Thursday, September 30, 2010

Catching Up

Over the past couple of days, I've gotten reacquainted with my sewing machine. After it's accident and repair, I fell out of the sewing loop for a month or so. That and the office/sewing room was such a disaster I hated even stepping foot inside it! But after some straightening, a new/old desk from my neighbor and a good cleaning, I managed to again create enough of a space to get crackin'. Eventually, I will be painting and completely reorganizing but who knows when that will be finished...

I eased in slowly, just zigzagging some more napkins. I am proud to report that our paper towel use has been drastically reduced by using these uber awesome cotton squares. I use them as plates, to wipe sticky hands and faces and to wipe down highchairs and countertops. And since the fabric I used doesn't bleed when washed, I can throw them in to any load I happen to be washing, no matter the color. Better yet, K has taken a sudden interest in laundry folding and her specialty is napkins. Because of this, she's always urging us to use (and then dirty) our cloth napkins so that she can fold them when they're clean again!

Next, I whipped up some trick-or-treat bags for the kiddos. K has decided to be Scooby Doo and her little brother J will accompany her as Shaggy. (I can't wait to draw on his eyeliner goatee!) Anyhoo, I briefly contemplated making her costume. It's essentially a dog costume; some ears, a tail, brown shirt and pants with a few black spot, a collar....but after tallying the costs of what I would need, it's actually cheaper to buy a Scooby costume than to make it. I plan to order it soon, but will alter it slightly. The costume itself is basically a large brown jumpsuit. It has yet to make it under 100 degrees here and my poor girl would roast alive. I plan to make the costume short sleeved to get a little air circulation for her. But since I was deprived of making the costume, I used some (free!) Scooby Doo Halloween fabric to make coordinating treat bags. I didn't use a pattern. It was your basic sew two squares together and add a handle sort of thing. I appliqued their names on to the front and presto. Super cute, super easy and I got my sewing fix!

For the privacy of my children, I'm showing only the back side of the bag.
Sneaky Peek of name applique in front
 And last but not least, I've cut out two of pairs of lounge pants for myself. Snuggle fleece was on sale a couple weeks ago so I pounced. Comfy pants, as they are known in my house, are worn for sleeping, snuggling, reading, and all out lounging. The three pairs I currently own are looking grungy. One of them has a drawstring knotted so tightly I can't get it undone and have to wiggle like crazy to get them over my hips. It's time for some new ones. I hope to have them finished by the week's end. 

It's so good to be sewing again. And guess what? The craft store flyer announced today: Columbus Day Weekend... all patterns 99 cents!! I am so there...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

By The Light of the Moon

In the land of year round planting, it is, once again, time to get some seeds in the ground. Hubby and I have been combing through our seed box, lusting after heirloom vegetable catalogs, and elbowing other eager gardeners at the garden center, trying to stake our claim on the few precious tomato plants that they happened to have in stock. We had planned to start our own seedlings for our winter garden but, well, that just didn't quite happen. And though many of our veggies will be grown from seeds, we did splurge on ready-to-plant varieties for things like broccoli, tomatoes and peppers. We even went out on a limb and decided to try our hand with artichokes. The pokey, spindly little plants will soon grow to resemble bush trees and might even provide a little shade near the chicken coop. Now if only we could get them in the ground....

We bought the starts last weekend. Friday to be exact. We brought them around to the back porch and there they sat, waiting to be planted. My husband is the main gardener in this family. I do my best but my black thumb prohibits me from doing all but the simplest of garden chores. My husband is the main man. He decides what to plant and where to plant it. He rigged up the irrigation system. He fashioned his own homemade tomato cages and trellises when the store bought versions collapsed under the weight of the harvest. He reads books and blogs and message boards all in an effort to make his tomatoes bigger, his cucumbers crisper, his pumpkins rounder. I water and weed and harvest and thank my lucky stars that he knows what he's doing.

But as of late, there hasn't been much time for gardening.  Our winter garden should have been in weeks ago. However, Hubby was promoted at work which is great for his resume, but is putting a strain on his free time. He doesn't have any. He leaves before the sun comes up and comes home long after it's gone down. And yes, I could plant the starts myself but:

1. I have trouble decoding his elaborately diagrammed garden layout in the "Garden Notebook." God forbid I plant the eggplant where the red peppers should be.

2. It's still well over 100 degrees during the day. I find it difficult to drag myself and my kids into the heat of the day to plant. I'm a fair weather gardener. Plus, it can't be good for the veggies.

3. I'd be depriving my husband of a chore he dearly loves. Really. This isn't a cop out. He loves planting and after  11 or 12 hours in the office, all we wants to do is drink a beer and dig in the dirt. Who am I to deny him??

And so....after a ridiculously long day, Hubby stumbled through the door, checked on his already sleeping children, put on a headlamp and headed outside to plant. I followed, bringing him trowels and plants, wrestling the hose to water the newly interred vegetables, but I let him do the dirty work. We gardened by moonlight, not saying much. A wonderful end to a hectic day. And thanks to Hubby and his headlamp, our family will be eating fresh food again in a matter of weeks. Thank God for husbands who garden!

Monday, September 27, 2010


It all started a couple of weeks ago. My dear friend A agreed to care for my chickens while my family and I went to NM for a visit. Upon arriving home, A reported that everything went swimmingly. The chickens ate, laid and were merry in my absence. However, A did report that my most favorite blue-green eggs laid by my Americana Olivia were cracked. They were marred by a beak shaped hole that ruined my sea foam colored eggs. 

I knew what she was alluding too but I refused to believe it. Livy, as we call her, is the gentle one. Unlike "Crazy Daisy," we can scoop Livy up and stroke her feathers without fear of wildly flapping wings or wayward pecks. She's truly a pet, and our favorite of the pair. My sweet little bird couldn't be....oh it's too horrible to even say....eating her own eggs?! (gasp in horror here)

Crazy Daisy and Sweet Livy in the background

I've continued on in my deluded state while tossing blue eggs almost every day due to what I'll call "chicken error." Maybe she's just clumsy and kicks the egg a bit with her big chicken feet and cracks it. Maybe she's pecking for bugs and accidentally gets the egg. Every time. But then this morning, I saw this:

Remains. Not a crack or a peck but a shell. Just a shell. No yolk or whites anywhere to be seen. I could not blame chicken error for this one. I turned to the internet but all that did was make me feel like a terrible chicken keeper. The following are the leading causes of cannabilzing eggs:
  • Inadequate nest padding
  • Nutritional deficiency
  • Overcrowding
  • Boredom
  • Lighting issues
Let's start with nest padding. My girls could use a little extra. But every time I cozy up the nest boxes they end up scratching all the bedding out by the end of the day. As for nutrition issues, I highly doubt they are lacking. I'm paying out the wazoo for organic chicken feed. I'm confident that it provides adequate vitamins and minerals. Overcrowding isn't an issue. The coop is small but there's only two of them for crying out loud!! And boredom? How does a chicken get bored? 

Getting a chicken to stop eating eggs is a very, very difficult habit to break. The best thing to do is get rid of the offending hen but a) I'm not 100% sure which chicken it is and, b)chicken butchering is NOT one of the things I had planned on adding to my sustainable living skill set this early in the game. I'm still getting one good brown egg a day but I swear I almost tear up when I see a broken blue egg that I have to scoop up and dispose of in the compost bin. It baffles me as to why only the blue eggs get snacked on and not the brown.

The game plan is this:
  • Check for eggs three times a day. The less time the egg is in the coop, the less opportunity to eat it!
  • Buy some straw. The straw will provide a nice soft place for the newly laid eggs.
  • Darken the nest boxes. I'm thinking by hanging and old towel over the entrance to the boxes, it will provide a sense of security for the hens to encourage laying.
For any of you who have your own flock, any advice would be greatly appreciated. There would be a blue egg omelet in it for you...

Friday, September 24, 2010

This Moment

{this moment} 

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words- capturing a moment you want to remember. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Whole Enchilada

Have you ever had an enchilada? I mean a REAL enchilada? I grew up in the Southwest, New Mexico to be exact. We don't just eat Mexican food, we eat NEW Mexican food. The difference, you ask? New Mexican dood is heavily influenced not just by the Spanish who settled the area but also by the Native Americans who lived there (and still do.) Mexican food varies varies greatly by topography and in New Mexico, our enchiladas are not what you would get should you order one in Texas, Arizona, or even California. For those of you who don't know:

[en-chuh-lah-duh, -lad-uh]
–noun Mexican Cookery .
1.a tortilla rolled and filled with a seasoned mixture, usually containing meat, and covered with a sauce flavored with chili.
You would be amazed at the endless variations this seemingly simple definition can initiate. Enchiladas in New Mexico can be flat or rolled. The tortillas we use are made of corn, or masa, and they are filled or layered with cheese and meat. The sauce is what really makes an enchilada. In New Mexico, we produced our sauce out of either red or green chilies. In fact, the state question is "Red or Green?" We're pretty serious about our chili. We put it on EVERYTHING, not just enchiladas. Green Chili Cheeseburger? Yes please! And it's not the kind of chili you are probably picturing either. New Mexico red and green chili does not have beans or veggies in it. It's a smooth, spicy sauce that is, in my humble opinion, a little slice of heaven. My favorite kind of enchilada is flat, with beef, Christmas style, which means both red and green chili.

Why the education on Mexican cuisine? My hubby whipped up a batch of his most excellent red last weekend and we decided to have enchiladas for dinner. I started digging through the freezer for the corn tortillas only to find we didn't have any. I was ready to pull on my shoes for a quick jaunt to the store when hubby oh so gently reminded me that we are trying to "make do" with what we've got. I quickly pointed out that we've got was no tortillas. "Let's make some, " he suggested. Make them? 

We had a small bag of masa waaaaaay in the back of the pantry. I think we bought it last Christmas when we were feeling particularly energetic and thought we might want to make tamales. That never happened. So we measured, mixed and rolled and soon had fresh tortillas cooking on our cast iron griddle. Long story short: homemade corn tortillas+homemade red chili+backyard chicken egg over medium on top=the BEST enchilada I've ever had.
I felt cheated. How could I have been eating store bought corn tortillas for 27 years? Sure, our tortillas were a little thicker and not anywhere near being round but holy moly! They were divine! It never even crossed my mind to make my own tortillas. We are so conditioned to convenience that our brains simply refuse to grasp the possibility that it might better to put a little effort into our lives. Reaching for the packaged food, chemical cleaners or the designer bags in certainly easy, but how enriching is it really? 

The hardest thing for me to explain about voluntary simplicity is that really, it's not simple. It's hard work. Seems, counterintuitive right? Simple is hard? But oh, my friends, the benefits are sooooo worth it.  Not just because homemade tortillas are better, not just because scrubbing my tub for 20 minutes with a homemade baking soda paste is better for the earth....I'm slowly finding that this way of life is better for my soul.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Yes, another canning post. It's that time of year though so bear with me...

I was flipping though my Mom's canning books a couple weekends ago when I came across a recipe for kiwi jam. I have never in my life seen a jar of kiwi jam and I knew then that I would just have to try it. Kiwis are such a funny little fruit. Their hairy roundness gives way to a tender green flesh that tastes a little like strawberries, and a little like, well, something else. They are absolutely scrumptious. Some interesting facts about kiwis:

  • Kiwis have only been called kiwis since the 1950's. Before then they were known as Macaque Peaches, Vine Pears, Chinese Gooseberries and my personal favorite, Hairy Bush Fruit. 
  • Many consider the kiwi to be an Australian fruit but actually, it is native to Southern China. Italy is now the biggest cultivator of kiwis.
  • The hairy outer skin of kiwi is actually edible. Why anyone would want to eat it is beyond me, but there ya go...
  • Much like humans, only the female kiwi plant can bear fruit. Girl power!
I peeled, I chopped and I jammed. The set of the jam is quite soft but I'm thinking it will set  up in a couple of days. I know apricot and grape jams can take up to a week for a proper set. The jam is the most delightful green color and is speckled with little black seeds. My daughter has taken to calling it the "green polka dot" jam. Whatever you call it, it's refreshingly different. It's sweet with just a hint of tart. I'm thinking it will be paired perfectly with almond butter and a sturdy piece of whole grain toast. Or our straight out of the jar with a spoon, whichever you prefer!

Kiwi Jam

3 cups chopped kiwi
2 cups sugar
2 cups unsweetened pineapple juice
1 box powdered pectin

Add kiwi, pineapple juice and pectin to a large stockpot and bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Add sugar. Bring to a full rolling boil again and boil for exactly one minute. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Ladle hot jam into hot jars and process for 11 minutes in a water bath canner.
Makes about 6 half pints.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Apple Butter

In the house I grew up in, there grew in the yard two large apple trees. Because of the elevation and climate, the trees always bloomed but rarely fruited, as the frost often caught the delicate blossoms before they had a chance to thrive. But every couple of years, Jack Frost would hold back and let the the trees blossom and grow resulting in a bumper apple crop. I'm not sure what kind of apples they were....they were small, tart, and a were covered in a thin,greenish gold skin. They weren't the sweetest apples in the world but we still stole them from the trees on a regular basis, snacking as we meandered to the pasture to feed the pigs or the horses. 

Mom sent my brother and I out into the yard with old milk crates to pick them. We'd drag the full crates to the porch where Mom would lift the heavy loads in her arms and whisk them away to the kitchen. It was there amongst the bubbling pots and mounds of soft peels that the apples would be turned into a variety of delicious treats; pies, apples chips, applesauce, and of course, apple butter. It's one of my fondest autumn memories and I have been eager to recreate it in my own kitchen with my own children.

"Apple Pickers" by Camille Pissarro
And so I did. Apples, apples everywhere. And though I didn't get to pick them myself, I did find them on sale, and organic no less. While I peeled, and boiled and simmered and dried, my children stole slice after slice of apple and sampled every spoon I held for them to taste. This was my first time making apple butter. The recipe is my Mom's of course, with a few alterations to fit my family's tastes.

Crock Pot Apple Butter

4 pounds cooking apples (I just filled my crock pot to the top with apples. It doesn't have to be exact)
2 cups apple cider or juice
2 cups sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. all spice (I didn't have any so I didn't use it)

Stem, core and slice apples but do not peel. Combine apples and cider in the crock pot and cook at lowest possible temperature for 10 hours. Add sugar and spices. Remove lid for last four hours to cook down. Ladle hot butter into hot jars and process for 10 minutes in a water bath canner.

It's really a very easy recipe. You can adjust the amount of sugar or spices depending on your tastes. I put the spices and sugar in before I went bed and just let the whole thing simmer overnight.  After breakfast was cleared, I sterilized my jars and canned it at my leisure. It's delicious. The kids practically licked the crock pot clean. And now we'll be able to have a taste of fall whenever we want to...all year long.

Friday, September 17, 2010

This Moment

{this moment} 

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words- capturing a moment you want to remember. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

I've Got the Itch

I can't help it. I try so hard not to want. I have everything I need but inevitably, something pretty/shiny/awesome stares up at me with it's puppy dog eyes and whispers "Buy Me." It ain't easy being green. There are so many products that just don't fit into the lifestyle I have chosen to live. Today for example, I was at the store picking up a few things when I remembered that I am out of facial moisturizer. My usual stuff is organic and chemical free but it's also $24 a jar and I have to drive half way across town to retrieve it.

I turned down the skin care aisle for a looksie. I found what claimed to be a natural brand and turned the bottle over to have a read. What I found wasn't pretty. The bottle claimed to do everything I needed it to do and more and at $6.99 it was certainly a steal. But I just couldn't do it. I can't "unlearn" what I know. I'm not sure how this particular moisturizer could claim to be natural; parabens, sulfates and the ever questionable word "fragrance" are not found in nature and therefore, are in no way, shape or form natural. I sighed, put the bottle back on the shelf and mentally scheduled in the time this weekend to drive across town and pick up my usual.

It isn't only "un-green" items I lust for. I want a whole bunch of other stuff too, most of which I probably don't really need. I thought it might be helpful for me write down the things I've been thinking I just have to have...and then talk myself out of it. Ever a lover of bulleted lists, it goes something like this:

  • A New Tablecloth-My table is old and ugly. It's scratched and burned has some gummy residue I think might be duct tape but I'm not sure. Plus, the table was hand-me-down of sorts and is screamingly "country" in sea of darker wood tones and modern lines.   
Bottom Line: Make your own. Sand the table and stain it. OOOOH. I like that! And paint the chairs. Yes. I like that a lot. 
  • Kaboom Foaming Cleaner-Despite my best efforts, I can find NO homemade concoction to get my tubs clean. I've tried everything; vinegar, baking soda, borax and every organic cleanser known to man. The combination of hard water and soap scum has made my tub a gross grayish color that I CANNOT scrub away. 
Bottom Line: Kaboom is poison. Really. Using it is damaging to the planet and to my family's health. Do you really want your kids sitting in Kaboom tainted bathwater? Scour the earth for new cleaning recipes or just get used to the gray color of your tubs. Maybe paint the bathroom to match.

  • A Murphey Bed-Everytime I step into the office/sewing room/guest room I cringe. There is not a hint of organization to the place. A Murphey, or wall bed, will not only provide sleeping space for guests so we don't have to blow up the air mattress, it folds into the wall to keep the room open and will provide shelves and storage for organizing office and sewing supplies.
Bottom Line: Get over it girl. Murphey beds are ridiculously expensive. Why not challenge yourself to decorate and organize the room with found/thrifted/used items instead? Hmmm.....

  • Towels-Our towels are looking pretty sad. I haven't bought any since we were first married, about six years ago. Hubby has repeatedly complained, especially about the white bumpy ones. The others are looking more threadbare and the end seams are pulling together creating a gathered effect on each end. They look like bow ties.
Bottom Line: Eh. You might actually need this one. The towels are not only worn but are magically disappearing. In a few more months you may be drying off with cloth napkins if you don't add some more to the collection. Watch the sales flyers and save those JCPenney coupon that you are constantly bombarded with.

  • Curtains and Decorative Baubles-The bedroom has been painted for a couple months but I have yet to "finish" the room. I want thermal curtain panels to keep the heat out and make the window look pretty. I need something to hang over the bed and over the dresser. The walls are bare.
Bottom Line: Time to get creative. Get out your Martha Stewart archives and look for DIY wall art ideas. Hit up garage sales and Goodwill to see what decorative items you can find. Thermal curtains can be made but I'm not sure it's a cost effective option. Figure out how much it will take to make from scratch and compare costs. Thermal panels will keep energy bills down so this one is a yes. Just make it a carefully researched purchase.

Ahhhhh.....I feel much better. It's amazing how getting it all down before running to the store and impulse buying can do for you. It appears I have several DIY projects ahead of me. I better get started. Stay tuned for updates!!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Blow The Lid Off

When news about BPA and it's harmful aftereffects hit the news a couple years ago, I panicked. The bottles I had been using for my daughter were of course, laden with the stuff.  I tossed them immediately and never looked back. I've made a serious effort to avoid the toxic endocrine disruptor at all costs. I now avoid buying plastics and if I simply must have something of a plastic-y nature, I make sure it is stamped with a reassuring "BPA Free" disclaimer.

For those of you who don't know, BPA or Bisphenol A is an industrial chemical used to make polycarbonate plastic resins, epoxy resins, and other products. It makes plastics clearer, stronger and more heat resistant. What's not to like, right? Well, studies have found that BPA can trigger a number of harmful effects including but not limited to acceleration of puberty, increased cancer risks, increased incidence of heart disease, and diabetes. But it makes my my Tupperware strong and pretty and microwave safe so who cares, right?

Then, about a year or so ago, we discovered that most canned goods you buy from the store are preserved in cans lined with a plastic containing, you guessed it, BPA. Great. So now, I preserve as much food as I can on my own to minimize my family's exposure. But wait! What's this? Come to find out, home canning lids have BPA in them too. Talk about a downer. My heart sank when I read it. It's like we can't win. All the major brands: Ball, Kerr, Golden Harvest, and Bernardin all use BPA in the coating of their lids. The Bernardin website states:

"Jarden Home Brands manufacturer of home canning lids: Ball, Kerr, Golden Harvest, and Bernardin brands follow the same rigorous FDA standards used by the commercial food packaging industry. Like the majority of commercial food packagers using glass jars with metal closures and metal sanitary cans, the coating on our home canning lids is designed to protect the metal from reacting with the food it contains. A small amount of Bisphenol A is present in the coating. The FDA does not limit Bisphenol A in commercially packaged foods, and is aligned with the international scientific community’s position that a small amount of Bisphenol A in contact with “canned foods” is not a health concern for the general public."

Oh. Thanks. That makes me feel better. As long as the FDA doesn't think we're getting poisoned, it's cool.  Give me a break! The FDA has been notoriously wishy-washy with the whole BPA thing. Though they concluded that at "current levels" BPA poses no threat, they immediately recommended ways to minimize exposure. If it's not dangerous, why do we need to minimize exposure? The Food and Drug administration is a joke. Their primary concern is the bottom line rather than our safety. Despite their reassurances, I wouldn't trust the FDA report on BPA. There's lots of information out there. Do some research and decide for yourself.

So what does this mean for home canners? A few things to consider:
  • There is rumor on a few message boards that Jarden Home Brands is planning to release BPA free lids due out sometime next year. Hopefully, there's truth to the chatter. 
  • There is a bit of head space between the contents of our jars and the lid. There will probably not be much contact between the food and the lid. Remember to keep jars in the upright position and take them straight up and out of the canner to avoid contamination. Acidic foods like tomatoes and pickles are more likely to pick it up so be extra careful when handling them.
  • You can avoid BPA all together by canning with all-glass jars like those made by the German company Weck. Weck makes beautiful jars but brace yourself. They cost a fortune. Example. I just purchased a dozen half pint jars for jelly making. It cost me $7. To buy a dozen half pint globe jars from Weck? It'll cost you $60. PLUS shipping. Yikes!
Please oh please, do not let me discourage you from putting up your harvests. Home canning is a smart, economical and immensely gratifying practice that I hope never goes away. I write only to caution you and to make you aware. Be smart. Home canning may be down but it's certainly not out. I suggest visiting your favorite lid brand's website and sending a firm (but politely worded) email to the company explaining to them the dangers of BPA and how you, as a consumer of their fine products, will not stand for it. There's strength in numbers readers...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?

This past weekend, my family and I traveled to New Mexico to visit family and attend the 2010 Pie Festival. Pie Town, New Mexico is one in a series of tiny communities (and I mean TINY) located in Catron County, New Mexico just west of the Continental Divide. It's where I grew I up. The Pie Fest is an annual event that brings us all back together for food, fun and of course...PIE!  There are horny toad races, pie eating contests,  a pie bake off, sack races, face painting...just good, old fashioned fun.

Chocolate Cherry Delight

Every time we go home, it gets harder and harder to leave. It's funny how I couldn't wait to graduate and get the hell out of there. I had exactly 17 people in my senior class.  We had a four day school week because some kids had to ride over 70 miles ONE WAY on the bus to get to school. I knew everyone and they knew me. I couldn't wait to leave. I was ready for the "big city" and often rolled my eyes at what I thought to be a primitive and boring existence. Oh, how the tables have turned. I can't wait to get back. The open space, the friendly faces....the basics of living. That place heals my heart.

K making the trip back to the house from the upper garden
Many of the local residents of my hometown possess a sense of community and self-sufficiency that simply does not exist here in the suburbs. Going home and going to Pie Fest reminded me how important community connections are and how much urban centers are missing out by insisting on isolation.We have bought into a richly advertised paradigm that say the products we buy are socially advantageous-in other words, the more STUFF you have, the more successful you appear and thus, you won't have to try so hard when it comes to the social interactions that are essential to being a happy human. But all the buying, the stuff collecting, the "keeping up with Joneses" has consumed so much of our time and energy that we have fewer opportunities for genuine connections.

People need to be connected. My neighbors had a little potluck get together a couple of weekends ago. They invited my family, and one other family from down the street. We got into a discussion about the few other remaining people on the block (many of the houses are for sale, foreclosed or abandoned) and realized that we've become strangers on our own street. There is no sense of community, no pride.  Besides the three families sitting around that table, there is no one we would ask to water our plants while we were gone, no one's backyard we would send our children to play in. We see each other, quickly in passing, but seldom do we give more than the customary wave or nod of the head. Many of them speed down our street, tear into their garages and shut the doors as fast as they can.

I want the relationships in my life to take precedence. I don't want to lose my social connections. Sure, you can work your forty plus hours, buy the boat, the designer duds, whatever your heart desires. But if you fill yourself up with STUFF,  and fill your time with ACQUIRING STUFF,  you may find the the fibers that were holding your life together will start to unravel. I know mine did. Hence my journey to simplification. I like shopping just as much as the next woman but I will not let it be all of me. I refuse. Things are not important. People are important. Our connections to one another are important. Step out of your protective bubble and meet the people with whom you share your world. You'll be glad you did!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Meddling Mint

Blast ye garden gods! Why do you thwart me so? Mint. All that mint. Is back. Taking over. My garden.

Remember a few posts back when I lovingly threw myself in front of my husband's shovel to save my mint plant before he hacked it out? I did dry a great deal of mint leaves but hubby still pulled the plant, satisfied that he had solved the problem. Yeah. Not so much. I went to the backyard with our garden notebook to plot out some fall plantings and this is what I found:

Mint. EVERYWHERE. Growing free as you please. Though my daughter is pleased as punch to have mint growing again, I, on the other hand, had a few choice words for that notoriously prolific herb. What have I done?? I was warned. But did I listen? No. I honestly thought if the plant were to get unruly (which it did) that we could just pull it out and be done with it. But lo and behold there it is. Taunting me. Threatening to suffocate all the fall veggies that I had hoped to plant.

I've  been visiting some gardening message boards and it seems the only way I might be able to get rid of it is to cut off it's water supply, dig deep and hard and spray whatever I find with vinegar. Cutting off the water is easy. We'll just turn off the irrigation. And the kids were more than happy to get their little shovels and dig and pull, though there was more dirt going out of the bed than mint plants. I'm afraid to use the vinegar...wouldn't it ruin the soil for the other plants I hope to grow in there?

I hope our plan of attack is effective. If I lose an entire raised bed to mint I will be beyond upset. A warning to goes in a pot, not in a plot! I guess I'm going to learn how to make a mean mojito...

P.S. The kids quickly grew tired of helping Mommy massacre mint plants and wandered off toward the chicken coop to talk to the chickens. K yelled across the yard that the "silly chicken" had laid her egg on the ground instead of the nesting box. I dusted my hands and moved away from my pile of pulled plants to investigate. There, on the ground, was a tiny, perfect BLUE egg. Olivia has finally started laying! Hurray!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Guest Post!

Just FYI....

I was a guest blogger over at Putting Away the Harvest, a blog dedicated to the different ways to preserve food. If you're new to canning....or drying, or dehydrating, or fermenting or whatever, I highly suggest you check this one out. Lots of good information. You can view my guest post at:

Happy Harvest!

Wipe Your Face

I am addicted to paper towels. Really. All my efforts to live greener and more sustainably and I tear through paper towels like there's no tomorrow. I cringe when I think about how many rolls of paper towels I've used in my lifetime. I use them for everything. To wipe up spills, clean bathrooms, wash faces and hands....I even use paper towels in lieu of cutting boards when I'm slicing fruit for breakfast or as a quick plate for sandwiches and muffins. It has to stop! 

Lately, I've been making an honest effort to stop using so many of these environmentally damaging but oh-so-convenient scraps of absorbent paper. I used to use nearly an entire roll to clean my bathrooms but I've been using my arsenal of rags instead. And to wipe down the counters, I've been using clean kitchen towels and my homemade all purpose spray. But I still reach for one to wipe a messy child or to provide a plate like barrier between food and table. My laziness astounds me. Why not just use a real live plate or cutting board?Because then I'd have dishes in my sink. I HATE having dishes in my sink. A paper towel is used and tossed, no extra mess to worry about.

My solution is this: cloth napkins. I figure if I have drawer full of cloth napkins, I'll be less tempted to reach for paper towels. Runny nose? Cloth napkin. Plate for afternoon snack? Cloth napkin. Nasty, unidentifiable sticky spot on the table? Cloth napkin. And since cloth napkins can run a kings ransom at the store, I decided to use what I had to start my soon to be gargantuan collection of cloth napkins.

No fancy hems or mitered corners either.The fabric I used was free (the best kind), pilfered from my Mom's unused and unloved stash from her stint as a home economics teacher. I cut my napkins to be 11x11 which is much smaller than a standard store bought napkin but it's more than adequate for everyday home use. Plus, you can get more napkins out of less fabric. I just used a zigzag stitch around the edges to keep them from fraying, but a serger would have worked well too. With very little time, effort, and money, my cloth napkin collection is off to a great start. Hopefully I'll be weaned from paper towels soon!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Gettin' Dirty

Holy long holiday weekend! I wasn't intending to take a few days off from blogging but lo and behold, it happened. There were burgers to grill, beer to drink, parties to attend...I just didn't have the time to sit down and write! It's really been a lovely three day weekend for us. Though we didn't do any of the home projects we had planned, good friends, good food and lots of afternoon naps have left us refreshed and rearing to go for our fall season! Well, actually, I lied. We did get to one thing on the list. Rotating the tires on my van...

I drive a 2007 Dodge Caravan. We went with a Dodge Caravan because that is the kind of van my parents drove when I was a kid. They had one of the very first minivans, complete with the fake wood paneling on the outsides of the doors. Fancy. And though I was just a kid and really didn't pay attention to such details, I don't remember our vans being broken down much. They were good, sturdy vehicles that we drove into the ground before purchasing the exact same thing a few years later.

So imagine my shock and disgust when, with only 34,000 miles on it, my van needed new brakes AND rotors, a new battery and four brand spanking new tires due to uneven wear patterns. WHAT? My van is used mainly for city driving. We take it home to the ranch a few times a year but the most "off-roading" my van ever sees is when I cut a turn too close and jump the curb. I am RELIGIOUS about oil changes and try my very best to keep up with preventative maintenance so that my van will last at least until the kids are in middle school. But no such luck.

Since the van needed several hundred dollars in repairs, we had to pick the most pressing issue and repair the rest later or on our own. We paid for the brake job which, even with a coupon, was around $300 smackeroos. Four new tires cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $400 and a new battery around $100. Rather than pay for labor, we decided to try to tackle the other problems (the tires and the battery) ourselves and save a buck or two.

And so, on my long Labor Day weekend, I learned how to change a tire. I'm all for saving money and learning the skills needed to be more self sustaining but I can't lie....I wasn't thrilled that my husband wanted to lock me in the garage and make me get dirty. But, in order to get a few thousand more miles out of my tires before we have to buy new ones, we rotated the front tires to the back. Ideally, this should be done every other oil change but the place where I have been taking my van doesn't offer that service. So it's never been done. And since my car is front wheel drive, my front tires bear the brunt of the work and are in way worse shape than their rear counterparts.

It was hot, sweaty work but surprisingly, not that hard! I learned how to use a jack...

and how to wield a tire iron!

Because we had to remove all four tires, hubby did help for the sake of time but I did two of the tires all by myself! Tires are nasty, dirty things and I ended up with black smudges all over my sweaty face but I was pretty proud.

I'd like to learn how to change my oil next. Knowing how to perform basic car maintenance can save us a bundle and it's just good info to know. The more we can do by ourselves the better!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Back in the Saddle

She's back! My Brother XR-7700 is out of the shop and ready to do my bidding. And it turns out, it really was my own stupidity that broke it. The shop felt so bad that I knew so little that they didn't charge me to pry the shattered needle out of the sewing case and replace it with a new one. The shop owner kindly steered me toward the retail section of the store and gave me a quick lesson about needle gauge and what size I should be using for each project. She patted my hand, tucked three different sizes of needle packets in my purse and sent me on my way.

Hot Diggity! We're in business now. Now if only I could find the time to actually get some sewing in, I'd really be good to go. On my get-done-by-the-beginning-of -December list:

-Christmas present #3
-Amy Butler's Birdie Sling
-Two potholder/towel sets
-Receiving Blankets
-Headbands for me and K
-More snack baggies
-New purse....time to retire the nasty diaper bag!

Since I've got a busy Labor Day weekend in front of me, I picked a quick victory. Nothing like a little confidence boost before I tackle some of the bigger projects. Headbands it is. We've got gardens to turn and plant, canning to be done, weather stripping to install and the last thing I need is my hair in my face. I found some cute fabric headbands at Target just last week....for $5 a pop. I think not. Especially when I have fat quarters out the wazoo with no immediate purpose. I found a tutorial here that I tweaked for myself. And the finished product....

Maybe I shoulda put on some makeup....

Cute no? This band was my favorite one. That fabric was one of the first fat quarters I ever bought when I was beginning to build my stash. I'm so glad I found such a pretty and practical way to finally use it!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Waiting for Fall

I am tired of being hot. Really tired. I sweat upon waking, I sweat while I sleep. I sweat when I clean the house, I sweat when I wrestle my son into a fresh diaper. The only time one should sweat is when you're working hard at something....eating breakfast does not qualify. I've been fighting with my conscience all day. Should I turn down the thermostat and be completely dry and blissful? Or should I leave it at a manageable number, one that is good for both the earth and my electric bill? I am torn. And so I pray for fall....

Autumn is my favorite season. Growing up, "autumn" consisted of about two blissful weeks where the days were worthy of a light jacket and the nights dipped down to hover right above freezing. We then plunged head on into bitter wind, cold and snow. Seasons didn't really exist but those couple of weeks were the best time of the year. The light was different, softer somehow. The air smelled earthy and alive. I stayed outside as much as I possibly could soaking it all in before the frigid wind kicked up and remained to blow us into next April.

Skyline Drive, Late September, Virginia
 My relocation to Virginia is where I really fell in love with the harvest season. The changing leaves, the apple festivals...the transition of the earth from summer into winter provided many a happy memory for me. My husband and I used every spare minute to explore, take pictures and enjoy. It was truly perfect.

Grove of Ginkgos, VA State Arboretum
Red Maple, VA State Arboretum
And now....I live here. In Arizona. The desert of Arizona to be exact. Our seasons are Warm, Not As Warm, Hot, and Dante's 7th Circle Hot. Don't get me wrong. December through April is pretty primo weather. We get to have a year round growing season and not once did I have to turn on a heater. But it's just not the same. There's no transitioning so to speak. And though we carry on with the usual harvest-like activities, I find myself staring longingly at the sweaters hanging hopefully in my closet. Soon, I whisper. Soon.

In hopes of hurrying nature along, I have hung my most favorite fall wreath on the front door and have been burning my Harvest Apple and Pumpkin Spice soy candles every evening. I'm making stew for dinner.There will also be fall planting this weekend and maybe even a trip (a long one) to an orchard where I will get my apple fix and hopefully, enough apples for a batch of butter. Now if the temperature would just fall below 100 degrees...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Goodbye Friend

Much to my dismay, one of my most favorite bloggers has decided to call it quits. I realize it happens. Sometimes you just run out of mojo. But Julie, and her blog Towards Sustainability, is not leaving the blogosphere because she ran out of ideas, or because she got too busy. She is calling it quits because she feels dishonest. Whaaaaaa? Dishonest? Lemme 'splain.....

Julie's blog is much like this one and much like the all the ones I have listed on my blogroll. We write about green living, treading lightly on the earth, and sustainability. We are all trying to raise our families to be honest, simple, non-consuming beings who realize what a gift this world is and how important it is that we preserve that. So we write about our experiences, our trials and errors, our victories and successes in hopes of helping one another and inevitably making the world a better place.

But why? Why do we believe in what we do? The reason we garden, we sew, we reap, we harvest, we recycle is because if we don't, we will lose it. All of it. Our planet is in trouble, plain and simple. Not just socially but environmentally too. And for Julie, writing about canning and making soap is only part of the reason she writes. However, when she writes about peak oil or climate change, she loses subscribers and no one leaves any comments. But write a peppy post about making recycled potholders and you'd think she's the queen of the environmental movement.

I get it. I really do. Issues like peak oil and climate change and food shortages are scary to think about. Really scary. But it's real. I love writing and reading about how to prepare yourself "domestically" for real world changes but sometimes, a shot of the sobering truth is necessary. I too have written a couple of posts about peak oil and climate change and no one left a comment. NOT ONE. I even lost a follower and since there are only 53 of you it was noticeable and certainly a little hurtful.

My point is this: if you are trying to live more like me, more like Julie, than you must recognize the big picture. Green and sustainable living do provide a simpler, more fulfilling life. However, that is just one of the million and one reasons to live this way. The big one, the main one, is to preserve what is left of our world. What are we leaving to our children? Yes. I like posts about how to make reusable snack bags. It's light, it's happy, it give me something to do with my scraps. But in the back of my mind, I know the real, deep down reason I want to make my own snack bags is because I cannot bear to see one more plastic bag thrown in the trash. It's like a nail in our environmental coffin...

So to those who abandoned Julie...shame on you. It's your time and you should spend it reading what you choose. But denial will not make it go away. As Julie said " Knowing how to knit will not bring about a timely and efficient transportation system.  Knowing how to cook from scratch will not stop McDonald's from aggressively marketing to my children. And knowing how to make my own cleaning products will not stop big business from controlling government policy." Let me be clear: learning these skills is vitally important. But having a well rounded view of things is essential to living the best life we can.  

I'll miss you Julie....