Got a lot of blackberries? Then check out this recipe for Blackberry Mojito Fruit Leather.

I'm not a huge fan of fruit leathers, but this turned out super good! And, really, you can't go wrong with blackberries, mint and rum.

Friday, November 30, 2007

My punkin made a pie!

Random pumpkin pie pictureYes, the man who, two weeks ago, couldn't walk because of the double-barrelled blood clots he was sporting in his legs. The same man who, two months ago, was clinging onto dear life in the ICU. This man that I love got his ass in the kitchen and made me some pie!

That's right. Mr. Crunchy has cast away his wheelchair and his walker like a man saved at a religious revival. It's like a miracle! Well, that and handfuls of medications.

And, since he's Mr Crunchy and all, this was a totally local pumpkin pie, with the pumpkin from our backyard and everything else local too.

I'm trying to convince Sir Crunch-a-lot to write a guest blog post, but I was thinking of instead doing an Ask Mr. Crunchy, similar to my Ask Crunchy posts. He just needs a little encouragement...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Greenish gift giving guide

Green for ChristmasThe Green Holiday Series. Serving all your holiday needs since, well, Monday.

Without divulging all the super-cool handmade gifts I'll be presenting to my loved ones this year, I'd like to pass on some suggestions for gift giving this year that may not exactly be "green", but will certainly be a whole lot lower impact than something manufactured out of petroleum products and shipped from China.

So, without further ado, here's a laundry list of sorts to stoke your creativity:

Crafts - This, of course, assumes you have some sort of skill. And some projects do require it, but I've also included a few projects that anyone can do. For starters, there's the ubiquitous knitting, crocheting or other likewise crafts. If you're new to knitting or don't have a lot of time you can go with the obvious scarf or hat. Another thing to try is knitting up something I call bath scrubbies. Basically they are washcloths knitted from something like Chenille. I had a whole bunch left over from another project, so I doubled it up and produced something that was more loofah than a regular washcloth. Any thick natural fiber would work well. The best thing is that even the most inept knitter (that would be me) can crank one of these out in about an hour.

If knitting or crocheting is not your sport and sewing is, then by all means sew up some of those fancy bed warmers we were talking about a while back. You can fill them with rice and any kind of dried herb for an aromatherapy experience. If you want something a little more seasonal, try crushing cinnamon sticks, cloves and nutmeg and adding it to the mix. Plus, they can be used as any sort of heating pad and not just because you're keeping your house temperatures at 60 degrees. If you have scraps of fabric left over from other projects, use those to make a patchwork pad.

If even that's too much and all you can do is boil water, well then making your own candles should be something you can handle. You can buy large blocks of beeswax and some molds and go to town adding different pigments and scents or just leave them au naturel. If that's still too much then you can get beeswax sheets for making rolled candles. They come in a variety of colors and are simple to do.

Making your own soaps is a heap of fun, teaches you a bit about chemistry and is extremely satisfying. But, if cold-processed soapmaking is a bit overwhelming for you (the lye! it burns! it burns!), you can go the melt and pour route. There are all sorts of super-fun soap molds out there and you can add all manner of additives (like oatmeal, cornmeal, dried flowers, etc.) to personalize it as much as you like.

While you're at it, you might as well make some lip balm as gifts. Who needs petroleum based lip balms, when it's sooo easy to make it out of luscious ingredients like cocoa butter, shea butter and mango butter. Heck, with flavorings like "champagne", make some extra for your Eco New Year's Resolution Party for the non-drinkers in your crowd.

Arts - If you're more artistic and less glitter and glue-gun, try painting something personalized on gallery wrap canvas or on something you can easily frame. For grandparents, frame some of your children's artwork. Better yet, have your kids make something special and let them pick out the frame.

If writing is more your speed, write a poem or pen a letter telling the person how much they mean to you or how they make a difference in your life. A haiku about your friend's passion for trout fishing will leave a more lasting impression than one of those damn singing fish.

Foods - If you have the equipment (although probably not the time if you haven't already started) bottle your own beer, wine or cider. You can buy customized bottle labels for that extra personal touch.

For food gifts, make mini loaves of quick breads, fudge, or cookies. If you have more time (or are just a crazy Canning Crack Ho like my friend, Rachel), make your own jams or fruit butters.

Other ideas include making your own granola and putting it in canning or fancier jars with ribbons (natural, of course). Additionally, you can make your own cocoa mix, spice mix, coffee mix, or other dry mixes to give as gifts.

One thing that is also fun is to paint an empty wine bottle with non-toxic paint and then fill it with an herb infused olive oil, complete with an oil pour spout on top.

Miscellaneous - If you don't have time to do much of anything, then print out some of these coupons for free massage and childcare to give to your friends and family.

You can also adopt a critter on someone's behalf or donate an animal through Oxfam or Heifer International. Who knew a sheep only set you back $45?

And, when in doubt, you can always check out the thrift stores, consignment shops and garage sales and help keep items out of the waste stream.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Rudolph the green nosed reindeer

Green for ChristmasPerhaps Grandma was run over by a reindeer bent on trying out all those new organic wines and spirits?

For many people food and drink is what getting together is all about. And today's green holidays posting is all about how to make your holiday dinners and parties green.

Tableware - Let's start with the foundations. Forget the paper plates and plastic cups. Try to use real dishes if you can. If you must use disposable, try to get something compostable. There are a number of different options. If you must go with disposable, choose bamboo tableware, corn "plastic" or other biodegradable dinnerware.

Table decorations - As with the rest of your house decor, go for the natural. Decorate with bowls of edibles, vases filled with cranberries, etc. For place markings, you can make your own using old Christmas cards or gift tags.

Food - Follow the same guidelines as you used for the Eat Local Thanksgiving Challenge. That is, try to find foods that are local and in season for your area. Choosing organic is even better. If you must have something out of season, look for the organic versions before settling for the conventional. If you eat local, you'll save tons of food miles and if you choose organic you be saving the soil from all those petrochemicals used to grow it.

Beverages - Stick with local or organic wines, local juices and stay away from soda and bottled water. Most people won't notice that the pitcher of ice water on the table contains tap water.

Cocktails - What's a holiday without a little classic cocktail party? Just make sure you choose fruits and juices that are organic, if possible, and try some of the following organic spirits if you can find them:

     4 Copas Organic Tequila
     Juniper Green Organic Gin
     Square One Organic Vodka
     Rain Organic Vodka
     ModMix Organic Mixers comes in the following flavors:
  • Pomegranate Cosmopolitan
  • Citrus Margarita
  • Mojito
  • French Martini
  • Lavender Lemon Drop
New Year's Eve - There are a few organic champagnes out there or you can choose any sort of bubbly organic beverage. Again, keep your tableware to reusable, decorations on the natural or reuse side. For example, reuse silver or gold wrapping paper over cardboard boxes to make silver stars you can hang from the ceiling with leftover silver ribbons or even raffia. Dig out that silver tray for your drinks. Frost some grapes in superfine sugar and egg whites for the table (see directions at the bottom of this page).

Stay away from fireworks and throw confetti instead. Preferably something recyclable. You'll save yourself from toxic chemicals and spare your lungs from air pollution.

Host an Eco New Years Resolution Party where each guest commits to a resolution to do something new and green in the New Year. Make a list of green ideas for party goers to choose from. I'll be posting more on this later in mid-December if you need more party ideas.

Ambiance - If you want to light candles, go for the soy or beeswax ones to eliminate breathing in petroleum byproducts from paraffin. If you want to
roast your chestnuts by an open fire (especially if you're Freezing Yer Buns) then choose a Java Log or other eco-friendly firelog instead of a Duraflame. The Java Log burns hotter and higher than the average firelog, diverts coffee grounds from the waste stream and produces far less emissions.

So spend some time this season planning to green your holiday parties. But just remember to eat, drink and be merry!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I'm dreaming of a green Christmas

Green for ChristmasToday's green holidays posting covers everything you wanted to know and then some about greening up your holiday lighting and decorations.

Outdoor Christmas lights - I live in an area well-known for it's Christmas lights and yard decorations. In fact, we actually have tour buses come through the neighborhood. It's a bit insane and the pressure is intense. Last year I went on the hunt for LED lights (since we didn't yet own any outdoor lights), but they were hard to come by. So, I'm happy to see that this year more stores are carrying them. They are still more expensive, but you save money because they are soooo much cheaper to run since they use a fraction of the electricity (10% of incandescent) and they last forever. I'm not going to replace our new bulbs due to the cost, but I will be running the lights less this year. Eventually I will replace them with LED when the old (new?) ones wear out.

Christmas trees - If you can, make sure you get a fresh Christmas tree from a sustainable source, like a tree farm. Choose organic if you can find one. You can make getting a tree a family tradition by going to a U-Cut tree farm to select and/or chop down your own tree. If you do get a fresh tree, look into the tree recycling options in your area. Or rent a wood chipper and make you're own mulch - just be safe and stay out of it yourself.

Artificial trees consume significant energy and petroleum-based materials (and lead!) during their manufacture and transport, but a one time purchase that gets used for years and years and years may make up for the gas spent in transporting that fresh Christmas tree as well as the chemicals used in growing the trees. In my mind it's a bit of a trade off if you can't find an organic tree. You might want to see if you can find a used artificial tree - you may even be able to find one on Craigslist in your area.

Wanna see the details on the Christmas tree debate? Well, the real winner is not having one at all, but like the picture above says, you don't have to be the Grinch to be green for Christmas and I don't think many people will budge on this one, so go organic if you can.

Christmas tree trimmings - Again, go with the LED lights and string up strands of popcorn or cranberries (if they are local). Use old craft paper to make paper chains. Of course you should reuse all those old tree trimmings but ask yourself if you really need more. If so, make it into a family event where each person picks out a new decoration. At the thrift store. Or better yet, take old knick knacks, jewelry, pins or other suitable things that you don't want anymore and convert them into something you can hang on the tree.

Home decorations - Attach those Christmas cards you get in the mail onto a long ribbon with double sided tape (or reusable small safety pins) and hang on the wall. Get creative! Collect scraps of fabric, old cards and boxes and get your family and friends together to create decorations that will have more sentimental value than anything you can buy. You can do pretty much anything with non-toxic paints and glitter.

If you need ideas, check out 101 Ideas for Christmas Decorations. Note - they aren't all environmentally friendly, but you'll get the idea. For a more natural looking home (think Pottery Barn), decorate the mantel with fallen branches and pinecones. Trim some of that overgrown holly and ivy from the yard and put it to good use.

Instead of buying another poinsettia this year, decorate the table with an arrangement of rosemary, sage, thyme or other woody herbs. Or you can fill a vase with pinecones or cranberries. Put out a bowl of edibles such as fruits and nuts - whatever's in season in your area. And, if you use candles, make sure you choose soy or beeswax candles over the petroleum-based ones, they are better for you and the environment.

If you still want more decorations, check thrift stores and garage sales for recycled decorations.

Monday, November 26, 2007

I'll have a green, green Christmas

Green for ChristmasI hope you all have recovered from Thanksgiving (for those of you in the U.S.) and I bet you are gearing up for the holidays.

As such, I'm starting a series of posts on how to green your holidays. There are many different ways of have a lighter impact on the earth this holiday season.

Today's post is all about the gifts.

Christmas cards - This one's a tough one for me. I like to send out Christmas cards but I have in the past also sent out an electronic newsletter to people. That way you can include way more information and pictures than you can on a Christmas card. If you can't do without, use those free cards you get in the mail since you'd be recycling them anyway. If you don't get any or don't have enough to fit your needs, then make sure the ones you do buy are made from 100% recycled paper. If this still gives you the willies, then offset your guilt by donating to Terrapass or something.

Gift wrap - Just like for Emma's birthday this year, I'm going to try to avoid wrapping paper as much as possible. Now, I don't have much control over the gifts coming into the house and, if it's like last year, we'll have so many for the kids we won't buy any ourselves. But, for the ones we do buy, I'll be reusing gift bags from last year. I really recommend them as they are sturdy and can be used again and again and again. If you really must use gift wrap, try to think of alternatives. A favorite of ours has been old maps or posters. Have the kids decorate some paper grocery store bags if you have them. And there's always the option of reusing gift wrap if you can. Of course, it may be hard to salvage after the kid's get at it.

Ribbons and bows - The best thing to use is something biodegradable or compostable. There are a lot of materials out there that look quite nice on packaging and can be used as ribbons and then other materials can be added as bows. Think about using sisal or raffia ribbons and old buttons for bows on smaller packages. There's also hemp string, yarn and natural or wooden beads to add.

Gift tags - This is where you get some karma back from those Christmas cards you bought. Use old cards that you received from the previous year, cut them into little rectangles and use them as gift tags, attaching them with some of the raffia you used to decorate the gift.

One thing I'd like to push, for those gifts left under the tree by "Santa", is not wrapping gifts at all. I don't remember my parents wrapping the gifts, just putting gift tags on them. Just make sure things are clearly marked so there are not misunderstandings. Because that's how I ended up with my brother's Big Wheel, and to this day I have not been forgiven.

And, finally, for all the packaging that's left over, make sure you recycle the things you can't reuse next year!

Gift giving - First of all, you might want to think about making your own gifts. I'm torturing all my friends and family this year with a hodgepodge of handmade gifts in recyclable gift bags. It's a lot more personal than a premade item although it's not always suitable. If you're not handy or don't have the time or inclination to fabricate all your own gifts, you can still consider not consuming anything new by looking for items that are gently used. You might even be able to afford something bigger and more exciting if you searched on eBay, Craigslist or Amazon. If you want to avoid shipping, look for local artists and artisans to supply your special gifts.

When in doubt you can give experiences instead of stuff for a waste free holiday. Tickets to music, plays, sporting events, museums, massages and meals are a great way to splurge on a friend or family member. And cut down on all the packaging. If you don't want to spend a lot of money, you can donate your time by offering babysitting services, offers to clean the house, wash and wax a car, change the oil... the list is endless.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

I struck gold!

Yukon Gold mashed potatoesYukon Gold! I had completely ignored my potato plantings this year up until today. The last time I checked on the Yukons I couldn't really find any. But then again I didn't dig all the way to the bottom of the containers.

This afternoon I figured I should at the very least go dig through the French Fingerling bin before it got too cold out. I assumed that there weren't any in that container as well and had written the whole potato project off as an abject failure.

Well, boy was I wrong. I dug up about seven pounds of fingerlings. Then I moved onto the Yukon Golds and dug up eight pounds of them. Hoo boy! Are we gonna have us some potatoes.

Now, this doesn't seem like a whole lot of potatoes, but it is for us. Particularly since I haven't a clue how to store the little buggers.

So, can any of you guys help me figure out how to store them? I have a room downstairs that stays fairly cold, but not cold enough and not humid enough. I don't have a root cellar. My other option is to keep them outside but I don't think it's humid enough either.

It is my understanding that potatoes should be stored at a temperature of 40 to 45°F and a relative humidity of 90 percent. I could try to make space in the fridge. If I put them in the fridge I'm afraid the ethylene off-gassing from the apples will cause them to sprout.

I just wished I had dug these up before Thanksgiving. Now that's local!

So, please. Help me save my potatoes!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Think before you spend

Do you really need this?With the day after Thanksgiving sales in full swing, I wanted to bring up a little something that has been thrust on me lately. That being, I really need to watch what we spend our money on. Since we recently went from being a two income household down to a one income household indefinitely, I have had to change the way I shop. I can't complain. For the last few years I haven't had to pay attention to prices on grocery items. We don't spend much on other things and rarely splurge on big ticket items even though both of us make pretty satisfying salaries.

Now our costs (mostly due to a new mortgage) outweigh my salary. I'd have to trim things down (like cancelling most unnecessary services like cable Internet, cell phones, etc.) but we'd still have a deficit because of Emma's preschool. Fortunately, if we need to we have enough saved to keep us not too bad off until Emma is in public school.

So, what I've become lately, which I haven't been regarding shopping is: mindful. Before I get in line at the store I go through the cart or basket and analyze whether or not I actually need the item or whether it's just a frivolous or unnecessary purchase.

Each new product you buy has its own environmental impact whether that be from a manufacturing standpoint (materials, water, energy, labor) to shipping and distribution. Will that item last and, most importantly, be used a long time or will it be ignored and eventually discarded after the initial excitement has worn off?

As we head into our most consumerist time of the year, I urge you to do the same. Not for money reasons, although that is a great side benefit. But for needless consumption. We feel like we need the newest this and the bestest that. But do we really? Does it really make you feel better? Or do you get a hollow, empty feeling inside?

No matter how cute that Mr. T Sock Monkey is, I doubt the gag gift factor will last very long. And if it doesn't, I pity the fool.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Holiday travel poll

What are you doing for the holiday this weekend? Visiting friends, traveling with family, staying home? From what I've been reading, airplane travel in the U.S. for this holiday weekend is up 6% over last year. High gas prices don't seem to be affecting the amount of car travel over last year, at least in our area.



Did the environmental impact of travel via air or otherwise influence your plans this year at all?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Add local foods, save some miles

Many of you have pledged to eat local this Thanksgiving, with approximately 116 plates worth of food coming from local sources rather than shipped in products from afar.

An estimated 255 pounds of CO2 has been saved just from these pledges alone. Just to put that in perspective, this is the equivalent of driving 313 less miles in your car.

Although that may not seem like a lot, if the 15,000 unique visitors that visited my blog in the last month replaced one plate worth of food at their Thanksgiving table with local products, that would be like taking the average vehicle off the road for 40,500 miles. I think that's a number that really makes a difference. A huge difference that just you Crunchy Chickens out there can make without much effort or extra cost.

So, even though many of you may not have pledged to do so, it's not too late to add local produce to your table.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Winter window treatments

Freeze Yer Buns ChallengeSince so many people have asked about insulating blinds, window treatments, window quilts and the rest, I wanted to point you to an article that covers it all instead of me trying to do the same.

Winter window treatment articlePlease visit this recent article in Mother Earth Living, Save Energy with Winter Window Treatments. It covers window basics, commercial window dressings, homemade quilts and other do-it-yerself options such as bubble wrap, acrylic storm windows and other such stuffs.

Now, get started and make your windows all cozy for the winter.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Planning my Thanksgiving attack

We'll see if I have the time and/or energy to do all of this, but since we'll have so many relatives in the house helping manage the kids, this may actually be the easiest year ever.

Here's the menu, including how I'm making it local:

Herb Butter Roasted Turkey and Gravy - using the organic turkey I won and herbs from the backyard

Parmesan Mashed Potatoes - made with local dairy

Roasted Glazed Orange Carrots - using the orange marmalade I canned over the summer

Plum Port Cranberry Sauce - made with the organic Plum Port preserves I canned over the summer and local cranberries

Pumpkin-Praline Pie - using the pumpkins I grew in my backyard (I already made the puree a while ago)

Apple Pie - made using the apple pie filling I made and froze from the apples from my friend's orchard in Central Washington and served with local ice cream

I'll also be serving bread made from a local bakery, local wine and possibly a few other things if I get around to it.

I wanted to use local potatoes and carrots, but the stores I went to didn't carry them and I didn't have time to go to a farmer's market. Sigh.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Super energy savings

Freeze Yer Buns ChallengeSince we use oil heat (actually BioHeat, a mix of biodiesel and regular heating oil) to heat our house, this doesn't totally pertain to the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge, at least for us, but I just had to share.

I got my electric bill today. I haven't exactly been paying too close attention lately, but this one really got my attention. Ever since Low Impact Week back in June, I've been instituting some energy saving changes around here. Although I must admit I haven't been line drying our clothes since Sir Crunch-A-Lot got sick. Since clothes drying is fairly energy intensive I am even more amazed at how much we cut back.

For the same period last year, we used 2024 kWh. This year? Drum roll please.... 931 kWh. Now I know that if I had been not using the dryer it would have been even lower. This works out to an average of $.78 per day.

Unfortunately, I can't really calculate out how much heating oil we're using this winter until maybe the spring since our readings are irregular (based on temperatures). So, I won't know what kind of savings we'll have for a while. But since we are lowering our daytime house temperature by about 7 degrees and our nighttime temperatures by about 8 degrees, it has to be a somewhat significant to the amount of oil we used.

What have we changed to reduce our electricity usage?

1. Well, for one, I'm more attentive to the lights in the house. We used to light the house up like crazy, but now if I know no one will be in a room, I make sure to go around and turn off all those lights. It's hard with little kids and their fixation with light switches, but it's a start.

2. Next off, our hot water heater usage has gone down since we started bathing the kids less. A lot less. We used to bathe both of them every day, but since I'm the only one at it these days, they get baths twice a week each. And, it really doesn't seem to matter much.

3. Our washing machine is being used less since I'm wearing bulky clothing items more than once (like jeans and sweaters). And since my husband is home-bound his clothing needs are minimal at best.

4. We no longer use the Heat Dry option on our dishwasher. We always run it on Air Dry now. We do one load a day and it's always full.

5. Finally, I suspect that since our oil heater runs on electricity and it's running a whole lot less, it's probably sucking down less energy.

The only thing offsetting all of this is our new chest freezer that is hosting a myriad of frozen fruits, vegetables, sauces, breads and pizza doughs that I made in the last few months. But, having these around saves us additional money and time too!

I just can't believe our electric bill is less than $25 a month! We'll see how we do next time around.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle book discussion (chapters 10 - 12)

What's this you say? Already another book discussion? Well, since I've been a wee bit behind on the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle book club, I thought I'd do another one while I was at it! So here goes...

Chapter 10. Eating Neighborly - I totally love the idea of restaurants serving food from nearby farms. Not only does that ensure produce and meats at the peak of production, but also gives back to the community and helps support the local agricultural economy. I can think of quite a few restaurants in the Seattle area that have a close relationship with the farms here. There is even an organization to ensure this relationship exists, called the Farmer Chef Connection. Do you have many restaurants in your area that support this sort of connection and, if so, do you go out of your way to frequent those establishments?

Chapter 11. Slow Food Nations - We've talked about this before, the idea of really sitting down and enjoying where your food comes from rather than hurrying through another meal to get to another activity in your life, whether that be a kid's soccer practice or your own busy lives. It seems like a complete lost art, that of sitting down with friends, family and neighbors and enjoying a long leisurely meal. I guess for most people it's reserved to the major holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Even Super Bowl Sunday is the closest some people come to sharing a meal with others, even if it is whilst watching football.

Parade Magazine ran an article over the weekend regarding eating locally and it looked like 78% of families eat together at least once a week, including eating out at restaurants. I'm pretty sure the high percentage leans closer to the once a week rather than seven times a week and, if so, I think this is pretty pathetic. Will you be trying to institute more family meals at home after reading this chapter?

Chapter 12. Zucchini Larceny - I'm still awfully bitter about my failed zucchini plant this last summer. I mean, who has a zucchini plant that produces nothing? I mean, nada. Zilch. I guess the cool summer probably had something to do with it, but I was hoping for a summer of overwhelming zucchinis wherein I'd be freezing volumes of zucchini and baking loaves for months. Sigh. Anyway, I digress. Did you grow zucchinis this summer? Were you overwhelmed with them. What did you do with the excess? I love that passing on extra zucchini has almost become an act of terrorism. If only it were that simple :)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Turka-lurkey

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and I'm sure we're all starting our plans for dinner. If you are not hosting, it's a different story, but for the rest of us, it's a lot of planning, enjoyment and work.

Although I wasn't able to acquire a local turkey (there aren't enough processing facilities in Washington state to support many local turkeys), I did win a free turkey from the grocery store I shop at most. I was able to get a $40 organic turkey (frozen, alas) for free from Organic Prairie. Since they are part of a coop, it's possible it's local, but I doubt it.


Friday, November 9, 2007

Bun warmin' bed warmers

Freeze Yer Buns ChallengeAs temperatures start to dip, I thought I would start sharing some of my hints and tips to keep warm at night.

First off, I can't sleep if my feet are cold. It's almost painful - I think that's what keeps me awake. So, lately I've been quite bundled up in lots of layers in addition to adding an extra blanket.

We haven't busted out the down comforter yet and probably won't need to if we keep the heat at the new adjusted temp of 62 at night. But Mr. Crunchy has been sleeping back in bed again instead of upright so I may start sneaking it down lower when nobody's looking.

We don't do space heaters or electric blankets, although I do see their merit in allowing the overall house temperature to drop, without you truly freezing yer buns off. Since we don't own either and I'm not inclined to buy them, we use alternative methods instead.

So, do you want to know my secret weapon? I thought you'd never ask.

It's a bed warmer. Last year I researched like the dickens what the best bed warmer for me would be. You see, normally, my husband sleeps really hot so he can't stand extra blankets. I end up putting them on just my side of the bed. Plus he doesn't like flannel sheets very much. So, climbing into a cold bed with cold, cotton sheets isn't exactly comfy.

I thought about a hot water bottle and they come in all fancy sorts of varieties with fuzzy, plushy characters, but I was afraid that it would pop and then I'd be left with water soaking my bed. I know this probably isn't a reasonable fear, but I think a wet bed is worse than a cold bed. Plus, once the water cools down, now you have a cold water bottle. No thanks.

And then there are the microwaveable bed warmers. No, I'm not talking about those gel packs. I'm talking about those kinds that are filled with rice or some sort of other material that holds heat for a little while and conforms to whatever shape you want. Also, another woman has recommended using deer corn as the best filler. But the thought of having to microwave the bejeesus out of the corn to kill off mold spores, eggs and critters wasn't what I was looking for.

Cherry pit heating padSomehow I managed to stumble upon cherry pit bed warmers, which are like the rice ones but filled with, well, cherry pits. Not too surprisingly, it was from Mother Earth News. They have been used for ages to help heat up a bed and, traditionally, have been heated using a warming oven, but they can be put in your oven's warming drawer, or popped into the microwave. Now, why would I choose cherry pits over rice or another filler? Well, they hold heat for a lot longer - upwards of 2+ hours in my experience. And, it smells like cherry pie when you heat it. I must admit it is a bit noisy, but well worth it.

When I was in the market for one, I wanted to make my own, but didn't have a sewing machine or the skills, so I bought one (see fancy leopard print one above). However, it's incredibly easy to make your own. Since I'm sure you don't have several pounds of cherry pits lying about, you can buy sanitized pits in bulk from The Cherry Pit Store.

To make a heating pad, just sew a natural fabric bag into whatever size you want and fill halfway up with cherry pits. Sew it shut and heat in the microwave no more than 2-3 minutes until hot. You can make a cover for it or you can just hand wash it by sliding the pits to one side, washing the cover and the sliding them to the other side and washing that side. You can also put it in the washing machine (but don't do this with corn or rice bags!).

The only caveat is that the cherry pits are expensive. So, if cost is an issue, then use rice or cleaned deer corn.

And, if you want to read more than you ever wanted about making your own microwaveable bed warmer, check out the deer corn lady's site.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle book discussion (chapters 7 - 9)

Here are the discussion questions for the latest installment of the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle book club!

Chapter 7. Gratitude - I love the idea of giving out tomato plants as gifts on Mother's Day. If you grow your own from seed and put them in a container, it's relatively inexpensive and even those recipients without a lot of yard can benefit from the bounty. Have you ever given food-bearing plants as a gift? Would you consider doing so now?

Chapter 8. Growing Trust - "Grocery money is an odd sticking point for U.S. citizens, who on average spend a lower proportion of our income on food than people in any other country, or any heretofore in history." I always find it amazing that for such a rich country we spend such a pittance for our food. Now, I'm sure a lot of that has to do with farm subsidies and the taxpayer money paid to produce all those High Fructose Corn Syrup based products that are so dirt cheap. But, even for fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and the rest, it seems a crime that we don't pay for what it's worth. Again, I'm sure the prices are reflected by the huge economies of scale that you see in conventional farming and CAFO's. But all of this is at a cost. What's the thing that bothers you the most about cheap food and how it came to you? Unfair labor wages? Costs to the environment?

Chapter 9. Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast - One of the points Kingsolver makes early in this chapter is the idea of actually sitting down to enjoy your food instead of rushing through it. Many people spend little time eating their meals (as they are usually on the run) or don't spend mealtimes with their family. I'm sure you've heard about the Slow Food movement (she covers it in Chapter 11), or the concept of bringing back mealtime as a way of enjoying family, friends and food. How often do you have dinner together with your family? How often do you partake in fast food, take-out or eating on the run?

A while back I bought the book she describes in Chapter 9 regarding cheese making as I was interested in making my own mozzarella, among other things, but I never got around to ordering the required additives. Have any of you made your own cheese? What did you think about it?

The process of making your own food, whether that be from growing your own vegetables and grains, to milking your own animals to making something from scratch like bread and cheese, elicits not only a sense of accomplishment and pride in what you've done. For me, it also creates an almost a zen-like calm. I don't mind the extra labor because I get so much satisfaction out of doing it. How does it make you feel?

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As usual, add your comments to this post and feel free to add your own questions for the chapters covered since I only touch on a few points in each chapter.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Freeze Yer Buns surprise giveaway!

Freeze Yer Buns Surprise GiveawayI know I'm supposed to be posting a book club discussion today, but this momentous occasion just couldn't wait until tomorrow.

Congratulations to Eikenberrymom, from Our Learning Journey, for being the 100th person to sign up for the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge!

As such, you are the lucky surprise winner of a $40 REI gift card to purchase yerself some super cozy socks, crazy looking Croc slippers or a pair of down booties to help stave off those chilly days and nights in Michigan. And, since we're being environmental and all, it's an e-card, so minimal waste is involved.

So, congratulations again to Eikenberrymom. Please email me your contact info at crunchychickenblog@gmail.com and I'll hook you up so you can get toasty before those sub-freezing nighttime temperatures start taking their toll on your tootsies.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Eat Local for Thanksgiving

It's not too late to start thinking about your Thanksgiving meal and how to make it as sustainable as possible. The most effective thing to do is to focus on providing foods that are in season, local and organic.

You've already heard me blathering on (and on) about the reasons for eating locally, but here's a reminder: On average, for each plate of food obtained locally, 2.2 pounds of CO2 emissions are prevented. (This is from a University of WA study, so I'm not sure how it extrapolates out to other areas of the country.)

So, in another effort to encourage you to do more, you can pledge to Eat Local for Thanksgiving by adding a comment to this post. In your pledge you can state what you are planning to do, whether that be acquiring a local turkey to getting all your vegetables at a farmer's market, etc. It's totally up to you. The point is to think about where each food source comes from and buy it locally or don't serve it if it's out of season or has to travel miles to get to your plate.

Now, we all have our family favorites, and I'm sure Aunt Agnes might be upset when she doesn't see her favorite green bean casserole because the season is over in your neck of the woods and you neglected to can or freeze any. So, for those of you who want to take the opportunity during your Thanksgiving meal to discuss the issues surrounding food and where it comes from, the Puget Sound Fresh website has some printable discussion cards for your Thanksgiving table that may help you explain why certain things are missing.

Between now and Thanksgiving, I'll keep a running counter in the sidebar for the amount of CO2 emissions prevented based on the number of people pledging to eat local.*

Now go forth and choose local for Thanksgiving!

*This won't be extremely scientific, but I'll just assume one plate worth of savings for each pledge, unless you specify otherwise. In other words, if you know you'll be serving all local food to 10 people, I'll count that as 10 plates worth.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

How do you heat?

Freeze Yer Buns ChallengeA lot of us are lowering our ambient air temperatures in the house this winter with the
Freeze Yer Buns Challenge
to save energy (and, ultimately, money).

With energy costs proposed to be a lot higher this winter, particularly for heating oil, it will be interesting to see how much we can save by keeping the thermostat low. So, along with all of this, I was curious to find out how you heat your home?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Freeze Yer Buns kickoff!

Freeze Yer Buns ChallengeWelcome to the first day of the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge! Are you guys ready for five months of energy and money savings? You must be, because I know a lot of you have already started.

First off, I have to admit that we needed to change our temperature ranges a tad. My husband's chemo is making it hard for him to sleep so he's been spending nights in the living room and I don't actually want to freeze his buns. So, we're doing 65 during the day and 62 at night for now.

One thing I wanted to clarify is that I think some people feel that, in order to participate, you need to get down to truly frosty temperatures. That's not the point at all, it's really to get you to drop at least one degree. Now, if you want to push it as low as you can, then that's great - extra savings all around! But if you're used to 72 during the day and 68 at night, there's no shame in pledging for 71 day and 67 night. In fact, for each degree set below 68 degrees, energy consumption decreases by about 6 to 8 percent.

The other thing that people seem to get stuck on is the thermostat business. Even if you don't have a thermostat, you can still lower your room temperatures by not turning on the baseboard heaters, radiators, etc. Also, the same deal goes with wood heating stoves. The idea is to save electricity, gas, oil and wood. Even if you rely on a more renewable resource doesn't mean you have to use it if you can get used to a few degrees lower temperature. So, while you may not be able to pledge a specific temperature range (unless you buy a cheapo home thermometer), you can still pledge to freeze yer buns off. Or maybe just a light frost.

Also, if you want to have a day off on occasion day for visitors or just to enjoy more comfy temperatures, that's fine, too. We won't tell. Of course, the challenge is to stick to your pledge as much as possible, but if it makes it easier to do so when you can look forward to a weekend splurge, then do it.

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