Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The dangling asterisk of Netflix

A few posts back, I mentioned Netflix and I put an * by it because I intended to make further note about it. Well, I forgot. So here's more about Netflix:

Cable television was one of the first things to go when we scaled back. I lived most of my adult life without cable television and watched MAYBE a show per week on it when we had it, so no big deal to me. I wondered if the teens would revolt, though. We replaced it with Netflix for $8 a month and I have to say, I'm really digging Netflix. We have it streaming through the Wii so I can get to movies immediately and they start at precisely the moment I want them to start. And I can pause them, rewind them, watch them as many times as I want. Entire seasons of TV shows (Ally McBeal!) are there for my viewing pleasure. The value of Netflix FAR exceeds the value* of cable television in my book.

*Ahh, another asterisk. I have to admit that I do miss HGTV and The Food Network. But I'll live.

Monday, July 4, 2011

What I love about being married to a farmer

This is all the yummy stuff Bill brought home from the farm this week!
Nobody really wants to hear my grocery list! In fact, blogger stats tells me that the days I rant about my husband or moan about my period? THOSE are the days when more people read. In light of those statistics (and we know stats don't lie) I will continue to bitch and moan on a regular basis. I'll give you (as you wish) the "real deal" about sustainable living, being married to a farmer and committing to a simpler life. It ain't all rainbows and puppy dogs. Some days, it downright sucks.

There was a lot that was really good about this long weekend. It is Independence Day, after all. Who could complain about barbecue and fireworks? Willie and I got to spend 4 WHOLE DAYS together for the holiday, and much of it was sans teenagers. Not too shabby huh? We watched movies on Netflix*. We had some of that "special time". I cooked and sent him back to the farm tonight with good, nutritious food which always makes me feel good about my role as the "nutritional gatekeeper" in our family. He brought home lovely cut flowers from the farm...A few strawberries, raspberries and the first tomato of the season. And kale. Lots and lots of kale.

I have kale out the wazoo. And it's early in the season.

I have kale in my crisper, kale in bags, kale in a Tupperware "Thatsa" bowl and kale in canisters on my counters. I've got kale in the freezer. What the HELL do people do with all the freakin' kale?

What the hell do farmers do when you have a surplus of one particular crop and not much else? I mean, I can saute' kale in soy sauce and honey, work it in to enchiladas, make soup with it and dehydrate kale chips. But after 4 or 5 meals in a row that have a kale component, one does grow weary of kale. I'm banking on the fact that come winter, we will actually MISS the kale and pulling some out of the freezer will be a welcomed addition to dinner.

In the meantime, if you have any amazing kale recipes please send them my way.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Grocery Challenge: Week 2

Bill was in on this trip, so much of what we bought was for him to take back. This is a 4 day week for him -- he'll be home mid-day on Friday. A is still down South.

Whole Foods

2 half-gallons of milk from Calder's Dairy -- 2.99 each plus 1.50 bottle deposit
2 boxes of Back to Nature crackers -- 2/5.00 plus a $1 off coupon
2 boxes of pretzel crisps -- 2/5.00
8 oz of cheddar cheese -- 5.99 with $1 off coupon
Mary Jane's Farm magazine 5.99

EBT Total: $19.36
Cash Total: $8.49


Jicama -- 2.35
4 cans of tuna -- 5.68
Greek Yogurt -- 1.63
2 avacados -- 3.58
Canola Oil -- 2.50
4 boxes of frozen pierogies 10.00
Pastry -- 3.89
2 cans of Sardines -- 1.78
2 16 oz sodas - 1.69 each

EBT Total: $34.79

Farm Food

Kale, kale and more kale (making chips with some, freezing some)

Pick apart:

- Other than the fact that I think we were charged 2.99 for one of the boxes of crackers, I have no complaints about the haul. This was a "supplemental" week -- meaning that essentially all the basics were covered at the house and we just needed to fill in here and there.

- I did ok with my $10 for Diet Cokes, but I haven't actually made the pinto beans for my daily bean burrito yet. And it ain't happening this week either (4 days in Detroit this week).

However, we ate out 3 times (I think...may have been 2) last week. Granted, it was a stressful week but what week isn't?

Not bad at all.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

I had fresh asparagus the first time a few years ago and it is now my all-time favorite vegetable. I could eat it every night and never complain. Yesterday, I saw asparagus as I had never seen it before. Like this:

We eat the early shoots, but that 5ft tall, bushy stuff is what asparagus looks like after the harvest season. After a few weeks of harvesting shoots, you let it "fern out" for the rest of the year.

Pretty cool, huh?
In the spirit of full disclosure, I really should post what I had for dinner on Tuesday & Wednesday night.

Tuesday: Strawberries, a chocolate bar and a bowl of cereal. Oh, and a glass of wine.

Wednesday: Pollo Adobe and a margarita from the Cancun Grill in East Lansing.

Neither of those were in the meal plan for this week, but so it goes. Lest anyone assume I've mastered this plan, I thought I should cop to the fact that when my stress goes up, my coping skills go out the window and food is usually the first thing that goes kerfluey.


Yesterday, I drove up to the farm to tell Bill about our cat's diagnosis of bone cancer. The drive was long and sad -- it rained most of the way. When I got to the farm, Bill and I walked down the dirt road toward the pig pen and I felt the stress of the last week leaving my body. The sun was shining and there was a breeze. The piglets thought my red toenail polish was something yummy to eat (mental note: keep farm shoes in the car). I got to cry and eat strawberries and unload. I remembered the point of all this.

Tonight's dinner? Pasta with roasted asparagus, mushrooms and some sort of creamy/cheesy sauce. And a glass of wine ;)


Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Do you know what the cure is for a brooding, resentful mood?

Visits with piggies & chickens, a walk among the asparagus and strawberries picked fresh and eaten right there in the field.

And a big hug from a handsome farmer didn't hurt either.

The "fruitbasket turnover" that is our life is hard. Being 70 miles from my husband makes it harder. When I spin out of control, he's my grounding force. Even when it's hard, I'd rather have this life with him than any life without him.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming.........
If you've followed any of my other blogs, you know that I have a way of providing more than you bargained for. I tell you that this is a blog about food, sustainable living and such. Indeed, you get those things. And some days, you get oh so much more.

Today, you get a bitchfest. An "I give up, screw the whole idea, I'm going to McDonald's, then WalMart, then going to bed" post. An "I can't do this and don't even want to if I could" post. To hell with ideals. Positivity is over-rated. Pass the Xanax.

I'm overwhelmed. I'm exhausted. I'm broke. One dog craps in the floor at least once daily. One cat harks up his dinner in the middle of my bed and then wipes his ass beside the puke-pile. I have about $5k in outstanding invoices that I can't seem to shake loose. The car that is almost payed off has a bent axle. I've had a headache for 2 days now, and my cat is dying (yes, the one that pukes on the bed, but that's beside the point). There are a million and two details that need to be addressed around here.

And yes, I am resentful that my husband plays in the dirt all day while I'm drowning. OK, that's not a fair statement. He's working -- physically working -- in the sun & rain. 8-10 hours a day. But you know what he has to do when he's done? Nothing. Goes home, showers, eats, maybe studies and goes to sleep.

Know what I do when I'm done?

Oh, wait....I'M NEVER DONE!

I'm sick and tired of wearing my big girl pants so I'm ripping those puppies off and I'm going to just wallow for a while. Maybe tomorrow, I'll tell you about how beautifully my eggplant is doing.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Dinner Menu

Tonight I made/used:

4 Spinach, onion, cremini mushroom enchiladas
2 chicken, onion & swiss enchiladas

I used:

6 El Milagro - Blancas corn tortillas (store bought from Dos Hermanos for .99...6 are probably .10 worth)
3/4 of an onion from the farm (free)
1/5 of the bunch of spinach (approximately .50 worth)
1/4 of the Chihuahua cheese (approximately $2 worth)
Leftover sliced swiss cheese (too hard for sandwiches)
Half a chicken breast from the freezer (at 2.39 per pound for free range organic chicken, we'll say I used $1 worth)
Salsa verde from the freezer that was left over from lunch at a restaurant last week (tee hee)
1/2 of the cremini mushrooms purchased today ($1 worth)
Sour cream from the fridge (not sure of the price, but we'll say we used $1 worth)

Dinner spending = less than $6 to feed 3 people (Claudia has a friend over for dinner).

There will also be strawberry shortcake for dessert with strawberries from the farm (FREE!), cakes that Bill bought somewhere and left for us when he went back to the farm ($2.99 for 4) and heavy whipping cream (who the heck knows).

I'm going to say less than $10 to feed 3 people and I predict we'll have leftovers. Stay tuned!


Grocery Challenge: Week 1

I know I said I'd start in July, but patience is not a strength. Points of note: Bill was not in on this grocery trip, therefore his food for the week is not included. A is also not around for a few weeks (she's off doing her summer thing), so theoretically, I should only be feeding Claudia & I this week. Also, there is no meat in this week's run as I bought a few whole chickens to cut up last week and I'll be using them this week.

** Pre-post-script: After writing this post, I had the distinct feeling that I'd hung my underwear out to dry on the front porch. I had no idea I would feel so vulnerable posting my grocery list -- good thing this isn't the "house cleaning" challenge!

From Whole Foods

Calder's Dairy Milk - 2 Half-gallon bottles (they only come in half-gallons) 2.99 each plus $1.25 bottle deposit
Yellow Tail Cabernet 7.99
Casillero del Diablo Carmieniere 9.99 (my favorite red wine, on sale)
365 Calcium-enriched Orange Juice 4.99
Organic dry bulk pinto beans 1.27
Goat cheese 4.95
Cheddar cheese 4.84
Corn muffin mix 2.50
Oatmeal muffin mix 2.50
Kashi Go Lean Crunch 3.69
4 cartons of Organic Stonyfield Yogurt @ .99 each
Chihuahua cheese 8.99 (YOWZA!)
Organic fresh spinach 2.49
.36 of a pound of organic cremini mushrooms 2.16
Organic bulk carrots .87
Bunch of fresh local kale 1.99
Bunch of fresh local asparagus 6.46
5 organic potatoes 4.04
1 yellow onion 1.57

Bridge Card Total: 69.23
Cash Total: 21.56
Total: 90.79

Now, to pick it apart:

Calder's Dairy Milk - I realize that each time I buy a gallon of milk, it's $8.50 out of pocket, but I'm willing to do this because 1) it's hormone & antibiotic free; 2) it's local; 3) I get bottle deposit money back each time. My kids drink a ton of milk -- about 2 gallons a week.

Wine - Yellow Tail is my standard "every day" wine. It had been being 5.99 at Meijer but recently they raised the price to 6.99. I paid 7.99 for the convenience because I wasn't going to Meijer on today's run but I could have saved a dollar here. $3 if both bottles of wine had been Yellow Tail from Meijer.

- I wish I could find another way to do this. Milk, water and OJ (and wine!) are the staple drinks in my house, and OJ is the one that I'm not satisfied with. I tried buying the frozen kind, but it ended up costing just as much because they added less water than recommended to make it "taste right". I despise the amount of waste that is inherent with this plastic carton, but at least it is recyclable. If anyone has any suggestions on a good OJ that comes in a glass bottle for a reasonable price, I'd love to hear it.

Cheese - I spent more on cheese than any other one thing this trip. And guess what? We will eat it. I only drink milk in cereal so cheese is my primary dairy. And I've never met a cheese I didn't like......except Processed American Cheese Food or anything that comes in a can.

Muffin Mixes - These things are so yummy and easy to make. But, I could make corn muffins out of corn meal and egg for a fraction of the cost.

Produce - I'm pretty sure dude charged me for an organic onion and it wasn't. Onions are actually on the 12 LEAST contaminated list so I don't bother with paying extra. I didn't realize how stinking cheap local kale is, so I need to work that in a couple times a week (kale chips, stir fry with soy sauce & honey, soup). Carrots too...eat more carrots. Asparagus was pretty pricey, but I'll get 2 meals out of it. Potatoes are a staple and go pretty far.

Pinto beans: This is for my attempt at making my own bean burritos rather than eating them from Taco Bell each day. I can also make burritos for the kids to eat during the day while I'm working (if there isn't something easy and quick, they'll eat anything that isn't nailed down claiming there was 'nothing to eat'). I have not yet decided whether to make the tortillas or buy them, though.

Overall, I am neither dissatisfied with the amount that I spent or the quality of food that I bought. I realize that I'll be supplementing quite a bit from the freezer this week -- and probably most weeks. Maybe I'll post what I actually MADE for dinner each night as well so that we can dive in to how well I'm making good use of the food I buy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

As I type, there is an almost empty jar of sauerkraut sitting beside me with a fork in it. I've been experimenting with how much of it I need to eat to take full advantage of the probiotics present in fermenting food, and I've pretty much decided I need to eat about 2 oz a day before it has the same impact that my $20 a month probiotics do. Good thing it's easy & cheap to make. I'm even getting used to the taste.


On another blog I read, they are talking about "The Food Stamp Challenge" - a project where people who are not on food assistance limit their food budgets to what they would receive if they were. I'm surprised to hear people say that they can't imagine limiting their food budget to what they'd get were they on assistance and that their children/families would hate them. When I got my Award Letter today and it said we were getting $418 a month, I actually spoke the words "How will we spend that much money on food every month?". So, even though I actually am on Food Assistance and the "rules" don't apply to me, I think I'll participate and log my food spending here.

Frankly, I still eat out way too often. I have a bean burrito from Taco Bell almost every day for lunch. Sure, it's only .89 but what would it cost me to make it at home? .20 maybe? I also get a Diet Coke every day which is $1 at McDonald's. I could buy a 6 pack a week and keep it at home, but I wonder if I would have the self-control to limit myself to one a day. The burrito, I'll try to work with, but I'll have to put some serious thought in to my caffeine addiction and whether I can be trusted with Diet Coke in the house.

So, here's my commitment for July:

- Once a week, I will log here all my spending (groceries and eating out)
- I'll also log free food that Bill brings home from the farm which is quickly being worked in to our food plan.
- I will limit myself to $10 a week for my daily DC (sometimes there are 2 a day) and any other "drive thru" stops

At the end of July, I'll evaluate how much I have spent, how healthy the choices were and where I can improve and make a new commitment for August.

Easy-peezy, right?
Bill brought home a lovely bunch of green onion from the farm. A lovely BIG bunch of green onion. Way more green onion that a person would use in a reasonable amount of time. I have the same problem with cilantro -- the bunches are so big that half of it goes bad before I use it. And I don't want dried cilantro, ya know?

I've read before about people storing herbs in ice cubes so I decided to give it a shot. I chopped each and put 2 TBSP in each cube-spot (what the heck is the correct term for that?). Filling the tray without blowing the contents out of the cubey-thing was the trickiest part and it took me a couple tries to figure out that the easiest method was to start with the empty spaces and "flood" the water slowly over to the spots that contained herbs. I had to poke a few wayward onions back in place, but overall - a cinch. We'll see how it holds up.

Here's how the process looked:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Time passes so quickly, doesn't it? I've been consumed with work and trip-readying the past several days so not much of interest has happened.

Except this text - which has exactly SQUAT to do with food or farming or sustainable living but made me laugh at how wonderfully insane my life is. Who else can say they've gotten a text like this?

"Did I ever tell you about the time a trick paid me with a counterfeit $20? Man, that was a bummer"

Go ahead. Raise your hand. No one? Didn't think so.

I find so much relief in the absurd things that have been a part of my life: Talking freely about the woes of being in the sex industry. My grandmother's ashes forever preserved in a Ziplock bag (upgraded from a Marlboro Red box). Having a designated "Vicki Wrangler" at my wedding in case my mother got out of hand.

Wondrous absurdity in the midst of the mundane.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I have totally mastered home made corn tortillas so I decided to branch out and made whole wheat tortillas from this recipe . While the tortillas themselves weren't as I expected, the dish I made with them was FABULOUS! I started off planning to make burritos from this recipe. Alas, my tortillas were not "burrito friendly" -- they were too stiff to fold in to burritos. So I made enchiladas instead....leftover chicken, half a slice of swiss cheese that was too hard to put on a sandwich & diced onion on the inside. I topped it with a can of stewed tomatoes mixed with a packaged salsa seasoning and shredded cheddar cheese. The result was OUTSTANDING! I can easily see making a vegetarian version of this with black beans & rice inside or just potatoes.

Thoughts on the tortilla recipe:

1) I used vegetable oil instead of shortening - a possible culprit in my tortillas not being flexible
2) The recipe made far more tortillas than I needed - probably 20. I'll halve the recipe next time.
3) The tortilla press doesn't make tortillas thin enough to suit me, so I rolled them with a rolling pin after the initial press to make them "burrito sized" and thinner.

Let me know if you try it and have any improvements.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A couple days a month, my energy completely bottoms out and I can barely stay upright - this is that time. It probably has something to do with my cycle, but I have yet to figure out where exactly in my cycle it occurs so that I can plan for it. I have napped every day since Wednesday (totaling 12 hours of sleep in each 24 hour period). Even after napping, getting motivated to move is difficult. YAWN.....

My Bridge Card came! About 1 week after applying for Food Assistance, I actually have it. I couldn't be more thrilled and immediately went to the market and spent about $70 on staples. Between produce that Bill brings home from the farm and getting Double Up Food Bucks at the Downtown Ypsilanti Farmer's Market, my vision of feeding my family fresh, local, nutritious food shouldn't have to be canned due to financial concerns. For all the bad experiences that people have with the Department of Human Services, I have to say this process was easy-peezy with the exception of their website crashing on me several times during my application.

As summer kicks in, I will look for seasonal stuff that I can put up to use the 8 months of the year when living in Michigan means nothing is green. Last year, I put up a little corn, carrots & green beans but not NEARLY enough for us to subsist off it. This year, my goal will be to buy nothing frozen or from South America that actually grows here. I haven't quite reached the point of swearing off bananas and avocado so I can't call myself a Locavore in the truest sense. As with most things in my life, I take the middle road ;)

On a very happy note, work has exploded! I've booked about 8 new classes in the past week in addition to what was already booked putting me at about 3 a month through the end of the year. Another big project is also kicking off that will fill in quite a lot of the remaining time. I'll be in Detroit quite a lot over the next several months, but it'll all be quite worth it to be able to relax a little about being able to cover basic necessities. I hope to pay off my car ( I owe less than $2k on it) very soon and between that debt being gone and the resulting insurance decrease, you'll hear a huge sigh of relief.

Dare I say it? I feel.....happy!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

I think I live a self-imposed sheltered life. I know there are people in the world who approach life differently than I do. I just don't know many of them. And I think that's on purpose. I realized today that I have severely limited my social circles to people that think as I do. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of people to debate with over a beer. But even those Master Debaters operate within the same wide boundaries that I do. There aren't many (any?) in my inner circle who would take drastically different positions that I do on most issues. And I'm not sure that's a good thing.

Granted, I do have people in my life that I've known and loved forever that are VERY different. But we have (for the most part) figured out how to peacefully co-exist without incident. And of course, there are biological family members that span the spectrum - landing mostly in places far from where I do.

But those who are not already "in" aren't likely to get in. Maybe it is that as I've grown older, I've become less tolerant. Maybe I don't think those folks have anything to teach me. I've noticed that rather than seeing "learning moments" in those instances when it becomes clear that someone operates in a different space that I do, I shut down, turn off and hit "delete", never again to hear anything they have to say. Or if I do hear it, I take it with a grain of salt.

There are just some things that are not worth debating for me any more. Religion, for example. I've thought it through, refined my thinking. Researched. Read. Reread. I've asked people how they came to believe what they do and really listened to their ideas. And I'm pretty sure that there isn't anything that anyone could say that would change my point of view. I'm always interested in learning more about people's religious beliefs & customs, but new information no longer goes through my "Does this work for me?" filters. I would be willing to debate politics if I could find someone on another side of an issue that I felt had a solid argument to debate. Unfortunately, those who have a sound argument are usually on my side of the issue (sometimes data will do that).

Perhaps I need to invite some new thinking in to my life. Or, not.......

Monday, June 6, 2011


I had a little bit of a whiney day yesterday. On top of getting a text from Bill that we were overdrawn at the bank, the dishwasher died. I wish I'd had the grace to put it in perspective, but yesterday just wasn't my day. Hey, I'm entitled to a temper tantrum once in a while!

In researching ways to make better use of our resources, I've happened across many blogs written by women who are moving in the same direction I am. They all make it look so easy - like sunshine & roses. They all seem so graceful and committed as they hang their clothes on the line and bake bread. Never once do you hear anyone write about secretly wanting to put a massage on the credit card. Maybe they are more zen than I am. Maybe they made the move more out of desire than necessity. All I know is that most days for me include at least one freak out spell where I'm teetering between hitting Careerbuilder to look for a job and telling Bill to screw the farm, he has to come home. And yelling at my kids for being wasteful little twerps is usually in there somewhere.

Meanwhile, back on the farm......

Well, no soap making happened. I was too deeply involved in ranting yesterday to do much productive. The lower level of the house is CLEAN and the second level is on its way. PROGRESS!

We are supposed to be going to S. Ohio this weekend to look at the farm. I'm kind of "eh" about it, frankly. On the one hand, I've had some great fantasies about building an intentional community there (instead of a B&B where I would have to be attentive to people -- YUK!) surrounded by people I love drinking wine, keeping bees, goats & chickens, veggies growing, a huge state park right next to the property. Room for the doggies to run. Ahhh. Then I remember that it's in SOUTHERN OHIO...too far from A's school & where my existing client base is.

This week's goals:

- Remind myself as often as needed that this is a choice made by carefully weighing my priorities. Being available to guide A through her healing and being a better citizen of the planet are guiding my decisions. I am in a position of power.

- Take down the yukky shower curtain and clean it. (This time last year, I would have tossed it and bought a new one @ BB&B)

- Build a chart to help the kids be aware of what we're spending on a daily basis including suggestions for how we can save or make $$.

- Finish the Food Assistance application stuff.

- Weed the raised bed and try to figure out what the hell I planted in there.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

I had a very grown up conversation with my kids this morning. It wasn't about sex. Not about their school work. It was about money. We have, for the most part, protected the children from the realities of our finances. They knew that when I left ECA and went to work for myself that we would have to tighten things up a bit, but frankly, I can't think of a single time when they had to do without (I"m sure their teenage priorities would interpret things differently). When Bill lost his job, we had another "come to Jesus" meeting with them about money, but they haven't felt the impact much. Today, I had to tell them we are out of money.

Up until now, this whole simplicity, sustainability thing has been largely theoretical. We've been bopping along at a slow pace, making changes in our spending & living habits, for sure, but nothing that has really felt like sacrifice. And it's always felt like we could go back if we wanted to. This is the place where the rubber meets the road. This is the place where my commitment is tested. This is a turning point -- will I forge ahead and figure it out or will I cave and go back to "that other life" we had before?

This is going to be quite a transition for the kids, so I'm hoping that involving them in the process of working it out will help them feel more in control. I assured them that we will be neither hungry nor homeless. Everything above that isn't guaranteed. I'm thinking about kids during the depression. Parents during the depression. It's one thing if you're born in to it, but quite another thing to go from a relatively wealthy happy-go-lucky childhood to being on food stamps.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Today was the annual neighborhood yard sale and I"m proud to say I only spent .50! And the purchase was a hand-made pottery bowl -- TOTALLY worth it. To be honest, I also bought a food dehydrator from a friend that was technically going to be sold in the yard sale, but that transaction took place outside the parameters of the yard sale, so it doesn't count. My first dehydration project will be the Lion's Mane & Oyster mushrooms, but I'm sure over the summer I'll have tons more to dry. Kale chips, anyone?

Walking around the neighborhood today, there were a couple of times when I stopped to ponder whether I had the MASSIVE amounts of stuff that these people seemed to have. One family had at least 10 dining room chairs for sale. How do you have that many chairs to sell and still have enough to seat your family? Then there was card table after card table of .... junk. Crap. Shit. I don't think I have MUCH of that kind of thing. I don't really do knick-knacks or anything, really, that isn't functional. Very few things in my house don't serve a purpose. Which makes my mantra of "If I don't use it or love it, it goes" quite a bit easier to comply with.

I've got about 4 boxes of kitchen stuff that I'll be taking to a newly single woman a few towns over tomorrow. I am even parting with one of the sets of Pyrex mixing bowls (yes, just ONE of the sets). It's taken me 6 years to be willing to part with them because, frankly there are few things in life I love more than Pyrex. Melamine is a close second, but isn't quite as functional. If it's the Amish Farmer pattern, I'm positively in love. Sad, I know. Especially since up until a year ago, I didn't really cook at all.

The Amish Farmer has a history with me: It's the pattern my grandmother had. We have never been a big family for passing things down, but I ended up with one. Recently, I started to notice them everywhere I go and decided that it would be fun to build a full collection around that bowl and then pass them on to my girls. I've gotten a few more bowls at the Thrift Store and commitments from family members to get theirs when they are done with them (you heard that, Peg!). One friend happened to have a couple that she was willing to part with. I know that MY grandmother didn't use them, but SOMEONE'S grandmother did!


The house has really gotten away from me since Bill has been staying at the farm full time. I just got the yard cut for the first time last week. There was enough dog hair in the corners of my house that I'm surprised Maxx & Ezra aren't bald. Laundry is never completely done. I know it's silly and no one really cares but it bothers me for people to come in my house when it's messy. It also impacts my frame of mind. Not that I am very good at relaxing at all, but I really can't relax if the house is dirty. Hopefully getting rid of some of the extra stuff will help.


I applied for Food Assistance (formerly known as "food stamps"). The process was WAY easier than I remember it being. I did the application online and got a call from a worker the next day for a phone interview. I have a few verifying documents to send it and then we'll know if we qualify for anything. Yes, it feels weird. I know there are so many other folks who are worse off than we are. Hopefully, we will work out way out of qualifying for anything within a year but in the meantime, I'm going to take advantage of the help to ensure we are able to continue to eat FOOD rather than food-like substances.

Which moves us to food & farming stuff.........

I got a nice bag of goodies from the farm on Thursday....some mushrooms (to add to my collection), kale, a few onions, leeks, bok choi. I started a new crock of Kim Chi today with the bok choi and leeks (added carrots, ginger, garlic & red pepper). This time I left the chunks big since I was recently told that "people expect big chunks" rather than the shredded version I did last time. I'm experimenting with how much fermented food I have to eat before I can lay off the probiotics, but I haven't found the magic number yet.

Made some buttermilk dill salad dressing with the last of the buttermilk. Stuck the eggplant plants in some dirt. Tomorrow's plan is to dive in to soap making. ..I've put it off long enough. I'm down to 2 bars of commercially produced soap and I hope to not have to buy any more. Tallow, shea butter & coconut oil are the basic ingredients. I found some nice molds that will make the bars pretty, but let's hope they don't smell like rancid meat.

I'm toying with an idea I read in this blog: I'd like to get rid of our garbage cans and replace them with bins for recycling & compost. We do reasonably well with both but every week when I take down 2 garbage tanks to go to the landfill, I wonder how much of it should have gone to one of the tanks. I would guess 50%. I'm not sure how do do the bathroom garbage -- maybe I"ll start with the kitchen?

Speaking of compost, the counter top compost crock that I bought is too small. It's going to the above-mentioned person who is getting my extra crap...er, useful kitchen ware. It will be replaced with a plastic bucket that has a larger capacity and allows more air flow to cut down on the slimy, smelly anaerobic process that happens with the fancy-schmancy crock from Bed, Bath &Beyond. The bin doesn't look as pretty on my counter, but since I'm committed (COMMITTED, you hear me?) to severely limiting anything new coming in to this house, it'll have to do. Frankly, I think it will work better than the current plan.

Still managing to hold my anxiety about moving at bay. Today I was working in the yard and had a fleeting moment of melancholy. I like our yard (when it's mowed!). I love this house. I wish we could afford to stay here, frankly. But we would both have to go back to work in ECA to do that and this is just not something we are willing to do. There's a cute little place out there with enough room to grow some yummy stuff, have some chickens & goats. Close enough for A to stay in her current school & me to stay connected with the people I've come to love. And without having to sell our souls, right?

Please, god, tell me that's right.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Here's my new favorite slogan.

"Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without"

I wonder how this will go over with my teenagers?


I've hit the point where I am *ready* to move. Patience is not my strong point, and I'm ready to make this transition. Of course, all logic tells me that moving now doesn't make sense. Still.....

So I've decided to focus on getting READY to move. I've been cleaning out cupboards & drawers and putting tons of stuff on Freecycle and I'm reasonably pleased with the results. We have WAY too much stuff and I'm glad to rid myself of it. It's funny to me how I spent so many years of my life with the objective of having more stuff. Now I've reached a point where I want it all to go away. Anything that doesn't add value to my life and support my priorities is going. With few exceptions*, it's easy to tell the difference.

*Potential Exceptions:

The 55 gallon aquarium. I do love cichlids and have been keeping them on and off for over 10 years. But the aquarium takes up a lot of space. Bill has always been the maintenance guy and his time is scarce these days. We could probably get a little cash from it, so I'm thinking it needs to go ahead and go.

The antique dining room suite. It's a table that seats 8 with the leaf, a buffet and china cabinet. It's the only thing we bought when we moved to Michigan and I love it. It's held up reasonably well through kids and animals. BUT...it's big. Again, probably worth some $ if we sold it. I'm undecided on this one.

The 60" TV & sound system. I could sell it right now and not think twice about it. Unfortunately there are other folks in my family who are quite attached to it. It's great for video games (especially the Wii Fit games) and I have to admit that watching a great movie on it ROCKS. And I do those things fewer than once a month. Others do it more often, so I'll defer this one to the people who care.

Books. Oh, the joy of books! I love to be surrounded by books! And......I've got way too many and need to let some of them go. My goal is to cut my collection by half. This will be hard.

Meanwhile, back on the farm........

It's been the wettest spring in SE Michigan history so much has gone undone. My eggplant seedlings aren't in the ground yet and my oyster mushrooms aren't done. Sprouts in the raised bed are coming in and BOY do I wish I had documented what I put where! A few more weeks should help me identify what's there - details, details.

The Lion's Mane mushrooms are ROCKING but there's a problem. The humidity tent is impacting growth. I took it off and the mushrooms are drying out. Maybe I should put them outside? The fruit is supposed to taste like lobster when you cook it in butter, so I'm really excited to keep it going until I've got enough to do some sort of creamy pasta with it.

I'm going to visit Bill at the REAL farm tonight, so stay tuned for pictures of piggies, chickens and green, growing things!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Today I did the kind of things I usually do. Worked a little. Went to the market, made a big ol' salad for dinner, tried my hand at home made ranch dressing. Roasted up the asparagus and cauliflower that were getting yukky. Put a bunch of stuff on Freecycle.

Then, I got a call from a head hunter.

Which naturally has me wondering if I would ever really go back to work in Evil Corporate America (heretofore known as ECA). I can definitely see the positive results of my change to being self employed in my family. I'm here 95% of the time when the girls get home from school. My stress level is a sliver of what it was. My family is eating healthy meals and my cooking repertoire is expanding. I get to volunteer in my community. I get to take my dogs to the park. My fuel costs are minimal. Many of those things are pretty high on my list of priorities. Hard to walk away from.

Then we have the things that WOULD improve if I went back to ECA. We would have health insurance. We could ensure A's continued attendance at her private school (which has been a HUGE positive step for her and has drastically improved the family dynamic). We would have a verifiable income to work with when buying our farm, as well as capital for equipment. If I worked for 3 years and we kept to a strict budget, we'd be in a much different place than we are now with essentially nothing but a dream and a prayer to keep us going.

Under what circumstances would I consider it?

If I were able to work from home? And made enough $$ to pay someone to cover the kids if I had to travel? If they gave me a signing bonus that would cover the $30k needed to buy the farm that I love?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

My dog Ezra has wobbly hips. I didn't notice it much until Maxx came. Now, seeing them walk side by side, I can tell that Maxx's gait is as true as North. Ezra on the other hand swishes back and forth from mid-torso to tail. It doesn't bother him or impair him at all. As he ages, though, my guess is that he'll begin to feel pain a little earlier than most German Shepherds. He'll get stiff - getting up and down will become difficult. Someone suggested I put him down now and cut my losses. But seeing him run in the woods, swim in the lake and wrestle with his brother, I have no doubt that he finds joy in every day. He doesn't know that one day he'll be stiff and achy. Or maybe he does. Either way, he lives each moment as if there is no tomorrow. Whatever comes, this moment is his.

I want to live my life that way.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Quick post as I'm almost out of battery:

I love the picture that is now in the header of this blog. I took it in Michigan's Upper Peninsula last summer while looking for a place to call home for the next chapter of our lives. This was before most of the events that have landed us where we are today took place. It was a beautiful morning and the girls and I had breakfast on the beach. I'm pretty sure that there will never be any other place that impacts me emotionally in the same way this area does. Some of my most intense moments of joy have happened there. And some of my most intense moments of pain. Without a doubt, it's special.


We are on the ball this summer with much going on. Everything is in the ground that needs to be. Oyster Mushroom logs are inoculated, Lion's Mane mushrooms are growing in my kitchen, rosemary & thyme are outside rather than in. The very last thing that needs to go in the ground are the eggplant seedlings I bought at the Farmer's Market week before last. I left town for a visit to Memphis without planing them and may have screwed the pooch.

Most exciting is that Bill and I are going to visit a potential farm in Southern Ohio June 11th. Other than being in Southern Ohio, it has everything we are looking for in a property including creative financing. Keep your fingers crossed.

Tallow soap is scheduled to happen this weekend. More finger crossing, please. I'll be doing it with coconut oil and shea butter to cut the tallow. Rosemary & Spearmint essential oils will round out the recipe. I'm psyched.


Trips to Memphis make my head spin. I'm always so glad to go and so glad to get home. This time, my sister came back with me so it'll be interesting to see how long it takes me to get back in my routine here. She's a spastic house cleaner, so I'm hoping to channel some of that to help me get on top of my housework. Lots of talk about family issues. Dope, sex, etc. Lots of love, too.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Tallow Soap, Part 2

Here are a few pictures of the tallow rendering process. Not pretty. Uh-uh.

I started with a pot of beef fat, then ran it through the grinder (you get more fat out and it's much quicker this way). The last pic is all that I ended up throwing away out of about 24# of beef fat.

And, apparently, I'm going to be making my own lye as well. Seems that lye has been taken off shelves because it's used to make Crystal Meth. Hrmph. I'll be making my lye contraption thingy tomorrow.
Disclaimer: Everything I'm writing here is my opinion and is worth exactly that. Not everyone will agree and luckily, there is room in the world for more than one opinion. I am writing this to clarify my thoughts - not for debate. I will never tell you that my way is "The Right Way", only that it works for me.

Yesterday on Facebook, I posted a poll about whether or not it was okay to use genetically modified food to solve food shortage issues and it sparked a debate between a couple friends of mine. The debate dovetails nicely in to a discussion Biscodo and I had several nights ago about why conventional farmers and organic farmers will likely never peacefully coexist. I've been pondering why exactly I hold the opinions that I hold and, surprisingly, the answer is somewhat of a mystic one. I believe that Mother Nature knows best and that food is better for you the less human intervention it has had. The other part of my answer is more scientific: Human beings evolved because of a delicate balance of (among other things) food sources. If we start playing with the genetics of those foods, we are doing ourselves (as a human race) no favors.

I also believe that all species are better off eating a species-appropriate diet (thus why I spend hours every week working on meat for my pet carnivores). Growing cows and feeding corn because it's cheap & plentiful (and government subsidized) is wrong, as is the administration of the antibiotics they must be prescribed to account for the diet's complications & insufficiencies. Cows that have been fed a diet that their bodies are not designed to handle and that have been shot full of antibiotics cannot possibly be as healthy for human consumption as those that live otherwise. I don't like what antibiotics do to my body when I need them for illness, I damn sure don't want to get them vicariously through my food.

I understand that "Popular Media" has probably been unfair to conventional farmers and painted them all as monsters undeservingly. There are probably way more conventional farmers whose animals are not lying in their own feces than conversely. I understand that many, many families & communities rely on conventional farming methods for their livelihood and I do not begrudge them their living. I try to buy organic from the "Dirty Dozen" list, and otherwise if it's available and cost effective. I will probably always rely on conventional farmers for some of my food and I'm glad they are there.

Most of all, I think we are better off for having this conversation.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I am somewhat known for being a person who will try anything. It comes with the territory of being someone who bores quickly of a routine and is energized by something novel. Sometimes it gets me in big trouble (ask me about my stint in Leavenworth, for example) but most often, the biggest problem is that I get in to something without fully understanding what I'm getting in to.

Thus, the story of how my house came to smell like a petting zoo.

I love Alpaca. I fell in love with them at the Flagstaff, AZ Fair in the late '90s. Their long eyelashes look like a cartoon character. Their fleece is soft and comes in beautiful colors. Over the years, I've dreamed of owning Alpaca from time to time to shear and sell wool to those folks who enjoy the fiber arts. So obviously, when I saw a Freecycle ad for "Alpaca Fiber", I jumped on it! What a great opportunity for me to play with no/little financial investment.

Problem #1:

The fleece had been sitting in a bag on the Freecycler's front porch overnight. SE Michigan has felt more like Portland, OR for the past few weeks so the fleece got wet. Consulting with folks who know this kind of thing led me to the conclusion that the fleece could not live in this plastic bag until I was ready to work with it, lest it become mildewed. OK,then. I'll take care of that.

Problem #2:

"Seconds and Thirds". Ever heard of that? Turns out, that's what my fiber was. The Alpaca Farmers, naturally, sold the "Firsts" or the blanket that came from the Alpaca's back. Second and third cuts are the neck, legs and belly. Less desirable fleece, in fact, possibly not even good for making yarn. Eh, okay. I'll do a felting project.

Problem #3:

Sheep fleece is coated in lanolin. Alpaca fleece is not. Instead, to coat their fleece, they roll in the dirt. And rocks. And hay. And poo. And, apparently, rotten fruit. Consultation with the Fiber Dieties said if you've got a top-loading washing machine, that's the easiest way to wash it. I do, so I did. 5 times, actually, before the water started to clear up. It's still full of sticks and seeds that will come out when I pick it.

As I type, there's about 4 Alpaca worth of Seconds and Thirds drying in my basement.

I figure I'll take it a chunk at a time and hand pick it. Should be awesome, mindless activity.

Even if I'm not able to produce anything useful with it, I still think it's going to be a great learning experience. For when I get my own Alpaca, you know ;)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Yesterday, I went to the Zen Temple for the first time. About a year ago (or more), I started studying Buddhism but this was my first time in a community of Buddhists. I was a little nervous because my only context for spiritual gathering was the Christian tradition and I was afraid I would inadvertently do something offensive. The friend who took me kept telling me, "It's zen, whatever you do is probably the right thing". But my Western mind-set kept me on alert. Procedurally, it was a lot like church, frankly. Meditate, chant, stretch (okay, that part wasn't like church), meditate, stand up, chant, sit down, listen to the teaching, meditate, responsive reading, announcements, leave.

Indeed, I spent the rest of the day quite grounded. A nice feeling when the world is swirling around me.

I was reading over my post from a few days ago and something struck me. While it's true that I am energized by possibilities, I am sometimes paralyzed by uncertainty. Maybe terrified is a better term. My tendency when something is awry is to fix it. I don't suffer well. When something in my life isn't settled, I settle it. Not always in the most healthy or productive way, but at least it's settled and I know what I'm dealing with and can move on from there. It is very unlike me to just "let things unfold", even though I'm sure that is a lesson I should learn. Theoretically, it sounds nice to "observe life unfolding before you", doesn't it? I'm sure it is a virtue, though not one I possess. Having successfully navigated many obstacles in my life, there isn't much that I can't handle once I know what it is. Once identified, I can make plans, sacrifices, whatever to make it work. While it remains unknown, I can't do anything. Except ruminate.

When I'm particularly stressed, I have dreams that I'm homeless. I have for years. Deep down inside, there is a part of me that fears having no safe place to retreat to. There were years and years of my life when that was true -- even "home" wasn't safe. Strangers felt more safe to me than the people I lived with. For at least the past 10 years, my home has been my haven. My physical and emotional safe place. My holy ground.

And I don't know where my home will be a year from now. And there's not a thing I can do to fix it.

It's not about the physical structure my home is in. This is a wonderful house. It's been great to us for the past 5 years. I love its hard wood and natural light. I will have fond memories of it. But I know that walking away from it (and its $3000/mo mortgage) is the right thing to do. A building isn't worth what we'd have to give up to stay in it. A building doesn't make a home. We will create a home in another structure.

More, it's about knowing that I"m losing something and not knowing what will be in its place. Will it be an apartment? A farm? A rental house in the middle of a city? I can handle any of those (at least for a short time in pursuit of a longer-term goal) if I only knew which one I had to handle.

There is a property that I've been looking at for a while now. I've looked at a few, but this one has grabbed & kept my attention. It's 23.5 acres with a nice barn, a chicken coop and a few other outbuildings. There's room for animals (goats? horses?), places to farm (both for the family and commercially if we wanted), a creek running through it and a rolling pasture that would be a great place to plant apple trees, nuts and berries. The house is a DUMP in the truest sense of the word and would need to taken down to studs and rebuilt, but when I look out the back, the sight I see is something I can imagine seeing every morning. I want to live here. And, it's affordable (close to a third of where we currently are). Except for the fact that farm loans only finance at 80%, so I'd have to have somewhere around $25k to make it happen. $35k if I wanted to do a construction loan and include rehabbing the house in the deal. When I started looking, I was thinking $10k. A stretch, but doable. $35k, not exactly doable in any short period of time. They aren't interested in a land contract, either.

So, I struggle to watch the world unfold before me and live in this moment and not the one I wish I was in. The one where I knew that my safe space would be there for me. And I knew that it would be a life-affirming space and not a life-sucking space.

Meanwhile, back on the farm.....

PIGGIES! Lily went in to labor yesterday and delivered one little piggy before midnight who has apparently been named "Easter". I can't help but think her middle name should be "Ham". As of early this morning, there were 2 little piggies and 10 is supposed to be the magic number (or thereabouts). Lily is going to have a long day.

Friday, April 22, 2011

WARNING: I'm 2 glasses of wine in to the evening. Which could mean this is a really GOOD post. Or, it could mean it's an unfocused rant. I DARE you to read on and find out.


Bill has farm duty this weekend so he won't be home. Earlier today, I was ready to call "uncle". Seriously, ready to call the whole freakin' thing off and tell Bill I can't do this anymore and he has to come home. The morning was pretty good, actually. I got blood drawn for my annual physical. Got my hair cut. Had a massage. One would think that things couldn't go wrong from there, huh? Last stop was the grocery so before I went, I called home (the kids were out of school today) to see if they wanted me to bring home pizza for lunch. I asked them to get their housework done, please. 2 hours later I showed up and nothing was done. AND one of the kids thought it'd be fun to catch a tea bag on fire while I was gone.

I think it was exacerbated by the fact that earlier in the week, I had a really long day and when I returned, there were sticky notes pointing out all the places that the dogs had peed. Apparently rather than letting the dogs out, it was more fun to just watch them pee in the floor and make snarky notes so that I could clean it up when I got home at 8pm.

I know that my kids are 13 and that the whole idea of what it takes to run a household is lost on them. But I feel like I'm raising selfish parasites who not only can't pick up after themselves, they can't do anything meaningful to contribute to the running of the house. I can't even go run errands, much less do anything for myself without worrying that they are burning the house down. And these are the same kids who want to talk to me and in front of my like they are grown. Want/expect me to drive them wherever they want to go. Provide "entertainment" for them when they're bored. This is my most UNFAVORITE part of raising children. I've been parenting hands-on, full time for 27 years and I'm tired. When I was a kid, I had a friend who was a "menopause baby". By the time she came along, her parents were old and tired. She got away with all kinds of crap that her 3 older sisters wouldn't have ever dreamed of doing. Her parents just said "whatever" and went to bed. That's about where I am.

Chances are that when we move, wherever we live will be 1/3 the size of where we live now. I'm seriously concerned about how we'll not kill each other, especially during the winter when no one will go outside (except for Bill). 2 adults, 2 teenagers, 2 70# dogs and 4 old, crochety cats.

Meanwhile, back on the farm.......

- I finally found eggplant seeds! 2 different kinds, in fact. Technically, it's spring but Mother Nature hasn't gotten the memo. Today there was sleet & rain.

- I found the book "Wild Fermentation" at Crazy WIsdom today. It has lots of info on bread, cheese, yogurt, miso, etc.....all the great fermented things.

- Rebrined the sauerkraut & kimchi today. Sauerkraut is getting there. I'd say two more weeks on the counter and I'll be ready to put it in the fridge.

- I've got 10# of tallow for soap, but I can't find the stinkin' lye! I was excited today when the chick at Lowe's told me it was on Aisle 4 but when I got there, it was Lime. I bought a few essential oils and some molds. Just lye and I'll be ready to make-a da soap.

- Tomorrow, I'm going to a class on Shiitake mushrooms. Last year, I did Oysters and they turned out great. If I have 2 kinds of mushrooms going this year, I'll be in heaven.....Fungus fan that I am


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Today, I'm going up to MSU to lead a Strengths* workshop with the folks in the Organic Farmer Training Program - my two worlds collide! I'm totally geeked to be working with farmers and I can't wait to see how the experience differs from working with Corporate America clients. Maybe it won't be different at all. Or it could be something I'm totally unprepared for. Oh, the possibilities! I'll also be doing a meat pick up on the way, so as I teach, there will be about 100# of meat rotting in my car. Lovely visual, huh?

Speaking of Strengths, I frequently use Bill as an "example" when I teach classes because he and I are so different that it provides a great analogy for how 2 people can have the same goal but go about it in very different ways and still produce outstanding results. One of the common stories I tell is this:

3 of the Talents in my Top 5 are Connectedness, Input and Ideation and I would like to believe that I have developed these Talents in to Strengths. You can pretty much always count on me to gather information and have ideas about it, even on subjects I don't know a lot about. My brain is always engaged and I see possibilities and pop off ideas at break-neck speed. All my ideas are not viable, but that's work for someone else. I have ideas and can develop them pretty fully. I do it almost effortlessly and almost flawlessly. It's "what I do".

Bill, on the other hand, has Deliberative and Analytical in his Top 5. This means that he is uniquely wired to tell me why my great ideas won't work. His brain works best by noticing roadblocks and potential risks. He is a perfect example of a "glass half empty" person who naturally notices what's missing, out of order or out of synch.

One would think that we would drive each other insane, right? They'd be correct. We do. But we also know this about ourselves. I am at my best when I'm in the world of possibilities and ideas. There's almost no stopping me. Bill is at his best when he's qualifying information. Once he's vetted an idea, you can be pretty sure that all your contingencies are accounted for.

Which brings us to ....


Bill mentioned that part of his Individual Learning Plan at the farm was to develop a software application to support organic farmers. Doing what I do, my brain started to noodle. Before long, I had (if I must say so myself) a BRILLIANT idea that would not only work for his project, but potentially be marketable on a large scale to farmers who are interested in becoming certified organic or using organic farming practices on their farm. I threw it out a couple times, but Bill didn't bite. To be fair, he's doing physical labor all day and working to graduate "with highest honors" (did I mention Achiever is also in his Top 5?). I tucked it away...planned to bring it up later.

Earlier this week I had a visit from a friend and "the project" came up. We talked maybe 10 minutes about it, but for some reason, my brain re-engaged. I woke up several times that night with new ideas. I spent 6 hours writing a Business Plan the next day to pitch to investors. Like that player who can't miss a shot, every word I wrote was gold, everything fell in to place and the product was something I was proud of and excited about.

Now, the Business Plan is with Eeyore, I mean, uh....Bill. His job over the next couple weeks it to qualify it, identify what's missing, the potential road blocks and put some estimates together for how long it would take to build. My job during this time is to keep my enthusiasm up. While it may seem like nothing is happening to me, there's a LOT going on in Bill's head and it's valuable stuff that we will fail without. The Business Plan will be solid as gold when it comes back to me.

Self-assurance is another one of my Talent themes. I'm pretty sure that there isn't much that I can't do if I want to and invest the time & energy. I'm confident in my own abilities. I rock. However, not all projects feel like this one does. This one feels like the moon & stars are aligned. I have no idea where the money will come from, but I know it will come. I believe in this so much, I'm willing to "bet the farm" on it. And if we fail....well, at least we failed doing something meaningful.

* Strengthsfinder 2.0 is a validated instrument that measures your natural talents and ways of approaching problem solving. There is a huge body of work built around how to develop your Talents in to Strengths and use them planfully in your day to day life. This body of work is the basis for about half of the work that I do and it is, by far, my favorite subject to talk about.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Lactofermentation: AKA "I don't really like sauerkraut"

Bill & I attended a skill share with some of the folks from the MSU Organic Farming Training Program to learn about lactofermentation. Since I spend about $20 a month on probiotics to keep my gut in check, the idea of being able to do that naturally (and more cheaply!) really appealed to me. Problem is, I don't really like sauerkraut.

The process is crazy-easy. Shred whatever veggies you're going to use and "massage" them with salt to get the juices flowing. Then, pack down in your container until the brine covers the veggies. Put it on your counter. Wait. Wait some more. Taste. Wait a little longer. Viola! You've got kraut.

Ok, there's slightly more to it than that. I've got instructions if you're interested.

Bill and I did 3 different projects: Regular sauerkraut, hot sauerkraut and gingered carrots. At the first tasting after 3 days, everything was definitely still too salty but I was starting to get the flavor. The longer we can wait to eat it, the more lactobacilli will have formed (ie, the good stuff) and the more "kraut-like" it will taste.

Next, I'm going to take a shot at kimchi, which I actually DO like!

Tallow Soap, Part 1

My dogs eat a raw diet using the Whole Prey Model which basically means that over time, they eat all/most parts of the animal. Roughly 80% muscle meat, gristle, connective tissue, etc. 10% organ and 10% edible bone (don't worry - the danger of bones splintering only applies to COOKED bones. Raw bones are pliable and completely digestible). Recently, I connected with a local meat processor to get his butcher scraps and started a small co-op with other raw feeders. Basically I buy the scraps, cut off the fat and package them in 5# bags. I make enough off of this venture to cover my costs and feed my dogs for free. Processing takes about 2 hours of my time a week and though my kitchen looks a little "Hannibal Lecter" I actually enjoy it. Here's the thing: I ended up with about 60# of beef fat (suet) from a couple weeks of processing. I was intent on finding something useful to do with it so that I could make use of as much of the animal as possible. A little Googling turned up rendering tallow for soap.

Step 1: Grind the suet. I tried it both ways and grinding definitely yields more tallow and less waste.
Step 2: Boil it with a little salt. Scoop the nasty brown stuff off the top as is cooks.
Step 3: Strain it in to another container to get out pieces of meat, gristle, etc.
Step 4: Let it cool until the fat rises to the top and water & impurities sink to the bottom.
Step 5: Cut the "clean" fat off the top and discard the water
Step 6: Package tallow in zip lock bags and store in the freezer for up to a year.

Total time spent on this project = 6 hours

I have no doubt that women entering the workforce was a VACATION compared to what they were used to doing during the day.

The process was disgusting and time consuming, but tallow soap is supposed to be amazing. Believe it or not, the actual soapmaking process is supposed to be the hard part. I have to admit after playing in the fat & gristle for a couple days, it'll be a while before I'm ready to undertake it. I'll keep you posted. Next time, pictures, I promise (I know you're dying to see!)


Thursday, April 14, 2011

When Bill was an IT Developer, he had a saying that he used with clients - "Cheap, fast or good. Pick two." You can't have all three in the same product - something has to give. If you need it quickly and don't have a lot of money to spend, the quality won't be there. Want it tomorrow and it has to be high-quality? No problem. But it'll cost you. You get the picture.

My friend Barbara said something yesterday (as she often does) that really got me thinking. You can apply those same principles to food. (In this case, we'll define "good" as food with high nutritional value). If you want fast, cheap food: McDonald's or any number of fast food restaurants are on every street corner it seems and everyone has a .99 menu these days. If you want good food fast, you can go to Whole Foods. Good food cheap? Grow it yourself. Buy seasonally and preserve. Shop the farmer's market. Even chain supermarkets have decent deals on organic produce and pastured meats, but you have to search them out, wait for the sales, etc.

My two big thoughts about this:

1) When Bill and I were pulling down $200k a year, we hit Whole Foods without blinking an eye and filled the cart to the brim. If the spinach got wilted before we used it, I'd toss it in the compost crock. Sometimes we'd have an idea of what we were shopping for, but mostly, we'd go in and get whatever appealed to us that day. It was not at all uncommon for us to spend $300 a week on groceries. We both worked full time jobs. For a large chunk of that, I was in Grad School. The resource that was scarcest was time (or so it seemed).

Our lives are now organized in a different way. Since we got off the hamster wheel, the resource that we have to manage around is money. I have more time to shop around for deals. This year we will be growing more of our own food than ever before between our back yard crops and Bill's plots at the farm. I'll put up sweet corn when it's in season and 10 ears for $1. When the spinach goes limp, I'll toss it in to soup or pasta.

For us, changing the dynamic was a choice. Both of us wanted to slow our lives down, live more simply. We are both educated, skilled people who could, if we chose to, step back on that hamster wheel and before too long, we'd likely be back to earning the "big bucks" (though I suspect the longer we're out of Corporate America, the less true that will be). The point is, even though our household income is about 25% of what it was a year ago, we have a safety net that not everyone has.

2) For some people, the "pick two" choice has been made for them because paying more for food is not an option. And because we've bred convenience in to American DNA, people will likely opt for cheap and fast rather than cheap and good because, after all, you deserve it! You work hard! You don't want to spend so much time finding and preparing food! This is AMERICA for God's sake! Here's a meal that will feed your entire family in 30 minutes for $10. Processed food is cheap but devoid of any nutrients. They heap in the sugar and salt to make it taste like something, but it still is about the same to your body as eating cardboard. Your belly is full, but your body is starving. And I'm not just talking about people who are on Food Assistance here. This is your "Average American Family" food plan. Which leads to obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol. Which leads to astronomical health care costs. Which leads to more poverty. Which leads to crime, drug abuse and child neglect. Which leads to a national crisis.

I wonder.......

Food Education.

Sure, there would be folks who still ate off the .99 menu, just as there are people who still choose to smoke even though they know what it's doing to their bodies. But surely there are just as many people for whom understanding how their food choices affect their bodies would make even a slight difference in their choices. Maybe if just one kid doesn't grow up on chicken nuggets and EZ Mac, they would go on to have better eating habits. Maybe if we talked about it in grade schools the way we do hand washing and covering your mouth when you sneeze, kids would suggest dad shop "around the edges" of the grocery store where nutritional food is more likely to be. Maybe they'd ask for fresh peaches instead of Fruit Rollups.

It could happen, right?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Semblance of a Plan

It's finally Spring in SEMI! Yesterday was our first 80 degree day and Claudia said it seemed like the whole world came out of its shell. I agree - at one point I had to stop and give a "whoo hoo" (accompanied by a vigorous booty shake). I could feel the physical and mental change in myself in just one day of warm weather.

I may have written before about how the lack of a "plan" for what our future was going to look like was causing me great anxiety. Being a person who doesn't suffer well, I pushed (maybe too hard?) for at least a geographic area where we will end up by the first of the year, 2012. That geographic area is right where we are.

The Upper Peninsula is a beautiful place ... if there is a heaven, it's gotta have those rocky beaches and waterfalls that we found in the Porcupine Mountains or it ain't all it's cracked up to be. My soul has been soothed watching the sunset over Lake Superior. I have found peace in the power of the Presque Isle River. And yet, the idea of starting over again feels overwhelmingly oppressive to me. When we first moved to Michigan, I got lost quite frequently. In Memphis, I intuitively knew whether I was heading South or West and made the mistake of assuming that meant I had good sense of direction. After we moved to Ypsi, I realized it was only because I'd spent 40 years using the Mississippi River as my touchstone. Sometimes, I would be so far off route that it felt like I was losing my mind. Add 50% to my travel time to account for this and I was NEVER on time for anything (something else that causes me stress).

Then, there is my community. I have people here. People I can count on. People who really know me (and still like me!). People I can laugh with, cry with, love with. Leaving Memphis was an adventure and I don't regret it, but I miss my people every single day. In a broader sense, I love being surrounded by Universities and all that means. Culture, food, music, art, really smart people, activism, diversity. And beer. We musn't forget beer.

So...I asked Bill if we could stay here. Close enough that I can plug in to all the above when I need to to keep me sane. Of course, he said yes. Or at least he didn't say no. I don't think it would have been his preference, but he is willing to accomodate me, at least for now. Who knows, there may be a point where I feel better about the idea of starting over (again). Right now, this is where I need to be.

Meanwhile, back on the farm....

I put out my spinach and kale this weekend. I'm in search of some Lombardi spinach seeds but haven't found them yet. I've got tomatillos and beans coming up and hopefully I can stick those in the ground in the next several weeks. I'm also really excited about a shiitake mushroom workshop that's coming up. Oysters and shiitakes right in my own back yard? HELL YEAH!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

For dinner tonight, i had a bowl of microwave popcorn and a big glass of red wine. The kind that makes you want to stick your nose waaay in to the glass and breathe it in to your soul. My pup is curled up at my feet and I'm watching Eat, Pray, Love. I adored the book when I read it a few years ago -- it was a life changer! -- and now I'm watching the movie and thinking.....


Thinking about my life's big adventures. Aventuras!

There was a time when I truly believed that I would travel the world. Learn languages. Backpack across Europe. Write in San Miguel. I thought I would wake up to church bells through open windows and the smell of street vendors. Amazing art & architecture, amazing food & music. An exciting, adventurous life.

And I have had SUCH an adventurous life. I've loved men...so many men. Exotic and exciting men who've taught me their language and their food. Who've given me pleasure and children and stories to tell. I've packed up and moved across the country to start again...or maybe to START, period. I've birthed children fed them from my body and watched them grow in to adults and have children of their own. I've done things that make others cringe and laugh and whisper. And I have no regrets. Not one.

"I've been a miner for a heart of gold. And I'm getting old."

There are so many things that I meant to do that I have not yet done and it's almost too late. La Aventura se esta' acabando.

Meanwhile, back at the farm.....

I stuck some seed in dirt. Beans, kale, spinach, squash. Cilantro & basil. Some of my seeds were outside through the winter so they may not be viable. We'll see.

Friday, March 25, 2011

5 Years and Holding...

Today is our 5 year anniversary! Who'd have thought in 5 years our lives would change do much? Don't get me wrong, I have absolutely no regrets. But if you'd asked me 5 years ago where I thought I'd be today, my answer would NOT have included the words "organic farming".

I'm feeling better about things today than I have been. Today, I feel pretty sure that we are going to continue down this path and create a life that really works for us. I still have moments of terror when I realize that we are solidly below the poverty line. Then I ask myself whether I would be willing to do what I would need to do to change that, and the answer is ... no way, man.

Meanwhile, back on the farm....
I need to get to planting! Just need to figure out what's going where. Bill has one indoor plot and two outdoor plots at the farm that he can grow for personal use. Indoor, he's going to do tomatoes ... lots and lots of tomatoes...with hopes of making tons of tomato sauce to can* to get us through the winter. He'll also have cilantro, onion & jalapenos (a salsa garden) so we should have some nice salsa canned as well.

So I'll definitely do kale again, and I'd like to find some Lombardi Spinach. I tasted some at the farm and it was amazing. Realizing they know what they're doing more than I do, mine might not be quite as awesome, but at least edible. Tomatillos were a hit and I can make as much salsa verde as I have tomatillos. Also taking a shot at more mushrooms.

*I bought stuff for canning last year but I didn't really have enough of anything to can so it's still sitting in my kitchen, taunting me. I did freeze quite a bit though. A month or so ago, I pulled out some sweet corn that I'd frozen and MAN was it like a little visit to summer time!
And just for fun, here's a pic of my silly puppies...who are going to LOVE the farm life as much as any of us!

MSU Student Farm

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Who Knew?

Seems like a year - to the date - is long enough to go without updating a blog, huh? And so much has happened! Updates - at a glance:

- Both Bill and I have left Corporate America. I left voluntarily in June, 2010 so that I could focus on our family and to see if I could, in fact, make it as an "independent". I can ;) Bill lost his job in February, 2011 and decided that instead of looking for another office job, he'd fulfill his lifelong dream to spend his days in the sunshine with his hands in the dirt. March 1st (5 days after losing his job) he began the Organic Farming Training Program at Michigan State University. I've never seen him happier. He's also living in Lansing during the week since it was costing > $100 a week in gas for him to drive back and forth. We're in week 3 and, though I've had a few freak-out spells, we are making it;

- We now have 2 80# German Shepherds in our home. Ezra came in July, 2010 as a 9 wk old pup. Maxx came in February, 2011 as a rescue. Since I work from home, they are with me almost 24/7 (except when I'm at client sites). I've always wanted to own a dog but a few things stood in my way: 1) I'm kind of scared of small animals. Weird, huh? I'm not afraid of horses, cows, animals at the zoo, etc. The smaller they are, the more they scare me. And don't even ASK about fowl. Shudder; 2) I've always worked full time and it didn't make sense to have a dog just to leave him at home all day alone; 3) I didn't really know anything about how to train or socialize a dog. So, I'm working all that out now in my typical "baptism by fire" manner;

- Kim & MJ moved back to Memphis in November, 2010. I miss them every single day.

- Finances? Don't even ask. Our household income is something like 80% less than it was and we will likely never be back at the earning level we were when I started this blog. We will need to move from our house at some point and we have NO idea where we'll end up living. We've committed to staying in this area until the girls finish high school, though. Bill wants to own a farm, maybe in the UP. Who knows? I'm trying to lean in to the ambiguity and look at this as a growth experience for myself. Some days it's easier than others.

All in all, the changes are good. The family is more stable & less chaotic than it has been in years. I am having fun with the work I'm doing and spending my time & energy according to my values. We are eating better, getting more sunshine and exercise than ever before (though I've dropped that ball SERIOUSLY over the winter). I've been broke before and it's not that big of a deal. We will not starve and we will not be homeless. All is well.