Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Raspberry Lime Rickey recipe

I was going to do a wrap-up for Pioneer Week, but I guess there isn't much more to be said than I've already mentioned in previous posts. We didn't drive much, ate almost all homemade food, did a lot of foraging for blackberries, camped out back, line dried clothes, used minimal water and energy and, overall, had a super fun, relaxing week.

One person did ask for the recipe for the raspberry syrup I made so here it is (from Cook's Country):

Raspberry Lime Rickey

3 cups frozen raspberries
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
4 teaspoons grated lime zest
1/2 cup juice from 4 limes

Heat raspberries, sugar, and water in saucepan over medium heat until raspberries begin to release their juices, about 5 minutes. Mash with potato masher until berries break down, then stir in lime zest and juice. Simmer until mixture is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

Pour raspberry mixture through fine mesh strainer set over bowl, pressing on solids to extract liquid (you should have about 2 1/2 cups). Discard berry solids. Refrigerate syrup until completely cool, at least 30 minutes or up to one week.

To serve
Combine 2 tablespoons syrup in tall, ice filled glass, adding sparkling water to fill. Stir and enjoy.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Year round line drying laundry

I haven't done my full Pioneer Week wrap-up yet, but I did want to mention one thing that has come out of it. My habit for hanging laundry has been re-established and, since I'm not using an exclusive outdoor rack or laundry line, I can move the whole thing in willy-nilly depending on our rainy Seattle weather. The other fun thing is that I can move it around the yard to chase the sun for maximum drying action.

Ever since we had to get rid of the laundry line in our backyard and I moved the indoor laundry line, I haven't been able to do a full load air-dried and it's been driving me a little crazy. It's been a year since I've been able to line dry clothes.

What am I using? A folding steel indoor/outdoor drying rack that, by it's lonesome, will hold an entire huge load of laundry from our GE Neptune HE front-loading washer. That's 25 linear feet.

In any case, I'm (re)hooked. I don't care how long it takes to hang the laundry since I get a huge thrill out of the energy savings. I'm planning on getting a second rack so that when I'm exclusively drying clothes inside (which will be shortly given the fact that we are already having rainy fall weather in August), I can hang two loads so that it has ample time to dry.

My visiting brother-in-law, who thinks I'm certifiably mad, asked me, as we were sitting out in the backyard last week and looking at the rack, how much energy I used in ironing the clothes to get rid of the wrinkles. Since we don't mind wearing wrinkly stuff and, more importantly, most of the clothes we have are wash and wear, the energy use is non-existent. I still do a little short fluff dry on some clothes to finish drying and remove wrinkles, but the energy costs are arbitrary.

Anyway, what about you? What's your excuse for not line drying your clothes?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Radical homemakers

The San Francisco Chronicle recently ran the article, Radical homemakers reclaim the simple life, describing how women are stepping off the professional track and going back to homemaking. But, not in a 1950s way. More like an 1850s way which include subsistence farming, food preservation, bartering and frugal living.

These women are staying home to raise not only their children, but chickens, and grow gardens, can food and make their own soap. In other words, "shunning consumer culture in favor of a life of complete and utter domesticity." You know, the stuff many of us have been doing for years. With or without a job in the formal economy.

However, is it really radical? I would consider many of these activities to be non-mainstream (albeit popularity is on the rise), but not exactly radical. For many, I think they see doing these things more like a hobby. I'm sure the same could be claimed for men who are interested in cooking (a la the Food Network) or DIY automotive work (a la But, that's not considered radical.

First of all, do you need to quit your job to be a homemaker? Particularly in light of the fact that the women featured in this article all had some other source of income either through writing, their farm business, soap business or, in one case, a full-time teaching gig?

And, furthermore, is there anything radical about what we do?

Photo credit: Robin Johnson Simpson making soap in her kitchen, courtesy of The Chronicle.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pioneer Week Dinners

Since it's Pioneer Week, I've been making our dinners from scratch. Some meals have been easier than others, but I've been making a lot of homemade food. So, I thought I'd share what I've been up to.

Sunday night we had grilled wild salmon, roasted fennel and green beans (from our CSA box that I picked up on Sunday) and potatoes from the back yard. For dessert, we had the chocolate cake my husband made and the mint chocolate ice cream he made from fresh mint. Monday was leftovers.

Tuesday night I made pizzas using the pizza sauce I made over the weekend. The yeast must have been loving the warmer weather because, although I didn't do anything different, it turned into the pizza that almost ate Seattle. At least we have leftovers for Thursday. Accompanying the pizza was a salad of cucumbers, onions, green pepper, and tomatoes from our CSA box.

Yesterday, I made some raspberry syrup for drinks for dinner (just add two tablespoons of syrup to sparkling water).

Last night I made the most amazing Swiss Chard. And I'm not generally a huge fan of it since it, inevitably ends up tasting like, well, Swiss Chard. But this recipe is different. This went really well with pasta and the arugula pesto I made Sunday (the arugula from the CSA box).

To round it all out I also made some Speedy No Knead Bread that is super easy to make and comes out perfect every time.

Tomorrow night is leftover pizza and sugar snap pea salad from our garden and the CSA box.

And, I must admit that I was happy to put away the tent. Two nights sleeping on the ground with the cold and moisture was enough for me. Particularly, the raccoon visit at 4:30 am.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Environmental toxin testing pow-wow

I have to tell you, I'm pretty excited after yesterday's meeting with a doctor of environmental medicine who specializes in environmental toxins. After talking with him (and three interns), we are designing a rather broad panel of body burden tests for me to undergo as part of the research and study that I'm doing for my book.

Right now they are arranging with multiple labs for blood, urine, hair and, possibly, fat tissue samples to test for an array of toxins that I have lurking in my body. Once we've identified which profiles I want to do, they'll order the test kits and we'll go to town. I am really interested to see what the results are.

I'll also be working with this doctor to help design therapies in the next phase of my book project to rid myself of toxins, mostly targeting heavy metals, chlorinated insecticides and PCBs. I already have preliminary information on how to do this, but will wait to get started until after I do all the testing.

Most importantly, this doctor is very excited about the project and is extremely interested in the outcomes, particularly how I've designed it. Anyway, I'll keep you posted on what's going on with that as it moves forward!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Backyard camping

Since I'm off this week, but my husband is working, I figured I'd squeeze in some camping (plus I'm sure you're sick of hearing about Pioneer Week). However, since my husband's going to be joining us tonight, we're going to be camping in the backyard.

I spent yesterday wrestling with our behemoth tent since it's been 4 years since I last unravelled it and the instructions for which poles go where are a little sketchy. Anyway, after a lot of sweat and rejiggering of poles, it's up. And we'll be enjoying some two bedroom camping in our Cougar Tent. It comfortably sleeps 8 and more than comfortably sleeps 4:

Needless to say, I'll be getting a lot of reading done by lantern. Have you ever stooped to backyard camping?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Off the Grid book winner!

The winner of Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America is Gayle who wrote:

"I have been watching this Off the Grid stuff for awhile now, and was thinking of looking for the book at the library. Maybe I'll win it instead."

Congratulations Gayle! Email your contact info to and I'll mail the book out to you directly!

Report from Pioneer Week

This weekend we really got cracking on Pioneer Week. Here's how it went down:

On Saturday and Sunday
  • Took a navy/drizzle shower
  • Wore no makeup
  • Air dried hair
  • Line dried all the laundry
  • Saved captured water in rain barrel

On Saturday
  • No driving
  • Walked to neighborhood P Patch Garden Party
  • Husband made chocolate cake from scratch
  • Picked and preserved basil from garden
  • Planted fall/winter vegetables
  • Made pizza sauce and froze (14 half-pints)
  • No movies/internet, little lighting (read by candlelight)
  • Went to bed early / got up early to save electricity

On Sunday
  • Made two loaves of zucchini carrot bread
  • Drove only to pick up CSA (it was raining otherwise I probably would have biked)
  • Made two batches of arugula pesto and froze
  • Walked down to the kid's school and picked a gallon of blackberries
  • Harvested potatoes for dinner
  • Husband made homemade mint chocolate swirl ice cream
  • De seeded blackberries for making jam
  • Worked on hand-sewing quilt

I'll keep you posted on the rest of this week's Pioneer events!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Eco-pooch products winner

The winner of Opie & Dixie's organic, sustainable pet care products is:

"OOOOh, pick me Mr. Kotter!!! Jenny K. ;)"

Jenny - email (or Facebook) me your contact info and I'll pass it along so you can collect your winnings!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pioneer Week begins!

Yes, I'm still using my computer this week, but only because I have other work to do. In any case, I think it's going to be hard to keep the lights off around here. I'm still using the washing machine, but forgoing the dryer today.

We're well on our way to making meals from scratch (although the hubs is focusing - yet again - on cakes and ice cream). I pick up our CSA basket tomorrow and we have a ton of greens growing in the backyard.

The kids spent the morning playing with a huge lego box filled with water, but that went into the rain barrel, so I don't consider it much of a waste. I'll be taking a navy shower here soon and trying to keep the waterworks at a minimum in the rest of the house.

I'm making some serious headway on Emma's quilt, but it will be a struggle to keep the kids from wanting to watch a movie or some sort of entertainment so we'll see how long that lasts.

How are things looking for you?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Locavore bashing in the NY Times

There's more to being a locavore than just food energy costs and miles travelled.

Yet, the author of the op-ed piece, Math Lessons for Locavores, in the NY Times argues that:
The local food movement now threatens to devolve into another one of those self-indulgent — and self-defeating — do-gooder dogmas. Arbitrary rules, without any real scientific basis, are repeated as gospel by "locavores," celebrity chefs and mainstream environmental organizations. Words like "sustainability" and "food-miles" are thrown around without any clear understanding of the larger picture of energy and land use...

The statistics brandished by local-food advocates to support such doctrinaire assertions are always selective, usually misleading and often bogus.

I would argue the author is using the same math legerdemain to support his case. He's ignoring the "buy fresh" part of the equation. I'd like to see where he's getting his numbers and how his calculations compare to food grown in season, that don't require excess energy inputs (e.g. a hothouse, etc.). You know, the kind of food that locavores generally choose. Yes, growing tomatoes in a hothouse in NY is going to take a tremendous amount of energy inputs, but again, that's not what being a locavore is about.

Being a locavore has a lot to do with supporting local economies, creating a stronger local food security net in addition to eating foods in season. Not just avoiding trucked in tomatoes in the middle of winter.

What do you think? Is being a locavore just about food miles or is it a lot more than that?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Off the Grid book review and giveaway

After reading this book, I have rather mixed feelings. On one hand, I had high hopes that the author of this book would take a different tack in his approach in Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America.

Instead of focusing on how the people he interviewed in this book worked out the nitty gritty of living off the grid, the author, Nick Rosen, spent a lot of time going over the politics and in-fighting of the groups involved. It makes for a somewhat fascinating read, but you don't really learn much besides the author's biases.

One big bone I have to pick is how he really, rather cruelly, treats his subjects. I'm assuming Mr. Rosen does so in order to make this otherwise potentially dry subject more exciting, but it starts to get a little old as he rakes each of his interviewees over the coals. Many are portrayed as crazy or mean or both and disregards their motivations.

I guess I'm not the only one left with this impression. From Publisher's Weekly:
Fed up with "the hyper-consumption of the past thirty years, the pointless acquisitions, the hopeless materialism, and the obsession with celebrity trivia," British journalist and filmmaker Rosen sets out across the U.S. to find the perfect off-the-grid community "beyond the reach of the power cables and water lines that intersect the modern world."

His journey brings him into contact with a colorful collection of rebels and outcasts--aging hippies, anarchist kids, a middle-aged couple with an "off-the-grid McMansion" in Colorado--and he sprinkles his tale with the sorts of practical tips likely to appeal to anyone considering a similar adventure: the Clivus Multrum is "the Hummer of composting toilets."

What Rosen lacks is a knack for storytelling; he would have done well to step back and let his subjects speak for themselves. Instead, he constantly inserts himself into the frame and insists on passing humorless judgment on nearly everyone he meets (and a fair number of people he doesn't), and even whole cities are roundly dismissed (Boulder is "the smuggest town in America"). His curmudgeonly asides are off-putting, and it's disappointing to see the book's idealism and noble reach devolve into grousing.

Maybe I was expecting the book to be closer to David Black's, Living off the Grid: A Simple Guide to Creating and Maintaining a Self-reliant Supply of Energy, Water, Shelter and More which is a lot more "how-to" and less "how stupid!"

Overall, I disagreed with his treatment of several of the people he profiles in his book, his opinion on peak oil, climate change and a number of other issues. That said, I did learn about these groups and individuals that were interviewed, and for that I appreciated the book. I otherwise would not know they exist and what these folks are up to. Although I'm not exactly giving this a sparkling review, it is worth reading for that alone.

Now, I generally don't like doing two giveaways at the same time but, ah, what the hell. If you are interested in throwing you name in the hat for a copy of this book, please enter your name in the comments of this post by midnight Saturday, August 21st, 2010 PST.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Eco-friendly pooch products giveaway!

I recently received an email about Opie & Dixie's new line of organic, sustainable pet care products and, even though I currently don't have any fuzzy critters in the house, I thought they would make for a great giveaway for those of you who do. All of their products incorporate herbs, oils, and essential nutrients designed with the help of veterinarians.

Debbie Guardian, the owner of this line of pet products, wanted to create products that do not contain any ingredient that she wouldn't use herself. All the products are organic, eco-friendly and sustainable, from the ingredients to the non-BPA packaging to product labels that are printed on recycled paper and made with a 100% wind-powered manufacturing process. In addition, a percentage of all retail sales go to a local dog rescue organization.

This giveaway includes:

Organic Ear Wash made with spring water, peppermint, and eucalyptus
Oatmeal Almond Shampoo for silky coats and skin health
Botanical Créme Rinse and Conditioner for hydrating skin and coat

If you would like to pamper your pooch, all you need to do to enter this giveaway is leave your name in the comments of this post and tell me about your furry best friend!

You have until midnight, Friday, August 20th, PST to enter. Winner will be chosen randomly.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Planning for Pioneer Week

For those of you who are interested in doing Pioneer Week next week, I thought I'd repost some of the "rules" of the week for you to follow along.

I'll be off from work next week and so I'll have a lot more latitude to livin' like a pioneer. For my part, I'll be planning on making all our food from scratch, so that will include a ton of baking and eating out of the garden.

I will be using minimal electricity and line drying all of our clothes next week. Since we don't have alternative sources to cook from (in other words, a wood stove), I'll still be sticking to our range, but maybe I'll try to grill more stuff just to simulate cooking over fire.

As for transportation, I will try not to use the car all week. Since I'll have the kids with me, this will be more difficult, but maybe we'll take the bus or walk if we need anything. And this will give me an excuse to use my new cargo bike.

It will be harder keeping the kids entertained without transportation or electronics, but that just means that we'll be doing a lot of reading and games and probably going on hikes nearby, playing with neighborhood friends and working out in the yard.

Pioneer Living Rules

1. Food: During Pioneer Week, you must make all your meals from scratch. This isn't really as hard as it sounds particularly if you start now. That's right, I'm letting you prepare meals ahead of time to freeze if you won't have time during the work week. But, anything prepared ahead of time must be made from scratch.

2. Energy usage: Keep your energy usage low by keeping the A/C (or heat if you live in the other hemisphere) low or off, use only one light in the house at a time (or at least turn off the lights when you are not using them) and line dry your clothes. Since you'll be doing a lot of cooking at home, try to coordinate when you are using the oven to take advantage of baking and/or roasting items at the same time. I don't expect you to unplug your fridge or freezer, so don't worry about that.

3. Conserve water: Since we don't all lug our water from the stream for home use, we'll have to do a few things to help conserve water. Besides taking shorter showers (5 minutes or less or take a military style shower) and flushing less often, you can create a great reminder about water usage by turning the water off on most of your sinks so when you go to use them nothing comes out.

4. Transportation: Walk or bike as much as possible. This will force you to support more local stores if you can't drive across town. If this isn't feasible, then drive or take public transportation. Most importantly, try to combine trips and if you really don't need to go out, stay home!

5. Rethink your entertainment: Instead of spending the week passively watching television or movies, try to engage more with the people you live with or neighbors within walking distance. Get the family back into playing games, music or just sitting around talking and telling stories. If you aren't in the mood for socializing try picking up that long lost craft hobby or start a new one.

6. Watch your wallet: Think of this as a Buy Nothing Week. Since you'll be pretty much eating at home all week, you don't really need to buy anything, now do you?

Finally, remember this isn't all or nothing! If you can only work on one area for the week, that's totally fine. And, if you haven't already signed up and are interested in Pioneer Week, leave your name in the comments!

Monday, August 16, 2010

The collapse of masculinity

Maybe it's because I live in the city and most men I know are more metrosexual than macho, concerned more with the quality of the foam on their cappuccinos and whether or not they remembered to put "product" in their hair that morning, but I know very few who actually know anything about doing anything for themselves. And, by that I mean, the ability to fix stuff, make stuff and do anything self-sufficient.

They rely on specialists for house repairs (electricians, plumbers, roofers, etc.) instead of tackling the problem themselves. They hire out yard work, preferring to spend their time reading or doing something online rather than get their own hands dirty. And, I'm mostly referring to North American males born after 1970.

Yes, there are some that still know how to chop wood and the like but, generally, skills that would prevent them from being dependent on corporate goods are lacking - unless they grew up on a farm or were raised by off-the-grid parents. I suppose the same argument could be made for girls - those skills that were traditional to women (cooking, baking, sewing, quilting, etc.) have been lost as well, although there at least seems to be a resurgence of interest, even if it is just as a hobby.

Have you noticed the same thing where you live? Are the young(er) men in your area capable of hunting, raising and killing animals and food, fixing the stove or building a house? And I'm not talking about an architect. Or are they just more interested in electronics and looking good rather than the more traditional stuff? Are we all just turning into a generation of ladies who lunch?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Energy efficient appliance recommendations

I was going over our electricity usage for the last year to do some analysis since I'm always trying to see if solar panels are in our future - they are not (more about that some other time). One thing that came out of this exercise was in thinking about ways to further reduce how much electricity we use.

Since our electricity rates are so cheap in Washington State, it's easy to ignore how many KWH we use each month. But if we want to replace those same KWH with solar, it's not so pretty. In fact, it's almost laughable. We have, over the winter months, relied on space heaters instead of our oil furnace, mostly because it's cheaper. But, there again, this increases our electricity usage.

There are two appliances that we can replace that are not at all energy efficient - our dishwasher and our hot water heater. (No, Greenpa, we're not going to address the fridge in this post.)

Of course, only running a full load of dishes and opting for air dry reduces our energy load, but I'm sure we could do better with an actual energy efficient model. And, the one we have sounds like it's about to die. When we moved in 5 years ago, the previous owners had installed a new dishwasher, but it was a cheapo thing and it's never been good at actually washing dishes.

Our hot water heater has been on its last legs for a long time. Plus, I'm afraid to admit that we don't have a hot water binky for it either. Since we were always planning on replacing the water heater, we never got around to the binky. I've looked into on-demand hot water heaters and they aren't very efficient if you electricity (versus natural gas) and our energy consultant at work was telling me the other day that it's coming out that the on-demand water heaters are more efficient if you have a lot of people in the house and are constantly running hot water. Otherwise, the numbers coming in show that on-demand water heaters are less energy efficient that ye olde water heaters.

So, my question for you good people out there... do you have any recommendations for super energy efficient dishwashers? What about hot water heaters? Anyone have a heat pump hot water heater? And, no, I'm not interested in the $8,000 price tag to get solar hot water, thankyouverymuch.

Image shown is a Rheem Hybrid Heat Pump Water Heater from WA Energy Services

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Crafts - Finishing what you've started

I am notorious for starting up a multitude of craft projects and never finishing them, mostly because I either lose interest, life interferes or both. I know many of you aren't that much different than me when it comes to projects.

I was reminded of this last week when I was noodling through a magazine and saw an article for some craft project or other and thought, "hey! I need to do that!". Then I thought of all those other unfinished craft projects I have waiting for me so I made a resolution. I must finish at least one project before embarking on a new one.

I'm more than midway through finishing that rag rug I started a few months ago. I also never started the quilt I was making for Emma a couple of years ago. So, I decided to start back up on both of them, to keep me from getting too bored with one of them. Plus, I have the golden carrot of a new project dangling out there in the future to keep me motivated.

Of course, I'm failing to mention all the myriad knitting projects I have started and are patiently waiting on knitting needles. And the sewing projects, with the pieces cut out, ready to go, that have never seen the light of my sewing machine. I'm sure there are more.

Although this isn't an official challenge, I'm challenging you to admit to your list of unfinished projects and to pick one and commit to finishing it by the end of September.

So, are you a craft whore? What's your list of projects and which one are you going to tackle?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Blackberry, Rum and Black Pepper Jam

Because I had a few people asking for the recipe on Facebook, when I announced the huge success I had with this jam over the weekend, I thought I'd share it with the greater group of readers. I spent last Saturday making jam, one batch of raspberry and the second with blackberries (actually called "sweetberries" but there were about as blackberry as you can get).

I was trying to figure out what additional flavors would go well with blackberry and decided to give fresh ground black pepper and barrel aged rum a try. I was not at all disappointed.

Blackberry, Aged Rum and Black Pepper Jam


5 cups packed (not crushed) blackberries, preferably organic
2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon grated lemon peel
1 package Ball (or SureJell) natural fruit pectin
7 cups sugar
1/3 cup aged rum*

Makes 9 half-pints.


Rinse and measure blackberries and add them to a large, non-reactive pot. In the meantime, sterilize 9 half-pint canning jars and lids in a water bath canner.

Heat the berries over high, adding in the grated lemon peel and blending. As the berries start to reduce, freshly grind in about 2 teaspoons black pepper on a medium or coarse grind. As the berries further reduce, gradually stir in the fruit pectin.

Bring mixture to a full boil until it cannot be stirred down. Add the entire amount of sugar and stir. Return to full boil and boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Immediately take mixture off the heat and add in the rum. Stir until the rum is well incorporated and the alcohol is cooked off from the residual heat (it will reboil when you add in the rum).

Fill your canning jars with jam, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Apply lids and process the jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes (adjusting for altitude as per the instructions that come with your pectin).

Remove jars and allow to cool for 12 - 24 hours and store. Assuming you don't eat it all as soon as it's cool.

*For the rum, I used Barbancourt Rhum Reserve Speciale, aged 8 years in oak.

Photo courtesy of Outdoor Blogging

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bike transportation and hauling

Last night I sold my baby. My ultra-light aluminum Klein racing bike. The one that's been collecting dust in my basement since the kids were born and my back decided it can't tolerate being in a racing position. On one hand, I'm happy to have all the cash in my hand, but on the other hand I'm very sad to see it go.

It had a lot of dreams and wishes tied to it, but now I have the money to fund another obsession: getting a bike that I can comfortably ride with the kids, use as transportation instead of driving and outfitting it so I can haul things. Things like groceries, library books and sailboat driven CSA deliveries.

Since I'll be taking a leave of absence starting in September for six months from work (to finish writing my book), I'm determined to use my car as little as possible. Plus, if I have to bike to get somewhere I'll be less inclined to hop in the car and go somewhere and, most of all, less inclined to spend money.

What would I like to get? A longtail cargo bike that makes transportation easy, but can haul larger items when necessary. There are a few bikes on the market since the Xtracycle FreeRadical system came out that I may look at, but I may just settle for a comfy cruiser with some nice racks.

Do you commute by bike or otherwise use a bicycle for transportation? Do you have it fitted with racks to haul yer stuff and if, so, do you like your set-up or do you wish you had something else?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Chicken coop tour

I got my "saltbox" chicken coop, made by Berg from Seattle Chicken Coops, delivered over the weekend and, instead of explaining every detail, I made a quick and dirty movie for you guys to see all the features.

I have to admit that I'm still a little anxious about taking on a flock of chickens. I know they are easy to take care of, but we've had a bad history of pets that haunts me, mostly because we end up having problems of one kind or other. But, now that we have a coop I'm feeling a little more committed.

I'm undecided about where to keep the coop, wondering if (once we have the run built in) it would be better to keep it on concrete or on grass. The benefit of having it on concrete is the easier clean-up, but I would need to build up at least something for them to scratch around in or they'll go crazy. The grass area is a little less convenient, but then I would be able to let them do their chickeny business, which is eating grass and enjoying some dirt. But the poop clean-up isn't as easy.

If you have chickens, what's your set-up? Are they on dirt, grass or concrete? What do you recommend?

Sorry about the spots on the video - the camera has some misty goodness on it from our trip catching crab that needs to be cleaned. And I'm still trying to figure out how to convert the HD video into something that isn't 150 MB and isn't squished or herky-jerky. But, you'll get the idea. If it's cutting off, you can go directly to the video here.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Conservatives vs. Liberals: The Movie

I got this lovely email from a relative this morning (truth be told, most of my relatives are quite conservative) and felt the need to respond. Here is the missive in its entirety:
The Fence
So Simply put and Right On Target . . . . Enjoy . . . .

You can’t get any more accurate than this!

Which side of the fence?
If you ever wondered which side of the fence you sit on, this is a great test!

If a Conservative doesn't like guns, he doesn’t buy one.
If a Liberal doesn't like guns, he wants all guns banned.

If a Conservative is a vegetarian, he chooses not to eat meat.
If a Liberal is a vegetarian, he wants all meat products banned.

If a Conservative is homosexual, he quietly leads his life.
If a Liberal is homosexual, he demands legislated respect, and special considerations.

If a Conservative is down-and-out, he thinks about how to better his situation.
A Liberal expects the government and tax payers to take care of him as an entitlement.

If a Conservative doesn't like a talk show host, he switches channels.
Liberals demand that those they don't like be shut down.

If a Conservative is a non-believer, he doesn't go to church.
A Liberal non-believer wants any mention of God and religion silenced.

If a Conservative decides he needs health care, he goes about shopping for it, or chooses a job that provides it.
A Liberal demands that the rest of us pay for his as an entitlement.

If a Conservative reads this, he'll forward it so his friends can have a good laugh.
A Liberal will delete it because he's greatly "offended".

Well, I forwarded it. What are you going to do?

What do you think? If you call yourself a conservative, is this what you think liberals believe? If you are a liberal, how accurate do you think this describes your beliefs?

I'll add my response to the comments of this post.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Disappearing McDonald's

I have noticed a trend in the North Seattle area - we are losing McDonald's restaurants. There used to be four in the Northwest area of Seattle and now there are only two. Both restaurants closed and were replaced with either a larger building or, in the case of the place I was doing some work yesterday morning, it was replaced by an organic non-profit coffeehouse (with free wifi).

The outside of the building still retains a tad bit of the McDonald's architectural flair, but since it's not a stand-alone building, it's not as obvious. The brick wall inside is painted a sort of teal and the other walls have been stuccoed and painted green. Doorways now sport a kind of fancy molding and the tables are a mix of farmhouse wood and old furniture probably acquired from yard sales. Except for the tell-tale floor tile, you have to look hard to see that it's an ex-McDonald's, but it's still there.

What's not there, is the shitty food and service. What's replaced it is organic, fair trade coffee, a board that tells you about the Non Profit Organization of the Month and an area selling native handmade goods from Bangladesh and Northern Uganda.

Disappearing McDonald's? I'm lovin' it.

Have you noticed a decrease in fast food restaurants in your area?

Backyard chicken breeds

I made the statement in another post that it's about time that the Crunchy Chicken got chickens. Then Greenpa made the excellent point that maybe I should get some suggestions of what breeds of chickens to get.

This Sunday we are having our coop delivered. It is made by someone in our neighborhood, who is a laid off carpenter and turned to making chicken coops. I'll be sure to take pictures and show you our setup. Of course, we will still need to get chickens.

My plan is to get pullets, mostly because I don't feel like getting chicks at this point, but I also wanted to get your opinion on your favorite breed. I'm looking for a chicken that is mellow, quiet and a good layer, but I'd rather have mellow and quiet over production, if I can't meet those needs.

So, what's your favorite chicken breed and why?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Community and backyard gardens aren't enough

There has been a huge push this year in Seattle and King County to focus on changing the laws on community gardens to promote backyard gardens and develop more P-Patches. Overall, the idea is to allow residents to sell produce grown in their backyards and in community gardens to encourage developing a more local, and sustainable, foodshed.

I applaud this on all counts for all the obvious reasons. Giving residents more control over how and where they get their food is not only beneficial, but it adds to our local food security.

But, that's not enough to feed everyone in an urban area. Unfortunately, local politicians haven't been putting as much focus on local agriculture and fostering that as much as these Urban Agricultural Initiatives we are seeing. I guess supporting plain ol' farms and farmers isn't as sexy as groundbreaking new community gardens in abandoned plats or giving people permission to set up a farmstand in their driveway.

If we are going to truly focus on local food security, local agriculture must take the spotlight and promoting agricultural land, farmers markets and connecting residents with the farmers should be the priority. Somehow though, what should be considered supplemental, has been the focus of funding, much to the detriment to those who spend their livelihoods trying to make sure we have not only consistent land to farm, but food to eat.

What do you think? What role should individuals growing food in urban areas have in building a local food economy be in comparison, or addition, to more traditional (yet sustainable) agriculture? If we have limited public funding to spend on food security, where should it go?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Chicken conundrum

We are getting really close to finally getting some chickens. I managed to get board approval from our neighborhood henchmen, found a great local coop builder and know where to acquire some pullets.

I've asked the neighbors ahead of time (because if they complain about noise, as per our covenants, we'll have to get rid of them) and, while they aren't exactly enthused about the idea, they seem to be marginally okay with it. Which doesn't make me feel very confident about them not complaining later, but I think it's because we live in a conservative area of Seattle (go figure!) and the idea of chickens is totally new to them.

But, the big question I have that sticks in my craw, so to speak, is what do people who keep chickens do with them when they go on vacation? I'm not ready to be tied down to the urban farmstead just yet, but I don't know of any chicken sitters.

So, for you chicken keepers out there who live in urban areas, what do you do with your chickens when you go away for a day or more?

Front yard fruit tree

We live in an area with covenants. Antiquated, silly covenants that are fitting for the neighborhood circa 1950. One of the covenants does make sense and that is to protect the neighbors' views, so we are, allegedly, only allowed to plant trees that won't grow above the roof line and, if we do plant a tree, we have to get board approval. Of course, there are a ton of trees in the neighborhood that are giant, but they are in no way blocking anyone's view of anything.

In any case, being a goodly neighbor that I am, when I was thinking of planting a tree in the front yard, I went through the rigmarole of meeting with the board, going over the planting site, discussing what I was thinking of planting and how tall it would get and, eventually getting board approval. This was over a year and a half ago and by the time all was said and done, I lost the energy to plant anything. Until yesterday.

On my way home from work, I zipped into my favorite nursery and bought a new tree for the front yard. I then convinced the kids to come out and watch me sweat out about a gallon of body fluids while I dug up a patch of sod and then attempted to vanquish the hard packed soil underneath, all in an attempt to get this poor tree in the ground. After an hour of wrestling with it, it now happily lives in our front yard.

Unfortunately, it looks puny for now. But, eventually it will be quite large. What is it? Well, it's a Peter's Honey Fig and it already has 38 figs growing on its 3 foot limbs. The Peter's Honey Fig originated in Sicily and sports a medium, very sweet, lemon yellow fig that is perfect for fresh eating, canning or drying. At least that's what I'm hoping. I'm still angry at my useless dwarf negronne fig that still is only a foot tall. At least now I have an excuse to dig up the dwarf and try something else in its place.

Photo courtesy of Tall Clover Farm

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Salish Sea CSA

I finally signed us up for a farm produce delivery this Sunday. But, this isn't any ordinary CSA. This delivery from farm to table is about as carbon neutral as you can get. Even though the farms are miles away from Seattle, I will be picking up a box of vegetables and fruits that use only a little bit of diesel to get it here.

How does that work? Well, the pickup is done by sailboat. The Salish Sea Trading Cooperative sails from Ballard in Seattle up to Sequim on the north end of the Olympic Peninsula and picks up goodies from such lauded farms as Nash's Organics and we fully expect to be getting some mid-summer delights.

According to their website, Salish Sea Trading Cooperative relies on wind and tide to transport locally produced goods up and down Puget Sound by sailboat. Their goals are to conserve precious energy resources and re-introduce the idea of sail as everyday transport while building resiliency into our local foodshed. The boxes are delivered from dock to pickup via electric truck.

According to Kathy Pelish of SSTC from this article on the operation, "Oil is a declining resource. We're reawakening to the dangers of relying on it so heavily, whether it's used for transportation or to make fertilizers for our farms. Renewables can help, but ultimately our lives are going to be a lot more local. What we buy, what we manufacture, how we move goods, where our food comes from... we'll transition to greater dependence on our local communities and nearby resources."

If you live in the Seattle area and are interested in getting more involved or just want to hang out with the folks that pull this whole thing together, they are having a social get-together tonight, at 7 PM (August 3rd) at the 24th Street NW Public Dock in Ballard, next to Stimson Marina. Anyone interested in revitalizing sail transport around Puget Sound is welcome! Look for the 34 foot Catalina flying the "Pirates for Sustainability" banner.

Photo courtesy of Ballard News Tribune

Monday, August 2, 2010

McDonald's localwashing

I keep seeing these McDonald's billboards around town advertising their local selections. Yesterday it was an ad that said, "Grown in Washington, Dipped in Ballard", referring to their apples (Ballard is a neighborhood in Seattle where I live). A few weeks ago, it was "Served in Ballard, Grown in Richland", regarding the potatoes for their fries.

Of course, when you are driving down the freeway, you don't notice the fine print that says, "Participation and duration may vary." A McDonald's spokesperson stated that 95 percent of the fries served in the Northwest are grown on farms in Washington, Idaho, or Oregon, 95 percent of the fish in their sandwiches comes from Alaskan waters where the Seattle fleet fishes and 88 percent of the apples come from the Treetop Company which buys apples from Washington State orchards.

It economically makes sense for the company to use local resources and these statistics haven't changed in years. They are just now promoting it, but it makes it sound like as if they are just now going out of their way to choose local. The impression is that they are doing it to support local business or to reduce carbon emissions. But, it's just good for business.

According to some, the recent local marketing efforts in the food-service sector are all about "removing the impression that they're taking money away from the 'mom and pop' shop that doesn't really exist." I wonder if they use the same potatoes, fish and apples nationwide and we just happen to be "local" to those resources.

So, should it matter that they are promoting the local angle? Isn't that what it's all about? Or is it greenwashing? Do you have McDonald's "local" billboards in your area?