “Payday Loan” sharks that are renting cheap buildings and catering to the poorest among us. I can’t help but notice the number of one hundred year storms that have occurred in the last couple of years alone, while more and more cities and states are leaving the storm damages and destroyed infrastructures to be dealt with by the survivors. I’ve also learned that some countries are already putting into place strategies and transition plans to enable their populations to weather what’s coming.  In other words, we’re no longer doing much mitigating, we’re adapting already!

I know part of the reason that I feel as though Pollyanna has left the building is that we’ve almost reached the winter solstice and the coldest, darkest days of the year are upon us, and that Michael’s health care is wearing us both down. But we are adapting to our new circumstances, and finding ways to not just survive this, but to improve our lives and thrive. Even on the bad days like today. And this I know too: Liveable communities that have learned to produce food, energy, water, products, and incomes locally will not only survive but thrive too. These re-localized economies will interconnect with others globally.  They will prosper together. A decentralized network like this will grow very quickly as word of their success grows. Soon, these communities will not only replace the things that were lost with the demise of the global economy, they will find ways to improve upon them.  To do better than what’s possible in our current global systems and lives. That all makes a bad day seem better :D



Frugal Friday-with a recipe!
December 6, 2013, 11:08 PM
Filed under: Composting, Food Waste, Frugality, Herbs | Tags: , , , , , , ,

We enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner with friends and family, and now, a week later, I’m putting up the Christmas tree. We produced more garbage last week than normal, but much of it was things our out-of-town company brought with them and bought while they were here, but I really did make up for it this week by cutting food and kitchen waste to ZERO and by reducing and repairing everywhere else I could. Remember, these little things really add up week after week and allow us to live very well on very little. And that’s basically what this blog is all about.

This whole week saw us eating leftover turkey, made into several different ‘creations’. We enjoyed turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce on slices of sourdough bread, 4 quarts of turkey noodle soup, and  a 9×12 pan of shepherd’s pie, topped with the leftover mashed potatoes from Thanksgiving. The carcass was cooked down…

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… and the only thing I had to buy for the gallon of soup were the noodles and some celery. I had the onions, carrots, and herbs from the garden on hand and used a similar combination of veggies, plus some leftover beans and broccoli from the garden for the pie. Savings: 4 lunches and 4 dinners with enough for company too

I spent so much time in the kitchen this past week though, that I began to get a little silly: (that’s a Longkeeper tomato I used for the head  of Mr. Carrot that was later WASHED, sliced and added to our sandwiches-and we were thankful for fresh garden tomatoes at Thanksgiving!) OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Monday- Michael received a little book in the mail from a friend, and I got an unexpected ‘gift’ of 5 uncanceled stamps that were on the envelope when it arrived! I’ll use them to mail some out-of-town Christmas cards next week. Savings: $2.30

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Tuesday- My favorite very old slipper socks had seen better days, with their felted soles coming clean off. So, I sewed them  back on, repaired a few little holes, and they’re good for another winter! Savings: $15 plus shipping, comparing to a similar pair on Amazon

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Wednesday- I mixed up a batch of the same laundry detergent I’ve been using for almost 15 years. It’s environmentally friendly, produces no packaging waste, costs pennies per load and works very well. What else could  you ask for?

        3 Natural Ingredients + Water=                                                     2 Gallons of Pure Cleaning Power

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Here’s the recipe I have used all these years, made in the same free icing bucket I got from a bakery. Consider it an early Christmas gift.

LAUNDRY DETERGENT

Grate 1/3 bar of Fels Naptha soap into 6 cups boiling water. (This all-natural laundry soap can be ordered online if you can’t find it locally) I use an old box grater on the fine side for this-see photo. And by the way, it’s very easy to grate.

When melted, add 1 c. each of 20 Mule Team Borax and Arm and

Hammer Washing Soda. Bring to a boil, Stir till dissolved and slightly thickened.

In a 2 gallon bucket, put 4 cups hot water, then add the soap mixture, mix.

Fill rest of bucket with cold water. Mix until well blended. Set aside for

24 hrs; it will gel up. I ‘squeeze’ the finished gel with my hands to break it up

somewhat, then use 1 c. per load.

This works beautifully on average dirty clothes. For really oily or dirty clothes, you may want to use more soap, or hot water. I use cold, except for whites. This detergent is safe for greywater and septic systems too! These products can be found in the laundry section of most grocery stores.

NOTE: There will be no color and little scent to this detergent, nor will you see suds. Sudsing agents are added to commercial detergents to help the consumer feel that the product is ‘working’. The suds add nothing to the actual cleaning power of the product.

Savings? I’m going to estimate about $10 per gallon of detergent. This recipe makes 2 gallons or, enough for 32 loads for about $1.00 worth of ingredients.

Thursday-  I took advantage of the warm, sunny day we enjoyed before the storms came in to uncover my hoop houses so they could get rained on, get them weeded and then refilled my covered garbage cans that I keep for this purpose with dry, shredded leaves that my city  delivers free of charge each fall. I layer my kitchen scraps (greens) with the leaves (browns) on my compost piles all winter, so the finished product has a nice balance of nitrogen and carbon. Free shredded leaves + Free delivery= PRICELESS COMPOST

Friday-Printed some free ‘gift coupons’ (on the back of some pretty papers that I’d gotten years ago as part of a ‘gift pack’) and plan to fill them out for my family members for giving them the ‘gifts’ I wrote about here. Here’s the website to download yours too:

http://act.newdream.org/page/s/simplify-holidays-coupon-book  

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Enjoy your weekend!



Blue Boat Home

Hello readers! Do me a favor, and listen to this beautiful song while you read this post. Just click on the link below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtZUM0JhLvc

I’m sitting in the sun on my front porch as I write this, on December 5th, 2013. The temperature is hovering at 70 today. As much as I’ve enjoyed a long walk with a good friend, and working in my garden this morning, all while dressed in a tee-shirt, I know it’s ‘not normal’ for this time of year, although I honestly am not sure anymore what ‘normal’ is on this beautiful planet we call home. I read today about a new study done by some of the world’s top climate scientists that are now saying that “this 2 degree C target that everyone seems to accept now is actually a recipe for disaster.” The study recommended that “fossil fuel emissions should decline by 6 percent per year starting immediately.” http://reneweconomy.com.au/2013/study-debuts-ipcc-calls-severe-emissions-cuts-80088 

Today’s news also informed me that Al Gore has joined his former boss Bill Clinton at the table and has gone to a vegan diet. http://grist.org/food/al-gore-is-a-vegan-now-and-we-think-we-know-why/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=Living%2520Dec%25205&utm_campaign=living 

According to the article, the former VP’s reasons aren’t due to health, (although I’m pretty certain  he’ll end up healthier because of his new plant-based diet), but because of his very real concerns about how bad raising meat is for the environment, which really is an inconvenient truth for all of us omnivores, isn’t it? Then, to add to my environmental angst, a friend sent me a link with video of freakin’ glacial caves! That’s right, caves that are being formed UNDER the glaciers as they melt and run away. The photography is stunning and the reality of what’s happening will make you weep, but maybe you need to see it too: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/03/mendenhall-ice-caves_n_4374019.html 

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I could go on and on and on about the environmental crisis we’re all a part of, but I’m pretty certain I’m preaching to the choir here, so I won’t. Hearing of the death of that icon of social justice, Nelson Mandela, has added yet another note of sadness to my day today. I’m sure you choir members have already recognized the strong connection between environmental degradation and social injustice and inequality; use Mandela’s life as a model, and use this ‘season of giving’ to make a difference in the world, in your life or in someone else’s life. Please consider embracing simplicity, reducing your consumption of everything, eating a plant-based diet and reducing your personal waste during this time of consumption and spending.  Let’s do what we can to turn this ‘blue boat’ around.



Christmas Simplified
November 30, 2013, 6:30 PM
Filed under: Buy Local, Local Food | Tags: ,

today

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christmas shop local

I’ve informed my grown kids and teen-aged grandkids that this year, when they visit from Ohio during the holidays, their gift from Michael and me will be the gift of experience. This just means we’ll take them somewhere fun they’ve never been before. I’m thinking a trip to  Wonder Works in Gatlinburg, or to the Blue Moon Dinner Theater to watch their production of ‘A Tuna Christmas’ and a spin around the skating rink at the Bristol Motor Speedway in Lights would make fine memories. Their time here will definitely include a meal at One Acre Cafe, a pizza dinner from Scratch and maybe even cupcakes from Cake Buds. But most of all, I want our gift to support local businesses and be something they’ll remember for years to come. Christmas simplified, fun and local.  I’ll let you know how it goes…



Frugal Friday-November 22nd

You know those thick plastic zippered bags that comforters, mattress pads and the like come in? Do  you save them without any idea in this world what use you’ll find for them, simply saving them because they’re ‘too nice to just throw away’? uh huh, me too.

Monday- Gave my youngest daughter my full stash of those bags for her to use for organizing her clothing and personal items. She lives in a studio apartment and has a VERY tiny closet and no other storage. She put her socks in one bag, underwear and bras in another, scarves and mittens in one, and her summer clothes in the others, hanging only her winter clothes in the tiny closet. Flip flops and sandals went in yet another bag. It even solved her important papers and receipts problems that were scattered everywhere BB (before bags)  Cost-$0      Savings-Sanity is priceless

Tuesday-  This idea occurred to me last month when  I was fighting a HERD of fruit flies so I repeated it this week: I run white vinegar through my coffee pot about once a month to remove lime and scale deposits that build up over time. I poured the hot vinegar after it had done its first job of cleaning the pot, down the drains in the kitchen and bathrooms, which is where a lot of the little fruit flies originate, effectively killing two flies birds with one stone.

Wednesday- Darned my socks! Savings: About $2-$4 for a new pair but I really had fun using a lightbulb as a ‘darning egg’ and it made the finished job much neater. I still have two more pairs to darn so I’m saving a fair amount of money and resources by learning this technique.

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Thursday- Repaired my electric stove burner by applying JB Weld (wayyy better than duct tape ;D) to the broken metal bracket that supports the eye from underneath the burner, clamped it with a stiff little clip I’d found out in the alley behind my house a month or so ago and voila! After setting up overnight, it’s good as new.  Savings: $14.47 plus shipping from Amazon

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Friday- I like to buy in bulk whenever it’s prudent to do so. It saves me money, trips to the store and excess packaging. We’re blessed in our region to have several places that we can buy in bulk; the Mennonite-owned store in Chuckey sells spices and all manner of staples- I’ve bought oats, rice and dried beans in 25-50 lb sacks, at no extra charge to me, that they simply add to their weekly order. I also buy bulk rice at ‘The Stock Pot”, an Asian market close by, and loose tea by the pound at the Indian foods store. Then of course, Sam’s Clubs and Costcos are located all over the country. I mention this now for this reason: we’re entering the season of ‘large popcorn tins’. I’ve gotten several of them from Freecycle, line them with a plastic bag and fill them with dry goods. They provide rodent proof storage and stack well too.

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I still hope to convey to you that the point of these posts on frugality isn’t JUST about saving money. They’re often about saving our earth’s resources as well, and developing a mindset of making do or repairing, rather than always finding our solutions to life’s little daily issues by ‘buying’ a solution. Developing skills and exercising creativity embolden me to try things I might not’ve even considered in the past. I try to remember: New isn’t necessarily better, nor is more.



Feeding Our Future

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For those of you new to this blog, I moved to my 113 year old urban house in the summer of 2012 with a deliberate mission to grow a garden and cultivate a sense of community in my new neighborhood. Today my next door neighbor brought over two slices of still-warm lemon pound cake. I suspect she’d spotted my husband Michael a half hour before, trying to increase his stamina with the daily 2 minute walks he takes (still in his sleep pants!) from our back door to the alley and back, and thought to herself: “That poor old man! I should take him some cake!”. Whatever her reasons, we were both happy with her decision to share. Michael’s happiness was with the delicious cake. Mine was in the fact that I’ve FINALLY been able to ‘connect’ with her. (OK, I loved the cake too) All summer I’d left little bags or recycled butter bowls filled with tomatoes, peppers, herbs and more at her back door, picked fresh from our garden. We’d speak in the back yard, just polite ‘hellos’ and ‘how are yous’ but her kind gesture encourages me now to continue to get to know her, and her pound cake recipe! I’ve spoken lots more with her son and his pup than with her, finding out that they’ve lived there for over 6 years, he’s a grad student, and the dog’s name is Pippa. The point is, sometimes it can be difficult to ‘reach out and touch someone’ but almost everyone will eventually respond to small gestures of food and friendship.

Why do I care so much about getting to know the neighbors? Before moving to our urban home, we’d lived quite remotely in the country and I’d missed having neighbors during that 10 years, but it’s become more than that. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know that I am concerned that our country is facing an economic collapse-in our lifetime-right along with depleted energy and water sources and ever-increasing global temperatures that are already affecting everything in our lives from food supplies to wildlife. To that end, I’ve learned how to grow food for my family, can and preserve it, and cook our meals from scratch. That alone has given me much peace of mind, and empowered me to discover other resiliency strategies. I’ve learned to live by the adage of “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”. Our home is stocked with several months worth of food, fuel and water, we stay out of debt and try to  live simply but still yet, I realize there is no hope for any of us outside of a community. We must learn to work with our neighbors in developing sustainable lifestyles based upon reduced consumption and sharing of resources. What good will it do for me to have food and water supplies when my neighbors are hungry and thirsty? How long could WE eat on what I have stored? What if there were bank failures in this country, like the ones in Cyprus this past spring? How would we access cash once the ATM’s were empty? What if there was a massive power failure for an extended period of time? There would be looting and  rioting if folks in the South couldn’t buy their Mountain Dew and Moonpies, I tell ya! How would we pump gas into our cars, light our homes, cook or stay warm? How would we flush the toilets and clean our clothes? Do you ever think about these what if’s? I do, and the only way I can rest easy is by being prepared for those scenarios. That includes making sure that my neighbors are too. Then, if those things never happen, we’ve simply got a well stocked pantry and a productive garden, right along with extra toothpaste and a support system too.

I write often about how these changing times demand that we grow a strong local economy. Michael and I have been attending bimonthly meetings for the local ‘Liveable Communities’ group and are greatly encouraged by the sharing and feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’ that we get from the group, but liveable communities really start right. next. door. This holiday season, why not use the natural conviviality of the season to get to know your neighbors better- perhaps take them a card and some cookies, signed with your name and address so they can remember you later too? (I intend to put the internet address of this blog on the cards I hand out too, hoping they’ll read it and get interested in ‘feeding our future’ as well.)  I left a card for a neighbor congratulating her on the new beehives I’d spotted in the driveway, and later, when we made a face to face connection, she told me she’d wept when she read the card because she had been so worried about having the bees and how the neighborhood might react to them. She and I are friends now, and she tells me she’ll let me work with her in her hives next spring! I’ve begun talking to another neighbor about his struggling bread baking business, brainstorming with him on the feasibility of building a COMMUNAL outdoor wood-fired oven at the Community Garden next spring. (would the city EVER allow that? We intend to find out!) Not only are we working on ways to build a local foods network, at the same time we’re having fun building friendships and feeding the future. This poster hangs in my kitchen. May it offer you some hope and inspiration too:

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T.G.I.F.F. (thank God it’s frugal Friday)

Note: I wasn’t able to insert any pictures into this post, for reasons I don’t understand. So, use your imaginations, and perhaps I’ll get this ‘bug’ figured out before I post again.

I’ve been too consumed with being a caregiver for Michael to put together a post since Halloween. But, his cancer surgery is over, he’s recovering fairly well, and the doctors feel it was very successful. We are filled with gratefulness during this month of Thanksgiving. He still has one more surgery to go through in a few months, followed by a long round of chemo to complete, but we’re feeling very, very thankful.

All that said, we’re facing some hefty medical bills, so it’s become all the more important that we continue to live within our modest means while also continuing to live well. Lately, living well has included a few little luxuries, like some restaurant meals when energy for cooking lags, some cozy wool socks for both of us, and a few new-to-us books and DVD’s for helping fill the recovery time. Oh yeah, hand-made soaps are an affordable luxury that can make you feel positively extravagant!

Now, let’s focus on this week:

Sunday-Wednesday: I made a pot of great-tasting veggie soup and ate it for several days, taking it in my thermos each morning to the hospital to have for lunch. I also took my travel mug to fill with the free coffee and herbal tea (which was offered  to surgery patients and their families), along with fruit, cookies and almonds for snacking on throughout the day. Savings: the one meal I ate in the hospital cafeteria cost me over $5, for not much food, and I estimate the soup cost me maybe $1.00 to make from veggies, rice and beans I had on hand. Since I ate it four days, I’m estimating I saved at least $20.00 or more. AND, since soup is my comfort food, it was actually priceless ;)

Monday: Attended a free screening of a new documentary about the questions and controversy surrounding GMO foods,  titled “GMO, OMG”! An unexpected reception afterwards of fruits, cookies, wines, cheeses and bruschetta, all compliments of my local university’s School of the Arts, and time spent with a good friend made it a special evening without spending a dime. If you’re lucky enough to live in a college town, you might be able to take advantage of similar things too. Ditto for dental, medical and other schools. PS Michael and I once got free one hour massages given by graduating students of a local massage school. Priceless!

Tuesday: Started a jar of sprouts for use in sandwiches, salads, and stir fries. Cost for 1 T. mixed seed: 25 cents. Savings: $1.75 since a cup of fresh organic sprouts cost $2.00 WHEN you can find them.

Wednesday: Brought my “pot of celery” inside to live on the kitchen windowsill, hoping it will continue to grow. This plant was started by cutting the root end off of a store-bought stalk of celery and simply laying it on top of some potting soil and keeping it moist. If it produces, I’ll have saved a couple of bucks on celery. If it doesn’t, I’ll still enjoy the greenery during the winter, and can use the leaves in soups and stuff.

Thursday: Walked out of a physical therapist’s office on the third visit because they wouldn’t  quote me a cost, or even an estimate. Savings: ??? 

Friday: Have successfully gone through the first cold week of the season without yet turning on the central heat. We stay close to the gas stove in the living room (and love the glow of the flames!) and have an oil filled radiant heater for use in the kitchen, as well as a small thermostatically controlled heater for use in the bathroom or wherever a bit of heat is needed for a short period of time. We’ve also reinstated our winter ritual of  taking our showers back-to-back, while the bathroom is already heated up from the little heater AND the steamy shower.

“They” say that little things don’t count, don’t matter. I beg to differ. It’s the little things, the one and two dollars saved here and there that allow us to live so well on so little. We don’t feel deprived and have enough in our lives to share. I also feel strongly that the premise behind this blog, almost 2 years after I began writing it, is still reason enough to continue it. We are facing hard times, in spite of the fact that the stock market reached an all time high today, in spite of the fact that gasoline is once again below $3.oo a gallon, and in spite of the fact that national health care is becoming a reality. Maybe. This week also saw the world’s strongest typhoon in history, the beginning of the two-week UN Climate talks already beginning to falter after only a couple of days, and closer to home, family in California informs us that water supplies are becoming a huge problem for the Central Valley. You know, that place known as our nation’s bread basket.

The window for making graceful transitions is beginning to close, but we can still 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 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. Learning to Live Well while living frugally makes the whole process of transition easier. Please feel free to share your own attempts at frugality and living well by commenting below. We’re all in this together you know. Thank God it’s Friday!



Loco for Local
October 31, 2013, 4:52 PM
Filed under: Climate Change, Growing Food, Local Food, mulch, Resilience, Seed Saving, Sustainability | Tags: ,

I attended a lecture last night at Emory and Henry College given by Gary Nahban, a renowned scientist and local foods pioneer. He explained that with the challenges that climate change presents for gardeners, farmers and ranchers, there are ‘best practices’ that are being developed and already being used (in the Southwest) to address those challenges. Practices like building greater moisture-holding capacity and nutrients in soil, (by adding compost and organic matter) protecting our gardens and fields from damaging winds, drought and floods by planting trees, harvesting rainwater, and creating swales and raingardens, reducing heat stress on crops and livestock and, selecting fruits, nuts, succulents and herbaceous perennials that are best suited to a warmer, drier climate can all be used to coax production and increase sustainability. One other thing that he is a big proponent of is seed saving. Seeds saved from plants that have been isolated from other varieties like it and that produced healthy offspring without being coddled during their production periods are going to be the best candidates. Seed saving is a radical resilience idea by the way, something I’ve written about ad nauseum in this blog.

I’ve been thinking about handing out little packets of Hopi Orange Lima Bean seeds tonight, right along with the little candy bars, to my Trick or Treaters. The seeds are not only beautiful, they just happen to be Halloween colors! So, what do you think? Have I gone completely ‘loco for local’ with this idea?

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I’ve long been fascinated with these beans, because I happen to believe the Native Americans knew what the hell they were doing and all we need to do is relearn what they figured out long ago to continue to thrive on this warming planet, while using fewer resources to do it. The plants are extremely drought and heat resistant and when dried, can be ground for flour too. The flour can then be used to dredge tasty little goblins in before adding to the kettle:

hallowween

Happy Halloween Ya’ll! Stay safe tonight!



Do You Know What Today Is?
October 25, 2013, 8:31 PM
Filed under: Canning, fall gardening, Frugality | Tags: , ,

Well it’s Frugal Friday of course! OK dear readers, I loved reading your comments last week about what you’d been doing to enable yourself to live better on less and I hope you’ll share again now. This week was fairly ordinary, but there always seem to be opportunities to save a bit of money. For example:

Monday- Added some water to the liquid soap that was so thick it wouldn’t pump out of the dispenser. It’s still PLENTY thick and now there’s more of it.

Tuesday- Made some hot pepper jam with THE LAST of my hot peppers. It makes a good hostess gift and people seem to love it poured over a block of cream cheese served with crackers.

Wednesday- When I got out my winter PJ’s, the elastic in the waist had somehow magically stretched out while they lay in the bottom of my winter clothes box this summer. Anyway, it was easy to remove the old piece and install a new one using a safety pin to run it through the casing. Here’s the best part: I was able to use waist elastic from an old pair of yoga pants for this project. And while I had my sewing machine out, I fixed a couple of other things that were needing repaired.

Thursday-After (im)patiently waiting for weeks for the pine needles to fall, I gathered enough at a friend’s house to nicely mulch my newly created blueberry and elderberry beds. Both of these berries like acidic soil and annual mulching with pine needles provides them with a fair amount. She got her side yard raked, I got free mulch!

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Friday- Harvested 3 HUGE carrots (of about 30) from my fall sown plot at the community garden:

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Right before dark, I scavenged for fallen tomatoes underneath certain-to-die-tonight tomato plants at the community garden to add to tonight’s salad, made with our just picked lettuce and dressed with our favorite pennies-per-serving dressing:

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Here’s the recipe for that dressing:

Michael’s  Vinaigrette

1 large clove garlic, peeled and chopped

1/8 tsp salt

1-2 T balsamic vinegar

1-2 T red wine vinegar

1 tsp Dijon mustard

2 dashes Worcestershire sauce

4 T. Olive Oil

Black pepper to taste

In a mortar with a pestle mash the garlic with the salt until they form a paste (or mash the garlic in a press) Transfer the garlic paste to a small bowl or jar, and add the remaining ingredients, whisking or shaking them until the dressing is well combined. Tweak to your own tastes, adding chopped finely herbs if desired.

But here’s the BEST thing of all this week: After waiting (im)patiently for a couple of months for Netflix to stream the remaining 8 episodes of the ‘Breaking Bad’ TV series, and refusing to pay $16 to see them, (after receiving a free year’s subscription as a birthday gift from my daughter), she tired of hearing me whining about it and found this link so that I could watch them for free: 

http://www.ddotomen.com/?s=breaking+bad+season+5

You’re welcome!

Alright, your turn! Let me know how you were able to live better for less this week! In the meantime, I’ll be watching the Breaking Bad finale-for free :D



Good Investments

Yesterday was our first taste of winter here in NE TN -some of the higher elevations close by had snow flurries and even a bit of sleet! The gray skies and windy conditions forced us to turn on the gas fireplace stove, immediately drawing  the cat and dog in close. We picked the remaining tomatoes and then brought the baskets and bins of fresh produce from the porch inside to the pantry to protect it all from tonight’s expected low temperatures. We’ve got two cases of apples to store away, along with onions, grinding corn, butternut and spaghetti squashes, red, yellow and white potatoes and sweet potatoes all cured and waiting for the real cold to move in before we begin eating them daily. You know, when that time that comes after the Farmer’s Market closes next month when there’s very little fresh, local produce available, all these root veggies will be combined with whatever greens and Brassicas we have under the hoops to make lots of great meals. All this food was grown organically on good soil and is full of vitamins and minerals. Soil and compost building is a ‘good investment’ in successful gardening and the resulting fruits and veggies are  ‘good investments’ in our health and future well-being.

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Every single person that has seen Michael since he’s undergone his cancer treatments has commented, “Well you look good!” Even though his body’s been completely poisoned with the chemotherapy and ravaged by the radiation, he pulled through easier than many his age do and we are certain it’s because he was always investing in good health, even though all the while that damn tumor was growing undetected. Eating healthful foods and getting exercise every day may in fact be the best investment he’s ever made. This picture was made a week ago.

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I’m glad the government shutdown was discontinued and the debt ceiling raised, but I think we all know it’s temporary. A friend remarked the other day that she has never EVER tended her garden with as much care as she has this year. Why? I think she’s simply being prudent and wise based on her own observations of how precarious our current economic system is. If ever, in the course of our lives, there was a time to plant food and learn a craft or skill, build a pantry and invest one’s money in one’s life, it is now. I recently offered a talented friend use of my washer and dryer twice a month to do her laundry in exchange for giving me advanced bass lessons while her clothes get clean. Michael and I make our ‘mad money’ by playing with a local band. The better musicians we are, the more likely we are to be hired to play. (AND learning to play any instrument is right up there with learning a foreign language and doing brain exercises as ways to keep sharp as we age) Plus, we have so much fun playing music!  I consider the trade another ‘good investment’.

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 Get to know your neighbors–you’ll need each other as shortages force us to relocalize. Work toward establishing new, more community-based economies.  Last week I traded a neighbor some of my fresh organic veggies for a big sack of his pecans. He feels like he got the best end of the bargain, but so do I. That’s what I call win-win. In the business world, networking with others in your line of work is considered important for success. The same holds true in our private lives. Volunteering for your favorite charity, sharing space in the community garden, even joining a church or club are all great ways to network and make friends. Our church community has rallied around us during Michael’s illness and we’ve felt uplifted and empowered by their support. Many studies have proven that a strong social network of friends can stave off depression, dementia and other illnesses. Building those relationships are ‘good investments’ for everyone concerned!

I think by clearly envisioning the joyful, healthy, earth friendly lives we most want and then by making ‘good investments’ during this transition period that we are currently experiencing, we’ll be able to make that vision a reality.

PS I apologize in advance if some the words in this post are highlighted in red and take  you to an ad. I have no idea why it’s happening and will try to fix it in future posts.



A Bog Blog or: More Local Food News

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Look carefully into the center of this clump of Native grasses…do  you see them? They’re cranberries, growing in a wild, Southern Appalachian cranberry bog! What does that mean? They are exactly 33 miles from my front door, which means we can now add CRANBERRIES to the list of local foods that CAN be grown in NE Tennessee. I didn’t even know about them when I wrote last week about our ‘emerging local food economy’. Now, even though it’s a little blurry because it’s a close up, I wanted you to see how delicious they look:

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Michael and I drove over to Shady Valley, TN yesterday to attend their annual Cranberry Festival and even though the food, crafts and music were top-notch, the thing that grabbed our attention the most was the tour we got to take of the wetlands and stream restoration work that is taking place on 150 acres that is owned by The Nature Conservancy. Their little 1/4 acre bog preserve is being nurtured into existence by many dedicated volunteers. They have also established cranberry nursery beds, which were in full fruit right now. The Shady Valley Ruritan Club established the beds in 2008 for the purpose of propagating native cranberries and keeping alive the genetic strains from Shady Valley’s five distinct cranberry colonies. Cuttings and plants from these nursery beds provide stock that is transplanted elsewhere in the Conservancy’s restoration area.

More cool news: the endangered ‘bog turtle’ which is only 4″ and a native of this area is making a reappearance in the newly established bog. This little guy feeds on water insects and plants that are typically found in cranberry bogs. No turtle soup for you!

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Turns out the festival celebrates a history and heritage dating back centuries to when the valley was filled with wild cranberry bogs left over from the last ice age. More recently, residents of the valley would gather each fall to pick the locally grown cranberries and the resulting harvest became a time for celebration. Now don’t misunderstand: there’s not enough berries yet to go around but, God willing, and if the creeks DO rise, there will be ‘enough’ some day soon to go around. One of the conservationists explained the primary reasons the original bogs failed to thrive was because the water tables had been lowered so drastically by man’s engineering of streams and of course by beaver dams as well. The conservancy has worked hard to restore those streams back to their original paths. This little bog is meant to be natural, with only enough moisture needed to keep the plants’ roots wet, but the guide explained that irrigation would be another way to grow cranberries. Not necessarily a better way, simply another way.

Why am I writing about cranberry bogs? Because I want to get us all thinking about the traditional foods that are grown in our personal food sheds, wherever that might be. The foods that are local and native to your area are easiest to grow and will be sure winners in the future global competition for low energy food sources amidst major climate change. I want YOU to share with growers and CSA owners and market vendors and even  your favorite gardener that you’d LOVE to buy their locally grown cranberries (and pecans and cushaw squash too-see recipe below) As I find out about more foods that once were, or could be again, part of our emerging local food economy here in Southern Appalachia (and I’m sure there are plenty more!) I’ll be sure to pass them along to you. In the meantime, here’s a great recipe that uses all three!

Cranberry Cushaw Bread

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Yield: 1 loaf

Cranberry Cushaw Bread is the perfect escape from all of the typical Pumpkin recipes at this time of the year! Enjoy this delicious bread over coffee in the morning or for dessert at night while standing over the kitchen sink. (full disclosure: I haven’t made this recipe, but I’m sure going to-it’s ‘the season’ for all its major ingredients!)

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon all spice
a pinch of cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup cushaw puree
1 1/2 cup fresh or frozen whole cranberries
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line a 9 inch loaf pan with parchment paper, leaving 1 inch of parchment paper hanging over two sides of the pan. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the first 9 ingredients.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, vegetable oil, and vanilla. Add brown sugar and cushaw puree, whisking until well combined.

Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the center. Using a large spatula or wooden spoon, gently fold together until there are no lumps. Then carefully fold in the cranberries and pecans.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 55-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Be careful not to over bake this bread or it can become dry. Let bread rest in the loaf pan for 20 minutes before removing.



Frugal Friday test
October 11, 2013, 2:45 PM
Filed under: Uncategorized

So how was your week? It occurred to me while putting together this post that by being careful with my money on many small things, it allows us to be able to afford other, bigger, more important things-like cancer treatments. It’s all a matter of priorities, as they say. So, I may be wrapping duct tape around my shoes to hold them together by spring, but since duct tape now comes in such fashionable colors, it’s all good ;) 

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That said, I have begun to think about the upcoming holidays already. I have family members that are out of work and struggling to get by, and of course my own budget item for gift giving is a big fat zero right now, so our gift exchanges will need to be greatly simplified this year. But there will be some gift giving and volunteer fun, along with good food, decorations, music, friends and family. I’m already looking forward to it and am planning what I hope will be a welcome gift idea (that I plan to share with you as soon as I can get it together). In the meantime, it’s the day to day expenses that can leave you with more week than money, so I truly hope my attempts will leave you inspired and hopeful, rather than the feeling that you’re a spendthrift. I suspect that most readers of this blog are quite mindful already of what they consume, eat and buy. My Frugal Friday smack down is really just my way of reviewing my own spending habits throughout the week, helping me stay focused on where our money goes. I can blow money right along with the best of ‘em, by the way :D

Monday- Canned some late season roasted salsa verde using a big bag of tomatillos that was given to me by one of the Community gardeners. I had jalapenos and garlic from my garden to add to it and just enough cilantro leaves in the frig that needed to be used anyway. I really do try to avoid food waste and this made 4 half pints of really good salsa for just a bit of effort! Savings: Roughly $8 at $2 per half pint jar?

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Tuesday- Had a wonderful pasta and salad meal at Main Street Pizza Company, a locally owned eatery within an easy walk of our house. A couple of months ago we’d taken advantage of an internet deal they were offering and bought a $30 ‘voucher’ for $15. What a bargain it was, and by going on Tuesday we hopefully gave them a little extra business on what is traditionally any restaurant’s slowest night of the week. Additional bonus: The leftovers we took home fed us the next night too, after adding a salad and some garlic bread. Savings: $15 on the original price of the food, and a few dollars for whatever a dinner at home might’ve cost us PLUS two nights not having to cook!

Wednesday- Mailed a card to Canada using 20-year-old air mail stamps that Michael had held on to all this time. Postage was ‘only’ $1.10 to Canada, but we had three 50 cent stamps so I just put all three on the envelope and put it out on my home mailbox for pickup, saving me a trip in the car to the post office, as well as a wait in what is usually a long line. Savings: $1.10 plus gas to P.O. and a half hour’s time.

Thursday- Returned a 6 month old combination lock to Lowe’s that had become permanently locked, even though I had no warranty. They didn’t question it at all, and replaced it with a new lock. Savings: $6

Friday- Had my teeth cleaned at the local dental hygenist school for free (Seniors are free-that’s me- all others are only $20) Savings: I have no idea since I’ve been using their services 3x a year for 11 years now but I’m thinking $75 at least. And now I’m so close to the school that I can walk or ride my bike so no gas is used to get there either and I get my exercise in for the day! Good health and clean teeth: PRICELESS!

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OK, how about you? Where’d you save (or spend) money this week? Do you remember? Take the Frugal Friday test.



Fall Has Fell

“Fall has always been my favorite season. 

The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year

for the grand finale.” Lauren DeStefano

 Fall is my favorite season too, even though it’s bittersweet for me, knowing what lies just beyond it. I’m still working on my summer to-do list, and now I’m in the midst of my fall list! Many of you have asked me to let  you know what’s going on in the garden during each season, so I hope this helps, although I suspect I should’ve written all this out back in August.  I hope it will give you an idea of where you need to be now anyway.

All of my raised beds in my community garden plot are now planted to either fall crops or crimson clover, which I like as a cover crop for winter.

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I’m harvesting broccoli and lettuces, beets, August-planted potatoes, and carrots there, with the kale, cabbage and cauliflower ready in another couple of weeks. Brussels sprouts remain a mystery to me, but I still plant them anyway. Maybe someday I’ll actually get some sprouts from them! 

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At home, I’ve started harvesting bok choy:

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I always feel like it’s a race to get the late summer plantings almost to harvest stage before the fall equinox, because things really slow down by then. This proves to be especially tricky with Longkeeper tomatoes! I have full-grown plants  loaded with green tomatoes now that were set out in August,. If they can just begin to turn pink before our first frost, they will slowly continue to ripen inside the house, allowing us to have fresh tomatoes until about Valentine’s Day- if we don’t eat them all before then. The key is that they won’t ripen if picked green, they must have at least a slight blush of color to continue ripening. I usually plant them out in July,  so don’t have as many this fall as in years past, but we’ll still have enough to last til Christmas with any luck. Longkeeper -the name is accurately descriptive. Even though they’re not as sweet and juicy as a summer ripened fruit, they are far, far better than ANY grocery store tomato you might buy in mid winter. And by golly, they’re local ;)  Some Farmer’s Market vendor is missing the boat by not selling them during the winter months.

I finished preparing my final bed today, turning in compost and shredded leaves. I’ll add some bone meal to the holes when I plant my garlic there at the end of October, but today I just raked it smooth and planted winter lettuces and spinach, neither of which will be ready until spring. With a simple little hoop house over that bed, those plants will just sit there, almost dormant, right in the row, until late winter. When the days begin to lengthen just a bit, that spinach and cold hardy lettuce will burst to life and offer us fresh greens, just about the time the kale and swiss chard grow tough and we’re tired of them anyway. Last, but not least, the parsnips that were planted way back in July won’t be harvested until after several hard frosts, but before the ground freezes solid (boy did I learn that the hard way!). The freezes sweeten them, and then they’ll keep in the refrigerator for a very long time; I consider it one of nature’s mysteries that just as my vegetable drawers are finally empty of all the fruits and veggies they held all summer, along come the greens, apples, nuts and root crops to fill ‘em up for the winter.

I set up another compost bin today, and will let the one we filled during the summer cook and decompose all winter, hopefully ready for use in the spring, with this new one full and ready for use by next fall. And so the gardening cycle continues. After all this intensive digging, planting, harvesting and storing it’s nice to know we’re moving into a quieter, slower pace in the garden for a few months. God willing, the wheel of good health and fortune will continue to turn and the seed starting trays will be full again come February. Happy Fall Ya’ll!

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We’re Emerging!

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Last week I was part of a panel of local food activists and advocates that were asked to listen to and critique a Milligan College senior that is presenting a paper at the International Food Studies Conference later this month out in Austin TX. It’s an honor for him to have been chosen to present, especially since the other presenters all seem to be authors, professors, and other professionals in the field. I learned a few things during the panel discussion that I wanted to share with you. I have long felt that ‘creating’ a local food economy is the number one thing every city and region in this country could do to protect their citizens and tremendously increase their resilience if times get hard- or even if they don’t. (Of course, times are already hard for many of us-unless  you don’t consider our government being shut down a hardship. And consider the ripple effect this is going to create!) But I digress…

I learned that Johnson City and the rest of the Tri Cities Region  is moving from our former description of ‘rural area’ to what is now considered an ‘emerging urban area’. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I rather like the rural feel of our area, but I also enjoy the progress I’ve seen in the last decade. Since I can’t change any of that anyway, I simply say “whatever”. What did excite me though was learning that we also have an “emerging local food economy”.

For generations this area was heavily dependent on tobacco subsidies. The farmers that ‘sold out’ when that ended sold good farmland to housing developers who then built tan cookie-cutter  suburban homes on our hillsides. Many of those that stayed on their land began to raise cattle and corn, the latter being fed to the former, and the former being shipped more and more frequently to foreign countries like China for consumption there.

So, what do we produce right here at home now? It’s a surprisingly long list. Small farmers and growers are producing many of the following food items: Fresh fruits and many of their value-added byproducts, ie: applesauce, juice and butters; jams, jellies, and syrups; vegetables of every imaginable type; Wheat is being grown in nearby Limestone, as is corn for meal, grits and tortillas. Meat animals of all varieties, along with all of their byproducts – from bacon and eggs to cheeses-are being raised in our region. Cane for molasses and grain for sorghum, bees for honey (and pollination), corn for liquor and grapes for wine are all being produced right here too. So, we have meats, eggs, dairy, fruits, grains, sweeteners and libations. Do we need anything more? I’ll admit that rice, chocolate, bananas, olive oil and citrus would be nice for sure, but it’s a well-known fact here in the South that bacon grease can be used as a substitute for a lot of things ;). All joking aside, I believe alternatives and substitutes would be developed, with those ‘must haves from afar’ considered an occasional treat instead of part of our daily caloric intake. The point is our local farmers are already producing everything we need to eat healthy and varied diets. If all we imported to our supper tables were just a few specialty items, all of this former tobacco land could be used to produce enough of the diverse products we need and want. Supplemented with hunting and fishing, foraging and community  gardens, we could be food self-sufficient. If we consumers would vote for these local foods with our forks and our food dollars, small-scale family farms would become an essential part of our lives once again.

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Many jobs could be created if there was enough food produced locally to feed us all, energy costs to produce that food would be lowered since it would no longer need to be shipped from around the world, and WE would have the distinct privilege of being able to enjoy the freshest, tastiest food available! Our personal and communal resilience would increase too, since we wouldn’t be dependent on foreign countries, foreign oil, OR the federal government for our food supply.
Sound too good to be true? It’s not. Research tells me that powerful and innovative technology called GIS (Geographic Information Systems) is already being used to strengthen our food system and food access work here in NE TN and SW VA.  While that work is progressing, we can make every bite count in the meantime by seeking out whatever local food sources we can. Our demand will eventually create the supply we need to keep us all fed. We are emerging, after all.



I Have Proof

I haven’t posted here for over 2 weeks…just about the same amount of time I was sick with a virus that I’m pretty sure I picked up from Michael, who’s pretty sure he picked it up while he was in the hospital recently. To say his cancer has kicked his ass-and mine-would be putting it mildly. But we are both doing ever so much better this week and my brain is once again percolating with things to write about.

I use this blog to harp on share with you ideas that we can apply to our lives as we transition to a different world from that which we’ve all grown up in; it will surely be a lower energy future, on a planet with serious environmental degradation and climate change, with globalization a hard-earned lesson from the past.  Two of the best ways that I’ve found to make that transition to ‘the good life’ involve building resiliency through more localized economies and skill sets and through more interdependence in our individual communities. Both solutions are key to creating more livable communities and offering us a more fulfilling and sustainable life, regardless of what our futures may hold.

If you doubt any of what I wrote in that last paragraph, I have ‘proof’ to offer, not just theory. Here’s my ‘story’. Michael and I have been largely self-sufficient in terms of health, finances and most aspects of our daily lives for a very long time. We liked that smug snug feeling of being self-reliant. Then we both got sick and had to ask for help with lots of things-from cutting grass to daily meals. (Not feeling nearly as invincible now.) But somewhere along the way, the magic of community kicked in and we were not only helped but uplifted by our circle of friends and community. That circle of love and friendship held healing power as strong as the cancer treatments themselves! Never underestimate the value of cards, emails, prayers, books, visits, phone calls, jars of soup and loaves of bread to someone in need. Using an overused phrase here: “They are priceless”. 

Now that I’ve seen first hand the value of communal care, I intend to work harder at being an advocate and practitioner of the concept. As a society it seems we’ve gotten so far removed from ‘knowing thy neighbor’ and feel we don’t have time or energy  to develop the friendships and relationships that can be so helpful and valuable to each and every one of us, in good times or in bad.  So when I hear about a community-based effort to enrich my life, I intend to share it with you. My hope is that the sharing will inspire us all to look for ways to build our own communities whether they be with neighbors, coworkers, church groups, gamers, gardeners or simply the gay couple next door. There’s strength in numbers.

Now I want to let you know about a new entrepreneur in my neighborhood. Tyler Selby lives in the next block down from me and has started baking and selling artisan breads at the Farmer’s Market in Johnson City. They are fabulous, healthy and go a long way towards making our soups and other plant-based meals filling! I know $6 a loaf may seem a bit high but consider this: Cut into 12 thick slices and then frozen to keep it fresh, we’re able to enjoy the loaves Tyler bakes for 6 meals.  Not so bad eh? Of course supporting his efforts will hopefully help his business grow. I’d lots rather walk down the street to get a fresh-baked loaf of bread from someone I know than to get it anywhere else. Kinda like they do in the rest of the world. In a world without refrigeration or electricity, daily bread baking is the norm. (I hear there’s another nearby neighbor that sells fresh fried fish sandwiches out her back door on Fridays but I haven’t found her yet. But I digress…) Tyler plans to apply for a plot in the Carver Peace Gardens next year so that he can grow some specialty grains for his breads. Since he lives only half a block away from the gardens, it seems a perfect fit. The community gardeners, the bakery, and my neighborhood all stand to benefit from Mr Selby’s  plans. My secret, long-term plan for that community garden has always been to build an outdoor, wood-fired  bread oven so he has tapped into some of my own life blood with his little bakery. I’ll keep you updated on any progress made and perhaps the idea of a community oven may actually come to pass. In the meantime, look for The Selby Bakery at the Farmer’s Market!

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Another lovely example of community building popped up online this week.  A friend of mine has created a website that highlights some of the natural and beautiful places that her family enjoys visiting in our little corner of NE TN, with the hope that others can use the resources she’s compiled there to find those wild places as well. I smell the makings of a  hiking club and family friendly outings in the air! Here’s the web address: http://freshairfamily.weebly.com/ This same friend also took her windfall of organic apples to the community cannery in Telford yesterday where she and her son and a friend processed the fruit into jars and jars of applesauce. Using community resources to enhance our lives is one of the many rewards of all this!

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 All this is to simply say: Michael and I are living proof that sometimes community is NECESSARY to get things done, to heal, or just get by. Just don’t wait ’til the going gets tough to create those necessary communities-do it today. Hilary was right: It takes a village!



First World Problems
September 11, 2013, 4:48 PM
Filed under: Cancer, Resilience | Tags: ,

Even though I’m currently a full-time caregiver for hubby  Michael, a lot of his healing time is spent sleeping, giving me more time than usual to devote to quieter activities such as reading, writing, and gardening. The unexpected gift of time has found me moving more slowly through my days, and developing a keener awareness of what’s most important in my life. (By the way, if anyone ever tells you that cancer is a ‘gift’, don’t believe it. That’s crap!) One of the things that I’ve grown fond of saying (and weary of at the same time) is: “Well, at least I don’t have cancer!”. It makes the things I consider whine-worthy seem ‘not so’ when I say that out loud. A trend I’ve recently become aware of is that we have a unique set of problems in our country that are being labeled “First World Problems”. There are complete web sites, stand up comic routines and even a TV show devoted to the ridiculous ‘problems’ we lucky First Worlders experience. Here’s an example:

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Some days, and today is one of them, I simply have to laugh to keep from crying. Here are a few ‘problems’ I read about while doing a quick online search:

From today’s local newspaper: “Man reports pistol and briefcase with $2,500 stolen from unlocked vehicle in Roan Mountain”

Copied from the internet: “I went to go babysit for an hour and the kids didn’t even  know what their own wi-fi password was.”

And here are some I’ve said myself. Read ‘em, put them into their proper context, and weep.

“The tag on my new shirt is really bugging me”

“My laptop is dying but my charger is all the way upstairs”

“The elevator isn’t working?!!!”

“I ate too much!”

“I need to simplify my life.”

“I need to declutter my stuff.”

“I have too many tomatoes.”

Ahhh, that last one gave me an idea:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe’ll see if they’re  gone from the front steps by the end of the day.

What, pray tell, does all this have to do with Transitioning? I don’t know to be honest, but there’s a tie-in here, I’m sure of it. My ‘About Tennessee Transitions‘ page says:

“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 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. This blog is simply about my attempts to visualize and help create that new way of living!”

 



A Pictoral: How I Spent My Summer Staycation

 Yesterday I wrote about what we can do to contribute to making our towns and cities a better place to live. Today is completely different;  I wanted to share with  you what I’ve been doing to contribute to making my own life and family a better place to live. I’ve been staying close to home this summer, trying to be on hand as a gopher caregiver to my husband while he’s going through his cancer treatments. Normally, our summers are filled with camping, gardening, hiking, and playing with the band…

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But this summer, we only got in a quick trip to Florida back in May…

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And an even quicker trip to Ohio to visit my ‘grandbabies’…

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before he was diagnosed with the Big C. So while Michael goes through the healing process, I’ve been growing and preserving the very best food  I can to help him win this fight, because I’m a firm believer in the adage…

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I’ve been whipping up some ‘Farmaceuticals’ for him to eat once he can enjoy food again. Like many of our modern medicines, all of mine come from the Earth. In my kitchen farmacy, I transformed  just-picked zucchini…

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into salted, dried chips…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

that are great for munching on right out of the jar

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Cabbage was fermented from this form…

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To this chow chow

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My heirloom Hopi Orange Lima beans started out small…

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Then after the pods were dry…

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I waited until a friend came over ;)  and while chatting over a cup of tea, I casually set the bowls of beans on the table, and they got shelled out in no time flat! Then the beans were stored in jars until they’re cooked this winter. The fresh beans aren’t nearly as pretty as these dried ones, but they both taste awesome with some of that chow chow on them!

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Recently a friend uttered those three special words we all love to hear: LOCAL, ORGANIC, and FREE. So I picked her concord grapes, and loved transforming them from this…

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To these Christmas gifts jars of jelly. Thank you Sara.

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This month, as the tomatoes have ripened, they’ve gone from the vine right into the jars and will be used in the months ahead as the basis for many pots of soup, pasta sauces, chilis and casseroles. The 50 jars I’ve canned this summer should last a year…IF I only use one jar a week!

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Luckily, onions, potatoes, garlic and winter squashes just needed to be stored away in a dark, dry, rodent- proof place…

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Drying some of the garlic allows me to keep it year round though…

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Old fashioned, plain green beans are Michael’s favorite and recent research shows they can be effective against cancer:

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In addition to all this canning, the freezer’s full of berries, chopped peppers, edamame, peas and pesto, with apples and pecans coming in next month. My young daughter once asked:

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How did you spend YOUR summer staycation?



Contributionism: Or, Simply Put, We Need Each Other

I’ve attended several meetings this week, all aiming to make our community a better place to love live. Before moving to this area, I’d raised a family and worked a full-time job, with little time or energy left for civic affairs. Perhaps every town and community is as focused as mine on making life better, but I can’t really say since this is the only place I’ve lived that I’ve liked enough to get involved. (Something within me though tells me that MY town is special in this regard.) Over the last couple of days I’ve witnessed over 150 different people come to these meetings straight from work, while on their lunch breaks or during their dinner hour to show their support for initiatives in this area that are important enough to them that they take the time to show up and contribute. Some of us have time, some have special talents, others have lots of energy, a few have money, but we all want to contribute in some way to make our community better. It’s not all altruistic of course, since we will benefit individually as well as collectively from our efforts.

The recently formed Rails to Trails Task Force has been charged with overseeing the conversion of an old railroad system into a 10+ mile long hiking and biking trail by Labor Day of next year. The ‘Tweetsie Trail’  will bring many new visitors and their dollars to our community, while giving those of us lucky enough to LIVE here a free fitness trail that just happens to offer us lots of natural beauty while we get fit and have fun. My city has committed $100,000 to jumpstart this project, that after investing $625,000 to purchase the land itself. The task force meets monthly and manages to get lots of homework done between meetings. All volunteers. All contributing whatever they can.

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One Acre Cafe is a soon-to-be-opened restaurant that will be located between our downtown area and the college campus. It will use a nonprofit status and a  ‘Pay It Forward’ concept of making sure that everyone eats. If you can pay a bit more for your meal, any extra will go towards buying a meal for someone who can’t afford to pay. If you’re one of those,  you can work for an hour at the cafe to earn your meal, all while learning valuable kitchen skills that might eventually earn you a paid job in the food service industry along with that meal. This whole plan is run by volunteers and is operating entirely via donations. It’s been a tremendous undertaking but is becoming a reality due to many, many volunteers contributing. (there’s that word again)

Last but certainly not least, a joint meeting was held yesterday between the Washington County Economic Development Council and the Liveable Communities group to explore the possibility of combining our forces in hopes of being able to make a better contribution (ahem…) to making our region a nicer place to live. A city/county entity combining with a civic group- is that sweet or WHAT? It’s part of contributionism, that’s what.

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When I first began thinking about the purpose of this blog, I wanted, most of all, to provide my readers with positive alternatives to the present reality of Peak Oil, Climate Change and an oil-based lifestyle and economy that is unsustainable. I am convinced that a new, clear, vision is what is needed 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.  If you too are interested in these things, simply pick a project that you care about and contribute your unique gifts to it. Our gifts of contributionism will manifest themselves into even more generosity from those affected and will help see us all through times of turmoil. In contrast to the age of oil and money where we can pay for anything and need no gifts, soon it will be abundantly clear: we need each other. 

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Forget the Money Market- Invest in Yourself

I had a meeting with my financial counselor recently and asked him where I should invest my small inheritance that I received from my mother. I was thinking a CD, Money Market fund, or some other short-term investment where it could earn a bit of interest, yet not be penalized if I needed to use it. His advice?  Keep it in my emergency savings account because interest rates are so low still that it wouldn’t be prudent to tie it up in anything right now. The assumption is that rates.will.rise. Yeah, and so will the price.of.things.

So I gave a lot of thought to where I might currently get the best R.O.I. for my little nest egg based on that advice, and came up with the some ideas; while CD’s are currently paying less than 1% interest, and mortgage rates are hovering near 5% now, perhaps I could hold a mortgage for someone? Nah. Not unless they intended to buy a tiny house to live in.  The best Return On Investment would come from investing in my household: a new roof, long-term food storage, energy-saving measures or even learning new skills that might prove useful over the rest of my life. Self reliance tools like a pressure canner, a grain mill or sewing machine also came to mind but since I already own those things, I bought a new laptop instead.  My old desktop computer was really outdated, and my daughter, whose computer was even older, can still enjoy the old one. I bought it during Tennessee’s annual back to school tax-free weekend and saved enough cash on the tax to pay for a new wireless printer. Both the computer and printer are tools for me, and learning the new Windows 8 operating system has turned out to be a REAL investment in my brain health (or brain degradation, depending on how you look at it). I don’t have a smart phone, (nor do I feel the need for one and the monthly fees to support its smartness), cable TV, a daily newspaper or any number of available technological wonders of the world. A computer is my tool of choice to stay connected to my family, the world, and to you. Besides, I’m writing the next Great American Novel and long hand is soooo 1980′s ;)

I’ve also decided to invest in a rocket stove and a couple of small solar panels too, so that if the grid goes down, I can charge my laptop and my ‘dumb’ cell phone while boiling the water for a cup of herbal tea, using only a few twigs as fuel. Rocket Stoves rock.

Speaking of herbal tea, I’ve also decided it would be wise of me to invest a bit of money, some time and a lot of labor into a new medicinal herb bed so that I can grow some of my family’s medicines. Learning to grow and use plants like Elderberries for making cough syrups, Comfrey for wound care, Feverfew for headaches, Camomile for upset stomachs, and Hawthorne for high blood pressure should keep me and Michael out of the drugstore, more money in our pocket, and healthier to boot. That’s what I call a really good R.O.I. !

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Outdoor clotheslines, a chicken tractor and a couple of hives of honey bees will complete my investments for now. The rest will be saved for when we need that new roof on the house-another good investment in our largest asset, which is our home.

It’s true, you can’t buy happiness. That said,  I’m sure I could be REAL HAPPY with a European vacation -for about 2 weeks. But what could possibly be a more satisfying start to each and every day than eating a fresh egg that I’ve just gathered at my back door, spreading my morning toast with honey from my own hives, and washing it down with a cup of herbal tea, while writing a new book or reading the morning news on my laptop- all while sitting in my garden? Call me crazy, and I’m sure some of you would, but investing in yourself, your health, your home and your own unique ‘good life’ will give you the very best returns. Guaranteed.

 



“Collapsing Economy” be Damned! It’s Frugal Friday!

well_informed_and_staying_saneA friend whose opinion I highly value tells me that a simpler, more sustainable, and resilient lifestyle does NOT necessarily need to have an emphasis on frugality and money savings. Her example of how by cutting one another’s hair, she and her husband are free to use the time that it might’ve taken to make  appointments, drive to and from the appointments and possibly have to change clothes and drop some other activity at home in order to go to those appointments frees them up to pursue those things. Saving money on the haircuts is secondary to them, in other words.

I’ve given this a lot of thought and feel that she’s (mostly) right. The only difference for me is that being frugal keeps me off the payroll and out of the workplace. Not having to work outside the home for money enables me to have the time I want to garden, play music, volunteer, write and do the hundred other things that make my life feel I’m living the good life.

I think both of us are reaching the same objective, just from a different perspective. I get more emails and questions about how to get out of debt, save money and live on less than any other topic that I cover in this blog. I would prefer to spend more time writing about and advocating for ways that we can form more resilient communities, live and shop more locally,  or address climate change and Peak Oil issues, but frugality tops the list of questions- hands down. With yesterday’s U.S. economic headlines of  “Walmart earnings disaster exposes a collapsing economy” and “Cisco announces plans to lay off 4,000 employees”, as well as “Dow dropped 225 points today, August 15th” , I suspect frugality will continue to remain popular for both you and me. And so, Frugal Fridays will continue until I can no longer find inspirational things to offer you. (That’ll be the day!) And don’t forget, share your own inspirations in the comments below. You never know who or how much it might help someone.

Which brings me back to this week’s posting of ways I found to live well on less. None of them are life changing, none of them are sexy, but all of them saved me a bit of cash so that I don’t have to find a job in this so-called collapsing economy. And that makes Sam one happy camper. Not having to go to a paying job will allow me to go camping next month too, by the way.

  • I made enough pesto to see us through the winter and it’s now  taking up valuable real estate in my freezer. I use walnuts in mine rather than pine nuts because they are a: healthier and b: cheaper and c: I can’t tell much difference in my walnut pesto and pine nut pesto. Just sayin’…
  • I purchased a used, but like new copy of an Herb book I’d had on my wish list for a long time for $3.99, down from an all time high of $15.00.
  • I bid $10 on a pair of Teva- brand sandals on Ebay and won the auction. With shipping, my $65 sandals cost less than $15. They fit, I love them, and they’ll now replace my old Teva’s that were nine  years old and had a sole that was coming loose.
  • When it came time to get rid of the old sandals, I realized I could reglue it using contact cement I already had on hand. So I glued:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And clamped:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe tip to use contact cement rather than Shoe Goo, which I thought I needed but didn’t have on hand, came from a friend. Thanks Rich! Now I can use the old ones when I work in the garden or wash the car…

  • Which is exactly what I did yesterday. I washed and vacuumed the family ride, saving myself at least $6 in quarters, (or $20+ if I’d taken it to a full service carwash) and because it was such a glorious, fall-like day I loved being outside, while listening to some great music-and wearing my reglued  sandals.

Using resources wisely-whether it’s money, time or energy- is a talent we all benefit from cultivating. Whatever your reasons are for wanting to become financially stronger, happier, and more resilient, keep in mind it’s never too late to begin that transition that will see you through a collapsing economy and beyond.

 




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