Frugal Friday-June 16th,2016
June 17, 2016, 6:16 PM
Filed under: Frugality, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

What a lucrative week it’s been for me! I haven’t felt too well so I’ve stayed pretty close to home, just working in the garden, playing music and napping mostly. Even without going out anywhere, the money came to me this week! 

Monday: I appealed a bill for my recent teeth cleaning…I had chosen the dental insurance company because their website claimed my chosen dentist was in their network but it turns out the website was incorrect…that’s not my dentist’s fault nor was it mine and by golly, they agreed and said they’d pay this claim! Savings: $129.00!

Tuesday:  The Community Garden held a  potluck this evening. I   always wash and save my plastic flatware (it seems to breed like rabbits in their designated bag even though I always try to keep a set of the environmentally  UNfriendly stuff in my purse and car so I won’t create any more inbreeding.)  I had more than enough for everyone at the table…

pot luck garden 1

I had bought a package of paper napkins on sale for 22 cents many moons ago and I had a stash of those ubiquitous red plastic cups from many many dinners, picnics, etc that get the clean and save treatment as well. So I offered to bring tableware for everyone, including paper plates. NO, I haven’t figured out a way yet to clean paper plates and reuse them so I bought a package of sturdy ones for this event for $3.00 and should have enough left to see me through the summer. There were about a dozen or so of us gardeners in attendance and you can see from the photo no one looks unhappy about the reused cups and forks, do they? I feel good that I saved a bunch of money AND avoided a bunch of stuff going to the landFULL because I brought the plastics home, washed them up again, and they’re waiting for the next event that requires them. The paper napkins went into the compost pile, but sadly, the plates had to be thrown away. Savings? priceless, because the gardeners are getting the message that it’s okay to reuse ‘disposables’. 


By the way, Michael and I attended a great outdoor party last Saturday night and the hostess provided a basketful of cloth napkins made with pinking shears from scraps of mismatched fabrics. It was charming and I’ll start using my own scrap fabrics for a project like this. We always use cloth napkins for our home use but I’d never thought of doing that for a party or potluck. duh.

Wednesday: Today I ordered some badly needed beekeeping supplies and used my $50 gift card I’d gotten for Mother’s Day, leaving me with only $11.56 balance to pay out of pocket! Su-weet!


Thursday: An unbelievable offer came our way today…a couple of months ago I’d applied, and was accepted, to serve as a congregational delegate to attend my church’s annual general assembly next week. The agenda is so jam packed with fun activities, workshops and sessions that Michael decided to go with me, making it affordable since we only had to pay for his registration of $350.00. The church had voted to send 3 delegates in all but one of the other two has decided NOT to attend so now the funds will go to reimburse Michael for his serving in her place. A cool fact: the assembly is being held in Columbus, Ohio this year, which is only 30 miles from where  two of my daughters and my grandkids live so we’ll attend the sessions during the day and then drive to their place to stay at night saving us a bundle in hotel fees and giving us some good ‘face time’ with our loved ones. For a week. Priceless, priceless, priceless! 

Friday: I received a check in the mail today for my portion of a class action lawsuit brought against Vibram Five Fingers shoes. They weren’t as advertised and the company was found guilty. My non-guilty pleasure was for $20.21!


As always, I want to remind you that frugality is NOT the same as being cheap. It’s simply a matter of watching where all of our money goes, sticking to our long term, big-picture goals, which then allows us to live life to the fullest on very little money. Cheapness doesn’t give one that feeling of satisfaction that frugality does: Cheap and frugal people both love to save money, but frugal people will not do so at the expense of others. 

One other huge component of frugality for me is knowing that buying less stuff results in a healthier environment too. I’m happy knowing that my plastic forks and red cups aren’t going to end up floating in an ocean of trash somewhere. 

Slowing Down to the Speed of Life

Transitioning to a way of life that is easier on the planet, easier on my digestive system, and easier on my pocketbook gives me reasons enough to make the effort but it’s also become increasingly clear to me that it’s also become a way of life that is simpler, and even slower, in many respects. Part of that may very well be due to the fact that as my body grows older it’s physically slowing down on its’ own, but I honestly feel that I owe most of the magic of slower living to the deliberate choices I make daily, rather than to an aging body. I’m still perfectly capable of getting worked up into a full blown frenzied melt down…it’s just that now I recognize what’s truly important to me and that cramming more activity into my days doesn’t tend to make me any happier. 

I wrote here recently about my new hive of bees I’m honored to be caretaking. I am here to testify that nothing, absolutely NOTHING in this world makes me move more slowly or purposefully, nor be more aware and more mindful than when I work in my bees. 15 minutes with them  is worth an hour on the meditation cushion! And I may have cancer but my blood pressure is perfect these days. I owe it to taking time for things like this; to slowing down enough to finally ‘see’ what I’ve been looking for.

I had a raised bed in my garden that was contaminated with  nematodes: years ago I would’ve applied an overnight chemical solution that would’ve not only immediately killed the nematodes, but would’ve destroyed every other living organism in the bed too. I tried to re-mediate the problem last summer by growing a special marigold in it that supposedly is toxic to the microscopic buggars there. A slower, but much healthier, solution. But over the winter my daughter’s cat decided to use that same bed as a litter box so I knew I’d have to leave it fallow again this summer in order to overcome the health risks associated with that. Enter the bees…

bees 2When life gives you cat shit, plant buckwheat!

Not only is buckwheat a primo crop for honey-making, it’s also a good green manure crop that will not only offer the bees plenty of nectar during the dry summer season, but will also add lots of organic matter to my soil in this troubled bed once I turn it under. I could watch these little pollinators ‘work’ this grain all day, buzzing slowly, yet methodically, through the pretty stand of white flowers. Symbiotic relationship is a biological term used to describe the relationship between two species that depend on each other for survival. I love the symbiotic relationships going on here between myself and my bees. Spending time with, and as a part of, nature can certainly help our transition to a lower-energy, slower-paced, world.


The bees have already increased my strawberry, blueberry, blackberry and elderberry crops four-fold over previous years, and now they are making honey for my bread and pollen for my allergies. Watching their gentle buzzing lowers my blood pressure and encourages me to grow beautiful flowers for them, all to be enjoyed from the kitchen window while doing the dishes. Un-bee-lievable!

But it ain’t just the bees that have helped me slow my life down. Redefining prosperity for myself has boiled down to this: buying less, using less, wanting less and wasting less has resulted in a simpler, slower life too. A simple life isn’t about seeing how little we can get by with-that’s poverty-but how efficiently we can put first things first…When you’re clear about your purpose and your priorities, you can painlessly discard whatever does not support these, whether it’s clutter in your cabinets or commitments on  your calendar. People sometimes tell me that de-cluttering is really hard for them. Yeah, it can be, for sure. But it’s true that when you set your values and priorities, that process becomes much easier. And the side effects are nothing short of miraculous. 


 Fishing at sunset off the shore of Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans just last Monday…slowing down to the speed of life… 

Pay It Forward

About 15 years ago I was standing on the front steps of the local post office, asking Michael if he had a quarter in his pocket so that I might buy a newspaper. A lady walking up the steps must’ve heard him answer “no” so she turned around, pressed a quarter into my hand and said “Pay It Forward”. I’d never heard the term, so she told me about the movie with that name and the premise behind it of helping someone without any expectation of repayment except by asking the recipient to repay the good deed. I was so touched by that simple transaction that I’ve watched the movie 3 times over the passing years and never tire of it’s theme. But lessons we learn, even profound ones like this, sometimes need to be relearned or remembered. Last Sunday my friend Gerald walked up to me at church and gave me his last container of citric acid from the bulk stash he’d bought years ago for his business. He knows I use it when canning tomatoes and other stuff. When I offered to pay him,  he replied  “Nope, just Pay It Forward“. I fell in love all over again with that idea and have thought about it repeatedly since: thanks so much for the sweet reminder Gerald!

This blog has always focused on ways that we can live healthier, more frugal and community-based lives while we strive to find ways that will allow us to become less dependent on the idea of always buying a solution to life’s everyday needs. Pay It Forward fits very nicely into a ‘living well on less’ lifestyle. I’m recommitting to the idea and am having big fun finding ways to do that. Not only does the practice help others accomplish things they might not be able to accomplish on their own, the practice of helping one another can spread geometrically through society, creating a social movement with an impact of making the world a better place. A better place! Think about that! 

The Heifer Project and Kiva micro-loans are both based on this concept, and locally, One Acre Cafe operates within the same framework-if you can afford to pay an extra dollar or so for your meal (and you can since you don’t have to tip the volunteer staff)  your extra is ‘paid forward’ to feed someone that can’t afford a meal.

One doesn’t need to make loans of money however to make the world a better place. Some of us may not have even a bit of extra money to pay forward, but the concept can be expressed in myriad ways: donating your extra garden produce to someone in need or giving a stranger’s car battery a jump come immediately to mind. Paying it forward helps me to remember the power of giving and my connection  with all living things. It helps both the giver and the recipient by adding a touch of  kindness and compassion to their days. Simply put, the unspoken message is: “I care about you”. 

Bees and Peas and Worms- Oh My!

My days are once again revolving around the weather and the garden. I’d been waiting for the perfect night to relocate my growing bee colony to a more permanent place (from atop their temporary headquarters  on top of our camper!), and after several stings and some help from two strong women, the move seems to have been a success. Tuesday night was a full moon with no wind so it was as good as it gets.The little pollinators are now located in a private corner of my yard, surrounded by  copious amounts of blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and blooming butterfly weed with a picket fence to keep curious dogs or kids at bay. I love my bees and my neighbors are  in complete agreement with me having them, so all is well. Thank you again City Commissioners for realizing the importance of honeybees and making them legal within our city limits. Next bee hive: the community garden of course!

It’s also ‘pea-pickin’ time in Tennessee’ and I’ve already picked three pounds of sweet, organic sugar snaps from my 4’x5′ bed, with a couple more pounds to come. That little space makes tremendous use of a discarded and inverted umbrella-style clothes line pole that we string with twine for the peas to twist up and around on. After the peas are finished, the plants are cut off so the nitrogen-fixing roots can continue to nourish the soil, the lightweight pole is folded up and stored underneath my tool shed until the next viney crop needs it, and the bed will be planted to Longkeeper Tomatoes for fall and winter eating. Not bad for 20 square feet of soil!


In addition to my tower of peas, I saw another neat idea downtown today for a ‘tower of power’. What a great way to grow strawberries or greens in a small amount of space! The perforated pipe you see in the center has a removable cap, allowing the pipe to be filled with compostables, which the worms promptly draw into the surrounding soil, making nourishing castings in the process. The owner of this growing tower bought one like it and realized how easily he could make one himself…I saw the ‘store bought’ one too and it really didn’t look much different at all except the planting pockets were a little wider and he’s growing full sized kale and other greens in them. So, if you’ve got an extra plastic rain barrel laying around…


Speaking of worms…my new-to-me worm bin has four levels, with a spigot at the bottom for drawing off ‘worm tea’ which I then feed to nearby plants. It fits in this out-of-the-way corner of my patio and I love the idea that the worms are constantly and quietly working to help me grow food, just like the bees…


OK, so what do honeybees, worms and homemade growing towers have to do with transitioning? They’re all good examples of closed loop systems. Anytime you can create a closed loop system-that is, a system that creates no waste, you will find yourself one step closer to sustainability, a common theme that runs through many of this blog’s posts and is a central tenant of living a lifestyle that is NOT based on constant energy input. These are but three examples of closed loop systems right here on my little urban lot. Using rainbarrels, planting and growing food using open pollinated seeds, building compost bins or even tending a flock of hens that are able to thrive on food that you grow for them or where they have access to wild foods are more examples of closed loop systems. Solar panels and wood stoves that are fed with managed woodlot cuttings or blow downs are yet more examples. I even consider the food that I grow and can sort of a closed loop system since I save many seeds and then reuse the same canning jars and reusable lids year after year, as well as the canning water itself. 

It’s all part of  a simpler way of life that I find more satisfying and creative than one based on consumerism. I love the sense of freedom I have when being in charge of my life-even if just a small part of it- and find the challenges this ‘good life’ presents are far more pleasant than those that require paying for solutions. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s the journey, as much or more than the destination, that feeds my soul. I hope this blog provides you with food for thought as you seek ways to pilot your own ship. 


Frugal Friday-May 20, 2016


This week has been one of odd May weather and neither of us feeling well so more time than usual was spent right here at home. We tried to get in our daily walks while completing errands and we did manage to mulch the ‘taters and pick some fresh peas. Freshly laundered clothes were hung out to dry one day and lots of healthy meals were cooked from scratch. In other words, nothing out of the ordinary…

Monday: Although I’m quite tired of the cool, gray weather we’ve put up with lately, it has given us an opportunity to work our plot in the community garden in the comfort of those cooler temperatures this week. We weeded our paths and then covered them with a thick layer of wood chips that were delivered to us by a local tree trimming company- for FREE. I bet since landfull fees are so high, that these types of companies would have free chips no matter where you live. Check it out in your area! Our chip pile has already gone down quite a lot…


Tuesday: My strawberries continue to sweeten and ripen in spite of the cool weather. When life gives  you strawberries (and ripe bananas) make fruit roll ups! I’ve never made them before and for a first time effort, they came out really well. Wish I could share their goodness with each of you. But we’re planning a camping trip soon, so these will be a really nice addition to the supplies. Here’s the directions: wash and core 2 qts of berries, puree in blender,  add 1 1/2 very ripe bananas if desired (and it helps thicken the leather). As an aside, I also added 1/2 tsp powdered Vitamin C to make them even healthier and to prevent oxidation and unwanted browning. 

I suspect two things with this delicious snack:

1.) You can use any kind of fruits you like best or have the most of, but you’d have to remove seeds of course 

2.) You won’t really save any money because I just looked online and saw that a box of 10 FAKE fruit roll ups costs only $2.10. Those made with 100% organic fruit are simple unaffordable!  My recipe made a couple dozen but I had to pay for the bananas, the electric energy used to dry them in my Excalibur dehydrator and the Vitamin powder (which I had on hand, but still…) So these aren’t particularly ‘frugal’ but it is a great way to enjoy fresh fruit next winter when you couldn’t buy a ripe LOCAL strawberry if your life depended on it! There’s no box to recycle, however I wasn’t pleased with my choice of plastic wrap for packaging them. I suspect I might’ve been able to dust the outside of the dried fruit with a bit of confectionary sugar before rolling to prevent sticking and then put them in a single ziplock bag that I could rewash for storage. Live and learn. Let me know if you make roll ups with some other fruits, will you?

Wednesday: This didn’t really happen on Wednesday of this week but I just had to gloat a little over this windfall. A friend ordered a certain kind of tea online but was shipped a POUND of the wrong type. When she called the company to let them know, they told her to keep it and they would reship the correct tea. Guess what? She doesn’t like ORGANIC Red Rooibos tea and we do very much. And guess what?  She gave us the tea. And guess what? The tea was $42 a pound. 


Thursday: My seasonal allergies have really bothered me this spring so I started using my Netie Pot again as my choice of drugs. (I’m very careful in how I use it because it’s been said you know that ‘netie pot is a gateway drug’.)

Here’s my easy recipe… I read somewhere that using it at bedtime seems to be most effective then.,in that it washes away the days’ accumulation of pollens that are  in your nose: Mix 3 tsps of iodine-free salt with 1 tsp of baking soda and mix well. Add 1 tsp of that to 8 ozs of lukewarm distilled or boiled water, then use the Netie pot to irrigate nostrils. If you have trouble picturing this absolutely harmless but effective natural practice, watch this 15 second You Tube video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9i6x6uGm2k. Savings: Prepackaged saline solutions average 15 cents each. Box of 100 is $14.69 PLUS one hundred little non recyclable foil envelopes. Just sayin’…

Friday:  Since our environmentally disastrous trip to California last month I’ve tried to make peace with Mother by being super vigilant about my resource and energy uses. Today I knew that I’d partake of the free pre-made lunch salad they always give me as part of my noon-time chemo treatment so I made sure I carried a plastic fork with me to eat it with and I refused the straw in paper for the canned juice drink, brought the can home for recycling,  as well as the nice plastic container with lid for a future “leftovers” trip in the car. Hardly cause for vindication but I felt better about it. Please remember to keep some plastic forks and spoons in  your car, purse or laptop case. It won’t save you any cents but it sure makes sense!


 Hope your weekend is healthy, fun and frugal too!

A Celebration of Spring
May 16, 2016, 7:51 AM
Filed under: Uncategorized

Let me begin by telling you that I’m no veggie Purist, but I don’t buy meat to cook at home, even though I do order an occasional piece of fish or chicken if I’m in a restaurant. (If Johnson City could get a really good vegetarian restaurant I might even forgo that occasional piece of meat.) I get tired of ordering salads and burritos on the rare occasion that I go out to eat…those are things that I can easily prepare at home. Eating out is meant to be a treat, and a change of pace from the everydayness of my own cooking.

Michael and I attended ‘VEG FEST’ today in nearby Asheville, NC. This day-long celebration of all things vegan and vegetarian was held in a beautiful downtown park, was free to get in, and filled with vendors, all hawking anything you can think of that might possibly appeal to a vegetarian lifestyle. From Organic Clothing, to granola bars and smoothies, from bumper stickers to animal rights activists, it was a smorgasbord of stuff for folks both young and old: we all had one thing in common…we were there for the food.


Ah, the food! We ate our first-ever Vietnamese sandwiches, called Banh Mi, with a side order of fresh spring rolls, each hand-wrapped by a cute Vietnamese girl. With peanut or Sriachi sauces for dipping, this made for a delicious and different ‘veg head’meal.

<b>Vegetarian</b> bánh mì <b>sandwich</b>

Later we watched cooking demonstrations…


…made by some famous chef I’d never heard of. But he did cook Broccoli-Raab. Have  you had it before? 

All that celebrating of vegetarian foods made me grateful that I live in a place where I have access to all that and more. It also made me aware of how much I really love eating FRESH foods. After we returned home from the festival, while Michael walked down the street to water our plot at the community garden, I decided to take some pictures of some of the freshest food available- in my own backyard. I’ve learned first-hand that it’s positively cheaper and far more environmentally-friendly to eat a veg diet than a meat-based one. We won’t even go into the health pros and cons because that’s not what the point of this post is all about. It’s more about the celebration of fresh vegetables and fruits at this time of year, after a long winter of butternut squash, canned goods and root crops. Because our spring has been fairly cool, the things I’m growing in my tiny greenhouse are still continuing to keep us supplied with all the lettuces, spinach, cilantro and spring onions we can eat this spring, with enough to share too. This picture was taken today, May 15th…


We’re also enjoying the gift of eggs from my friend’s hens…eggs that have been few and far between during the winter months, are now filling cartons faster than she can use them up. I’m taking the advice of another friend to chop fresh lettuce and spinach or arugula finely, cook an egg over-easy style in olive or coconut oil, and serve it on top of the chopped greens. The yolk is soft enough to make a ‘sauce’ for the whole thing. Just look at how these bright yellow yokes stand up in the pan…her happy hens are fed a healthy, organic diet that reveals itself in those ‘circles of sunshine’. 


As I walked around taking pictures of my own backyard bounty and counting my blessings in the process, I realized how big the chard has gotten. Just as spinach and lettuce begin the end of their short cool-season lives, the chard jumps at the chance to continue giving us fresh greens for supper… PS that little plant on the bottom right is a volunteer calendula from last year. You can use the blossoms to make a soothing salve. I wonder if I can eat the leaves???


Of course, we all enjoy dessert and spring has brought with it…strawberries! This has been our best year ever for these sweeties and I believe it’s probably because I took the time last summer to pot up runners and then in the fall replaced older plants with the new younger ones. Or maybe it’s because I have my own hive of bees this spring and they’ve been busy doing what they do best. Maybe both. Regardless, this is but a small bit of the berry bounty…


And isn’t that convenient that Mother Nature provided us with the perfect combination of spinach and strawberries at the exact same time so that I can make the best salad on the planet? Here’s the recipe: you’re welcome.

Strawberry Spinach Salad I

Spinach Strawberry Salad


  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon minced onion
  • 10 ounces fresh spinach – rinsed, dried and torn into bite-size pieces
  • 1 quart strawberries – cleaned, hulled and sliced
  • 1/4 cup almonds, blanched and slivered


  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sugar, olive oil, vinegar, paprika, Worcestershire sauce and onion. Cover, and chill for one hour.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the spinach, strawberries and almonds. Pour dressing over salad, and toss. Refrigerate 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Frugal Friday- May 6th, 2016

I’ve made the transition from country living to city living rather seamlessly. Four years ago we moved to a house “in town” that’s got a walkability score of 76, according to walkscore.com. I beg to differ, because I feel like it’s more like a 97, but I guess that’s just because I’ve tried to center my life around what’s close by: the library, coffee house, the park and our bank, to name a few things. We no longer eat at national chain restaurants that are all located in areas that aren’t walkable anyway, switching to smaller, locally-owned places that are close by (and are also willing to make substitutions when we request them, as well as having generally healthier choices.) So, if you have a good cuppa joe, a great book, and a dollar or two in your pocket, what else do you need? Bees, it turns out. I sold my hives and all my equipment to the buyer of our ‘country’ house but now that my city has passed an ordinance that allows beekeeping within the city limits, I can “have my cake and eat it too”.  

I set up my swarm trap on April 1st hoping to catch a swarm. It didn’t take long-I’ve eagerly watched my small swarm grow into a seemingly robust colony. This morning I hitched a ride with a friend to the beekeeping store (that’s out in the county-not walkable!) and noticed a sign there that said a new package of bees with a queen is selling for $135.00. I don’t have 3 pounds of bees yet but I will by summers’ end, so I figure I’ve saved about $100 already. Michael says keeping bees is akin to any expensive hobby like golfing or boating. Yes we could much more easily and economically buy honey than take care of our own hive, but my focus is really more on helping our pollinators, and that’s another story for another day.

Coming back to this week:

Monday: I’ve recently become aware of a new recycling center on the campus of ETSU that takes metals, including aluminum, as well as #1-7 plastics, plastic bags, cardboard and glass! It’s in  a location that’s quite easy for me to get to (there’s that walkability again) and I wanted to share this especially with my local peeps. I’ve been taking my metal cans to church, where a friend takes them home with her for recycling in her community. This isn’t necessarily a money saver for me, but it DOES offer me an alternative to taking my #5 plastics to Asheville. What’s that old saw? “Time is Money?” That may  be true too, but saving plastic from landfulls (my new word) is priceless! It ain’t much to look at but here it is. All the receptacles are well labeled, making it easy. *Local Friends-message me for directions


Tuesday: I had an old tote bag whose straps had broken so I stuffed it with an even older pillow and made it into a NEW pillow for my front porch!

peace tote

It’s made of a waterproof nylon, had a zipper opening AND matched the seat cushion. Repurposing is so much better than recycling. And funner too.

Wednesday: Went into a nearby thrift store and found something that I’m always looking for in such places, yet never find. OK not ever, because I DID find pyrex containers with tight lids. Retro for real. 99 cents each. No BPA.

glass jars

Thursday: Both of the free Japanese Maple tree seedlings that I scored at last year’s annual tree giveaway made it through their first winter and seem to be thriving this spring! I went back to this year’s giveaway and picked up another Japanese Maple sapling as well as a Redbud. Now both of them seem to have made it through their transitions after being planted and hopefully will thrive too. Potted Japanese Maples sell for about $50-$75 each and will soon be beautiful additions to my landscape. Savings for all four? About $175 I’d say!

Friday:  About 5 years ago I donated my Troybilt tiller to the community garden. It seems as though it needs constant repairs to keep it running smoothly and with little to no operating funds, those repair bills have been a challenge. If I’d only known that all I had to do was to formally donate the tiller by writing a handwritten letter stating that the tiller is now the property of the Parks and Rec Department, I could’ve saved our money and sanity in having ‘volunteers’ (that’s a misnomer if there ever was one!) conduct the repairs. Some changes in the department have put me in direct contact with the person in the know. As I write this, the tiller is being repaired at no cost to the gardeners by the city’s repair shop guys. I also went to pick up my personal Mantis tiller from the repair shop a few weeks ago and willingly paid the bill for having the carburetor rebuilt. After starting once, it wouldn’t start again so I took it back to the shop where they then told me it needed a new carburetor-another $59.95. I complained and they agreed to replace it for free. Savings: $59.95!

Just as a matter of course, I did a number of things this week that although none were spectacular or special, all helped me to keep more money in my bank account. I hung out clothes to dry instead of using the dryer, dried fresh herbs from my garden, added my shredded documents to my compost bin rather than bagging them and sending to the landfull, used my electric pressure cooker to make oatmeal for breakfast (3 minutes) and Katmandu Stew for supper (15 minutes), took a free yoga class at the park, and planted Roma beans that were given to me by a friend. Lowering my carbon footprint on the earth, saving energy, helping honeybees, eating and living a healthy lifestyle, growing my own food-PRICELESS!!!!

Remember: “Thrift is liberation rather than deprivation”.

Have a great weekend friends!

May Day! May Day!
May 2, 2016, 8:47 PM
Filed under: A New Paradigm, Adapting to Change, World Peace

I TRIED to get this post out yesterday, on May 1st, but things just didn’t work out, so here it is, a day later. The date has changed, but the topic is timely…

“May Day” is an internationally recognized distress signal. I believe our living system called Earth is in great distress and using the term in regards to its’ condition is no longer considered crying ‘wolf’. I also see our response to the May Day call as being in a state of extreme transition, and this blog digs in to that process, albeit in a gentle way. By that I mean that I save my personal feelings and observations about the future of life on this planet for my own middle of the night terror and instead use gentle rhetoric to persuade and motivate my readers to consider ways we might not only save the earth but do so in a spirit of cooperation rather than one of deprivation. I’ve been writing about transitioning for 10 years now, without seeing much change in the way things are. Lately however I’ve been reading and witnessing a greater shift toward restoration, regeneration and evolution.

There’s a phenomenon called ‘the tipping point’ which is described as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point”. It is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior  crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. All that said, I believe we’ve reached a tipping point concerning understanding and acceptance of   “climate crisis” (which more properly describes the original benign term of “climate change”). 

OK, so we’ve reached a tipping point. Now what? I mean hell, we’ve already replaced our light bulbs and insulated our homes. Jeez, we’ve even bought our Priuses and are carrying our own water bottles and shopping bags. I can hear you bitching, “what more do you want us to do lady?” 

 The president of the United Nations puts it this way: “The anti-values of greed, individualism and exclusion should be replaced by solidarity, common good and inclusion. The objective of our economic and social activity should not be the limitless, endless, mindless accumulation of wealth in a profit-centered economy but rather a people-centered economy that guarantees human needs, human rights, and human security, as well as conserves life on earth. These should be universal values that underpin our ethical and moral responsibility.” Pope Francis considers it an all embracing moral imperative to protect the earth, which ”could unite the whole human family”. 

We need to create controversy and kick up some dust.  We need to create a common vision and then we need to actively focus our efforts on changing the powers that be. Write letters folks. Rally and march to make your voices heard. Call your elected officials, even if you know they’re ideas differ from yours. VOTE in the upcoming elections. Set examples and try to inspire others by ‘being the change we wish to see’. We know what we have to do. Now we just have to do it. 


Frugal Friday and An Environmental Disaster
April 22, 2016, 10:55 PM
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

Michael and I, along with my best friend, have just returned on from a 12-day trip to California. We don’t travel much, but this trip made me realize that travel is expensive, not only in terms of money but also in terms of energy use (both human and fossil fueled) and making concessions about my own values. I thought I’d share some extraordinary frugal things we did to make this ‘cross country trip more affordable, as well as some things that were incredibly expensive in terms of harm to the earth.

The friend that went with us has a close elderly friend that is no longer able to travel, after many years of doing so extensively. When she heard that we were wanting to make this trip she insisted we use her ‘frequent flyer miles’ to pay for the tickets. There were just enough miles to pay for our three round-trip tickets (by flying mid-week) so the most expensive part of the trip didn’t cost us a dime! We did however have to pay that very unfrugal $25 per checked bag (or $35 for each traveler’s second bag) but we worked it to our advantage by checking Michael’s best friend (his banjo) and packing around the instrument in the case with all his underwear and tee shirts! I also checked one suitcase, sharing it with him for the rest of his personal things. My friend and I then shared a second case, for a total cost of only $50 for all 3 of us. We were also allowed one free carry on bag as well as a laptop, purse or backpack  I layered my laptop amongst the safety of the clothing in the checked bag, which left plenty of room in my carry-on for all that I wanted to take. But here’s what we learned: if the flights are full (and they all were, both ways) the airlines ask you to voluntarily check your carry-on bags, compliments of the airlines.  We simply transferred meds, snacks and immediate needs items to our backpacks and never had to worry about hauling those carry on bags from gate to gate during layovers. Then, when we arrived at our final destination our luggage was among the first off and corralled together, both checked and unchecked. Sweet!

About those snacks: we stayed in a hotel the first night we arrived and the night before we left, saving a full $20 each night by booking ahead on line. I saw the online price of $99, but called to reserve the room and was told it was $119. So I politely declined and booked thru the website. The wonderful accommodations there included a full breakfast, with fresh fruits and bagels, along with waffles, etc. We ate our fill in the hotel breakfast room quite early both mornings, and then took the liberty of taking a piece of fruit and a bagel with us, which we enjoyed mid-flight much later in the morning. That held us over until an early dinner time both days. Upshot being we only had to purchase one meal on those travel days. Was that dishonest to take the fruit? I didn’t see any signage against it, and the breakfast room attendant didn’t say a word, so I think not. Michael and I also learned that to share a cup of airport coffee was much cheaper than buying two individual cups- only 50 cents more for the very large cup. Savings on airport coffee alone: $4.20.

It turns out those hotel stays were a bonus too: about 6 weeks ago we had paid a $600 medical bill that the hospital had insisted our insurance had refused to cover. Two weeks before the trip, we received a $600 limit debit card in the mail from them, saying a mistake had been made and they were reimbursing us because we had ‘overpaid’. What a travel bonus that was! We paid for the two nights in the hotel, many many of our meals and more with that card and came home with $150 still on it! To make this trip even more unbelievably affordable, we cashed in our accumulated credit card ‘points’ to completely cover the cost for 12 days rental on a brand new Toyota Corolla and we cashed in our the coins from our ‘savings pot’ and got $234.40 before we left (making sure to take the coins to our bank for free counting, rather than to a counting machine that is handier but charges 10% of the total, saving us $23.44 in the deal! 


OK, now the negatives of our travel: Trash. Aluminum cans. Paper. Styrofoam. Plastic. Compostables. Times 100! I’ve recycled and composted and avoided these items for so long that it’s become second nature to do so; it was with great distress that I threw away more of this crap than I want to admit. Michael and I had also forgotten to bring our personal water bottles, but I finally broke down and bought a cheap one that at least stopped the constant flow of disposable water receptacles. But the trash we participated in generating was nothing compared to the environmental degradation that was caused by our flights! I’m going to have to give a great deal of thought now to ever flying again. I want very much to travel to Cuba in the future though and I’ve learned that now you can take a ferry from Miami to Havana, so if I go, I’ll likely rent a Prius and drive to Miami, then take the ferry. That sure won’t work for any other country so that’s why I’ll have to do some major soul searching about it. No matter where or how I travel in the future though,  I’ll always remember to take my own water bottle, as well as a personal tea/coffee mug too so I wouldn’t be forced to use disposable ones again. Add to this short list my own spork  and a cloth shopping bag. After a short while there, I did begin refusing all plastic bags, and just carried my items open handed to the car. We bought post cards each day, filled them out and mailed them on the spot to loved ones with stamps I’d purchased beforehand. This offered the impact of a little hand written souvenir, as we had no room in  our suitcases for much more than we came with anyway.  We did share towels and shampoo, soaps and everything else we could think of but I’m not kidding myself thinking that this trip wasn’t a personal environmental disaster.

So there you have it…our travel was lean on money but high on environmental costs. We had a fabulous time, took lots of pictures, and made life time memories. But I personally took note of our country full of trash, waste, homelessness, poverty and massive traffic jams as well. My hope is that this post will serve to remind you to plan ahead for the every day things we use at home that you can take along when you travel to make it less wasteful. Consider driving or a slow boat to China too, okay? From the Redwood Forests to the Gulf Stream Waters, Happy Earth Day.

big trees

Every Day is Earth Day

April 22nd is Earth Day. hooray. I’m very happy we have that one internationally-recognized day a year to celebrate this beautiful blue planet, but we simply cannot continue to honor our mother only once every 365 days.  The well-respected ‘science guy’, Bill Nye recently said,” We must engage  political hopefuls and elected officials on the topic of global warming.”  I say, we must also support our farmers and learn to eat a sustainable, diversified diet of foods (and medicines!) grown within our local regions. We must commit to a near zero waste lifestyle, while learning to reuse and repurpose everything that comes through our lives. We must support alternative energies, even if they are in our backyards. We simply must clean up our act and take better care of our earthly home.

To that end, I have been thinking about ways we can make the needed changes, going beyond the same old advice about carrying our own shopping bags and changing our light bulbs. By the way, compact florescent bulbs are now ‘old’ technology and have been replaced by LED bulbs in both output and energy usage. Check them out. (While  you’re at it, turn the lights off when you leave a room if you didn’t learn that in third grade.) Buying our way out of hard to solve problems is not the answer but if you are going to buy bulbs anyway, please consider LEDs next time. Or better yet, set up a small solar panel on the tool shed and expand your array as you can afford it.

I think what started out as a post about planning and planting our gardens this spring made me realize how even the choices we make there are important in terms of how we treat the earth. Do  you rotate the things you grow every other year or two, giving your soil a chance to rebuild it’s microbiological life and replenish  what was taken from it the year before? Are you using at least some open pollinated seeds so that the seeds can be saved from your best plants year to year? Are  you improving your soil by continuously making and adding compost, growing cover crops, or adding worm castings? Is your water supply for your garden sustainable? Are you capturing rainwater and using thick mulches to avoid evaporation and weeds growing? Growing food without the inputs of commercial chemicals, fertilizers and hybrid seeds is the best way to grow healthy food that doesn’t cost you-and the earth-an arm and a leg. 

In the fall of 2014 when I was pulling up a spent tomato plant I discovered what looked to be evidence of root knot nematode damage. I took a picture of the tomato root and emailed it to my county extension agent and he diagnosed it. I spent the winter reading all I could about the soil pest and ended up planting the whole bed last summer to a special French marigold that was touted as THE best for helping to eliminate it…


Commercial nematicides are very toxic and very expensive but this package of seeds-with shipping-was less than $5.00. I stored the extra seeds wrapped tightly in my deep freezer in case I have more problems in the future. You can see from the picture what a beautiful solution it was!

Here’s another example of ways to solve a problem using what you have on hand: I run vinegar through my coffee pot on the first of each month to keep hard water deposits from building up inside of it. Once it’s run through, I pour the HOT vinegar on weeds. This picture was taken just 20 hours after the pour.

Vinegar Weeds

The hot vinegar works just as well as a toxic weedkiller and would’ve been ‘wasted’ had I just dumped it down the kitchen sink. Once I run the vinegar through, I follow that with a potful of plain water  to remove all traces of it. I use that quart of hot water to pour down my bathtub drain where it promptly melts accumulated soap and keeps the drain running smoothly. Those weeds are dead. No chemicals used, and I solved two problems with one stone. Just sayin’…

Today I transplanted some of my early veggie starts  into larger pots so that they can grow more freely until it’s time to plant them in the garden. The pots and trays have been reused many times over, and the ‘potting soil’ is some of our fine crumbly compost made from household and yard wastes. Absolutely nothing was purchased new to provide us with another season of healthy, delicious organic veggies. I even collect rainwater for watering them since I don’t like the idea of adding fluoride to my broccoli! 


All of this is simply to say:

listen to your mom


One final thought I’d like you to think about: “There is no ‘away’, as in “Throw it away“. Every day is Earth Day!


Frugal Friday-April 1st

There’s been a lot of self-talk today with me trying to decide whether to write a real post or use this space as an opportunity to play a great April Fool’s joke on my readers. I decided on the former, even though I had great fun imagining all the creative and funny things I could write. With that, let’s get down to the subject of frugality. I consider thrift as liberation rather than deprivation. It also connects me more meaningfully to the earth because I know that non-consumption is one of the keys to helping turn the temperatures down on our heated planet.

Every day is Earth Day in my mind, but I will use this opportunity to remind you that April 22nd is THE date this year for celebrating. I enjoy knowing that the choices I make in my life are interconnected choices. When I choose to eat healthy vegetarian meals it benefits the environment in countless ways. When I choose to recycle, repurpose and reuse everything I possibly can, or to walk rather than drive somewhere, I know those choices are also protecting the earth’s resources as well as my bank account. Buying as little as possible every single day leads to a simple lifestyle that feels right for me and my Earth. To that end, nothing is too small to make a difference…

Monday:  I used an uncancelled stamp that had come on a piece of mail to send a sick friend a card…


I not only saved 49c cents on the stamp, I will reuse the manila envelope too the next time I need to mail something large. PLUS I’ve still got that extra stamp for my next card!

Tuesday: I mixed up a fresh batch of laundry detergent, using borax, washing soda and grated laundry soap. The whole process takes maybe 10 minutes, I store the gel in a freely-given repurposed bakery bucket, I save LOTS of money over store bought detergents, and there’s no container to recycle when it’s gone. This choice is a lot healthier for the Earth, in my opinion.  I’ve only bought ONE container of store bought stuff in over 15 years, and that was this past winter when I was too sick to make my own.


Wednesday: My daughter was here visiting from Ohio for a few days so we enjoyed our time together going to the nearby thrift store where she snagged three tags-still-on Calvin Klein dresses for $22 (I thought he only made underwear!) and we managed to snag five packages of free bread…

free bread

Evidently a  local bread store had just donated a whole pallet of bread to the thrift store just a few minutes earlier, but the recipients don’t have to pay for the bread since it’s a corporate tax write off for the bread company. I don’t get it, the bread wasn’t even out of date. Some days the magic just happens.

Later downtown we were drawn in by this sign…


…where we enjoyed lunch at a local eatery and then drove over to a newly-opened Carousel. This beauty has hand-carved, hand-painted animals and is only $1 per rider! The ride was my treat. Never let it be said I’m a cheapo 😉

sam on carousel

Thursday: I planted some Iris bulbs given to me by a friend who had thinned her bed. I tucked them among some fading daffodils that were given to me by another friend…


Yeah, I had to weed all that out, but will now mulch it thickly with the free shredded leaves the city provides me each fall…


Friday: The best for last…my neighbor called at almost dusk last night telling me her hive of honeybees had swarmed, but were under a nearby landscape timber. She wanted to know if I had an extra ‘hive body’ to put them in. I had a swarm trap that I had readied with drawn comb and bee pheremone just the day before, so I took that over to her. As soon as the sun got up good this morning, the  swarm walked right into the trap and as soon as she gets them transferred to their new permanent ‘hive body’ I’ll set the trap again for perhaps a swarm to go in the community garden. Saving the bees? Priceless!

Bee Swarm

Now it’s Friday evening and we plan to walk downtown to attend the annual free Corazon Latino Festival where there will be ‘the running of the bulls’ (aka Little City Roller Girls), along with food trucks selling authentic tamales, tacos and beers. There will be free salsa lessons, live music on the outdoor stage, vendors, and my favorite…Pasaporte A Las Americas- where visitors can travel across Latin America without leaving home; cultural ambassadors answer questions and share traditions from their countries of origin. Cultural understanding? Priceless!

Have a frugal weekend friends!


Bringing It Home

Since beginning this blog in 2012, I’ve been writing about how creating a strong sense of localism is THE key to transitioning to a lifestyle that is more connected, vibrant and fulfilling. Localism, which champions a more equitable economic system of building healthier, more sustainable communities, is truly the way forward.

I see progress in my community towards this end with an  ongoing revitalization of our downtown area, creation of several new community gardens and a brand new 1.5 million dollar Farmer’s Market opening next month! A wonderful biking and hiking trail is being utilized from dawn to dusk each day, as are public parks that are filled with ever-changing art sculptures chosen by a public art committee. Public health initiatives have been implemented, and an increased awareness and concern for homelessness, domestic violence, drug abuse and crime reduction is helping those in need learn how to fish. An emphasis on shopping locally is helping many new small, mom-and-pop style businesses stay competitive. Walkability scores are being used by realtors these days too. How walkable a neighborhood or community is is so important to creating the kind of localism that’s needed to bring a community together. On my morning walk today I saw this bit of harmless fun, right in the middle of town:


The building below, called the ‘Betty Gay’ Building, sits on our Main Street in a busy block. It has sat empty for years, with the front literally falling off. Our city inspectors finally decided to get tough on the owner, who then sold it to a man known for restoring old properties back to their former glory and beyond. Years in the process, but it’s finally happening!


And by the way, this is being rehabbed using local contractors and local materials as much as possible-even some repurposed building materials! That’s ‘bringing it home’.

Localism doesn’t mean we need to wait on our city governments or someone else to make change happen. You know what Gandhi said: “BE the change you want to see”…I’m a member of a quiet, dedicated group that has been working for the last 16 months to determine if a member owned food coop (like some credit unions and banks for example) could offer shoppers in our city an affordable, more local option when buying their food. By partnering with an established coop in nearby Knoxville, we have together raised $16,000 in order to perform a professional market study to determine if this idea might be a viable option for our area! The folks that have financially supported this effort (with no guarantee that it will ever materialize) are able to take advantage of immediate savings and introduce them further to the concept, since their investment in the Johnson City Food Coop automatically entitles them to membership and benefits in Knoxville too. Our membership cards arrived in the mail today-


I’ll be offering more information on the coop idea in the near future, but the point is, we’re working together to make this dream a reality. When opened, this food cooperative will also support different projects to benefit our members, workers, families as well as our local community. That’s “bringing it home”!

Image of The Co-operative Food

More localism: a friend of mine has worked long and loud to make our city not only more bee friendly but is making sure that bees have plenty of food; through her localizing efforts, as well as others, our public library is currently installing a pollinator garden on the front lawn, replacing uninteresting foundation bushes and lawn mowing with a roof top water cachement and underground filtration system that will water the planned ‘meadow’ of native plants that will offer nectar and pollen to the bees. To top that off,  just last week our zoning commission voted unanimously to allow beekeeping within city limits! Progress is often slow, but perseverance can pay off handsomely.

With the fall of the once-almighty indoor mall, revitalizing downtowns that were deserted when they came on the scene is an important piece of re-localizing. Towns and cities all need a square or a commons area for people to feel like ‘they’ve arrived’, and that they belong to something bigger than themselves. Shaping a new economy, building stronger communities while focusing on the tools and strategies that will allow us to prosper together has been proven effective over and over.

Several studies have shown that when you buy from an independent, locally owned business, rather than nationally owned businesses, significantly more of your money is used to make purchases from other local businesses, service providers and farms — continuing to strengthen the economic base of the community. In a world of increasing insecurity (and insanity?) strengthening our home place makes sense.Where we shop, where we eat and have fun — all of it makes our community home. As I was gathering information for this post, look what came in the mail today!


This little family-owned pharmacy is a 5  minute walk from my house and they are so incredibly helpful that I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else for my prescriptions. They have everything we need in terms of healthcare and I have price-shopped them to death, discovering that their cough drops, bandaids and eyedrops are cheaper than Walmart. Take that big box stores! And now, with a $5 coupon, they’re ‘bringing it home’ even more!




Frugal Friday Feb. 19, 2016

This will be a quick post, just a ‘gentle reminder’ that it’s Friday again. If  you’re new to this blog, I like to reflect on the week just passed and then share some of the ways that I have found to keep money in my wallet. 

Monday: It’s seed-starting time so I bleached a bunch of our 4 pack cups saved over many years. Sterilizing them like this before each new use eliminates soil-borne bacteria or other disease transmitters to my new seedlings. Remnants remain of labels reminding me how old some of these carefully preserved cups are. Reusing over and over? Priceless!20160219_154347[1]

Tuesday: I caught a sale and was able to  buy three beautiful heads of cauliflower for 99 cents each. When life gives you cauliflower, USE IT! We enjoyed it once in Wild Rice Risotto with Butternut Squash and Cauliflower, and Red Pepper Kale from the garden on the side. We ate the second head in a Cheezy Cauliflower Soup that was delicious. I still have one head left that I plan to make a curry with tomorrow. Normal price: About $3.00 per head. Savings: about $6.00!


Wednesday: I bought a book from Amazon that I’d read some time ago.  The library didn’t have it but it was one I wanted to keep to refer back to so I put it on my ‘wish list’ and waited for the price to drop. Did you know that if you put things there they’ll also let you know when the price has changed? It’s a hard back without a mark in it and with a nice dust cover for one cent plus $3.99 shipping, and the seller was in Tennessee, hopefully creating less of an environmental foot print than say, shipping from California or someplace ‘off’. I love buying used books but I won’t pay over $4 for them so sometimes I just have to be patient. Patience has rewarded me many times and is one of the key tenants to frugal living. Savings over original price: $9.00!


Thursday: Got the results back from my Radon test… the ‘safe limit’ is 4, our readings were only 1.7 so not having to pay for mitigation methods to remedy it saved us about $1,000. The test kit was Free.

Friday:  With today’s warm sunny weather I felt compelled to ‘get outside’ so I pruned my elderberry bushes before they break dormancy. I’m going to have to work harder at protecting the fruits from the birds this summer, and plan to try a reflective tape but would appreciate any other tips you know that work. Elderberry Wine and Syrup? Priceless!syrup


Radical Home Economics

Back in about 1967, (you know, when dinosaurs walked the Earth) all 7th grade school girls were required to take “Home Economics”, while boys had to take “Wood Shop”. I still have the sturdy footstool by brother made for our mother but I happily no longer have the ugly red dress I had to make-with darts and a zipper! At the time I resisted the sewing and cooking skills taught to us by Mrs. Fuller, but the concepts stuck with me, and for most of my adult life I’ve been able to sew a complete wardrobe- from a Barbie dress to a wedding dress- or cook a 10-course meal from appetizers to dessert. Too bad  most folks don’t still consider those valuable skills, but with yard goods now costing more than many fully-made, store bought garments, and convenience foods costing less than many food basics, I can understand the reasoning-if pure frugality is the only criteria. Having raised four daughters, sewing and cooking skills were invaluable to our family.



Now that I am beginning to see the light at the end of my chemo tunnel, I am reminded anew that those skills and more are part of me now and frugality is not the only criteria. I just don’t know how to live my life any other way. Michael and I deliberately chose to live a life of voluntary simplicity when we took early retirement in 2002-I at 49 and he at 55, a decision we’ve never once regretted. Sure, we’ve had to make choices, but those choices were often very agreeable ones: did we want 150 channels of Cable TV or could we be satisfied with a roof top antennae and a converter box? The extra time not spent watching so much television opened the door to many other pleasant activities, like playing music and volunteering, gardening, writing this blog, joining a church and other organizations that hold similar values to ours. Over the years we also discovered that using our house as a center of production vs using it as a center of consumption fit right in with a simpler lifestyle, all while enabling us to live lives that feel very rich indeed! We’ve had to make some concessions recently due to lingering health problems and increased medical expenses, but  growing and preserving food, reusing and repurposing, all while making the house as energy efficient as possible still allows us to live comfortably in spite of the increased expenses. My grandmother used to call it “Pulling in your horns”. I prefer ‘radical home economics’ because the former makes it sound like a temporary situation, but radical homemaking is truly a way of life.

I recently read a blog post about how some middle class folks just like us are buying older, smaller homes in well-established neighborhoods and using every inch of available space in the home and yard to increase the home’s productivity: some are renting an extra room out, others are converting former garages into home office space or workshops. Others are tending small flocks of hens and beehives; but what about rabbits? When my daughters were  young and involved with 4-H projects we started with a buck and two does and within 6 months had 32 rabbits! A quiet, high protein source of meat that could easily be grown, harvested and prepared for the freezer was the idea-far easier than chickens, pigs or cows, for example. 


Radical? not really. But I digress…

Many are converting front-yards to raised beds for growing fresh food and back-yards to clothes lines, compost bins and rainwater storage barrels.


These conventional, affordable homes are being converted to radical  home economies and are substituting beautifully for the large homesteads that were so eagerly sought after in the ’70s and ’80s. AND these homes can often be paid for with the proceeds made from selling their former McMansion or McSpread. It’s heartwarming to me, especially during this cold spell we’re experiencing here in NE TN, to know we are not alone.

What are  you doing to make your home productive vs consumptive? This first month of this new year is a good time to think about ways you might do that in 2016, then share them with the rest of the readers in the comments section. ElmStreetLogo



My Lucky Break
December 31, 2015, 7:44 PM
Filed under: Adapting to Change, Wellness | Tags: , , , , ,

I last posted on this blog September 26th. I tripped on some brick steps in the middle of a workday on October 14th and while the resulting wrist break was ’cause for pause’ the additional discovery of Stage 4 lung cancer changed my life forever. With my arm in a cast and unable to type, I simply gave up on the blog until I could type again. The cast finally came off last week and it turns out that typing seems to be good physical therapy for the newly-healed bone. Then mid-day  on this New Year’s Eve, it occurred to me that THIS was probably a good day to return to something I enjoy doing, with the hopes that you’ll enjoy reading.

I’ll start by showing off the four big cabbages I harvested today from my plot in the community garden-perfect for tomorrow’s traditional New Year’s day, good-luck meal of Hoppin’ John and fried cabbage. If you’re not familiar with Hoppin’ John, it’s a rather spicy, Creole-tasting sacrament made with the perfect trifecta of onions, celery and peppers along with black-eyed peas, sausage, tomatoes, rice and greens, with a coin hidden in the pot to symbolize wealth in the coming year. Many people make this southern dish with greens (mostly collards) but I like to fry cabbage to go with my Hoppin’ John and nature provided her very best for this special occasion. Surely I will have a healthy and wealthy 2016!


All of this is simply to say that, just as nature transformed my seeds into cabbage heads, and transformed my broken bone into a well-mended wrist once again, I have confidence that my cancer can and will be ‘cured’ and I’ll be able to make the transition from cancer patient to survivor.

Even though this blog will remain focused on ways that 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, I can’t simply ignore the transition that my body is currently going through. To that end, I plan to focus more on healthy ways that we can create that way of living. Without good health, we have nothing. I can honestly say that the fall, with broken wrist, was MY LUCKY BREAK. I was feeling very well prior to its’ discovery and without the trip to the ER the cancer may not have been diagnosed until months down the road. Months that I didn’t have to spare.

I am also editing this blog’s ‘About Page’ to include the words ‘and personal’.  Now is the time to take stock and 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 and personal well-being.

I wish you the best for the coming year and always.  Eating some greens and Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day practically ensures that you will get your own ‘lucky break’ in 2016. Happy New Year everyone!

hoppin john

I Always Did Like Bucky…

October is definitely a transition month. As we move from one season to another, the changes are obvious. The temperatures, the leaves, the clothes we wear and the foods we eat are all in transition. This first fall-like day here in NE TN saw me wearing tights instead of shorts, seeing nuts and pumpkins and apples for sale at the Farmer’s Market, and making a pot of soup for supper (to help use up the last of the summer squash, tomatoes and peppers). 


As a species, we often resist changes, particularly those that we perceive to be difficult or perhaps even unwanted. But the transitions that I write about can lead to a way of living that’s significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. And I believe those transitions have begun: just like the changing leaves, I can actually see them, and their coming into focus gives me hope for our collective futures like nothing else! Re-creating that 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 will ensure that, regardless of what goes on in the world, we’ll all eat, and we’ll all have shelter from the storms of life. This transition idea isn’t some utopian idealism in my mind, but is actually becoming the new reality of this century. It seems that almost every day I read, see, or hear about yet another group of neighbors, friends or citizens that are coming together to grow food, share tools, downsize and otherwise help one another not only survive, but thrive. Isn’t that what we all want?

My own long-defunct neighborhood association has recently reconvened and taken positive first steps to cut crime, make our streets safer with better lighting, and start a neighborhood watch program, all while involving kids and teens in the process. We are formulating working plans for action teams to tackle illegal July 4th fireworks that go on way beyond the holiday each year, as well as a ‘Pumpkins in the Park’ kids’ event, and a float in the upcoming Christmas parade. I’m also excited that we’re going to have a ‘Community Day’, which should be a great way to further our connections with one another!

These neighborhood transitions are taking place at the same time that transitions are slowly taking place in nearby downtown. On our walk this evening we noticed yet another old building having the cheap 60’s era facade torn off to re-expose the beautiful brickwork and arched windows of an earlier era. Our new $1.5 million Farmer’s Market is nearing completion, and a new community garden is being installed in a low income housing community. If THAT’S not tangible proof of changing attitudes about the value of local food systems, I don’t know what is! Conserving natural resources is another area going through transitions. Some of our downtown businesses have recently added solar panels and hydroponic gardens to their buildings, while others are using the latest conservation methods they can. Alternative energy systems are no longer considered futuristic idealism, but will become the norm for most of us during our lifetimes. Our municipal landfill has been developed into a gas energy project that turned it into a community asset, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and creates renewable energy by turning its’ waste into wealth, and now provides our VA Campus and part of the local college with landfill gas. And our public library is replacing the old front lawn with a pollinator-attracting ‘meadow’ made up of native plants that will be watered by rainwater collected from a roof- top collection system that will lead to an underground filtration system that will keep the new landscaping watered without using any extra water. The sustainability factor of this new landscaping will likely serve as a model for future pollinator projects: talk about transitioning!


And finally, on a very personal level, Michael has discovered, through much trial and error, that a completely plant-based diet has restored him to good health again. We love bacon as much as anyone, but if you remember, I discontinued my high cholesterol statin a few months ago and he really struggled with mysterious autoimmune type symptoms since he finished his chemotherapy last summer so we were desperate to find solutions to both health issues. We are now transitioning to a vegan diet that seems to have resolved both problems.Transitioning can take many forms, and this is just one more. We’re calling this a lifestyle change, rather than a diet, because ‘diet’ makes it sound temporary but this transition is for life! The good news is that we’re hoping this change keeps us healthy and that we’ll be able to provide for most of our dietary needs through gardening and by making regular visits to that new Farmer’s Market!

Health Reform

Buckminster Fuller once said: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” I always did like Bucky…

Frugal Friday- September 10, 2015
September 10, 2015, 9:27 PM
Filed under: frugailty | Tags: , , ,

I certainly miss the ‘free time’ that I’ve enjoyed for the last 13 years of retirement but I’m officially half-way through my 12-week job commitment now, so I figure I’ll make it. But I wanted to take a moment to encourage you readers to continue to look for ways to be frugal and thrifty with ALL of your resources-whether that is time, money, energy, water, food, fuel or WHATEVER resources you are using in your daily lives. It’s definitely more difficult to be resourceful and thrifty when you are working full time, but certainly possible if it’s really important to you.

This post will be more of a quick pictoral, but you know what they say about “a picture is worth a thousand words”…and because it’s truly harvest season, that’s what I’ve been doing! 

I harvested…

my Blue Hopi Corn and have spread it to dry on a shelf in the greenhouse. When it’s cured, I’ll shuck it and use it to make THE BEST CORNBREAD IN THE WHOLE SOUTHEAST! I estimate this will make enough cornmeal to last most of the year…


And apples…both of them!


I also’ picked a peck of peppers’ and dried some of them for winter soups and stews…


The tomatoes continue to multiply when I’m not looking…


And the un-canceled stamps keep showing up on my mail…


We’re still managing to cut our own grass most weeks, hang out our clothes on the line to dry most days, cook our own meals from scratch most nights and still have time left for entertaining and cooking for company, spending time with friends and family, hiking, bike riding, church and community service activities and playing music too. Life is good, but especially on Fridays 😉

Mountain Fun

We Have the Tools We Need

grandmaThis blog is mostly about ways to create resilient and prosperous households, neighborhoods and communities, or, as implied in the picture above, ways to “do stuff”. I wrote a post earlier this year on ‘redefining prosperity’ and I’ve been reminded of it several times this week while listening to lunch break talk. As you probably know, stock markets around the world have taken a beating since last Friday, and folks, from economists to retirees to my workmates are worried. Call me crazy, but I’m not worried, even though we lost a lot ON PAPER due to the plunge. I try to measure my personal prosperity based on how wealthy I am in non-tangible ways rather than on what the monthly statements tell me. Of course I hate to lose money, even if it is ON PAPER, as much as anyone. But I don’t feel any real sense of loss. I’m not going to sell out now, I’m going to stay the course and let the blue chips fall where they may. In the meantime I intend to continue doing whatever I can to make my home and family and community more resilient, so that when the economic crashes and recessions occur-and they will!- we’ll still be standing.

On a personal level, that means staying out of debt and paying cash or doing without. It means using what I have on hand, before buying something, whether it’s a jar of our home-grown tomatoes or a bottle of shampoo. It means continuing to grow as much food as I can, saving my own seeds and making small mountains of compost so that I can return what I’ve taken from the soil, and then doing it all over again next year. It means keeping my body as strong and as healthy as I can through healthy eating, regular exercise and sleeping 7 or 8 hours each night. It means repairing rather than replacing, putting food up for the winter, hanging the sheets on the line to dry, using the fan rather than the AC and driving the car less. I have the tools I need…

Resiliency and prosperity is different for each of us though. Perhaps for you it’s working through debt, learning a special skill that might be useful in bad times, or starting your own small business. For ALL of us, it really does mean having a local supply chain, just like our grandparents did during the Great Depression. When China’s economy collapses (and according to recent NPR reports that’s not as far fetched as you may think) that familiar ‘made in China’ supply chain will break and we’ll be dependent on what we can produce right here at home. And if that chain doesn’t break, doesn’t it just make SENSE to supply ourselves with our own stuff, right here at home? We need the jobs here-badly. And by the way, I’d advise China to do the same. Did you know that last month the USDA gave the OK to ship our LIVE chickens that were raised here to China for processing, then ship the meat BACK to the US for our consumption? What would our grandparents have thought of that hare-brained scheme? Would they have raised their own backyard chickens and sent them away to butcher? In direct contrast, check out the message on this poster that the USDA produced during the Great Depression:

Feed YourselfOur recently re-activated neighborhood association met with the chief of police and the sergeant  assigned to our district Monday night to discuss ways we can keep our neighborhood safer and free from July 4th fireworks that go on throughout the month. Working side by side with neighbors on issues that affect all of us is a sure way to get to know one another and be part of a more livable community. There were 33 people at the meeting, with plans to have block captains, neighborhood watches and to be represented in this year’s Christmas parade! That’s the start of better resilience for sure. I’m hoping at some point we’ll begin to talk about public gardens,orchards and vineyards, bike lanes, Little Free Libraries and “Safe Houses”, health clinics and more. We have the tools we need…

And finally, on a larger community level, resiliency and prosperity might mean outlining a detailed plan for community food security or supporting a community-owned energy system, municipal composting facility or ride sharing plan. It may mean a leaner and slower way of life for some, but also a healthier, happier and more peaceful world for us and future generations to enjoy. We have the tools we need… What we do with them is up to us.

hard times to dance

Frugal Friday-August 21, 2015
August 21, 2015, 9:38 PM
Filed under: Frugality | Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve just finished my third week of working full time, and just as I expected, I feel like I’ve been ‘too busy’ to write blog posts. But I did want you to know I’m surviving and have a renewed appreciation for all the folks that are able to hold down jobs, take care of families, and yet still somehow find time to volunteer, attend church and other meetings, exercise and sleep each night! Hats off to you!

One interesting result of my working has been that I find I’m not spending ANY money, other than the gas it costs me to go to work. My new office offers free coffee, tea and soft drinks, and because I take my lunch each day and wear the same casual wardrobe that I’ve collected piece by piece from thrift stores over the years, I go to work, come home, have supper and collapse relax. I don’t want to go anywhere else once I get home, and since Michael is doing our grocery shopping and most of the cooking, as well as running all the errands that I used to do, I’ve had the same three dollar bills in my purse for these three weeks.

We continue to be thrifty here at home by hanging our laundry on the line to dry, using our fans rather than the AC, cooking our meals from scratch and eating as much as possible from the garden. We walk and ride our bikes daily for exercise, and sleep really really well at night.

I haven’t had much time or energy for much else though, until this week; I guess I’m beginning to get ‘into a groove’ with this whole job business! I’ve been reapplying fresh pine mulch (that I get delivered free from my local power company) to my blueberry beds, and yesterday evening enjoyed picking organic Concord grapes  from a friend’s back yard-she was giving them away because she had so many! Remember how I wrote last fall about finding a brand new steamer/juicer at a thrift store for $3.49? I used it to transform this huge batch of grapes, from this…


…to this…in about an hour!


And so I am ‘hooked’ on the ease of steam juicing and will probably be arrested at some point for stealing fruits and berries from backyards all over town in order to feed my new addiction! But never fear, tomorrow is Saturday,  I’m OFF! and I have enough tomatoes on hand to make V8 Juice!

You know what I always say: “When the stock market drops 553 points in one day, make juice!”. Enjoy your weekend folks.

An Auspicious Beginning
August 2, 2015, 4:06 PM
Filed under: Adapting to Change | Tags: , ,

Wendell Berry, probably my favorite author, writes: “To make a living is not to make a killing, it’s to have enough“. 

I am so thankful that I have ‘enough’. At least enough of what makes life good: love, friends, good food, a house I love, and money. Does one ever have enough money? Some do, most of us don’t. I have no debt and my needs are few, so I can honestly say I do. But-here’s where it gets sticky-I’m not willing to upset my ‘enough’ cart down at the bank to take out large sums for travel. I need ‘enough’ to see me through until I’ve gone on to another life, and I’m hoping that will be another 30 or 40 years! Still, there are places I want to see and experience in this world. To that end, I’ve taken a temporary job, so that I can earn ‘enough’ to travel without upsetting that cart. I’ll start working tomorrow, on mine and Michael’s 13th wedding anniversary, and 2 days before my 62nd birthday at the International Storytelling Center in nearby Jonesborough, TN. I’ll be working August-October and my job will be to help them prepare each year for the annual Storytelling Festival which brings upwards of 10,000 people, from all over the world, to the ‘oldest town in Tennessee’. The festival is always on the first full weekend of October and since Michael and I volunteered many years running in order to earn tickets to attend, I already know that the work I’ll do for this organization will be fulfilling and a fantastic opportunity for me to continue to promote my love for this region and a way to facilitate the sense of brotherhood and peace that the storytellers manage to weave into the stories that they share. I plan to save all my earnings this year for a big trip, but that’s another story for another day.


Why am I telling you this? Because I consider my faithful readers friends, even if we’ve never met in person. I don’t know about you, but I like to share big news with all my friends, so you’re included! I’ll be working full time Monday-Friday so during this next 3 months, I suspect my blog posts will be few and far between, but I will try to find the time occasionally to at least say hi. And because the Storytelling Center is open to the public, you are welcome to stop by any time and at least say hi to me too!

After being ‘retired’ since 2002, no doubt some of our tomatoes won’t get canned, or I’ll have to miss a meeting or two, as well as a gig here and there. Just as I encourage you to transition to the changes we’re facing in this world, now we’ll have transitions of a different kind as well; with me being gone all day, Michael will be doing most of the meal prep and house cleaning and gardening but we agree it’s a great way for us to experience some things we might not otherwise. Just like the storytellers that perform at the festival, bringing tales of their lands, customs and cultures, I suspect that visiting some of those far away places can and will broaden my own horizons and perspectives on this whole climate- changing, energy-using, food-producing world. 

So, I won’t be making a ‘killing’ as Wendell refers to it, but I will make enough to travel to a few of the exotic spots I’ve only seen on my big map. Now I’m likely not your favorite author, but many of you may know MY favorite words: “Just sayin’ “. Stay tuned!

What a Waste!

I’ve spent this summer reading “American Wasteland”, a tome by Jonathon Bloom about the reasons so many American children are going hungry. My mother’s admonishments about how I shouldn’t leave food on my plate because of the “starving ‘negra’ children” had an impact on me. I’ve always quietly prided myself for paying my daily dues so that I could be a member of the “clean plate club”. Fast forward 60 years and into our current-day ‘disposable’ society. On one hand our country is blessed to have so much, but the easy availability of everything from food to plastic water bottles has also devalued much of what we have. So much so that a tremendous amount is simply wasted. There’s an old saying, that “Familiarity breeds contempt”. That’s what Mr. Bloom writes about so compellingly. I like my new saying much better: “There is no ‘away’, as in, ‘throw it away‘ “.

Turns out, there is tremendous food waste in this country especially, but also in developed countries all over the world: from farm to table to landfill, every step of the way there is unbelievable waste, with home plate waste being less problematic than my mom led me to believe. I’ve spent much of my adult life patting myself on the back for cleaning my plate, planning and preparing meals based on what I have on hand, then feeding chickens, dogs and soil with the rest. I tend to feel that I have the most control over things that can be handled at the personal level, and that it’s more difficult to control food waste at any other level, but it’s certainly not impossible.

This is where WE come in: I am certain that, just like with any other ‘movement’, this problem of so much food waste can be greatly reduced, as long as there are enough blogs, letters and emails written, enough news reports spread and petitions signed, enough Facebook pages created and enough folks like you and me to care enough to “Do Something!”  beyond cleaning our plates every night.

According to Mr. Bloom’s research, the number one source of food waste is right in the  fields and orchards, where growth begins and ends. Many issues come into play at that level, from crop price (sometimes it’s not even profitable for a farmer to pay a crew to harvest the crop so it is left to rot in the field), to consumer demand for perfect looking-stunningly perfect looking-fruits and vegetables. Anything less than perfect is discarded, or in a best case scenario is sent to a cannery. 30-50% of each and every crop goes unharvested for that reason alone. Then, when the produce department employee culls out the tomato that’s developed a tiny blemish ( and I do mean tiny) or the pepper that shows a slight wrinkle, it’s tossed. Food rescue groups have surged in larger metro areas, sometimes picking up 1000 lbs of edible, good food a day, from a single grocery chain. CASES of farm fresh vegetables, boxes of fruits, bags and bags of greens and salads, potatoes, carrots and onions are dumped each and every day. That’s just at the store level.

Restaurants and cafes-especially buffets- schools, work place cafeterias, dairies, canneries, convenience stores and bakeries all contribute to food waste because not only do we expect to see fully loaded bins or steam tables 5 minutes before a food retailer closes, the practice of ‘keeping it full’ forces them to throw away prepared foods due to the threat of it going bad faster…


While the over consumption of high calorie foods combined with a sedentary lifestyle are important contributors to many people’s struggle with weight, the UCLA researchers stress, “food consumption is only one of many environmental factors that affect obesity.”

BOGO offers that tempt us to buy more than we can use… 

and refrigerators that are too large…

all contribute to this problem. Easy ‘out of sight, out of mind’ disposal methods add to our tendency to waste food. In many parts of Europe, large disposal fees have been imposed, cutting down on waste and prompting the building and use of local digesters that use anaerobic decomposition to break down the waste in an environmentally friendly way, producing enough renewable energy to power small towns or villages.


Why bother with all of this? As part of our transition efforts 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, ‘thou shalt not waste anything’ should be our first commandment.

So what can we do at a level that would truly ‘make a difference’? Consider these actions:

* Buying and eating local and regional foods will ensure that they weren’t shipped from across the country or from the other side of the world. Shorter shipping distances means the food is much much fresher when you do buy it.

* Consider growing some of your own food. Trust me, if you’re growing it, you will not let a single thing go to waste! Not a single morsel.

* Start a local gleaning group in your community or join one that’s already established. The practice of gleaning a farmer’s fields was first mentioned in the Bible, making it an especially acceptable practice if you live in the Bible Belt like I do. It also happens that many crops are grown in this belt. Jesus would approve I’m sure.

* Encourage through your buying choices and via letters or personal requests that food manufacturers and retailers offer more items in resealable packaging and smaller quantities (half loafs of bread to better serve smaller households, for example).

* Push for local, or better yet, STATE,  landfill food-waste bans would  prompt innovation and help us develop environmentally friendly ways to process food waste. You didn’t hear it from me, but I’ve heard our city is poised to begin a commercial food-waste composting facility in the near future, and if landfill operations could no longer undercut them on price, it will help ensure their success.

*If total bans are not in the making, making waste disposal more expensive or charging by the ton would have a ripple effect through the food chain, likely causing a bubble up effect of food conservation from a more conscientious public

* Encourage farmers to donate excess food-form a database or a Craigslist for food in your community

* Use inmate labor to harness already-harvested crops from growers and packers. Thousands of pounds per day are tilled under or discarded because this produce doesn’t meet market specifications

* Bring urban food-bank clients  to excess farm food, encouraging self reliance and fostering food appreciation in the process. If transportation is a problem, pair clients with urban or community garden programs.

* Reconsider what foods the government funds-subsidizing commodity crops makes those crops artificially cheap, encouraging waste. Let your elected officials and the USDA know that you want the next Farm Aid bill to be for eaters, not just growers!

* Plan your meals and menus ahead, using what you have on hand before buying more. FIFO is an effective inventory system that retailers use: First In, First Out.

*Get more restaurants to offer smaller portions for smaller prices. A ‘smart sizing’ campaign could even reverse the negative effect of ‘super sizing’.

The future of food is important and implementing regional food systems, with the use of hoop houses to grow warm weather crops year round, along with a return to more seasonal eating would also lessen food waste. “Peaches in the summertime, apples in the fall” the old song goes… don’t let that sage advice go to waste!

Frugal Friday-Summertime, and the Living is Easy

I finally reached my goal of spending under $150 on groceries for a month: our total food bill for June was $124.08! As happy as I am about that, the reality is that we had a fair amount of food stocked up in the freezer and pantry and our garden provided us with a fair amount of fresh stuff too. Even so, it took planning ahead to use what we had on hand and to make creative use of it..sometimes with just a bit of this or that..a little hunk of cheese or a few broccoli sprouts, a couple of eggs or a few veggies. But here’s the take away lesson for me: we actually ate healthier, with a huge emphasis on plants! The only treats we had were fresh cherries and grapes, a few leftover potluck brownies one day, occasional whole wheat graham cracker sammiches made with just a smear of peanut butter, along with home canned applesauce, raisins, prunes or homemade yogurt sweetened with freezer strawberry jam. In other words, because even our snacks were mostly whole, unprocessed foods, it kept our food budget under control as well as my cholesterol! Our main meal of the day used a regular rotation of potatoes, rice, pasta and beans as the base. We did barbeque some chicken thighs once or twice and grilled some veggie burgers too. Lots of salads, slaws and large side portions of fresh garden stuff made up the daily ‘blue plate special’. That healthier eating, combined with some troublesome side effects from the cholesterol-lowering pill I was taking, encouraged me to discontinue the statins, saving me another $13 a month! (And yeah, the side effect of rather serious pain in my neck and shoulders is completely gone after just a few weeks of abstaining. I’m sticking with healthy-keep reading…)

Monday: Made some more strawberry freezer jam from the last of the “June” berries. I love the stuff, but never seem to make enough to last the year…

20150515_155206Now I’ll pot up a bunch of the new runners from the old plants and replant them in the fall after I’ve cleared this 2 year old bed out. Using this rotation I never have to buy fresh strawberries or new plants. Savings? priceless!


Tuesday: Even though I carry a major medical health insurance policy it only covers well, major medical charges. So, I’ve discovered my local county health department will give me exams and tests based on my income, which is low enough that the charges are really small. Today I got my yearly female exam..for the grand total of $2.25! Savings? How much is good health and peace of mind worth?

Health Reform

Wednesday: When life gives you tomatoes, make pasta sauce! When life gives you giant spaghetti squash, use it! With an overabundance of both, and a really full day ahead of me, I decided to put my new Instapot Electric Pressure Cooker to the test. I first turned it to ‘saute’ for the the onions and garlic to soften, then, after adding the tomatoes, along with  our home-grown peppers, onions, garlic, summer squash, basil and oregano, I turned it to ‘slow cook’ for 6 hours. It was quite possibly the best sauce we’ve ever had. All I had to do when I got home late in the day was put some garlic bread slices in the toaster oven and cook the spaghetti squash in the microwave, creating very little extra heat in my open-air kitchen. I’ll be making more of this as the summer progresses and canning it for winter time meals. Oh Lawdy it’s good! Oh yeah, the secret? A few teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce and a teaspoon of sugar to cut the acidity. I bought this miracle pot last week when Amazon had their 20th anniversary sale and it was over half off the regular $234 price at $99.00. This appliance will allow me to replace my pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker and yogurt maker, and I can avoid  having to use my 220 volt stove-top burner for cooking dried beans and the many things I normally use my pressure cooker for. Plus it will enable me to eliminate 4 good-sized appliances from my kitchen! Sometimes you have to spend money to save money, but that shouldn’t be used as an excuse for mindless shopping:


Thursday: When I bought my current watch I specifically looked for one with a replaceable band and battery. The band on this 4-year-old watch is still fine but I had to replace the battery today. It cost less than $4.00 and the store took the back off and inserted the new one for me for free!  Savings over the price of a new watch? About $50.00!


Friday: Does  your cat hack up fur balls too? I learned a long time ago when I hear him make that awful noise to put a dab of Vaseline on top of one paw-quick! before he knows I’ve done it!- and then he limps around as though he’s stepped on a land mine before he licks it off, but it does the trick. I saw some furball ‘stuff’  in the pet store recently, and the first ingredient was petroleum jelly. Only their little tiny tube was almost $4! My large jar was bought years ago for about a buck! Savings: At least $3.00 and a quiet cat. See how he’s holding his paw out to show me how mistreated he was? And why does Simon like to lie in the gravel all the time?


 Beyond the dollars saved however, being frugal goes hand in hand with being more aware and more conscious of the purchases we make, how we live our lives and how we treat the earth. A reader asked me last week after I’d written about making fire starters for camping if I was aware that lint from clothes dryers probably contains harmful chemicals and substances that when burned, are released into the air. I hadn’t thought about that! Does that mean I can’t enjoy a campfire? Noooo, it simply means I shouldn’t burn dryer lint. I read online that the Boy Scouts have even stopped recommending it. Pine cones and other natural dried tinder make good firestarters too, and they don’t release toxins when burned. But what about all that dryer lint that the world’s electric dryers are producing?? Come on, we all know the answer to that one: hang  your clothes to dry-on lines, racks or fences. You’ll save money on  your electric bill, you’ll produce far less CO2’s, you won’t have to repair and replace that electric dryer-ever!- and the Boy Scouts will be happy. Win-win-win-win!



Less Energy, Stuff, and Stimulation: using L.E.S.S. just might be a meaningful part of our response to the crises of our age. If you’re a new reader to this blog, perhaps you’re asking yourself, “what IS the crisis of our age?”. If so, check out my ‘about’ page for a bit more information. If you’ve “been there, done that”, then just pick one…crisis, that is. Adopting new measures of prosperity needn’t be considered a bitter pill to swallow, but instead a new and exciting taste of freedom and resilience!

A recent (and quite long!) article I read titled “The End of Capitalism has Begun” touched on how Greek citizens are creating a new economy via food cooperatives (as is Cuba!), alternative producers, local currencies and exchange systems. According to the article there are hundreds of smaller initiatives there too, ranging from land squats to carpools to free kindergartens. I recently wrote in this blog about what I called “An Informal Economy”, but I have since learned that the media has dubbed this meme as “the sharing economy”. I believe I like that better. Whatever it’s called, it’s going to be the new global system eventually because the capitalist system we have now is simply not sustainable. All together now, “perpetual growth is not sustainable”!


Let’s start with energy: Even though my own energy use for transportation has been greatly reduced since moving from our old home that was located out in the country into the urban neighborhood that we live in now, I’m a long way from energy independence. Our newer location allows me to walk or ride my bike to many of the places that I need to go: from the dentist to the grocery store, I can get in my daily exercise while running those errands and keep the car parked at home most of the time. Many towns, including mine, are adding bike lanes and racks to make cycling safer and easier, but don’t forget carpooling and mass transit options to lower your own energy dependence. Car sharing has long gone on in families, and extending that to communities could be a logical next step, and has in fact begun in larger cities.

Home energy needs can be provided via a variety of ways, but lower prices on solar panels and wind turbines, along with tax incentives in many states, are making renewable energies a more affordable alternative. Biomass, waste recycling and community owned power stations are all viable ways of providing our energy needs on a local basis. Natural gas quality landfill gas that is produced from the methane that my town’s local landfill emits, is piped to the nearby VA Campus, a hospital and the university campus to provide their energy needs. How cool is that? Conversely, on a very low tech scale, I enjoy using my solar cooker whenever I can, and I’m exploring the possibility of building a large cob oven in a nearby local park where the community garden has its’ home. In this picture you’ll see a tiny one, next to a larger one, that was built last summer by kids at the site of our local “Tree Forest”, proving that this low tech combination of clay, straw and water is doable by any of us! And CLAY is an abundant natural resource right here in Tennessee…

cob oven

Cob ovens can be used to consecutively cook breads, pizzas, desserts and more with just one firing

I completely understand these alternative ideas may not easily integrate into your home, your lifestyle or your neighborhood but I believe the benefits can outweigh the hassles if appropriate technology and community assistance is applied. It really does “take a village” and that ‘sharing economy’ I mentioned earlier is the only way capitalism will ever be replaced with an economic model that works for all of us, not just the privileged few. I also encourage you to never underestimate the sheer effectiveness of cross breezes, cotton clothing, deciduous shade trees and awnings in the summer, and eliminating the extra heat that using dishwashers, clothes dryers and ovens can create. Washing  your dishes by hand, hanging your clothes outside to dry and preparing meals in a crock pot or on the  stove top will easily eliminate that unwanted heat completely. Reflective window coatings, insulation and weatherstripping, fans, kiddie pools and cool showers are excellent ways to cool down in summer heat without turning on the AC, while layered clothing, space heaters, and passive or active solar gains make good alternatives to turning up the thermostat in the colder months. If we all did nothing more than grow some of our own food, preheat our water with a simple batch solar collector and travel car free as often as possible we could decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and increase our personal resilience factor tremendously!

But let’s talk about our ‘Stuff’ now. We have a problem with Stuff. We use too much, too much of it is toxic and we don’t share it very well. But that’s not the way things have to be. Together, we can build a society based on better not more, sharing not selfishness, community not division. The way we make, use and throw away the stuff in our lives is senseless and shameful. I have never asked my readers to do this, but I’d like you to see this profound 52 second video that graphically shows just how far we’ve sunk within our capitalistic lifestyle of stuff. These 52 seconds really impacted me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMTu4ixp9kw  With renewable energy, sustainable use, reuse and “upcycling” of resources, and the smart design of everything from candy wrappers to cities, we can have both sustainability and abundance.

Before I end this already too-long post, let me say this about stimulation: from technological wonders and homework, to club meetings and soccer games, too many distractions and activities have robbed kids and families of the unstructured time we need to thrive and be creative and connected. Setting some new limits for ourselves and our kids might be all that’s needed to keeping those distractions in check. Those limits will necessarily have to be personal and adjustable for each of us, but we might begin by adhering to just one simple rule in our households: for example, no phones or Ipads at the dinner table. Families eating dinner together has been proven to be the best thing we can do in order to maintain open lines of communication, good grades, better health and a host of other positive outcomes within our lives and our families. 

We’re actually close to a tipping point to address these issues. This is the new world we have to learn to live in. Instead of debating outdated economics, let us come together to forge a new path—one that is practical and truly provides equal opportunity for all, even those desiring to live a simple life. Capitalism served us well, but it’s become evident that working together cooperatively rather than in competition is the foundation for a new economy and peaceful world.

Frugal Friday- July 10th, 2015

I’ll admit, I don’t completely understand what the citizens of Greece are facing when they are asked to choose between “more severe austerity measures” in order to keep their country afloat, or bailing on the money they already owe, but either way it doesn’t sound pleasant. Michael and I elected a long time ago to never again owe any money and it was the best decision we’ve ever made. We may someday see our own self imposed austerity measures, but frugality shouldn’t be confused with austerity. It’s but a way of life that we embrace willingly and whole heartedly and that allows us to live well on less. Maybe folks with a lot more money than we do have no need to even consider frugality, but we chose to retire at the tender ages of 49 and 55, knowing it was a choice that would affect us for the rest of our lives. 13 years later, the only thing we’ve had to give up was that 9 to 5 job! Our new job is to live within our means and although we sometimes have to work a bit of overtime to accomplish that, the payoff is always worth the extra effort. This week has been no different:

Monday: Our veterinarian’s office is less than a block away and once a year he offers a rabies clinic for cats and dogs for only $10. In-Shot-Out in two minutes or less and it’s a pleasant walk there, saving the poor cat from a car ride. Is that austerity?


Tuesday: I reused a stamp that arrived in my mailbox uncanceled. It’s amazing how often this happens, and it’s amazing that I’ve never had a single piece of mail returned to me when I reuse these little goldmines. I do tend to use them on mail that is not of utter importance, just in case, but I believe that’s overkill on my part. Austerity? Nah, but I did save 49 cents!


Wednesday:  We went camping recently and I was finally able to try out my homemade fire starters, made with repurposed toilet paper rolls stuffed with saved dryer lint. Now that we no longer heat our home with wood, and since the surrounding woods are always picked completely clean when we camp, kindling and such is hard to come by. These firestarters worked very well and of course I love making ‘something from nothing’. The resulting fire and s’mores could hardly be considered austerity measures.


Thursday: On my daily walk I ran across a full bale of straw with a neglected potted ficus tree sitting on top of it, waiting for the garbage truck to haul them away. I went home and got my own garbage truck and saved both from the landfill. I’ll use the straw bale as a fall decoration later this year, then as mulch for my strawberry bed. The tree can be nursed back to health and I’ll give it to my daughter for her birthday in November since she’s always wanted such a tree. Austerity? nope, just smart savings!


Friday: I gathered some fresh cedar and sage from my herb bed and made smudge sticks, a Native American tradition of clearing your space, your life or even your body of negative energy. They make great house-warming gifts, or simply as an offering to a sick friend to metaphorically cleanse their body from whatever ails them. Maybe the government of Greece should consider giving smudge sticks to all their citizens to help them cleanse the bad air that’s brewing there…


I joke about austerity measures, but I assure you they are no laughing matter to the citizens of Greece and there is no intention to belittle the hardships they face. I sincerely believe however that looking at all our available resources with an eye towards conserving them, whether it’s a 49 cent stamp or a wad of dryer lint can help us remain solvent in our own personal ways. I am concerned over the global state of affairs and have found the best remedy for my anxiety is to simply live as best as I can on as little as I can. Growing food, reducing my energy needs and tending a supportive and understanding community are the central tenants of this blog and my life. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to avoid austerity, and think transition.

What’s For Supper?
July 2, 2015, 2:11 PM
Filed under: Gardening | Tags: ,

This is finally the time of year when all of our gardening efforts pay off-woo hoo! Surely this month we can drop below the $150 grocery spending level that we’ve been stuck at for some time now. Even if we don’t manage that, we are eating healthy and delicious meals every day, with the satisfaction of knowing that much of it was grown organically on just a small amount of ground, by two old hippies that are still learning.

The earlier spring greens, lettuces and cole crops (broccoli, cauliflower and cabbages) have all been either eaten or stored in a little produce frig that we keep running just for them during this time of year. These are just some of the beauties I have stored away…


My experience tells me that if I don’t dampen or wet them before storing them in special ‘produce bags’, cabbages will last for 3 months or more, and everything else at least 2 months. By continually replanting as room opens up in the garden beds, we eat fresh food like this about 9 months out of the year. This year we planted six Swiss Chard plants, since they tend to produce reliably right on through hot weather, and though not as prolific as say, fall kale, it’s nice to have some kind of fresh greens all year long…

20150630_171931[1]A couple of nights ago our supper was simply new red potatoes with their skins on, cooked in a bit of veggie broth with fresh-cut rosemary, then topped with melted butter, a skillet full of ribbon-cut chard sauteed with chopped onions and garlic in a bit of olive oil and two tiny little pieces of fish we cooked on the grill. Tuesday night we put all the ripe tomatoes we had on hand in a pasta dish that uses basil, white wine and lemon juice, topped with Parmesan cheese. Served with steamed broccoli on the side and hot garlic bread, our ‘company’ enjoyed it too, and there was enough left for our lunch the next day. Last night we had a red lentil Indian dal that made good use of some of that cabbage, onion and garlic, along with my red lentils bought at the discount grocery for 50 cents a lb and brown basmati rice purchased for 60 cents a pound. Tonight my brother’s coming for dinner and a Netflix movie, so we’ll have BBQ chicken thighs, red potato salad, fresh broccoli and maybe some more fresh green beans too! Eating whatever’s ‘ready’ in the garden will dictate our meals until cold weather finally sets in again.

The new-to-us Roma Italian green beans are more flavorful and productive than the tried and true Blue Lake that we’d planted for over 10 years. So far, I’ve harvested 17 pounds, from only 32 square feet, with more still coming every day! They are coming to the end of their life cycle though and will be soon pulled out to make room for other things we love. I canned 14 quarts last week, but would like to end the season with 30 or 40 quarts in the pantry, but that would require us to stop eating them by the bowlful every night for supper, and that’s not gonna happen, so I may just plant some more of these quick producers after we return from a mini vacay to Ohio over the holiday weekend.


We had our best onion crop ever this year! After the summer solstice has been reached, the bulbs won’t ever get any larger since onions are completely daylight dependent, so we harvested them this week in order to ‘cure’ them for a few days before storing them in the root cellar. The red ones are curing in the greenhouse…


…while the yellow storage onions (Copra variety) are curing on the front porch.


Nothing says “Welcome” quite like 20 lbs of onions on the front porch, right?

It seems that most of our meals begin with onions and garlic, and this year we finally planted a few soft neck garlic bulbs since they store better than hard necks that we normally grow. It will be an interesting experiment to see how they compare. Fresh garlic not only adds wonderful flavor to many of our meals, it’s known for having some serious health benefits, and it serves to keep vampires away too, giving us one less thing to worry about…

Oh, and the carrots! They’ve outdone themselves this year: we harvested twelve pounds of them from just two four-foot rows!  We eat them fixed every way possible and marvel at how much better they taste than ‘store bought’. This dependable root crop will be replanted as a fall crop, along with beets, but those will be a variety especially for storage. Let’s hope I don’t lose the whole lot like I did last year!


So, let the stock market slide and Greece default on their debts. Let the coal mines close and water rationing continue. Here in rainy NE Tennessee, we’ll eat well, stay healthy and spend the Fourth of July having fun with family and friends. If you’re local, come see us tomorrow in front of the International Storytelling Center at 11:15 as we play some Celtic tunes with our friends from the “Thistle Dew” trio.  You’re all invited to supper afterwards.

thistle dew


An Informal Economy

Traditionally, ‘informal economy’ referred to economic activity that is neither taxed nor regulated by a government. Even though the term may be rather unfamiliar, examples of informal economies practices are as familiar as babysitting or the drug trade. But I recently read a different description of  ‘informal economy’: “that which allows people to acquire goods and services they might not otherwise afford.” It’s an idea that deserves more than a glance. As we move into the second half of 2015, I sense a deepening economic uncertainty that demands each of us find ways to transition to a life style that is built on community, local resilience and living well on less. Enter: trade and barter.

Not long ago I bartered fresh heads of bok choy in exchange for a nurse neighbor’s steady hand in giving Michael his B-12 shots. We often trade watering or harvesting chores down at the community garden with fellow vacationers. A friend recently had a raised bed but nothing to plant in it, nor any extra money to invest in it. So I gave her some of my heirloom bean seeds that I’d saved, to plant in her bed. She’ll no doubt enjoy eating her beans all winter, and has promised to repay me in fresh beans. Yesterday I offered my skills as a canner to a woman that is equally skilled in quilting. We will both benefit from our reciprocal agreement to ‘help one another’. Carpooling, house and pet sitting are favorite trade-offs for me. I also enjoy doing sewing repairs in exchange for goods or services that I might need. Years ago I helped an acquaintance prepare for a major move by organizing and packing, in exchange for several months of fiddle lessons; our friendship has lasted long after the trades were completed. These informal economies help friendships to grow and allow all involved to benefit without any money being exchanged.

I wrote here recently about the free truckloads of gravel for my driveway I was able to get, via Freecycle, from a nearby church, who just wanted it off of their parking lot. My own church offers many, many opportunities for sharing and trading of goods and services. Our local electric cooperative delivers shredded wood mulch for free to anyone that lives within the city limits, and the city crews deliver shredded leaves for our compost piles during the fall leaf pickup. The members of the nearby community garden that I manage are constantly learning from, trading with, and helping one another, even though we all started as perfect strangers and have few common bonds other than our love for growing fresh, organic food. From an online community to a community garden, all of these informal economies help to build community strength and resilience.

 The nearby town of Abingdon, VA is home to the Barter Theater, a live theater venue that was set up during the Depression and so named because you could gain admission to see a play by bartering fresh eggs, produce or chickens instead of paying the 40 cent admission price. During that same period, when no one had any cash, it wasn’t uncommon for doctors to accept food as payment. My own grandfather was known to accept car repairs and haircuts as payment for his bookkeeping and accounting skills.

Produce traded at Barter Theatre
Produce traded at Barter Theater, circa 1933

For all those aspects of life that we need in order to sustain ourselves and thrive, how do we significantly increase resilience (in response to peak oil), drastically reduce carbon emissions (in response to climate change) and greatly strengthen our local economy (in response to economic instability)? An Informal Economy is a logical starting point and offers limitless possibilities that can help us with these transition issues. Some communities have even gone so far as to start community currencies based on barter, trading one hour of work for $10 in credit. From food to computer skills, we all have something to offer. Might a more formal organization of these kinds of efforts be more helpful or hassle? Please let me know in the comments section below if you or your community are working in informal economies, and what affects it is having on your resilience and/or personal economy.

Frugal Friday- June 19, 2015

So, we’ve eaten very well this week, completed a couple of home repair projects, ridden our bikes, went star gazing and night hiking, attended church, swapped books with friends, played music and made a bit of money doing so, and enjoyed a simple and impromptu supper out with friends one night, spending less than $20 the whole week. We have resisted the urge to turn on our whole house AC, even during this heat wave, and have found ourselves matching our activities and our pace to that of the sun. Cool showers at bedtime, with a fan blowing on damp bodies is positively chilling and a lovely way to enjoy open windows on summer nights! It was a week of pleasant surprises and some unexpected bonuses…

Monday:  I had loaned my pressure canner to my neighbor, who had gotten some fresh antibiotic-free, no-growth-hormone chickens from a farm in nearby North Carolina and wanted to try her hand at canning them. When she returned the canner, she brought me two humongous frozen breasts that she had vacuum packed herself and a pint of shredded chicken meat that she canned! I’m saving the breasts for a special occasion dinner, and the pulled chicken for a cold night when chicken and dumplings will be most appreciated. Anyone else wanna borrow my canner?  😉


Tuesday: The outer door to our root cellar was rotten and in terrible shape. I forgot to take a picture of the old door before the new one was assembled and shingled, but the replacement was built entirely from repurposed and scavenged lumber, then covered with new roofing shingles that were given to me by a friend a year or so ago, and topped off with the original handle. All we had to buy new were some screws because we had the roofing nails left over from building a chicken coop. Total cost? $2.00 for a sheet of plywood we bought at the thrift store and about a dollar’s worth of screws.


Wednesday:  You just gotta love Freecycle! A nearby church posted an offer for a  load of gravel. I responded, but got no reply. So I waited a few days and responded again, telling the poster I had a truck and would come that day to get the gravel if they still had it. Bingo! Turns out the first two responders had been offered the gravel, but neither showed up. I simply waited until it cooled off a bit and drove the 3 blocks to the church in my trusty 25 year old truck about 7:30 PM. Bingo again! There were 3 teenaged boys inside that came out to offer their strong arms and backs to help load it, then they offered to help with the second load if I could get back before 9 PM.  I’d been wanting gravel for our way-in-the-back parking area for a couple of years but since it wasn’t a big priority, just couldn’t justify the cost. Patience always pays off when it comes to frugality…





Thursday:  During a free yoga class Michael had attended recently, the sponsor handed out coupons for Free Lunches for Two at a nearby former-hospital-turned-luxury-senior-living-apartments. Hooray for free yoga classes and free lunches that are also near enough to walk to!


Friday: I harvested the last of the spring-planted kale, broccoli, cabbages, cilantro, lettuce, cauliflower and peas and now have my little summer dorm fridge full of green goodies. Planting the lettuce in the shade of the squash trellis turned out to be a good move, keeping it from bolting as early as usual. Live and learn…


My personal transition to a lifestyle that strives to live well on less has become a game for me, even though I am fully aware that my privilege in life allows me to play the game to begin with. A frugal life is not seeing how little we can get by with—that’s poverty. People living in true poverty don’t have the luxury of playing this game. They don’t have choices like most of us in the developed world do. Yet, so many of us have two (or more) incomes and are still broke. Buying less, using less, wanting less and wasting less leaves me with an unshakeable certainty and a deep peace that I’m on the right path, regardless of what happens in this uncertain world. And though trite, it’s true: “Transitioning is not so much about the destination as the journey”.

What’s-This-Blog-About, Alphie?
June 15, 2015, 2:04 PM
Filed under: Adapting to Change, Transition Towns, Transitioning

Hello again readers! I’ve taken the liberty of using a play on words from an old movie and song for today’s title, and also copying the entire page below from the Transition Towns website. No matter how I try to word it, they say it best and there’s no point in recreating the wheel when there’s already so much work to be done. So, here’s the how’s and why’s of the Transition movement. May you be so moved too…


We are living in an age of unprecedented change, with a number of crises converging. Climate change, global economic instability, overpopulation, erosion of community, declining biodiversity, and resource wars, have all stemmed from the availability of cheap, non-renewable fossil fuels. Global oil, gas and coal production is predicted to irreversibly decline in the next 10 to 20 years, and severe climate changes are already taking effect around the world. The coming shocks are likely to be catastrophic if we do not prepare. As Richard Heinberg states:

 “Our central survival task for the decades ahead, as individuals and as a species, must be to make a transition away from the use of fossil fuels –and to do this as peacefully, equitably, and intelligently as possible”.

The Transition movement represents one of the most promising ways of engaging people and communities to take the far-reaching actions that are required to mitigate the effects of peak oil, climate change and the economic crisis. Furthermore, these relocalization efforts are designed to result in a life that is more fulfilling, more socially connected and more equitable than the one we have today.

The Transition model is based on a loose set of real world principles and practices that have been built up over time through experimentation and observation of communities as they drive forward to reduce carbon emissions and build community resilience. Underpinning the model is a recognition of the following:

  • Peak Oil, Climate Change and the Economic Crisis require urgent action
  • Adaptation to a world with less oil is inevitable
  • It is better to plan and be prepared, than be taken by surprise
  • Industrial society has lost the resilience to be able to cope with shocks to its systems
  • We have to act together and we have to act now
  • We must negotiate our way down from the “peak” using all our skill, ingenuity and intelligence
  • Using our creativity and cooperation to unleash the collective genius within our local communities will lead to a more abundant, connected and healthier future for all.

The Transition Movement believes that is up to us in our local communities to step into a leadership position on this situation. We need to start working now to mitigate the interrelated effects of peak oil, climate change, and the economic crisis, before it is too late. Together we can make a difference.


Check out this video put together by Ben Zolno on ‘Why Transition?’:

Plant Seeds of Understanding

After a full day of hearing a sermon about social injustice, singing and hearing songs about it, and then watching a documentary about the problems immigrants to our country face, I felt compelled to ‘do something’, beyond writing my legislators- yet again. This post is the result of this emotional day.

It’s occurred to me that, like the Earth, the 2016 Presidential race is already heating up too. In anticipation of the differences of opinion I’m sure to encounter during the next 17 months, I have already set my intention to refrain from becoming crass or nasty with anyone, regardless of their political persuasion, during the upcoming election season. With the increased use of social media and internet availability, I suspect that my personal exposure to mud slinging could result in getting some mud in my own eyes. But ‘an eye for an eye’ won’t change anyone’s beliefs, so I’ve come up with a plan that I’d like to share with my readers. Feel free to use it in any way you like…

In order to stay true to my personal mission of spreading peace and (food) justice in the world by sharing gardening with anyone that wants to learn, (even Republicans haha!)  I’m making up some seed packets to share whenever tempers flare or voices rise. I’m calling them ‘Seeds of Understanding’ and I hope that the packets will serve to temper those differences with their gentle humor and a shared love of natural beauty. This isn’t an easy task for me because, as you probably already know if you’re a regular reader of this blog, I’m opinionated at best, and  ‘right’ at my worst.


The packets will be light enough to carry several in my purse or easily mailed for the price of a stamp. Heck, I’ll even give you one whether we disagree or not, as long as you’ll promise to plant your own ‘seeds of understanding’. May the best man, or woman, win.

“Every time I plant a seed, He say kill it before it grow, He say kill it before they grow”~ Bob Marley

Not Buying It

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve posted on this blog and I think that’s because I’m going through a bit of a transition on my own and it’s taking me in new and unexpected, yet exciting, directions. In spite of my personal journey, the complex factors surrounding the trilogy of Peak Oil, Climate Change and World Economics have only gotten worse since I began writing about them five years ago. I’m not buying into the rhetoric that mainstream media offers me about these life-altering issues either. The members of the G-7 Summit earlier this week did reach a few conclusions though: Russian Embargoes will become worse, ISIS will become worse and Climate Change will become worse. Really?? These seemingly unsolvable problems serve only to inspire me to write more, rather than remain silent. It’s in the quiet time spent researching and writing that I find my own answers as to how to live more on less. Notice I didn’t say “how to HAVE more on less”.

I’ve spent the last 15 years happily obtaining many of the things that Michael and I needed to set ourselves up as ‘radical homemakers’, mostly via reusing and rehoming, buying new only those things needed to have good food, clean water, reliable transportation and shelter. We did buy a new car and a new freezer along the way;  the former because we were having trouble getting parts for our old car, (since Saturn’s weren’t being made any longer) and the latter because our gardening skills had improved so much over the years that we simply needed a way to better preserve all that organic goodness and I just couldn’t find a reliable used one last August when I realized the need had become a matter of ‘freeze it or lose it.’ We’re counting on the car, the freezer and the bicycles we bought 4 years ago to last the rest of our lives with proper care, as well as the wood stove, sewing machine, greenhouse, grain mill, food dehydrator and water filter system. I just don’t understand the constant need to buy stuff. Once you’re set up with the needed tools for living, almost everything else except underwear and eyeglasses can be found used AND locally as well.

pete seeger

There’s a cooperative that started in San Francisco back in 2005 whose members pledged to go 365 days without buying anything new. Their vows were called ‘The Compact’. That Compact became a movement of people that are simply trying to bring less stuff into their homes. In the process, they’ve all improved the quality of their lives, saved a ton of money and inadvertently kept many of the Earth’s precious resources from being wasted. Many of them are still ‘not buying it’, almost 10 years later. 


In addition to buying stuff, it seems economic growth is not just a goal in the West- it’s a religion; but I’m not buying that either. Infinite growth is simply not sustainable. Period. End of discussion. We MUST create ways and means of living that are more in line with a steady state economy.  A steady state economy is a truly green economy. It aims for stable population and stable consumption of energy and materials at sustainable levels. 

A reader wrote to me today to tell me that my blog “…is a reminder of what can meaningfully be done here and now in the face of a civilization in decline…”.  He likes “concrete examples of coping and preparing, joyfully, for the inevitable.” Sometimes concrete examples can be hard to come by in this transition business, but the “coping and preparing joyfully”  is a state of mind that actually develops as you transition to a life that is based on the concept that less is more. Whether that’s by eliminating your debt, learning some skills necessary for repairing and reusing your stuff so you don’t have to buy more stuff, or simply decluttering your life and home, a ‘steady state economy’ in our personal lives can truly be joyful. I’ll buy that!


Frugal Friday- May 29, 2015

I consider having the time to hang my laundry on the line or bake my own bread as a luxury, not a drudgery.

I was hanging my laundry this morning and two of the three female attorneys that have their office next door came out on to their back porch as I was doing so, laughing and chatting. After a minute or so, I noticed it had gotten mighty quiet over there, so I glanced over towards them and almost with embarrassment they said they were “wistfully” watching me hang the sheets. These are both women much younger than me, but they said they “don’t have time to hang laundry” and wish they could because they love the smell of air dried clothes so much. They remembered their grandmothers doing it. (I guess that makes me old enough to be their grandmother). Anyway, I offered to let them hang up my wet laundry anytime they wanted, but I had no takers. However, when I offered them some just-dug oregano one of them jumped on the offer as though I’d offered her home made chocolate chip cookies! I was pleased to share a bit of my philosophy of simple living with these two hard working career women and hope we can have more conversations this summer over that clothesline.

It’s been a meaningful and productive week for me. And even though productive is really just a euphemism for ‘working my ass off’, it’s been pleasant. We enjoyed out of town company over the holiday weekend, but when they left Monday morning, they not only left us with some fond memories, they also left some fresh avocados, cherry tomatoes and a container of leftovers from a schwanky Asheville restaurant in the frig.  So naturally, it was my civic duty to not let it go to waste.

Monday: We enjoyed those leftovers for lunch, and then for supper used one of the avocados and tomatoes to make guacamole, which we enjoyed with fresh corn tortillas and a Mexican Quinoa/Spinach salad, made with stuff I already had on hand and in the garden. We also took our car for a free deluxe car wash and vacuum job-they give them to all veterans on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day! Su-weet deal, saving us $10 IF we’d had to pay for it. But of course, we normally wash and vacuum our own car so we didn’t really ‘save’ $10 but it really was a nice little gift to get it done for free on that hot day.

Tuesday: With the warming weather I could tell my spring-planted lettuce was going to bolt, so I harvested bags and bags of it, donated most of it to One Acre Cafe, and and then enjoyed a huge veggie salad Monday night, adding leftover red onion, beans, hard boiled eggs, sunflower seeds, carrots, green pepper strips and the rest of the avocado to it, again, using stuff I already had on hand or in the garden.

Wednesday: We enjoyed the monthly Wednesday Night Supper of veggie quiche, fresh salad, with strawberries and ice cream for dessert at our church for just five dollars each. This monthly dinner always has great food, is well worth the price and we really enjoy the chance to share some extra time with our church family, and of course, take a break from cooking!

Thursday: Earlier in the week a friend that Michael had played with at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning dropped by with a bag of 2 huge tomatoes, 2 lbs of new potatoes, a large sweet onion, 4 crisp apples and more as his share for playing that day. Our small market only pays a tiny cash stipend for playing, but all the vendors are then asked to contribute something for the musicians. We didn’t expect all that, but once again, enjoyed the windfall! I made curried potato salad which we enjoyed with veggie burgers topped with fresh lettuce and thick slices of sweet onion and tomato. Another day I used the other tomato to make fresh pico de gallo to scoop on top of cumin black beans and rice. Ad nauseum, all made with ingredients I already had on hand.

Friday:  If you think all I’ve done this week is cook and eat, I’d say, “not quite”. I go through spurts when the garden is pumping out fresh food almost by the hour and I really do enjoy trying new recipes and making old favorites that take advantage of that bounty. So yeah, there’s been a lot of that this week. Once you get over food needing to be fast, easy and cheap, it makes a big difference in what you can produce.  But one night we played a gig that was quite fun (and earned decent money as well as a great free meal), we’ve gotten both our gardens almost fully planted, we’ve taken some great walks and enjoyed the new public art that was installed at the nearby park, had time to savor a good book, watched a Netflix movie or two, and met a friend for coffee. Can you say “contented”?

I hope these occasional Frugal Friday posts inspire you to make space in your life so that you too can have time and money to enjoy the things in life that make you happy. As we transition to a lower energy lifestyle ( and YES I definitely believe we’ve passed “Peak Oil”) , we’ll all need to adapt to a smaller energy footprint. Whether that’s growing some of your own food, solar drying your laundry, riding your bike to the library, cooking from scratch or learning to use tools ‘like a man’, those activities will become necessary skills, rather than ‘romantic notions’. I hope these posts give you even a small inkling of how sweet that “lower energy” life can be!

Gardening As If Our Lives Depended On It

As if I didn’t already have enough to tend, now I’ve planted watermelons and lima beans too. Some unexpected space opened up at the Peace Gardens for me, and I was eager to plant seeds I’d saved but didn’t have room to grow again.  BUT, they’re not just any ol’ melons and beans. These are ‘Moon and Stars’ heirloom seeds that my Grandmama and Mary, our family-maid-turned-surrogate mother-to-me, used to grow, and the beans are Hopi Orange Limas which beat green Limas all to hell for taste and beauty. See nature’s works of art for  yourself:

hopi beans

As a girl, the moons and stars on the watermelons fascinated me and I remember once lining them up in the grass like the solar system in the sky. These are definitely seed-spittin’ melons, but since I’m the only one growing them in the community garden this year, I’m going to be saving some of those spittin’ seeds for the future. The Hopi Limas aren’t new to my garden, but I can’t grow them when other types of Limas are being grown nearby for fear the two will cross and ‘contaminate’ my seed for the future. But this year, no other Limas are in the immediate vicinity, and because I’ve almost run out of my supply of dried Hopis, it seemed the perfect time to grow them again. They can be eaten fresh or dried, and when cooked with butter, salt and pepper and maybe even a tiny piece of salt pork, they are what the Hopi Indians might call “Heap Good” 😉  

 I’ve also planted some ‘Turkey Craw’ beans that were originally given to me by a man that grows them for Baker Creek Seed Company. An heirloom from the southern states of Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, the original seed is said to come from a turkey’s craw brought home by a hunter who is thought to have been an African American slave in the 1800s. I’ve grown these pole beans and saved my own seeds several times, and enjoy the beans fresh or dried. I love the idea that two centuries later I’m growing some of the same beans that people- and turkeys- have been eating in this tiny part of our world for all those years.

Turkey Craw Bean

To further round out my personal survival food supply, I’ll be growing Hopi Blue Dent Corn again. It can be eaten fresh but I prefer modern super sweet hybrids for that and instead intend to save the dried kernels for making corn meal. One of the first ‘major appliances’ Michael and I invested in when we got married was an electric grain mill and we’ve never regretted it. Not only does this corn make the bluest corn bread around, it is sweet and nutty, just like we love it! So, when the zombies arrive, we’ll have “Heap Good Cornbread” too.

My personal quest for self reliance in uncertain times begins in my garden. It’s my security blanket. It’s a true food ‘bank’ for me, with carefully saved seeds being like money in that bank. You’d think I’d grown up poverty stricken and hungry but happily I was neither. These heirloom varieties I’m growing could not only offer personal survival during hard times, but along with some potatoes, long keeper squash and eggs, yes, eggs! and greens, we could actually thrive, even if it’s all we had. I hope I never have to test that theory, but it is what I’ve distilled from reading a lot of “hard times” gardening advice over the years.

The good news is that these so-called survival  foods can promote health and happiness in good times and bad. Not only can they help us achieve greater control over our personal food supply, they’re also good tasting and able to adapt to endless ways of preparing them. They’re easy to store and offer a gardener the opportunity to never have to buy seeds again, which really is the key to self sufficiency.

If all this talk of hard times and survival gardening bothers you, realize that survival gardening really is a way of life that has been accepted since man first began planting seeds. It was quickly recognized that growing food made it far easier to feed oneself than the methods that hunter-gatherers had to endure in order to survive. Our more modern ancestors, perhaps your grandparents, or even your parents, may have depended on their gardens during wars or the Great Depression; I’ve always heard that Victory Gardens provided the US with 40% of the fresh vegetables that Americans ate during both World Wars. So, survival gardens are nothing new friends.  A line in the tune ‘The Garden Song’, written just 17 years ago, goes like this: “I feel the need to grow my own, ’cause the time is close at hand”. I’m gardening as if my life depended on it and looking at this old war poster, my beans would’ve been welcome during those hard times.

Frugal Friday- May 15, 2015
May 15, 2015, 4:46 PM
Filed under: Frugality | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Getting back to basics has reinforced long-ago lessons that slowing down, eating well, watching my spending and getting plenty of sleep and exercise enables me to lead a life that focuses on the positive and good things in my little world, while also giving me the energy and time to focus on some of those things in the world that perhaps need a bit of extra attention. Invariably, living a simpler life saves me money…and I’m saving up for a bucket list goal now, so there’s even more incentive to keep things simple.

Monday: I told you last week about my earth-friendly ant killer, and because I really do want to have a healthy life and a healthy home I mixed up some non-toxic glass cleaner and finally began the task of washing my windows today. But I am NOT using the damn paper towels, and  am using newsprint in place of them,  to do the job. I’ve learned over the years that if I clean the windows when they are in the shade, or when the day is overcast, they actually clean a lot easier than when it’s sunny. It seems that when the sun is shining on the glass, it dries so quickly that it streaks rather than cleans. My goal is to clean one room per day, so I should have them done by next week. I’m on a roll, just not a paper towel roll 😉  And if you’re interested, here’s my tried and true recipe for a ‘green’ window cleaner: Combine 2 cups of water, 1/4 cup of white distilled vinegar, and up to 1/2 teaspoon of liquid soap or detergent in a spray bottle. That’s all there is to it.

Tuesday: My ‘back to basics’ mindset finds me outside more often: in the garden in the morning, washing windows in the afternoon, and strumming my ukelele in the backyard as the sun goes down and the moon comes up. All that outdoorsy-ness can lead to bug bites. Michael is especially susceptible to them, even though they rarely bother me. He says that’s because I’m so mean they won’t mess with me. Whatever. But here’s the recipe for my very own “Bug Potion #9” that we keep in the bathrooms, the kitchen and on the porch to wipe our skin with as soon as a bug has made it’s presence known. It really doesn’t help much as a repellent per se, but seems to completely take the sting out and prevents swelling. I also save all the cotton plugs that are packed in pill bottles and keep them in a ziplock with the bottles and use them to apply the soothing potion. Here’s the recipe..try to use a quality peppermint oil.

Bug Potion #9

1 cup witch hazel
1 cup rubbing alcohol
8-10 drops peppermint oil

Shake well, then store in a tightly capped container so that the alcohol doesn’t evaporate


Wednesday: Picked my first ripe tomato and strawberries of the season! This is like Mardi Gras at my house!  They’re both organically grown and delicious with lots more to come. Ya’ll already know how absolutely important I feel it is to grow some of your own food, or at least to know where and how it’s grown, so I won’t get on my soapbox about it yet again. I enjoyed making several jars of freezer jam with some of the berries but it is a little ‘too’ good, if you know what I mean. How will I ever keep any of it around for Christmas gifting?


Thursday:   I wanted you to see what I found in the alley behind my house…it was literally in pieces, but I was able to find all but 2 little connectors, which I easily solved by clipping on a couple of black PVC clips that hold plastic onto my little hoop houses in the winter. I put them on the bottom and you don’t even notice them. This is going in our little tool shed out back to hold cans of paint and other stuff. It’s really sturdy and the price was perfect.  I think repairing and repurposing should be followed closely by rehoming before something is tossed out. There’s an adage that I firmly believe in: “There is no away, as in, throw it away.”


 Friday: This has been a week of walking my errands, hanging clothes on the line to dry, and buying absolutely nothing. It’s also been a week of using what I have on hand and can harvest from the garden. In my efforts to avoid food waste I save and freeze the stems from mushrooms and when I have a cup or two, I use them to make a pot of cream of mushroom soup, which will give us another meal, made from what many might consider food waste. Homemade mushroom soup is my one concession to cream and the stems are what Mr. Campbell makes his mushroom soup from, only he doesn’t add real cream. Just sayin’…


Last month we spent $176 on food. I’m trying to lower that to $150 this month, and since the garden is offering up lots of lettuce and kale right now, we’re eating a lot of salads from the garden, paired with a grill cheese or tuna sandwich or a cup of soup. The salads are almost a meal in themselves, with hard-boiled eggs or cooked beets thrown in, even some leftover beans, pasta or nuts. Making big dinner salads like that really avoids food waste because I can add the tiniest amount of something to them rather than adding it to the compost pile, and no two are ever alike. Michael enjoys making his vinaigrette dressing to put on it, and now we have fresh herbs to add to that, which really pumps up the volume!


Now, about that bucket list: I want very much to go to Cuba and hope to make that dream come true before the year is over. Dreams like that take big money. The very essence of being frugal is that by saving money on the small things, it allows me to spend money on the bigger things that really matter; for years, that meant simply being able to make the mortgage payments or buying shoes, glasses and braces for the kids. Now it’s more about musical instruments or traveling or doing fun stuff with my grandkids, and I’ll happily eat beans and kale in order to enjoy those things.

Here’s Your Sign
May 13, 2015, 8:03 AM
Filed under: Adapting to Change | Tags: , ,

The California water crisis is a full-blown catastrophe, yet city councils in desert communities in the southern part of the state are actually considering approval of new, high-dollar housing communities there. You know gated communities with lakes, fountains and golf courses on three sides. IN THE DESERT. Here’s your sign:


Here’s a photo of the boat slips at a local marina…


I write here often about ways we as a society must adapt to the changes in the world brought about climate changes, peak everything and the capitalist nightmare of ever-increasing growth. Californians are obviously adapting in ways I never imagined. Here’s the latest ‘adaptation’ they’re having to endure…

Painting the grass…why not do designs and tie dye looks, peace signs or write prayers for rain? Better yet, why not paint all the dead crops green too so we’ll have something to eat?

On Monday, the town of Livingston, CA which is the next town over from where we lived in Modesto, announced serious water restrictions for its’ residents. Those poor people can only water their lawns 2 days a week now, and can only wash their cars on Monday, Wednesday or Friday. To reinforce that idea, when I woke early this morning it was still dark, but I could hear it raining outside. When I opened the door to get the newspaper, I could hear the rain, but I couldn’t see the rain! What the hell? The porch and street were dry as could be. My newly transplanted CALIFORNIA neighbor was running his sprinkler and it was wetting his lawn, the sidewalk, his house and his car! For hours… but at least it’s Wednesday.


A Livable Community

Back in 2011 my city held an ‘Economic Summit’ that had great speakers and breakout sessions, while offering lots of info for anyone that wanted to know the state of the city. It was there that the attendees were given a survey to answer the question, “What would make our city more livable?”. The answers were then compiled and developed into a Stategic Plan for the the members of the Community Partnerships group to use as as a guiding light, if you will. Several subgroups were formed as a result of that survey, and even though the Livable Communities group has been meeting for about a decade or more, it was first introduced to me during that summit. Today I serve as chairperson of the group because it’s purpose and function integrated so seamlessly with my own values for transitioning to a lifestyle that is based on  localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being, that I knew I wanted to be a part of it. 

The current Livable Communities group serves as a sort of advisory group to the city, yet remains autonomous enough to implement plans and ideas of our own. As our community has built resilient “amenities,” such as community gardens, green spaces, a more walkable business district, farmers markets and bike paths, we have certainly become a more desirable place to live- and invest in, it seems. The survey results have served us well in acting as our guide.

The good news is, we have pretty much managed to see implementation of many of the things the survey results revealed. One remaining ‘wish list’ item from the survey is to ”Improve public transportation using the Complete Streets model with a schedule to accommodate working people.” 


We’re not there yet folks, but I’ve recently discovered some incredible online resources to begin this next phase of our efforts to improve our bus transit system. Stay tuned here for updates on that process, as our current system really does leave a lot to be desired…


But first things first; our committee is planning to partner with other nonprofits to man a table during the upcoming Blue Plum music festival, being held in downtown Johnson City on June 5-7th. We’ll share the space with Build It Up E. TN, Grow Appalachia!, Insight Alliance,  the JC Public Library, and Appalachian Resource Council and we’ll have various items to attract passersby to the table. Maps, Quilt Trail Guides, Local Food Guides and even some locally produced food products will be for sale, along with library resources and much more. The spot we’ll hold down is THE BEST spot in town for this, underneath the wide overhang of the Insight Alliance offices, located at 207 E Main St. It’s a half block from the main stage, with bathrooms and a water fountain just inside. I’m looking for folks to join us at the festival and hope that you’ll  attend our planning session next Tuesday, May 19th at 5:30 at the same location. Our main message this year is simply ‘all things local’. If you have any ideas for making that message more attention getting, I’d love to hear from you!


2014 Blue Plum Table

Frugal Friday- May 8, 2015
May 8, 2015, 4:10 PM
Filed under: Frugality | Tags: , ,

It’s been a quieter, slower week here, by design, and now on Friday, I feel more relaxed and in control than I have in a while. (If you’re wondering what I’m referring to, please read my last post “Getting Back to Basics” here.) Allowing ample time for activities like gardening and cooking always saves money (and stress), and gives me time to walk my weekly errands, rather than driving, which is also a good stress reliever.  I’ve even had time to work on some new music this week, write an overdue letter, prepare a meal and deliver it to a sick friend, and time to just ‘be’, rather than ‘do’.

Monday: I’ve been buying my picky cat little bags of treats at the dollar store near my house for about $1.75 for a 2 oz. bag, but thought that was a bit pricey and didn’t like all those little non-recyclable pouches they came in. So I went shopping elsewhere, and found a one pound canister of his favorite kind, on sale for $8.00; plus by buying them at Petsmart, I can accumulate ‘points’ towards money off of future purchases. Savings: $6.00!


Tuesday:  I took my neighbor to the airport this morning to catch an early flight. In return, she gave me a bag of fresh grapefruit, tangelos, horseradish and ginger root that she didn’t want to leave in her frig for two weeks. I LOVE win-win trades like that! 


Wednesday: The ant problem around my kitchen window and sink was growing progressively worse. I didn’t want to use chemicals (especially in the kitchen!) so I tried sprinkling a small amount of borax that I keep on hand for making my laundry detergent, along the backsplash and window sill. Now, 32 hours later, there’s not.one.ant!

20150508_075847[1]And because the Borax is a harmless, natural compound of the element boron, all I have to do is spray it off, right down the drain. Cost: About 2 cents I’d say, since a large box of Twenty Mule Team costs about $3.00

Thursday:  Thinned the carrots in my garden. Even though it pains me to pull up live plants, experience has taught me the hard-earned lesson …thinning makes room for them to grow bigger and healthier. It’s a necessary evil…


Friday: OK, here’s another perfect example of how being patient can save money…(by the way, this patience thing is another hard-earned lesson in my life, but one of the best ones I’ve ever learned. I highly recommend it!) About 6 months ago, I saw this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmDYUrVHPWc  showing how to make a ‘rocket stove’ using 4 cinder blocks stacked just so. Problem was, one of them was called an ‘H’ block and in all my daily walks around demolition sites in town I could’ve built a whole house with reclaimed two hole cinder blocks, but could never find that H block needed for the stove’s chimney hole. I called the local brickyard about 6 weeks ago and they said they had them in stock. But that brickyard is across town and not in my normal ‘range’ of places I need to go. So I figured I’d just wait until the need arose to go to that area, and I’d pick one up. So I waited. For 6 weeks. Today, my neighbor was pulling out of his driveway and mentioned he was on his way to…unh huh, the brickyard to get some more bricks for his own project. I asked him if he minded getting the block I needed and of course he didn’t mind adding one more in to the back of his truck! It was waiting at my backdoor when I returned home a few hours later. He didn’t want to take my money for the block but I shoved a few dollars in his hand anyway. One H block-delivered-$3.00. Here’s my stove that I made for that price. I got the ‘burner’ from the ‘Neighborhood Convenience Center’, which is just a fancy name for recycling center, for free. The beauty of these little rocket stoves is that they burn really well with small twigs and sticks and can heat a kettle of water or a bowl of soup in no time, using the trash that the huge walnut tree on the side of my house is always dropping in my yard anyway!


So, here it is Friday afternoon. Supper will be a big salad from the garden, with hardboiled eggs and some leftover beans thrown in for protein. Later, we’ll walk a few blocks to the park to listen to a live band that’s playing there for free, then return home for a Smoothie, made with our very first strawberries of the season and some too-ripe bananas that I’d frozen earlier. The garden is finally composted, mostly planted and mulched, and the weekend promises to be great fun, starting with breakfast at a locally owned eatery tomorrow, followed by a trip to Dollywood and an opportunity to spend the day with friends that we rarely get to spend time with. I’m sad I won’t get to see my daughters on Mother’s Day but they’ll be with me in spirit I know. May YOUR Mother’s Day weekend be fun and frugal too!

Back to Basics
May 6, 2015, 9:39 PM
Filed under: Back to Basics

Sometimes I have to relearn old lessons-important lessons that I thought I’d never, ever forget! In the case of my own health and well being, I think I got so wrapped up in curing Michael’s cancer that I let my own health slide. A year ago, exactly one year into his two year cancer odyssey, I began taking cholesterol-lowering statins and blood pressure medication. And they worked very well-except the effects lulled me into thinking “I am safe and healthy now”. About the same time, Michael wasn’t healing well from his multiple surgeries, so doctors encouraged him to get a meat form of protein into his diet, rather than the fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains that had kept us both in excellent health for almost 10 years. So, we started with a bit of chicken, and placebo or not, he began to heal very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t just jump on the meat bandwagon right away! We tried protein powders, protein shakes, protein bars and more before we tried the chicken, but doctors said when our bodies are under severe trauma (as in colon surgery) that a ‘more powerful’ form of protein is needed, and that the only form of that is via eating meat. Now, a year later, he’s healed and been declared cancer free, as of 2 weeks ago. Funny thing though, now he’s become seriously B-12 deficient. So deficient that he’s taking regular B-12 shots. The very vitamin that he’s deficient in, comes from, you guessed it, meat. When we ate a mostly vegan diet, he was not B-12 deficient. These truly are what I call “things that make you go, “hmmmm”.

Lately I’ve been feeling serious muscular pain in my neck, shoulders and upper arms, so I find myself taking Tylenol for it. I’ve also noticed in the last 3 months an irritating and worsening ability to remember common words. Like at supper tonight, we had mango salsa on our fish, only I couldn’t remember the word mango. And in that first paragraph, I couldn’t think of the word placebo. Earlier today my daughter asked me if I could remember how much niacin her doctor had advised her to take to clear some of her own mental fog and coincidentally, help lower her own cholesterol, (even though her level was quite acceptable). I went to some of my usually reliable online sources for medical advice, and one link led to another and another, and I began to read more and more about the possible side effects of statins. Can you guess what they are? Muscle tissue breakdown and short term memory loss, for starters!

So, what lesson did I forget? To take personal responsibility for my health, rather than relying on a doctor that barely knows me and makes recommendations based on one simple blood test.

What other lessons have I forgotten? 17 years ago I took a 6 week course called “Voluntary Simplicity” that quite literally changed my life. I embraced the ideas and practices of leading a simpler life, and in doing so, established a profound sense of purpose, direction and joy in my life. Somehow these last two years of cancer-fighting found me putting aside some of the very values and principles that I know I need for my own continued good health. I’ve compromised myself a lot, by taking on too many projects, abandoning my spiritual practices of yoga and meditation, and letting clutter creep back into my personal space, for starters. I even started buying the damn paper towels again!!!  Sometimes conveniences seem necessary. But then they can stealthily become ‘needs’, rather than ‘conveniences’, and before  you know it, you’re buying the damn 6 pack because they’re so much cheaper per roll that way!

define necessity

Another example: last night was the first of this season’s monthly garden classes for the community gardeners. I forgot it completely, and I’m sure it’s due to the fact that I’m juggling too many balls in the air~and the statins seriously affecting my short term memory! My life isn’t simple anymore. I’m not having much fun either because my days are ruled by the ‘To-Do List God’. I’m not eating as healthy. When I find that I’m buying paper towels again, it’s a sure barometer of ‘not enough time’.

So, I’m getting back to basics again…I started this evening by dropping a bag of stuff off at the thrift store when I walked the dog. Donating excess stuff feels good and helps somebody, somewhere, I’m certain. I cooked a delicious, healthy meal from scratch, and mostly from the garden, for supper. I’m weaning myself off the statins beginning tonight, and  I will meditate before I go to bed, so that I can begin to lower that blood pressure back to P.C. levels. (That’s ‘pre-cancer’ levels.) I’m going to follow my own advice to ‘just say no’ to anymore obligations for a while. I’m going to read more, nap more, write more, plant more and spend a lot of time on the porch this summer.

porch sitting

May Day! May Day!

“May Day” has several meanings: it is used as an international distress call, as well as a reference to a traditional spring holiday or festival. And since 1886, it’s been used to refer to an international day of worker solidarity and protest, although here in the US it’s rarely recognized in the country in which it began; I’ve seen a lot of ‘May Day’ this week, and thought this first day in May was a good time to discuss some of those things.

First, this week’s distress calls- the election season has begun in earnest this week, the Everest-lowering earthquake split Nepal in two, Baltimore is burning, the dollar nosedived and stocks floundered as the first quarter GDP figures proved once again, that infinite growth is not possible. Good friends are out of work, a family member is suffering mental and financial setbacks while environmental and social injustice continues everywhere I look.

In sharp contrast to those distress signals were signals of hope and change- Monday night Michael and I were part of a large crowd gathered in a nearby park for a peaceful candlelight vigil held the night before the Supreme Court began their deliberations around marriage equality. Tuesday night we were invited to a dessert buffet and beautiful poetry readings- by the poet!- as a thank-you for our volunteer work at the local School of the Arts (it’s the sweetest gig ever to volunteer for this school!). On Wednesday we attended the monthly lunch meeting of our local Community Partnerships coalition, where we not only enjoyed a local food luncheon, we also learned about our city’s lower crime rates, RX drug take-back program, new housing starts for low income families and veterans, Food Co-op development plans and more.

As the week wore on, the spring celebration grew louder: on Thursday we played music for a bunch of doe-eyed preschoolers as they danced magically and wound their tie-dyed streamers around their school-yard May pole.

may pole

This celebratory week we also managed to eat something from our garden every day; from a bumper crop of sweet bunching onions…


to bushels of dark green organic bok choy and collards, fall-stored butternut squash and beets, as well as jars of green beans and tomatoes, all seasoned with sweet smelling herbs, cilantro and garlic, with enough to share with friends and neighbors.

We marveled at the number of robins in our bird bath, as well as the kale, lettuce and peas that’ll soon be ready to eat…


and cheered finally getting our little greenhouse ready to press into service…


Tonight we’ll walk downtown to take part in the Corazon Latino Festival that celebrates the heart of Hispanic culture through storytelling, music, food and dance, then attend a live, outdoor concert in my city’s beautiful new park. Saturday morning we’ll take part in the first “Barefoot in the Park” series of free yoga and tai chi lessons, then drive over the beautiful green springtime mountains to Asheville, NC (only our third time to start the car this week) to attend the annual Herb Festival there. Sunday after church we’ll surely have fun playing for a fundraiser at the local Coffee House and then sharing an authentic Ethiopian dinner with good friends.

How does this post relate to transitioning? If you read the ‘about’ page of this blog, you’ll understand that it was begun as a way to inspire you to re-create a 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. These changes can be made as reactions to external forces beyond our control, with much kicking and screaming I might add, OR by collectively planning and acting early enough to create a way of living that’s significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. In other words, transitioning in a proactive way now to a leaner, simpler and slower life will be gentler and softer for us all in the future. Growing some food, forming bonds of community, or increasing your personal resilience in hundreds of different ways takes time, and doing those things now can be pleasant indeed. Volunteering, voting, rallying, sharing and donating can literally change the world, and is the only thing that will. Waiting until the well runs dry is NOT the time to send out a May Day call of distress, friends. Let’s participate in the possibilities of the ‘spring festival’ of life. Happy May Day friends!

Here’s Your Sign
April 28, 2015, 4:46 PM
Filed under: And Justice for All, Civil Rights | Tags: , , , ,

Occasionally (ok, fairly often) I see problems in our environment, society, political system-you name it- that have obvious origins or solutions. And in case it’s not clearly obvious to you too, I make it my job to point them out. Nice of me I know. It’s a crappy job but somebody’s got to do it.

But this week’s sign isn’t so clear to me. I feel it’s yet another ‘symptom’ of years of oppression suffered by minorities, whether they be African-American, Jewish, Native Americans, or Jesus, since  the same scenes are playing out all over the world and have for thousands of years, but for the sake of this post, I’ll stick with more recent riots…

Selma-April, 1965:


Baltimore-April, 2015


What could I possibly know about oppression? I’m a middle-class white woman, living in one of richest countries in the world! The answer? Nothing. I have seen discrimination up close and personal and it made me want to riot, loot and burn too. But see, I had a wee bit of education and privilege and could articulate my views and emotions. Some of us don’t even have that.

 I think MLK said it best:


We should all listen

Every Day is Earth Day
April 22, 2015, 5:53 PM
Filed under: Earth Day | Tags: , , ,

Don’t get me wrong, April 22nd is special in its’ own right. But honestly folks, we can’t save Mother Earth from destruction by just thinking about it on this date. I know the title of this post is overused, but when my daughter’s best friend from high school posted it on her own Facebook page this morning, and my daughter then reminded her how I would ‘preach it’ every year on this date, it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, it’s NOT overused. Maybe, just maybe, if we can influence our own, and other, generations to remember that innocuous but important little slogan, we’ll actually all to take it to heart. And I still don’t think it’s too late, just a bigger task now.

I recently completed a 6 week discussion course, along with 8 others, called “Seeing Systems: Peace, Justice and Sustainability”. It’s one of the few courses I’ve taken that has had a lasting impact on me. Two weeks after it’s finished, I find I actually miss our weekly discussions and brain storming sessions, the chapter readings and the ‘action items’ the course workbook inspired us to. If I had to recap it, these are the two thoughts the course left me with:

1. We simply cannot have peace, justice and sustainability on this earth and in our lives as long as our Earth is being raped and trashed every second of every day. We are interconnected with every single thing here on Earth and because of that interconnection, we’re ALL part of the problem as well as part of the solution. NOT just on April 22nd.

2. It’s way easier to talk the talk than to walk the talk. I’ve been talking the talk for 45 years. I have tried to walk it too, but somehow, life gets crazy, good intentions get pushed to the background, and suddenly I’m considering buying a Keurig ‘brewing system’! (not really folks, I’m just using that as what I consider one of the WORST current examples of consumerism and environmental pollution that’s on the market; it’s right up there with Hummers)

Those two lasting impressions have left me with a bittersweet taste in my mouth and are pressing on me today especially, leaving me wondering where to go from here? I’m also wondering how does this blog fit in with Earth Day? I’m pretty sure most of my smart readers ‘get the connection’, but in case you haven’t yet, let me spell it out: 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. It is (past) 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. In the transition to that way of living, we’ll inadvertently clean up the earth too.

Since our Earth is a living thing, it has to be cared for like any other living thing. People, plants, mushrooms, rivers, animals, oceans, our beloved Appalachian mountains and even my nemesis, slugs- we’re all living things. If we suck all the life out of our earthly home, there won’t be enough left to support us, much less future generations of slugs or children. My granddaughter called me today to tell me she wants to join the Peace Corps. My heart literally SINGS at the thought of her humanitarianism, and yet breaks in anguish that people all over the world (still) don’t have the basics of food, clean water and safe shelter, much less Keurigs and Hummers. There’s no peace, justice or sustainability in that for millions of humans.


P.S. Let’s stop being like the abusive partner that sends flowers. I am chairperson for my local Livable Communities group. I plan to propose to our group at our next meeting that we begin the process and work to have Styrofoam banned in our town. Is that possible? Didn’t we live well before the advent of this product that takes 1 million years to decompose, kills millions of birds, fish and mammals each year and is made from petroleum? Let the work begin!

Frugal Friday- and life is good

“There are as many ways to be frugal as there are things to spend money on”~Sam J.

Being frugal is far different from being cheap. Don’t let anyone accuse you of being cheap because you choose to live within your means. Michael and I were able to retire at age 55 and 47, respectively, because we saw a simple, frugal life as our ticket to freedom. We had no idea then that our lives would become so amazingly RICH by doing so! Good health, good food, good friends and lots of music are the keys to our good life. With no debt and money in the bank, it’s no longer necessary to be so frugal, but we wouldn’t live any other way now. This week’s examples:

Monday: It was a warm and sunny day that I spent outside. I hung the wet clothes out first, then harvested a couple of heads of organic bok choy from my garden…


then washed and vacuumed my car, saving at least $8 in the process. Afterwards, I drove my dirty old truck (pick your battles!) to a friend’s little horse farm, just 5 miles away, and picked up a load of free manure to add to the compost piles that we’re building for next fall…

20150417_131336[1]IIsn’t this beautiful? Is this finally the answer to the age old question of “how much is a shitload?”

By the way, make sure if you get hay, manure or compost from someone that you first ask what’s in it. Ask if the hay was treated with herbicides, what kind of diet the animal was fed, etc. The herbalist that I went to hear speak last night reminded us all of this issue. If livestock eats hay that has been treated while growing with an herbicide, it could remain in the poop, and destroy your garden for up to 4 years after you apply it. Mother Earth News did extensive reporting on this ‘killer compost’ a few years ago and I’m certain it can be a problem.

The day was still warm and sunny when I got home from the farm so I weeded my strawberry beds and top-dressed with some safe, home-made compost. I really love knowing where my food comes from and to me, that’s priceless.


Tuesday: I’d planned to solar-cook some dried Anasazi beans (“Ancient Ones” – really means “Expensive Ones“) that were given to me as a gift, but it just wasn’t sunny enough to do that so I put them in the crockpot along with some peppers, garlic, onions and tomatoes, all from last year’s garden, then added a bit of cumin, salt and pepper and served it all over leftover rice, with fresh collards from THIS year’s garden on the side. Lordy it was soo good and only cost pennies for us to eat twice, with enough left to share!

Anasazi beans

Wednesday:   A cool, rainy day prompted me to finish drying the orange and tangelo peels that I’d been saving all winter on top of the gas stove before the pilot is extinguished for the summer. The dried peels are full of oils and make excellent fire starters for this summer’s campfires. We didn’t get to go camping at all last summer because of Michael’s cancer treatments, but that’s about to change!


Thursday:   I attended a free presentation on “Growing Medicinal Herbs” at the local Community Center. The presenter was extremely knowledgeable, personable and offered her audience lots of good tips and advice and a nice handout. I’ve already got my new herb bed ‘lined out’ in the backyard. I love culinary herbs but medicinal herbs could be a lifesaver in hard times!


Friday:  I finally got my swarm trap set up in the backyard today. There’s a small vial of honeybee ‘pheromone’ attached to the inside, and I’ve found the perfect place to put it-right beside an evergreen tree and facing East. I’m hoping to attract a homeless swarm and forgo the expense of buying a package of bees and their queen. This method was how old time beekeepers added to their apiaries each year, so I thought I’d try it too. Wish me luck!


This weekend I plan to meet new friends in the One Acre Cafe’s community garden plot to help weed it before we plant it next weekend, go to the library’s book sale, take a bike ride on the new Tweetsie Trail, attend the opening day of the Farmer’s Market, have a barbeque and play some music with friends,  and start filling that new growing bed we finally built in the greenhouse with that truckload of manure. Life is good.


Here’s Your Sign
April 9, 2015, 8:41 PM
Filed under: Climate Change | Tags: , ,

This blog normally has three overarching categories that I write about: frugality, food gardening and community. All the other topics seem to fit pretty neatly into one of those three. But there are other topics I’d like to cover that don’t fit so neatly into any of those familiar three. And since this is my blog, I’ve decided to start a new category called “Here’s Your Sign”.

Years ago a comedian started a very funny line of jokes with that punch line, but my posts with this title won’t be funny, for the most part. They’ll be short and sweet, just like the jokes, but the punch line will always be the same…

To start things off, I wanted to call your attention to the plight of the thousands of starving and stranded sea lion pups that are washing up on the shores of Southern California. Experts say that warmer ocean waters have disrupted their food supply, forcing their mothers to abandon them as they go further and further out to sea to find food. The pups, mostly weighing about 20 pounds when they should weight 3 to 4 times that, are helpless and weak and are washing ashore. National Marine Fisheries Services are overwhelmed and are only able to tube feed a small number of the doe-eyed pups.


Ben Stein On Fox News: “Despite What Global Warming Terrorists Will Tell Us, The Science Is Not Clear On Climate Change.” Here’s your effin’ sign Mr. Stein!

Frugal Friday- April 3, 2015
April 3, 2015, 3:37 PM
Filed under: Frugality | Tags: , , ,

The old adage that says “When It Rains It Pours” has proven to be true at my house lately. From the 15,000 mile check up and oil change on our car that cost us $400 (but is necessary to qualify for the 200,000 mile warranty that is ours if we do the required checkups), to replacing my eyeglasses that literally broke in two with no warning whatsoever last week, we’ve had our share of large expenses lately. We used internet coupons for both the car ($75) and the glasses ($30) which I printed on the backs of ‘old’ pages. Michael’s laptop had been having trouble for weeks, and finally became too unstable to use. It was tempting to purchase a new one, they’ve come down so much in price since he purchased the current one. Instead we walked it to a nearby repair shop that had been recommended by a friend, and for $100 the shop owner backed everything up, erased it completely, then reloaded all the software and files. He also CLEANED it, so now it performs and looks like it did when it was new.

I had to have a crown put on a molar, but insurance paid for half of that, leaving me with ONLY $350 to pay. My monthly dental insurance premiums through the hated-by-most but loved-by-me Obama Care is only $21.00, and covers 2 cleanings a year, plus xrays and 50% off most major dental work.

Luckily, we are able to cover all these larger than normal expenses without pulling out the credit cards by being frugal with all the smaller expenses in our daily lives. I am forever grateful for hard financial lessons learned earlier in life that allows us to have breathing room now that we’re retired. No amount is too small to consider saving. Like the quarter I found on the sidewalk while walking the dog on…

Monday: Would you pass up a quarter?


Tuesday: I received the refund check for expenses I had during my trip to Selma last month. Read about it here. Savings: $128.96!


Wednesday: I enjoyed going to the Environmental Film Festival held at the local university. Admission was free and the films were excellent! Free cookies and tea during the intermission, along with visiting a nice variety of environmentally-friendly exhibitor booths made this a really pleasant evening. Did I mention it was all free? I’m planning to ride my bike to events that I attend there this summer-it’s only a little over a mile away!. Parking is always a hassle, so that will solve the problem AND prolong that 25,000 mile ‘required’ checkup on the car.

Thursday: I harvested the last of the winter collards, spinach and kale, making space for the new plants that are replacing them in my home garden. I seasoned them with home grown garlics and mild ‘bunching onions’ that are still bunching and bunching. Fresh from the garden, organic produce is priceless. Literally. Did I tell you that a half pound of organic, locally grown kale was selling recently for $3.99? Yeah, a half pound; making the one pound bag you see in the front bag (below) comparatively worth $8.00. Just for the kale.


Friday:  I did something today that my mom used to do… I put some stale crackers on a baking sheet and recrisped them by ‘baking’ them in a 250 degree oven for about 10 minutes. It works! (and I thought they were better than when new). We ate them with the scant two cups of leftover chipoltle black bean soup, and rounded out the impromptu meal with the last 2 slices of cantaloupe and the remaining apple juice mixed with the last dregs of cranberry juice, which also made a better-than-when-new drink. Lunch-of-leftovers was fabulous! No food waste=priceless!

Sometimes being frugal means more than ‘saving’ money and in my case, it often means not spending any to begin with. This week I downloaded a free sewing machine manual for my daughter’s ‘found’ machine, did some minor sewing repairs with my own machine, hung clothes on the line to dry instead of using the dryer, cooked all our meals using what we had on hand, DIDN’T go to Target just because I had a 30% off coupon, transplanted a bunch of veggie starts into my garden that we started from $2 or $3 worth of seed; when mature they should easily yield about $50-$75 worth of good organic food for us. It IS the little things that can add up to help us cover the big things when we need to. As mama used to say, “Money doesn’t grow on trees you know!” Yes Mom, we know…

money tree

Vegucation: A Vegetable Growing Primer

Growing food is THE best way that I know of to create a resilient and prosperous household. We all eat, most of us three times a day. And we all know by now that the bulk of our calories should come from fruits and veggies. So why not improve your health and  your wealth, while learning what I call a valuable ‘life skill’? It’s a real vegucation!

I thought it might be helpful to if I passed on some new things I’ve learned about growing spring vegetables. So, for what it’s worth:

1.    20150401_163220[1]

2. Remember the cold snap that I tried to prepare for over the weekend? I covered half my cabbages with overturned coffee cans, and when they ran out, I covered the other half with a tarp. The cans clearly did a better job of protecting them.

Before Freeze:


After freeze:


The bok choy on the left was the section covered with a tarp. See how badly it got bit by the cold? The ones on the right are fine!

3. Don’t plant things too close together, especially if your soil is deficient in nutrition…


4. Learn to identify things you don’t understand. That’s why God made the Internet after all. In this picture, I kinda figured the root on this tomato I pulled out last year didn’t look quite ‘right’…

20141015_133838I sent this image to a state extension agent late last fall, and then forgot about it as we moved into winter. I got a recent email from him telling me it was ‘root knot nematodes’. Some organic control methods include increased sanitation and fertilization, solarization of the soil, increase of organic matter, letting the bed lie fallow for a season and planting resistant varieties. I’ve been gardening for many years and had never seen this in my beds but I pass it on to you as simply a part of your own vegucation.

5. EAT WHAT YOU HARVEST (or, in some cases, eat whatever comes in your CSA!)  PLAN YOUR MEALS AROUND IT AND LEARN TO USE IT IN MULTIPLE WAYS! Some day, I’m going to write that seasonal cookbook I’ve been dreaming about for several years. That didn’t happen today, but I did try a Hungarian-inspired recipe that used up some ‘seen better days’ potatoes, cellar-stored beets, cabbage, carrots, beans and more. I piled it all in my solar cooker this morning and the veggies were tender in 6 hours, giving me plenty of time to work in the garden, run errands and write this post.  I love the caraway flavor in this stew! Can I grow caraway in my herb bed? I don’t know, but I think I’ll increase my ‘vegucation’ to find out.


(Solar Reflections of Hungarian Stew)

Nothing New Under the Sun
March 28, 2015, 9:18 AM
Filed under: Adapting to Change, Resilience | Tags: , , ,

Each year by April I’m threatening to quit gardening, to start buying canned beans at the grocery store and to throw my vegetable trimmings into the garbage can instead of into the compost bucket. I’m a week early this year. Those long, lazy days of winter are but a memory now and have been replaced with long days of ‘getting the garden in’. But because this cyclic turning guides my life and keeps my spirit buoyed, I guess I’ll be gardening in the courtyard of my nursing home eventually.

Even when work awaits me, there’s something about the warm sun and the greening of Earth that calls me to ‘come out and play’. I get so caught up in it that before I know it, I’ve overdone it. This feeling of being physically tired is a renewed sensation in my body, and one that feels good at the end of the day. I’m sure you can relate, whether you’re a gardener, or a ball player, a golfer or a biker.

Sometimes pictures tell a story faster and better than I can so I think I’ll just give you a pictoral of what we’ve been working on this week…


The ‘Fall Grower’s Mix’ that was broadcast as a cover crop was thick and lush and needed to be trimmed before it could be turned under with the broadfork…


This “Meadow Creature” Broadfork is our new favorite tool and has finally helped us reach a new level of sustainability by not having to till! With long steel tines, its’ silent, human-powered operation prepared a deeply prepared bed in no time, perfect for planting the potatoes…


As well as a bed for  transplanting the cabbages and bok choi into…


…which I then had to cover last night to protect from the impending cold snap!


The weather was so beautiful that I was inspired to start hanging out the clothes again, which helped opened a conversation with a neighbor concerning ‘building a new model of living’. I like that phrase and you’ll likely see it again in this blog.


The neighborly conversation has left me reflecting on the whole concept of resilience. It is often defined as relating to somehow “bouncing back” from a crisis, a somewhat silly notion in the context of the ‘New Normal’ of climate change, energy scarcity and the impending end of the age of economic growth. We can’t ‘bounce back’ even if we wanted to.  Resilience is defined as: “The capacity of a system, enterprise, or a person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances”. 

Growing food and hanging clothes out to dry is nothing new under the sun. But isn’t it wonderful that those ‘old’ ways of doing things still offer the same promise of good health and resilience in 2015 that they have for centuries? See you in the garden!

Frugal Friday: Or, ”It Never Hurts to Ask” – March 20, 2015
March 20, 2015, 12:48 PM
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

I think we all know that traveling can not only be a wonderful escape from our daily lives, it can also burn holes in your wallet and tends to make your normal diet and exercise routines go to hell in a hand basket. I told you before I left for my trip to Selma that I’d share with you some ways that I found to keep more money in my pocket while having a fabulous time. It can happen, but THIS trip was a bit ‘out of the ordinary’, even for me 😉

When I first heard about the Selma-to-Montgomery March anniversary, I knew tiny Selma wouldn’t be prepared for the onslaught of 80 thousand people so I didn’t delay searching online for a suitable hotel room. Along with the other 79,999 folks doing the same thing. What I found was a room at the Bates Selma Motel for $52 a night. They had 4 rooms left the day I made my online reservation a month ahead, and I wondered why THEY did when it seemed NO ONE else did. My brother worked there throughout high school, so I remembered the place and knew it was going to be very, shall we say, BASIC, but I was happy to find it. I only made the reservation for one night though, thinking that if it was awful, I wouldn’t be committed to two nights. I was flying by the seat of my pants in thinking I’d find a place for the second night so RJ and I took our sleeping bags and pillows in case we had to sleep under the stars.

10 days before I was scheduled to leave I got a call from the executive offices of Wyndham Resorts, the company that handles reservations for that motel, informing me that my reservation ‘had been canceled’. WHAT?!!!?? I knew immediately that they had figured out that the $52 I was paying could be at least tripled, so I let my anger and frustration be known to the poor ‘messenger’ from that company. I decided it wouldn’t benefit me at all to get nasty though, so I quickly ‘made a friend’ of the caller. She took pity on me and offered to help me find a room elsewhere, using her reservation software, promising to call me back the following day. She called, but could only find a SMOKING room with one bed, a 45 minutes drive from Selma. After discussing the issues I had with that for a few minutes, she offered to pay the difference between the two rooms, which was significant. I reluctantly agreed but in those few minutes of conversation that smoking room had been booked. She then found me a room over an hour away, and after she listened to my good-humored complaints about time, gas mileage, etc. she offered to reimburse me for the room and the mileage between Selma and the new hotel. On the day after I returned from my trip, she called back as promised and gave me a number to fax my receipts to, and then offered to pay for any parking fees I’d had to pay ($10) plus my gas for the trip! SU- WHEET! I sent receipts for about $150 which I’ll receive within the next week. So essentially, the trip only cost me the original $52. But this travel tale gets even better…

Because this sweet representative of a company that does bad business WAS so sweet, and because I let her know I didn’t hold her personally responsible, we were able to really ‘connect’ during our phone conversations. It turns out she has a brother that lives in Alabama, and after I told her all about my trip and the history behind it all, she and her husband are now planning their own trip from their South Dakota home to visit her brother and Selma! (I advised her against making reservations with Wyndham Resorts). At the end of our conversation, she offered to enroll me in the ‘Wyndham Rewards Program’. I’m sure you’re familiar with similar programs where you earn ‘points’ that you can use for future room discounts or other perks. I declined, telling her I rarely travel so I knew I wouldn’t be able to collect points. Instead, she offered to set up my account with 10,000 points automatically! I agreed, the process was seamless and I then used 6,500 of those points to order a $25 Amazon gift card for Michael’s birthday! The card arrived yesterday, right on time. He was quite pleased because now he can order music or books of his choice, and I’m tickled purple about how all of this turned out. So, the trip and the birthday gift didn’t cost me anything, and I gained a new friend in South Dakota.  priceless.


What about that second night of no place to stay? Karma was with me on this trip… a friend from my UU church here in NE TN, traveled to Selma with her daughter and was staying at a very nice Hyatt RESORT hotel 90 miles away, in Birmingham. HER hotel stay was being paid for using credit card ‘rewards points’ and since it wasn’t costing her anything, she insisted that we stay with her, at no cost, in their suite. Yeah, it was sweet too. (Thanks Cindi!)  A free breakfast came with BOTH hotels, so we loaded up on calories in the mornings, and only had to buy our dinners on Saturday night because of yet another kindness shown to us…on Sunday night after the march, the UU Church in Montgomery invited any and all marchers to their church for dinner and music. The congregants were warm and inviting, the meal was fabulous, the folky/ social justice singing was led by a talented singer/guitarist and all I had to do was follow my friend there from Selma, which was on the way to Birmingham anyway! 

I realize these money savers I’m telling you about were probably a once in a lifetime occurrence, but there were other little things we did that added up to some nice savings but didn’t cut into our fun at all. On Friday before we left town, I had filled up my car for 30 cents off per gallon, using my daughter’s “gas rewards card” (who knew about all these rewards offers??) saving $4.50 on 15 gallons. I packed ‘snack bags’ of hard boiled eggs, almonds and fruit, along with juice and water in refillable bottles so we didn’t have to pay for overpriced, unhealthy food along the way. OK, full disclosure here: we DID compromise our own principles and bought McDonald’s sweet tea for 99 cents along the way, but I even got a free refill a few towns down the road by simply asking if I could. Ironically, the man that gave me permission to do that was standing directly in front of the sign that stated “No refills from previous visits”, proving that it never hurts to ask. Bringing our own snacks and food gave us the opportunity to pull off wherever we found pleasant spots to eat and stretch our legs. Not having to listen to FOX news in fast food restaurants was priceless too. Just sayin...

I resisted the temptation to buy souvenirs, but took many many pictures that will serve as remembrances of this special time and place. Here’s my favorite, taken of a gentleman that had marched behind Martin Luther King fifty years before. Edward Kidd is my new hero:


Have a great, frugal weekend!

Carry On Warriors
March 17, 2015, 10:54 PM
Filed under: A New Paradigm, Adapting to Change, And Justice for All | Tags: , , ,

Ordinarily I use this blog to offer ideas that my readers in Tennessee (and beyond!) might embrace to help them cultivate resilience at home and in their communities. I have tried to emphasize in my writing that a positive vision must be held alongside all of the abysmal events unfolding around us. Even as I have been insistent on staring down the end of the world as we’ve known it, I have embraced at the same time, what could be, and have held in my mind and heart the threads of the new paradigm that so many of us are working to create. 

On March 8th, my best friend and I drove down to my hometown of Selma, Alabama to take part in the 50th anniversary celebration of the ‘Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights March’. The events of the weekend are still resounding deeply within me, and I find that whenever I try to talk with people about it, I get emotional and tear up. After a week of inner processing, I’ve come to the conclusion that what thousands of us glimpsed there was that new paradigm that I envision, and it has left me humbled and touched beyond mere words. This post isn’t about how to save money, or compost your waste or grow a cabbage or cut down on your energy needs. But it IS definitely  relevant within the realm of transitioning. I hope my readers will be able to “see through my eyes” the positive transitions that I saw so clearly in Selma.

The everyday world, that for many Americans, is filled with social injustice and inequality, racism, fear, oppression and poverty, became a better world for all of us that weekend. The reenactment that traced the steps of those 300 brave, brave souls that had crossed the Edmund Pettus bridge over the Alabama River back in 1965, held no sense of anger or despair, but was instead a celebration of peace and hope. Among the estimated 80,000 people that made the pilgrimage with us, we witnessed no drug use or drinking, heard no profanity nor saw any violence.  As two white women in a sea of black, we felt completely safe and encompassed by a love that continues to hold me high almost 2 weeks later. The speakers and sermons were filled with encouragement and lessons of love. The former white’s-only church I had attended as a girl, now proudly held blacks and whites side-by-side in her pews that Sunday morning. Gone were the ‘White Only’ signs on drinking fountains and bathrooms and cafe doors. President Obama’s 40 minute long, self-written speech, was positive and poignant, and left echoes of continued calls to action in our ears and on our hearts. President and Mrs. Bush, the governor of Alabama the mayor of Selma, congressmen and more were moved to tears by his words.

Martin Luther King had his dreams and I have mine. Even though the ‘Selma’ vision of equality and peace may differ slightly from the ‘Transition’ vision of localization, healthy and vibrant communities and alternative economies that I dream of, the possibilities are the same.  After witnessing the transformations in my little southern hometown, I see now, first hand, that anything is possible. Carry on warriors.


Frugal Friday- March 6, 2015

As my girlfriend and I prepare to leave for the 50 year anniversary celebration of the Civil Rights Selma-to-Montgomery March being held in my hometown of Selma this weekend, I’m doing so with an eye towards making the trip comfortable and memorable, without blowing my budget. I’ve carefully printed out maps, directions, reservations and itineraries on the backs of ‘recycled’ paper, I made a trip to the discount grocery to stock up on made-to-travel food and snacks, I’ve prefrozen a bag of ice cubes to fill my cooler (rather than purchasing a bag of ice), and I’ve gotten my pretrip oil change using a coupon for $10 off. I’ll tell  you all about the trip when I return, along with the unusual way I saved money on my deluxe hotel room.

I’m still focusing on the here and now though, and finding ways to ‘save’ each and every day. Saving money doesn’t always mean a coupon or a sale. It often involves not spending money to begin with. For example:

Monday: I love Bacon Bits on my salads, and we eat a lot of salads. But I don’t love the fat and cholesterol they contain, nor the cost. I tried a new ‘recipe’ for Vegan Baco’s this week and estimate the whole jar cost about 50 cents ( mostly for the TVP crumbles) and is lots healthier than store-bought. I kid you not….they taste just as good too!


Better’n Baco’s

1 Cup water
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup BBQ sauce
4 Tbls. maple syrup
1 Tbls. tamari or soy sauce
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/4 cup TVP crumbles

Combine everything except the TVP and bring mixture to a boil.  Add TVP and let soak for 5-10 minutes.  If not all the liquid has been absorbed you can strain it. (Note: I had to strain mine through a fine sieve)   Spread TVP on baking sheet.  Bake at 350, stir every 5 minutes or so, just to be on the safe side.  They will darken and start to get crunchy.  The official recipe says it’ll take 20 minutes, stir it once after 10 minutes. I use probably half that much oil, and sometimes BBQ sauce or whatever sauce you are using is sweet enough, no maple syrup needed.  Maple syrup is a precious thing, so I added a bit of maple extract though, only because I had it on hand. I’ll try maple flavored syrup next time too, just to see if there’s any difference.

Tuesday: I wrote a few weeks ago that we’d started seeds indoors, under lights, for our cool season veggies. They’d gotten large enough to transplant into larger pots, so I LOVED working in the greenhouse this week doing that work. Now  I’ve begun the hassle of carrying the trays in and out of the house for a little bit longer each day so they’ll be properly hardened off before they’re planted into the garden beds. When I look at these trays and trays of green seedlings, I can visualize the fully grown vegetables and all the fabulous meals they’ll be a part of: bok choy, red and green cabbages, onions, parsley, cauliflower, broccoli and more. I also planted some lettuce and cilantro seeds under the Sugar Snap teepee that’ll eventually form over them, giving them some cooler shade to grow in. Later in the day I read an article that said new research shows that a bacterium found in soil may stimulate serotonin production, which makes you relaxed and happier. Studies were conducted on cancer patients and they reported a better quality of life and less stress. Savings on food costs, psychotherapy and health? Priceless!


Wednesday: I finally received the refund I’d requested from the HVAC company I’d had come out to do a checkup on my heat pump. I felt I was overcharged, so I made 3 phone calls and wrote a few emails, and got the overage charges back that I deserved! Be persistent if you know you’re right. It pays…$49.50 to be exact!


Thursday: This cold day found me with the whole day free of obligations. We had friends over for supper and music, but because I’d premade a large pot of Turkey Tortilla Soup from the last dregs of the Christmas turkey and then frozen it, all I had to do was thaw the soup and make ginger slaw and cornbread to go with it, using ingredients I had on hand. I splurged and purchased a frozen Boston Creme Pie at the discount grocery to have for dessert. It was originally $9.97 and I got it for $2.49. It was fabulous! After supper we went to the coffee house and enjoyed almost 3 hours of fabulous live music for the price of two cups of chai tea and a tip for the band. How do  you put a price on good friends, good food and good music?


Friday: I took my daughter to  an early doctor’s appointment at the clinic, and from there we had to run several errands. I’ve learned to pack snacks and drinks for us, to avoid eating the vending machine food crap in the lobby, or buying fast food. Last summer I canned many jars of homemade V-8 juice and I always take some for us to sip on while we wait, along with peanut butter and graham cracker ‘sammiches’, and clementines or bananas to snack on. The V-8 in the machines are $1.50 for a little tiny can of the stuff and I like mine better. We dropped off shoes at the local ‘cobbler’ shop to have them repaired, Michael and I took advantage of the warmer weather to wash the salt off the car at the quarter car wash, and we made a pot of Louisiana Lima Bean Soup, made from my homegrown dried Hopi lima beans, for supper tonight. Oh my, it is sooo good!


Folks, I hope that  you can find space in your life to make time to grow a little food, play a little music, visit with friends and family or make some good soup. Transitioning to a lower energy, lower economic and simpler way of life has allowed me better health, more money and a peace of mind that a consumer-based lifestyle could never match. Have a great weekend!

Am I the Only One?

Many of our country’s major newspapers ran articles on Friday about how the federal government won’t be sending any reservoir water thru the 500 miles of canals to the Central Valley of California this year for farmers that produce in ‘the nation’s food basket’. Again. Last year, many farmers uprooted orchards or tapped unregulated ground water wells. UNREGULATED GROUNDWATER WELLS concern me, nearly as much as no water. Here’s a blurb from climate.gov, a science and information website: “In California’s San Joaquin Valley, so much water is being pumped from the ground that the land surface itself is subsiding, as many news reports have documented. The Valley is California’s top agricultural producing region, producing much of the nation’s grapes, nuts, and vegetables, and hosting three-quarters of the state’s dairy cows.” I lived in the San Joaquin Valley for over two years, and have seen firsthand the endless oceans of crops that are grown there. No water? Am I the only one that worries about this stuff?


But enough about water wars. Let’s turn our focus to nuclear war. Specifically, the ‘deal’ that’s being negotiated between Iran, the US and its’ allies. My friends aren’t discussing this, I’m not seeing Facebook posts about it, my local leaders nor my local newspaper are touching it. Am I the only one that worries about this stuff?

Vaccines, computer hacking, ebola and crime seem to be highest on American’s minds, according to recent Gallup polls. I’ll admit, all of those things are rather ominous, but they pale in comparison, in my mind anyway, to water scarcity and nuclear proliferation. Am I the only one that worries about this stuff?

Obviously I can’t spend my life worrying about these things, but I can take certain actions to protect myself by carefully safeguarding my health and my private information, by not traveling to Africa (darn it!), and by not frequenting bars at 2 AM. Keeping my phone and computer updated with appropriate anti-hacking/virus software is doable, even for a computer novice like myself.  But as I learn to transition to a different world from the one I’ve grown older in, I’ll increase my efforts this year to capture rainwater, save seeds, decrease my energy usage, and teach myself about herbal  medicine. Am I the only one that worries about this stuff?


Frugal Friday- February 27, 2015

Snow and cold weather continue to hang on here in NE TN, but I’m still enjoying the slower, quieter pace of life it brings. I’m one of the lucky folks that ‘never gets bored’. Add to that the fact that I’m retired and don’t have to get out and fight the weather conditions unless I really want to, and I’m one of perhaps three other people in this corner of the state that’s okay with it. The forecast for tomorrow is much nicer, and by next weekend when I leave for my trip, it’s gonna be beautiful! We plan to use this weekend to finally get our greenhouse set up with a workbench and shelves so we can transplant our  tender seedlings into bigger pots as they too wait for warmer weather to go into the garden.


All that is to say that it’s pretty darn easy to not spend money when you don’t get out much. We did stop in Aldi’s twice this week though while we were out and about, and BOTH times found carts that had been left out of the quarter-returning-cart-corral. We put those ‘found’ quarters  in each of our vehicles so we’ll always have one available for our own cart, regardless of which we’re driving at the time. Savings: 50 cents. Remember folks, I grew up with parents who were both children of the depression and for better or for worse, their lessons about money and frugality have stuck with me. “A penny saved is a penny earned” and all that… anyway, this week we found opportunities each and every day to remain true to our values. Frugality is a lifestyle for us, just like partying might be for others, or meditation is for monks. Our chosen lifestyle allowed us the financial freedom for me to have retired in my late 40’s and Michael in his mid-50’s, to have no debt whatsover now, and to have choices that we’d never have otherwise. I write about it here because I’m so enamored of it, I want others to experience it as well. I honestly hope you enjoy reading these posts as much as I enjoy finding quarters in the Aldi’s parking lot.

Monday: We delivered posters for the local university’s ‘School of the Arts’ because we feel it’s a great way to support their work here locally, and of course, because we can sometimes earn tickets to attend events we might not otherwise get to see. Last week’s live play and next month’s Ricky Skaggs concert are plenty of incentive to drive around on cold days to do this. While we were out, we stopped in the new “Spice World” store; they carry Indian foods and spices that you won’t find other places and are very reasonable in price too. While there, Michael picked up a large bunch of cilantro for only 50 cents! (there’s that 50 cents again folks-no amount is too small, it all adds up) We’ve enjoyed several meals this week planned around that sudden windfall and shared them with a hungry young couple that is struggling to make ends meet. I wouldn’t be able to do that if I was struggling financially too.


Tuesday: I had ordered a 25% off book and it arrived in a manila mailer. This time, there were $1.20 worth of stamps on it that had not been canceled out by the post office sorting machinery. If you found $1.20 on the ground, would you leave it there? How about 50 cents?


Wednesday: Yet another cold, snowy day. When life gives you snow, make stock! I’ve written about this process several times so I won’t bore you again but it’s the ultimate money-saving strategy if you’re cooking lots of your meals from scratch, and if you save the onion, celery, carrot trimmings and mushroom stems in the freezer that  you’ll surely accumulate from that way of cooking. Then, if you use reusable canning lids, this great-tasting and healthy stock costs pennies per quart for a few peppercorns, bay leaves and dried herbs. In addition to the 8 quarts it made, I saved about $24 over the price of store bought organic broth for those quarts, AND I got this free print called “When Life Gives You Snow…”.


Thursday: I don’t know about you, but we always seem to have paper that fits our printer that has only been printed on one side. Because most of what I print are recipes, music lyrics or other ‘unimportant’ stuff, we’ve gotten in the grand habit of keeping already-used-once-paper in the hopper. Reusing barely-used sheets of paper for this kind of printing has greatly reduced our need for buying reams of new paper, saving money, trees and more!


Friday: Another trip to Aldi’s this morning, to purchase on-sale popcorn, yielded the second quarter find. When we’d shopped there last week with our last $10-off coupon, they didn’t have anything but the microwavable kind. That stuff is 20x the price of the bags of kernels, produces a lot of extra wrapping that can’t be recycled and contains a nasty chemical that’s implicated in Alzheimer’s disease.  (My mother died of that horrible disease so it’s a ‘no brainer’ (pun intended) for me to pop my own) On our way OUT of the store last Friday, we picked up a flyer for this week’s sales. The very popcorn I  wanted is on sale this week. So tonight  I’ll enjoy some freshly popped corn and sip on some organic apple juice, also bought on sale, while watching this week’s epidsode of Downton Abbey on Netflix. I’ll admit, I’m a cheep date and even sing about it with friends from Thistle Dew on this CD!

I’m happy to say I’ve influenced Michael over the years too. He has learned to mark his calendar a week before our on-going 6 month Sirius radio agreement expires, and then calls to cancel it before our credit card gets dinged for another 6 months. Come May, the new car we bought will be 2 years old, and it came with this satellite radio wonder installed free for the first 3 months. We fell in love with it, but when it was time to renew, they wanted some crazy amount each month for it so we called to discontinue it then and were offered increasingly lower offers until they came down to the price we were willing to pay to keep it, which is $5 a month. Almost two years later, we’re still paying that price. When he called to discontinue the service today, the first offer was $89 for the next 6 months. After 3 increasingly lower offers, the operator met our same old price of $5. I’ll be traveling next weekend and will truly enjoy having that along the way. Savings: $64.00!

I hope you won’t let opportunities to save slip by you. Learn to recognize ‘wants’ from ‘needs’ and that will eliminate a lot of unnecessary expenses in your life. Sirius radio is NOT a need, but a nice luxury that is now affordable with just a bit of gentle haggling. You can’t haggle at retail outlets on the things you do need, but by watching for sales, stocking up to take best advantage of them, and by reusing, repurposing, and refusing what you don’t really need, you can win the money game too! Who knows? You may find two quarters to rub together!

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