Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lightening the Load

I missed getting a blog post in the past couple of days, but with good reason.  We have been turning our apartment upside-down- cleaning, organizing, gifting items, sorting other items for sale, separating items to donate to good will, and bagging items for the trash and recycling.  It has been go-go-go from rising in the morning to my head hitting the pillow at night.  And... we're not even close to being done.

I've been itching to reorganize, and here's why:
  • What if there were an emergency and we had to leave our home in a hurry? 
  • Can we access our important papers and belongings quickly? 
  • What if there were a flood and our basement storage unit turned into an indoor pond?  
  • When we move, do we really want to wait until the last minute to shed our extra stuff? 
  • We could use the cash from selling some of our things to make an extra payment to get rid of the last remaining credit card faster. 
We cleaned and organized all of the closets, moved some furniture, repacked the clothes we had in storage in water-proof, vacuum sealed bags.  The clothes were originally stored in boxes, which have now been broken down and stored flat, and can be used to pack our belongings when we move.  Between the change to the storage bags, and flattening the boxes, we gained a ton of space.  And when you live in an apartment, space is always at a premium.

After we attend a Memorial Day remembrance tomorrow morning, we still have more work to do.  We have many more plants to get in the ground, which will give all of us a chance to get outdoors.  That still leaves me the task of purging old documents and revamping the filing system.  At least, we have access to a commercial shredder.

We will do a purging like this once a month from now on.  This will help us raise funds and get us ready to move.  Moving can be a real pain in the neck.  There's no need to make it more of a pain by having to purge items at the last minute.

Live better, a little every day.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Small Amounts Add Up

Today was a long, dull day, full of chores and chasing kids around.  I'm not even sure how many sinkfulls of dishes I did today.  Every muscle in my body is sore, but in a good way.  Spent the evening planning out projects for the weekend.  It's going to be a busy weekend.

I did a couple hours of bookkeeping for some extra money, deposited it, and sent it immediately to our last remaining credit card.  It was only $20, but it was little amounts like this, chipping away at the principal balance paid off our other credit cards quickly.  Never underestimate the single, small, extra payment!

The day has taken it's toll, and we needed a moment to unwind and reprogram our minds with something more positive and inspiring.  We watched the documentary, Alone In The Wilderness which follows a 51 year old man who moves out to a remote part of Alaska, builds a log cabin and furniture by himself and with just hand tools. Just the kind of movie to feed the spirit.

Much more to post tomorrow.

Live better, a little every day

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Garden Report 5/25/2010

Here is the first official Garden Report of 2010.  We are a little late getting some plants in the ground.  That was dictated, like so many things this year, by our daughter's birth in early April. Certain plants really should have been replants outdoors before now, and we will just have to wait and see how things pan out.

So far this season, we have:
  • dug an additional garden bed
  • expanded the size of the existing garden bed from last year
  • 8 rows of 10 plants each of onions, carrots, and beets in the ground
We have the following plants ready to go in the ground:
  • 15 plants each of green beans (bush), summer squash, and cucumbers
  • 20 swiss chard plants
  • 5 melon plants
The following are ready to be repotted into larger pots
  • 15 slicing tomato plants
  • 15 paste tomato plants
  • 5 mini pie pumpking plants (variety specific for container gardening)
We are still waiting for 15 bell pepper plants and 15 sweet pepper plants to germinate

Live better, a little every day.

Blog Updates and Companion Podcast

We are approaching the Better Living Daily blog's first birthday! 

Some of you may have noticed that I've made a few changes to the description of my blog.  I'm trying out a few things to improve the blog's look and clarity.  The purpose of the blog, however, is still the same: to record those things we do on a daily basis to improve our independence, level of self-sufficiency, and quality of life. 

Last autumn, I had started a companion podcast to this blog.  This was to help keep blog posts focused on documenting our daily actions towards living a more independent life, while leaving the longer and more opinionated topics for the podcast.  Sadly, the podcast was left fallow for many months mostly due to medical problems.  For the same reasons, I have not made daily entries here to my blog consistently.  It has also meant that some of these longer, opinionated, and politically charged topics have ended up here on this blog again. 

The podcast will be relaunched in the next couple of weeks.  I have some updating to do to the podcast site, but will announce the official relaunch here within the next few days.

Thanks to everyone for reading my blog and listening to the podcast. 

Live better, a little every day.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Scouting Meets Homeland Security

In keeping with both our family's pledge to do something every day to better our family's circumstances and independence, and my midwife's orders to take things easy for an extra two weeks, my project today was to research a few homeschooling links and topics online.  Our biggest hurdle with homeschooling is likely to come from family, and their fear that our kids won't have opportunities to socialize, I figured I'd explore a few organizanations that would provide both skills and socialization.  First stop, the Boy and Girl Scouts of America.

I was surprised to learn there was a co-ed program in the Boy Scouts, the Explorer Program.  It has also been called Learning for Life, the Exploring Program, and the Venturing Program.  I had never heard about the program  before, so I did a search and found the New York Times article, "Explorer- Scouts Train to Fight Terrorists, and More".

The article details how Homeland Security has partnered with the Explorer Program to teach children how to take down terrorists.  According to the director for Learning for Life, John Anthony, "Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many posts (in the Explorer Program) have taken on an emphasis of fighting terrorism and other less conventional threats."

Less conventional threats?  That line in the article brought me back up to the very first paragraph where teenagers were being trained to take down a gun-toting, murderous, disgruntled, Iraq War Veteran.  I have to ask the question, is Homeland Security expecting so many of our Iraq War vets to come home mentally unstable that even our children need to be recruited to subdue them?  And if so, why?  (Ok, conspiracy theory moment over.)

We should not be teaching our kids that veterans are a "less conventional threat." We should be honoring them for their service and sacrifice, regardless of the policies that send them to war.

Do I think these kids will be called in if there is a disgruntled Iraq War veteran emergency?  No.  Professionals would be called in to deal with such a situation.  I am, however, concerned that these drills of American children battling American Veterans even exist.  It has the potential to predispose these young adults into thinking of Veterans as unstable, violent, and a threat. I think it is a dangerous message to send to our impressionable youth.  I also find it a slick bit of spin that the "disgruntled veteran" stereotype is being pushed along side of criminals, such as illegal border crossings and drug traffickers in this training. 

What we have here is a battle for our childrens' minds being played out through Homeland Security sanctioned role playing.  And, I find that disturbing.
While this is just one program associated with Boy Scouts of America, I think we'll just keep looking for other socialization opportunities.
Live better, a little every day.

Monday, May 17, 2010

NAIS Threat Not Gone

Please read NAIS Not Dead? and Ding Dong NAIS Is (Not) Dead!

When I first heard that the National NAIS was defeated a few months back, I breathed a sigh of relief.  NAIS has got to be the prime example of a government program designed to destroy the small, local farm in favor of large, factory farms. 

It is also a great example of people taking part in the political process and saying "NO!" to Big Government, Big Agribusiness, and their unholy union.  David bested Goliath, and NAIS got squashed.  Unfortunately, NAIS is like one of those horror movie villains- you think they are dead, but they always manage to survive and come back for the sequel.  In this case, NAIS is being resurrected under a "new" program that looks remarkably like the old one, just with a more updated look.

Part of the NAIS diguise, ehem... makeover, is a brand new name.  NAIS will now be known as the Federal Animal Disease Traceability System.   Under the old NAIS, participates registered their operation as "premises".  Under the new system, they are called "unique locations".  The new system will still use the same ID tags.  Again, animals are tracked from birth to death, with every life event in between requiring forms to be submitted.  And, it still does nothing to prevent disease.

The new program will run pretty much the way NAIS was intended to operate, but with one big difference: participation in the program would be mandatory for anyone who sells livestock across state lines.  NAIS was voluntary (though it probably would have become mandatory).  That may not sound like a big deal, except that most auctions and livestock sales include out-of-state buyers.  This makes participation in the program mandatory for just about everyone.  The problem here, again, is that the program raises expenses for the small producer.  Even the individual who keeps a few laying hens will pay higher prices for chicks, due to the added expense the supplier is forced to bear.

At the same time, big breaks in fees are given to the large factory farms.  They would only have to have a single cow tagged to represent the entire lot.  The small farmer must tag and pay the fee for each individual animal.  This would put a lot of small producers out of business.  Why would the USDA do such a thing?  To help the factory farms sell their meat in the international market.

Here's the part that's so infuriating.  Factory farms treat their animals in the most inhumane, disgusting, filthy manner.  Their animals live in pens so small they can barely move, sometimes sharing pens with other animals who become sick and die in the same shared, small space.  These pens are often filled with the animal's feces.  Paying someone to come in and clean these undersized pens would result in higher labor costs, and it's much cheaper just to pump high doses of antibiotics into the animal, which remain in the flesh and are consumed by humans. (Anyone wondering why we are so resist to antibiotics?)  This doesn't even scratch the surface on the animal abuse that is typical of factory farms. 

Stressful, filthy living conditions, however, lead to disease.  In order to make US beef marketable to international markets requiring disease controls, NAIS was created.  It did not, however, make our beef any safer, but gave the illusion of safety because it was part of a "program".   So, NAIS provided a false sense of security in order to sell meat abroad, but would have financially devastated small, family farms which produce a superior product in cleaner, more humane environment if it had been mandatory. 

Let's just go and reward producers for treating their animals like the feces they are forced to live in, while punishing a small, traditional farmer who treats his animals well and gets a superior product for his or her efforts.  Brilliant. 

This program was defeated once before.  It can be done again.  If you agree with me that this is a program that should never come to pass, then I urge you to contact your elected representatives.  Find out where they stand on the issue, and then let them know that you are an informed constituent, and let them know how YOU feel about this new program. 

One more thought... I'd like to see them force us to tag the thousands upon thousands of honeybees in our beeyard.  Good luck!

Live better, a little every day.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Government Can Tell Us What To Eat?

I couldn't wait to post this, as I just found it too disturbing.  Please check out the article, Feds Tell Court They Can Decide What You Eat.  Yes, that's right.  Our government has officially taken the position that we citizens do not have the right to choose the food we put in our bodies! 

In a nutshell, the lawsuit in question is about the sale of raw dairy.  The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund claims that we have a "fundamental right to (our) own bodily and physical health".   As health is largely influenced by what foods we eat, this means we have a right to choose what we consume.  Seems logical enough. 

Our government, however, says, "no", we citizens do not have a "fundamental right" to obtain what food we choose.  The government cites safety concerns as the basis for this position.  In fact, there is legislation pending to allow the government to take even more control over the food and beverages we consume.  Thanks.  That's just what we need.  More government meddling.

S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 is another lengthy, disasterous piece of legislation that sounds good (supposedly promotes food safety), but will ultimately have the opposite effect.  It is legislation that, yet again, seeks to undermine the small, independent farmer, while supporting the large, corporate, agri-businessness farms.  It is the mass-produced, giant farms that are putting our food supply at risk in the first place!  Further legislation regulating the small farmer isn't going to help make our food supply any safer.  It will only cause more family farms to suffer.  But, that is what the larger food producers what, so that's what our politicians give them.

In this specific case dealing with raw dairy, most of the general population in the US would be horrified to drink unpasturized milk.  When you take a step back and think about it, pasturization is a relatively new process when considering the entirety of human history, and our practice of drinking the milk of other mammals (cows, goats, sheep, etc.).  Somehow, we managed as a species to survive drinking raw milk. 

The purpose of pasturizing milk is to prevent pathogens developing in the milk and making us sick.  These pathogens thrive in the filthy, dirty, feces-infested conditions common to commercial cattle operations.  For most people with common sense (and a sense of decency to the animal), the answer would be to prevent the problem from existing in the first place.  CLEAN UP THESE COMMERCIAL DAIRIES!  Give the cows a healthy place to exist.  Cleanliness prevents disease.  But, these dairies are just so large that they don't want to pay for the labor that would be necessary to keep their facilities clean, and they simply don't care about the wellfare of their livestock.

Small dairy farms, on the other hand, have a much easier time maintaining the cleanliness of their facility.  They take pride in their operation, and both the animals and the product reflect this.  The only dairy licensed to sell raw dairy in Massachusetts is only a couple of towns away.  There is just no comparison in taste between raw and pasturized dairy.  They offer a superior product, from an inspected clean facility.  I feel much safer drinking this local raw milk than I do eating prepackaged foods that are increasingly being recalled for salmonella contamination from their factory-farm packaging and shipping methods.

The product is sold directly from the farm to consumer.  No middle men.  No shipping, warehousing, minimal packaging, etc.  This sounds like a good thing, right?  Less fuel and waste consumed in getting product to market is ecologically sound.  Everyone, including the government, is supposedly going green these days.  This seems like the perfect arrangement.  So, what's the problem?

A very important point to consider: the government loses a ton of money in taxes when farmers sell direct to consumers.  While there is no sales tax on food, there is tax on the fuel used to ship food, taxes on the income of the truck driver delivering the product, taxes on the energy used to pasturize and to keep the milk cold in storage, and so on.  Every time another hand gets involved, there's another tax. 

By cutting out the middle men, we also cut out income through taxation, and that's not good for the government.  This may not seem like a big deal, but when you consider the increasing number of people growing their own food these days to help stretch the budget a bit further, and the growing number of people who join the push for fresh, local foods every day, it adds up to a big deal.

This isn't just about raw dairy.  The more disturbing aspect is that the federal government is claiming that we do not have a right to chose what we put in our own bodies.  If this line of thinking is accepted and becomes legal precedent, we will then have a very dangerous situation.  The government could take it a step further and then argue that citizens have no right to grow our own fruits and veggies in our backyards.  Will this be used to confiscate, or (more likely) tax us, for each chicken or duck that we keep? 

This is simply too much power and control for our government to have.  We do not need more government meddling and power-grabbing.  If we want better, safer, more sustainable food, we need to encourage the local farmer- not stifle him or her.  I urge you to contact your representatives, and object to this proposed legislation.  But even more than that, I urge to plant something edible- even if it's a single basil plant in a window sill, more if you can.

Live better, a little every day.

Herbal Remedy- Sunburn Treatment

This is what I make each year as summer approached.  As someone who has suffered through serious sunburns, on one occasion requiring medical treatment, I can attest to just how effective this sunburn remedy is.  I used it after a serious burn.  I was caught unprepared, outdoors with no shade, for many hours.  It was the kind of sunburn that should have left some scarring, but my skin healed fast and with no scarring at all.

2 cups aloe vera gel
1 tablespoon vitamin E oil
20 drops lavender essential oil
10 drops Ylang Ylang oil

Mix all ingredients together and store in the refrigerator.  The aloe, Vitamin E, and lavender all help to heal burned skin and prevent scarring. The lavender and ylang ylang oils help manage the pain of the sunburn.You don't have to put it in the fridge, but the coolness will feel good on sunburned skin.  Make sure to order your aloe vera gel from a good source, and not just buy it at the drug store.  Most of those brands have alcohol, which will just make matters worse. 

I have ordered aloe vera gel from Camden-Grey in the past, but they now only sell in a bulk quantity.  I have been growing aloe plants at home now for a few years and harvest my own gel.  However, Camden-Grey now has another cool aloe option: aloe butter.  It's a mix of both aloe vera gel and fractionated coconut.  That would also work for a sunburn treatment, but the texture would be more like a lotion than a gel.  They also have decent prices on containers.

Live better, a little every day.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Herbal Remedy- Ear Ache Treatment

Few things are more painful and upsetting to children as an ear infection.  Like clockwork, ear aches seem to start on the weekend- when the pediatrician's office is closed!  No one wants to spend hours in an emergency room with an inconsolable child, especially when ERs are filled with contagious people and more worrisome possibilities (like MRSA). 

Caring for the discomfort of an ear infection at home until you can get a doctor's appointment is easy.  Take a cotton ball, and dip it in garlic-infused olive oil.  (Dip, not soak.  It should be damp, not dripping.)  Add 3-4 drops of lavendar essential oil.  Frangrance/perfume oil will not do, as they lack the plant's natural chemical constituents.  Work the cotton ball to fit in the outer part of the ear in the same way an ear plug would fit.  Leave the cotton ball in place for 30-60 minutes at a time.

Both garlic and lavender have antibiotic properties, and lavender helps provide pain relief.  The olive oil provides the medium to apply the garlic and helps prevent the lavender oil from drying out the skin. 

To make garlic-infused olive oil, add to a crock pot chopped fresh garlic and cover with olive oil.  Warm on the lowest setting for at least 2 hours, longer if possible.  Strain out the garlic, bottle, and store in the fridge.  Let the oil return to room temp before using.

Another step one could try would be to add the herb mullein.  I know several people who have used mullein for their ear drops, but I, as yet, have not.  In the past, I haven't had much need for mullein, so I never kept it in my herb stocks.  Now with two small children, that may change.  Any way to make a more effective ear drop is a good thing.  To make a mullein-infused oil, take a glass jar, fill with mullein and pour in olive oil to cover.  Try to leave very little air space at the top.  Secure the jar closed and leave it in a sunny window all day, shaking the jar every few hours.  Or, use the crockpot method if you don't have all day, or it's raining on the day you need to make the oil.  You can put the garlic and the mullein in the oil to infuse at the same time. 

Keep these oils in the fridge to prevent spoilage.  Infused oils should be viable for one week if kept in the fridge.  Longer than that, and you run the risk of botulism developing.  Lavender essential oil, however, does not have these storage concerns.  Just store it in th bottle it came in (usually a dark, amber, glass bottle).

If you already have a source for herbal supplies, that's great.  If you need one, I recommend Mountain Rose Herbs.  This is where I get my herbal supplies.

Live better, a little every day.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Home Remedy Project

Something like, "the best laid plans of mice and men..." keeps repeating in my head.  Just as I was getting back on my feet after giving birth, our household got hit by a nasty respiratory bug.  Everyone has weathered it fairly well.  I, on the other hand, have been run down from being up with the baby all night and the toddler all day.  Nursing takes a bit of energy as well.  So, I was hit the hardest.  My head was too foggy to read, write, or do much else for the past week.

There is no time, however, to be under the weather when there are two little ones to care for.  While we wait for seeds to sprout and plants to get established, I've decided to revamp my first aid kit and my herbal medicine supplies.  The next few blog entries will focus on this project.

Live better, a little everyday.