Monday, December 21, 2009

Snowed In for the Weekend

Our weekend plans were snuffed out when we were hit with about 14 inches of snow, very odd for our part of Massahuchusetts.  We are along the Southeastern coast, and almost always get yucky, slushy rain.  This time, instead, we were hit with large quantities of the fluffy stuff.  Very pretty, unless you have to drive in it, or shovel it.  There were three foot snow drifts in some areas of our yard.  It will be interesting to see if our little Karl enjoys playing in the snow.  We've got his snow suit all set up and ready to go!

After one final run for supplies, we spent the weekend indoors watching movies and drinking hot chocolate.  Really is there any other way to spend that kind of a weekend?  Well, ok, if I weren't pregnant, there would probably be a little creme de minthe in the hot chocolate. I was also able to get a lot of holiday knitting done, two matching wool hats with ear flaps, and a fair isle scarf. 

I have two more knitted items to go, some last minute holiday baking, and about 10 cards to address, and I'm officially done with holiday preps!

Today, I was able to record another episode of the companion podcast.  Episode #4 deals with setting goals for 2010.  As I type this blog update, I'm waiting for the podcast to upload.  I had made arrangements to use a relative's internet connection to speed up uploading large files like a podcast, but I am stuck homebound for a bit.  I actually had to record much of the podcast while resting on my left side due to a pregnancy-related health issue.  I have had to remain off my feet for most of the day, and was not able to get the podcast uploaded any sooner.  I'm hoping, even with our slower than slow connection, that it will be updated by at least midnight!

Where there is a will, there is a way!

Live better, a little every day.

Friday, December 18, 2009

One Of "Those" Days

We all have days when we just don't want to do anything other than be a lump on the couch.  Maybe we are feeling a little under the weather, or we didn't sleep well the night before.  Other times, it is because we have been working very hard without taking a break, and it just all catches up to us. 

That was my day today.  Our almost-two-years-old munchin refused to go to sleep the previous night until 1:30 in the AM.  As my husband had to be out of the house early in the morning, I stayed up with the cherub.  However, pregnancy-related discomforts kept me awake most of the night.  After four hours of broken sleep, the alarm went off.  Unfortunately, hormonal shifts had me too jittery to go back to sleep, and I remained a procrastinating lump for most of the day.

But, a committment is a committment.  I know there is a better life out there for our family, and I cannot abide a single day going by where I do absolutely nothing to get us even just a little closer to it. 

After a rare opportunity to take a nap on the couch with my toddler, I took a few moments to read a chapter from a book on growing food in small spaces.  (I will post a full review after I've read the entire book.)  While our property in Maine certainly isn't small, the back yard of our city apartment is.  We are determined to get the most out of the space we have this year.

Last year, we procrastinated and got our garden in the ground about a month late.  Luckily, our procrastination actually turned out to be the best thing we could have done since June was unseasonably cold and wet.  Most local growers we met lost most, if not all, their potato and tomato crops to a fungus that thrives in cool, damp weather.  We were spared, and got plenty of tomatoes, but that's no reason for us to procrastinate again this year.

It is pleasant to imagine the coming spring and summer gardens, especially on a night so cold as tonight.  Our thermometer is reading about 30*F.  But, I can't help but wonder how our bees are doing.  Eddie just checked on the hives a few days ago when we had what might have been the last relatively warm day of the year, at close to 50*.  All were heavy with honey and with a good number of bees who were not happy to have anyone peeking inside their homes.  One worker carried out a dead bee, which is very common as hives reduce their numbers at this time of year.  The dutiful worker dumped the body just over the wooden entrance to the hive, and scurried her little bee-butt back inside where it was a warm, toasty 90*.  The dead bee showed no sign of disease, and probably had just lived out her short life span.  Finding no sign of disease on the bee carcass is a good sign for the rest of the bees that will huddle up in their cluster to wait out the winter cold.

Finally, I was able to upload and publish another episode of the companion podcast to this blog.  Even after following the directions to have the podcast published for 9:30 in the morning, it seems it is available immediately, as was the case with the other two published podcasts.  It's it now after midnight, and I'm just glad that the podcast episode uploaded- even if it is 9.5 hours early!

Live better, a little every day.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Look Back on the Day

Today's efforts have been spent writing.  Whether this was a true creative and inspired day, or a subconscious procrastination to avoid some household chores, who can say?  (None of those chores were crucial, and they will all still be there tomorrow, so does it really matter?) 

I'm currently working on four projects:
  • the companion podcast to this blog
  • a web site for our beekeeping operation
  • a cookbook dedicated to cooking with honey
  • a practical guide to personal sovereignty 
First, I'm shooting for publishing the daily podcast beginning this Friday morning.  There will be a few episodes dedicated to the holiday season, as well as mapping out your plans to increase your personal levels of self-sufficiency in 2010.  There are already two episodes published from prior to losing our internet signal.  I am still finding my voice as a podcaster, but please check them out at

Second, we're taking our beekeeping to a new level this year.  And, as every business needs a web site, we're putting one together.  The site is not up yet, but the future internet home of Ellis Apiary will be  When it is up and running, I will repost the link.  The site will contain infomation on sustainable beekeeping, the importance of strengthening the local honeybee population, the truth about the commercial honey you buy at the supermarket, honey-based recipes for food, mead, home remedies, and at-home spa treatments.  Of course, there will be a sales page with our honey, beeswax, candles, and any other bee-related product we may offer in the future.

Third, one of the things we learned from meeting honey consumers at farmers' markets was that most people seemed to think of honey as a sweetner only for their tea.  While planning our participation in this year's markets, we tossed around the idea of handing out new recipes each week.  Ultimately, that would lead to a lot of wasted paper, ink, and a lot more time and effort.  Instead, I'm putting together all the honey recipes I have into one publication that we can display along with our honey, that customers can look through, and hopefully purchase.  The cost will be minimal- I'm not looking to make a living writing cookbooks.  It's all about promoting the honey!

Fourth, and finally, I've been writing little bits and pieces here and there, more like opinionated essays, and just saving them on my lap top.  They have started to take a larger, more cohesive shape into a guidebook for opting out of the various broken systems upon which most of our nation currently is dependent.  It is about cultivating the highest degree of freedom that is afforded to us under the law, and how to keep these freedoms from being erroded any further.  I have no idea when this project will be done, just that I'm working on it. 

How do these projects help us live a little better?  Well, the beekeeping related stuff should be obvious in that they will be tools to help us make our own way and provide our own income.  The podcast and the guidebook to creating more freedom will help in a different way.  These projects will become part of a growing movement happening all across the nation.  More and more people are bringing homesteading and survivalism into the mainstream.  People are fed up with being slaves to their debt, McMansions, and jobs that they hate, and they are looking for a way out.  It is my position that self-sufficiency through homesteading is the most direct and accessable way to achieve those goals.

Of course, some people have careers that they love, but many people are just working for a paycheck to keep themselves and their families afloat.  Meanwhile, our government ignores our protests, and instead continues to support the interests of Big Business and Big Banks. 

People are starting to look for alternatives, like preparedness, homesteading, survivalism, gardening, and producing their own energy.  Just search online and you will find hundreds, if not thousands of people, just like me, blogging and podcasting about their efforts to better their circumstances, increase their self-sufficiency and their freedoms, and hoping to inspire others.  People are writing books and publishing YouTube videos teaching self-sufficiency skills.  Most importantly, people are tuning in, listening, reading, watching, and learning. 

If the podcast and the book help people to become more self-sufficient, it absolutely betters our family's situation because it improves everyone's situation.  If you don't understand what I mean by that, well, hopefully you'll tune into the podcasts and check out the book when it eventually becomes available.  (wink)

On an individual level, spending so much time writing today has been almost meditative, and certainly helped me to refocus on my own personal goals.  It just helped to gel and crystalize certain concepts and information that have been rattling around in my noggin for a while.

Live better, a little every day.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Book Review- Backyard Market Gardening

Backyard Market Gardening: The Entrepeneur's Guide to Selling What You Grow
By Andy Lee and Patricia Foreman

I begin this review by prefacing it with a valuable concept gleaned from another book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki.  Many people consider their house to be their biggest investment.  An investment is something, however, that is supposed to ultimately earn you income.  If you buy rental income property and become a landlord, then it makes sense to call the house an investment.  However, if your home is not drawing an income of its own, but is instead consuming your funds through utilities, taxes, repairs, and a mortgage, then it is more of a money pit than a sound investment. 

Don't ever let anyone sell you on the lie that buying a house is an investment unless they can demonstrate that the property has a clear potential of drawing an income.   Considering that any appreciation of property value over time will be completely overshadowed by the amount of interest paid on the mortgage, how many people can really say that their house is working for them?  An interesting side note: the roots of the word mortgage mean "death grip".  That sounds about right.

And now, back to the book review at hand!

If you have ever wondered how to make your house (or, in this case, your yard) work for you, instead of the other way around, you need to get this book!  While this book will not teach you how to grow a garden, it teaches you the most effective ways to sell what you grow. 

The authors present several business models that work for a wide variety of individual growers ranging from those who have a couple of acres to less than one eigth of an acre.  The how-to's of farmers' markets, membership and subscriber gardens, road-side stands, as well as home deliveries are explained in detail.  Also presented are sample budgets, and oodles of marketing ideas that you can mix and match to meet your own unique circumstances.  The book is very readable, providing solid information without being dry or tedious. 

Once upon a time, being a land owner was supposed to free you by being a source of both sustenance and income.  Owning property was not supposed to chain you to a job, fearful of whether or not you can make the mortgage payments.  Why not reclaim that old sense of being a property owner by making your land, however small, work for you?

This is a gem of a book. 

Live better, a little every day.

Happy Holiday Stress

I had to sit back, take some deep breaths, and remember not to take other people's holiday-stress-induced reactions personally today.  No easy feat, considering that I'm pregnant, hormonal, and ready to cry over just about anything these days.  After being the target of a telephone rant from a relative-gone-crazed from holiday stress, I turned the phone ringer off and made myself a nice hot cup of spearmint tea with milk and honey.

I just can't relate to all the holiday insanity this year.  I watch friends and family, as well as the hoards of strangers, rush around to feed the commercial frenzy that has become synonomous with "celebrating the holidays".  I wonder how many of them will go home and call some unsuspecting loved one and take it out on them?  How many of them will argue with their spouse over how much was charged to the credit card?  How many of them will get into fender benders racing to grab the next available parking space, even though it is a mile away from the entrance and the parking lot looks more like an ice rink?  How many of them will exacerbate health problems, like high blood pressure, trying to live up to some image created by corporate marketing strategists that guilt people into debt to show how much they "care"?

Having had a Massage Therapy practice for several years, I can attest to how damaging stress is to the body.  Stress can lead to insomnia, neck and back pain, muscle pain, mood swings, high blood pressure, digestive discomforts, tension headaches, premature aging, and impaired immune function.  With all of the rushing around, pushing through crowded stores, road rage, winter weather conditions, and added financial burden, I find it incredible that, as a culture, we willingly subject ourselves to this stress-fest each and every year. 

This stress doesn't just end after the holiday parties do.  For the next two months, we scramble to pay those large credit card bills.  January and February were always my slowest months of the year.  The majority of clients that I would see were those redeeming gift certificates, while many of my regular clients would fade away to pay off some of those holiday bills.

Better doesn't mean always mean bigger, more expensive, or more elaborate.  A major part of "living better" for our household is cultivating peace of mind.  This Yuletide season, I'll have that peace of mind as I sit with my husband, proudly donning his new handknit cabled fisherman's sweater, sipping homemade hot chocolate with real whipped cream, in our candlelit living room, watching our toddler devour his holiday cookies, and knowing that we are but one, small, monthly payment away from eliminating all credit card debt. 

No matter how "cheap" others may feel we are being this holiday season, we feel rather rich, and especially relaxed.  Now that seems like something worth celebrating to me.

Live better, a little every day.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Handmade Holiday Part 2

Today's project was knitting a bath mitten.  It took about 3.5 hours to knit, and certainly wasn't difficult.  But, I was a bit distracted today (just didn't get enough sleep last night) and made a little "boo-boo".  After weaving in the ends after knitting the thumb, being so careful to weave them in on what was supposed to be the wrong side of the mitten, I ended up sewing the darn thing inside out.  It looks fine, except for a distinctive line going across the middle of the palm.  I now have to decide if it would be better to rip out the sewing, or just knit a new one.

I've had it with bath mittens for one day.  Even if I end up knitting a brand new one, it won't take me long to do it, so I'm tabling that project for Monday.  Now, it's on to knitting wool caps with earflaps. 

Well, first, it's on to enjoying a hot cup of homemade hot chocolate with cinammon and real whipped cream, then on to the caps.  How did we ever get to the point where whipped cream-like oil from a can with added chemical propellant became acceptable?

Live better, a little every day.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Handmade Holiday

Somewhere along the way, celebrating the holidays became synonomous with buying expensive gifts for friends and family as the primary method of demonstrating that we "care".  It has almost become a holiday tradition to go into debt that is barely paid off throughout the year (if it's paid off at all), only to do it all again once the holidays role back around.   

The point of celebrating the holidays is the company, not the loot.  For the past few years, we have chosen to opt out of spending rediculous amounts of cash to tell our loved ones that we appreciate them.  This year is no different.  We will be giving gifts, but ours will be be of hand-knitted items, baked goods, homemade candles, and some of our honey crop from this autumn.  We are also cleaning out our closests and storage unit.  This is partly to make room for the new baby, but also to look for items that others may find useful to give as gifts, or to sell on Craig's List or eBay for last minute shoppers.  We have made an exception for a gift for our son, and are purchasing a set of wooden alphabet blocks that are made in the USA of non-toxic materials.

We've set a limit  of $150 to cover everyone on our list, children included, and it's a long list.  So far, the biggest expense has been the yarn, coming in at around $70.  Most of the yarn was made in the USA, but the choices were limited.  I was unable to get the colors that I originally planned, and had to substitute yarns from different manufacturers.  But I have what I need to make some thoughtful, handmade gifts.

Today, I started and finished a cowl, made from organic cotton.  It is essentially a tube that you slip over the head and functions like a scarf, except that there are no long pieces that hang down and can come untied.  The pattern itself was certainly a beginner level pattern.  Now that I've made one according to the directions, however, it will be easy to adapt it.  I've got a vision of a nice blue cowl with white snowflakes.  Only this time, I'll make it out of wool so that it stays warm even when wet.  We have plenty of January birthdays in our family, so I'll have time to play with the idea after the Yuletide season has passed.

The next knitted projects include a knitted cotton shower mit and some knitted lace-trimmed cotton washcloths.  After they are done, it will be time to scour the internet for some good cookie recipes!

Live better, a little every day.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Latest News and Announcement

After six weeks, and much aggrevation, I'm finally able to log into my blogger account and post a new entry.  In the middle of October, our internet service began running so irritatingly slow that it became impossible to maintain a signal long enough to actually post a new entry.  In November, pages were loading so slowly that I couldn't even log into blogger.  The problem is now half-solved in that we now have a strong enough signal for some internet access, but not cannot load videos, upload or download large files, etc.  Given how slowly our internet provider has responded to the complaints, we are still hoping for a swift, and complete resolution.  We're keeping our fingers crossed!

In the meantime, I would like to finally make the announcement that I promised back in October.  I am launching a podcast dedicated to homesteading as a path to self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and independence.  This will allow me to keep blog posts here short, and focus mostly on what our family is doing on a daily basis to get us a step closer every day to our self-sufficiency goals. 

The podcast is a more appropriate medium for me to expound a bit more on larger issues that effect our ability to live independently and can include topics that are more political.  The podcast will also allow me to cover non-political topics related to homesteading that require a more lengthy discussion than would be appropriate here on this blog.

From another location, I was fortunate to publish two episodes of the podcast in early November.  I actually have a month's worth of podcasts recorded just waiting to be uploaded and published as soon as the remainder of our technical issues are resolved. 

Check it out at and let me know what you think. 

Live better, a little every day.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Extra Income Ideas

Our country is facing a massive unemployment problem.  Thousands of people are being laid off, and there are precious few new jobs available.  To drive this point home, I know of a local company that posted a single advertisement for bus drivers and monitors in our local paper.  The ad ran for one day.  They received over 370 applications for only 7 positions. 

To compound the problem, many folks have exhausted their unemployment benefits, and do not qualify for any further benefit extensions.  Some are considering themselves lucky to find minimum-wage, part-time work.  I say, we can do better.

We do not have to wait for the government to stimulate the economy.  We can create our own economies.  We do not have to wait for the government to create jobs.  We can create our own jobs.  Everyone has talents, skills, resources, abilities, and knowledge that someone else wants.  You may not think you do, but yes, you do. 

What are your hobbies?  What do you like to read about?  Can you cook?  Do you enjoy writing?  Do you like fixing things?  Can you plant a seed in a pot?  Can you tell a story?  Maybe you even know something obscure, like how to reads cards or the stars?  Any of these can lead to your own business.

Here is a list of potential homegrown jobs to get you thinking.  Some may be seasonal, some may be part-time.  But, if you get creative, you will be able to find something in your skill set, that can supplement your current income that can eventually become your primary income.

  • Produce/ornamental grower (can sell at farmers markets)
  • Handyman
  • Keep chickens and sell the extra eggs
  • Keep sheep, goats, alpacas, or rabbits, and sell their hair/fiber to knitting or fiber clubs and associations
  • Baker (get your kitchen certified in your state and sell in small specialty shops or farmers markets)
  • Sell home-canned goods, anything from jellies to soups (sell in same places as above)
  • Babysitting (find out how many children you can watch without becoming a day care, then work towards getting those qualifications)
  • Beekeeping (honey & wax sales, pollination services)
  • Computer Servicing (check into certification courses)
  • Crafting- soap making, candle making, knitting, etc.
  • Become an herbalist (some training is necessary, much of which can be done from home)
Do you know a lot about something, or even a moderate amount that you could teach to a beginner?  Then you can hold classes and offer lessons.  Here are some ideas.
  • Music
  • Knitting
  • Crocheting
  • Weaving
  • Sewing
  • Food Preservation- canning, dehydrating, smoking
  • Gardening
  • Beekeeping (help the newbies with their new bees- sorry, I know that was bad)
  • Lead a mediation group (everyone is stressed out these days!)
  • Write a book, doesn't matter- fiction, non-fiction, an instruction book, and inspirational book, anything.  You can get picked up by a publisher or self-publish, either way you work once, but payment is on-going
  • Write articles- many magazines and web sites will compensate those who contribute to their subscription issues.
  • Write a blog- there are some bloggers who get paid to write blogs.  I don't know how much a person would actually have to write in order to get paid for blog entries, but it is something to look into if you have the talent.
Next blog entry: Big Announcement

Live better, a little everyday.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Three Budget Friendly Recipies

One of the best foods to stock up on is the bean.  Any bean- kidney, chick peas, black, cannellini, pinto, whatever your pleasure.  Beans are cheap, easy to store, and have tons of fiber and protein.  Plus, they are easy to grow.  All this makes them a great addition to your pantry.  Here are three great, cheap, tasty, bean-based recipes.

Note: Using canned beans is convenient, and relatively inexpensive.  However, there is a lot of unnecessary sodium in commercially prepared canned beans.  Dry beans are even cheaper and are easy to prepare, but they do require some time.  Dry beans need to be soaked overnight before using.

Black Bean Soup (serves 4)
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh ginger root, shredded
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 bag (appox 15 oz) of black beans, previously soaked overnight
  • 6 cups of water
  • 3 large sweet potatoes, pealed and cubed
  • 1 teaspoon  salt
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup yogurt (I use Stoneyfield Farms full fat, cream on top, french vanilla) or sour cream with each serving (optional)
  • fresh cilantro leaves (optional)
In a large pot, saute the onion in the oil until translucent.  Add peppers, garlic, ginger, and allspice and saute until the peppers are soft.  Add water sweet potatoes, and beans and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft and cooked through.  Add the salt and black pepper.  Take 1-2 cups of the soup and blend in a blender, then replace to the pot.  Add yogurt and cilantro leaves to each individual bowl.

White Bean and Carrot Soup
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced*
  • 1 Tablesoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3-4 scallions/green onions chopped
  • 1 quart broth (veggie or chicken)
  • 2 lbs carrots, peeled and cut into 2-3 inch sections
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons dried sage
  • 2 bags (approx 30 ounces) cannellini beans (or any white bean), soaked overnight
  • Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, saute the onion in the olive oil until translucent.  Add the garlic, scallions, and saute 3-4 minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic.  Add the broth, carrots, oregano, thyme, sage, pre-soaked cannellini beans, salt, and pepper.  Simmer 30-45 minutes.  In batches, run the soup through a blender.

*To add another level of flavor, try roasting the garlic first.  Roast the entire garlic bulb and use the extra garlic in other recipes, flavor bread, etc.  Preheat the oven to 400*.  Leaving the garlic in its paper, cut the top off the bulb, and brush the top of the bulb with olive oil.  Roast in the oven  for 20 minutes, or until soft.  Squeeze out the garlic cloves.  They will be soft, sweet, and take the soup to a whole new level.

Refried Beans
  • 1 bag (appox. 15 oz) pinto beans, soaked overnight
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped finely
  • 5-6 garlic cloves (you could use the left-over roasted cloves from the above recipe)
  • 2 teaspons cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
Soak beans overnight.  In the morning, drain the water and rinse beans. Add beans to a large pot and add fresh water (enough water to cover the beans with at least two inches of water over the beans).  Cook beans for 1 and 1/2 hours, or until soft.  Drain beans.  In a skillet, saute the onion in the olive oil for 5 minutes, then add garlic and cumin and cook for another 4 minutes, being careful not to let the garlic burn.  Using a potato masher, mash the beans in a large bowl.  Stir in the onion mixture.  Stir in the cayenne or hot sauce, salt, and pepper.  Serve as a side dish, with rice (complete protein combo), in burritos, with guacamole and sour cream, and so on.

Next blog entry: Extra Income Ideas

Live better, a little every day

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Frugal and Natural Homemade Cleaning Supplies

With so many people trying to cut back on expenses, it's a good time for a blog entry about making your own cleaning supplies.  With some very simple ingredients, you can create your own cleaning supplies for pennies per use. 

Making your own cleaning supplies does three things: First, it saves money.  Second, it reduces exposure to toxic chemicals.  And, third, it increases self-sufficiency.  Who can argue with that?

Four items that you can get cheaply from the grocery store or your wholesale club that will handle most cleaning tasks are: baking soda, vinegar, lemons, and salt.  (I buy all these at the wholesale club to save as much money as possible.)  With the addition of a few essential oils, lavender, tea tree, lemon, and sweet orange oil, you can tackle a wide variety of cleaning chores. 

Glass Cleaner
Mix equal parts water and vinegar in a spray bottle.  Use newspapers to wipe if streaking is a problem.  Use this mix as a base for other cleaning needs.

Disinfectant Spray
To the basic Glass Cleaner spray mix, add 5 drops of lavender and 10 drops of tea tree essential oils.  Use on door knobs, counter tops, sinks, mist into the air, mist lightly over a bed while airing out the mattress, etc.

Kitchen/Bath Multi-Purpose Spray
To the Disinfectant spray mix, add 5 drops of lavender and 5 drops of lemon essential oils.  Use on counter tops, toilet lids, and anywhere germs are a concern.

Grease Cutter Spray
To the basic Glass Cleaner spray mix, add 5 drops of lemon and 10 drops sweet orange essential oils.  If you have a really tough, greasy mess, reduce the amount of water/vinegar portion by half, and increase the sweet orange oil to 20 drops.

To Clean a Cutting Board
Spray with 50% water and 50% vinegar mix.  While damp, sprinkle some salt on the board.  Cut a lemon in half, and use the cut lemon surface to rub the salt into the board.  Rinse with water and let dry.

To Clean a Toilet Bowl
Add two cups of baking soda to the bowl, and let sit for an hour.  (Go enjoy a nice cup of tea and maybe a slice of pumpkin bread!)  Add a cup of vinegar to the bowl, and scrub clean with a toilet brush. 

To Clean Soap Scum
Sprinkle the surface to be cleaned with baking soda.  Spray straight vinegar onto the baking soda.  Using a little elbow grease, use the foaming soft scrub made by the baking soda/vinegar combo to clean the tub. 

*A note for those who want to be as self-sufficient as possible...Most of us would never be able to produce their own baking soda.  Most of us would not be able to produce our own salt.  Although, those near the coast could potentially collect sea salt, though I would probably not waste sea salt on cleaning products.  In those two cases, most people would still be reliant on a grocery store or wholesale club. 

Every other item I mentioned is potentially capable of being produced an a homestead.  Vinegar can be made at home, as part of one's home brewing efforts.  Even folks in colder climates or with limited space can grow miniature lemon and orange trees by moving them inside a green house or indoors in the winter, and back outdoors on a balcony or porch in the summer.  If in a cold climate, tea trees (Melaleuca Alternifolia) could be grown with green house protection in the winter.  If you have the space, then you could conceivably grow enough of these plus lavender to distill your own essential oils. 

Next blog entry: Three Budget Friendly Recipes

Live better, a little every day.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Herbal Remedies to Fight the Cold and Flu

Here are my favorite herbal and aromatherapy-based remedies for the cold and flu.

Lavender essential oil is is my #1 favorite remedy.  It has the most uses of almost any essential oil.  Lavender essential oil has natural antiviral and antibiotic properties.  It is an effective decongestant when inhaled, alieviates  body aches when added to a bath, warm compress, or body oil or lotion and applied to the body.  I have put a few drops on cotton balls and placed the cotton ball in my ears (like ear buds) to cope with ear ache pain.  Many warm mist vaporizers have a way to medications or aromatherapy oils to the steam. 

You can add some lavender oil and water to a spray bottle and use the mist to naturally disinfect your home.  Natural cleaning is essential to stop the spread of germs, and lavender does a great job of disinfecting.  By disinfecting commonly-touched areas, like door knobs, telephones, countertops, etc., you help prevent the spread of disease.  Bonus- lavender smells great. 

Please note, these healing properties are attributed only to the actual plant-based essential oil.  Synthetic fragrance oils have none of the chemical compounds of the real thing, and are worthless for aromatherapy.  NEVER ingest essential oils.

Herbal Tea
Any member of the mint family (peppermint, spearmint, etc.) will help thin mucus.  Add some lemon for some extra Vitamin C.  You can add mullein to help with chest congestion, anise for sinus congestion, and Slippery Elm for a sore throat.

However, here is what I drink when I feel a cold or flu coming on:
  • Ginger root, a piece about the size of your thumb, peeled (aches and fever relief)
  • Garlic cloves, at least three, peeled and cut in half (boost immune function)
  • 9 whole cloves- the kind you stick in a ham (pain relief)
  • 3-4 cinamon sticks, broken (sore throat relief)
  • 1 Tablespoon of thyme (antibiotic)
  • 5 cups of water, cool
  • Honey to taste (enzymes, anti-bacterial, anti-viral properties)
Add all ingredients to a pot filled with 4 cups of cool water.  Bring the water up to a boil.  Allow to boil for 10 minutes and reduce to simmer for another 20 minutes or until the water has reduced by half.  While this is simmering, in another pot, heat the remaining cup of water to steaming.  Remove from heat, add the thyme, and inhale while waiting for the first mixture to reduce.  When the first mixture is ready, add one tablespoon of the thyme liquid to the ginger-based liquid, and pass through a mesh strainer.  Ginger and garlic are both strong tastes.  When tea is cool enough to drink, add honey to taste.  Do not add honey to boiling liquid.  It will destroy the enzyemes that give honey its healing properties.

It is recommended to begin drinking this tea at the onset of symptoms for greatest relief.  Of course, if you have an allergy to any ingredient, leave it out.

(Technically, this is called a decoction, not a tea, because it uses roots and barks which must be added to cool water and brought to a boil  A tea uses leaf or flower parts of the plant and are added to hot, but not boiling water.)

Herbal Tinctures (Extracts)
Tinctures offer concentrated herbal properties in a standardized dosage.  Some of the tinctures reputed to help fight the flu include elderberry and golden seal.  Reports on echinacea are conflicting.  There are many studies (as well as lengthy, historical usage) to suggest that echinacea is effective if begun at the onset of symptoms.  There are, however, many studies that show echinacea to be ineffective on the flu.

Where to Buy Herbal and Aromatherapy Supplies
I have had good experiences ordering from the following companies:
Next blog entry: Frugal and Natural Homemade Cleaning Supplies

Live better, a little every day.

How To Fight The Flu At Home

Many Americans are out of work due to the economic crisis and cannot afford the COBRA payments to keep their insurance.  This means a lot of folks will not be able to afford to go to the doctor for minor health issues and will be looking for less expensive ways to cope with matters like the cold of flu.

About six years ago, I found a much better paying job. Due to some administrative issue regarding cut off dates, however, it meant I would be without health coverage for almost a year. I was young, relatively healthy, and took the gamble that nothing serious would happen to me that would require serious medical attention. Thankfully, nothing did. However, it forced me to be resourceful and learn alternate ways of coping with the symptoms of minor health issues, especially the cold and flu.

Flu symptoms for either seasonal or swine flu are the same and include: fever, body aches, fatigue, headache, sore throat, cough, runny or stuffed nose, and possibly intestinal issues.  In both types of flu, symptoms can range from mild to severe, and in some cases also be fatal.  Those most at risk are those with compromised immune systems, children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with pre-existing health complications.  However, the percentage of individuals who suffer serious and/or life threatening influenza infections are overwhelminging low.  See my earlier blog entry, Should I Be Worried About Swine Flu, for the statistics on both seasonal and swine flu.

Here is an overview of home remedies for the flu.

Steam Inhalation
Take a hot shower
Use a warm mist humidifier
Fill sink or bath with steaming water

Herbs and Aromatherapy (do not use any ingredient you may be allergic to)
Add an herb or essential oil to steam inhalation
Apply a product like Vick's Vaporub, which contains eucalyptus oil and menthol

Stay Hydrated
Drink additional water
Warm drinks, like herbal teas, are comforting

Saline Nasal Sprays
Helps to thin mucus and keep nasal passages moist and comfortable

Chicken Soup
Spicy foods, like wasabi and chili peppers

Cold- may help bring down a fever
Hot- may help relieve sinus pressure (be careful not to use too hot of a compress)

These remedies should provide some comfort while your immune system fights off the flu.  Of course, if you experience any serious flu symptoms, you should seek professional medical attention.

Next blog entry: Herbal Remedies to Fight Cold and Flu (recipe included)

Live better, a little every day.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Should I Be Worried About Swine Flu?

The H1N1 virus, also known as "Swine Flu", has a lot of folks concerned this flu season.  Heated controversy exists over how dangerous the H1N1 virus is, the media attention it is receiving, and what treatment is safe and appropriate. 

Flu Facts
According to the Center for Disease Control, seasonal influenza virus (the "flu") infects between 5-20% of the American population each year.  This results in approximately 200,000 hospitalizations related to the flu, and approximately 36,000 flu related deaths each year. 

To put those figures in perspective, I'll use the 5% infection rate and the CDC's figures for recognized hospitalizations and deaths to provide the most grim results for the average flu season.  Using a US Census report from 2008 listing the US population at 304,059,724, five percent would be 15,202,986 people who contract the flu.  This would mean that the 200,000 people who require hospitalization for the flu represents only 1.32% of the total infected cases.  The total number of deaths from the flu then represents only 0.24%, less than a quarter of a percent of the total number of infections. 

Of course, using the higher percentages in the 5-20% range would make the final figures for hospitalization and fatalities much less.  The actual numbers are probably even less than that, considering many people never bother to contact a doctor when they come down with the flu.

Enter swine flu onto the flu season stage.  The swine flu does not infect humans every year.  It is an additional strain of influenza that occasionally mutates and becomes infectious to people.  Depending on the news source, some claim it is more deadly than the regular flu, while others vehemently assert just the opposite is true.  A quick google for "death rates of swine flu" produced figures varying from 10% to a mere 1 in 10,000.  However, there seems to be a link between death from verified H1N1 cases and secondary infections or other existing health problems.  In other words, the vast majority of people who have died from confirmed swine flu also had something else wrong with them.

Is H1N1 something to be concerned about? 
There doesn't seem to be a clear answer.  It has been declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organization, but pandemic does not automatically equal "deadly pandemic."  Interestingly, doctors' offices and hospitals are no longer even testing for H1N1 unless the patient requests one and is administered at the patient's expense.  This is why I made it a point to notate "confirmed" cases in the above section.  Patients are still tested to determine if a flu strain is either an "Influenza A" or Influenza B".  Both the regular flu and H1N1 are type A.  But, routine testing ends there.

Mainstream media networks have latched on to each incident of suspected swine flu cases.  It makes for dramatic, "stay-tuned" broadcasting.  They have no way to verify if such cases were the seasonal or swine flu, and spend a great deal of time promoting the swine flu vaccine. 

This lack of thorough testing, when compared to the media hype over swine flu danger, sends a mixed message.  One would assume that obtaining a proper diagnosis would be the first step in determining the proper treatment and associated risk.  If the health risk presented by H1N1 is as great as the media and government agencies claim, then wouldn't it be imperative that health care providers also collect proper data on H1N1 infection rates?

A hastily prepared vaccine has been rushed to the market, and special priveleges granted to protect drug companies from any litigation stemming from injury from the vaccine.  Many people are concerned over drastic measures to encourage taking the vaccine when there is still so much debate over how serious, or not, the H1N1 virus actually is.  Some states are trying to make the vaccine mandatory for certain groups, such as health care workers in New York, threatening, "take the vaccine or lose your job."  Other states, Like Massachusetts, are considering sweeping legislation (MA Senate Bill 2028) that would permit government agents to enter a person's home without a warrant, accompanied by armed police, seize personal property and real property, as long as the health agent claims it is necessary to prevent disease.  While the bill does not "technically" make vaccinations madatory, those who do not receive it are subject to isolation or quarantine and a $1000 per day fine.

Back in the 1970's, there had been another outbreak of swine flu.  A vaccine was also cranked out in record time that the government highly recommended everyone receive.  Many people had a severe reaction to the vaccine, Guillaine-Barre syndrome.  This condition paralyzes the body, including the lungs.  While some have recovered, many others have been left permanently paralized, and unfortunately, some died.  The new vaccine is made similarly to the one from the 1970's.

I am not a doctor, but from the research I have done, I will not get either the seasonal or swine flu shot.  I do not think that there has been enough research on either vaccine to prove it is safe, and I do not wish to expose my unborn child to the heavy metals used as preservatives in the vaccines.  If MA Senate Bill 2028 passes, we will leave the state until the declared emergency is over rather than have an untested medication forced on us.  I would prefer to limit my risk of catching either flu, and handling any symptoms at home naturally.

Next Blog Entry: How To Fight The Flu At Home

Live better, a little every day.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Progress Update #4, Cabin Building

Back in August, my husband and his two older boys went up to Maine to work on our little cabin. I was too sick with morning sickness to go with them, but I did have my youngest stepson to help me keep little Karl entertained.
The Ellis men were able to get the roof rafters and roof sheeting installed. Three of the four windows went in. While there was no time for interior work or to put shingles on the roof, the roof has been temporarily waterproofed by stretching and securing a blue tarp over the roof sheeting. As you can see, there is a very steep pitch to the roof. The cabin kind of reminds me of an IHOP restaurant with their steep, blue metal roofs! They boarded up the cabin and came home.

We're not sure if we're going to be able to make another trip this late in the season. Next on our list for building the cabin is to get the insulation and interior walls in, and shingles on the roof. If this has to wait until next spring, then we'll be dividing our time between cabin building and planting fruit trees.

Live better, a little every day.

Fall/Winter Blog Entries

For those of you who have been following the blog for a while, or have read some of the archived blog entries, you know that we have an on-going project up in Maine- our cabin. I do have one more, and much overdue, Progress Report to enter to update the status of our cabin-building efforts for 2009. As the colder months settle in, however, the likelihood that we will get many more opportunities to head north diminishes. There is a possibility we can make one more trip (weather permitting), but in all likelihood, cabin-related Progress Reports will resume in the spring.

For the remainder of the autumn and throughout the winter, blog entries may be about anything related to preparedness, independence, homesteading, book reviews, herbal remedies, or any self-sufficiency related topic.

Is there is anything that you would like to learn more about? Leave a comment here on the blog with your topic idea. I'll be happy to do the research and dedicate a blog entry to your topic.

Live better, a little everyday.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Recipe- Hamburger Stroganoff

Since my blog entry yesterday was about canning, today I thought I'd post a recipe that can be easily doubled, and the extra servings canned for later using a pressure canner. It freezes well too. The recipe comes from one of the most useful books I have on my shelf, Stocking Up III, by Carol Hupping of the Rodale Food Center.

The book covers a wide range of food storage options. There are recipes, instructions to make your own butter and yogurt, and walks you through the specific steps of canning, freezing, and dehydrating just about anything. (It does not cover smoking or salt curing.) In my opinion, it is the best bang for your buck in food preservation books.

This recipe is simple, uses inexpensive ingredients, stores well, tastes great, and is a perfect cold-weather meal. If you do not have a pressure canner, this freezes well too. Just remember that your freezer is vulnerable to power outages.

Hamburger Stroganoff

1 and 1/2 lbs lean ground beef
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium-sized onion, sliced
1/2 teaspoons pepper
2 teaspoons soy sauce (more if desired)
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
1 and 1/2 cups sour cream

In a medium skillet, cook beef for 10 minutes, or until done. Drain off fat. Add garlic, onions, pepper, and 1 teaspoon soy sauce, and cook until onions are tender. Add mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon soy sauce and, if serving now and not canning or freezing, the sour cream. Let sauce just heat through, 5-7 minutes.

Can or freeze. To can, pack hot into hot, scalded pint or quart jars, leaving 1-inch headspace. Adjust seals and process in a pressure canner, 75 minutes for pints and 90 minutes for quarts. Remember to add sour cream to canned or frozen stroganoff when heating.

Live better, a little everyday.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Canning Meals Now to Save Money Later

Today is the last day of September. The days are comfortable and the nights are cool. This is a great time of year to can some food for the winter. While the opportunity to can the summer veggies has past, you can still can fully prepared meals to add to your food storage.

There are two major benefits to canning food now. First, and most obvious, it is cooler. Heating up the kitchen isn't a big deal right now. (Just compare the experience to canning back in August!). The second reason is less immediately obvious- you will save money.

Yes, preparing food at home almost always saves money. No surprise there. However, in a month or so, the utility companies will be raising their rates. Soon, it will cost more to turn on the stove regardless if you use gas or electric. By canning prepared meals right now, you can take advantage of the lower seasonal utility rates. When you are ready to eat, all you have to do is reheat the meal, which will use much less power when rates are at their highest, than to cook from scratch. Not to mention, it will save you time as well.

Consider making double or triple batches of cheap meals, and canning the surplus. Assuming you have a pressure canner (not a pressure cooker), you can safely can recipes containing low-acid veggies, as well as meat and dairy. Some meals to consider are chili, American chop suey, and all types of soups. I canned the leftovers from a pork roast I made in the crock pot, and it turned out beautifully.

A pressure canner is a one-time expense. The glass jars, unless you break them, are also a one time expense. The cost of new lids are ridiculously cheap. If you have a little extra money, you can purchase jars with rubber gaskets and clamps, and then you don't have to worry about buying new lids each year. You can purchase all these supplies for around $300, which isn't much when compared to a week's worth of groceries from the store.

Of course, if you cook on a wood cook stove, it is not advisable to use a pressure canner. But, if you're cooking on wood, you're not paying a utility bill in the first place.

Quick political note: spending less with the utility companies means less associated tax money the government collects. Each utility pays taxes associated with the operation of their business. You, the end user, is ultimately the source of revenue that pays those taxes. I don't know anyone who thinks the government has done a good job of managing our money. I would just as soon not volunteer to give the government any more money than I am absolutely required to do. That would be like giving an irresponsible teenager a credit card with no limit. I think it is far more patriotic to save the resources to shore up the security of our family. Your mileage may vary.

Live better, a little every day.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Make Your Own First Aid Kit

To take a break from blog posts about the garden, I thought this would be a good time to address a simple preparedness tool- the first aid kit.

As stated in the blog description, "We also recognize that in an emergency, it is better to be prepared than to rely on an outside source for rescue." While any serious health condition should be checked out by a physician, many minor issues can be handled at home. First aid kits should be part of your basic supplies. It is a good idea to keep one at home and one in each of your vehicles.

Most ready-made first aid kits are filled with cheap, limited supplies. You're best bet is to make your own kit. You can find all manner of plastic bins that will work well to hold your first aid supplies. I like to have a mix of allopathic, herbal, and homeopathic supplies. You have to know what to use when, but they make for a comprehensive kit.

Here is a list of useful items to keep in a first aid kit.
  • Variety of bandages and band-aids
  • Sterile gauze pads
  • Cloth tape
  • Snips (to cut the tape)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Metal tweezers
  • Triple-antibiotic ointment
  • Hydrocortizone cream
  • Calamine lotion
  • Alcohol/Antiseptic wipes
  • Cotton balls
  • Non-latex gloves
  • Thermometer
  • Breathing/CPR barrier
  • Blood pressure cuff & replacement batteries
  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • Guiafenesin
  • Instant cold compresses
  • Ace bandages
  • Aloe vera gel
  • Lavender essential oil
  • Goldenseal Tincture
  • Elderberry Tincture
  • Arnica gel
  • Crystallized ginger
  • Kaopectate
  • Witch hazel
  • Variety of homeopathic tablet remedies

Of course, there are many other things that could be added to a first aid kit. If you have the means to purchase a defibrillator, that would make an incredible addition to your kit. If you have children, then you should add children's formulas of common medications. You could also include any pet medications as well. If you feel the need and have the necessary knowledge, you could also stock up on antibiotics. These can be obtained affordably and without prescription from feed stores.

If you don't have a first aid kit, consider putting one together. While you might not need to use it often, when you do need to use it, you'll be glad that you spent the time building a well-stocked kit.

If you have additional suggestions for items to go into a first aid kit, let's hear them! Post a comment!

Live better, a little every day.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Garden Economics

Most folks we know are having to scale back on their purchases and watch their wallets a bit more closely. Across the country, people have turned to gardening to supplement, or even replace, their grocery bills. When you consider the return on investment, the choice to grow a garden is really a no-brainer.

Consider this, a pound of organic grape tomatoes (the only organic tomatoes our local Stop & Shop carries) costs about $5/lb. They are not sauce tomatoes, and we would need two pounds to handle our family's salad needs each week. That comes to $10/week, or $40/month on tomatoes that only have one use.

Certainly, if one were eating non-organic tomatoes, then the price does go down a little. But not by much. We priced some salad and plum tomatoes at the grocery store over the past couple of months and found prices ranging from $1.70/lb to $2.20/lb. If I were to purchase these tomatoes to make sauce, it would be more expensive than buying prepared sauce. Please note, our wholesale club did have them for less, but their shelf life was minimal at best. Walmart also had them for less, but for many reasons, we try to avoid purchasing at Walmart whenever possible. In the past, when we have purchased produce from Walmart, the shelf life was also minimal.

We purchased two packages of tomato seeds from Johnny's Selected Seeds. We purchased the smallest size seed packets for a total of $6.10. The packets had 40 seeds each, though we were only able to use a few of both types. That was a potential of 80 tomato plants, each with the potential of producing several pounds of tomatoes.

Our efforts were minimal. I spent a couple of hours on a weekend planting the seeds indoors, and my husband spent a few hours outside preparing the vegetable beds for transplants. When the plants were ready, it only took me a couple of hours to get the tomatoes in the ground, and the process was rather enjoyable. We did stake them. It was functional, but it did look rather messy, and I'm sure we could do a better job next year. We'd check the plants on occasion to see if they needed water, which this year, there wasn't much need for watering. But that's about it. We didn't do anything else except pick tomatoes off the plants.

While we didn't get a proper weight each time we picked tomatoes, judging from the amount we used, I would guess we took in about 25-30 pounds of tomatoes from the 5 tomato plants that produced in the garden. I was able to make sauce and use some of the tomatoes in salads. The extra seeds will find their way into holiday gifts. Next year, however, we will order fresh seeds, and plant several more (and other veggies) to sell at farmers' markets along with our honey.

Of course, this holds true for each of the veggies we planted. In the first two weeks of production, a single cucumber plant produced enough cucumbers to cover the minimal cost of a packet of cucumber seeds ($3.30). That was just from one plant! That packet came with 240 seeds.

It is clearly more cost effective to grow your own food. But gardening has more benefits than being wallet-friendly. You get to pick the varieties that you want. You get a superior product that anything you could buy at the store. You get outdoors in the fresh air and sunlight. You get to enjoy a new hobby that brings you both pleasure and pride. You can't buy that at the grocery store.

Live better, a little every day.

Garden Report, 9/29/09

The cooler weather is settling in, and the last of our summer veggies are being picked this afternoon. We had some major successes, a few blunders, and learned a lot. I just feel very fortunate that we were permitted the use of the small backyard at our apartment to grow a garden, even if it was a small one.

We grew two types of sauce tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, cucumbers, and green beans. June was exceptionally wet, and it provided the right circumstances for a fungus, the same one that caused a blight leading to the Irish Potato Famine, to run rampant. The blight effects both potatoes and tomatoes. While we didn't plant any potatoes, we did plant about eight tomato plants and hoped for the best.

Somehow, we escaped the blight. Five out of eight tomato plants survived the transplanting outside, though I suspect the biggest problem here was human-related. I think I planted them too close to each other, and the stronger plants choked out the smaller ones. The remaining plants produced some of the biggest and meatiest tomatoes I've ever had the pleasure of turning into sauce.

The peppers took the longest to start producing. But when they did, it was unbelievable. The bell peppers were smaller than the ones you buy in the store, but they still held their own in several servings of stuffed peppers (made with the above-mentioned tomato sauce). We also planted several hot peppers- some long red ones, and some small round cherry bombs. Let me tell you, these were hot! I ended up having to put rubber gloves on to handle them safely. No matter how careful I was, I would get the pepper oils under my fingernails and it simply would not wash off.

We ended up with more than we could readily use, so I took the opportunity to learn about dehydration. This year, I dehydrated the peppers in my oven. I removed the seeds, sliced them a few times, placed them on a cookie sheet, then popped them in the oven on the lowest setting. After a couple of hours, they were perfectly dry. I took my onion chopper gadget and chopped them up into flakes. They came out well, and I now have red pepper flakes stored in my spice cabinet. They will come in very handy during cold and flu season. Next year, however, we will invest some time and money in building a solar dehydrator.

The cucumber plants were the stars of this year's garden. We had several cukes almost every single day. Nice, large, and perfect for salad or juicing. They were the first to start producing and the last to finally slow down production. On a hot day, and August certainly brought many of them, these were the perfect snack.

A close second to the cukes in production were the green beans. They also produced early and have steadily continued for the entire season. We planted eight plants, and six survived after transplant. Some heavy wind and rain took out the others. These really didn't take up much room at all, and provided us just the right amount of green beans.

I wish that we had a proper scale so we could have calculated the total number of pounds of produce our garden gave us. What I can say is that given our inexperience, bad weather, and late start, I think we did pretty well and learned a lot.

While many people are closing their gardens until next spring, we're busy planning a Fall/Winter garden using cold frames. Stay tuned for that blog post.

Live better, a little every day.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Change of Plans

Before anyone begins to think that I've either dissappeared or abandoned this blog, fear not. The absence of new posts during the past few weeks is because of a very happy and unexpected change of plans. We're having another baby! The new baby is due on April 11, 2010.

The past few weeks have been a bit rough- lots of nausea. I've been physically capable of little more than napping and drinking lemon-ginger or spearmint tea. I haven't been able to focus on much other than adjustments for this pregnancy, which is why there hasn't been a post in a while.

However, this news only brings the need to become more self-sufficient into sharper focus. Nothing is more important to us than securing a future for our family that can withstand the possible circumstances, such as economic collapse, pandemic illness, oil, food and water shortages, etc., that hover on the horizon. Not only do we seek to withstand such possibilities, but to thrive in the face of them.

And now, for another cup of spearmint tea.

Live better, a little every day.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Let's Start a Food Fight

Warning: Post contains political opinions.

As we prepare our Fall garden, I've been mulling over how far-reaching the ability to produce one's own food truly is. Growing your own food may be the single most important thing that one can do to promote freedom. By growing your own food, you:

  1. Take control over the quality, variety, nutritional value, and safety of your food supply.
  2. Reduce the amount of fuel spent transporting, cooling, and warehousing food.
  3. Save money that can be reallocated to debt reduction, investing in land, equipment for off-grid living, homeschooling supplies, or to simply hold in savings.
  4. Reduces the amount of money being fed into the Broken System.

The first three items are reason enough to grow a least a portion of your food. But, you may not have heard about the fouth. The Broken System is actually a network of systems. This network includes entities like the government, as well as health care, financial and food industries, and so on. Each of these entities share two things

  1. a gross lack of accountability to the American public,
  2. are wasteful, and operate in an unsustainable manner.

Considering the size to which these entites and industries have been permitted to grow, we are left with few real options with which to reign them in. The most powerful tool we have to take back control is through individual spending habits.

Career politicians, lending institutions, and giant manufacturers try desperately to get us to spend money. It keeps them strong, while keeping the general population weak with debt. But we have a choice whether to listen to them, or to listen to our common sense.

What we need to do is stop spending! Stop listening to the nonsense that it is supposedly patriotic to spend money you can't afford to spend. According to who? Here's the truth: it's patriotic to create strong, debt-free, American families. We can reduce our spending by growing some or all of our own food. You end up with more money in your pocket and better quality food at the same time.

There is a tremendous amount of waste of fuel and energy to grow food on large Agri-business farms, and especially on imported food from foreign countries. More fuel and energy is then wasted in the packaging, shipping, and warehousing of food. All of the fuel and utilities necessary to keep this process afloat is taxed and a source of government income. Considering that most produce travels an average of 1500 miles from farm to store shelves, that's a lot of tax revenue.

I do not know anyone who thinks the government has spent our tax dollars wisely. Yet, even with a completely different party in control of both congress and the White House, we are still subjected to the Patriot Act, paying for a horrendously expensive war, and bailing out companies and banks as a reward for mismanagement. Voting differently certainly didn't do much to help us.

The most effective way to create change is to change our spending habits. By growing our own food, we are refusing to feed into the Broken System. Growing our own food reduces our dependence on foreign oil. Growing our own food is an act of patriotism.

Live better, a little every day.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Garden Report, 7/24/09

Rain, rain go away! June was almost daily rain, and July has shaped up to be rain every 2-3 days. The pickings at local farmers' markets and even from our CSA farm share are slim compared to past years. From what many local growers have reported, many crops have simply rotted in the ground.

Our garden is just starting to get productive. Yesterday, I harvested eight peppers. There are several cucumbers ready to come off the vine either today or tomorrow. There are three tomatoes ripening on the vine, but dozens more flowers on the tomato plants then there were just a few days ago.

The bean plants are doing ok, but not spectacular. Most did not survive when put into the ground. I started them from seed, and they had wet feet in the containers. The plants were rather thin, and the wind and rain caused several to bend and break. I've planted a second group of beans and planted them much deeper so that there is no chance the wind will do that kind of damage again.

Yesterday, I put in the last of the cucumber plants and some replacement green bean plants. It was a race against time before the rain to get them in the ground. Such has been the story of our garden this year!

It's getting to be time to plant seeds for fall planting. With such a late season, it's somewhat hard to believe, but fall is but two months away. We will still keep some produce plants on our balcony, as it is a beautiful micro-climate for container gardening later in the season. I've got onion, carrots, garlic, lettuce, swiss chard, and elephant-neck squash planned. Some will actually get planted at our location in Maine, which is a really exciting to us.

As this garden is largely experimental, but it has taught us the importance of planting much more than you think you need, and multiple plantings. Redundancy in a garden plan is crucial if you are depending on the garden as your main food supply. A greenhouse, and plenty of large containers would be another source of garden redundancy, though that's something we're planning on for our Maine location. However, we will be using cold frames to extend the season here in MA as long as possible.

Live better, a little every day.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Progress Update #3a, Cabin Pics

The Cabin Site

Cabin Construction Begins

Gotta level the posts.

And... it's level!

Installing a Vapor Barrier

Installing Insulation

Installing the Subfloor

The Walls Go Up

The Outer Walls Go Up

Cutting the Front Door
Front Door and Windows
The Second Floor Begins

Progress Update #3, Building the Cabin

We're back, and what a week it has been! In spite of some minor setbacks, common to most building projects (and some not so common), we made incredible progress building our cabin.

Upon arrival, we found the camper was free of wasps, which had been our plague last year. However, the bed had been taken over by garder snakes. They made a home under the camper's water tank, which was stored under the bed. To get them out, it meant cutting out the water tank. However, we now have a water tank for future installation in the cabin. Eddie pulled a total of seven snakes out of the bed, patched the holes, and duct-taped over the patches and the entire under-bed storage area. Lots of duct tape- no more snakes.

Our second setback was with our initial attempt to pick up the lumber. Apparently, there is a spending limit on my debit card, and with the purchase of gas for the trip, and a stop at Cabela's for a solar shower, the total purchase price for the lumber was over my daily spending limit. This set us back a day building, but we cleaned up around the camper, cutting down all the tall grasses around and under it. We also put down some black plastic sheets underneath before returning home to prevent regrowth. Hopefully, this will cut down on invading critters.

Our friend, Jimmy, arrived during the night and slept in his truck. He brought up a bunch of power tools, ladders, etc. After some much needed coffee, we all headed out to the lumber yard. Between Jimmy's truck and our utility trailer, we were able to take everything in one trip. We spent the better part of the morning clearing the tall grass from the most level area, setting up the generator, and unloading tools and lumber. Construction got underway about noon, and by the end of the day, the floor was laid and insulated, and four posts were up.

The floor needed some levelling, and we set up the solar shower shelter. We needed some materials, but since the local place was closed, we had a long drive to the nearest Home Depot. However, we stopped at a sporting goods store and picked up a water filter/purifier to safely use the water we have on site. Jimmy had to leave as he had work in the morning, but we were joined by a new friend, Leif. How lucky are we to have met an architect who lives only a few miles away? Progress picked up quickly under a professional's guidance, and the south and west walls were framed and raised.

It was just us on Monday, with Eddie and his oldest son doing most of the work. Jimmy had left his power tools and ladders, which was a huge help. The remaining walls were framed and raised, and the outer walls on two sides went up.

The rest of the outer walls went up and openings for windows and doors were cut. Our new friend dropped by again to help us out with the second floor and roof. There was a slight mistake made with the window framing, that would be easily corrected the next day. We also ended up choosing to go with longer boards for the roof to give us more headroom in the second floor. By day's end, we had the floor for the second floor mostly done. My camera battery ran out of charge today.

It rained on and off all day. Work did get done, even through most of the rain. We exchanged the lumber for the higher roof, the window frames were adjusted, and the rest of the floor for the second floor was installed. We decided to stay an additional day.

Rain was predicted for the later half of the day. We took advantage of the morning to get a few more cuts done (for the roofing boards), clean up around the building site, and to pack up.

As soon as my camera is charged, I will post pictures. Even though it ran out of charge before we left, it doesn't look much different than the last few pictures I took. We still have the roof to put up, and the interior to finish, but it's starting to look like a cabin. We're also planning on putting in a wrap-around porch on the east and south sides.
Another couple weeks' worth of work, and the cabin will be complete. Now, back to raising funds for the next trip!