Thursday, July 31, 2008

One Chicken - Many Meals

Let me just start out by saying my family isn't vegetarian. I know a lot of you out there are, but living in a house with 5 men means big meals, big servings and lots of protein. And, I know, I know you can get lots of protein from eggs, beans, legumes and a variety of other foods, but my picky eaters think lentils were sent here from outer space.

We don't eat meat every meal or even every day. We eat a lot of pancakes for dinner, pasta, omelets and sandwiches. We love cereal, oatmeal, salads and could pretty much make a meal out of plain 'ol potatoes. Once in awhile we eat meat. Not regular, out of the Costco cold case meat, but locally raised, ethically farmed and pastured organic meat. And, not to worry, with the prices they charge - and rightly so - that pretty much guarantees our meat consumption stays in check.

So, as part of my challenge to practice discretionary eating, I took on the all-mighty chicken. When I got home from work I chopped a few fresh onions, grabbed a handful of herbs from my porch and some random carrot tops, greens and veggie scraps and threw it all into my stock pot with a whole chicken and some water.

A couple of hours later I have enough chicken to make two chicken and noodle casseroles - one to eat this weekend, one to freeze for a busy workday. I also ended up with 13 cups of homemade stock to use for at least two more big batches of soup. Not bad for one little chicken (OK, so that organic bird was HUGE) and a couple hours of time. One chicken can feed my family for many meals and, around here, that's a big compliment!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The future of America's favorite pasttime

Update: Many thanks to Lynn at Organic Mania for organizing the Green Moms Carnival where this post on global warming will be featured with all the other great green moms doing their part each and every day to make our world a better place. Thanks Lynn! You can read her awesome carnival post and find more great posts on global warming by clicking on our carnival button: Middle school aged boys won't sit still for long, unless something grabs their attention - and FAST. If it's not riveting, you will find them dividing their attention between the TV, their iPods, playing PSP or surfing the internet, sometimes all at the same time. So, I wondered how it would go when my Dad sat my three oldest boys down to watch Inconvenient Truth.

No action scenes, no swearing, no car crashing, no wicked-cool sound tracks or celebrity icons they would easily recognize. So, when they sat still, I was surprised. They knew who Al Gore was, they even "sorta remembered" when he was almost president. They were saddened by the plight of the polar bears and surprised by the peaks and valleys of the temperatures over history. They were amazed at how large the ice caps look on a map and how huge the chunks of ice are that are dropping into the sea at an alarming rate. But that's not what stuck with them.

A couple of months after the movie, what they most remember is the interactive graphic showing what will happen to our coastline as the ice caps melt. They debate on how Major League Baseball will restructure all of the teams on the coasts. Red Sox, Padres, Giants, Mets, Yankees, Nationals, Angels, Athletics, Devil Rays, Dodgers and maybe even the Braves would all be affected as the water level rises. WHEW - our Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs would be safe. But, that's still a lot of teams that would need to be moved all because of one thing.

Global warming. My boys don't think in terms of Almanacs and temperatures. They don't rationalize pollution from factories they don't work at or carbon emissions from cars they aren't yet allowed to drive. They think about global warming as it would affect them today. Players they idolize, rivalries they enjoy, the home team they love and other teams they proudly wore on their back during the last 8 seasons of Little League play.

Many people tell me they don't want to discuss the gloom and doom of global warming, war, poverty, hunger or economy with their kids. I don't want to scare them, they say, they have enough to worry about already. That's funny, I think, my kids aren't scared. Why, I wonder?

I believe it's because we DO discuss it, we talk about how we live on this planet, how everthing is interconnected, how we are taking the small steps to protect our planet and what will happen if we don't. We then talk about how the world will change as the temperature rises and the ice falls. No more baseball as we see it played today and what that will mean to my boys as they raise their sons and daughters to love the game that means childhood to them. Global warming is a tricky topic, especially for kids, but take time to talk to them about it. They do understand and they can relate - even if it's only about baseball.

Monday, July 28, 2008

How many uses can you find for canning water?

I finally ventured into canning, but am only dipping my toe in the water with basic water bath canning. Freezing and drying are right up there on my list, so when you add it all up I am storing a lot of food, but wasting a lot of water. While canning some blueberry sauce I was trying to think of all the ways I have been using the remaining water bath, blanching and sterilizing water.

1. Let pot cool on porch, water flower pots and container garden

2. Pour while still boiling-hot on spaces between the sidewalk pavers and driveway to kill weeds - Note to self, wear shoes next time - OUCH

3. Let cool for 5-10 minutes add a little soap and use it to kill stinky smell on Crocs and flip flops of sweaty boys. Also, note - make sure boys aren't wearing them at the time! ;o)

4. Let cool and use with soap to mop floors where stinky Crocs and flip flops hang out by the door
And then I realized... That's only four uses! There has got to be a ton more I am missing out on here. Anyone have any bright ideas?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Fish Called Mystery

This is not about mystery meat found in my boy's cafeteria or weird, mystery-content breaded fish sticks. This is actually a story about a fish lucky enough to be named Mystery.

I feel pretty bad for your average goldfish. What other species of animal can be bought for 29-cents at any local petstore or mega-chain and then humiliated in ping pong ball tosses, gutter races and fraternity eating contests? If a dog was getting this treatment, you would find the ASPCA on the doorstop and even if it was a cat, horse or rabbit you might find the offender featured on Animal Cops on the Animal Planet channel.

That's just not so for the unlucky goldfish. At a beach party over the weekend, the day started as a fun event for little kids. Cookie walks, scavenger hunts, swimming, swinging and sliding. And then I saw it. A guy lifts a giant, clear bag out of a cooler, the plastic glinting in the sun full of wiggling goldfish. Oh, no, here comes the ridiculous humiliation of gold fish in a gutter race. Sheesh.

For the most part, I try not to freak out about the small things. I allow my kids the pizza and lemonade once a week for school lunch, the occasional treat from the corner store and candy at the baseball games. However, animal cruelty in any form - that's just not happening, even to a goldfish.

Is this how our species learned to tolerate feedlot farms of cows 100 to a pen standing in their own manure? Or to accept eggs from chickens confined to a pen so small they can't turn around? Was it because we lost touch with the basic concept of respect for another living thing? No, the goldfish won't play fetch or chase a fuzzy toy mouse, but does it deserve to be thrown into icy cold hose water and shoved down a little gutter for our amusement? I look around and no one seems surprised or bothered in the slightest - parent or child - and this upsets me. Someone hands my son a plastic cup with a fish floating listlessly in sediment orange-tinted hose water and tells him "Go Race!"

All of four years old my son looks up at my face. Mom, what is his name? I don't know, I tell him. What do you think it is? His little voice says quietly, his name is a mystery because I don't know where he came from. I say, I don't think he should race, do you? Fish aren't meant for racing, you see, they are little and fragile so let's keep him safe and warm him up, OK? The fish stayed at our table, refreshed with room temperature bottled water and the boy had much more fun watching his new friend than playing any game.

Mystery, the fish, now resides in a castle in a comfortable bowl filled with clean water on our kitchen table. If taking care of a fish for awhile teaches my son to respect all living things, no matter how small, it will be well worth the effort. Mystery, my friend, you sure did get lucky to find us!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cheating on Compost

Our township code enforcement is vigilant in monitoring our properties for errant sheds, out buildings, code violations and permit requirements. From time to time, you will find a red sticker shellacked on whatever you might be working on building, tearing out or installing telling you to cease and visit the township to submit plans, bring something up to code or remove the offending item.

I know this, because we have been offenders on more than one occasion. What were the offenses? A flag pole. Seriously, the township thought it was worth it to drive all the way to our house for a flag pole, which we were actually well within our rights to have, which we still have today. Then, a trailer parked in out driveway for a few days. After that our neighbor got cited for leaving his trash and recycling out two days before trash day. Never mind the fact that he was leaving on vacation and wanted to make sure the trash was hauled away so we all wouldn't be subjected to a stinking, bug infested, raccoon trap. I guess leaving the blue bin by the street is worse.

So, I have been hesitant to build a compost heap, bin or pile, fearing the wrath of the black township code enforcement car that roves our neighborhood on a weekly basis covering my bin with a big, red sticker. Wouldn't you? To cheat the system I came up with a marginally better way to deal with garden scraps at the very least.

Our township collects yard waste in brown paper bags from early April through November. Tree trimmings, grass, limbs, weeds, shrub clippings and that sort of thing. Today, I keep a brown paper sack right outside the front porch, tucked behind shrubbery - as not to offend the neighbors, you see. After a trip to the farmer's market or during meal prep I make a pile of unusable carrot tops, onion tops, stems, seeds, peels and trimmings. I simply carry the pile to the sack, dump it in and fold it over. Once or twice a week I set out the brown sack by the curb to be composted in the township compost and they're none the wiser, it looks like yard waste to me and to them! Of course, I am not getting the benefit of the end result of the lovely composted soil, that right belongs to the township. However, I feel somewhat better that the easily composted produce waste isn't tossed into the trash.

It's a little like cheating, but it's getting the job done. In a round-about sort of way. Besides, I sort of like tricking the township into taking my kitchen scraps!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

No worries, be happy

When we decided to take a vacation, I thought it was the perfect time to leave the computer behind and completely disconnect. Eek?!? No laptop? No internet access? I can handle it! I also decided to take a mental break from "green".

No, I didn't act like a pig a leave every light in the hotel on and smother myself in Cheez Whiz! Come on, don't you know me by now? I thought it would be wise to take a break from freaking out if there wasn't a recycling bin nearby and keeping myself from panicking reading the restaurant menus chock full of CAFO meats. Some times all the agonizing and debating and worry about foods, landfills, energy and global warming can hang a little heavy over my head and those of my boys. Vacations, by definition, are a way to recharge your batteries, spend time with the ones you love and take a break from your worries.

Yes, we turned off the tap when brushing our teeth, reused our towels, turned off the lights, kept the same sheets for the entire stay, drank out of reusable bottles whenever possible and walked to dinner and the driving range. We even brought home a few magazines and papers for the recycling bin, but for the most part I had to let go. While it was hard, I relaxed and enjoyed watching my boys spend the entire day outdoors playing golf, tennis, basketball and swimming. They hiked trails and admired the forest view from our balcony and the night sky with stars so bright without a backdrop of city lights.

That is an important part of being green in my eyes. Teaching your children to appreciate the great outdoors, the sunshine, the rain, the forest and all the bugs and critters hanging out in there. This way, when we are home and they ask why we turn the heat down, why the air conditioning is off, why we don't eat fast food or fruit roll ups I can ask them to remember our trip. Don't they want to enjoy these things for years to come? Will they one day want to take their boys to the woods, the golf course, the hiking trails? Take care of mother nature, be kind to our planet and it will be there for you when you when it's your turn to teach your children how to hit a golf ball, dive from a diving board or perfect a lay-up on the basketball court. I took a brief intermission from the worry, and I was happy. Tomorrow is another day!

Monday, July 21, 2008

It's a Hole in One!

Vacation time! It's becoming a summer tradition, our golf mini-vacation up north. Actually, I must confess, golf is the one remaining sport in which I can soundly beat my boys on a regular basis. Oh, but wait! Before you think I am a mean, competitive mom, read on. ( And for those of you wondering, no, I am not the kind of mom that always let her kids win at Candyland. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose - 'dems the breaks boys, learn to live with it!)

If you are the mother boys you see yourself changing throughout the years. You start out as a real hero, pitching the baseballs, teaching free-throw shots, kicking soccer balls and playing goalie in the hockey nets. Then they get bigger and want to play against you. Sometimes they win, sometimes you win. The comes the day when they are bigger, faster and stronger and all you can do is keep score and cheer from the sidelines.

And, this is where golf comes in. See, you need a little finesse, patience and focus - not typically skills of young pre-teen boys. I always liked golf for the calm, quiet chance to be outdoors, play a leisurely game and maybe snag a cold drink from the drink cart as it rolls by. The older my boys got, I realized it would be a sport we could all play together well into old age. So, regardless of how busy we are, every now and then we play golf. And, I beat them. For a moment, it's like when they were little, amazed I could cut with scissors, drive a car, make play-doh animals and read the really, really big words. For just a second they see me as someone they aspire to become - or at least someone they want to beat. Secretly, I love it. It reminds me that before kids and husbands and careers, I was an athlete.

As part of this green journey, I think it's important to remember who we are, who we were before that and what made us happy and unique. While golf, with it's grass, chemicals and excessive watering, may not be the greenest choice for a vacation, it gets us together as a family and enjoying the outdoors. Is it perfect? No. But is it good enough? I suppose. We didn't travel by plane, we didn't even drive terribly far. We are supporting a local family and business and spending quality time together doing something we all enjoy. Don't worry, we brought along our SIGGs, our organic cookies and pretzels. No matter how far we get from home, we always seem to take a little along with us.

So, while you read this, I am golfing. Probably sweating, I have a cold drink in the cup holder of my golf cart and my kids are trying to figure out how their mother, now lighter and smaller than they are, can whack the heck out of a golf ball on a course played by professionals. Hole in one!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Check in for Chile

I am actually on vacation, but who could forget that crabby pepper, she's a stickler for following through on the challenges! Good thing, too. Keeps me from slacking!

Air conditioning - two days worth. Darn. And I was doing so well too, but we had that oppressive humidity and I just can't take that. We're doing well only running it in the late afternoons through bedtime when we switch to fans.

Line drying - I made it through camp laundry and rack drying lots of towels, shorts etc. Then I moved into bedding territory. Some complained about the clothes, through no one noticed the bedding. Interesting. Maybe they are too tired to care at bedtime? Everyone except for the dog, that is, he loved his clean towels in his crate. The crunch makes them even better for chewing! :o)

So, there you have it! I hope for next week to be better, the weather is supposed to break and I will have loads and loads of vacation laundry to rack dry!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

One Local Summer - Week #7

Again, I am taking the easy way out this week. I truly love simple meals, they make me feel good, my family loves to eat them and it takes little time for me to prepare them. Talk about a win-win situation! This week I made a homemade pasta sauce from farmer's market tomatoes, onions and garlic. I added a little of my own container herbs - all sauted in some olive oil. That was just the topping for the real star of the show - potato gnocchi - made by hand from a local source. All of which I topped with shredded Edam cheese. Delicious! (And yes, that's a LOT of cheese, I know. I love cheese!)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Political Observations of Boys

It's funny, sometimes when you are very, very quiet your kids just forget you're there. That's when you hear the funniest (and sometimes juiciest) things. Today, while driving in my loaner mini-van I overheard my boys having a conversation of which I can only imagine will be exactly how they will sound as old men, sitting on their patio.

Why is the price of gas so high? Look it's $4.29 right over there.

I dunno, I think it's cause of President Bush. Haven't you noticed that gas has gotten higher since he was president?

Yeah, it's cause he owns oil, you know, in Texas on his ranch. He's getting rich right now.

He LOVES oil. Like, tons. That's why we are in that war. And all those guys died. Hey, what woulda happened if Bush died?
Stupid, he would get to pick a vice president to take over.

No, you're stupid. How could he pick a new president if he was DEAD? He already picked one before he was president. That guy would take over. Who is the vice president anyway?

See, I told you that you were stupid. The vice president is Dick Cheney, you know that guy who shot the other guy in the head.

How could he be so dumb to shoot another guy? Seriously. He musta shot him with like a bb gun or something. Otherwise he would SO be in trouble.

No, it was a real gun and the guy he shot bled and everything. He was in the hospital for pretty much years.

Do you think maybe gas will get cheaper once we get Obama or McCain for president? Which one is which anyway?

Duh, they totally look different. How can you not tell? Obama is Hawaiian. McCain is the really old dude.

Well, gas better go down. When we start to drive it's totally going to suck. How are we going to afford gas?

Hey, Mom! What do you think Hillary is doing right now?

I enjoy these conversations, I listen, but I try not to participate. Sometimes you learn so much more by being quiet. What I find most fascinating is they really are absorbing the world around them. Just when I think they're not paying attention... They are actually listening.

There's your inside glimpse of the next generation of environment-changing political activists, dude. They're like, wicked cool.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Van For Sale

When I decided to drive a mini-van instead of the prerequisite suburban SUV, I thought I was making a smart, fuel efficient change for the environment. Oh, I get better gas mileage all right, but for the last year I have been fighting with the van at the service department.

The "Big Three" here in Detroit have been struggling lately, posting stocks at record lows, lagging sales and plant closings. Now I know why. My van, brand new 14 months ago, has been back to the dealership three times for a major transmission problem - all in less than 11,000 miles. The first visit, only a month after purchase, the transmission was completely rebuilt. The second, changing out some modules and parts. This week, the third visit came up with a diagnosis of a completely new transmission that must be installed ASAP.
Luckily, this is at no cost to me, except for the aggravation, countless trips back and forth from the dealership swapping out car seats, back packs and toys. So, wait, I take that back. It cost me a LOT. But, what cost do auto repairs have on the environment? Where is my old transmission going to go? Scrap yard, landfill, recycling center? I'd like to know and I plan to ask.

We all assume the major impact automobiles have on the environment is carbon emission and fossil fuel consumption. What about parts, oil, motors, grease, axles, rims, tires, windshields, fluids, anti-freeze, plastics and electronics? When I bought my van, all I really saw was the gas mileage, seating for my entire family and some pretty groovy DVD screens. What about all the other "stuff". Where did it come from, are the materials recycled or brand spankin' new? What about at the end of the van's life, does the company have a take-back or recycling program?

I have another year left with this van - we lease here in the Motor City - it's incredibly cheap and helps to keep new cars on the road, so they say. So, next year I plan to ask a few more questions other than gas mileage and DVD players. Maybe I will buy instead of lease. Maybe - close your eyes eco 'burban dad - I might buy a Honda.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Never say never

I was always vehement. I will NEVER can, I just can't. It's too much work, it's too hot and I just don't have any patience for it. Well, as you've noticed - I am getting a little geeked about all the changes happening these days.

On my search for a dehydrator, I found myself in an Ace Hardware store (thanks, Chile!) wandering up and down aisles loaded with canners, blanchers, food savers and food processors. Happily not a single cotton candy maker in sight. They happened to be sold out of dehydrators, but offered to have one sent from their warehouse to their store, free of charge. Yippee, I will be the proud owner of a dehydrator late next week. Problem solved!

However, while perusing the aisles I saw a canner and stacks of jars and accessories. I looked at the canner, "not for glass top stoves" it says. See, it wasn't meant to be, I think. I pass it again and think, that pot really isn't much larger than my largest soup pot, which is suitable for my stove. Nah, I didn't want to can anyway. Well, look at that, those cute little jars all packaged and ready to go would be just great for jam. Uh-uh, I don't even have anything to can. Oh, but I did see buckets of the cutest cucumbers at the Farmer's Market and it is just right across the street from where I am now. And, I have always wanted to learn to make jam.

So, never say never. Here is the first look at my first experience with canning. Eight 16 oz. jars of bread and butter pickles. Every single can sealed. Though, I missed the pinging, darn it. I was vacuuming and by the time I was done, every single jar was sealed. Rats. For some reason, that would have really made my day. So, what's next on my list? Jam, of course. Maybe some peach halves. Oh, yes and some homemade pasta sauce. And more pickles, I still have enough cukes for at least 6 more jars. Can you believe it? I am a canner. Sheesh, don't tell my mother, she'll just say, "I told you so."

Staring at Change in the Mirror

I step into my shower, kicking aside rubber snakes, monster trucks, various boats and a plastic shark. I share my bathroom with boys, the youngest of which still loves baths with lots of toys. It's early, my day starts before the sun peeks through the clouds and I am tired.

As I look around I don't notice the tile and grout that no longer gleams bright white. Oh, it's clean alright, but just not bright white anymore. A long time ago I gave up the harsh cleansers that stripped the grout and tile of the well water stains and marks. The new, plant based cleansers get things squeaky clean, without choking my lungs and stinging my eyes while I clean. The trade off? Grout that tells the tale of living lakeside with well water. Funny thing is that a year ago I would be grouchy and annoyed thinking through my shower how I needed more of the chemicals from Target that would get rid of the grunge and give my shower the bright white seal of approval.

Today? I don't see it. I know my shower is clean and that's good enough for me. My mother may not agree and offer to clean my shower the next time she drops by, but she will abandon that idea after searching underneath sinks and in closets for certain brand name cleansers that don't reside there any longer. I'm sure there is a natural concoction that could cure this ill, maybe lemon or baking soda, but if it's clean?!?! I made my peace with the shower.

Now, my shower is peaceful and I contemplate writing this post. And, I am also excited to try something new. A shampoo bar that might just be good enough to get me to ditch plastic bottled Aveda shampoo. There? That's the second thing I notice this morning. I am excited about change! A year ago? Afraid, dreading the day when the last paper towel ran out or the last bottled tea was gone from the fridge, I was afraid of change.

I have made so many changes in my daily routine, the unknown has become exciting and sometimes challenging. Trying new foods, meeting new people and finding new alternatives I never considered before are an ever growing part of each day. Some changes have been challenging and akin to breaking bad habits. Others have been surprisingly easy, almost offering me freedom from a life tethered to retail stores and my minivan.

What challenges or changes were the easiest for you to make? What were the hardest? Do you even recognize a change when you see it in the foggy early morning mirror anymore? Change comes in many forms. A lavender and geranium shampoo bar. A reusable nylon shopping tote. Milk in glass bottles. Six refillable SIGGs lined up on a kitchen counter. They no longer look like change to me, they just look like my life.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Confessions of a Suburban Mom

We're getting ready for a double birthday party this weekend followed by a well deserved vacation. Planning a party for two boys is a green challenge in itself, but add to that leaving the very next morning for a 4 day trip and you have insanity. So, I must confess. It ain't as green as it could, or should be.

I passed on the juice boxes, soda and gatorades for the party, my homemade lemonade will be a stand in replacement. Beer? Well that comes in glass and that will just have to do. The eco 'burban dad just won't have a party without the beer. And, another confession? Mom will happily make lemonade and vodka spritzers for the girls. I have a lot of kids, come to my party and you will gladly accept alcohol within 15 minutes of walking through the door. The serveware? Paper cups, paper plates. Not as bad as plastic, but I just can't allow mobs of middle school aged kids to run around with my good glasses. You'll see why in a moment.

The food? Pretty simple but not local. Organic hot dogs, buns and condiments. Not so organic grated cheese. Sorry, my kids and their friends love cheese and grating $10 wedges of organic cheese would set me back about $40 and it totally would not be appreciated. Most of it will end up on the patio, only to be snuffled up by the dogs. So, the big bag of grated from Costco will happily take it's place. Organic corn chips, natural cheese straws (a birthday MUST from one of the boys), organic popcorn with my local butter and a big, fat cake from Costco round out the menu.

Hey - I know, I know. Where have my standards gone? When you need to feed middle school boys and all their friends, check back with me please. They will eat cake, have cake fights, make disgusting colors out of mixed icing that will be squished under their fingernails and possibly out of their noses. I am SO not making homemade and organic for that bunch.

The entertainment? We live on a lake, so all parties here require a bathing suit and towel. In years past we have - everyone GASP - rented a bounce house of sorts. This year, we are passing on indulgences. The eco 'burban dad has gotten creative and rescued a giant roll of visquene from a job site which will become the world's longest slip and slide down our gi-normous hill - dumping kids right into the lake. Add a little dish soap and a sprinkler and it will be crazy middle school boy fun for free. (OK, so anyone want to argue my choice on PAPER cups here?? Didn't think so.)

OK, OK, water WASTE I know. I have made my peace with it, again, it's a small price to pay to keep middle school boys occupied, out of my house and hopefully will keep them from throwing mud, rocks, jumping off docks, chasing boaters and all sorts of shenanigans. How do I know they will do this? Let's just say it's happened before. More than once. I have pictures to prove it.

So, why the confessional? Well, I like to be honest and while a lot of what I do might be green, some stuff just isn't. I appreciated Arduous's post on her trip to Vegas, because she freely admitted that it wasn't perfect, but memories were made, fun was had and she doesn't regret a moment. Being green is great. Being sustainable is super. Being frugal is fantastic, but where is it going to get me if I am missing out on great fun and great memories with my kids? So, I am hoping for a little of the same with our party and our vacation and I'm not sweating the small stuff. That is, unless it rains. Then what will I do?

In Search of Food Preservation

For all my whining about the lack of fresh produce and local food, I am paying the price now. It's not sprinkling beans, tomatoes and potatoes, we've got a right good downpour going on right now. Which leads me to yet another dilemma - how to preserve and store all of this food. I have been freezing as much as I can, but like Heather, my little chest freezer is filling up quickly.

I decided, based on a comment from Green Bean during my berry crisis, to scout out a dehydrator. I looked high and I looked low. I visited three different thrift stores in my local area, no dice. I responded to two ads on Craigslist - neither of which had the courtesy to either reply back or just take the dumb ad down off the site. I was reading Causabon's Book and Sharon had a great review of dehydrators, just my luck! She had a great recommendation for a solar one which isn't quite in my time or money budget at the moment. And, I really liked her idea of an Excaliber, but again, not in my price range.
Then I decided to cave and visit a big box retailer - Target. I needed to pick up an prescription, so I thought if I can find a decent one in my price range, I image it will be worth it's weight in gold. Imagining all of the delicious dried fruits and veggies I would make and preserve with my new purchase, I set out for Target with high hopes.

Those hopes were dashed, rather quickly I must say. Up and down the aisles I went looking for the display of food preservation items. I saw them online, so they must be here I think to myself. I pass a cotton candy maker. I pass a sno cone machine. I pass a crepe maker. I pass an egg and toaster oven?!?!? Not sure what that was. Sandwich squisher, smoothie maker, bread maker. What in the hell is going on here? I just want a dehydrator and don't tell me that if you have room on the shelves for a freakin' cotton candy maker, there isn't room for food preservation items.

Not a single dehydrator in the store. Not a single canner. I did find a Food Saver, which would be great if I had space left in my freezer. And, of course, if it wasn't $100. So, we ended up eating ALL of the strawberries with the exception of a couple squished, moldy ones. Which wasn't all bad, we had strawberry shakes, pancakes and heaps of fresh cut ones for breakfast.

Now that strawberry season has passed - for the second time - I don't have an immediate, pressing need for a dehydrator. I am still on the hunt for a good, cheap one before cherry season unless I can find a neighbor as nice as Green Bean and I can borrow one. That is, if my neighbor might actually have purchased one instead of a sno cone machine.

Which makes me wonder... What will our country do if we are faced with a true food crisis? Will families all over town be breaking out the cotton candy maker to feed their families or opening bags of dried cherries and popping open jars of beans? Or will they be consulting Chile to find out where the closest food bank or soup kitchen might be? It worries me, really, where our priorities about food are in this country - sno cones or dehydrated strawberries anyone?

Chile's series of posts on hunger not only made me reflect on how lucky I am to be able to choose healthy and nutritious foods on a regular basis for my family, but also how that all could change with simple crisis or stock market crash. Am I prepared? Not well enough I'm afraid. Now, who wants to lend me their dehydrator?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Checking in for Chile and tales from a laundry room

It's check in day for Chile's Challenge already, it really doesn't seem like a week has gone by already, does it? And, here I am at the end of another week with mixed results to report.

Air conditioning use? Only 1 day for a few hours to take the humidity out of the house, you just can't breathe when it's 88 degrees and humid. The lower part of the entire state of Michigan feels a lot like we went to bed one night and woke up in the Everglades. Humid, rainy and weeds growing everywhere. I consider this week a success on this front, having a dehumidifier running constantly makes a big difference, but it can only do so much!

Rack drying my laundry? 65/35. And, here I am again, whining about the humidity! I had so much camp laundry to get caught up on, that my rack couldn't keep up and the rain and humidity kept me from drying outside. But, here's how I got crafty.

It's just about breaking another habit and routine. I realized (duh!) I can throw a few things into the dryer and NOT turn it on while it waits for the next load. So, I sorted through the laundry, chose the really heavy items that take forever to dry and hung them on a rack. Then I tossed the socks, boxers, light t-shirts etc. into the dryer, cracked the door a bit, to keep it from getting all yucky in there and patiently waited for the next load. I repeated this process a second and third time and then started the dryer which only needed to run for about 40 minutes. Imagine only 40 minutes to dry three loads worth? I had six loads, so I ran the dryer twice so I ended up with 80 minutes of drying time for 6 loads. In the old days? That would have been 240 minutes. I still figure I am coming out ahead - hence the 65/35.

My boys all have clean socks and underwear today (which they desperately needed!) and I have a couple of racks of towels, heavy clothing and rags that are now drying outdoors in the breezy sunshine that managed to creep its way into the weather forecast today.

Now, I am going outdoors to enjoy some 82 degree, humidity-free sunshine! See ya!

Friday, July 11, 2008

One Local Summer - Week #6

It's been pretty darn hot outside, but I figure if Heather can make soup every week in the Texas heat, well then, what am I complaining about in Michigan for heaven's sake? I picked a cooler day since I am not running the air for Chile's Challenge and didn't want all that heat trapped inside. My only mistake was actually making Chili. The spices (I like it hot) made me feel a little toasty, but boy was it tasty!

Without further ado, here is my white bean chicken chili with yellow summer squash and smoked Gouda. If you notice, I forgot - again - to take a picture of our actual meal, so you are getting a shot of the remainder of the pot that I froze in containers for a later date. Perfect lunch sized portions to take to the office!

Chicken - Crestwick Farms
Stock - Homemade
Squash, onion, garlic - Farmer's Market
White Navy Beans - Hampshire Farms
Gouda - Grassfields Organics
Flour - Westwind Mill
Cream - Calder's Dairy
Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper, Chile Powder - Not Local

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Wonders of Summer Camp

The oldest three eco 'burban boys spent the week at a camp not far from here. Swimming, pedal boat racing, mini-golfing, baseball playing and canteen dancing until the wee hours. Sounds like fun, right? For them, anyway. Now, I am left with one giant black contractor-sized garbage bag of yep - you guessed it - LAUNDRY. Smelly, dirty, covered in popsicle, syrup and chocolate - shirts, shorts, socks and rather rancid undy-grundies and a few pretty putrid bathing suits. My oldest boys are middle school aged, stinky and dirty, dirty boys. That bag of laundry? Very much, ummmm, ORGANIC!! :o)So, what's a green eco 'burban mom to do? Dump the whole thing out, sort by color, wash it all on cold and hang it out on a laundry rack, that's what. As part of Chile's challenge, I have pledged to start to end my dryer dependence. I've been washing in cold, using eco-friendly detergents for years, but I have been dipping my toe in the water with the rack drying. A few bathroom rugs here, car mats there, boat towels draped over the back of patio furniture over here. Tomorrow? Oh, we're going cold turkey sista! Nothing but the best rack dried, crunchy and wind cured shorts, t-shirts and undies for my boys. We'll see what they have to say... If they even notice!

Oh, and if you're wondering what I did with that big, black plastic bag? The eco 'burban dad grabbed that one up, saying - Hey! I can use this in the garage!
Doncha' just love it when everyone is on board with being green??

Simple Shopping by the Numbers

What $19.50 buys you at the local Wednesday Farmer's Market:
Green beans, tomatoes, shell peas, carrots, green onions, red and yellow potatoes - all picked fresh! Now, will someone please tell me what to do with all those carrot tops?!?

What $17.00 buys you at the local thrift store located across the street from the market:

8 items, 3 brand new with tags, almost all brand name. What a great way to get in a little early back to school shopping without driving anywhere.

Total shopping cost? $36.50 Crazy, isn't it?? The same shopping trip for the same items at a major retail venue? Probably more than $150 - if you catch some sales. Even if you aren't shopping this way to be green for the environment, how could you argue with saving this much green in your wallet?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Strawberry season is over here in the lower parts of Michigan. Not so for the northern regions where my parents spend most of their summer on Lake Michigan. They are typically about 10 degrees colder and breezier due to lake winds and wacky weather.

If you recall, I managed to deal with 12 quarts of strawberries picked by my boys a couple weeks back, we ate the remainders from my freezing marathon and then thought our strawberry days were over. Not so, my boys, not so. My father just brought us about 4 quarts of the reddest, freshest, just-picked-today berries I think I have ever seen.

Sure, we have eaten strawberry sundaes, shortcake, shakes, syrup, whole, cut and preserved, but we are gearing up to do it all again. While everyone else here is long past enjoying fresh berries, or dining on Chilean substitutes, we are once again elbow deep in red berry goodness. We know that in a few months, the taste of fresh berries will be long gone from our palettes and we will wish for the day the U-pick opens or Grandpa rolls up with a carton of berries, picked just that morning and loving carted from 4 hours north. You must appreciate the fresh, organic and local produce when it's in season, no matter how long it lasts. The season seems so short during the cold, dark days of December!

Drool on, my fellow bloggers. I still have berries, berries and more berries. Alas, I still don't know how to make quick berry, quack berry jam, but I will muster through. Somehow. Strawberry shakes it is then, delicious strawberry shakes all around!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

An Apple A Day

My husband and I were grocery shopping together over the weekend which is an odd sight. With so many boys and so many commitments, I usually handle food, clothing and supply purchases for the household while he is in charge of other chores. He needed to make a stop at a store near the Trader Joes, so to combine trips and save gas we jumped in the minivan together with the littlest eco'burban boy.
While I had my back turned in the cheese section my husband was perusing the apples and produce. He mentioned he wanted apples. I matter-of-factly said that apples weren't in season, but the early ones would be in here in Michigan in a month or so. He smiles and gamely holds up a bag of apples and says, "These look good". When we talked later he said I physically cringed while looking at the apples. "But, they're from Santiago, Chile! And not even organic, they are dirty, dirty apples! How about a different kind of produce?"

And, here's the rub. My husband is trying to eat healthier, get back on his diet and lose some of the weight that has crept back on. So, who am I to deny him the apples? He really does eat a lot of apples and they are a much better choice than organic potato chips, homemade cookies or local beer. If apples are in the fridge, he will happily munch down two or three throughout the day when he's hungry and that replaces the handfuls of chips or other foods that might not be the best choice.

The moral of the story? I bought the apples. Is an apple from Chile the best choice? No. Is it a better choice than junk food? Yes. Will I spend this fall loading up on the best types of local, organic apples that will keep well through the winter? You betcha! If he hadn't been with me at at the store that day, I wouldn't have bought the apples. Would that have caused him to eat more organic blue corn chips? Maybe. Will I still run out of apples by July? Probably.

So, from time to time a bag of apples from Chile might not be so bad after all? Are the limitations on food and the changes that I have made over the last year a little too stringent? I don't know the answer here or the correct balance between healthy food choices and responsible food choices. I know I am personally willing to forgo the apples until August and eat strawberries today and cherries tomorrow. Though neither of which are as quick to grab and easy to eat as an apple. These might not be the most responsible of food choices for my husband, when an apple might be a smarter direction.

I always say shopping with my husband (or kids!) causes my cart to fill up faster, costs me more money and I end up buying things I hadn't planned. Maybe I should do it more often?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Scenes from a 6-mile Bike Ride

The eco 'burban dad suggested a bike ride on Sunday morning. A bike ride to procure breakfast, a good 3 miles away. For any of you who have lots of children (particularly boys!) you will understand how much HARDER it was to ride to breakfast than it was to ride home from breakfast. Boys do anything better once food is in their stomachs!

We looked like parents of gangster-ducks. There was daddy pulling a trailer hauling the 4 year old. Following daddy was mom bouncing along on a bike (with a rather uncomfortable seat!) that hasn't been ridden in at least 7 years. Following that were three middle school age boys with fierce helmets in shiny chrome, wicked black and oh-so-cool gray that were designed for the skate park and snow board slopes because "they're cool like that". They don't wear regular "dorky" bike helmets you see. Which also means the littlest eco 'burban boy in the trailer? Yes, he was sporting a skater helmet in shiny red with a skull sticker, just to be like the big boys. Their bikes (with trick "pegs" of course) are beat up, muddy and well worn. We are not your average suburban family out for a Sunday ride to experience nature, the fresh air and open trails. We are a family of rough and tumble boys, wearing last year's faded baseball jerseys and camouflage shorts out to ride for breakfast!

We found a rails to trails project in our area that has turned an out-dated railroad into a trail system that connects a watershed and a river throughout our lake system. It's a great 6 mile trail, but we have to navigate a lot of subdivisions, traffic lights and busy roads just to get to the trail head - at least a mile and a half. When we do reach the trail head, the riding is easy, shady and peaceful. I hang back, happy to let the boys pass me and ride ahead, stopping at each trail marker so we all can catch up. There are gorgeous blue heron along the way, signs for deer crossing and water habitat scenic areas with benches and informational signs. The trail runs for 6 miles, but since we traveled a good distance just to reach the trail, we stop at the first town along the route to eat breakfast. Then we turned back, heading for home, proud our first family bike outing was a 6-mile trek - no car necessary.

Tonight, as I write this, my arms and backside are aching and sore. I am sure it will only be worse in the morning. But, as I go to sleep tonight I will hear sounds from a 6-mile ride we took as a family to eat a Sunday breakfast.

"Mom! That was a HUGE pothole! Did ya see it? I jumped it!"

"Dad is faster than you mom, his legs are bigger!" (Ummm, that's OK by me!)

"It fees so much better when we are in the shade."

"That hill we coasted down is going to really suck when we have to ride back up on the way home!"

"I like this trail, mom, it's so much better than the road! There's cool stuff out here!"

"What can we order for breakfast? I could eat like eggs and pancakes and bacon and some strawberries and maybe milk. Yeah, I'm thirsty too."

"Are we going to do this again sometime?"

"Hey, Mom? I didn't know you could ride a bike?!?!"

Check in for Chile

Drumroll, please! It's time to check in for Chile's peak oil addiction challenge.

I am happy to report ZERO air conditioning usage for the week. I must confess, the weather was mild for a few days, so it was easy to bring down the temperatures in the house with some open windows in the evening and closed windows and blinds during the daytime. This weekend got a little sunny and warm, but we solved that by being out on the lake. A little tree swinging over the 75 degree water cools boys right off!

I am also equally giddy to report outdoor drying of a couple of loads of laundry. Even without a drying rack (mine seems to have gone missing... I am betting a few boys borrowed it for some kind of fort or project) I was able to use some patio furniture to dry the doggie bed cover (it met with a little pee-pee accident as the result of ridiculous fireworks. I used some chairs and the boat tube to dry all the boating towels.

Next week I am challenging myself to locate the drying rack and to line dry all the bath towels, sheets and kitchen towels. Baby steps, baby steps people. I am a slow moving suburbanite. Thanks Chile, I appreciate the challenge!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Unexpected Local Meal

I sat down to think about our dinner tonight and to check ingredients off my list to ensure they were local. Then, I realized something. We had an unexpected all local lunch today and I didn't even plan it. We were in a hurry, I grabbed ingredients from the fridge to quickly throw together something that would make everyone happy and it was gone in a flash.

Eating local has become so commonplace and easy, it's now just a part of the routine. Our dinner tonight is going to be a bit more fancy and quite exotic, but I am a little more proud of our lunch. We ate it already of course, so the meal is gone and I can't photograph it. In place of our lunch photo, I am posting a picture of what remains of the Farmer's Market potatoes which will be part of our meal tonight.
Our lunch today - Potato, egg and green onion bake topped with Gouda cheese with a side of cinnamon chip french toast with maple syrup and butter.

Potatoes - Farmer's Market
Green Onion - Farmer's Market
Butter - Calders Dairy
Eggs - East River Organics
Raw Gouda - Grassfields Organics

Cinnamon Chip Bread - Great Harvest Bread (at Farmer's Market)
Eggs - East River Organics
Cream - Calder's Dairy
Butter - Calder's Dairy
Maple Syrup - Currey Farms

p.s. - Have you noticed we eat a lot of breakfast foods? So have I...

Friday, July 4, 2008

Having a Fabulous 4th!

Today is the 4th of July, everyone is still sleeping and the house is quiet. It's a holiday and, for once, I am amazingly calm. I haven't been running around buying all sorts of extravagent treats, red, white and blue cupcakes, packages of hot dogs, cans of soda or paper decorations. I am not stressed over schedules, parties, games and special menus. Shhh... it's a secret, but even I slept in today!
Why? Well, I'm relaxed. We are having a lighter celebration today. I found a lovely "red, white & blue" bread from our local bakery. The red is cherries, the blue is blueberries and the white is the bread. That will make a lovely french toast or snack. We have a freezer well stocked with hot dogs, bacon, steak and hamburger - all local and organic - for grilling whenever we choose. I have eight homemade popsicles all ready to be popped from their molds at a moments notice. Yesterday, I made cookies and enjoyed it because it was really the only chore I had to do. I have potatoes and veggies galore from the Farmer's Market for salads and crunchy snacks. The lemonade is ready, the SIGGs are full, the sun is shining.

What am I waiting for? Today there are no rules. No set time for eating, no set time for relaxing, no schedule, no rigid menu or recipes to fuss over, no watch-glancing. There will be book reading, boat riding and all-around fun without worry. So, get out there, have a happy fourth of July, relax in the sun and recharge your batteries! We all need to do more of that and today's the day!

See you in a day or two with my One Local Summer meal and scenes from 4th of July with 4 boys! Happy 4th everyone!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Expansion of the Farmer's Market

Lately I have noticed a change in the small Farmer's Market I visit on Wednesdays. It's growing. Is this due to the demand for locally grown and produced goods? Or is there another, more pressing reason for this change?

More and more Michiganians are looking for work. State officials with the Michigan Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives noted that our unemployment rate jumped to 8.5 percent in May, hitting its highest monthly mark since October 1992. It's also the highest in the entire nation. The state's overall civilian labor force - those working or looking for jobs - included more than 5 million people last month and that number is expected to grow. The Big Three (commonly how we refer to the three automakers in Detroit) are closing plants, posting record lay offs and offering buy-outs and early retirement packages. There are a lot of us out of work and not a lot of jobs to be found. While the rest of the country is just beginning to feel the pinch of a recession, our state has been crippled for months.

Does this mean out of work former automotive executives might decided to have a lemonade stand at the Farmer's Market? Maybe. Today, for the first time there was a husband and wife team making and selling fresh lemonade and limeade at the market. I love fresh squeezed limeade, so I wandered over. I ended up buying three glasses (Two of the eco 'burban boys were tagging along) at $3 a piece. At first, I balked. Three dollars?? Doesn't that seem like a lot? But, what was wrong with my logic? A mere six months ago, before becoming a lighter consumer, I would have happily plunked down $4.29 for a Starbucks Mocha made by a crabby 17-year old "barrista". I am going to hedge a bet that the barrista wasn't worried about making her mortgage payment either.

$9 later, we were walking back to the van with three icy-cold lemon and limeades made with pure cane syrup and by a real person we chatted with for several minutes. Doesn't that taste good? My kids raved and slurped.

Since last year, when our market was mostly farmers, bakers and nursery folks, we have seen the addition of a horseradish guy, tortilla chip woman, herbal tea lady, bees wax cosmetic person and jam ladies. Today, the newest addition was the lemonade couple. Of course, I don't ask why they are there, but as you wander the market you see it. For every $5 that changes hands you hear, "Thank you. Thank you so much, I appreciate your business." You see all the vendors watching, hoping and waiting for a record day at the market.

Are these people former GM executives? Factory line workers from Ford? Office assistants from Chrysler? Maybe, maybe not. They would never tell and you would never ask. We have a sense of pride here in Detroit, always keeping a stiff upper lip through riots, gas crisis, corrupt mayors and economic free fall. We do what we can to survive, pay our mortgages and put shoes on our kids.

So, who am I not to buy that $3 lemonade from someone who appreciates my business, chats with my boys and thanks us kindly? Of course I am buying, and, as our money changes hands I say, "Thank you, this looks delicious. I hope to see you next week!" We take care of our own here in Detroit, one lemonade at a time.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A pretty face just in time for the 4th of July

I changed my facial care routine awhile back, because the idea of the chemicals and plastics that were in my traditional facial care products were pretty much creeping me out. Add to that, the plastic bottles and wrappers they came in and they were pretty much an eco-sin. Though, a good green girl scout that I am, I waited until I squeezed every last drop out of my old products. Waste not, want not!
I was a little nervous about switching. I really didn't want to go to work looking like an adolescent eco 'burban mom. So, I crossed my fingers and held my breath. And?? So far, so good? Maybe even better!

At night I wash with an all natural Earth Mama Goat Milk soap I get from my favorite local soap maker that is wrapped in recycled corrugate - no plastic whatsoever. Then, I apply a nice pomegranate night cream that I got from Burt's Bees in a glass jar. In the mornings I wash with the same soap and use the same cream, but in the day time version - also in a glass jar. I did buy a blemish stick from Burt's Bees in a little glass vial, but haven't really needed to use it yet. From time to time, at that time of the month and even more so in the sweaty summer months, I feel like a 14 year old again. So, I figured I would buy it as cheap $8 insurance.

Overall? I am fairly happy. No crazy break outs or dry, scaly patches. Frankly, though, I have some funky looking pores on my nose that just don't look squeaky clean, so I might invest in the Burt's Bees toner to help that little problem. I have drastically reduced my plastic consumption, all the while switching to natural alternatives for a nice chemical free face. And the cost? Significantly less than my other brand name routine. I know buying all of these products may not seem technically greener, I am sure I could make my own soap and use vinegar as a toner or something, but if this keeps my skin looking nice and clean and is better for the environment, I am rolling with it.

Next on my list? Toothpaste. Any ideas? Wait - any ideas that I can actually get my kids to use too? Wacky bubbling baking soda is NOT going to fly with them!!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Greenfluencer? Or Just Green?

Last week Arduous wrote a post about the idea that certain sustainable people can be called "Greenfluencers" based on research done by Porter Novelli. I agree with Arduous, the concept makes sense, though the name is a little dorky. Especially since I don't like to be labeled.

So, I read the article and it got me to thinking. Do I consider myself a "Greenfluencer"? What I have done that would categorize me under this label? Do I think I am educated, intelligent, family-oriented, practical and a voter? Yes, but I think I would be all of these things even if I wasn't "green". I was all of those things before making this change to a lighter, greener lifestyle. Maybe those are the qualities that lead me to choose this lifestyle? Hmmmm, which was first? Chicken or egg?

Do I consider myself stylish, a trendsetter, adventurous? Um, sure. Though not everyone might agree. I write letters, I volunteer and dabble in a little community activism. So, I guess I can check those boxes too.

But, have I influenced anyone? OK, other than my children, they don't count yet. I know I influence them, they don't really have a choice! :o)

Here are two things I think I have done as a "Greenfluencer":

1. Little League Recycling Program - I influenced, sometimes forcefully, the league to recycle. I gathered up some volunteers, got some free recycling carts from the waste company and collected some trash. By the end of the season, the carts were full and the "trash lady" jokes sort of subsided. Did some of that carry over into the personal lives and habits of the 250 families in the league? Let's say yes!

2. I write some posts for our local food buying club blog reviewing products, recommending new ones, writing local food recipes and that sort of thing. Based on my recommendation the owner decided to carry some new soaps which helped a local business get more business. I guess that's "Greenfluencing."

What have you done to consider yourself a "Greenfluencer"? Or, do you think it's just a load of bunk?

Do you run a food buying club? Start programs to provide girls in Africa products they need to make sure they can go to school? Host a green book club? Jam sessions? I would love to hear what everyone else does, I think I have a lot to learn about "Greenfluencing"!