Monday, November 23, 2009

Independence Days Week #30

30 weeks. Seven and half months. 210 days.

In the last 210 days I have planted and tended to a garden. I ate and preserved the harvest and shared some with friends. I connected with other gardeners who freely shared their bounty with me.

I learned that many of the plants that people call weeds are wonderful sources of free and nutritious food. Many of these plants and more are medicine. I now make my own medicine. Significant sections of my home have the look of an herbwyfe's apothecary. This gladdens my heart.

I make friends with anaerobic beasties, invite them into my home and ask them to stay awhile. They get real intimate with milk, cabbage and cukes and the resulting transformation is nothing short of alchemy.

I collect all manner of glass jars. Mason, pint, quart, corked, brown, blue, tall and short. I have a thing for cool stone crocks, simple hand tools and aprons.

I have a well stocked pantry, medicine chest, water supplies. My cupboards are filled with local goodies, homemade jams, pickled beets, dried beans. Squashes lurk amongst fruit butters and piles of books.

I have neatly stacked linens and cloth. Napkins, lacy handkerchiefs, scarves for gift wrapping. Wool blankets, cozy throws. Rags, pee wipes.

My craft section has grown. I have baskets of thrifted yarn, crochet cotton, my great grandmother's crochet hooks, embroidery hoops, ribbons, buttons, baubles and beads.

I look around and see that so much of the stuff of my life has been handed down, salvaged from the trash or purchased from yard sales, thrift shops, community stores and church bazaars. My place is small but if you came to visit me I could take you on a tour that would last for hours as I recounted the story that comes with many of the pieces that make up my home. Nearly everything has a history and tale to tell, much longer than your average trip from the foreign factory to cargo ship to big box store to trunk of car and the ride home.

All together it makes for a rather mismatched and quirky sort of place. My tastes run eclectic and my sense of aesthetics and lifestyle habits certainly aren't for everyone. But that's ok, because I'm doing much of this for me out of sheer pleasure and soul biggering joy and that suits me just fine. And when I come home, I enter into a cozy world, a haven well used and much loved and I wouldn't want it any other way.

Here is my last Independence Days update for this season.

Plant something:
- sprouts

Harvest something:
- dandelions

Preserve something:
- dandelion root tincture
- sauerkraut
- made and froze grape juice
- drying rosemary and thyme

Waste not:

- fair trade coffee in travel mug
- Indian takeout in reusable containers from the small family owned biryani restaurant in my neighbourhood

Want not:
- borrowed movies from the library
- gifts and things from church bazaar

Preparation and storage:
- final clean up of the kitchen and allotment gardens
- added popping corn, olive oil and 8l water to supplies
- storing local cabbage and squash
- added sterile gauze pads to medicine chest
- purchased hot water bottle
Exercise: yoga three times, biked to library and back, walked to farmer's market and half way back

Build community food systems:

- local food from farmer's market
- attended fundraiser for the Otesha Project (educating youth on the value of supporting local growers and buying local food being one of the many awesome things they do)

Eat the food:

- used some pumpkin puree in a soup
- currant jam is lovely on oats with walnuts and raisins

Take the medicine:

- elderberry syrup
- yarrow tincture
- nettle and dandelion vinegars
- sage honey
- plantain tincture
- daisy tincture
- cultivated American ginseng root

Monday, November 16, 2009

Independence Days Week #29

A thorough cleaning and organising fit on Friday. A full day at my herb course on Saturday and a birthday party for a friend later that night. Cake, dancing, singing. A sleep-in morning on Sunday followed by a bike ride to the farmer's market. Returning home laden with squash, cabbage, kale, chard, grapes and herbs. Heading right back out again on the bike, to the allotments. A light drizzle. Grey sky. So mild I don't need gloves. Digging in the dirt for dandelion leaves and roots. Nothing but the sound of the Alta Vista crows caw cawing overhead.
My garden gloves thick with wet, loamy dirt. Rhythmically banging clods and roots on the ground. Stuffing leaves in my sac. Rain falls harder. Time to go. Back home again at dusk. Boil and strain the grapes for juice. Scrub the roots. Wash the leaves. Make dinner for the ADGMD and I. Homemade mac 'n cheese with pumpkin and sage. Comfort food. So good. Curl up on the couch. Dozing to the sound of the ADGMD doing dishes. Work left to be done. It can wait. I am content. I am at peace. Savour this moment while it lasts. I am at peace.

Plant something:
- nope

Harvest something:
- dandelion leaves and roots

Preserve something:
- comfrey root liniment and oil
- dandelion root tincture
- dandelion leaf vinegar
- parsley leaf vinegar
- made grape juice

Waste not:

- mended a pair of stockings
- wrapped a birthday gift (second hand book) in a cloth scarf

Want not:
- salvaged window screen, to use for drying herbs
- herbal tea from a fellow herbal student who was cleaning out her cupboards and giving the teas away

Preparation and Storage:
- added more local squash to my squash basket (My plan is to store one squash per week for the winter months.)
- crocheting xmas gifts
Exercise: yoga 3 times, 2hr bike ride around the city, bike to farmer's market and garden

Build community food systems:
- local food from the farmer's market

Eat the food:
- currant jam
- J 'chokes and mung bean sprouts
- pumpkin and sage mac & cheese

Take the medicine:
- nettle, dandelion vinegars
- parsley infusion
- yarrow tincture
- plantain syrup
- rosemary tea

Monday, November 9, 2009

Independence Days Week #28

I went to two Church bazaars this weekend. I arrived early at the first one. Already a small line had formed up the stairs leading into the basement, so I took my place and waited with the others, on the landing. An elderly lady arrived with a walker. Someone held the door so she could come in, another person carried her walker to the bottom of the stairs. There was general agreement that she be allowed in early so she didn`t have to stand and wait. A gentleman offered his arm and with his support and the railing she navigated the stairs safely and entered the church basement. A few minutes later a volunteer opened the door and welcomed us with a warm smile. We slowly shuffled into the large room to check out the attic treasures, preserves, baked goods, silent auction and handcrafts. There was lots of friendly chatter and laughter. Children beelined excitedly to the toy area and secret, kids only shopping area. I spent just under $30, came away with 12 different gifts and a few items for me. On my way out, unlocking my bike with my baskets full, I stopped to chat with a man with Down`s Syndrome who proudly showed me the VHS movies he got.

Remember the Wal-mart worker who got trampled to death last year? That was such a sad and tragic story of a completely unnecessary death of another human being, caused by people desperate to go shopping.

I think a lot about the kind of world I want to live in, the kind of world that I have a part in creating. When I reflect on the death of that Wal-mart worker and my church bazaar experience, it is so clear to me that I want to do what I can to bring into being a world where a gentleman offers his arm to an elderly lady and helps her down the stairs, a world where someone opens the door with a welcoming smile and where the acquisition of a few second-hand movies is worth stopping and talking proudly about, with a stranger.

At the risk of getting up on my soapbox here I would ask that, this season, as you look for gifts for your loved ones, perhaps you can stop for a moment and ask yourself what kind of world are you bringing into being by getting and giving those gifts?

(The above text is cross-posted here.)

Plant something:

- started a new batch of mung bean sprouts
- the ADGMD planted a few garlic cloves our garden neighbour gave us

Harvest something:

- dandelion leaves and flowers!
- comfrey root (for sore muscle liniment)

Preserve something:
- froze the last of the plum butter, since there wasn't enough to make it worthwhile to set up the canner

Waste not:
- avoided a lot of packaging waste and resource use by buying gifts and other items at church bazaars

Want not:
- got many second hand and hand crafted gifts at the bazaars, plus a number of household items for myself! (15 gifts for others, 10 'gifts' for me, for just under $40.)
- scored an awesome, arc floor lamp put out to the curb, just down the street from my place (I meant to take and post a picture of it but forgot to, so please take a moment to visualise lighting awesomeness!)
- borrowed caulking gun from a friend in a nearby neighbourhood

Preparation and storage:

- caulked around 3 of my drafty basement windows
- exercise: yoga 4 times, took the long way to and from work a couple of times, biked to farmer's market and garden

Build community food systems:
- local food from farmer's market

Eat the food:
- plum butter on oats
- dandelion flowers in pancakes, with plum butter
- roasted Jerusalem artichokes
- stir fried chard
- dandelion leaves and flowers in soup

Take the medicine:

- sage and rosemary tea
- violet flower syrup
- wild carrot tincture
- plantain tincture
- elderberry syrup

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Chemical Free Urban Homestead

I got an email from the Environmental Working Group about the hazards of conventional cleaners used in schools and safe cleaning tips for the home to keep your family safe.

I haven't used conventional cleaners for a long time now. I use environmentally friendly dish and laundry soap in bottles that I refill at my local enviro-store. For everything else I use vinegar, baking soda and sometimes salt and earlier this spring I wrote a post in praise of the best cleaning product of all, water.

Which is why I take issue with the first few tips the EWG offers. They recommend diluting conventional cleaning products, using small amounts, opening windows, using protective gloves and keeping kids away from chemicals. (How are you supposed to put the little buggers to work, if you have to keep them away from their cleaning chores? ;) )

Well, how about not using the products in the first place? Really. It isn't until step 8 that they encourage people to 'experiment' with vinegar and baking soda. News flash: baking soda and vinegar is a time-tested, tried and true way to clean your home. Honestly people. You don't need chemical cleaners. You don't. You really, really don't.

Here's a story: My upstairs neighbours were hosting a lot of people for a dinner and were cooking two lambs. One lamb went into their oven and they borrowed my oven for the other. We both ended up with a really thick and blackened layer of lamb juice baked onto the bottom of our ovens. My upstairs neighbour used a conventional oven cleaner. The whole house, their place and mine, reeked of harsh, toxic, chemical nastiness that burned my eyes and made my lungs hurt. All the windows were opened, in the middle of winter and we froze. The damn cleaner didn't even do that great of a job and apparently it was a real bitch to clean.

I opened my oven, dumped baking soda onto the mess, poured vinegar over that, watched it fizz for a bit and then closed the door and walked away from the whole thing, not quite ready to deal with it yet. I came back to it the next day and took a spatula to the baking soda covered, petrified lamb juice and resigned myself to a difficult chore. Lo! Everything lifted off as easily as can be, I piled the scrapings onto a couple of sheets of newspaper and wiped the oven down with a damp cloth. My oven sparkled and the remains of my cleaning job went into the compost. True story.

We don't need nasty, chemical cleaners in our lives, in our bodies, in our environment and in our water. Heck, for most things we don't even need fancy, expensive, 'green' products either.

Look, I don't mean to be a Prescriptive Polly here, but getting rid of chemical cleaners is one of the easiest things a person can do. It's better for the environment, it's better for everyone's health and it saves a lot money. It's kind of a no brainer don't you think?

So what about you? Am I just preaching to the converted here or do you still use conventional cleaners for some things? Most things? I'll tell you what, if you promise to stop, I'll come and clean your house for you!

Chemical free resources:
Baking soda
Get the kids involved
A little rusty?
Give the gift of greener clean.
More green clean
Still more and and more green cleaning

Monday, November 2, 2009

Independence Days Week #27

For the last few weeks I kept thinking that this week will be my last Independence Days update until the spring, because as the fall progresses, frosty nights become the rule rather than the exception and the sun sets earlier each day, surely there must be little productivity left in the land and not much to do or tell.

Yet I am continually surprised at what I manage to accomplish (through no particular talents or gifts of my own, besides determination and perhaps not knowing any better) and now after having 3 seasons of gardening under my belt, I'm glad to let go of the illusion that growing, harvesting and eating only happens between Victoria and Labour day.

I didn't plant anything this week, but I was able to:

Harvest something:
- a wee bit of chard that have survived the frosts
- my last, not quite fully formed cabbage, but it'll do
- a handful of Jerusalem artichokes

Preserve something:
- plum butter

Waste not:

- returned egg cartons and milk bottles to organic market
- dish and laundry soap refills
- making another batch of egg shells in vinegar for a calcium supplement
- made bread

Want not:

- movies from the library (Old Joy and Short Cuts) and the Transition Handbook
- second hand hallowe'en costume
- salvaged a plastic sword and scythe left behind at the hallowe'en party- nice editions to my tickle trunk!
- took a lamp a neighbour was giving away

Preparation and storage:

- added some masks to medical supplies
- added canned veg. chili and sunflower seed butter to food storage pantry
- decanted and stored oils, tinctures and dried sage
- exercise: yoga 4 times, biked to market and garden

Build community food systems:
- local food from farmer's market
- gave away some plum butter to neighbours

Eat the food:

- pear butter
- used pesto and peas from the freezer in pasta

Take the medicine:

- plantain tincture
- wild carrot tincture
- violet flower syrup
- nettle and egg shell oxymel
- rosemary tea