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.