Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

For each new morning with its light,

For rest and shelter of the night,

For health and food, for love and friends,

For everything Thy goodness sends.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is much to be thankful for. Bless your families, your friends and your lives.
Happy Thanksgiving Friends!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Jack Frost Goes to the Desert

After months of sweltering, triple digit heat, it is finally tolerable here in the desert. The temps have been in the high 60's to low 70's and the air conditioner hasn't kicked on in almost three weeks. In fact, the cold front that pushed in on Sunday has made it truly fall like, with the mercury staying below 65 during the day and dropping down into the low 40's at night. But tonight, all week in fact, Mr. Weatherman is calling for the temperatures to fall even lower, into the lower 30's and *gasp* maybe even the upper 20's.

I am thrilled about this. I have been sweaty for so long, this cold snap is a godsend. I miss the snow terribly and often have a hard time getting into that holiday spirit when I could go swimming outside. I gleefully put on a sweater this morning and dressed my kids in sleeves and pants. This kind of weather fuels me, like an energy drink for my sun weary soul. Since the temperatures have dropped, my productivity has doubled. I've been baking, sewing, cleaning like crazy. When I learned that there might actually be frost on the windows tomorrow morning I nearly jumped for joy!

That is, until, my husband totally stole my thunder. As I chattered away about the happy possibility of frost, my husband said two words that sucked the joy right out of my chest: The Garden. Crap. The garden. This is our first year with a "winter garden." As desert valley dwellers, the weather is (usually) nice enough to garden year round. There are a few months in the summer where it is too ghastly hot for anything to grow, but the rest of the year is peachy keen for growing food. We planted the usual cool season crops: broccoli, spinach, turnips....stuff like that. But we also planted beans, radishes, peppers and tomatoes which prefer NOT to freeze. And most years, frost is never a concern. But it appears this year might be different.

We already have large amounts of gorgeous fruit on our tomato plants. We lost a large part of our summer tomato harvest to crickets and I'll be damned if I lose this crop to frost. It's like the world is totally against me having homegrown tomatoes. I have to protect my plants!! My first thought was that scene from the movie A Walk in the Clouds with Keanu Reeves where they are walking up and down the rows of grapes with these big, angel like wings strapped to their arms, fanning the fire warmed air on the plants to keep them from freezing. Well, I don't have any wings, or any materials with which to build a fire. And as romantic as the movie was, standing outside in the cold flapping my arms all evening doesn't really sound that enticing.

Our solution? Sheets.  Not as glamorous but it should work, all the same.I don't have very many sheets, so I was a little reluctant to throw the few I do have outside in the dirt. If my son wakes from his nap in time, we may jet to Goodwill and purchase a few "outside" sheets. Oh well. Sheets can be washed and tomato plants can't be saved once they've frozen.

One of our beds, tucked in for the night.

Cross your fingers!!

Monday, November 22, 2010

s. 510

"If accepted [S 510] would preclude the public’s right to grow, own, trade, transport, share, feed and eat each and every food that nature makes. It will become the most offensive authority against the cultivation, trade and consumption of food and agricultural products of one’s choice. It will be unconstitutional and contrary to natural law or, if you like, the will of God." Dr. Shiv Chopra, Canada Health

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act was passed last week. For those of you dwelling outside the US, the FDA, or  the Food and Drug administration has been getting a lot of flack for the way they operate. The bill, labeled s .510 is over 1000 pages in length and was presented to the public as a solution to the recent outbreaks of food borne illnesses by allowing the FDA more power to inspect farms and food processing facilities and instilling in them the authority to bring forth stricter rules when it comes to growing and producing food. Just looking out for America, right?

Okay. I admit it. Like all of our senators and congressman, I did not read all 1000 pages of text. But the parts I did read scared the bejeezus out me. Here's what's freaking me out:

1. All food production facilities in the United States will be required to register with the U.S. government. No food will be allowed to be grown, distributed or sold outside this bureaucratic framework unless the FDA allows it. And, any food that is distributed or sold outside of U.S. government control will be considered illegal smuggling. How will this affect small time producers like my local Tonopah Rob? Or what about my backyard garden? If I give my neighbors a basket of produce from my garden, will I be fined or shut down?

2. All U.S. food and all U.S. farms will be placed under the Department of Homeland Security in the event of a major "contamination" or an "emergency". Homeland Security? Aren't they supposed to be busy with the war on terror? This stems from recent food recalls and I get why they would want to prevent this but the government is controlling our FOOD SUPPLY. This is bad.

3. The FDA now has tremendous discretion as to how crops are grown and how food is produced in the United States. Basically, small farmers and organic farmers will now be forced to farm exactly how the federal government tells them to. It is feared that the U.S. government would soon declare that many organic farming methods are "unsafe" and would outlaw them. Like Round Up soaked veggies are good for you?

4. There is the very real possibility that at some point the U.S. government could decide that the only "safe" seed for a particular crop is genetically modified seed and would require all farmers to use it. This means that all of us home gardeners who save seeds would be criminals, and would be fined and jailed as such. Monsanto rears it's ugly head again. Seriously. It's the WORST company ever. And yes...they gave lots of bribes contributions to make sure this passed.

The bill is vague and loosely worded and I anticipate a whole lot of uproar from the organic community. But there shouldn't just be uproar from them. We should all be outraged. You should be outraged. Even if you don't consume local or organic foods, this bill affects you. If the government gains as much control of our food supply as this bill potentially allows, prepare for skyrocketing food costs. The DAY this passed (I think it was last Friday) the price of sugar and wheat jumped almost 40% on the commodities market. In a single day! Just think of what could happen if Uncle Sam suddenly disallows backyard gardens and small scale farm operations because our methods of production aren't "safe." We'll be subject to multinational farm conglomerates who engineer chemical laden food which destroy the ground it's grow in. And then we'll have to pay a hyper inflated price for food that really isn't food anymore.  Does that sound good to you?

And what about canning? We can everything. If I'm not doing it in a sterile, goverment approved facility, will they take away my jam pot and my canning jars too?

I would really like to hear your thoughts on this. Do you think s. 510 is dangerous to America? Why? If they told you couldn't grow a backyard garden or forced you to buy seed from a government approved company, what would you do? Am I completely off base and ill researched here? Let me know!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

You Smell Like a Koala

I'm sick. I caught one of those massive, all consuming chest colds. The kind where you feel like there's a car on your chest and someone has plugged your nostrils with wool. The kind where, no matter how much you sleep you are still tired, no matter how much tea you drink, you are still cold. Luckily, my hubby had some sick days to use and took them, allowing me to 1) rest my muscles after my 60 mile trek and 2) try to shake this awful illness.

Though his presence was appreciated and needed, he had to head back today and I have been thrown head first back into my daily responsibilities full  of phlegm and lacking energy. Mothering is hard. Sick mothering is harder. Though it would be easy to load up on cold medicines, a floaty head and an empty wallet is not what I need. I need to feel better, and not just for 4 hours at a time. There's a reason that I have an entire shelf in my bookcase filled with books about natural medicine and herbal remedies. I broke them out last night before bed and formulated a plan to help me get through my day feeling somewhat human. Here's the plan of attack:

1)Hydrate. This seems simple enough but most people (me included) don't drink nearly enough. Being hydrated when you are ill is especially important. I found numerous recipes for "cold teas" but I don't have many of the herbs they called for so I'll be sticking with green tea and hot water with lemon and honey.

 2)Rub Down. Growing up, I was a HUGE fan of mentholated chest rubs. I looked for an alternative to the petroleum based rubs available and found several. Again, I lacked ingredients for the natural recipes but mixed a teaspoon of almond oil with a few drops of eucalyptus oil and presto! I'm breathing easy. I smell like a koala but hey, at least I can inhale!

3)Rest. This is easier said than done. The dishes are piling up, the laundry is mildewed in the washer, there is an inch of dust on the bookshelves and there is crap EVERYWHERE. But when my kids lay down for their nap, I must fight my instinct to launch into "get it done before they wake up" mode and lay down too.

4)Honey. In addition to adding it to my hot water and lemon, honey does wonders to soothe itchy throats and coughs. When afflicted with an attack of coughing, a spoonful of honey coats the throat and stops it in it's tracks.

And there you have it. A drug-less, chemical free plan to make it through my day. There will be hot soup for dinner and after the kids are asleep for the night, a long bath with Epsom salts, lavender oil and fuzzy pajamas. What are your favorite natural cold remedies?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I Did It!

Hello all! I don't remember if I warned you of my little hiatus but I'm back. Over the weekend, I participated in the Susan G. Komen Three Day for the Cure here in Arizona. I walked 60 miles, yes, six-zero, and it was an absolutley amazing experience. It was beautiful and emotional and the perfect way to pay tribute to all those struggling with breast cancer, those who have survived and those who we miss dearly. There were over 1500 walkers and together, Arizona raised 4.4 million dollars for the cause. Amazing!

I made it through with no major injuries. I've stressed the arch of my left foot to within an inch of breaking and I think it may take a couple of weeks to heal, but nothing is broken and I didn't get a single blister! We were blessed with perfect walking weather, a pleasant 75 degrees all three days. It was much colder than anticipated at night though...I don't reccomend tent sleeping in November! The combination of cold nights and excessive physical exhaustion may have lowered my immune system a bit and now that I'm home, I'm struggling with a horrible chest cold. That being said, I wouldn't take back a single minute of it.  Here are a few pictures from my experience!

A room with a view.
On the route.

Left to Right: Mom, Me, Marilyn and Aunt Denise

Love This!
One of our many cheerleaders along the way!
I'll be back tomorrow with a new post for your reading pleasure!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Product Alert

Deciding to live green and sustainably can be tough at times. And expensive. Though much can be made by hand, it's always nice to have some ready made products that you can trust. And that's why I'm going to start a monthly "Product Alert." Each month, I will post about a "green" product that I simply cannot live without (OK. I can live without it. But I don't want to.) I am in no way affiliated with the companies I post about. This is meant solely to help guide you through a barrage of products and give you some suggestions if you need help. That being said, this month's green product is Vapour Organic Cosmetics.

I have converted the majority of my personal care products to those of a non-chemical nature, but there are a few stragglers that I can't seem to find an appropriate alternative for. Among them are foundation, blush, and lip gloss. I have my most favorite chemical laden brands and all the green alternatives I have tried thus far have left much to be desired. The foundation never covered what I needed it to, the blush, a big powdery mess and the lip glosses were sticky, smelly, and short lived.

I stumbled across Vapour Cosmetics purely by accident. I was about to run out of foundation and, taking the opportunity to try a new product, I set about searching for an organic alternative. I had looked in my natural health food stores and done a million on line searches but could find nothing that I hadn't already tried. But for some reason or other, when I typed "organic foundation" into the search box, a new listing came up. And that listing was for Vapour Cosmetics.

Vapour started 30 years in my home state of New Mexico. According to the website, they pushed the limits of green chemistry by pioneering healthy non-toxic cosmetics for other companies. After years of developing and manufacturing products for other brands, Vapour decided to start it's own line. After pairing up with Eric Sakas, who worked alongside legendary makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin, Vapour launched a gorgeously performing line of products, free of toxic ingredients.

Sounds good, right? I ordered the Atmosphere Luminous Foundation and the Aura Multi-Use Blush. I was weary to order a foundation stick. I'd gone the stick make-up route before and the resulting coverage was cakey and clown-like. Atmosphere is different. So different. It glides on like silk, covers EVERYTHING and blends seamlessly. It feels like I'm wearing nothing at all! The blush is the same. I put it on my cheeks, my lips, my's smooth, pretty and natural. And the very best part? There is absolutely NO toxic ickiness in any of their products. NONE. You could eat them (thought I wouldn't recommend it) and if it's good enough for my stomach, it's certainly good enough for my face. At long last, I found it. Make-up that performs AND has a conscious. Brilliant! I will definitely be trying more from their line!

Have you tried Vapour? What green brands of cosmetics do you use? Or any recipes for make your own?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lovely Lint

I was in the laundry room doing my thing. Washing, folding, organizing the shelf above the washer and dryer, that sort of thing. Behind my dust covered iron I found a pretty glass jug brimming with dryer lint. And why, you may ask, are you allowing a container full of dryer lint take up space in your already crammed and tiny laundry room??

I don't really use my dryer that often. Weather permitting, the clothes are hung outside to dry. The dryer is used when it is hot, when I am sick, or when it is dark. I'm afraid of the dark you know. But every now and again, a load gets tossed in the dryer out of sheer laziness and the resulting lint is carefully scraped from the trap and deposited in the pretty glass jar I found at Goodwill for 50 cents. I started to collect lint at the request of my husband. An avid outdoorsman and survivalist, he learned that lint is highly flammable and thus, is an excellent fire starter. For each camping and survival pack, you will find an old prescription bottle, stuffed full of lint and matches. A mini fire starting kit if you will. There is lint in the pockets of every one of his jackets, in the cubby holes of his truck and believe it or not, he keeps a flattened chunk of it in his wallet. Wherever that man goes, he WILL be able to make fire.

But even after he stocked himself and his supplies with my laundry lint, I continued to collect it. Put the clothes in, clean the lint trap, deposit lint ball in glass jar. Like clockwork. And now, I have a big 'ol jar of lint that I don't know what to do with. I could just throw it away, but there's so much of it. Really. It's like, six months worth of dryer lint. And I'm green and frugal and trying to live sustainably. If I'm using the energy to run my dryer to produce the lint, the lint should be able to have an alternative purpose to counteract the energy use of the dryer. I'm crazy I know. But if lint could start a fire, what else could it do? I asked around. Here are some of my favorite answers.

Your dryer lint can...

  • Be spun like wool. That's right. Pull out your drop spindle and spin up a ball of lint yarn. How cool would it be to knit yourself a pair of socks out of your dryer's waste product? Stay away from the fire though. We don't want your toes to go up in flames.
  • Can keep you warm. Stuff an old sock with dryer lint and place in front of a door to keep out a draft.
  • Be made into art. I found recipes for lint clay and lint paper mache.
  • Help your plants grow. Lint acquired from natural fibers can be composted.
  • Keep fragile items from breaking during shipment. It would take a lot but dryer lint would make a cushiony packing material to keep your items safe during transit.
  • Spark your child's creativity. Use lint anywhere you might use cotton balls or pompoms when making art projects.
Though I would LOVE a pair of lint socks (and who wouldn't), I've never picked up spindle in my life, nor do I think I had enough lint to produce the yarn needed for such a project. Instead, we used my six month stash to make some super cute linty sheep. Behold!

To make your own linty sheep. you will need:

-an empty toilet paper roll
-white glue
-scotch tape
-tissue paper
-a marker or pen
-dryer lint

Tape four qtips to the toilet paper roll for legs. Stuff a wad of tissue in one end of the roll to serve as the sheep's head. Draw on features with a marker or pen. Dip bits of lint or cotton and stick it to the roll like wool. Cover the roll completely. Add paper ears and tail if you wish!

The frame of the sheep

Making him wooly

Working with lint and glue can get a little "wooly!" HA!

A lovely, linty lamb.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Fourth Bedroom

I love to organize. A place for everything and everything in it's place. It gives me the warm fuzzies all over. You know, like that "I had one too many glasses of wine" warm fuzziness that leaves you delirious yet relaxed. Any chance to break out my labeler or alphabetize something and you'd think I'd won a free trip to somewhere beachy. I love tearing apart a room and putting it back together, labeled, and neatly organized. You would think such a proclivity toward uber order would result in the tidiest house on the block but alas, this is not the case. I have grand plans for my home, oh yes, but sadly, I have yet to bring any of my ideas to fruition.

My spice cabinet is a jumbled mess of half empty bottles and expired cinnamon. My closet is an accident waiting to happen. Every time I pull a coat from the hanger, a (neatly organized) box of gift wrapping supplies launches from it's place on the shelf and vomits its contents on a pile of clothes labeled "Dry Cleaning." And if you'll remember from only a few posts back, I just removed TWENTY NINE pillowcases from my linen closet and got that happy disaster under control. Is my house clean? Yes. But lurking behind cabinet and closet doors are hidden pockets of chaos waiting to be classified, coordinated, scrubbed down with homemade cleaner and finally, put in their place. Case in point: the fourth bedroom.

When we bought this house, I was beside myself excited that it had a fourth bedroom. I had never lived with such luxury! A whole room dedicated solely to guests and recreation. However, the room's multifunctionality has created a hodepodege of clutter with no rhyme or reason as to it's placement. The room is our home office, my sewing and crafting room, a little bit of a storage area and lastly, a place for overnight guests. It's ridiculous. It had gotten so bad, I found myself avoiding the back bedroom at all costs, and keeping the door shut during the day so as I went about my business I wouldn't have to see what was lurking in there.

But nothing spurs you into organizing action like house guests. We are to have house guests for Thanksgiving, perhaps four or five of them, and in order for everyone to fit comfortably, we're going to have to clean up and make space in the fourth bedroom. This space was going to have to become a functional office/sewing/craft/storage room quick, fast and in a hurry. No time for the bells and whistles like paint and art and curtains. That will come later. Now is the time for some hardcore, get it off the floor, organizing. Better get out the extra roll of labeling tape. Here are some of the before shots:

Seriously? I can't believe I'm letting you see this!

I spent ALL DAY in there. I mean really. I wandered out to feed the offspring, break up a few fights and put on some band aids but once I get started, it's impossible to stop. It's not perfect but it's much better. Lookie lookie!

Organizational Goodness!

I can see and FIND all my sewing stuff!

I love that my hubby mounted my thread holder to the side of the bookshelf. Brilliant!
The computer amoire went to our brand new neighbors. The mattress is still there but will be moved back into the master bedroom tomorrow. And the computer situation is still.....questionable. That's our old broken desktop in the picture, along with a the borrowed laptop that I'm sure any day now will be needed and taken away!Hopefully, Santa will bestow upon me a new laptop and then the desk will be even LESS cluttered with MORE room for me to sew up all the cool, green projects I have in wait like reusable snack bags, fabric roses made with upcycled shirts, and curtains from the scrap bin. Oh yeah! And now my guests will have a little room to stretch out after stuffing themselves with organic smoked turkey and cranberry sauce. I think it's going to be a wonderful Thanksgiving. T minus three weeks and counting...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Trellis and Cages

We have good luck with tomatoes. This is only our second year with a vegetable garden so perhaps that statement is premature. Let's just say this. The one and only time we planted tomatoes, we produced an awesome harvest with behemoth plants. We're talking huge. The plants got so big and so heavy with fruit that their store bought tomato cages crumpled under their weight and did nothing to support our rapidly growing plants. And because the tomatoes now rested on the ground, they were more likely to be the victim of pests, namely the desert cricket. Did you know that crickets ate tomatoes? Well, I didn't either. We lost 3/4 of our last tomato harvest because of crappy cages and crickets. Never again.

The first thing we did was get the cricket population under control by calling a local organic pest control company. Done and done. The next was to come up with an alternative solution to the wimpy tomato cages we purchased at out local hardware store. At five dollars a pop, you'd think the things would be able to support one heck of a plant but apparently, five dollars doesn't quite buy enough wire to accomplish such a feat. My Dad had experienced the same problem and used leftover galvanized fencing wire to fashion his own sturdy cages.

We didn't have any leftover galvanized fencing wire or anything remotely close to it. We ended up purchasing a roll for around $35. With a little time, some wire snippers and a whole lotta zip ties (if you don't have any, get some. Zip ties are awesome!), my Hubby made some rock solid cages for our blossoming tomato plants. He used a staple gun to attach a wooden stake (left over from another project) to further enforce it and help anchor it in the ground.

"Helping" Daddy build the cages

Happily supported tomatoes!
There was still a bit of wire left over along with the wooden stakes so he also made some trellises for our beans, peas and cukes to climb on. Last season, we just let these leggy crops spread out on the ground which was fine, production wise, but the vines choked out other plants and those damn crickets had easier access to the fruits of our labor. Having them grow upward saves space, saves time and looks really cool. The trellises were staked just like the cages and can be pulled up and rolled to be stored or moved depending on where they are needed.

Our only out of pocket cost was the wire. We made ten cages and five trellises. If we would have bought them, we would have had to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $75, only to watch them collapse and watch our fruit spoil and rot. Instead, we spent $35 and have sturdy, lasting garden "accessories" that if properly cared for, will last us more than one season. I can't wait for the winter tomato harvest. I keep imagining all those home canned jars of marinara lined up in my pantry....anyone have a recipe?

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Seven Dollar Makeover

We've been living in our current home a little more than two years now and I feel that all that needs to be done will never get that way. I guess that kind of goes with owning a home, but I swear, as soon as I finish one project, another one pops up demanding my attention. And most of the time, the projects needing my time and money aren't really anything fun, but necessary. I would much rather spend my money on silky pillows and dramatic light fixtures but I usually end up buying things like toilet tanks and weather stripping. There's not a lot of extra funds to go around when it comes to what my husband likes to call the "pretty unecessaries."

There are hundreds of DIY decorating ideas out there on the web. People find trashy, scuzzed out trinkets on the side of the road and turn them into dazzling home decor. I stand in awe of these people, for they possess a skill that I have been unable to master. Seeing the potential. They see a rich wood coffee table. I see a scratched up, three legged piece of junk. They see the perfect dresser for their spare room. I see an old, chipped sideboard with water stains and three drawers minus hardware. I cringe to think of all the great stuff I've overlooked simply because I couldn't see past their easily fixable flaws.

I have recently "done" our master bedroom. I love the paint we picked, the curtains we hung, and the quilt we spread over our bed. The room is calming and peaceful, a place with no toys, no Cheerios crunched into the carpet...truly a sanctuary. The only thing the room lacks is those finishing touches that really pull a space together. Once upon a time I would have simply dropped the cash and bought whatever I thought would look nice, but things are different now. For one thing, I simply don't have the dough to buy hundreds of dollars in home decor items.  And another, buying all that stuff seems flat out wasteful. I was going to have to push past my inability to see an item's potential if I was going to fancy up my space on a dime.

The first stop, of course, was Craigslist. No luck. I went to Goodwill. Nothing struck my fancy there either.  I wasn't sure what I was looking for but I knew it would reach out and grab me when I saw it. I was lamenting to my neighbor about my decorating difficulties when she dashed in to her garage and emerged with a mirror and two sconces.  The mirror was certainly not my style but it was the perfect size and had a nice, wide, chunky frame that I liked. And the sconces were perfect, only needing candles and good dusting.

Next stop...the hardware store. I purchased black matte spray paint and a spray on primer for a smooth finish.

A little taping, some newspaper and and presto! 

My upcycled mirror and sconces made for a beautiful bedroom wall makeover. And it only cost me about seven dollars! I think I'm addicted. I wonder what other trash I can make into treasure??