Tennesseetransitions


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?  ;)

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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.

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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…

Before…

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After…

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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!

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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…

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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. 

Save!

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!

less-is-more



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

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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?

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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.”

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 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’…

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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!

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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:

drought_3

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

drought

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.

Over-watering



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.” 

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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…

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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!

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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!

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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! 

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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…

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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

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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…

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

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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:

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Baltimore-April, 2015

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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:

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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?

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

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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.

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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…

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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:

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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:

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After freeze:

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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…

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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.

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(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…

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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…

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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…

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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?

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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!

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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…”.

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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!

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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!



Warming Up to ‘New’ Ideas
February 22, 2015, 7:48 PM
Filed under: Adapting to Change, Unconventional Heating Methods | Tags:

Have I ever mentioned that this blog is written to encourage us to find ways to live well on less, including less energy? In my personal efforts to transition to a lower energy lifestyle, I’m exploring ways of staying warm without the comfort of a constantly running heat pump. This past week was a challenge, but look at me! I lived to tell about it. (And yes, I’m well aware of the irony of ‘writing’ about this topic, using coal-generated electricity to do so. What can I say?)

I read an article during last week’s Arctic blast reminding me that, before the advent of central heating, the only method of staying warm was to heat the person, not the air. The article described wing-backed chairs and four poster beds with heavy drapes for increasing comfort, as well as pans filled with hot coals to warm the bed. Hot water bottles and room screens placed behind furniture to ‘enclose’ the heat from a fireplace added to our ancestors arsenal of stay-warm tricks. I have no desire to revert back to toasting front, and then back, in front of a fireplace. Not only are fireplaces terribly inefficient, but we’ve simply come too far with technology to go back that far.

That said, I still think it’s important to reduce our energy needs as much as possible, while we still have that option. My number one way of staying warm is to wear Cuddle Duds. I know that’s a brand name, and I’m sure there are others, but the soft and thin insulating qualities of their shirts and pants allows me to wear them with ease under my clothes, while keeping me extremely warm without the added bulk and binding that the old fashioned ‘thermal’ or ‘waffle-weave’ long underwear had. Adding thin fingerless gloves and thick socks with soft shoes kept me comfortable throughout the day, even with the furnace turned quite low or off completely.

Space heaters also saved the day during the frigid days of last week. The new infra-red heaters are energy efficient, light weight and easy to move from room to room. They provide instant heat to the bathroom and by taking our showers back-to-back, the second person is lucky enough to feel like they’re in a steam room! Our flat top oil-filled radiant-style heater is more efficient for long periods of heating. I have one of those in my north facing kitchen that I turn on about 30 minutes before meal prep begins and turn it off as soon as the last dish is washed. I’m also finding the top of the heater is excellent for drying cast iron pots before storing them away, preheating water for a cup of tea or washing dishes, and when I turn it off, the lower residual heat is useful for very quickly drying wet gloves or dish towels.

heaterWe’re very fortunate to have an attractive gas stove insert in our living room fireplace which not only puts out amazing heat but allows us to see the flames, which provides a warming effect all on their own. This stove has become our go-to source of heat, enabling us to use the central heat pump only occasionally.

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This stove offers me great peace of mind too, knowing that if electric service is interrupted during winter storms, we’ll still be warm. We heated with wood for ten years before moving to our urban home and loved every btu of it, but the clean, easy heat of natural gas is a great alternative.   

I’ve found I can deal with heating only the room I’m in, rather than the whole house, and doing so saves enough energy and money to make it worthwhile. Of course doing so leaves the surrounding rooms cooler but that’s where the space heaters come in. We’ve grown accustomed to sleeping in a cool/cold bedroom and I’ve read it’s actually healthier for us. Many years ago I made a bunch of lavender and barley-filled pillows that we heat in the microwave, and then place under the covers before we climb into bed. Between thermal blankets, those warm pillows and the cat, we stay plenty co-zee with no heat source in the house at all while we sleep.

We also keep small ‘lap’ blankets in our favorite living room chairs and they too make a lot of difference in our comfort level when we’re reading, watching a movie or writing blog posts, for example. I’ve found if they’re kept within arm’s reach we use them a lot but if we have to get up for them, not as much. I tire of the draped-over-the-furniture look all the time, but such is a lower-energy life.

Opening (and closing!) curtains as the sun travels across the sky accomplishes two things simultaneously: it allows any available sun to enter the room, helping to heat the room as it does, but it also reinforces our oft- repeated promise to one another that “we REALLY need to wash these windows”! (We’ve made a pact to do that as soon as it warms up a leetle bit more!)

Our 115 year old house is solid, but last winter I made sand-filled draft dodgers from old curtains to use under the doors of the under-stairs and attic cubby holes. They work very well, and I already had the sand, but if I made more, I’d fill them with kitty litter instead, because of it’s lighter weight.

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Roll-up shades that practically stick to the windows when pulled down are installed in the kitchen and the music room. We pull them down every night at dusk and if we forget, the colder temps always remind us to, so I know they help too. We raise them to allow the sun back in first thing in the morning.

Another thing I’ve found that helps heat our personal space without cranking up the thermostat is through cooking food. I try to never turn the oven on during the summer, but the winter begs for baking breads or one dish casseroles, pans of sweet potatoes or sweet treats. The residual heat can always be felt for quite a while after the food has finished cooking, making that a win-win in my book. Along with hot soups and spicy foods, cooking and eating warm foods is a sure way to raise our external and internal temperatures!

As I’ve written these things down, I’m realizing that heating my personal space using these methods is certainly more interactive than just setting the thermostat to 70 degrees. Just like with solar installations, there are ‘active’ and ‘passive’ ways of heating, but the increased attention required for living comfortably with less fossil fuel will require us to be more involved and more attentive to temperature changes and weather conditions, as well as some preplanning for our daily activities. That’s a small price to pay for the secure feeling of knowing that we can live ‘well on less’. As those of us ‘in transition’ learn (or re-learn) ways to adapt to climate changes, lower energy supplies and increasing utility costs, I’m certain that people all over the country are using their own creative ways to stay warm. Some of you readers are from much colder climates than Tennessee and I’d love to read  your comments about what you’re doing to ‘warm up to new ideas’.



Frugal Friday- Feb. 13, 2015
February 13, 2015, 7:59 PM
Filed under: Frugality | Tags: , , , , ,

On this evening before Valentine’s Day I’m realizing I haven’t bought my Valentine a card or gift. No worries! Every day is Valentine’s Day with this man and we truly do try to show our love all day, every day. I will mark the day though, by baking him something special… he loves apple/cranberry tarts and I’ve got some fresh apples that I need to use up anyway. I’ll send him an E-Card too, professing my undying love. We are part of a good friend’s CD release party tomorrow night at a local coffee house, and so perhaps we’ll celebrate the occasion there with some hot chai topped with whipped cream. We’re perfect for one another because neither of us has ever felt the need to BUY SOMETHING to show our love.

With that thought though, I will tell you how much I love getting the best deals I can when I do have to buy something. Now that makes me a happy Valentine <3

Monday: I decided to start some more sprouts for adding to salads and sandwiches. 2 T. of seeds makes almost a pint full, for about 25 cents worth of seeds. They taste sooo fresh this time of year, are super easy to do, and heart healthy to boot, fitting in with the Valentine heart theme this week. <3

20150204_115214[1]Tuesday: Continuing along with the ‘heart healthy’ Valentine theme, I tried a new recipe, called “Butternut Buttermilk Pancakes”. We grow lots and lots of butternut squashes each summer and I’m always on the lookout for new ways to use them. THIS was so good, so easy and so frugal, it will make  repeat appearances on our table long after Valentine’s Day has passed I’m sure! <3

pancakes

Butternut Squash Buttermilk Pancakes

-Prep your squash by peeling 1 small butternut and dice into cubes (about 1 1/2-2 cups. ) Boil in water until tender. Drain and mash with a fork. You want at least 1 cup of mashed squash. I used about 1 1/2.

In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients:
1 1/2 cups of flour (3/4 cups of each white and wheat flour is nice)
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon

-Separate 2 eggs and beat the yolks in a bowl with 1 and 3/4 cups of buttermilk
**If you don’t have buttermilk on-hand you can perform a quick substitution by adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to milk or by mixing 1 cup yogurt with 3/4 cup milk.

-Pour egg and buttermilk into the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Pour in 6 tablespoons of melted butter. Mix again.

-Fold in butternut squash mash.

-Heat griddle and brown pancakes on each side. Make sure you don’t rush it and cook the cakes through because they tend to take a little longer than regular pancakes.

-Keep warm in the oven and serve with butter and maple syrup!

My notes: Save those egg whites and plan to use them in a skillet of scrambled eggs or some baked goods. I don’t heat up my big 220 volt oven just to ‘keep them warm’. But I do put them in my insulated tortilla warmer to stay warm until the whole batch is cooked. Saving electricity is always a money saver!

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Wednesday: Speaking of saving electricity… I recently went to the website for my local power company to take a free online energy evaluation survey of my home. Here’s the link: http://energyright.com/residential/online_energy_eval.html  And for doing this, I was sent a free kit of energy saving products, including two compact fluorescent bulbs, a package of switch and outlet sealers, 2 flow restrictors that screw on the end of faucets, an indoor stick on thermometer and more! It arrived this day and made my heart happy  <3

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Now, even though this has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day, the other thing that happened on Wednesday was that Michael and I got to play music live on WMMT community radio in Whitesburg, KY with two of our dear friends to promote their latest CD. The show was two hours long and we had so much fun! We played, told jokes and discussed with the sweet DJ (in tie dye shirt below) all the ways that folk in Central Appalachia are working to improve their communites. Community and market gardening, teaching and playing the region’s traditional music, making traditional crafts, cooking traditional foods-these are just some of the ways that we’re all working towards preserving our health, environment, heritage and culture. And that is priceless… <3

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Thursday: We had company over for supper and so I made a big pot of soup, a huge salad, Michael made fresh loaves of bread, and they brought a vegan chocolate cake! But here’s the best part…we actually had some of our grown-last-summer Longkeeper tomatoes that have been stored away in low boxes under the bureau  to add to the salad. Fresh home grown tomatoes in February? Yessss! Heart-healthy and red as any valentine! <3

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Friday: Today I used the first of two $10 off $40 coupons I’ve received from the new Aldi’s in town. We stocked up on everything from Fair Trade coffee to organic sugar, and stocked up the shelves in my pantry, you know, in case the zombies come. This too made my heart happy <3

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Here’s hoping your Valentine’s Day is simply heart healthy and happy, in whatever way you choose to honor the day.  <3



“We Are Not Lost!”

Michael and I took a long walk with the dog this afternoon around town. I snapped pictures of things that I found interesting, and thought my local readers might enjoy taking this tour with me. I’m so pleased with the progress we’re seeing and look forward to the time when the postcard scenes that are in my mind become a reality. In the meantime, I’m find I’m fascinated with the journey. By the way, this pictoral shows some of the activity of progress, but it also shows some of the ‘humanity’ that’s often harder to see. (note: double clicking on the pictures will enlarge them)

First stop, about a block away, is just a nice scene that I get to enjoy year round. In the distance, down the hill, are the Carver Peace Gardens…

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As I enter this community gardens, I’m thrilled to see that the city has done exactly what I asked them to do! They’ve moved the little unused and inaccessible greenhouse to a much better spot within the garden area and will have water and electric run to it within a few weeks. The addition of this greenhouse means that we’ll be able to not only start herbs, flowers and veggies for the resident gardeners within its’ cozy interior, but hopefully we’ll be able to grow enough to share with other community gardens in town!

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After marveling over this gift, we travel on down the street, through a neighborhood that we don’t often walk through. Lo and behold! there’s an empty, sunny, corner lot in the middle of the ‘hood with a new sign planted there…

20150207_143109[1]I love the idea of community gardens and feel it is truly one of the best ways there is to have healthy food on our tables and strong communities! A few more blocks down and we find ourselves on the VA campus, at the intersection of Peace and Freedom. What a wonderful place to be on a beautiful and warm winter’s day…

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Circling to the back of the beautiful campus, and into the crown jewel of our fair city, we find ourselves face to face with the new public art sculptures that were installed just this week. I didn’t take this picture because I was there in bright sunlight, but I wanted you to see how beautiful it looks at night.

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Leaving the other end of the park, we see the site preparation work that was begun this week for the new Farmer’s Market. This one will have vendor stalls with a roof for rainy days, lighting, bathrooms and more!

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As we make the loop through downtown to head back home, we happen to walk past some trees that are wrapped in winter scarves!

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Upon closer inspection we read the attached tags…

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 “I am not lost! If  you’re stuck out in the cold please take this to keep warm”

As much as I love our community gardens, public art, Farmer’s Markets, greenways, bikeways and beautiful mountain scenery, THIS stole my heart. The note is right! We are NOT lost; we’re finding our way, inch by inch, and scarf by scarf in a world that I sometimes feel is cold and scary. We’re making the transitions that are necessary to keep us connected and vibrant, but It really does take a village. My village is awesome!



Loco for Local

 Locavore. Local Food. Local Economy. Local Business. There’s that ‘local’ word again. I sometimes become discouraged at the apathy shown by our government and by consumers over the fragility and quality of our food supply. But Saturday offered a ray of hope here in my town. A local non-profit group, ‘Build It Up East Tennessee’ had announced a community meeting to discuss the particulars of a grant they’ve received that will help 10-15 local residents set  up their own ‘market garden’. I attended the meeting simply because I was curious about the program. But there were about 100 others there, and it seemed as though most of them were there because they really wanted to be a part of this initiative to ‘Grow Appalachia’. The stipulations for the growers-to-be were not overwhelming, but firm and fair, specifically designed to get more local foods into our stores and markets, while offering the growers tools, instruction and cash for their crops. The funding is only available for this year, but I think the turnout was a good indicator of how much interest there is in growing and eating local food.

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This only shows about a fourth of the people that were at the community meeting

Now, all that said, let’s discuss what this means. Granted, some of the folks are attracted to the idea of making money for doing something they love anyway, (smells like a j.o.b. to me) but several I spoke with seemed drawn to the idea simply because they too, want to see our local food system become sustainable, providing jobs and the freshest food possible. When food grows, families and communities grow too. Growing food also empowers us to live healthy, productive lives. The link is indisputable.

Another personal indicator that the demand is growing, lies in the the number of community garden applications I’ve already received for the 2015 growing season. More than ever, folks that have no place to grow are wanting a plot as well as some direction and community. I’m thinking it’s time to consider (yet) another community garden in another part of town. I’m also noticing more area restaurants touting ‘locally grown’ on everything from pizza toppings to salads to craft beers. Grocers and markets are showcasing ‘locally grown’ produce and products by using specially marked areas and signs in their stores, and our city has begun the process of building a brand new downtown farmer’s market to accommodate the ‘growing’ numbers of vendors that this demand for local foods has created.

So, what’s all this got to do with transitioning? I know that I’m often preaching to the choir here, but just in case  you haven’t been indoctrinated yet, our very future lies in being localized. We can no longer safely depend on imports of far-away foods and fuels. The low gas prices here in the US are inadvertently causing serious economic problems in other parts of the world…those places that depend on higher priced oil exports to other first world countries to keep their economies afloat. They are quickly reaching the break even point on their oil drilling enterprises. When they do, will they continue to export oils and fuels to the rest of the world? Do we want to wait to find out if that happens before we DO something? And here’s where the apathy I mentioned sets in. Is setting up a plan for community food security such an outrageous thing to do, even if the exports of cheap goods and food continue to flow into our country? Is wanting the best-tasting, freshest, most nutritious and secure food system we can possibly produce crazy-talk?

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I see so many opportunities for local food purveyors to start new businesses, develop new value-added products, and earn a decent income too. We are lucky enough to live in an area with adequate rainfall and moderate temperatures that allow us to grow practically year round. From apple juice to peanut butter, we can ‘make it local’. I’m going to leave you with a cool little app that makes this point. It’s not a download…simply click on the blue link and watch for a few seconds. “Sometimes it only takes a little to change big things”



Frugal Friday-January 30, 2015 (yes, that’s 2015, not 2014)
January 30, 2015, 10:52 AM
Filed under: Frugality | Tags: , , ,

I put the wrong date on last Friday’s post and confused some folks, so I’m being perfectly clear this time. That confusion caused me to reread my own posts from January of 2014 and helped me remember that EVERY January is a struggle to simply stay warm, put good meals on the table, and remain optimistic that spring will be back soon. This January of 2015 has been no different. I spent the week staying warm by keeping the heat pump on 64 degrees and moving my energy efficient space heaters to whatever room I am in, cooking lots of good food from scratch, all while watering and thinning new seedlings, knowing that spring isn’t far away. And I saved a fair bit of money, while barely leaving the house, proving that frugality comes in all shapes and forms, not just dollars and cents. Read on…

Monday: I finally took the time to figure out why I couldn’t directly download books to my Kindle Fire without first saving them on my computer. It took several hours, but honestly, it’s January… what else is there? Once I figured out the problem, I downloaded 3 books for a total of $1.99! All 3 were written by the same author, whose blog I follow. They were all about gardening and homesteading topics and I certainly feel like I got my moneys’ worth and more!

Tuesday: We had given a friend our old seed-starting light rack when we moved to this urban house from our country home, mistakenly thinking we wouldn’t be gardening as much as we used to at our country place. That friend is no longer in good enough health to garden and offered it back to us just as we were leaving to go purchase the PVC pipe and light fixtures to put together another one. The wooden shelves that support the plant trays were all that was missing from the returned setup. So, we went to a nearby thrift store to see if they had anything suitable for the job. Score! It was the right thickness and just the right size for ripping lengthwise to make two shelves. Price: $2 for the plywood.

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  Had we purchased the PVC, the shop lights, bulbs and new wood, I feel certain we would’ve had at least $65 tied up in this. Now we’ve got onions, parsley, ‘cat grass’, broccoli and cabbages started. Savings? for tasty organic food and good health? priceless!

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Wednesday: Made a veggie curry for supper but ran out of curry powder mid-recipe. No problem. I’ve been blending my own and using this recipe for years now and we love it’s flavor of ‘just the right heat for us’. It takes less than a minute to mix up and saves about $3 over the price of store-bought brands.

CURRY POWDER

4 tsp. ground cumin

3 1/2 tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. ground ginger

2 tsp. ground turmeric

1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Mix well. Store in airtight container.

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Thursday: Used my Gardens Alive $25 off a $25 purchase coupon to order bean and pea innoculant for this summer’s garden. The stuff’s pricey and it’s awesome to get it free. Because it’s only 10 ozs there was no shipping to pay either! Savings: $15

coupon

Friday: My friend Sandy keeps a beautiful flock of chickens and works next door, so she dropped off a dozen  just-gathered eggs. What a fabulous way to end the week! Sandy and all the other chicken eggsperts know that it’s best not to wash the eggs, because they are covered with a film, called ‘bloom’, when laid. This invisible barrier serves as a protection between the egg and the world, protecting them from external contaminants. Nature is perfect that way. But sometimes, in the middle of winter, the chicken yard can get a bit muddy. I like the visual reminder of ‘where my food comes from’ and don’t mind it one bit. Washing them just before cracking keeps that bloom intact. As usual, our industrial ag system in this country does it wrong. Eggs aren’t washed in Europe and most other countries. Then again, those factory farmed eggs we buy that are clean and perfect looking are a testament to the unnatural conditions that hens are exposed to in those setups. OK, I digress. Savings? About $4.50 for a dozen, cage free, organic eggs. Aren’t they beautiful, mud and all?

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Can you spot the factory farmed egg?

Have a great weekend friends! Make soup on this cold weekend ahead, and dream of spring!



Redefining Prosperity
January 27, 2015, 9:32 PM
Filed under: Adapting to Change | Tags: , , ,

My dictionary defines prosperity thusly: “a successful, flourishing, or thriving condition, especially in financial respects; good fortune.” This definition says to me that if I’m not especially fortunate to have plenty of money, then I’m not prosperous. That thinking is sooo out of touch, and I feel compelled to redefine it, if for no other reason than to reflect on my own personal feelings about prosperity.

Sometimes I’ll get an idea for a post on this blog, but it may take a while for my thoughts to come together enough to be able to convey to you how that idea might pertain to you, especially in the context of transitioning. I’ve given this idea of redefining prosperity a lot of reflection over the last week or so, and then, I got my ‘sign’ that I was on the right track for this post…

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This card was given to me by my friend Lisa the day before she left Tennessee to move to Georgia. We were having tea together, and Lisa was leaving the area to basically, redefine her own life. She gave me this card, which happened to be one in a set, created by a favorite author of mine, Sark. Neither of us had any idea that her card would reappear when I needed it most, after being tucked away in a book that I’d had on my nightstand and opened up on a whim last night. How many signs have you been given recently that pointed directly to ‘redefining prosperity’? Exactly. So, after this lengthy introduction, I’ll attempt to make the best of this can of worms I’ve opened. By the way, Lisa did manage to redefine her own prosperity, and is now living in a beautiful log home of her own, doing work she loves and contra dancing on Saturday nights with many new friends in her Georgia community. She doesn’t have a lot of money but I’d certainly call her ‘prosperous’.

I believe that this period of transitioning that we are facing/are a part of, will give us reason to redefine a lot of things in our lives. I’ve held a fascination with Cuba ever since I took Spanish in the 6th grade from a Cuban refugee that I adored. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, that little island nation suffered extreme socioeconomic collapse. To their credit, they named that decade of learning to produce most of their own food and live without, “The Special Period”. (I love that name). They absolutely redefined prosperity for themselves, in spite of starvation and sanctions. To Cubans, prosperity came to mean ‘able to feed themselves’ -and well!  Perhaps that’s why I always thought my teacher was so wonderful, because even though she was going through what must have been a very difficult transition of her own, Mrs. Zabarro prospered in her own way. She was able to eventually bring her family members, one by one, to this country, and though they had so little in the way of material things, they were the happiest family I knew! There’s a saying: “Prosperity without well-being is simply a contradiction.” La prosperidad sin bienestar es sencillamente una contradicción.

These real-life stories I’ve shared with you prove that prosperity, when based especially on financial standing, is just not a completely accurate picture of it. My personal redefinition began in 1998 when I attended an eight-week ‘Voluntary Simplicity’ course. Unknown to me at the time, I was obviously seeking answers in my life by taking the course to begin with. After reaching a top rung in my career, raising my children and buying my dream home, I’d begun to realize that my own financial status wasn’t bringing me well-being or happiness. The things that make me feel positively prosperous are good health, loving relationships, close friendships and a sense of having ‘enough’ of the things I need. 

As we continue to see the effects of a changing climate, the deterioration of world markets and of our oil-based economy, the erosion of the middle class and peak everything, what new measures of prosperity will we use to determine how we’re doing? The ability to feed ourselves and to produce sustainable, community-supplied energy will be the gold standards of a prosperous community. Being a valid part of a walkable or bikeable community that is able to provide its’ residents with the locally-produced goods and services that are needed for well-being (there’s that word again) will be highly desirable. Gated communities will open their gates or perish.

The new definition of a prosperous person will be defined as one who loves and is loved, one who has enough to share and does so willingly with those who don’t, and one who is willing to be a good neighbor and steward of the Earth. A prosperous person will be someone who will pull her share, can laugh at life, and plays well with others. A prosperous person will be one who has skills and abilities that can earn her a bit of money, and then wisely use her hard-earned cash to purchase the things she cannot produce for herself. A prosperous person will have a center of well being that takes into account all of these aspects of our daily lives. I hope it will be a ‘special period’ for us all.

well-being



Frugal Friday- January 23, 2015
January 23, 2015, 11:14 AM
Filed under: Frugality | Tags: , , , , ,

It’s been a rough week in my household..family members with health issues, middle of winter blahs, and nothing much to look forward to except spring. Even so, I feel blessed each and every day that I’m healthy and that I have ‘enough’. Enough money, food, clothes, love, stuff. I could use a few more homemade chocolate chip cookies in my life, but I’ll live.

Regardless of what goes on in our daily lives, learning to live well with less is a saving grace that will see you through good times and bad. Ask me how I know.

And so, this week was no different in terms of “using it up, wearing it out, making it do, or doing without.” The old saying “when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping” is sooo 80’s! Malls are standing empty all over America, and I’m hoping that they’ll all eventually be converted into indoor garden spaces with all those glass ceilings and atriums being put to good use at long last. But that’s another topic for another day. Today’s topic is frugality, not malls.

Monday: I finally made it to our town’s new Aldi’s grocery store AND used the $5 off $30 coupon they offered. I forgot to take a picture of the coupon before I used it, so I went looking online for one. I didn’t find the actual coupon, but I like the pic I found instead:

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“Truth #1: When deciding between eating well and saving money, always choose both”

Tuesday: I stopped by the ‘discount’ grocery store that’s about 8 miles away because I was in that area for other errands. I was  hoping to find some more of the veggie burgers there that I’d gotten before. No luck with that, but I did find 3 boxes of Gulf Wax for $2.99 each! I use this mostly for making Buckeye candies for gift-giving at Christmas;  just last month I’d run out and had to pay full price for a box, costing me $7.99. Ugh. I bought all 3 boxes they had on the shelf, saving $5  per box over the regular price. The last time I was able to stock up was years ago, when I’d found it for 25 cents a box at a yard sale, and had bought all 6 boxes the lady had, so this deal wasn’t ‘all that’, but the pain of paying full price for that one box made me certain this buy was about as good as I could hope for now. This is what I’m talking about when I advise you to “plan ahead” and to be on the lookout for your future needs. And in the case of this wax, it never goes out of date. I used to use it seal jars of jelly, until I started using reusable Tattler canning lids. Even then, I’d wash it once I opened the jars, and remelt it again for the next jars I filled. My Tattler supply is limited though, so I may go back to pouring that 1/8″ disk of melted wax again, now that I have ample supplies. Total Savings: $15.00.

Wednesday: After a brief hiatus of using antibiotic soaps and cleaners while Michael was going through chemo and radiation treatments, I’m back to using the natural cleaners I’ve used for over ten years. And this time, I found exactly what I was looking for… 20150110_161016 AND it was 74 cents cheaper per bottle than Heinz White Distilled Vinegar, while being 6% acidic vs 5% for the ‘regular’ white! The higher acidity cleans better too, in my opinion.

Thursday: We made a trip to the ‘Mennonite Bulk Food Store’. We only make it there about once a year, and we ended up spending $60.00. However, about half of that was spent on a 50 lb bag of rolled oats. We eat oatmeal for breakfast every single morning and never, ever tire of it for some reason. Not only do we not tire of it, we ENJOY it with cinnamon, raisins, apples, or honey added. We figure the bags last 6 months so the oatmeal costs us 15 to 20 cents a bowl, depending on what we add to it. Buying the extras at this bulk food store saves a lot if we shop carefully. We noticed that prices on many items today were higher than when we were last there. But the price of the oats remained exactly the same: $29.00!

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 Friday:  I’m doing a lot of cooking from scratch this week, trying to use lots of fresh stuff like kale, cabbage and broccoli from the garden, mushrooms and avocados bought at Aldi’s for 49 cents, and storage crops like apples, parsnips, potatoes and winter squash. We’ve enjoyed a Monday stir fry, a spicy Tuesday Jambalaya, a Wednesday au gratin of potatoes/kale/mushrooms, and a Thursday Curry. Bowls of rice pudding made with added raisins and ‘storage’ apples, and sweet sweet tangelos that were a Christmas gift make good snacks for us.

Tonight, friends are coming over to play music with us, so we’ll have burritos made with refried pintos and rice, topped with grated cabbage and chunks of FRESH Longkeeper tomatoes (will they last until Valentine’s Day?)  summer-canned salsa, and some black olives, grated cheese and sour cream that were left-over from a previous get-together we had. The flour tortillas were bought for $1.00 at the discount store, making them 10 cents each. (Heating them briefly in the microwave, with damp paper towels placed between each one, makes them taste completely fresh after I’ve frozen them.)

We’ve just finished the third full week of January, and haven’t spent but about $100 on food this month, including the bulk items we purchased yesterday. But with just a little advance planning, we’re eating delicious, frugal and healthy meals every day in this ‘Winter of Wellness’. Savings? well, you know… priceless!



Winter of Wellness
January 19, 2015, 7:48 PM
Filed under: Healthy food, Wellness | Tags: , , , , ,

Almost everything I do has some element of compromise in it. Each time I get into an automobile, buy a new pair of shoes, or even fill up the bathtub I am contributing to the great unraveling. One thing I will NOT compromise on though, is my health. To that end, I’m stealing the name of a series of ‘webinars’ that I’m beginning tomorrow and calling this my own ‘Winter of Wellness’. (if you’re interested in the webinars too, here’s a link to free registration: http://2015.winterofwellness.com/program)

Some of you may know that my husband Michael has recently finished an 18 month long battle with colon cancer, and won the war! But having a front-row seat to that battle has profoundly influenced me to not take my own good health for granted. I’m working hard to remain healthy. I may falter occasionally, but believing that we are what we eat, encourages me to eat healthy to stay healthy. And not coincidentally, I also believe that the hard work of transitioning to a way of life that’s not based on cheap oil, but on local food systems, sustainable energy sources, and resilient localized economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being will demand that we have good health and well being. I try to remember that if none of those things ever fully develop, maintaining good personal health will always be part of the solution to any of life’s problems.

And so, after what seems like only a couple of weeks ago that we planted our raised beds to a winter cover crop…

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the cycle of growing my health begins again. We ordered our seeds…

20150114_135159They’re non- GMO and organic which I feel is a good beginning, but planting them is the REAL beginning of this winter of wellness. Onions have just broken the surface with the help of grow lights and heat mats (there’s that compromise again)

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…but the parsley will take much longer to germinate. That’s ok though because parsley is a super food AND a biennial which means we don’t have to plant it every year. Some swallowtail butterflies use parsley as a host plant for their larvae and will feed on parsley for two weeks before turning into butterflies. Bees and other nectar-feeding insects also visit the flowers. Birds such as the goldfinch feed on the seeds. I think parsley is really underestimated as a powerful food source. It dries easily and I like adding it to all my winter soups and stews.

I’m enjoying experimenting with some of the endless recipes available on the internet. Trying new dishes like “Spicy Tofu with Sweet Chili/Lime Sauce” served over a bed of quinoa and fresh kale from the winter garden, or “Red Thai Curry” over Basmati rice makes it really easy to eat health-fully when they taste so delicious. The fact that they are so inexpensive is of course, and added plus. But again, we’ve decided to not compromise on the foods we buy, any more than we would on food that we grow. Organic foods have really become comparable to conventionally grown foods in the last year or two, and I like knowing we’re avoiding the chemical baths most of the time. 

In addition to growing, cooking and eating healthy foods, we’re increasing our daily exercise as well. That can be the most difficult part of staying healthy for me, but I won’t compromise on that either. Some of my family members that were here for Christmas took a short run (casual observers might’ve called it a ‘forced march’) with me on the new hiking and biking Tweetsie Trail that’s nearby. Our motto is: ‘The family that runs together has fun together’. Whatever…

Xmas run

Plenty of rest, a few dietary supplements, a wonderful ‘world-wide-web’ of supportive friends and family, and an ever-deepening reserve of inner spirituality, combined with healthy food and exercise…SURELY those are the things needed for wellness. Am I missing anything?



Frugal Friday- January 16th
January 16, 2015, 12:26 PM
Filed under: Frugality | Tags: , , ,

I sometimes worry that my readers (that’s YOU) will become bored with the Frugal Friday theme. Some of you have been faithfully reading my blog for over two years, and I’m pretty sure you ‘get it’ by now: that is, that transitioning to a way of life that’s not based on consumerism or poor use of the Earth’s resources, but on finding creative and practical (and coincidentally) frugal ways to ‘live more on less’ is a mindset and a lifestyle that becomes natural with daily practice. I’m always, always open to suggestions from you as to what topics or subjects you’d find entertaining or helpful. But, as my band likes to tell our audience: “We get requests all the time, but we play anyway!”  So, feel free to comment. If I know what the hell I’m talking about, I’ll try to cover it. But for now, know that this was a frugalastic week for me! For me, the saving money part isn’t as important as the saving resources part, and I get serious satisfaction knowing that I’ve prevented a tree, a gallon of oil or water or some other natural resource from being used, cut, mined or burned.

Monday: I took a good friend to lunch at a local eatery for her birthday. She knows me well, and didn’t bat an eye when I told her I planned to pay for the meal with my $10 gift certificate I’d been given just for attending an open house of some new downtown loft apartments.    Holy Taco, the food was good!

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Tuesday: At a Christmas ‘passing party’ I lucked up and got 3 TN lottery tickets, something I never, ever buy. All 3 were winners, leaving me with $10 cash and my choice of two free $1 tickets or one $2 ticket. I chose the $2 ticket since the winnings were so much higher. With that one I won $4! Is this beginner’s luck or some kind of secret operative to get people to buy more lottery tickets? Michael says lottery tickets are nothing more than a tax on the poor, since they seem to be the ones to buy the most tickets. Regardless, I’ve had fun with my tickets, and since they didn’t cost me anything, I think I’ll take my $4 winnings and buy 4 more tickets. I used the $10 towards a haircut. With the $2 coupon I printed off from the internet, the cut only cost me $3.50. Then I’m going to give my next door neighbor, who is on disability and was ahead of me in the lottery line, two of them.  If I win the ‘big one’ from one of the two remaining tickets, I’ll be blogging from paradise next time. If not, I still have a nice haircut.

20150114_093914[1]Wednesday: I noticed a neighbor moving out of his place over the weekend, and soon a he put up a sign out front that said “Moving. FREE Take It All!” He’d piled a bunch of stuff on his recently vacated porch, so I moseyed over. No, actually I almost ran over there, but no one saw me running, so I’ll say I moseyed, sounds better. Anyway, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but the exact curtains I’d be holding out for to hang in my bedroom! The drapes were still on the wooden rods even! I brought them home, washed them, painted the rod black (with some leftover spray paint I had saved for just such a small job) and hung them proudly. We did decide to spring for a pair of black metal tiebacks, which ‘completed the look’ I’d been hoping for. Price: $8.00 for the tiebacks (on sale), but finding the perfect curtains and rod for free is priceless. I did price them at Kohl’s… the rods were $12.97 EACH and very similar drapes were $29.00 a pair!

20150110_093718[1]Notice the, count ’em, FIVE black-framed calligraphy prints above the window. I’d bought three of them at a thrift store for $6 to hang in my bathroom about a year ago and told you about them then. But, lo and behold, when I visited a thrift store in another city, I found two more of the prints, for $1 a piece to add to those first three. The collection of five now hangs over the windows and ties in the furniture and black rod perfectly I think.

Thursday: Lest you think we never do anything besides garden, cook and play music, I’ll tell you that if we never did anything BUT those things, I’d be happy, but we went to the movies last night to see ‘Selma’. The real Selma, Alabama is my hometown so it was a must-see movie for me. Seeing this movie is a perfect example of how being frugal throughout the week allows us to splurge on things that really matter to us. But I’m not ashamed to admit that we were happy to get the senior discount on the tickets, saving $4.00 in the process.

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Friday: From $10 bills, all the way down to 49 cent stamps, it all adds up and makes our small income feel like plenty.  I received another piece of mail today with its’ stamp uncanceled. I get them pretty regularly this way, and have never had a piece of mail returned to me when I reuse them. That said, I do tend to put them on things that are NOT terribly critical, you know, just in case it didn’t make it. I bet I’ve done this 30 or 40 times, so I consider it perfectly safe. No, 49 cents sure won’t make or break me, but adding it to the savings earlier in the week, I saved approximately $59 AND 49 CENTS!

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Be on the lookout for the things you need or want, and then be patient and wait for them to come into your life. My next project requires four concrete blocks. The free stuff on the ‘just moved’ porch yielded one block, which I hauled home. Now that I’ve set my intention, I’m sure the other three will manifest themselves eventually. I’ll let you know. PS Concrete blocks are VERY energy intensive to produce so I’m especially happy to find this one.



I Swear It’s Not Too Late

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365 days in a year. That’s a pretty big block of time you know. Just because you were too tired, busy, or hung over to make some resolutions on New Year’s Day doesn’t mean that less than two weeks later, on this second Monday of the new year, that it’s too late. And you know what? Even if you DID manage to resolve to lose 20 pounds or quit smoking or to stop biting your nails, you can work on those resolutions AND resolve to begin the transition to a way of life that is more outwardly simple yet inwardly rich. Talk about PEACE in the new year! I swear it’s not too late.

Where to begin? Before we get into the how’s, let’s consider the why’s first…

Do you have any debt? Do you depend on electricity or some other source of fossil fuel to heat your home and water, cook your food, or power your car, computer, lights and phone? Do you eat? Do you have good health? Do you have good healthcare? We all deal with these issues and many more in our lives, and chances are, we won’t be able to resolve all of them in 2015, but what we can do is to set aside time to put into learning skills that may prove useful, particularly in a long emergency, a crisis or even a grid down situation. (You’re not still holding on to that same, tired argument that ‘it can’t happen to me’ are you?)

 It’s common knowledge that modern grocery stores have approximately a three day supply of food before their shelves are empty. From storms to truckers’ strikes, the nation’s food supply is precarious. It’s also common knowledge that honeybees are responsible for every third bite of food we take. From colony collapse disorder to mites, beekeepers are worried about the future of their hives and our food supply. We are also aware that our new Republican-led Congress is going to do everything in their power to prevent immigrants from entering the United States (who will work in our farmer’s fields?), repeal Obama Care and approve the Keystone pipeline. And that’s just this week. Do we really need any more reasons to begin our personal transition to a better way of life that is 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?

OK, so I’ve convinced you. Now what? Just like with any other big project, you’ll need to take small steps. If food insecurity concerns you, start a compost pile.Today. Put all your kitchen scraps and yard waste in a bin or corner of your yard, and with no help from you, eventually they’ll become rich compost that you can then use to grow something that you love to eat fresh! If personal health issues concern you, see the same advice above…we are what we eat after all, and healthy bodies begin with healthy food. Now, when spring arrives, plant some fruit trees or bushes. They will take several years to produce fruit, and in the meantime you can still be working on resisting biting your nails or getting organized. The activities of planting and taking care of your new fruit or nut trees and your compost pile will improve your health tremendously.

Are you concerned about job security? Why not learn a new skill that would provide you with a new career that could support you in a collapsed economy? Making moonshine comes to mind, as does training to become a knowledgeable herbal medicinalist, firewood or biodiesel supplier, small engine or bicycle repairman or computer repair person. Solar installers, bakers, gardeners, beekeepers, soapmakers and seamstresses do too. You get the idea. All of these ‘second careers’ take time to develop and perfect, but remember, you’ve still got 323 days left of this year alone! And if the economy doesn’t collapse? Great! You’ll still have more money, better health and barterable skills to use. I’ll trade you some of my honey for some of your soap. I’ll trade you some of my corn for some of your moonshine too :) .

If financial insecurity is your yoke to bear, get out of debt. Completely. That way, if you lose your job, you’ll be able to live off the  unemployment checks you’ll receive while you look for another. Maybe you can use the time you’re not looking for ‘a job’ to work on those skills we discussed above. And if you don’t lose your job? Great! Getting out of debt will then enable you to start putting more money into your retirement fund and savings. Just one more car payment? Continue paying that same amount each month to your credit cards or other obligations, then learn to pay cash for everything. It’s the most liberating action you can possibly take to blow your world wide open and allow you to have options available in your life that may not have ever been open to you before. Ask me how I know. The quiet peace of being financially stable and having a source of healthy food is actually deafening at times.

To everything there is a season. THIS is the time for us to collectively plan and act early enough so 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 swear it’s not too late.



Frugal Friday- January 9
January 9, 2015, 3:15 PM
Filed under: Frugality | Tags: , , , , , ,

A new year- If I were going to make any resolutions, it would be to continue to find fun ways to be frugal and thrifty. But that’s always my resolve, and I don’t need a new calendar to remind me what it once felt like to have more week than payday and to rob Peter to pay Paul. I I like paying cash for everything and letting my savings grow. And I don’t know about you, but I want to thrive, not just survive while working towards transitioning to a future that is 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.

To that end, my family has enrolled in a year-long analysis of our electric, gas and fuel usage. The program is being offered through a local, grassroots group called G.I.N.I. (Green Interfaith Network, Inc) and is sponsored by Tennessee Interfaith Power and Light. Hopefully the resulting audit will help us learn what we can do to weatherize our 115 year old home and about the financial incentives of doing so. Recording our gasoline and mileage will also help us prepare ourselves both physically and mentally for using our own two legs or public transportation to get us to the places we need to go. It’s hard to make myself walk to the dentist when gas is less than $2.00 per gallon, but I find the exercise helps keep me fit, we’re only putting about 5,000 miles a year on our car, and it makes me feel so much more resilient to know that I’ve structured the bulk of my life into a radius of less than 2 miles. When I’m too old to drive or walk, I’ll get an electric scooter. Go Granny go! Savings? you can’t put a price on independence.

One thing that’s become very apparent to me over the last dozen years or so, is that by always thinking and looking ahead for the things that I need or want, and having patience, I will eventually find them at a good price. It breaks my heart to buy something brand new, knowing that all over America there are thrift stores, yard sales, basements and auction houses absolutely bursting with useful items. I see them every day, everywhere.

Monday: I had asked for a very specific type of slippers for Christmas, knowing they are old fashioned and hard to find, but not wanting anyone to buy them new. Not surprisingly, there weren’t any for me under the tree but I found a pair with the tags still attached at my local thrift store this week for 99 cents! Amazon lists a very similar pair but they are ‘unavailable’. I’m happy.

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Tuesday: After having friends over for food and music on Sunday, there were leftover fresh green pepper strips that I’d bought and served with hummus as dippers. I rarely buy them and sure didn’t want to waste them so I decided to make one of my favorite meals: Three Sisters. It’s simple, frugal, healthy and delicious. It uses the traditional Native American trio of corn, beans and squash and since I still have about 15 more large butternut squashes in the cellar, I seasoned and baked a few, then pureed them. After freezing all but two cups, I used it to make this dish…

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Directions are simple: Spread hot pureed squash on a warm toasted corn tortilla, top with pinto beans, chopped tomatoes, green peppers, salsa and (leftover from the party too) sour cream. Add a splash of hot sauce if you’re so inclined. Savings? About $2.00 worth of peppers.  By the way, these tomatoes were some of the Longkeeper type that we grow each summer for, well, long keeping! While not as good as a ripe August tomato, there are 1,000 times better than a Florida-grown, gassed-to-ripen, January tomato!

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Wednesday: I decided I’d best harvest some of the winter onions before this week’s frigid temps moved in. Just-picked onions and fresh tomatoes in January? Priceless!

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Thursday: After putting out a request on Freecycle for a VCR player, a friend responded by bringing by one of his extra players he’d put back for ‘hard times’. Savings? Being able to watch some of our old favorite movies again is yet another priceless gift! Thanks Bryan!

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Friday: I traded a wanna-be-homesteader friend a stack of Mother Earth News magazines for a jar of her home-made relish. win-win

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My New Year’s wish for all of us? That this will finally be the year that we can all become part of a viable, local, food network, that our new Congress will get along, that we’ll all learn to adapt to the changes in our lives and the world, and that we’ll walk and ride our way to good health as we meet our neighbors and form ‘communities of well-being’ amongst ourselves. Oh yeah. May this be the year that we all find our dream slippers at the thrift store too. Happy New Year everyone!



Season’s Eatings

I remember last spring a young woman I know asked me if my garden really fed Michael and me, or did we just get a “bunch of tomatoes and stuff”? Isn’t it funny how such an innocent question has stayed with me, making me hyper-aware of how I might truthfully answer it? The answer, after really paying attention to it, is “yeah, we do get a bunch of tomatoes and a LOT of ‘stuff’.” I think we’ve managed to eat from our plot every week this year. Some weeks we obviously eat more than others, but most of our meals revolve around what is fresh and what we have a surplus of. Sometimes it’s only a handful of chopped cilantro, and other meals, like tonight’s stir-fry, comes mostly from the garden-everything but the carrots. I kept running out of carrots in late fall each year, so 2014 was the year I was going to make sure I had enough to see me through until spring. So… I grew a ton of them, and then, after harvesting, stored them, along with a ton of beets, all unwashed, in tubs of moist sand’, as my food preservation book instructed me to. This isn’t a great pic but it shows you how promising it all looked the day I stored them away down in the cellar…(the carrots are in the top tub, beets in the bottom one)

Beets and Carrots 6

I think I added too much water to the sand in the carrot tub and they all rotted and turned to orange pulp in no time! Which of course led to the ‘store-bought carrots’ in tonight’s stir fry and yet another lesson learned. My mom always used to say that I seemed to learn everything the hard way, and it’s nice to know that I wouldn’t have disappointed her with this either. Just sayin’… The good news is that the beets remain firm and look as fresh as they did the day I harvested them in September! 

But back to the question at hand: how much DO we eat from our garden? Our soil in our raised beds was the best it’s ever been this year,and it showed in everything we grew, from spring peas right through to the current greens and broccoli…

winter goods

  We patiently waited until today to dig some of our spring-planted parsnips, knowing the soil would be soft and unfrozen after the recent warm spell and last night’s rain. Parsnips are sweeter after they’ve been hit by some hard frosts so we wanted to pick the perfect time to harvest them. They are tremendous, and proved to me just how deep our soils have actually become…

parsnipsWe also still have Yukon Gold potatoes and lots of butternut squash stored with the onions and garlic in the cellar, so tomorrow night’s supper will likely be a big clay cooker filled with rosemary-infused parsnips and squash, a skillet of corn bread made from freshly ground blue corn that I grew and dried two summers ago…

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a side of fresh kale seasoned with some of our homemade red pepper sauce and maybe a slice of the left over Christmas turkey. New Year’s Day we’ll have our traditional Hoppin’ John, made with black- eyed peas and fresh-picked collards, served over rice and seasoned with canned tomatoes and peppers, onions and fresh herbs.

We’re having musician friends over on Sunday, January 4th, to celebrate the old Appalachian tradition of ‘Breaking Up Christmas’, and we’ll continue eating from our garden that night too when we serve crocks of summer-canned bruschetta and salsa to serve on baguettes and with tortilla chips, and home-canned red pepper jelly served over cream cheese with crackers, along with pizzas topped with red, green and banana peppers, fresh-cut broccoli, sliced green onions and even some fresh cut Longkeeper tomatoes that are patiently waiting their turn to appear on the table in 2015! So, yes Virginia, gardens can give all year long if only you believe. Season’s Eatings to  you and yours.

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Pass It On
December 23, 2014, 5:38 PM
Filed under: Christmas, Spirituality Practices | Tags: , , , ,

Every now and then I have to go back and read, once again, what this blog is all about. It can become difficult to write about transitioning in fresh and meaningful ways after doing it close to 250 times, so rereading that ‘about’ statement helps keep me focused on the topic at hand. But, as we are drawn more deeply into this season of miracles, I wanted to deviate from my normal topics of energy, frugality, gardening and community. I’d like to offer up some ideas for making this holiday season, well, a little more miraculous than it already is.

My childhood Christmases were not happy occasions, so I tried to make up for them by making sure that my own four children had ‘good’ ones to remember. ‘Good’ then, meant lots of presents, activities, decorations, food and more. Being raised under strict Southern Baptist beliefs had somehow left me as an adult with practically no religious beliefs, so the ‘good’ Christmases I tried hard to give my kids lacked the focus the whole season is based on. Over the years, that lack of religion has gradually turned into something more meaningful and helpful to my soul than any Bible verse I ever memorized: Spirtuality. It’s a word I can’t seem to properly define so I went to my dictionary for a definition: of or relating to sacred things or matters; religious; devotional; sacred”. I guess my developing spirituality covers all those things, and that’s a miracle!

I’ve had the most remarkable week already, and it’s only Tuesday! Saturday I walked to the Dharma Center for a two hour guided meditation called “Mindfulness In Times of Madness”. Afterwards, I walked back home feeling like Buddha himself.  Sunday I attended the Solstice service at my Unitarian Universalist church and was brought to tears by the music, the candles, the food and the love that filled that space. Celebrating the season with spiritual practices of prayer, inner reflection and song help me realize that I can bring my own light to the winter darkness.

candles  In an effort to continue that morning joy, on Sunday night I decided to attend a ‘Concert for World Peace’ at a nearby healing arts center. Walking there in the cool early evening cleared my head and my heart for what I was about to experience: the concert was presented in Swahili, an ancient Hindi language, using instruments normally heard in Classical Indian music. Though I didn’t understand many of the sacred chants, I’m pretty sure the English translations went something like this: PEACE, LOVE, JOY and THANK YOU. PEACE, LOVE, JOY AND THANK YOU. REPEAT. Remember when the Beatles sang “Love Is All You Need”? And when John encouraged us to “Give Peace a Chance?” I certainly do, and I experienced the outcome at this concert. Did our sacred chant music bring about world peace? No, but the spirit of peace in that room was palpable; it actually had a heartbeat, I swear. By engaging together in a spiritual practice with the forty or so (mostly) strangers we managed to create an opening and a chance for peace to grow, passing it on from right here in my little city around the world and back. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is.

Then yesterday I attended a Christmas Tea, put on by a dear friend of mine. Amid the hustle and bustle of arguably the busiest week of the year, this woman catered to and pampered seven of her many friends with a feast of appetizers, soups, sandwiches, desserts and of course, 3 kinds of TEA, or ‘liquid love’. Served on her heirloom china, we ate, talked, laughed, cried and ate some more. When it was over, we were  absolutely FILLED with the light this woman had spent many hours creating for us all. She told us she considers this kind of thing her spiritual practice, her way of serving others and lighting the world. Holding tea parties is as much a spiritual practice as gardening or playing music or writing. Sharing the experience of our tea party with you is my way of lighting my candle off of hers.

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Spiritual practices offer me a tangible and concrete way to create harmony and balance in my life, while enabling me to connect more easily with the world as well. I’m working on using my daily walks as yet another spiritual practice, (and it’s called a practice for a reason you know) by greeting passersby, picking up trash, or just simply being aware of my feet making contact with the Earth. Tomorrow will be my first annual Christmas Eve donation to the Red Cross, followed by another walk to a nearby church to attend a candlelight service there. It’s the spirituality, rather than the religious lessons, that I get from these kinds of activities that make them sacred and special.

As many of us rush now through these final couple of days before Christmas to finish the shopping, wrapping, baking, cleaning and more-always more- I’d like to suggest that you take time for your own spiritual practices, whatever they may be. The rituals we create in our lives, from knitting to whittling wood, can offer us peace and a sense of purpose, throughout the year, not just Christmas. May your light shine brightly this holiday season. Pass it on.

A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle. – James Keller, Catholic Priest


Dear Santa:

Hi Santa, it’s me, Sam. You know, the one that asked for a pony for at least 10 years in a row when I was a kid. Since I never got that pony, I was hoping you’d be willing to make it up to me this year. I haven’t asked for anything from you for about 50 years now, so I figure I’m about due. No, I no longer want the pony, but I was wondering, if, in your travels next Wednesday night, you could bring peace to all of us. I mean, it’s the perfect opportunity since you’ll be flying around the world and all. It’s what we ALL want actually. If you bring world peace, you could probably retire after that. Just sayin’…

peaceAnother thing I’d like: a 2 month ‘license’ to study in Cuba. I heard on the radio today that President Obama  is going to lift the embargoes on Cuba, which means that I could then go there to see first-hand the unrivaled and sustainable food system that the citizens there created when those embargoes began (coincidentally about the same time I stopped asking for the pony). You could pick me up here on the roof in TN and just drop me off there if you like-it’s only 90 miles. I’ll figure out how to get home later. Then, I could return the favor by using the things I learn there to create a sustainable food system right here at home.

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Third Thing: Unconstrained laughter. It’s healthy, contagious, and can probably bring about world peace on its’ own (in the event you don’t have that peace in your bag this year). If you do manage to bring the peace in your bag though, the laughter will be provided by all the happy boys and girls, and  you could just skip this one.

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Fourth: Santa, I’m really on a roll now. Can you narrow the gap somehow between the rich and the poor? That gap is getting wider and wider and I’m afraid most of the folks I know are going to fall through the crack soon. Economic justice would go PERFECTLY with that world peace. Actually, I’m pretty sure you can’t have one without the other anyway. Think of the advantages Santa: If we had economic justice, I’m pretty confident that social and racial justice would be resolved on their own. All I can say to that is “Joy to the World!”

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Fifth: The reason I don’t want the pony any more is because now I’d really rather have a Prius. I feel certain that these low gas prices we’re seeing won’t last forever. I hear Toyota is making them float now, like the old VW Beetles used to. That will be real handy as the oceans rise due to climate change.

Sixth: Speaking of climate change Santa…Can you stop the XL pipeline? Driving my new Prius can help prevent adding more CO2 into the air but if that pipeline is built, my meager efforts to help mitigate the effects of climate change will be for naught. (remember Santa: ‘naught’ is the root of the word ‘naughty’ and I already KNOW how you feel about being naughty.) Stop that pipeline, ok?

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And finally: Can you bring me some solar panels for my house? I’ll install them myself, as soon as I get back from Cuba.

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See you next Wednesday night Santa. I’m so excited! I’ll bring cookies and milk for us to snack on.

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Your friend,

Sam



Frugal Friday- December 12, 2014
December 12, 2014, 9:58 PM
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’ve promised myself I won’t bore you with yet another “50 Thrifty Christmas Gifts” list this week. Or a heartfelt “Have A Crafty Christmas!” or even, “Christmas Gifts for Even the Most Discriminating Relative for Less than Five  Dollars”. I suspect you might find such lists and advice simply by googling them anyway.

Instead I just wanted to share with you some of the normal, carry-on as usual, frugal things that have been a part of my life this week. Living frugally doesn’t change just because it’s Christmas. Living frugally doesn’t change ever. It’s a lifestyle that I don’t want to change, since it keeps me in a sweet spot of living well on very little. To that end…

Monday: We applied for the ‘tax relief’ that homeowners age 65 (or disabled) are eligible for, IF your income falls within the income guidelines. We qualified for both city and county discounts, saving us several hundred dollars. Now, if you have to wait a while before you (or your spouse) turn 65 to be eligible for this tax relief,  (Michael is the qualifying one in this household, just sayin’ ;)  )  you can simply commit to learning to live well on less in the meantime so that you’ll have the money to pay your property taxes when they come due. Or fill in your own blank here, you get the idea. Frankly, I’d lots rather have money set aside to pay my taxes than I would ANY fancy-wrapped Christmas gift. I’ve read many, many true stories of people losing their paid-for homes during hard times simply because they were unable to pay the taxes on them.

Tuesday: I have out of town friends that recently bought a new (to them) home. I wanted to send them a little housewarming gift that was meaningful as well as lightweight to ship. My traditional ‘new home’ gift is a homemade smudge stick and a tin of good tea. My blooming Christmas cactus is just a pretty addition to the picture:

Smudge StickThe smudge stick is made by wrapping a healthy sprig of fresh sage leaves tightly with cord or twine, but they can also be made by bundling other herbs, such as cedar. The smudge stick has been traditionally used by Native Americans to purify or bless people or places. The tip of the stick is lit and allowed to burn briefly, until it begins to produce smoke, then is carried through the home (or teepee, as the case may be) to cleanse the space. I’ve given many smudge sticks away over the years and people really seem to like them. I love the idea behind the ritual, it speaks to my own earth-centered spirit, as well as to my frugal sense.

Wednesday: I FINALLY got around to cleaning my window fan before storing it away for the winter. I’d wanted to clean it last fall before storage, but I couldn’t get it apart to save my life..but then again, I was kinda busy trying to save Michael’s life last fall, so my heart wasn’t really into saving this fan then. It works fine, but was sooo dirty that I swore if I couldn’t get it cleaned I was going to buy another fan come spring. Patience, combined with a sunny afternoon on the patio helped the process. That, and removal of a dozen screws of course. Here’s how it looked before (and this picture really doesn’t do the filth justice):

Fan B4

I’m pretty sure this was a health hazard, blowing into my bedroom every summer night. But look how an old toothbrush, an hour’s time, and a little airbed pump blowing OUT cleaned it up…

Fan After

I figure I saved about $40 by not having to buy that new fan. AND I learned to look more carefully at the ‘cleanability’ of future purchases.

Thursday: I clean my coffee pot each month by running a vinegar/water mixture through it. I try to do it on the first day of each month, just so I can remember it. I also apply the pets flea meds on the 1st, but only April through November. So when December 1st rolled around, I forgot to clean the pot, and just got to it yesterday. Once it drips through the coffee maker, I then pour the hot mixture down the bathroom drains to keep them running clear too. Buy once, use twice. A gallon of Apple Cider Vinegar is about $3. By reusing that quart, I’ve saved 75 cents. Don’t forget, the little things really do add up.

Friday: Speaking of flea meds: the internet store that I order them from offered a 25% off deal plus free shipping if I ordered a 6 month supply, which is what I always order for the best price savings anyway. So, I saved $49.98 on my order by buying in the ‘off season’!

Order Details:

Code Item Qty Price Grand Total
REV_6PK_BLUE Revolution for Cats 5 to 15 lbs 6 Month ( Blue ) * FREE SHIPPING * 1 $89.95 $89.95
REV_6PK_TEAL Revolution for Dogs 41 to 85 lbs 6 Month ( Teal ) * FREE SHIPPING * 1 $109.95 $109.95
DSC-134 14 – 25% Off Entire Order 1 -$49.98 -$49.98
Subtotal: $149.92
Tax: $0.00
Shipping Cost: $0.00
Grand Total: $149.92

We enjoyed walking downtown with several friends this evening for an open house event to see the new loft apartments that were renovated-from-an-old-produce-market that will soon be leased out, never to be seen by the public again. In a wonderful show of support for this huge project that will hopefully bring more folks to live in our downtown area, several nearby local eateries contributed food that was set out for the lookers. Apt 302 had Holy Tacos, Apt 304 had Main Street Pizza slices, Apt 306 had Ale House beer, Apt 308 had Downtown Deli sandwiches and so on. We ate our way through the building-literally. When we’d seen all the new apartments and tried all the goodies, we were rewarded yet again as we left the building with a $10 off coupon to use towards a future meal at Holy Taco! Merry Christmas to me!!!

Remember: Christmas isn’t just about the gifts-don’t let the pressure of Christmas get to you. It’s just  one day. Spend the next couple of weeks listening to all your old Christmas CDs, watching Christmas movies, spending quality time with your loved ones, spreading peace and loving one another. It’s what Jesus preached. And if you do buy some things, please buy from a locally owned business (and then wrap ’em up in something recycled). By the way, Walmart and Target aren’t LOCALLY owned stores. Those national chain stores just happen to have a store in your town. Just sayin’…

christmas shop local



Zero Waste Week Fail
December 7, 2014, 4:48 PM
Filed under: Eliminating Waste, Reduce Reuse Recycle Repair, Reducing Waste | Tags:

I wrote last Sunday about how I would attempt to go through the week without creating any waste. You can read about it here. I honestly thought I could go just seven days without putting anything in the bottom of my trash can. Not only did I end up with a whole bunch of crap in it, there was more than usual. The woman that writes the blog “Zero Waste Home” , and inspired me to take this challenge, must be a big fat liar. She’s a model, and lives in Paris, so I already hated her. Now  that I know she’s a liar too… well! I’ll unsubscribe from her blog for sure.

Rather than take a picture of my now-garbage, I’ll just list it here:

  • A used razor blade-what does the lady do with HERS? I converted to a double edge razor years ago to reduce the environmental impact of disposable razors, but all I can say is that lady and her family must be super hairy. (Remember, she’s a model.) Just sayin’…
  • Empty toothpaste and dental floss containers…I used up both this week. It figures…
  • Used dental floss. And toothbrushes. Maybe the zero waste lady doesn’t brush or floss. I plan to go back to buying Preserve brand toothbrushes that have handles made from recycled yogurt cups. They used to be quite pricey but have come down since I last checked. When you buy them online, they send you a return mailer to return them in. Check it out: http://www.amazon.com/Preserve-Medium-Toothbrush-Mailer-Assorted/dp/B0041576DO/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1417985147&sr=8-6&keywords=toothbrush+preserve
  • Empty medicine bottles. My city’s recycling will not take #5 plastics. I save any food grade #5 containers for sending home leftovers with family and friends, but pill bottles? Maybe the lady never gets a headache? She gives me one.
  • Flea med tubes. The first day of this challenge was December 1st, the day I needed to apply the meds to my pets. Damn! Why didn’t I start this on December 2nd? Maybe the lady doesn’t have pets.
  • Hard plastic lids from stuff like soymilk, ketchup and vinegar. I bet that bitch doesn’t cook either!
  • Tear Strips. I bet she doesn’t eat either.
  • Rubberbands from the newspaper. Gah! I’ve saved 25 or so and don’t need or want to save anymore. What can I do with them? We prepaid for a year’s subscription to the paper, so when that runs out in June, I’ll just get the e-edition. Until then, let me know if you need some. I already know Zero Waste Woman wouldn’t DREAM of taking the newspaper.
  • Used tissues. I used to be good about using handkerchiefs, and slowly have gotten out of the habit. Time to sew up another batch. (and no doubt, the zero zealot has made color-coded stacks of them for all her family members)
  • Restaurant napkins or straws. We went out to eat Monday night and before I could even think about it, much less protest, our server had set our glasses of water on napkins and laid 2 straws down on the table. Health regulations won’t let them ‘take them back’, so the damp napkins were thrown away at the end of the meal, but I brought the straws home, still in their original paper wrapping. I plan to tear one end off of them when I meet HER and blow them in her face. pffftttt!
  • A phone charger that mysteriously quit working on Tuesday. Just effin’ QUIT. Oh wait, I guess that zero blowhard doesn’t have cell phones in her house either. No wait, I bet they have one of those emergency crank type of chargers. Surely even THOSE break once in a while though. I (briefly) considered offering this useless piece of shit to one of my enemies just to keep it out of MY trash can but was afraid they might strangle me with it when they found out it didn’t work.
  • A bent nail. I hung a Christmas wreath this week. Of course I bent the damn nail. I got it out of the trash can and straightened it out as best I could. Maybe I can use it in drywall to hang my feather duster on.
  • A Christmas light string that freaking wouldn’t work, even though it did last year! The string was 30 years old but still-THIS WEEK? That Scrooge doesn’t decorate for Christmas, I’m certain of it. Merry Christmas lady.
  • A bubble mailer. I have several of each size stored away for my own (re)uses, and yet, THIS WEEK, a book I’d ordered (Title: 100 Ways To Reuse Bubble Mailers) arrived. Sigh. I’m trying to find that lady blogger’s home address so I can mail her some straws and nails in it.
  • Aluminum foil. Like my grandmother and mother before me, I save this stuff, wash it, smooth it out and reuse it until it falls apart in the oven or something. Yeah, this week I was ‘foiled again’ by one of my carefully saved pieces. The good news is, I buy Reynolds brand RECYCLED foil, so sue me.

foilSo, I failed to meet the Zero Waste Challenge this week. The good news is that the experience really did manage to make me hyper-aware of just how much stuff really is going into the landfill because of me each week. My city doesn’t recycle metal cans either, and though I’ve almost stopped buying food in metal, I still have to occasionally. This week there was not one, but two cans. I’m going to wash them, punch holes and make luminaries out of them. Merry Christmas!

diy-Christmas-craft-Luminaries-made-from-recycled-tin-cans



Zero Waste Week
November 30, 2014, 9:15 PM
Filed under: Eliminating Waste | Tags:

I like a good challenge. Whether it’s something as simple as finishing the daily crossword puzzle or as complicated as figuring out how in the hell to replace a broken pipe, I thrive on most challenges. I always learn something when I take on a challenge, even if I’m not able to meet it fully. Most challenges simply present themselves, as in broken pipes. But my current one is different…I’m challenging myself to see if I can cut my waste to nothing, for one week. Just a week, that’s all. There’s this lady whose blog I read, that writes about her zero waste life- she and her family of four, only create ONE QUART JAR OF WASTE PER YEAR. For three years now. Surely I can go a week!

My Zero Waste Week will begin Monday (tomorrow) morning, since that’s the day my garbage is picked up. I chose this week because it’s shaping up to be a busier than usual one, with four meetings, errands to run and appointments to keep. I thought it might be ‘most typical’ of a working woman’s weekly schedule, which makes me pretty sure I won’t be able to go a full week without having something in the garbage can by next Sunday but I’m going to give it my best shot. It may turn out to be the challenge from hell, forcing me to do things radically differently than I do now. My plan is to reduce, reuse, recycle and repurpose everything that presents itself as ‘waste’. I’m really hoping my cat Simon doesn’t kill a rodent this week since I normally wrap his little back-door ‘gifts’ in a plastic bag and throw them in the garbage can. (Maybe I can make a special ‘stew’ instead?) I’ll take pictures (will there BE anything to take pictures of if there’s zero waste?) and post the results next Sunday.

20141130_205826[1]Sunday PM

 



Frugal Friday- November 21, 2014

I’ve had a fairly busy, productive week, but have nothing scheduled for the next three days: time in which I intend to do some long awaited sewing repairs and try some new recipes. If I waited for ‘things to slow down’ or for ‘a better time’ to get serious about “using it up, wearing it out, making it do, or doing without” it would never happen. Using the resources I have available to me wisely is simply part-of-my-daily-life, and enables me to live more sustainably, more economically, and to be a better steward of the little piece of Earth that I’m responsible for. This week was no different from many, except that I am trying to keep my grocery bills down as much as possible this month since I’ve got a family birthday dinner to prepare next week, as well as the Thanksgiving feast to contribute to, neither of which I intend to scrimp on.

Monday: I had the city deliver a load of clean, dry shredded leaves to my backyard. We use them for layering with ‘greens’ in the compost bins, for mulch around everything and as a soil amendment in our heavy clay soil when preparing new beds. They’re delivered free, and this year I had the load dumped right on top of an old tree stump where the grassy slope makes it hard to cut around! I’m hoping by the time we get to the bottom of the pile next fall that the grass around the stump will be dead and we can then easily convert that area to something beautiful and food-producing. Savings: priceless

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 Tuesday:  In our efforts to keep food costs lower this month, and because we love soup in cold weather, we gladly used the small turkey carcass we were left with after a potluck meal we’d attended on Saturday night to make a pot of turkey/potato soup. Michael spent this cold day in the kitchen simmering it along with a couple of loaves of homemade bread, made using bread flour and yeast both bought in bulk. The only new expense was for fresh celery, which I bought on sale for 88 cents, since we already had the carrots, onions and herbs for seasoning growing in the garden. This pot o’ soup made six generous servings, and with the bread, we figure those meals cost us about 25 cents each It was delicious, healthy and warmed our bellies and the kitchen on a cold day. Savings: Panera Bread Company sells large bowls of chicken noodle soup w/celery and carrots for $3.99, with a slice of bread and a loud TV included in the price. Comparing that, six of their meals would’ve cost us $24.00. OUR soup meals include unlimited bread and free WiFi. Just sayin’…

Wednesday: I harvested four mature cabbages, a bushel of kale, and a ton of onions from my garden beds before the deep freeze hit. Then I covered the plots with hoops and plastic for the remainder of the winter. This is the third year I’ve used the same sheets of plastic and they’re in good shape because I wash, dry and store them away as soon as the weather warms, in order to get more use out their ‘made-from-oil’ life. (under that tunnel is broccoli, kale, chard, lettuces, spinach and more onions…all just waiting in cold storage to be harvested.)

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produce on counter(1)

Thursday: I had some cooked rice, fresh snow peas, ginger, broccoli, carrots, peppers and more that needed to be used up. Stir fry to the rescue! I used up some left-from-summer Sesame-Ginger ‘grilling sauce’ that I’d bought at the discount grocery in this mix, and we loved it for supper and again for lunch on Friday.

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Friday: The bag I keep in the freezer for onion, celery and carrot tops was full and I was out of my homemade veggie broth, so…

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Quarts of organic vegetable broth at most any grocery store are $3.00 each. It’s a great way to use up something that would otherwise be thrown away, and after it’s simmered for a couple hours, the broth is strained and the softened, cooled veggies are given to the neighbor’s chickens as a treat. Savings: $21 since I use reusable canning lids on my jars, and add home grown herbs for flavor. I like saving that kind of money,  and I like knowing what’s in my food, don’t you?



Transition Matters

I’ll immediately apologize to my readers that don’t live in my town, for this post is strictly about events and groups that are inherently ‘local’. Feel free to move on, but I hope you’ll keep reading anyway- I’ve tried to make it interesting to everyone, really.  Remember, that the modern industrial capitalist economic and social system, based upon cheap oil and resources, is unsustainable, making a major restructuring of economy and society imperative, and inevitable. Transition contends that citizens and communities need to act proactively and positively at the local scale, in a process of ‘Transition’ and ‘powerdown’ to build localized and resilient communities in terms of food, energy, work and waste. Hence the blog name, Tennessee Transitions.

1. Shopping for Christmas? Check out these products, from Naked Bee! They’re affordable, all natural personal care products AND they’re made right here in our fair city! They produce hair care products, lotions, soaps, lip balms and candles and you can find a store nearby by clicking on this link. If you’re going to buy Christmas gifts, please try to support local businesses. If you  buy these products, you’ll be supporting both the manufacturer AND the retailer. Not to mention the gift recipient. Win-Win-Win

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2. Tuesday, November 18th, is the date for the bimonthly Livable Communities group meeting. We’ll be meeting at the downtown offices of Insight Alliance, located at 207 E Main St at 5:30 PM. A report has been prepared for us with the final results of the survey that was used to gather information concerning the possibility of a natural foods store in Johnson City. That alone is worth coming to hear about. We’ll also move forward in our plans for continuing the work begun by the Southside Neighborhood Organization (SNO) in placing Little Free Libraries in neighborhoods across town and fill you in on other positive things that are happening in our region.

LFL

3. Another meeting? I know, I know, but this one is so important to our current and future abilities to provide food for ourselves. C.O.O.P. (Chickens On Our Property) will hold a short meeting Thursday Nov. 20, 5pm at Willow Tree Coffeehouse (216 E Main Street) to discuss what our next steps should be to stop updates that are being made to the RESIDENTIAL zoning codes – which right now say “no ‘farm animals’ permitted” but are legally trumped by the city codes for animal control which ALLOW for chickens. Honeybees and backyard hens have now been lumped together as ‘farm animals’. This issue concerns any and all who believe in pet rights, self-sufficiency, and food justice.

COOP logo

4.  I believe medicinal herbs could regain the prominence and importance they once held in our home medicine chests and first aid kits as we transition to more localized lives. After all, many prescription drugs originated from chemicals found in plants. Bring your brown bag lunch at noon on Tuesday, November 18th, to the Johnson City public library to attend a free presentation :”Herbs and the Natural World.” The presenter will discuss medicinal and culinary herbs and their uses and will offer samples of herbal teas for your tasting pleasure.

tea-438480_640



Frugal Friday- November 14, 2014

As the earth makes it slow tilt away from the sun, my life has begun to slow down. I love it. Perhaps now that Michael is beginning to feel better, and now that the garden is put to bed, I’ll be able to post more often. Because I love that too. I have had conversations with family and friends lately that indicate many of us struggle with day to day expenses, not to mention the big things-like cancer treatments, or… (feel free to fill in this blank with your own money sucker: ____________)

Personal finances are not something that our ‘polite’ society is accustomed to talking publicly about, at least not in the South it seems. So, never fear, I will, even though my parents and grandparents would roll in their graves if they knew I discussed money issues in public. We all depend on money. Whether it’s a weekly paycheck or a monthly disability check, it’s a common denominator for everyone. So, it we can discuss religion and politics, social issues and sex, relationship or health problems, why don’t we feel we’re able to openly discuss finances?

Let me begin this week’s fabulous assortment of thrifty and frugal activities by saying that if I didn’t apply the values of patience, simplicity and frugality to my spending habits, I simply wouldn’t be able to enjoy the “life well spent” that I do. I’m not ashamed to admit that we have a small income, while feeling quite content with the good life we have. I don’t ever feel like I”m sacrificing anything for this lifestyle. The sacrifice for me would be having to go to a job every day. Instead of working to earn money, I work to save money.  Just sayin’.

For example:

Monday: We went to a showing of a documentary at the local university, called “Good Ol’ Freda”. Freda is the woman that served as the Beatles personal secretary for ten years. The cool part was that afterwards she held a Q and A session with the audience, there was a really nice reception with heavy hor d’oeuvres, and I got to have my picture made with my friend while standing right there in front of the Beatles. sort of. Priceless fun, and free!

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Tuesday: I’ve thought for years that I’d like to have a steam juicer but wasn’t willing to pay $70 or more for one. My reasoning was that the payback period might prove to be too long. I can buy a lot of juice for that kind of money! But the wait is over now; I found the perfect steamer right after I completed a major planting of strawberries, blackberries and blueberries in my backyard  Serendipitous? Perhaps. Price? $3.49 at a thrift store- it appears to have never been used and came complete with the users guide. Patience pays off!

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Wednesday: Speaking of those berry beds…I was quite lucky to score a bunch of 4×4 fence posts from Freecycle  that had only been in the ground a year. They too were like new. (I’m still wondering why someone would replace a one year old fence…) Anyway, I’d been wanting to put in more fruit this fall and had hoped to find an attractive looking border with which to surround it. A friend had gladly let me dig blueberry slips that sprouted from his established berry plants, and I’d been babying them in pots in my backyard nursery since last spring. Yet another friend happily let me rake the pine straw from her front yard to use as mulch on the new beds. Win-win-win. No money was involved, but I’ll be able to repay my benefactors for their generosity eventually with fresh berries, jams, and now- JUICE!

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Thursday: We celebrated my grandson’s 16th birthday. We enjoyed a homemade cake with our ice cream, but the store didn’t have the ONE candle to go with the SIX candle. No worries, and lots of laughs! Savings: $2 on that ONE since we already had a box of the little candles…

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Tuesday thru Friday: We enjoyed an out of town guest for a couple of days this week. I took him on a walking tour of downtown to show him all the progress that’s been made since he was last here, we attended a wonderful art show of social and political artworks at the University gallery, and got to see the visiting Buddhist Monks that are here this week working on a sand mandala. What a unique and cultural treat that was!

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We also enjoyed an early Thanksgiving dinner with our guest and my brother. The turkey breast I bought was on sale and I saved $7 on that one item alone, since I also bought it on Tuesday, the day Krogers gives a senior discount. The meal included home canned green beans, mashed potatoes made from our stored tubers, fresh roasted brussels sprouts, and canned peaches with homemade vanilla yogurt for dessert. We all ate leftovers for lunch the next day, and today Michael and I enjoyed the last of the turkey for our lunch tucked into big fat sammiches topped with slices of red onions and tomatoes, both fresh from the garden. Now I have a small bag of bony parts, broth and turkey bits in the freezer that will make a great meal of turkey and noodles in the near future.

The last night he was with us, I made a large pot of Minestrone Soup for supper. I tried to price it out, but there were too many ingredients to make that possible. Suffice it to say that those bowls of goodness probably only cost just a few cents each since, once again, I was able to use the good food that we grew and put by this summer to add to it. After supper we stopped by two nearby coffee house/listening rooms, where we enjoyed beers and chai teas while listening to free music. The last comment the friend made before leaving was this: “I’m so envious of this peaceful and fun life you have here. I wish I could quit my job.”

Now I’m not advocating for anyone to just up and ‘quit their job’ but I do advocate for finding alternatives to consumerism. Creative use of our resources, whether cooking from scratch or taking advantage of your city’s resources benefit your wallet, the planet, and your connection to what really matters in life.

Consume Less

Now, why not share your frugal Friday moments with me in the comments below? I LOVE hearing from you! Have a great weekend friends.



The Tipping Point
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“Tenacity”…as seen on my daily walk

I started the following post BEFORE Tuesday’s elections, and almost deleted it as being too ‘Pollyana-ish’ when I came back to it last night. After a lot of thought, I realized it is still relevant. Perhaps more than ever for those of us that are feeling defeated and hopeless about our collective future in this country (and in this state!).  I believe if we want to see the changes that are important to us that we have to approach them in a grass roots manner, rather than depending on our government and elected officials . There are tons of quotes about this kind of action, but here are my favorites:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world” ~Mahatma Gandhi
And now back to our regularly scheduled blog post…

tilt a whirl

Remember riding the Tilt-A-Whirl at the fair? When everyone on board would shift their weight to the same side, the round tub would spin dizzily in that direction. It was the shifting together that tilted the thing. We may have lost some momentum Tuesday, but we certainly haven’t left the fair yet! There’s still lots to see and do and experience, under our own terms. We aren’t beholden to donors or voters and we have no term limits.

As I have traveled my path towards personal sustainability and economic well-being, I’ve come to realize that many others are on the same path with me. We may not all call it that, or even realize consciously that that’s what we’re doing, but I’m happy for the company and am feeling pretty confident that we are close to reaching a ‘tipping point'; that is, “the event of a previously rare phenomenon becoming rapidly and dramatically more common.” We’ve reached a critical mass and I think this election will eventually result in reaching that tipping point because the corporate-run government system that remains in power today is flatly incapable of solving our problems. Climate change, global viral pandemics and super bugs, water aquifiers drying up, the coming food collapse and runaway debt aren’t going to be resolved by Republicans or Democrats, since neither party has a real plan for dealing with them. Many folks will realize that soon enough, and will begin looking for other solutions, adding to the shift.

I’ve listened to strangers and friends (and even elected officials) have discussions about backyard chickens and urban beekeeping, community gardens, farmers’ markets, biking and hiking trails, green spaces, local foods, sustainability, walkability scores, alternative energies and more. I’ve read countless newspaper op-eds, books, magazine and internet articles about the efforts individuals and sometimes entire cities are making to transition to a better way of living. I’ve personally witnessed a surge of interest in historical preservation and Livable Community Initiatives, downtown revitalization projects, rails-to-trails conversions, and soon- a downtown observation bee hive and a meadow on the front lawn of the public library-right here in my town! It seems we are redefining the good life for our own selves, in our own localities, in our own terms. In other words, we’re edging closer to that tipping point.

It seems many of us want to move to a different way of eating too. My local food shed is growing: incubator  kitchens and community canneries are on the drawing board, two edible Food Forests have been planted and a food coop is being discussed, community gardens are expanding,the needed money has finally been earmarked now for a permanent Farmer’s Market location, and a non profit organization has just opened a year-round local foods grocery! All this in my midsized town of 65,000 people! From small towns to large cities, foodscapes are changing. Schools, prisons and hospitals are offering healthier, locally-grown choices via on-site gardens and networks of local growers. Farmers are working around the inane requirements of the USDA’s “certified organic” and moving to a more inclusive “sustainably grown” label. Small farms are coming back and restaurants are proud to add  their ‘locally sourced’ goods to their menus. Friends are milking goats and making cheese, baking their own breads and making beer. We’re tipping all the while.

I’m not going to let the disappointing election results dissuade me in my quest for living a better life on less. It will have the opposite affect in fact, pushing me to work even harder towards finding local, sustainable solutions to the real life problems we all face. I’ve reached my tipping point. Have you?

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Freaky Friday- October 31, 2014
October 31, 2014, 6:08 PM
Filed under: Halloween | Tags: , , ,

In honor of the season, I’ve decided to change the focus of this Friday post from frugal to freaky. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if these things are spooky:

Monday: “Most of New Hampshire’s moose have already died. Now Maine’s moose are dying in droves. Why? In winter, they are covered with hundreds of thousands of ticks all busily sucking their blood. This weakens the poor moose so that he dies before spring; he cannot survive the winter. I read about this, and I know it’s true. Local hunters have been reporting back about moose and deer carcasses just crawling with ticks; they just rot where they lie. The predators (coywolves, coyotes, bears, etc.) will not go anywhere near them (wisely). There never used to be ticks in Maine. Some of the local people still don’t believe there are any here. I’ve seen them, though, so I know they are here. I recognize a tick when I see one. Why have ticks moved northwards? Well, we all know why, don’t we?” ~from a friend in Maine. AND confirmed this week while reading Bill Mckibbon’s book “Oil and Honey”. Creepy stuff.  

Tuesday: According to Scientific American it takes 10 calories of energy to produce 1 calorie of food. Um, the last time I did math, those were not sustainable numbers. When you think about the possible implications of this, it’s really ominous.

Wednesday: Western drought may now be ‘normal’ and Polar vortex may become ‘normal’. Can you imagine reading (and comprehending) that sentence just ten years ago? Climate Change is frightening!

Thursday: From NBC News today: The number of cases of Ebola in the three hardest-hit countries, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, just sped past 10,000. That’s scary.

Friday: An October snowstorm that dumps about a foot of snow on NE TN? Chilling!

Sometimes the news is scarier than the zombies roaming the streets. We’ll talk more about some of these scary news stories next week. But for now, I’d like to offer you a frugal, delicious and healthy recipe for a Halloween stew that uses corn, potatoes and a head lettuce:

funny-vegan-witches-cartoon

Happy Halloween Folks!



Growing Community (in Our Gardens)

I’ve only lived in this urban area for a bit over two years, but I’m definitely feeling the connections again that I once had with our land at our previous home, which was out in the country. But out there, I only felt a connection with our couple of acres, since there were few personal relationships with others in the area. It seemed to me that those ‘country folks’ that had been a part of that rural area for decades…attending their churches and schools, naming the roads after themselves (true, that), working their land and raising their horses… just weren’t much interested in interacting with ‘new folks’ like us.

After rather unsuccessfully trying to be a part of that community for over ten years, we decided that we might find more of what we were looking for by living in town, so here we are. It’s been a transition for sure-I’m still shocked when an ambulance or fire truck goes wailing by- but overall it’s been a positive experience for us. As I’ve worked these last few weeks in my raised beds in the backyard, and in my plot at the nearby community garden, preparing them for the inevitable sleep that’s soon to come, I’m feeling a sense of belonging again, and a sense of place. I like that feeling of connection and I hold it sacred. Now here’s the thing that’s been going through my mind as I work: A sacred way of life connects us to the people and places around us. That means that a sacred economy must be in large part a local economy, in which we have multidimensional, personal relationships with the land and people who meet our needs, and whose needs are met in turn.

Gardening is like my own personal local economy, employing the same give and take techniques I use with my neighbors and community. I give the soil what it needs to produce, then take what I need for sustenance. After feeding us so well, beginning with fresh peas in April clear through to the  almost-ready beds of plump cabbages and jeweled greens that are growing there now, I feel compelled to give back somehow.

To that end, I spent last Saturday with community gardeners planting a mini fruit orchard. Together we planted cherry, plum and apple trees, along with blueberries and grapes. The work was hard but we’ll all be rewarded with abundant organic fruit eventually. And while those trees grow, we’re growing our community too…

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I think it’s an act of courage to plant a fruit tree…essentially you’re saying to the Universe that you intend to be around to take care of it for years to come. After the weekend of communal spirit, I have lovingly planted blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and Japanese maples in my own yard this week, and can’t wait to see them grow and prosper. Yes, lovingly. I fed my now-depleted soils with well-aged compost that we’ve been tending all summer, and amended that with a truckload of alpaca manure…

20141028_141359[1] …then planted a green manure cover crop to the raised beds..

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and carefully tucked the new trees and berries in for winter with a quilt of pine straw…

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Everyone contributed to my little personal place: the Earth, with her natural abundance of grass clippings, leaves and trees, a friend that was happy to see the pine straw raked off her grass, the funny and furry alpacas that unknowingly contributed their poops- even the city crews that deliver shredded leaves to my yard!  So, my garden has become a community effort.  In turn, I share my garden abundance with my daughter, who lives on disability and is  always ‘food insecure’, and my community.  It’s local. It’s shared. It’s sacred. Just sayin’…

 

 



Frugal Friday- October 17, 2014
October 17, 2014, 10:23 PM
Filed under: Frugality | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I can’t believe it’s already Friday again! I’ve worked hard this week to get some of my fall ‘householding’ chores completed, while taking some time out to just chill after a couple of stressful weeks. I’ve nursed a cold this week too, so I took extra time for rest, relaxation and reflection as well. Living frugally and healthfully allows me to live fully, while using fewer resources and less money. Sweet.

Monday: I’m on a fermentation kick. After 2 weeks in the hospital, many tests, scans, and invasive procedures, Michael’s doctors came to the conclusion that his chemo and surgeries had left him with “Paralytic Ileus”, or simply put, a sleepy colon. In order to ‘wake it up’ he needs to eat probiotics. Read: pricey. His surgeon specifically told me to buy yogurt made with RAW milk, since pasteurization kills a lot of the ‘good bacteria’. Well, raw milk sales are illegal in TN but luckily, I have friends that have bartered jugs of their fresh, raw, goat’s and cow’s milk with me for some of my apple cider and homemade jams. My yogurt maker is working overtime, with delicious results. After doing some research on my own, I learned that yogurt only contains two types of gut-friendly bacteria, while there are several other types of the ‘good guys’ in some of the lesser-known fermented foods. Enter: sauerkraut, pickles, kumbocha tea, kefir, chow-chow and Kvass. What the hell is Kvass? A simple to make fermented drink made from beets…

20141014_125056Since I have a rather large supply of beets this time of year, it was an obvious choice. Peel and chop 2 large or 3 medium organic beets into a half gallon container. Add 2 teaspoons of sea salt, 1/4 cup of whey (from that raw milk), and fill with filtered water. Stir to mix, then cover lightly and keep at room temp for 3 days, then refrigerate. When most of the liquid has been drunk, you may fill up the container with water and keep at room temperature another two days. The resulting brew will be slightly less strong than the first. After the second brew, discard the beets and start again. You may, however, reserve some of the liquid and use this as your inoculant instead of the whey. If  you’re a Diet Coke freak you MAY not care for Kvass  ;)   If you love beets like I do, this may be your new favorite beverage. It’s full of vitamins and minerals and the fermentation process kicks them into high gear. I drink 4 ozs, twice a day and am feeling renewed, especially after tending a head cold this week. My friend tells me she sautees the leftover beets in butter and they are yummy. I’ll try it when this jar of kvass is gone. If all else fails, the chickens will like the bottom of the jar beets I’m sure.

Tuesday: Speaking of beets…when I planted my fall beet bed, I transplanted the thinnings to a different bed, since I can’t bear to waste anything. They looked awful!

Beet TransplantsBut I kept watering them during August’s drought and was surprised this week to spot this gorgeous root where those straggly, sad transplants had been…

20141014_083616Savings? I saw organic beets for $3.99 a lb this week at the store. If all four of those little thinnings grow to the size of this half pound one, I figure I’ve saved $8.00 on something most folks throw away!

Wednesday: I have some ‘yard art’ that I bought at a junk store before yard art was even cool. About 5 years ago the top sphere broke off, so I took it to a local shop to have it welded back on. That cost me $16 then. But recently, the guy with the backhoe that dug up my bushes for free, accidentally knocked it over and broke it again…

20141014_130346So this time I called the local high school welding shop teacher to see if one of his students could fix it. Sure did! Savings: $16

20141014_141044Thursday: A nearby potato grower let me glean his plot after he’d harvested…

TatersSavings: $10-$15? I don’t know their value since they’re misshapen and different sizes, BUT there’s enough ‘taters here to make many meals in the months to come. Ain’t it a shame the food that’s wasted  in this country? Not on my watch!

Friday: Recently, my beloved rice cooker quit working. Just quit, no power! I remember when I first bought it 6 years ago (on sale of course) that I liked it so much I took it on vacation and used it in the kitchen of the condo we stayed in to cook rice with steamed veggies in the top, oatmeal and soup. (Of course the others that were vacationing with us thought me strange…who cares?) For me, it’s a must-have appliance. The day after it quit working I went to a yard sale and there.it.was…

20140908_152403The same brand as my old one, but a more deluxe model and looking brand new inside and out! Price: $5.00.  Savings: About $40. It works perfectly.

Good food, good health, good friends. That’s all there is folks, and that’s enough. Have a great weekend!

 

 



The Winds of Change
October 12, 2014, 9:05 PM
Filed under: Community Building, Transitioning | Tags: , , ,

This blog is about re-creating our future in ways that are not based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being. I’m happy to report that those transitions are taking place in my town and I thought you might enjoy hearing a bit about some of the latest creative projects that are part of that transition process…

The Livable Communities group is made up of citizens that are willing to work towards making Johnson City and the surrounding communities more, well, LIVABLE.  Our group has been meeting for about 10 years, waxing and waning with the moons, but we seem to be on a pretty straightforward course now. Some of the things we’re addressing are fairly universal concerns, such as public health and safety issues, while others are more experimental and creative in nature.

There’s a desire amongst our groups’ members to start a food coop, allowing members to enjoy substantial discounts on farm-fresh and bulk foods. We envision a store-front operation where the fair-weather farmers that sell at our summer time Farmer’s markets would have the opportunity to sell their fruits and veggies year round, and a place where you could also purchase anything from jugs of local honey to freshly milled meal or flour, meats, cheeses, and baked goods, for example. To that end, we have developed a survey to determine if the desire of a few might also be the desire of many. Our goal is to have 1,000 responses by the end of October. We only have 250 responders thus far. If you haven’t taken it  yet, would you please? You’ll find it here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/JCcoopSurvey

Another project our group has decided to take on is the city-wide establishment of Little Free Libraries. These little libraries in a box are stocked by anyone that has an extra book to donate. Take a look at the one I saw just yesterday in a small mountain community nearby…

20141010_171832[1]This particular one was sponsored by that town’s Rotary Club and is much bigger and fancier than most, but the principal of putting books in the hands of young and old alike to read and return remains the same, regardless of size. The hope is that the little libraries will become tiny community gathering spots where folks can take a book, leave a book and share the love of reading. Our Livable Communities group would like to see one in every neighborhood in the city and we’re working on a plan of action to make that happen. Food coops and Little Free Libraries aren’t the only things we care about though. Hiking and biking trails, more green spaces, public art, and a vibrant local and sustainable food supply are just some of the many things that are in our cross hairs. Here’s another LFL that’s right down the street from my house. I love walking by it each day…

shakti

Speaking of libraries…yet another project that’s beginning to take shape is the long-talked-about ‘pollinator corridor’ that is to come to life in the mile-long stretch between downtown and the university. The main library will soon have a MEADOW on the front lawn, complete with a filtration system using rainwater harvested from the library’s roof, more art sculpture, a learning kiosk and native plants, flowers and grasses. For my readers that don’t live here, let me introduce you to our beautiful library…

libraryThat patch of green on the lower right will soon be converted to a pollinator-friendly meadow. How cool is that? I’ve been searching for ideas to convert my own front lawn from a hard-to-cut slope to something beautiful and fairly maintenance free. Guess what? … (I’ll keep you posted on my lawn’s transition as it occurs.) My house is just 2 blocks from the library. If they can do it, so can I. Like ball fields, if you build it, “they” (the pollinators, who so desperately need ‘safe havens’ of food, water and shelter) will come.

Creating a healthier, more localized food system, sharing our extra resources-from vegetables to books- and planting public green spaces to areas that are beautiful and sustainable are all indications of the winds of change that are blowing across my town and this country. None of these projects are quick and easy but like I always say, the journey is just as exciting as the destination! If you’d like to join the Livable Communities group for our bimonthly meetings, we meet next on Nov. 18th at 5:30 PM in the downtown offices of Insight Alliance. What is your town doing to transition to a more sustainable and livable community? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.




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