Archive for the ‘canning’ Category

Finally…done with planning the gardens for the upcoming season!  Sophia, Olivia, and I looked through all the vegetable, fruit, and flower garden ideas in my files and books, and now have some ideas for maintaining and expanding the gardens.

About ten or so years ago, this map was made of the property by a graphic designer with whom I worked.  It gives an overview of the layout of the farm and where things are located.

Map of the farm.

Since my computer and graphic design skills are rather limited, I did the garden plans by hand.  The first area – and the one that provides some food for us – is located in section 2 (see map above) right off the driveway and near the home.

Current vegetable garden with plans to expand it this year.
The vegetable garden has four existing raised beds as well as one cold frame.  However, they are all more than ten years old and need repair.  That will be the first priority. 
Once they are repaired and compost is added, these areas will have tomatoes, peppers (green, red, and yellow), beets, leeks, lettuce, and herbs. 
Two of the raised beds have fruit:  raspberries, strawberries, and rhubarb.  I want to add one more rhubarb plant, put a covering over the strawberries, and stake up the raspberries since they are overtaking more than their raised bed space. 
There are four new areas that will be added this year in the vegetable/fruit garden area.  These will include: carrots, tomatoes (cherry, roma/paste, pear-shape, and beefsteak), yellow beans, green beans, cabbage, broccoli, and herbs. 
The herb garden will have a variety of herbs that I commonly cook with:  basil, chives, cilantro, dill, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme.
A couple new things I’d like to try this year are scented geraniums and Signet marigolds.  Both of these items can be used when preparing food.  The geraniums come in a variety of scents and can flavor what you are cooking/baking.  A recipe I have is for scented geranium poundcake.  The Signet variety of marigolds (e.g., lemon gem, tangerine gem) also can be used in recipes such as beverages and baked goods.
Signet marigolds on cheese and crackers.
The other vegetable garden is more of a shady one and is located in Section 3 (see map at top of the post).  The girls and I tried potatoes, beets, and beans there last year after weeding it and transplanting flowers that were it.  Unfortunately, by the middle of the summer the surrounding trees had filled in and shaded most of the garden.
So, the new plan is to focus on plants and edible flowers that can tolerate shade to limited sunlight. 
Plan for a garden that gets some sunlight…but is mostly shady.
Towards the front of the garden will be edible flowers – nasturtiums, marigolds, Johnny jump-ups, pansies, signet marigolds, and violets. 
Behind the flowers will be radishes and lettuce.  On the left side of the garden will be spinach and mint.  The back section is left open if there’s additional vegetables that can grow in the shade or if there are some perennial flowers that can be grown there that can be cut and used for arrangements in the home.
This garden will have to have a short fence around it to keep rabbits out of it.  The rabbits seem to think that some of the vegetables and fruit in the gardens are planted just for them. 
One Evening's Harvest
Some of the vegetables from one night’s harvest
during Summer 2010.

Around the garden area – in an area yet to be determined – we will be growing cucumbers and zucchini.  Last year, we had a bumper crop of cucumbers, but the vines were all over the place.  This year, we’re going to use bamboo towers to train the vines to grow up (rather than spread out). 
I thought that we would try potatoes again, but this time use tires (again, growing plants vertically).  However, in doing a bit of research about this method, I decided that purchasing potatoes from an organic farmer at the farmer’s market is a better option. Apparently, tires leach petroleum distillates and we grow all the vegetables and fruit organically, so that’s not a good option for the girls and me. 
One more area that I’ve been wanting to do something with is the little arbor that my brother put in many years ago.  It hasn’t been used much, and I like to something with it since it is next to the lilacs, a birdhouse, and the nature trail.  It’s a quiet area that would be a good spot for reading or relaxing. 
I saw in one of the gardening books the idea of using canning or food jars as miniature herb gardens.  Using wire, you create a hanger for the jar.  I couldn’t find a picture on the internet, but I did find this picture which kind of gives a similar idea:
Hanging vases.
At one time – over ten years – I had a closed loop trail plowed and leveled (shown in Sections 4-9 in the map at the top of this post).  I would mow it and it provided a wonderfully relaxing walk in the mornings or late afternoons as the sun was setting.  Then…a development was put in next door and now houses overlook this part of the farm.  I stopped mowing the trail and it has now become more wild and bumpy (thanks to gophers).
I thought it might be good to re-visit the trail since a row of pine trees is now growing in quite nicely along the east side of the property (which will hopefully block out the view of the homes eventually).  So, the plan would be to plant more trees along the trail that would provide fall color in shades of red, orange, yellow, and gold.  There are some trees and bayberry bushes out on the trail already which is a good start.
Plan for the closed-loop trail. 
Some trees and items (e.g., benches, bluebird houses)
are already in place.  The items with a * need to be added.

The girls and I are excited about planting the gardens this year, and then being able to enjoy the produce during the summer as well as preserving some of it for use in the winter (either by canning, freezing, or drying it).


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The Homestead Revival is having an interesting weekly blog hop called the Preparedness Challenge.  With the recent disaster in Japan, it is a timely challenge to think about what would happen if a natural disaster happened in your own area.

After a major disaster, the usual services we take for granted, such as running water, refrigeration, and telephones, may be unavailable. Experts recommend that you should be prepared to be self-sufficient for at least three days.

Spring in Minnesota marks the start of tornado season.  During the past couple of years, there have been some major storms and tornadoes that we’ve been through or to which we’ve been very close. 

Olivia Montague and Cats in Basement During Hail Storm and Nearby Tornado
In the basement during the 2008 tornado.
The house had some damage and needed a new roof and siding.
About 10 minutes south of here, over 50 homes were destroyed
and a child died…many more people were injured.

So, this week, for the Preparedness Challenge, I looked at last week’s participants and one of them, Falling Like Rain, had a list of items for an emergency kit.  I thought this would be a good starting point and give me something to assemble over the next month. 

I’ve modified it to fit our needs, and marked the items with an * for what I already have on hand. Although I may have some of the items on the list (e.g., food, first aid kit) they aren’t yet set aside specifically for the emergency kit, so until that is done, I won’t mark the item on the list with a *.

At-Home Emergency Kit

A large, watertight container to hold everything (it’s recommended to store the kit in an easily accessible location. One idea was to put everything in a large, plastic garbage can with a lid and wheels so it can be moved easily)

Canned fruit* (canned peaches and pears in jars from Summer 2010)
Peanut Butter
Jam* (homemade jam in jars)
Low-salt crackers
Canned soup
Canned meat
Canned juice
Non-fat dried milk
Dried Fruit
Hard Candy
Allergy medicine
Copies of important documents
Paper plates
Disposable cups
Disposable silverware
Napkins/Paper Towels
Toilet Paper
First Aid Kit (see section below for more information about contents in a First Aid Kit)
Sun Screen
Manual Can Opener
Clothes and Rain Gear for each person
Heavy Work Gloves
Disposable camera (for recording damage)
Unscented liquid household bleach
Hand Sanitizer
Feminine Hygiene Products
Plastic Sheeting
Duct Tape
Utility Knife
Sleeping Bags
Heavy Duty Plastic Bags
Plastic Bucket
Bungee Cords
Battery Operated Radio/Batteries
Phone that plugs directly into the outlet (not cordless)
Dust Masks
Permanent marker, paper and tape (to leave a note if you decide to evacuate)
Wet Wipes
Disinfectant (spray, wipes)
Items for pets and horses/livestock (see section below for information about pets)

Notes regarding food: 

– Mark a rotation date on any food container that does not already have an expiration date on the package.

– Most canned foods can safely be stored for at least 18 months. Low acid foods like meat products, fruits or vegetables will normally last at least 2 years. Use dry products, like boxed cereal, crackers, cookies, dried milk or dried fruit within six months.

– After a power outage, refrigerated food will stay cold longer if you keep the door closed. Food should generally be consumed within 4 hours. Food in the freezer will normally remain safe for 2 days.

Go-Bags (one per person)

Backpack to hold it all
Flashlight and Glo-Stick/Batteries
Dust Masks
Pocket Knife
Change of clothes/hat/rain gear
Local Map
Water/Food (see above)
Permanent marker, paper, tape
Photos of family members (in case you are separated)
Lists – emergency point of contact numbers
Identification and list of any allergies
Copy of health insurance cards
Small First Aid Kit
Small Sewing Kit
Toothbrush and Paste
Extra Keys (house, car)
Small books, games or puzzles
Hand towel
Wet Wipes
Mylar Blanket
Sun Screen
Camping Utensils (spoon, fork, knife)

This week for the Preparedness Challenge, I also read about water.  There have been many times over the years when we have been without water – due to the electricity being out (after a storm) or the time that my brother and I accidently hit the water line when trying to install a water line from the outdoor well to the barn. 

Going without water for a week was a huge challenge, but thankfully a neighbor was gracious enough to allow me to get containers of water and take a shower as needed. 

Sophia Drinking Tap Water
Sophia drinking water from a disposable cup.

Here’s some information about water that I thought is important.  It’s from the 72 Hours website.

In a disaster, water supplies may be cut off or contaminated. Store enough water for everyone in your family to last for at least 3 days.

Store one gallon of water per person, per day. Three gallons per person per day will give you enough to drink and for limited cooking and personal hygiene. Remember to plan for pets (and horses/livestock, in our case).

If you store tap water:

Tap water from a municipal water system can be safely stored without additional treatment.

Store water in food grade plastic containers, such as clean 2-liter soft drink bottles. Heavy duty, reusable plastic water containers are also available at sporting goods stores. Empty milk bottles are not recommended because their lids do not seal well and bottles may develop leaks.

Label and store in a cool, dark place.

Replace water at least once every six months.

If you buy commercially bottled “spring” or “drinking” water:

Keep water in its original container, and don’t re-store a bottle once it’s been opened.

Store in a cool, dark place.

If bottles are not marked with the manufacturer’s expiration date, label with the date and replace bottles at least once per year.

Treating Water after Disaster:

If you run out of stored drinking water, strain and treat water from your water heater or the toilet reservoir tank (except if you use toilet tank cleaners). Swimming pool or spa water should not be consumed but you can use it for flushing toilets or washing.

Treatment Process:

Strain any large particles of dirt by pouring the water through layers of paper towels or clean cloth. Next, purify the water one of two ways:

Boil – bring to a rolling boil and maintain for 3-5 minutes. After the water cools, pour it back and forth between two clean containers to add oxygen back; this will improve its taste.

Disinfect – If the water is clear, add 8 drops (1/8 teaspoon) of bleach per gallon of water. If it is cloudy, add 16 drops (1/4 teaspoon) per gallon. Make sure you are using regular bleach— 5.25% percent sodium hypochlorite— rather than the “ultra” or “color safe” bleaches. Shake or stir, then let stand 30 minutes. A slight chlorine taste and smell is normal.

Items for a First Aid Kit

Two pairs of disposable gloves
Sterile dressings to stop bleeding
Cleansing agent/soap and antibiotic towelettes to disinfect
Antibiotic ointment to prevent infection
Burn ointment
Adhesive bandages in a variety of sizes
Eye wash solution to flush the eyes or as general decontaminant
Over-the-counter medicines such as Aspirin or other pain reliever, laxative, anti-diarrhea medication
Prescription medications you take every day or frequently (e.g., asthma inhaler)
Prescribed medical supplies (e.g., nebulizer with albuterol sulfate).  Need to figure out how to use this when there’s no electricity since the nebulizer relies on electricity.

Plan for Pets in an Emergency Disaster

These ideas are from the 72 Hours website as well:

Keep a collar, current license, and up-to date ID tags on your pet at all times. Consider having your pet micro-chipped (both the dogs are micro-chipped, but the cats are not at this time).

Make sure your pet is comfortable being in a crate, box, cage, or carrier for transport.

Keep an updated list of trusted neighbors who could assist your animals in case of an emergency.

Make a Go-bag for each pet. Include:

Sturdy leashes and pet carriers. A pillowcase is a good option for transporting cats and other small animals (though each of the cats has her/his own transportation bin, in our case). Muzzles for dogs. Food, potable water, and medicine for at least one week.

Non-spill bowls, manual can opener, and plastic lid

Plastic bags, litter box, and litter

Recent photo of each pet

Names and phone numbers of your emergency contact, emergency veterinary hospitals, and animal shelters

Copy of your pet’s vaccination history and any medical problems

Portable fencing or baby gates

Remember that animals react differently under stress. Keep dogs securely leashed and transport cats in carriers or pillowcases.

If your pet is lost, contact the nearest animal shelter to report your pet missing. When it is safe, return to your neighborhood to search and distribute “Lost Pet” posters; include a current picture of your pet.

In the case of livestock/horses, it’s important to have enough feed and/or alfalfa on hand.  Extra bedding (straw or wood chips) should be stored in your barn. 

With regards to water, after experiencing multiple power outages and no water for extended periods of time, I have always kept the stocktanks, heated water buckets, or waterers full.  Especially if I hear about a major storm approaching, I make sure all the tanks are full. In that way, there is a good supply of water right on hand.

Having one Go-Bag per livestock species would be sufficient (e.g., a pack for horses, sheep, chickens). 

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I’ve been gradually working my way through the house over the past seven months now trying to simplify and organize each room.  Sometimes it doesn’t take as long as I anticipate.  Other times it can be rather slow-going.  This is the case with the kitchen…where it is a cupboard-by-cupboard process. 
Variety of rices and whole-wheat noodles.

This month, I’m doing an online workshop about how to eat healthier.  Part of my personal preparation and goal was to clean several of the cupboards to get rid of the food that didn’t fit into a vegetarian-vegan lifestyle as well food that was just plain…well…unhealthy. 

My daughters and I went shopping one Saturday and purchased items from the perimeter of the grocery store (e.g., lots of produce) as well as dried vegetables and whole grains.  Once home, I pulled all the canning jars that weren’t being used.  Olivia and I transferred the contents to the jars.  Midway through the process, I ran out of lids (thus, the wax paper and metals bands). 
Jars filled and ready to be placed in the cupboard.

I labeled each of the jars with the contents.  This is especially helpful when it comes to the different types of flours.  At this point, they look an awful lot like one another.  Rye flour…amaranth flour…whole wheat flour…even white cornmeal.  Not much visual difference.

Wheat and some of the flours used in bread-making.

What I like about this method is that I can easily find the items now.  Before, when I was making homemade bread, I had to take out each of the baggies of flour that I got from the co-op and read the words I wrote on the twist-tie that noted the type of flour.  It was inefficient and a waste of my time.  But I simply didn’t make the time to organize my bread-making ingredients.

Canned food in the cupboard – oats, flour, dairy-free milk powder,
beans, nuts, and dried fruit.
One of the challenges of this kitchen is that it is small and cupboard space is rather limited.  The home was built in 1890 (yes, 1890…not 1990), so the design is a bit dated.  However, I have some back-up shelves in my home office which I use for all my quart-size homemade canned goods (e.g., tomato sauce, applesauce, peaches, pears, honey). 
In the living room, there is a floor-to-ceiling storage unit that has two shelves filled with homemade canned jams, jellies, salsas, and other items I can during the summer. 
Sophia, Olivia, and I are planning on doing more canning this summer when produce is plentiful and less expensive…and we can get it directly from the farmer (or grow it ourselves). Needless to say, I’ll have to make more space for additional canned goods.  At least I have three months to organize and simplify other parts of the home.

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Today’s focus of the No Impact Week Experiment is about awareness and taking some time back for oneself.

According to YES! magazine, “This is a chance to lay off the lights, televisions, computers, appliances, cell phones, flashing gadgets, and other stuff that seems to make the world go round. It’s a special time to hang out (or in) by yourself or with friends and family. It is a time to reflect on the well-being of yourself and the planet.”

Sunrise - 7:01 a.m.
Sunrise – view from the front yard

Eco-Sabbath Definition

What exactly is an “eco-sabbath.” YES! magazine describes it as:

Ecology – The interrelationship between organisms and their environment
Sabbath – A time of rest
Eco-Sabbath – Together, you and the environment take a break

Flower after a mid-day rain
Flower after the rain

Time for Reflection

One of the activities that is suggested is to reflect upon the past No Impact Week. Consider what worked well, what was particularly difficult, and what could be permanently changed.

When I think about the past week, these are things that worked well:

Reduced the amount of trash generated.  The amount that was recycled was about the same.

Sophia and Bailey
Sophia with Bailey

Reduced the amount of new items I purchased.  The only things I purchased during the past week were six bales of hay (for the horses); dog and cat food; one tank of gasoline; and flowers and a card for my dad for his birthday (I was going to make a gift, but have been sick and didn’t have the energy to make something.  I ended up making a gift for him yesterday which I’ll give to him on January 15th when I see him next).

Used items on hand rather than purchasing new things or going out to eat.  I made a miniature quilt and matching pillow using fabric that I have on hand (this is for my dad’s stuffed animal – his “Corgi” – which he carries around and provides comfort to him [my dad has Alzheimer’s disease]).  For all 21 meals this past week, I was able to make them from items I had in the refrigerator, freezer, or cupboards. 

Cinnamon Roll Cookies
Homemade Cinnamon Roll Cookies

Made food from scratch.  I made a lot of different foods this week, and tried some new recipes. There’s no comparison to fresh, homemade bread or cookies right out of the oven.  What’s even better is that I can make the food dairy-free (since Sophia has a dairy-allergy), and there are no chemicals or preservatives in the food I’m making.

Turned the thermostat lower.  Several times during the week, I lowered the thermostat by 1-2 degrees during the day.  We also made fires in the woodstove for a couple of the days so the furnace wouldn’t turn on.  This saved 6-8 hours of heating (propane), yet kept the key areas of the home warm.

Fire in the Wood Stove
Fire in the woodstove
to reduce the amount of propane used during the winter

Reduced the amount of energy used by the oven.  I made a point of filling the oven with items to bake so that I was making everything at once rather than at different times during the day.  This worked well, especially when things could be baked at the same temperature.  When things had different temperatures, I simply averaged them together and then adjusted the baking time.

Washed the dishes when the dishwasher and/or sink was full.  I normally do the former, but try not to do the latter.  This week, I did both and found that it did, in fact, save water by doing a full sink of dishes that had soaked for awhile rather than doing a few here and there.  Most the dishes and silverware can fit in the dishwasher.  The items I was washing by hand were the baking dishes and cookie sheets.

Finding inspiring ideas and websites for giving back to the community.  I particularly liked the idea of 52 Weeks of Giving or 52 Weeks of Impact where you do something good each week of the year.  It’s the intention and focus of wanting to make a difference that I like.
These were the items that were difficult:

– I still have not found a good (and practical) way to compost.  When I used to have chickens, I would throw out all food scraps to them.  The food waste would be gone…and the hens and roosters would be happy.  I would love to get chickens again, but with Montague he would end up chasing and trying to catch them which isn’t fair to the chickens, and it’s stressful for me. 

ATC Traded - Embroidered Henny Penny Taking a Stroll
Hand-embroidered chicken I made
(it’s small – about 2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″)

I’ve tried a compost container under the sink – even ones with the carbon filters – and they still seem to attract fruit flies.  Haven’t tried worm composting yet…maybe that’s worth a try.  This is a good introduction to vermiculture for children which I could easily integrate into homeschooling.  It would certainly make good, on-going, hands-on science/environmental lessons.

Measuring a Worm
Sophia measuring a worm she found in the backyard
during the summer

Eating local in the middle of the winter in Minnesota.  This is easy to do during the spring through fall when crops are growing, but the ground is completely frozen in Minnesota during the winter.  Unless I’m using food I’ve stored in some way (e.g., canned, frozen, dried), I don’t know how to eat food that is locally grown in the winter. 

Not using paper towels.  Ironically, I ran out of paper towels right before the No Impact Week Experiment began.  I chose not to purchase new ones.  There were a few times that I would have much preferred to use paper towels than a rag, but I did make it through the week. 

Finding alternative sources of transportation in a rural area.  There isn’t a good system set up in the country.  Biking 5 miles round trip to the post office on a county road (where cars and trucks travel at 55 mph or more) where there’s no bike lane with two children under the age of 10 is a bit stressful for me.  Biking 26-30 miles round trip to go to Target or the grocery store…I just don’t see that as a practical option.  Combining errands so I’m reducing the amount of gasoline I use…that’s much more practical.

Accepting that I am not as active in giving back to the community as I once was.  Although I try to make a difference by giving back, I have found that (due to family circumstances) my focus during the past year has been of being of service to my family and parents versus the greater community (local, statewide, and international). 

What could be permanently changed

– Continue to look for ways to reduce purchasing.  The past week made me more aware of the resources that I have right in the home.  I should use these before even thinking of purchasing new things.  With the amount of fabric, wool, and crafting supplies I have on hand, I could certainly be busy for at least a year, for example.

Felt Balls in Lots of Colors
Wool felt balls I made –
natural eco-friendly toys for children

Eating locally during the spring through fall.  I look forward to growing food in the garden again this year, and would like to add a couple more gardens in sunny and accessible spots.  Scheduling time to go to Farmer’s Markets would also be enjoyable. 

Preserving more produce.  When I’m going to Farmer’s Markets, I’d like to purchase extra produce to preserve (can, freeze, or dry) so we can enjoy it during the winter.  It would be nice to get a pressure cooker as well so I can can vegetables and/or soups.

Cranberry Salsa
Cranberry salsa

Making homemade soaps, bath salts, and laundry soap.  I checked out several books from the library about making homemade versions of soaps for personal care and the laundry.  There are so many great ideas and recipes for doing this.  Olivia saw one of the books and was very intrigued.  “We should do this!” she said.  I think she’ll be my helper in this area.

Continue to try to lower the thermostat by a couple of degrees.  This is particularly important not just from an energy/environmental standpoint.  The propane tank was just filled this week – $847.  Combined with $424 from the November bill…that’s a big chunk of money. 

Granted, the propane is not just for heating (it’s for appliances – like the washer/dryer, stove, water heater), but that’s still a considerable amount to spend.  If this could stretch over two months (the coldest months in Minnesota), that would be ideal. 

Although this amount is high, it is a substantial reduction from just a few years ago when the propane bill for the winter was more than double this amount.  (Thanks to re-insulating the entire home and adding insulation in many areas a couple years ago due to storm damage, the propane bill has decreased.)

Look for little ways to make an impact on the community each week.  I find that when I write a schedule (or a plan) of things I want to accomplish that I do a lot more.  I did this during the holiday season (from November 1-January 1) and enjoyed the variety of things I did to celebrate the season and make it memorable and meaningful, particularly for my daughters.  Taking some time to plan the upcoming year in terms of volunteering and giving back would ensure that I could increase the impact I’m making.

The Experiment’s Effect on Others

The No Impact Week Experiment encourages participants about how they can go even further. It suggests the following: “Think about how the week affected others and what adjustments, if any, are in order. This is a time to discover and appreciate the bare necessities.”

The past week definitely affected my family, though they may not always have been aware of the changes.  One of the biggest changes was with food.  Even though the Experiment said that new food could be purchased during the week, I wanted to go a step further and use only what I had on hand this week. 

There were several “successes” – such as an incredibly good fruit smoothie made from frozen strawberries and blueberries that were picked during the summer; and honey from our bees.  Sophia and I combined the berries with some juices (apple and grape) as well as an orange.  We mixed it in the Vita-Mix mixer, and it was very thick…almost like a milkshake in a way.  “This is the best smoothie we’ve ever made!  We should measure out the ingredients next time and make a cookbook so I can use it with my children!” Sophia said. 

Black Raspberries Ready for Jam
Black raspberries that grow wild here at the farm. 
They seem to spread and multiply with each passing year!
I used up lots of pre-packaged food (which I’m not terribly proud of purchasing, but have ended up using at times during the past year when I’ve been rushed or simply too tired to prepare a made-from-scratch meal).  This now gives us a fresh start to eating healthier…something that’s easier to do when the “not so healthy” food isn’t there.

The Girls Strawberry Picking
Picking strawberries – an annual activity

I used produce that I canned during the summer – peaches and applesauce – to supplement the fresh fruit and vegetables I served with almost every meal. 
Despite the “successes” there were also some challenges.  For some meals, I decreased the amount of meat that was served while increasing the amount of other options (e.g., freshly-baked pumpkin bread or cornbread, steamed carrots or corn).  “Is this all we’re having for dinner?” I was asked a couple of times.  Or…worse yet…”I’m still hungry.”  Those are things that are hard to hear…at least for me.  (Note: the girls didn’t go to bed hungry…after a little dessert – a homemade cookie or brownies – they were fine.  No complaints then.)
No Impact Week Experiment suggested some steps for observing an eco-sabbath.  These steps are noted below.

Reflect on Your Days Off

One of the questions the Experiment asked was, “How do you usually spend your day off? Consider how different — if at all — this day will be.” 

As a mother to two children under the age of 10 and owner of two dogs, five cats, and two horses, I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “day off.”  There’s always something that needs to be done.

Ready to Eat
Saw this heron at the bird sanctuary in Texas.

A “day off” for me happens when I am able to physically go somewhere else and not be responsible for anyone or anything.  I was able to go to San Padre Island back in May during the off-season.  It was quiet, peaceful, and relaxing.  I explored the beaches and the tidelines, went to museums, the bird sanctuary, and turtle sanctuary/rehabilitation center.  I watched the wildlife there – birds and alligators, mostly.  It was wonderful. 

Chipmunk on Stairs
An overly friendly chipmunk who enjoyed being fed. 
Saw it on the Gunflint Trail in September. 
The girls named it “Mr. Chippy.”

Today won’t be like one of the days off that are relaxing and nourish my soul.  I don’t know when I’ll be able to take a vacation again. 

Perhaps the goal is just to use the quiet time here – in the early morning hours – more like a rest/sabbath period than a work time (which I do now).  Even dedicating an hour each day when it is quiet and peaceful – and everyone (except me) is resting – to a “sabbath” mentality would be a good goal to have.

Planning for an Eco-Sabbath

The No Impact Week Experiment suggests planning for an eco-sabbath day by determining how to not use any appliances, electronics, motorized transport, or money. 

Being Grateful

Each day during the past week, the No Impact Week Experiment encouraged participants to keep a list of five things for which they were grateful.  Today, look back at the grateful lists and count the number of times a consumable item (something that was purchased) was listed.

For some time now, I’ve done a “I am Grateful…” posting each Sunday.  Although I understand the benefit of taking time to reflect each day about things one is grateful for, for me, it’s a nice thing to do on a weekly basis.

Close-up of Pileated Woodpecker on Cherry Tree
Pileated woodpecker on the cherry tree in the front yard.

In doing today’s list, I came up with 18 different things that stood out during the past week.  On that list, only one was gratitude for a purchased item.  Many of the items that I was grateful for this past week were experiences I’ve had with nature – watching birds, the little vole, or squirrels; or for people (family, friends, and health-care professionals I deal with).

Something that I learned from making this list – as with all the other gratitude lists I’ve done – is that it isn’t things that make me happy.  It’s often times tiny experiences…some so insignificant if taken at face-value…that truly sustain me and bring me joy.

Montague with Snow on His Nose
Montague with his nose covered in snow. 
Gretel and Montague enjoying playing outdoors.

Generating Less Trash

At the beginning of the No Impact Week Experiment, one of the activities was to collect one day’s worth of trash.  Today, one of the activities was supposed to be taking out that bag as well as any other trash collected during the week and empty the contents. The purpose of doing this is to determine if more or less trash was created over the week.

I didn’t kep the bag of trash (garbage pick-up was on Thursday), nor do I want to go through the trash in the can.  However, I know that the amount of garbage generated is substantially less this week than in past weeks.  The biggest area of reduction is in food packaging waste.

Thoughts on Rest and Sabbaths

All life requires a rhythm of rest…We have lost this essential rhythm.

Our culture invariably supposes that action and accomplishment are better than rest, that doing something – anything – is better than doing nothing.

Because of our desire to succeed, to meet these ever-growing expectations, we do not rest.

Because we do not rest, we lose our way.

We miss the compass points that would show us where to go, we bypass the nourishment that would give us succor.

We miss the quiet that would give us wisdom.

We miss the joy and love born of effortless delight.

Poisoned by this hypnotic belief that good things come only through unceasing determination and tireless effort, we can never truly rest.

And for want of rest, our lives are in danger.

This is an excerpt taken from page one of Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest by Wayne Muller. I have had this book for many years now, and I think it’s time to revisit it.  The book is filled with practical ideas about how to remember the sabbath and taking time for oneself.  Some ideas that I like are:

– Lighting Sabbath candles.
– Having a Sabbath meal.
– Taking a Sabbath walk in nature.
– Creating an altar at home.
– Finding and nourishing companionship.
– Thinning – or letting go – of things.
– Cleansing – bathing with fragrance, candles, and music.
– Giving away things to others – especially beautiful, nourishing, and inspiring things.

Quilling on Ann's Hand

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.
~ Lao-Tzu

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Today’s focus of the No Impact Week Experiment is food and lessening one’s carbon footprint. 

As a mother who homeschools her two daughters, I particularly appreciated this interesting article by Shannon Hayes about one homeschool family’s quest to eat locally and an educational trip they took where the children eagerly ate snails.  As Shannon said, “Each year at this time, we pack up the kids for a journey that is one part celebration of the close of the growing season, one part homeschool study.”

This article, 8 Ways to Join the Local Food Movement, by Sarah van Gelder offers some great ideas.  Some of them I’ve already done, and others I’m definitely going to try this spring and summer when the growing season begins again.  (Right now the ground is covered with a good foot of snow.)

From Lawn to Lunch

One idea offered in the article was to “convert your sunny lawn to a lunch box by removing the turf in long, 18-inch strips. Cut the edges of each strip with a sharp-bladed edging tool. While one partner rolls up the grass like a jellyroll, another slices through grass roots with the edging tool. Remove about an inch of rooty soil with the top growth. When the roll gets heavy, slice it off and load it in a wheelbarrow. 

“Make beds 10 to 20 feet long and six to eight feet wide (so you can reach the center from each side). Mulch three to four-foot wide paths between beds (grass left in the path will infiltrate your beds) to accommodate a wheelbarrow.”  The turf can be added to the compost pile. From there, prepare the garden beds for planting.  Further instructions are at the link above.

This is such a great idea!  The garden would be easily accessible from both sides and make weeding and harvesting so much easier. 

Olivia Holding Basil
Olivia holding some basil –
one of the many things harvested one night from the garden.

This past year, Sophia, Olivia, and I planted vegetable gardens in three spots: the existing raised beds next to the driveway, in the butterfly garden in the backyard, and in an old flower garden on the east side of the front yard.  The first two gardens did very well, but the last one was too shady and didn’t produce much. 

There are many sunny spots in the backyard, and this spring it would be good to add another spot where we can plant more vegetables. 

In the meantime, I’m thinking about the delicious salads and cornbread that I enjoyed for many lunches. The majority of the ingredients for the salads came right out of the garden:

Cornbread with Salad
One of the many lunches I enjoyed during Summer 2010
using fresh produce the girls and I grew in the garden.
This is something I’ve never done, but love the idea (it’s from the article noted above): 
Party with Your Preserves

Ten quarts of pumpkin puree in the pantry, and not a jar of tomato sauce left? Throw a canning swap party. Here are some tips and recommendations from foodroutes.org:
Plan ahead.

Gauge interest with your friends early on. Then remind them throughout the planting, growing, and harvesting season to set aside extras for canning and swapping.

Don’t be afraid to grow a lot of something.

If you’re a budding salsa artist, plant that extra row of tomatoes. Or if you see a good deal on a box of local pears—get them.

Try new recipes on your swappers.

Canned Peaches Pears and Applesauce
Canned applesauce, peaches, and pears.

Bust out that crazy 5-alarm salsa verde recipe you’ve always been scared to try. Make sure to can extra so you can pop a jar open for samples.

Be aware of what constitutes a “fair” trade.

This is simple. You’re all friends and canners who know how time-consuming canning can be. Be open and ask what your neighbor feels comfortable receiving in exchange for one jar of Grandma Edie’s apricot chutney.

Think outside the Ball Jar.

Not everything at the canning swap party has to be pressure-canned or boiled in a hot water bath. Dried items, homemade baked goods, and candies are all eligible. You’ll be amazed by what can be preserved from the season’s bounty.

Shop Outside of Supermarkets

The article suggested that you could “ask around at farmers markets, look for road-side food stands, and U-pick places. Watch for hand-painted signs. You may find a wide variety of freshly harvested foods and get to know new communities and regional traditions at the same time.”

One of my favorite memories of the past summer was visiting Amish farms in Cashton, Wisconsin.  My parents and daughters went to many different farms, and purchased fresh produce – much of it well under the price in the grocery store.

Following a Buggy
Following an Amish buggy on the way to different farms in the Cashton area.

Several years ago, we joined at CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm.  My daughters were a bit too young at the time to fully appreciate fresh vegetables on their plate, so (unfortunately) there was more food waste than I was comfortable with.  So, I’ve taken a break for a couple years now, but am thinking that 2011 would be a good year to begin again. 

One of the CSA farms also had a gleaning program where we could pick all the tomatoes we wanted that were not being used so they wouldn’t go to waste.  This was wonderful – and a huge source of savings.  I ended up canning and drying a considerable amount of tomatoes. 

This website helps locate CSAs across the United States.  I was happy to find 43 listings near me for a variety of CSA farms as well as ones that offer organic or natural products – some even year round! 

Share Your Table

The article also suggested that “the best antidote to fast-food culture is as close as your table. Invite friends and a few strangers to a local-foods potluck. In good weather, eat outside. Share an evening of conversation and enjoy the good life.” 

There was also an interesting article about a man who lives in Paris and invites people over every Sunday evening.  A changing group of about 50-60 people from around the world have joined him over the past 40 years.  Here’s the article.

One of the steps suggested today is to eat locally.  In January in Minnesota, there’s not a lot growing naturally.  Out of curiousity, I wanted to see the NRDC’s (National Resoures Defense Council) list of local food and produce available in early-January in Minnesota.

Supposedly, the following are growing in Minnesota: Apples, Beets, Cabbage, Carrots, Mushrooms, Onions, Raspberries, Rutabaga, Sweet Potatoes, and Turnips.  These are all summer and late-fall crops – not middle of January crops.  So much for that idea.

One Evening's Harvest
Ingredients from the garden that were used
to make dinner one night this past summer.

Next recommended step:  look at the Sierra Club’s list of ways to eat well.  My favorite suggestion from the list is:

Make Your Own and Try New Recipes

As the article said, “Most of the best recipes on Earth were created by peasants who wouldn’t be able to read the directions on a modern food package…The truth is that cheap, healthy, and tasty meals, from cereals to sautés to soups, can easily be made from scratch.”

I agree!  Last night for dinner I made some homemade pumpkin spice bread and a pastry filled with a variety of ingredients – including sauteed onions and fresh parsley.  It takes a bit longer to prepare items from scratch, but the good thing is that I know (and can pronounce) all the ingredients that are being consumed.  There were no chemicals or preservatives in any of the ingredients.

Cranberry Pumpkin Bread
Pumpkin Spice Bread with Cranberries

The pastry was a new recipe from a Russian cookbook.  The girls learned about Russia (as part of a homeschool unit study I’m doing with them where they learn about a different country each month…they’re on “T” now), and there are still a couple of Russian recipes we want to try.

The No Impact Week Experiment Challenge had the following ideas for making a change in one’s eating habits:

Eat More Vegetarian Meals

It was suggested to try vegetarian meals for the entire week, for one day, or even just 2/3 of the meals in one day. 

Vegetarian Lasagna Rolls
Vegetarian lasagna rolls with spinach and homemade tomato sauce

Find Ways to Use Your Oven For Shorter Time Periods

I already try to make multiple items at one time when I have the oven on.  However, it was suggested to put the food in during the preheating stage and turn off the oven early and let the food continue to cook in the warm oven.  That’s a great idea!  I’ve done that with homemade rolls (made from yeast) and it helps speed along the rising process. 

Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls
Homemade sourdough cinnamon and raisin rolls

Save Money and Can Your Food

This is something I do each summer and fall.  A couple years ago, I even tried canning my own ketchup and apple pie filling in addition to canning the regular items (peaches, pears, jams, salsa, tomatoes, applesauce).  I’d like to try more recipes this year; and invest in a pressure cooker so I can can vegetables.

Apple Pie Filling
Canned Apple Pie Filling

When Eating Out, Ask for Tap Water

Instead of asking for bottled water, request tap water when eating out.  This is such a simple action, but one that does make a difference.

According to an article by YES! Magazine, “Bottled water is marketed as superior to tap, but public water supplies are actually cleaner, less expensive, and more environmentally responsible, according to organizations like Take Back the Tap, Food and Water Watch, and Stop Corporate Abuse.” 

“The 38 billion plastic bottles sold in 2005 used 900,000 tons of plastic,
which required more than 1.7 million barrels of oil for transport.
More than 75 percent of discarded water bottles end up in landfills
where they take up to 1,000 years to decompose.”
~ The Pacific Institute

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{this moment}

Canned Applesauce

{this moment} – A Friday ritual (inspired by soulemama). A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor, and remember. If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments.

Wishing everyone a lovely weekend!

*** *** ***

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The girls and I visit an apple orchard each fall. It’s the same one we’ve been going to for many years now. They like the animals that are there, and I like the variety of apples.

After we sampled the apples and purchased the kinds we liked, we headed home to make applesauce. I did the first bag of apples, and then Sophia asked if she could peel the apples in the second bag. Since she enjoyed doing this, I let her do an entire bag of apples (half the batch of applesauce).

Olivia even took a break from her math lesson to peel an apple and grind the applesauce in the Vita-Mix mixer. But, math won out. After doing these two tasks, she went back to addition and subtraction.

Apple Peels 
The bowl of apple peels.

Made quite a few quarts of applesauce which should last for awhile during the winter and spring. I may do some more applesauce if the price of apples goes down a bit during the next few weeks.

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