Monday, February 28, 2011

Thinking about our edible garden

a Greenmom vows to be ready for spring this year...

Our gardening adventures last growing season were anticlimactic, to say the least. Our wimpy little raised bed produced little and did not fare well with the hard soil and dry Chicago summer we had. The whole concept of "vegetable garden" as something where you have a patch of this, a patch of that, neat rows of beans and carrots, and so forth is something it honestly never occurred to me to mess with, until a friend mentioned the word "permaculture" to me.

According to Wikipedia, the definition of "permaculture" is: "an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in natural ecologies." Merriam-Webster calls it "an agricultural system or method that seeks to integrate human activity with natural surroundings so as to create highly efficient self-sustaining ecosystem." And Houghton-Mifflin: "A system of perennial agriculture emphasizing the use of renewable natural resources and the enrichment of local ecosystems."

This past autumn, we completely redid our backyard. Got rid of a lot of grass, tore out the sort of sad-looking raised bed and built up the entire rear of the yard with organic material pilfered from neighbor's leafy yards (not really pilfered--we raked their leaves for them!) and the local horse stable. This spring we're actually going to pay someone to bring a truckload or two of good topsoil to finish it off, and then wood chips over that. And I'm looking at ideas for a more "permaculture" kind of garden, something that mixes veggies, fruits, herbs, and ornamental perennials in a way that a) is attractive, and b) allows the plants to help each other out as well as growing on their own. Some of our early ideas are along these lines:
  1. a water-loving tree of some kind to help mitigate the drainage issues we have back there, and maybe suck up some of the excess water that makes things so squishy back there and drowns plants' feet. (That's why we also have to build up a good bit.)
  2. Ground cover that will die off in the winter and give us more good organic matter under our other plants, discourage weeds, and maybe produce something useful on its own--carpet thyme and/or chamomile comes to mine
  3. Some taller and bushier plants--maybe some taller bush blueberry?--that will get big enough by the time it's really hot out to give a little shade to some lettuce plants, so I won't lose all my lettuce by the first week in June
  4. Calendula and fennel interspersed through the garden especially where the squash and cucumbers grow, both to use on their own (calendula makes lovely soothing herbal preps, and fennel is one of my go-to Italian spices) and to discourage squash bugs and cuke beetles
  5. A few more bushy English Lavender plants to dig in their nice deep roots and give me pretty purple flowers from which to make potions, and also give some pretty silvery contrast to the deeper green leaves around them
  6. A trellis somewhere to train scarlet runner beans and snap peas, for added color and more yummy veggies
That's just the beginning...the challenge for us will be to actually develop a plan and stick to it, an overall vision of what we want to do beyond the very Monet-like dots of vague color we already have. We're also pretty committed to the principles of "weedless gardening"--a plan whereby you clearly delineate your walking paths as opposed to your planting sections, you keep adding organic matter on top every year without tilling (which wakes up the weed seeds and invites them to germinate away happily), and avoid a lot of the pain in the butt of weeds popping up everywhere. It apparently takes a few years to really get one's garden going that way, but once it's working, it works.

I'm so jealous of y'all who are already able to till soil, or whose ground never had a hard freeze all winter...does anyone else garden this way as a matter of course? How does it work for you? More important, how did you get started? Any evil little lessons you learned along the way that you can pass on to us, and help us avoid disaster?

--Jenn the Greenmom

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Phone Booth Flashback

Welcome to the (very very late today) Phone Booth Flashback, where we take a trip down memory lane so you can catch up on posts from the Booth's past.

Last Year
  • The Great Purge of 2010: Going Green Mama cleans house and shows you how to purge without filling up your trash can.
  • Airmail: EnviRambo figures out how to recycle those plastic inflatable air bags that come in packages.
  • Cancer, the new C word: The Greenhabilitator gives tips on how to avoid cancer without going crazy from avoiding everything.
Two Years Ago
  • Halvsies: JessTrev says, "If something seems too hard for me to accomplish? I may just have to take a half-step in that direction."
  • Semantics: The Raven asks: Global warming, climate change, climate chaos, global meltdown - what do you call it?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sugaring Season

From Emerald Apron's Family Farm

It's that magical time of year when the maple sap flows!

I grew up helping to tap trees, collecting sap after school and watching the sap boil. I confess that I didn't always enjoy making maple syrup. None of my friends had to walk around in the snow after school, dumping buckets of sap into a collection tank. None of my friends had to help split wood (my job was to pick up the pieces and stack them in a big bin) to keep the fire going and the sap boiling. But now I realize how lucky I was to have had this experience. I cracked up when a friend told me about her weekend trip to a Vermont sugar house, where she paid to have the same experiences I remember as work.
I now value sugaring season as a part of my heritage and even joined my family last year as they tapped trees, when I was nine months pregnant. I wasn't much help then, but I love that I'll be able to tell my son Joshua that he's made maple syrup since before he was born.

Some interesting facts about maple syrup:

  • It takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup.
  • Sap only runs for a few weeks each year, when the weather cooperates.
  • Sugar maple trees can be tapped year after year. Some have been tapped for hundreds of years!
  • Pure maple syrup is just boiled down sap; no additives or preservatives are needed. You can boil syrup further to make maple cream and maple candy.
  • Maple syrup is graded by color: light amber, medium amber and dark amber. The light and medium amber syrups are great on pancakes or waffles, and dark amber gives a rich maple flavor when used for baking.
  • Demand for maple syrup is on the rise among New England locavores. Every farming family I know sold out last year!
  • Maple syrup stores well. Go ahead and buy in bulk, storing closed containers at room temperature and open containers in the fridge.
  • Try substituting maple syrup for sugar or honey in your recipes, or adding a tablespoon or two for flavor.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The impact of our decisions

From Amazin' Alison.

A dear friend once accused me of being an anarchist because I lived in a cooperative house sharing cooking, gardening, housecleaning, house maintenance, and other chores with 10 housemates. Our rent went not only towards our rooms and utilities, but our food. We had a double share of a local CSA, a monthly membership in an organic buyers club, and did some gardening on our own. We baked bread, brewed beer, and welcomed members from all walks of life. The Masala Co-op of which I speak is still happily puttering on, now part of the City of Boulder's affordable housing program and home to a dozen chickens in addition to its human occupants. 

At the time, I was highly offended by the "anarchist" comment as I knew some actual anarchists; people who chose not to pay taxes or who played a little too closely (IMHO) with ELFs (not Santa's helpers, but the Earth Liberation Front). I've always been a staunch supporter of participatory democracy, paying taxes for the common good, and freedom of expression. I may not agree with every capitalist venture or those who choose to drive HUMVs over Prius or idyllically bicycle, but I grant each human being the right to make his or her own choices in life. 

Granted, the right to make our own choices can get a little murky when the choices made by one individual (or a group or a corporation) start to have negative effects on other individuals or groups. Which takes us back to the definition of anarchy. Merriam Webster Online says: "a utopian society of individuals who enjoy complete freedom without government." I confess that my ideal (Utopian) world would consist of individuals who are able to work together to build community and support one another without the need for government involvement and oversight. We'd share community gardens and have proverbial barn raisings, working together for a better world. 

The sustainable living movement -- whether it be urban or suburban -- town or country -- has appealed to me precisely for this reason. We are a collection of people that thrive on shared ideas, shared visions and the freedom to express ourselves in our work, our communities and our beliefs. And so, the recent discussions of trademarks and corporate interests have certainly rubbed me the wrong way. I very much appreciated this post published at The Ethicurean on Thursday because when it comes down to it we live within a market economy and we all need to make a living to survive.  However, we must take care to do so in an ethical manner.  When any individual, group, corporation or nation does something at the expense of others there is a breach in ethics, and break with integrity. 

As you go about your day, think about why you choose to do what you do: Is it because you have a certain set of beliefs? What are your values? Each one of us is an individual. We come to the Booth from different walks of life with different goals, but I believe we overlap in our desire for a better, cleaner world. A world populated by citizens who work to strengthen local communities and live by our values. People that are concerned about not only the environment, but also ethics. Our actions and our words speak volumes, so we must act and speak with care. 

"In every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations."  The Iroquois Confederacy

Snacking in the Garden

Wherein a comment about Froot Loops gives SustainaMom hope….

A week or so ago, I read “Food as Religion” over at Arduous Blog. I always appreciate Ruchi’s thought-provoking posts, but this time I also really, really, really appreciated the comments on the post.
I, myself, am a Pollanite (although I probably eat less meat than he does... and definitely wouldn't get caught buying Froot Loops)….
— Thistle (of Sleeping Naked is Green)

What? There has to be a story behind this?
To be fair to His Pollanness, I believe he was buying Froot Loops for his notoriously picky eater son- I'm not sure anything makes you compromise your food ideals like an obstinate child. ;)
— Ruchi
I wasted about an hour searching for verification for this potentially libelous Froot Loop accusation, but I didn’t find anything about Froot Loops, per se.

However, I did find hope. Beautiful, soul-filling hope. In the form of interviews where Pollan talked about his son’s picky eating habits.

Excerpts from “Michael Pollan, Garden Fresh,” an interview by David Beers in The Tyee. Comments are Pollan quotes:
"My 16-year-old son Isaac has been a very complex, tortuous food story. He was a terrible eater. One of the reasons I got interested in writing about food is he didn't eat anything. I love food, my wife loves food, and he just was tortured about food. He was one of these kids -- and there are many of them -- who only ate white food. He ate bread, pasta, rice, potatoes. There are a lot more of these kids than there used to be. I'm not exactly sure why.

"But he basically found food scary and overwhelming….

"A very interesting turnaround happened about two years ago. He discovered food. He became very serious about it, partly through cooking."
Pollan comments that gardening also helps expand kids’ willingness to try new foods. We’ve seen this in our home, because my son will eat a few green beans when he’s helped pick and snap them. But as soon as the summer’s over, and the beans wither, he’s done. He eats nothing green 9 months out of the year. No frozen green beans, no canned green beans. Nothing.


To be honest, I have been struggling with my gardening plans this year. I enjoyed last year’s garden — especially my first square-foot garden — but I didn't really have time to weed and care for the the regular tilled-ground garden. And don’t have the money to build more than one additional square-foot garden this year. So I was thinking I’d scale back.

But with the renewed hope that my kiddo will try new foods, I’ve renewed my determination to grow more than I did last year! And I’m going to choose more foods that said kid can eat right off the vine. (He likes green beans raw, but I’ve read too many can be harmful, so I won’t let him eat but one or two.)

However, I must admit that I’m a bit of a picky eater, too. And this will only be my third year of gardening. So I’m still overwhelmed and would love suggestions for foods that can be eaten right off the vine.

We have blueberries and strawberries that he might try this year. I’ll plant more watermelon, which he ate one time last year. He’ll eat carrots — and I learned that I need to plant carrots very early since they did not do well in the heat last year.

What else can we plant that can be eaten straight off the vine? Someone tell me about the sugar snap peas, which I’ve read can be eaten raw. I'll try anything that has a crunchy texture. Ideas? Inspiration?

(Also, I loved all the suggestions for "Gardening with a Toddler" last week, and I've borrowed Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots from the library to make the garden more kid-friendly. Thanks for the inspiration.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Preparation Ouch

One of my friends just had a baby a week ago. Another is due next week. This post is for them. It's reprinted from my own blog from just under a year ago.

Every woman who’s ever been pregnant knows about it. People who suffer from a chronic lack of eating fiber know too. A friend of mine who shall remain nameless also knows about it. And it is for her that I’m posting this. It’s a recipe I developed some time ago and have (cough cough) had reason to refine over the years and pregnancies. One of those things they don’t tell you before you have the baby. (And for God’s sake, who has time for a “sitz bath”??)

(And if you’re the woman who’s done pregnancy and childbirth who didn’t get hemorrhoids, don’t even tell me, because I’d have to resent you thoroughly.)

Okay, I’m not going to go through the whole diagnosis/pile types/descriptions/various ickiness here; you can do your own bloody Google search. (Er…no pun intended.)

This post is for my easy do-it-yourself recipe to relieve and/or shrink the dreaded horrid things. Recipes, actually–two different ones, both pretty good. In my unfortunately informed opinion. I call them both “Preparation Ouch.”

Recipe I (liniment):

In a small clean bottle, combine about 4 oz. witch hazel, 40 drops lavender essential oil, 20-30 drops cypress essential oil, and 20 drops roman chamomile essential oil. Shake well. As needed, soak a cotton pad and…well…apply. (The witch hazel, which you can get from any pharmacy, and the cypress oil, will shrink the blood vessels and make the things back off. The lavender and chamomile are very soothing and will help with pain relief.) Always shake before use!

Recipe II (salve):

In a pyrex measuring cup, measure about 2 tbs. of some solid oil or oils–any combination of beeswax, coconut oil, cocoa or shea butter, something like that. Add some liquid oil, preferably olive oil, to make a total of 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz.). Melt over double boiler or very carefully microwave until the solids are melted. Stir well with a chopstick until it’s well mixed. Add 40 drops lavender essential oil, 20-30 drops cypress essential oil, and 20 drops roman chamomile essential oil. Stir very well till fully mixed. Pour into small clean container (tupperware even works fine for this, or little jars leftover from something else you already used) and refrigerate until solid.

That’s it! Really very easy. The liniment (witch hazel) version is quicker and good for more immediate relief; the salve lasts longer and has more time to do its thing. Wouldn’t hurt to have both of them around.

Regarding the essential oils–you can buy them in a lot of places, including probably your local Whole Foodsy kind of place. If not there, Mountain Rose Herbs and Natures Gift sell really good essential oils. Lavender oil is one that’s just good to have around anyway, since it’s good for so many things; for this recipe the cypress oil is the key ingredient, and the others are just for added effect, so if you don’t feel like springing for the chamomile, it’ll still work. And while cypress isn’t exactly one of the cheapest of the oils, you can get a small container of it–remember you use these things by the drop, so even half an ounce goes a really long way!

So…sit well and prosper.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

10 Ways to Upcycle Jeans

From Emerald Apron's Crafty Corner

I've got about five pairs of old jeans that either don't fit or are worn out, and I've been saving them for projects. There are so many great ideas, and here are ten of my favorites!

1. Stitch up a cute and heavy-duty Jean Apron for use in the kitchen or garden. I could see myself wearing an apron like this when I'm planting in my school's greenhouse.

2. Grab your scissors and cut triangles to make a Jean Bunting for party decorations. This would be adorable for my little boy's birthday party. I imagine that a mini version, similar to my friend Country Girl's Cake Bunting, would be the perfect decoration for a rough and tumble boy's cake!

3. For a sweet little girl, make a Jean Headband! I think it's so cute, but I don't know any little girls, so this one is on hold.

4. Make a Jean Bag to tote along to the farmer's market, the beach, or playdates. This looks sturdy and durable and perfect for people with kids. Add some sections, and this could become a nice diaper bag.

5. If you prefer a smaller, more fashion-forward bag, this Jean Purse is a perfect fit. It was designed by Corrine from Threadbanger, who came to speak at an eco-friendly fashion show at my school, organized by my former student Kayla. (It makes me feel fashionable to share that!)

6. If you want to show off (or develop) your embroidery skills, this Berry n' Bird Beret is your project. I'm not really a beret fan, but I love this one! Though I'm not sure where I'd wear it.

7. These Recycled Jean Pocket Pets are so cute! I especially love the owl and can imagine it sitting on a tall bookshelf in my son's room.

8. Denim Baby Shoes are a great solution if you want to keep your little one's feet warm while saving cash. Imagine how many shoes you could make from a sinlge pair of jeans!

9. I'm sure you've seen the jeans-turned-to-skirt tutorials before. This Flirty Denim Skirt Makeover is a little different because it starts with a boring skirt instead of pants. The result is gorgeous!

10. Finally, since our mud season is just around the corner, I'm hoping to crochet a Jean Rag Rug for my mud room. This is the perfect project for me, since I love to crochet!

Which one do you like best? How have you upcycled your old jeans? Please share a link if you've blogged about it!

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Green Phone Booth's Guide to Urban Homesteads

A special edition Phone Booth Flashback from the Conscious Shopper.

Some folks in the blogosphere have declared today the Urban Homesteaders Day of Action, and we Boothers couldn't resist joining in the fun. I definitely have some opinions about trademarking terms that are in general usage (as well as photographs of objects people have in their closets), but rather than wading into those murky legal waters, I thought I'd share some past Booth posts about urban homesteads.

As I prepared to write this post, I discovered that phew! we have a lot of posts related to urban homesteading. If you'd like to get lost in blogland for a few hours, check out our tags on chickens, composting, farming, food preservation, foraging, and gardening.

Here are some highlights from the past:
  • Sourpuss: The Raven makes vinegar from scratch!
  • Lessons from my first garden: Before she was Sustainamom, Jaime shared some useful (and some very funny) tips that she learned from her first year as a gardener.
  • Growing in America: "Ima Greenie" interviews Green Bean on the volunteers (wink, wink) helping out her garden.
  • Down on the Farm: Green Bean describes the transition of her front yard lawn to an edible garden.
  • Carpe Summer: Green Bean "relishes" in the last summer's harvest.
  • And then our very own Green Bean got chickens! You can read about her experience here and here.
Are you an urban homesteader? We'd love to hear about what you've got going on down on the urban farm - share your comments and links below!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Phone Booth Flashback

Welcome to the Phone Booth Flashback, where we take a trip down memory lane so you can catch up on posts from the Booth's past.

Last Year
  • Natural Beauty: Link love from the Greenhabilitator with natural beauty tips.
  • One of Those Days: The Greenhabilitator shares some of the eco-friendly things her family was working on.
  • Natural Healing: Jess of Sweet Eventide shares how she recouped from stress by returning to nature.
Two Years Ago
  • Parent Power: A guest post from Lisa Frack of the Environmental Working Group.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Getting started: Heirloom and organic gardening on a budget

Dear Friends,

I know I've been the wierd one among us, growing our backyard veggies and frontyard fruits for sme time now. And I know you've been concerned about rising gas prices, the quality of foods in the stores, and whether it's genetically modified or the "real thing."

And you're concerned too, because it's tough to get started - especially when you're on a budget.

We've been there. And let me tell you, it gets easier.

Sure, gardening can be expensive - building raised beds, building up bad dirt, overbuying expensive seeds (because we need three kinds of beans!) But if you look at it as an investment: in your health, your families, your environment, it doesn't seem quite as expensive.

And the investment doesn't have to be that much.

When we first dive in, it gets so tempting to make sure we buy the organic or heirloom seeds. And in some catalogs, you will pay the price. So take a few extra minutes to price shop. Heirloom carrots can range from less than $2 a packet (far better than at a garden shop around here) to more than $4, depending on the variety. So shopping around pays. Remember too, it's just like any low-priced item, they are cheap, but it totals up. Consider splitting seeds and shipping costs with another gardening buddy.

The dirt? We bought organic dirt at Lowe's for the same price as regular, but you'll want to buy compost as well if you don't have that resource available to you. The best advice I ever got was from a worm composter who suggested putting the compost in the whole with the seed as you plant, rather than spread it across your garden. That helped stretch our resources considerably. And if you can, start composting yourself -- even if it's as low-brow as tossing your leftover produce on an open spot in the garden at the end of the season. Not the best view, but every bit helps.

The great news about gardening is that it's a multi-year process -- one that reduces costs over time. Try saving easy seeds such as beans or squash this summer for next year's planting. Or, be lazy, and let the plant overgrow and re-seed itself!

The great thing about gardening is that it takes as little or as much time and monetary investment as you're willing to give. Pace yourself, and you'll have a summer feast to enjoy.

Wishing you a fruitful summer,
Robbie @ Going Green Mama

I'll be on a blogging break the next three weeks, as we go through a major project at work. See you in mid-March!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Gardening with a Toddler

From Emerald Apron's snow-covered garden...

Up first, the book giveaway! The winner of my copy of Radical Homemakers is Staci! Please send your info to AbbieR31081 AT aol DOT com, and I'll get the book in the mail for you. Congratulations, and thanks to everyone who entered!

My garden last year was a failure. I admit, I didn't spend nearly as much time in it as I had the previous two years. With a new baby who always wanted to be held, it wasn't easy to get out there and work. We started off late, planting on Mother's Day instead of our usual St. Patrick's Day. We did get to harvest snap peas, lettuce, herbs, potatoes, some carrots, and even some tomatoes. But by August, our garden was a weedy mess with a few crowning sunflowers. An embarrassment. I'm determined to do better this year. And this year, I'll have the help of a toddler. (Side note: YOU GUYS... my son Joshua is almost a TODDLER! Where does the time go???)

My first Mother's Day, in our garden

Last year, I joined the Inadvertent Farmer's KinderGARDENS Challenge, and promptly dropped out. I just couldn't keep up, but I loved following along each week and checking out what the participants and their children were growing. There are some really inspirational ideas for gardening with children there and I encourage you to check out the archives!

So, my plan for this year involves less guilt, more weeding, and a lot more fun for our family. I have a few ideas for adding kid-friendly plants that I think Joshua will enjoy growing:

  • Jack-be-Littles (mini pumpkins)
  • Sugar Baby watermelons
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Strawberries (Well, adding them. We won't get fruit this year)

I think Joshua will have fun playing with his tractors and trucks in the dirt, watching pumpkins grow and picking fruit to eat. I can imagine him having fun playing with the hose, too!

How do you get your little ones involved in the family garden?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Call of the Chickens

In which Green Bean accepts her fate as chicken farmer.

Puff, a blue Cochin and my favorite hen

The February sun soaked over the back fence and slid down the hill, brightening every tree, bush and blade in its journey toward the house. From my desk, I watched its brilliant path broaden, saw the bugs and gnats outlined in its warmth and made out spider webs glimmering in the empty fruit trees.

The hill.

The reason we moved to this house. The hill behind it holds infinite possibilities. Room for the kids to play, dig, make mud pools, explore. Space for more fruit trees - lemon, mandarin, pomegranate, pear. A place for raised beds where tomatoes and peppers will bake in full-day sun. A lolling slope for pumpkins to creep and roam. And most of all, room for the girls to stretch their wings, dig up a few worms, and poop to their hearts' content.

By girls, I am referring to my hens, of course - three of them going on their second year of laying and the other two just a few months new to the Poultry Palace. They dirt bathe in the sun. Cluck around under the apple and fig trees. Follow any human about, looking for treats. And, if the mood is right, lay the most delightful eggs on the planet.

Fluff #2, a buff Cochin

Our first year was fraught with tears. Chicks that grew into city-forbidden roosters. A pullet that ate a screw and, well, died. Another hen who has been to the vet half a dozen times. A true chicken farmer would have offed that last one and, while I'm not there yet, I have managed to see past the drama to the land of eggs and honey.

I love my girls but I've learned that they are not your average pet. They don't miss you when you are on vacation - provided you've got someone else caring for them. They don't live as long as cats and dogs but the life I provide is much than the life they'd live on almost any "farm." The nasty ones remain nasty and sometimes are better given away to torture some other flock or grace a stew pot. You don't want to place your coop right up against your fence line because chickens are early risers and loud! And you need to be prepared for a poopy yard.

Minerva Louise, a Wellsummer, and Ginger, a buff Orpington

I've learned that it is easy to replace lost flock members, that there are many choices ranging from chick, pullet to hen, and that the breed selection is overwhelming but really really enticing. Still, I've learned to look for quieter (notice I said quieter as there's no such thing as quiet) and more docile breeds when replenishing.

And, I've learned to accept a yard full of chicken poop - but only in certain places. My girls are restricted to the hill - an unplanted dirt landscape where their poop is an offering from the gods. Not to say that my friendliest chicken, Serena, the one with all the vet visits, doesn't climb down the stairs, venture across the patio to peer into the family room window. She does, until I carry her back up the stairs and give her a firm talking to.

Serena, a Barred Rock and queen of the coop

Finally, I've learned that our eggs aren't "free", as friends often times assume. Despite all the food scraps they eat and all the free ranging they do, these girls are biiiiig eaters and consume quite a bit of organic pellets, sunflower seeds, oyster shells and meal worms. Due to a too soft heart and a not strong enough backbone, we've visited the chicken vet more than I care to count. Then, there's the cost of the coop, the run, the chicken sitters. Let's just say that $7 for a dozen for eggs at the farmers' market or your CSA is a steal! Jump on that deal if you can . . .

resist the call becoming a chicken farmer yourself.

Everyone is friends on the farm.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Free Range Kids

A "green hour" with the Conscious Shopper

Climbing trees last fall

Over Christmas break, we spent a couple of days with my husband's parents, who live in a hobbit house (also known as an earth-sheltered house) in the boonies of southern Tennessee. Their house is set into the side of a hill and is surrounded by woods, so one day, I dragged my boys outside to play.

"What are we supposed to do out here?" my oldest asked.

"Just play," I replied. "When I was a kid, I spent hours in the woods, exploring and building forts."

The boys latched on to the idea of building a fort and were soon busily absorbed in scavenging for sticks and rocks and climbing fallen tree trunks. "Look what we made, Momma!" they chorused excitedly, proudly displaying a pile of sticks that they were calling a "fort."

After a few minutes, the three-year-old announced that he had to go potty. For a second, I debated taking all three of the boys back to the house, and then I decided that it would be all right to leave the older two alone for a few minutes.

"I'll be right back," I said. "Holler if you need me."

"Okay," the oldest replied. "But we won't need you."

His comment made me laugh, but it also felt just right. At five and seven, they definitely still need me, but hopefully, I'm giving them enough space to explore and play and create independently so they can feel like they don't.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Blondies with Maple Butter Sauce

A yummy recipe from Retro Housewife

Well I'm finally not sick anymore but I was in a car accident over the weekend and I'm in a lot of pain. I don't know what is wrong yet but got x-rays and scans at the chiropractor and will know soon. Since I'm hurting I thought I would share a recipe with you guys.

This recipe is very much like the Walnut Brownies from Applebee's only with real ingredients and better! I'm allergic to nuts so I left them out but if you like them feel free to add some. (Sorry about the lack of pictures)

Blondies with Maple Butter Sauce


1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
1/3 cup butter (melted)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup white chocolate chips (optional)

Maple Butter Sauce
3/4 cup real maple syrup
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup whole milk (or heavy cream)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix baking powder, baking soda, salt, and flour. Set aside.

Mix brown sugar to melted butter. Then add egg and vanilla extract. Mix well.

Add flour mixture, a little at a time, until mixed well. If using white chocolate chips, add now.

Spread out dough in a 9-inch pan.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Toothpick should come out clean.

Serve while warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and the maple butter sauce.

Maple Butter Sauce

In small sauce pan melt butter, add maple syrup and cook over low heat until totally melted. Add brown sugar and milk, heat until sugar dissolves.

Monday, February 14, 2011

I'm scared

This morning shortly after waking, I got a text message from a very old and dear friend. She's in her early forties, like me. She has just been diagnosed with lung cancer.

We have no more news than that as yet--they are still doing the tests to find out where, how much, how advanced, or anything like that. She has never smoked, but members of her family have, and she's spent a lot of time in the secondhand stuff. And both of us spent our formative pub-going years during the time before smoking in bars was outlawed.

This is the first time, for me, this disease has hit someone young and really beloved to me. I'm shocked, I'm scared, and I'm angry. Angry at the world we've let be created for us, the world so full of toxic crap all around that we have to be obsessive eccentric greenpeople to even cut out a portion of it from our own bodies and those of our children. Angry that she's thousands of miles away and I can't be with her. Angry that the economy has put so much pressure on her and her family in the past few years, ramping up her stress levels to a fever pitch as she tries to keep her family together and healthy, with food to eat and a place to live and children she protects from realizing how hard things really are. And I can't quite seem to stop crying for more than thirty seconds at a go.

I've been green-blogging for a couple of years now. And through most of that time I've had my own little defense mechanisms--I can treat this as sort of a game, a fun little challenge to try to make my life a little better, put less stress on the planet, and help my children be as healthy and strong as they can be. I can say, okay, what one person can do isn't really enough, but it's something, and so I'm cool with that.

Today, as on some rougher days, or some of those two-in-the-morning insomnia bouts, I'm hit with the much harder truth--What one person can do really isn't enough. And I'm not cool with that. I'm not cool with it at all.

This is one of those posts where there aren't any answers, any helpful suggestions for green living, any fun crafty ideas or mini-rants about some ingredient in a greenwashed lipstick. This is a frustrated cry into the darkness, a big question mark following a question so big I can't even verbalize it.

And all the while I am holding onto the dream shared with my dear friend, one we've talked about probably a hundred times since we met--the vision of two really old women, one rail-skinny and dressed with impeccable taste(her), one round and squishy wearing crazy gypsy shawls and scarves and no makeup but still with all her teeth (me), sitting on the boardwalk by the beach together eating french fries cooked in peanut oil and chasing them with ice cream cones. We'll sit there and tell stories and people-watch and check out the cute guys old enough to be our great-grandsons, and laugh uproariously until people glance over at the two crazy old ladies.

I want that dream. I want there to be a world in 50 years where kids still swim on the beaches in summer, and the food easily available won't poison us even as it nourishes us. I want the sun to be warm but not scary.

Mostly I just want my friend to be there.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Phone Booth Flashback

Welcome to the Phone Booth Flashback, where we take a trip down memory lane so you can catch up on posts from the Booth's past.

Last Year
  • Book Review: The Body Toxic: JessTrev reviews Nena Baker's book, The Body Toxic: How the Hazardous Chemistry of Everyday Things Threatens Our Health and Well-being
  • Superhero's Secrets: Valentine's Day: Jenn the Greenmom's Valentine's tips from last year. (Check out last week's posts for her tips for this year.)

Two Years Ago
  • Fenestration: The Raven replaces her very old windows with more efficient models.
  • Wild at Heart: Green Bean writes about the difficulties of connecting children with nature.
  • Our Stimulus Package: Green Bean writes, "The real stimulus package is us. Our generosity. Our dedication. Our creativity. Our willingness to think not of "me" and "you", but of the collective."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Yay, mud!

When the temperature is a lowly digit, 45 degrees seems almost heavenly. And knowing that that temperature was waiting for me this weekend was what got me through this frigid week.

Still, as conversations turned toward weekend activities, I'd get surprised looks when I announced our plans: We're playing in the snow until it melts, and then in the mud that's left.

I'd see the double-take from my co-workers.

What? Let your kids play in the mud?

You're darn right. What's wrong with letting your kids get a little messy once in a while? Hands can hose off, clothes can wash. When you're a kid, there are few things better than getting a little dirty...and not being yelled at for doing so!

So yes, if you see a couple of little ones out, dressed in jackets and filthy pants and shoes, just smile. Because they've had the best afternoon out in a month!

Wishing you an early spring,
Going Green Mama

Friday, February 11, 2011

Why I didn't renew our CSA share this year

In which Truffula writes especially to cre8andrecre8, who may be wondering whether she just made a $500 mistake...

Dear cre8andrecre8,

Congratulations on signing up for a CSA share!  Enjoy the culinary road before you.  Keep an open mind toward any yet-unfamiliar foods, and savor the fun of discovering recipes which feature them.

In the 6 years (or was it 7 or 8? -- I've lost track) we've had a share, my learnings have included that:

  • sweet potato leaves are not only edible, but scrumptious.
  • a lush bunch of parsley looks nice on the kitchen counter, and can harbor delightful, honored "guests" like Eastern Swallowtail caterpillars (who proceed to get prime real estate in the middle of the living room, and whose dietary needs then take precedence over the ingredient needs of the potato salad for which the bunch was previously destined).
  • freshly harvested carrots are a taste-world away from those sold in the grocery store
  • mint sun-tea laced with lavender is just lovely.
  • we simply can't make enough baked kale chips to satisfy our younger TruffulaBoy.  He's hooked on them.
  • we used to think in terms of using garlic cloves, not heads, and now I buy it by the pound.
  • living seasonally takes on deeper meaning when it intersects with your plate.
We've become CSA evangelists, happy to share information about the concept in general, and "our" farm in particular, to anyone who's even remotely interested.

Yet, I didn't renew our share for 2011.

It was a hard decision, but was the direction which felt right.  It's not a quitting of the CSA as much as it is a graduation of sorts.

In a presentation I attended, a CSA farmer said that she expected her customers to move on after a few years.  Sacrilege!, I thought at the time.  She explained that her goal was to introduce people to this food production model and to a variety of vegetables, and then to see them use that knowledge.  As existing customers left, they created opportunities for new customers to come in.  I didn't quite understand that at the time, but I do now; I've arrived at that leaving point.

We really have learned so much about food and cooking, and caterpillars, too! (Monarchs make the most exquisite chrysalises on the undersides of kale, a beautiful miracle to find as you harvest the leaves in the field.)

What are the next steps?  
  • I want to grow more food in our own garden.  This has inherent challenges, poor soil and significant shade being among them.  I am composting up a storm to improve that clay.  As for the shade... I'll learn first-hand which edible plants tolerate what degree of it.  Seeds have been purchased!
  • I will do more shopping at my farmers' market and co-op group, and will be a more educated consumer as result of my CSA participation.
  • The TruffulaBoyz and I will continue to volunteer on the farm.  Being an end-user of the crops is just one way to support local farms; elbow grease is another very welcome contribution.
  • We will keep sharing the good word about CSAs, organic farming, and local agriculture
Yours in yummy, locally-grown, organic food,

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Schools Banning Lunch Boxes?

From a rather defeated SustainaMom...

“Hi, I’m calling to ask about touring your school and the registration process for next year’s pre-K program,” I say into the phone.

After I jot down notes about tour dates and deadlines, I ask my real question: “And what about lunches? Can I send a lunch?”

Invariably, the answer is, “No, we don’t allow that.”

“With a doctor’s note?” I ask.

“We don’t allow lunches from home, but we can accommodate dietary restrictions like allergies,” I hear.


Seriously, I can’t feed my own child?

I have found one preschool that will let me send a lunch from home. “You have to send a fruit, a vegetable, a protein, a grain and a dairy — every day,” I was told. “If you can’t do that, you’ll have to come down here to feed your son every day.”

The director of that school explained that the state is very strict about the lunches.

But the FAQ section about Georgia’s pre-K program says that individual preschools set their own policies regarding lunches from home.

So I have to wonder if the schools just want the lunch money?

To be honest, the money isn’t even my biggest concern (and I do not say that lightly). Aside from the fact that my son is an extremely picky eater who would starve if faced with a school lunch and, as a result, misbehave, I object to someone else planning his meals with no input from me.

Will they buy organic milk? If they offer chocolate milk, will it have red food dye in it? What about the waste from all those individual milk cartons? Will the apples be organic? Did that cow eat grass or grain before it was turned into beef? Who is checking the bread label for HFCS? Were those beans packaged and shipped in a BPA-coated can?

Seriously, the only legitimate reason I can fathom for this lunch box restriction is food allergies. I joined a listserv about food allergies a couple of years ago, and I cried at some of the things those moms went through with their children, so I absolutely do see the need to protect those children.

However, I am really struggling with the thought that my child who has a diagnosed sensory-based feeding issue is being discriminated against. And I’m writing about this here because I am so frustrated with the idea that any parent would have to give up some oversight to their child’s diet in order to take advantage of the state-/lottery-funded pre-K program.

And that brings me to the other side of the dilemma. This program is primarily lottery-funded, not tax-funded. And the Pre-K classes are held at preschools not elementary schools. As a side note, some of these preschools receive tax subsidies — and they will not let younger kids bring lunches either as providing those balanced lunches is mandated for those subsidies. We’ve been down this road before.

Back to my point, preschool isn’t a right like public kindergarten is. If lunch money is a concern for the schools, do these non-public (though possibly subsidized) preschools have a right to enforce rules that make the program infeasible for my child? Again, the pre-K education is paid for through the state lottery, and the lunches are paid for by the parents.

I also want to say that I know those school lunches are a tremendous blessing for some families. I don’t want to do away with the programs, though I am glad to see that the USDA is moving for improvement. But I do think it is crazy to mandate something less than I want to provide — especially when all but the bread and milk would be thrown away every single day in our case.

What do you guys think — about school lunches in general or about parents being told they can’t send a lunch for their children? Also, what school lunch issues do you run into in other states/other grade levels?

As for us, we’re on the waiting list at the one pre-K that will allow lunches from home, and we’re registering at the same half-day church program where we’ve been packing our own lunches for two years. In my dream world, I wouldn’t even have to make this decision as I would be homeschooling, but a girl has to help pay the mortgage....

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ask the Booth: Melamine Dishes

The Conscious Shopper researches melamine.

Sometimes as I try to live a healthy, green, and non-toxic lifestyle, I have questions that need to be researched, but I don't always have time to research them. I'm betting that sometimes you feel that way too, so I thought that periodically here at the Booth we could all pool our collective knowledge and pick each others' brains. If you have a question that you'd like answered by the Green Phone Booth community, email me at greenphonebooth [at]gmail[dot]com

The Green Phone Booth received the following email a few weeks ago:
My children have lots of melamine dishes. How safe are they? Should I replace them? I don't really know what Melamine is, so I'd like your thoughts on it.
My perfunctory research (thank you, Wikipedia) indicates that melamine "is combined with formaldehyde to produce melamine resin, a very durable thermosetting plastic used in Formica, and melamine foam, a polymeric cleaning product. The end products include countertops, dry erase boards, fabrics, glues, housewares, guitar saddles, guitar nuts, and flame retardants. Melamine is one of the major components in Pigment Yellow 150, a colorant in inks and plastics."

As far as toxicity, melamine could cause reproductive damage, bladder or kidney stones, or cancer if ingested, but it seems like you'd have to be eating quite a bit daily. There was an outbreak of pet food recalls in 2007 when the US Food and Drug Administration found white granular melamine in pet food imported from a single source in China. There was also a scandal in 2008 when melamine was found in some infant formula, leading to a lot of sick kids and six deaths.

Like Michelle, I have some melamine dishes in my cupboards. These blue bowls I inherited from my parents, making them at least 20 years old. The plates are the ones my kids eat off of daily. I never thought to research what they are made of before, so thanks, Michelle.

What do you know about melamine? Can you tell me and Michelle anything else about the toxicity and whether or not we should be using dishes made of melamine?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Valentine's Fun with Kids

The Conscious Shopper, filling in for Retro Housewife, who is still sick.

After Jenn's Valentine's post yesterday, I'm outing myself as a person who is significantly othered and doesn't give a rat's patootie about the holiday except for the part where I get to do fun Valentine's Day crafts with my kids.

Last year, we made these cool Valentine's cootie catchers:

This year, I've been bookmarking various ideas over the past few weeks. My criteria is that the finished product must be recyclable, the kids can do most of the work themselves, and I prefer candy-free Valentine's (though you'll see that a couple candy ones slipped in anyway). On our short list:

Lollipop mustaches from Family Fun (I believe these are made with craft foam, but I think cardstock would work just as well)

thumbprint Love Bugs from Sweet and Lovely Crafts

A plane awesome idea from Family Fun

My boys are really digging the lollipop moustache idea, but I'm hoping I can talk them into something like the paper airplane. What are you doing for Valentine's this year?

Monday, February 7, 2011

And once's almost Valentine's Day

As I crabbed last year in my Valentine's Day post, this is probably my least favorite holiday. Mostly from a sour grapes standpoint, because I never, and I mean never, actually had a date on said holiday until literally my honeymoon. (My husband and I got married in early February. No one gets married in early February in the Chicago area.)

I also, just in general principle, sort of object to those holidays wherein the primary raison d'etre seems to be about people feeling obligated to Get Something for other people. (My hubby, bless his heart, asked me for several years after our marriage if I wanted him to pay attention to "Sweetest Day," which falls somewhere in October. I told him, "Don't you dare." Now that is a silly holiday.)

And now we have kids--so I'm now faced with that whole delightful process of finding shoeboxes and having my kids decorate them, so that their classmates can each put a mass-market sheet of heavily colored paper into it, read them when they get home, and then throw it all away. Grr. (Okay, not to be a total Scrooge...I remember as a kid thinking all this was supremely cool, and it was just as wasteful then...) Last year I finally put my foot down and said no more mass-produced Valentines for the kids. We made our own--took the easy route and had each kid make one Valentine drawing, which we copied on a color copier and cut into individual valentines, and that worked very well. This year they both have smaller classes, only 20 or so to make apiece, so we may take a more individual's actually fairly easy, or it can be, depending on how much the kids do individually vs. how much mom and dad help out, and how complicated each one is. (We tend to default a lot to printing sticker-labels on our printer; not as green, but saves a lot of time--a red construction paper heart with a "Happy Valentine's Day!" sticker on one side and "Your Friend, Joshua" on the other is incredibly speedy, and there's a lot of leeway between that and some of the more complex kid-crafts you can do for this!)

It seems to me that people are divided into four main categories with regards to Valentine's Day; Below I'll give a link or a few for each of them:

1. People who are not significantly othered, but wish they were, and who get sad and crabby about this holiday. (This was me pretty much up until my wedding.) For you, I'd suggest reading up on some of the really un-green, unjust structures this holiday maintains, like like conflict diamonds, the chocolate trade, and the "Hidden Life of Cut Flowers." Feed the crabbiness; it'll make you feel better. :-) Or go online and drool over hot movie stars who are active in the green movement. And remember that dark chocolate is medically proven to lift your spirits.

2. People who are not significantly othered, and who don't give a rat's patootie about the holiday: Dude, there's nothing much to say here except Bravo! Have a "love the Earth" party or something, watch one of the Oscar-nominated green documentaries, plan your spring garden, or heck, just do whatever you would normally do!

3. People who are significantly othered and want to celebrate Valentine's Day with their sweetie in the form of gifts: I'd say, definitely be acquainted with the issues mentioned under category 1--if you do wish to buy gifts for one another, try to be aware of where the jewelry, candy, or flowers come from and how they were produced, or go outside the box and try some other kind of gift. (Last year I presented my sweetie with a coupon promising that I would cook him a grass-fed steak dinner, since I don't think he's had a decent steak in years because I won't buy the stuff unless I know where it comes from, and even now that I can find pasture-raised beef I only do it rarely...) Let me at this point also put in a plug for my absolute favorite chocolatier ever, Black Dinah Chocolatiers, who make the most incredibly orgasmically lovely chocolates out of their kitchen on a tiny isolated island in Maine. I have never, and I mean never, had chocolate like this before.

4. People who are significantly othered and who don't give a rat's patootie about the holiday or who would like to maybe remember it, but feel absolutely no need to celebrate it with gifts: For you--for us, because this is definitely me (although if my hubby wanted to send me a Black Dinah valentine's assortment, I wouldn't complain--but he can do this at any time of year, as far as I'm concerned), I would recommend something simple and homey, like Crunchy Betty's suggestions for Cleaning the Bathroom.

Last year's January APLS Carnival visited the holiday as well, with some excellent links--check them out too! And as always--please feel invited to post other thoughts, links, ideas, etc. in the comments!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Phone Booth Flashback

Welcome to the Phone Booth Flashback, where we take a trip down memory lane so you can catch up on posts from the Booth's past.

Last Year
  • Smile and Happiness Will Follow: The Conscious Shopper suggests making a list of green changes you've made so that the next time you feel discouraged, you'll be able to see how much you've actually done.
  • Green Metropolis: The Greenhabilitator reviews the book Green Metropolis by David Owen.

Two Years Ago
  • True Believer: Green Bean finds a ray of light in a sea of darkness.
  • Punxsutawney Philoney: EnviRambo spots signs of spring and wonders if her flat roof could be converted into a green roof.
  • Doing Good: Green Bean points out the importance of friends and communities in the green movement. And chocolate brownies.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Evolution of a gardener girl

Going Green Mama is making sad attempts to grow bok choy in her garage this month...

I believe that gardening success is made from one part luck, one part skill and one part sheer arrogance. But arrogance - and admittedly - the fruits of my success is what drives me to keep going year after year.

Last week, I was asked about how to get started with gardening to make it successful. The great thing about gardening is, no matter your level of expertise or financial commitment, you can usually achieve some results. The funny thing about gardening is, the more you know and achieve, the less you realize you actually knew.

I first dug my hands in the dirt 15 or so years ago. Devastated after a layoff from a gardening magazine that was sold six months into my job, I decided in my boredom to prove them wrong. In my sad little basement windowsill in my apartment, I gave my love to small pots of herbs that somehow thrived due to the lack of sunshine that summer.

It took a tornado to get me gardening again. After an F-1 blew down a good chunk of the tree growing in our rental, we used the wood to border off a garden bed that summer. There, I grew amazingly high tomato plants that produced a few fruit. And I felt like a success.

A few years later, we moved into our first home and were determined to grow our own veggies. By then, I realized that there were a few vegetables that were idiot and schedule-proof. Toss lettuce seeds or onion sets in the garden, water occasionally, and I had a salad! I happily picked beans and tomatoes from my backyard, and lamented the fact that the farmers market didn't offer much else than what I grew. I started slowing back on my visits.

I scoffed at those who said you shouldn't plant in Indiana until after Mother's Day - after all, in Kansas, plants were out in full force at the farmers markets in mid-April. Did I break the rule? All the time. Did it work? Maybe 50-50. I froze my tomatoes, had my plants eaten or broken, you name it.

I moved again and didn't plant much for the first few years. It takes time and effort to build the raised beds required by my home association, something I didn't have with a toddler and a pregnancy. So we grew a few sad pots of tomatoes. And then I discovered something...I had a little partner in crime.

Little hands like playing in the dirt. They like to soak your plants. They like to harvest. They like to pick varieties simply because they are pink or purple. They like to seed start and watch the plants grow. Little hands are the perfect partner to garden with, even if the results aren't always what you'd planned.

If anything in life, having children has made me more adventurous in the garden, and more eager to learn than ever. They can plant okra, and the kids like it? I can do that. Extend my harvest season? I (think) I can do that. We've discovered new vegetables at the farmers market, which we've brought home, enjoyed and bought packets of seeds for this spring.

We've proudly grew plants, harvested seeds and made our own seed packets, and I recently learned some are much more difficult to save than others. I just read Seed to Seed for the first time this week, and wow, my bean-saving self is clearly an amateur.

I'll admit, as I thumb through sites on square-foot gardening and companion planting and read books on gardening year-round, that I have just the arrogance or competitveness to say, hey, let's try it - it just might work. And so, bolstered by the idea that the French can grow things in the winter when it's 30 degrees because wind is not an issue, I have bok choy seedlings in my garage when it's in the single digits outdoors (Thanks, Four-Season Harvest). We've come full-circle to the lonely windowsill pot, housing our bean plant, started at the science area of the Children's Museum on New Year's Eve, the vine propped up by a dried branch of last summer's lilies. My kids are enthralled with the idea of putting worm poop on our garden and argue over who gets to put veggie scraps on "the pile," our makeshift spot on an abandoned piece of garden, since we're waiting until spring to set up my compost bin my husband got me for Christmas. And each Saturday morning at gymnastics, I trade tips and tricks with other moms, some of whom swear this square-foot thing will work this year, and they've almost got me convinced.

So after 15 years of random successes and interesting failures, the best advice I can offer is this: Try it. It doesn't matter if its' the windowsill pot with the plant bought at the farmers market or a thriving, three- or four-season garden bolstered by cold frames. The important part is the journey (which of course, ends in dinner).

What gardening questions do you have? I'll research and answer many of them in an upcoming post.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Book Review and Giveaway: Radical Homemakers

From Emerald Apron's Library

Last summer, while I was enjoying the tail end of my maternity leave, I heard about Shannon Hayes' new book, Radial Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, and I decided to buy a copy and check it out. I was loving maternity leave so the idea of people making the conscious choice to stay home was appealing.

Hayes begins by giving a history of the value of household work and describes the principles that radical homemakers live by in "Part One: Why." She defines radical homemakers as people looking to move toward a life-serving economy rather than an extractive economy, and who follow the principles for a sustainable way of life set forth in The Earth Charter (2000):

1. Respect and care for the community of life

2. Ecological integrity

3. Social and economic justice

4. Democracy, nonviolence and peace

Hayes describes the path of the radical homemaker. The radical homemakers first renounced consumer societies, began to reclaim homemaking skills that allow them to depend less on consumerism, and then moved on to a rebuilding phase:

"In this period, they took on genuine creative challenges, tended toward engagement with their communities, and made significant contributions toward rebuilding a new society that reflected their vision of a better world either through artwork, writing, farming, fine craftwork, social reform, activism, teaching, or a small business."

Hayes then goes on to describe the role of the American housewife over time, the shift to two income households, and the increasing amount of work outside the home. I was especially shocked by the amount of time Americans spend at work:

"From 1973 to 2000, the average American worker added 199 extra hours onto their annual work schedule, the equivalent of nearly five extra work-weeks per year... the famously squeezed middle class shouldered an even greater labor burden between 1979 and 2000, and increased their work hours by 660 per year - a total of nearly twelve weeks. Americans now work more hours than any other industrialized country, including famously industrious Japan."

While I did find it interesting, I was happy when "Part One: Why" was over. I tend to be less interested in philosophical musings and much more interested in stories from real people, and that is what I found in abundance in "Part Two: How." Hayes conducted interviews with real people living the radical homemaker lifestyle, and complied the interviews to share their lives. She found radical homemakers through a post on her website:

"If you have learned to live on less in order to take the time to nourish your family and the planet through home cooking, engaged citizenship, responsible consumption and creative living, whether you are male, female, two people sharing the role, with or without children, or part-time, please drop me a line and tell me your story."

I loved reading about women and men who chose to make homemaking their life's work. I found myself identifying with other young families, but there were senior citizens, single people both young and old, older families, people living in urban, suburban and rural areas. I would imagine that there was a radical homemaker to serve as a reflection of each individual reader. Hayes describes the radical homemakers and their lifestyles:
"While no single family accomplished everything on this list, I came across homemakers who would: grow, can, dehydrate, freeze and lacto-ferment vegetables and fruit harvest and store root crops; make wine, beer and herbal teas; press juices and cider; make jams and jellies; raise livestock and harvest meat; make pates and sausages; smoke bacons or fish; keep honey bees; milk a dairy goat or cow; make cheese, yogurt, butter and kefir; make soap or other homemade nontoxic cleaning supplies; keep chickens; forage through city parks and streets, neighboring backyards and country roads for wild plants and "feral" fruits cut their firewood; set up water recycling systems; provide their own human-powered transportation; make toys, invent games and educate their own children; make medicinal remedies; fix their houses and cars; sew, knit and mend their clothes; create art, literature, music and crafts; graft fruit trees; build their own homes; build soil through composting; and, of course, bake and cook."

I would recommend this book to anyone trying to live a simpler life who wants some ideas about how other families make it work.
Am I a radical homemaker?

I'm a professional, highly educated woman who chooses to grow, raise and preserve her family's food. I try to reduce waste and stay away from consumerism. I value hand-made over store-bought, and I enjoy doing things like kneading bread by hand and making my own yogurt or cheese, knitting or crocheting gifts, or helping to butcher our yearly pig. Radical for sure, especially among my contemporaries: professional women in their late 20's. Most of my real-life girlfriends would be much more likely to go out for sushi than clean a just-caught fish.

But am I a homemaker? Absolutely! I'm not a full-time homemaker, and I don't see the absence of outside work as a prerequisite to be a homemaker. The good news is that I find that my work to be valuable and mostly enjoyable. My job as a teacher is the best of both worlds. As an environmental educator, I get the chance to share my passion for the planet with my students and feel that I'm making a real difference. Plus, I get to spend summers at home, which just so happen to be pretty busy times in the life of a homemaker. I'm also fortunate to provide health insurance for my family through my job. Many of the radical homemakers featured in the book do have full- or part-time jobs to supplement their homemaking.

Win A Copy!

In the spirit of anti-consumerism, I'm giving away my copy of Radical Homemakers. Hope you don't mind dog-eared pages! To enter, please leave a comment below answering this question: Are you a radical homemaker?

Be sure to leave your email address so I can contact the winner! The giveaway will remain open until Thursday, February 17, and I'll announce the winner in my post on Friday the 18th, so be sure to check back then!

Note: I purchased this book myself and have not received any compensation for doing this review.


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