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!

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Urban Farm Handbook review

Do you live in the city or an otherwise urban area, yet yearn for life in the country? Well, quit dreaming and start living! The Urban Farm Handbook is a necessity to prove that you can be (mostly) self-sufficient and not have to move out to the sticks to achieve your goals.

It also will appeal to those of us (my family included) who want the ideals of country living, but still have the benefits of city living - energy efficiency, improved transportation, access to the arts, excellent dining, etc.

The Urban Farm Handbook, by Annette Cottrell (of and Joshua McNichols (who, apparently, lives nearby me), will want to make you grind your own grain, raise mealworms in your house to feed your flock of backyard chickens, make your own chevre from your dairy goats (where legal, of course), dispatch your own bunnies and beyond.

I get a lot of books to review, but I cannot say enough good things about this book. You'll just have to trust me on this one. If you are interested in the local food movement, even if you do live out in the sticks (you lucky bastards), you will really enjoy this book.

Normally, I'd do a giveaway of the books I've read, but this one's a keeper. Sorry, you're going to have to buy it yourself :)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Best of 2011

While I'm off on vacation, I thought I'd bring back the posts that caused the most "excitement" in the last year.

And the top 5 posts are....

1. Urban Homesteaders - Cease and Desist: I can't believe it's been almost a year since the whole "urban homesteaders" trademark activity hit the fan when the Dervaes family started pursuing people and organizations who had the audacity to use their brilliant concoction of words never before used by man.

2. The Skinny vs. Curvy Ideal: This clearly must have been a result of people Googling the wrong thing, but nonetheless, it got over 2,000 pageviews.

3. Top 5 Easy Homemade Cheeses: What can I say? Everybody loves easy. And most people love cheese. A winning combo.

4. Urban Homesteaders Blog Like a Pirate Day: On the heels of the whole silliness involved with trademarking common terms, bloggers come out in force to thrown down against those arrogant enough to trademark them.

5. BPA-free Canned Tomatoes: Hitting the news this year was research after research showing the unsavory health consequences of consuming BPA through food, drink and touch. The popularity of this post shows that people are serious about finding alternatives to BPA laced cans. BPA, most recently, was shown to make healthy breast cells act like cancerous ones, render the chemo drug Tamoxifen useless and push women's hearts into deadly arrhythmias. Better living through chemistry? No thanks.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Going pioneer in 2012!

I know you are just now hearing about my new book, The Non-Toxic Avenger, and will be hearing a heck of a lot more over the next few months when my blog book tour begins, but I did want to share with you my next book project which I'm actively beavering away on right now.

My next book (tentatively titled, Little House in the Big City: Pioneer Living without the Prairie due out early Fall 2012 from New Society Publishers) is a combination of pioneer living and fun and merriment gleaned from the Laura Ingalls Wilder series of books.

My 8-year-old daughter, Emma, and I are going through the books and reenacting as much as reasonably possible. In other words, we aren't smoking a deer in a stump in the backyard. But we are doing whatever we can. For example, we spent the day yesterday making our own butter with carrots from the backyard to give it a bright yellow color. It turned out better than I thought. This Christmas Eve, we are making an Ingalls-style dinner with various things like dried apple pie, "Injun" bread and beans. So, if it's in the book and doesn't involve something not legal in my area, we're doing it. And, Emma is penciling the illustrations.

This book project doesn't exactly bode well for my bathing habits, but we'll see how that goes. In the meantime, I'm running around trying to find salt pork, pig bladders and tails and making straw hats, rag dolls and other really random, fun, pioneery projects! So, stay tuned!

Are you a fan of the book series, TV series, or just pioneer living?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Freezing for the holidays?

For those of you participating in this year's Freeze Yer Buns Challenge, you run the problem of having visitors over who might not, say, appreciate the lowered temperatures. When you're acclimated to 70+ degrees it's really hard to drop the 5 or 10 or 15 degrees in one fell swoop.

Generally, when we have visitors over, we are also doing a lot of cooking and, by virtue of having lots of mammals over the house (i.e. human visitors), it tends to heat up naturally. Sometimes, however, the oven and human body heat just isn't enough and we'll turn the heat up for their benefit. If we're all sitting around, blankets can be used, but aren't exactly helpful at a dinner party. And, since we don't have one of those neat, heated Japanese dinner table thingies (aka a "kotatsu"), I don't expect our guests will have a pleasant time eating if their teeth are chattering. So, we turn up the heat.

My mom and brother have learned to dress warmly when they come over and my brother always remembers to bring over his slippers, which I find very entertaining. Not because I'm trying to torture him or anything, but just because he's always so prepared for everything (the OCD helps).

In any case, what do you do for the holidays when you have visitors? Make them tough it out or turn up the heat?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Big Dipper Waxworks candles winner!

The lucky winner of the following candles:

2 Beeswax Ornament candles (each has a burn time of over 40 hours)
1 Beehive candle in Holiday Spice (burn time of over 35 hours)

from Big Dipper Waxworks is...

Amy McPherson Sirk of the blog, Mamas Garden Ramblings: Life and Times on the Not-So Urban Farm, proving that jumping around like a crazed 4th grader influences the random integer generator in positive ways.

Congratulations! Email your contact information to and I will have Big Dipper send the candles out to you directly!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Last minute handmade holiday gift run-down

Layered peppermint barkStill squirreling around looking for last minute Christmas gifts? Well, here are some posts from the past with quick gifts you can make that will surely please!

Chocolate Covered Candied Orange Peels - I didn't make any this year and I'm sure there will be lots of complaints.

Caramel Covered Homemade Marshmallows - Doing the caramel is a bit tricky so if you want to skip it, the marshmallows just by themselves are divine.

Salted Chipotle Chocolate Chunk Cookies - I still can't get over how awesome these cookies are. If you like spicy, then double the chipotle!

Douglas Fir Infused Gin - Get your holiday drink on with a little help from your Christmas tree.

Peppermint Bark - This is awfully dangerous to have around the house, but way easy to make.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Book review by the Non-Toxic Nest

I don't know how I missed this, but between Thanksgiving and the Dad drama, I didn't spot this review of my book, The Non-Toxic Avenger, until just yesterday.

The Non-Toxic Nest bills itself as "investigating everyday toxins & going green in New Zealand" so it seems very fitting that the author of the blog read my book and did a review. She gives a very honest review of what she liked and didn't like about my book.

If you have time, check it out! Also, don't forget to enter the Big Dipper beeswax candle giveaway if you haven't seen it yet.

Thanks to other bloggers who are reading my book and hosting reviews! And, for everyone, if you read my book and have an Amazon account, can you please leave a short review? Thanks!

Other blog reviews of my book:
Skruben - The Non-Toxic Avenger
Nature Moms - The Non-Toxic Avenger Book Review
Backyard Farms - Books for Blustery Days
Skruben - My Less-Toxic Life List

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Big Dipper Waxworks Holiday Candle giveaway!

If you are like me, you worry about the nasty toxins found in conventional candles. Most candles are made with paraffin, which is a petroleum product, and even if the manufacturer claims it's made from beeswax, you need to look for 100% beeswax candles. The rest is just paraffin filler. Not to mention that many candles made overseas are chock full of lead in their wicks. It's a lung polluting disaster in the making.

Last year, I did a giveaway from local beeswax candle maker, Big Dipper Waxworks, and they sent me some samples of their products. Since I love their beeswax candles so much, I asked if they were interested in doing another reader giveaway for the holidays and they were!

Here's some more information about beeswax, Big Dipper candles and the scandalous lack of regulations and ingredients disclosure (my emphasis):
Beeswax is 100% natural and a renewable resource that actually cleans the air by emitting purifying negative ions.

Most candles are made with paraffin, a petroleum by-product, which is not natural and is unhealthy to burn. To prepare it for candle making, it is chemically bleached and hardened, then artificially scented. Burning paraffin emits harmful, black soot and pollutes the air.

Currently, there are no regulations in the U.S. on disclosing ingredients on candle labels. You may find candles labeled "beeswax" that are made with paraffin, or other candle waxes, and contain as little as 1% beeswax. Big Dipper Waxworks is very proud to say that they use 100% beeswax in all of their candles, with the exception of a select few that are a blend of 50% beeswax and 50% soy wax, and are noted as such.
The Giveaway
So, here I offer to one lucky winner, a holiday gift set of fabulous candles, worth over $45. Absolutely no fragrance or synthetic scents are used.

Included in this giveaway are:

2 Beeswax Ornament candles (each has a burn time of over 40 hours)
1 Beehive candle in Holiday Spice (burn time of over 35 hours)

How to Enter
If you are interested in entering this random drawing, add your name to the comments of this post. You get bonus points for liking the Crunchy Chicken on Facebook. Just let me know if you're a fan of the page in your comments.

You have until midnight PST, Friday, December 16th, to enter. And, now for the legal mumbo jumbo: This giveaway is open to U.S. residents, 18+ only. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Winner will be selected Saturday, December 17th and will have 2 days to respond.

For More Information
If you are interested in learning more information about candles and their potential toxicity, check out my book, The Non-Toxic Avenger: What you don't know can hurt you.

Warning: I was in no way compensated for this post by the company outside of samples received.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Town Hall Seattle Book Launch and Event

It seems like every real high point in my life is tempered with some dreadful low. Since my book was released in mid-November, I should be riding a wave of tremendous highs with book signings, radio interviews and other speaking engagements. Instead, I've been riding a wave of tremendous turmoil since my father passed away suddenly on November 30th. I think this is some karmic way for me to stay humble. Or something.

In any event, in spite of the ups and downs, I'm pulling on the upswing and am extremely excited to announce that my Town Hall Seattle book event/launch and signing is still going full speed ahead. On December 12th, I'll be doing a 40 minute or so talk about my book followed by a Q & A and book signing as part of the Future of Health Series at Town Hall. The event is from 7:30 pm to 9:00 pm and will be taped by our local NPR station (KUOW) for their Speaker's Forum show.

The University Bookstore (from the University of Washington) will be there selling my book as will WA Toxics Coalition. They will be tabling the event, offering additional information about toxins in the environment and in the products you use. They were instrumental in providing feedback for getting my body burden testing done as well as providing the resources for doing the XRF testing of consumer products that I discuss in my book.

I have a few more organizations that may be supporting the event as well. They are not yet confirmed so I don't want to mention them, but I will in the next week. I also have a list of very exciting radio interviews and TV interviews and book signings on the horizon that I will announce as they are confirmed.

But, make no mistake, my Dad is always on my mind and I dedicate all of this to him. He would have been very proud.

If you live in the Seattle area, I hope to see you there! Did I mention there will be beer and wine?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Dealing with death

I'd like to pretend as if I could just continue posting as if nothing is going on in my life right now, but I can't. The last week has been a horrible one and I can't not talk about it.

Last Tuesday I found out that my Dad had a heart attack while driving home. He hit the car in front of him and the other driver called 911 when he saw my Dad. The EMTs had to break the window to get him out before they could administer CPR.

To make a very long story short, he is in a coma. It took too long for them to get to him and start CPR and he has lost all of his upper brain function. Last night they took out the ventilator and he is breathing on his own. There is no hope that he will wake up. It is only a matter of time before he passes.

Right now, he'd normally be reading this post. He and I didn't always agree on the things I write about and when he saw something he disagreed with he always let me know. It was good to get a different perspective from someone on the other side of the aisle, just to keep that in mind when I approach an issue.

We had a lot in common too, the pictures in this post are of his beloved banana plants and the orchids he doted on in his San Diego backyard. He also took loving care of a family of hummingbirds that lived among his tropical oasis.

You can see more of his plants, hummingbirds and backyard in this video I did on Backyard Tropical Fruit Trees from two years ago. He coached me on many of the details I shared regarding the banana plants. It was also the last time I saw him.

We've had a complicated relationship over the years, one that got substantially better since I had kids. He was always great about making sure he didn't forget about their birthdays and Christmas and made sure he got them exactly what they wanted, which meant a lot to me. I didn't tell him often enough and I hope he knew that.

He will be severely missed. I love you Dad.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Non-Toxic Avenger: book review on Skruben

Anne, the mastermind behind Seattle Sundries soaps, has a book review up on her blog of my book, The Non-Toxic Avenger: What you don't know can hurt you. We did a little book to soap barter a week or so ago and, while she's been enjoying my book, I've been enjoying a little Sasquatchin' in the shower. Don't tell my husband.

In any case, go check out the book review. It's got a great perspective coming from your "average" consumer (i.e. not a nutball like me), and you can also find out how my book "will simultaneously educate, motivate and scare the wrinkle-resistant pants off of you".

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Spatchcocking the turkey

Okay, so we aren't truly spatchcocking our turkey for Thanksgiving this year. I just can't help myself and must use this term. And, while we are "removing the backbone and sternum of the bird and flattening it out before cooking", we are really just, more or less, parting it out for brining, searing and braising. Just not so much on the flattening bit.

The last few years we haven't gotten around to ordering a local heritage turkey but have still managed to get an organic, heritage free-range turkey through our local co-op. The bird is not local, but it's close enough. And, I'm more interested in supporting a farm that raises heritage turkeys - that is, birds that can still procreate on their own - and then grow them with sustainability in mind.

What method of turkey cooking are you doing this year? That is, if you do turkey? Are you opting for a heritage breed?

Image courtesy of Martha Stewart Living.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chopping down the hood

Last Tuesday, I was working from home. Or, rather, trying to work from home. Our neighbor down the street was having a giant tree removed from their front yard, which caused a considerable amount of noise from all the sawing and ground shattering that was going on.

From the looks of it, it appeared to be an old growth tree that was extremely tall. I can understand why they were having it removed. It occupied a great deal of their front yard as well as blocking the light to their house as well as the neighbor's. Additionally, I'm sure the size of the tree added to the dangers of limb damage since we live in a pretty windy area of Seattle.

I was sad to see it go - it was a beautiful pine tree and the landscape looks totally different now. I could gauge the weather based on how much swaying was going on with that tree. And, now I can see far too much of that aqua colored home than before. I prefer to be looking at that huge tree.

The tree service that cut it down left quite a bit of it in our neighbor's driveway, most of the pieces being cross sections of the trunk. Yesterday, Emma and I wandered over to take a closer look and count the tree rings. I was completely surprised to see that there were only 56 rings on this tree. I figured it to be much older, but it makes sense that it was planted when the homes around here were built. Our house was built in 1956 and I believe the homes on the street behind us weren't built much earlier.

Anyway, I hope our neighbors get plenty of benefit from the warmth in wood this giant tree now provides them. We've got several oversized trees on this street that I'm sure will meet a similar fate in years to come.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Behavior Intervention Plan general goals

I've spent a little too much time this last week talking with the school, the principal and the special educators and the teachers. This week we met to nail down a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) to help deal with some of the behavioral issues my son has been having at school, most directly related to his anxiety, OCD and avoidance of difficult tasks/situations.

Anyway, I wrote up ten goals that I wanted to make sure were addressed in the BIP. Primarily, I wanted my son to have a positive behavior support plan that provides him an environment where he can achieve.

When I met with the general ed teachers and special ed teachers yesterday, one of them stated how much she really liked what I scoped out and printed it out for use for all her students' BIP planning. I know few of my regular readers have any need for this, but I thought I'd share it for those of you out on the Interwebs who need similar guidance.

The goals of the Behavior Intervention Plan are that it:

1. is proactive rather than reactive
2. addresses and outlines the root causes of the student's behavior, focusing on the interpersonal and environmental triggers (attention seeking, avoidance, anxiety provoking, difficult tasks)
3. minimizes the above triggers
4. identifies adaptive skills for each type of trigger - how to coach student on how to behave differently with concrete examples; breaking problem tasks down into smaller, more manageable "chunks"
5. teaches adaptive skills so when student does encounter a trigger he knows what to do
6. reinforces the adaptive skills throughout the day before he encounters a trigger
7. looks at the effectiveness of consequences imposed - do they meet the goals laid out above? does it review the event and how he could have behaved differently?
8. instills trust in adults at school and provides a safe environment for him and others
9. provides a system for earning points as motivator for appropriate behavior / making good choices and one that also rewards for changing "unexpected" behavior to "expected" behavior
10. provides a streamlined method of communication of points earned to parents for extrinsic reward

I'll be back to regular posting here once things settle down on the homefront.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Plucked and pecked

Poor Chloe. The other day I noticed that Sara, the big blonde pushy Orpington, was pecking at her bald spots (from molting), making her bleed. The little vampire seemed to be enjoying the taste of blood. I spent hours reading up on what to do if the behavior continued, since I know that chickens will potentially just peck each other to death if left unattended.

Fortunately, Chloe is smarter than Sara and was spending most of her time up in the coop, away from Sara, who spends most of her time in the run during the day. I made sure everyone had plenty of food and water in both areas and that kept them apart long enough.

I checked on Chloe the next day and didn't see the bloody spots and noticed her new feathers were coming in nicely and were providing protection. I looked her over to make sure no new bloody spots had appeared. When I looked yesterday her new feathers were sprouting like mad - she looks like she's covered in long quills. Long and poky enough to keep Sara's beak out. Damn vampire chicken.

Have any of you experienced this problem with chicken cannibalism? What did you do?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Book review by Tiffany of Nature Moms

Tiffany just posted a review of my book, The Non-Toxic Avenger. It gives a straightforward look at what it's all about, including some criticisms as well. But it will give you a good idea of what to expect.

It's always nerve wracking reading reviews and this is one of the first coming in. I look forward to the rest, both good and bad!

Here's a snippet:
"What makes all of it infinitely more interesting is that you are not reading a dry list of factoids. The information is shared much the same way a friend would tell you about what she discovered when she researched this and that and what it meant to their lives and health. I especially loved that she got household items tested with an XRF gun. A necklace she frequently wore tested way over the federal limit for lead, as did a charm on a bracelet her daughter wore. A PC laptop charger tested high for bromine levels but a Mac charger tested with no detectable levels. A small sampling of items tested raised a lot or red flags and made her wonder about other things in her home. It just goes to show that all those government regulations can end up meaning diddly squat in the end."
Click on the graphic to check out the rest of the review!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Non-Toxic Avenger book winner

I'm very excited to announce the winner of my book, The Non-Toxic Avenger: What you don't know can hurt you, which will be available in stores at end of November 2011 from New Society Publishers. I've already given a way a few copies to friends and family so I can't wait to hear from the lucky winner who is...


Congratulations! Email your contact information to and I will mail the signed copy of the book out to you directly!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Plucked chicken aka molting

Chloe is molting. Even though she's the youngest chicken (about 18 months old, which is prime molting time), the older two have managed to escape a full-blown feather explosion like she's experiencing. I wish I could get some better pictures for you, but suffice it to say, she looks an absolute mess.

Here you can somewhat see her neck. It looks like it's been through the wringer:

And, here you can see her missing feathers. Paco has been enjoying them as a backyard snack:

She's stopped producing eggs during this whole procedure, although I think she's still spending a bunch of time up in the nesting box. Poor girl.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Homeschooling versus Unschooling

Henry has been having more and more problems at school and we are really at our wits end with what to do to accommodate him. His school is too. I usually get a call from school 2 - 4 times a week letting me know something has gone badly. I'm not sure if modifications for his behavioral issues will suffice for much longer. Our other option is to transfer him to a school with a dedicated classroom for kids with special needs. Without getting into too many details, the idea of homeschooling has come up yet again.

When my son was born, I was enthralled with the idea of homeschooling. I read a ton of books about the benefits of homeschooling, the different methodologies, the issues and the like. I loved the concept of a classical education and the idea that content could be catered to a child's interests and focus. Needless to say, I was more interested in secular homeschooling and I was happy to see a lot of support in our area for that (groups and the like), including support programs in our public schools for homeschoolers.

All that said, our children go to public school. It all came down to a few things: personality and loss of income. However, we are lucky in that our public elementary school uses some of the curriculum that I would use at home - Saxon and Singapore Math and Junior Great Books for reading. They are able to provide an environment that I certainly couldn't do on my own, as well as services they need. At least, so far.

But, one thing I never could wrap my brain around was the concept of unschooling. Basically, unschooling is centered on allowing children to learn through their natural life experiences, including child directed play, game play and social interaction rather than through a more traditional school curriculum. All of this is facilitated by adults.

I really like the theory behind unschooling, but I don't believe that children would learn everything that I personally think is important to be able to make certain life choices later. In other words, it doesn't provide them with the toolset to do certain things as an adult. I wouldn't want to restrict my children's ability to do anything they wanted to do later in life and that's what unschooling appears to do from my perspective. And, before any panties get twisted, I'm referring mainly to later career choices in math and hard sciences or anything that requires a significant foundation of knowledge.

What do you think of unschooling? For those unschoolers out there, why did you choose unschooling instead of more "traditional" homeschooling?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Non-Toxic Avenger book giveaway

I got a box delivered yesterday full of copies of my book, The Non-Toxic Avenger: What you don't know can hurt you, which won't be available until end of November 2011 from New Society Publishers and I thought to myself, why not do a book giveaway now before it's released? I'm always doing book giveaways, so why not my own? So, I've decided to do the first (I'm sure of several) book giveaway for a signed copy of my new book!

Ze Book Description!
"Most of us turn a blind eye to the startling array of chemicals lurking in everything from shampoo to baby bottles to the money in our wallets, choosing to believe that government agencies ensure the safety of the products we wear, use, ingest, and breathe in daily. Yet the standards for product safety in North America lag far behind those of other countries. We frequently hear that a substance we've relied on for years turns out to have serious effects on our health, the environment, or both.

After coming to terms with the fact that the autism and cancer which had impacted her family were most likely the result of environmental toxins, author Deanna Duke undertook a mission to dramatically reduce her family's chemical exposure. She committed to drastically reducing the levels of all known chemicals in both her home and work environments, using the help of body burden testing to see what effect, if any, she was able to have on the level of toxins in her body.

Follow Deanna's journey as she uncovers how insidious and invasive environmental toxins are. Learn about your day-to-day chemical exposure, the implications for your health, and what you can do about it. And find out whether the author's quest is mission impossible, or whether she is ultimately able to improve her family's health by taking steps towards leading a chemical-free life."

Ze Rules!
If you are interested in entering the random drawing for my book, please add your name to the comments of this post. You get bonus points for liking the Crunchy Chicken on Facebook. Just let me know if you're a fan of the page in your comments.

You have until midnight PST next Tuesday, November 8th, to enter. And, now for the legal mumbo jumbo: This giveaway is open to U.S. residents, 18+ only. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Winner will be selected Wednesday, November 9th and will have 7 days to respond.

Ze Book Excerpts!
And, just to whet your whistle, here are some excerpts from the book/blogs that I've posted over the past year:

Good luck!!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Start Freezin' Yer Buns!

Ok, a lot of you on the East Coast have been freezing yer buns already, and even over here on the usually balmy West Coast I woke this morning to 38 degrees for my walk with Paco. For those of you on the Facebook page, we've been discussing temperatures and other issues for a few weeks now, but today "officially" starts the challenge. So, if you've been slacking, it's time to start thinking about keeping your thermostat lower.

It's not too late to sign up and pledge what temperatures you plan on keeping your thermostat at this year (day and night). Just head on over to the pledge post and let us know!

If you missed the last couple of blog posts on the challenge, here are some links:

*How to Acclimate to Cooler Indoor Temperatures
*Cold Indoor Temperatures and Condensation
*Freezing Friends Round-Up

If you want to stay on top of the latest conversation on who's freezing what, join the Facebook Page:

Monday, October 31, 2011

Non-Toxic Avenger: It's Here!

Just in time to be a Non-Toxic Avenger for Halloween!

I got copies of my book today. They should be available from stores November 22nd, around the same time the electronic edition will be out as well. I have a meeting with my marketing coordinator tomorrow and will be working with my publicist soon. So, I'll fill you in on all the gory details of my book release and interviews as they happen!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Homegrown & Handmade book winner

The winner of the book, Homegrown and Handmade: A Practical Guide to More Self-Reliant Living, by Deborah Nieman is....

Anna of the blog, Blue Dirt.

Congratulations! Email your contact information to and I will mail the book out to you directly!

Also, for the winner of last week's book, Suzic, if I don't hear from you by tomorrow I'll be picking another winner. I don't have any contact info for you.

Cold indoor temperatures and condensation

One of the big issues with keeping your indoor air temperatures lower (besides feeling cold) is that, for many areas, you can have a problem with moisture, condensation and mold. Not to mention that high levels of humidity will make you feel colder than the same temperature at lower levels of humidity (the inverse is true at super low levels of humidity).

Let me 'splain. Most people are comfy at around 25% - 40% humidity. If the humidity level is really low, you'll feel colder than if it's inside this range. If the humidity is really high, you'll feel colder. And damp. Many of us have more problems being on the high humidity end of things than those of you in the desert. Our area averages over 80% humidity outside this time of year.

So, every year, one of the questions people ask during the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge is in regards to the issue with condensation and mold and what to do about it. Well, you have a few options. You can turn the heat up, you can lower the humidity with a dehumidifier or you can just bear with it.

As for condensation, it all really comes down to relative humidity compared to the outside. The University of MN came up with some guidelines for the recommended humidity levels for houses (bear in mind these are for 70 degree indoor temps):

Outside Temperature     Inside Humidity
20º to 40ºFNot over 40%
10º to 20ºFNot over 35%
0º to 10ºFNot over 30%
-10º to 0ºFNot over 25%
-20º to –10ºFNot over 20%
-20ºF or belowNot over 15%

Since a given volume of air can only hold so much water vapor at a given temperature, one way to remove the condensation issue is to raise the temperature. The warmer the air, the more water vapor it can hold, which means the less is hanging onto your windows and walls. Of course, this kind of defeats the purpose of this challenge.

Usually, we just deal with the condensation problem. But this year, because we've had more problems with condensation and I'm sick of fighting the mold, I invested in a dehumidifier. Not too shockingly, when I started it up in our bedroom after using the shower, the humidity was 90%. It's a neat little appliance on rollers so I've been moving it from room to room to reduce the humidity. It sucks water out of the air like there's no tomorrow. My son's room is also a haven for moisture collection and, after running it for a few hours, it collects several cups of water.

So, instead of living in a terrarium, our windows are looking a lot drier. I'm assuming that we won't have to run it as often once the general humidity is lowered overall but, with showers, cooking and just breathing, fighting the humidity is a never-ending battle around these parts.

Do you have a problem with moisture build-up and condensation in your home? How do you deal with it? Do you notice if it's worse when you keep the thermostat lower?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Top 5 easy homemade cheeses

Making your own cheese always seems to be an extremely daunting undertaking and it can be, especially if you are trying to make hard cheeses. But there are a number of soft cheeses that are quite easy to make at home.

The issue with most cheese making recipes is that they require a bunch of difficult to find ingredients. And, if you are lazy or last minute like I am, tracking down cheese salt, cultures and rennets and whatnot just isn't going to happen.

1. Mascarpone: This Italian cheese (shown at right) is very expensive to buy in the store (if you can find it) but very easy to make yourself. All you need is heavy whipping cream and lemon juice.

2. Ricotta: This one is, hands-down, substantially better homemade than anything you will find in the store. Especially if you go for whole milk (which I recommend). Just add a little heavy cream and lemon juice (or white vinegar) and you're good to go!

3. Cream Cheese: This one is idiot proof. All you need to make your own cream cheese is yogurt!

4. Sour Cream: Okay, this one isn't exactly a cheese, but I couldn't not include it because it's so bloody easy to make. All you need is heavy cream and sour cream or buttermilk.

5. Paneer: This Indian cheese is fantastic even if you don't use it in a traditional Indian dish. Unlike some Indian recipes this one only requires foods you already have in your kitchen: milk and lemon juice.

This post is part of this week's Homestead Barn Hop and Simple Lives Thursday

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Freezing Friends Roundup!

Here are some posts on other blogs that are participating in the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge this year. Let me know if I missed any from this week:

Don't forget to check out the Facebook group! I post links there as well as daily discussions regarding the challenge.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Homegrown & Handmade book giveaway

I received a couple of review copies the other day of the book, Homegrown and Handmade: A Practical Guide to More Self-Reliant Living, by Deborah Nieman and so far, I've been really enjoying reading it. It's one of those "books for wiser living" recommended by Mother Earth News.

Deborah Niemann is a homesteader, writer, and self-sufficiency expert who presents regularly on topics including soapmaking, bread baking, cheesemaking, composting, and homeschooling. She and her family raise sheep, pigs, cattle, goats, chickens, and turkeys for meat, eggs, and dairy products, while an organic garden and orchard provides fruit and vegetables.

So, in other words, she knows what she's talking about based on her extensive experience. She also writes the blog, Antiquity Oaks, if you'd like to see more of her writing online (she has the cutest baby goats).

Anyway, from the book description, Homegrown and Handmade shows you how making things from scratch and growing at least some of your own food can help you eliminate artificial ingredients from your diet, reduce your carbon footprint, and create a more authentic life. Whether your goal is to increase your self-reliance or become a full-fledged homesteader, this book can get you started by helping you:

* Take control of your food supply from seed to plate
* Raise small and medium livestock for fun, food, and fiber
* Rediscover traditional skills to meet your family's needs

This guide to food and fiber from scratch shows that attitude and knowledge is more important than acreage.

How to enter this giveaway
If you are interested in entering the random drawing for this book, please add your name to the comments of this post. You get bonus points for liking the Crunchy Chicken on Facebook. Just let me know if you're a fan of the page in your comments.

You have until midnight PST this Tuesday, October 25th to enter. And, now for the legal mumbo jumbo: This giveaway is open to U.S. residents, 18+ only. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Winner will be selected Wednesday, October 26th and will have 7 days to respond.

Good luck!

Friday, October 21, 2011

EnviroPig - an environmental blessing or disaster?

The EnviroPig, a kind of Yorkshire pig, is a genetically engineered "frankenswine" that has been created to be greener than your average piggy and his poop.

Since feedlot pigs have issues digesting the phosphorus they get from their feed, they end up excreting it in their poop and urine, resulting in that factory pig farm stench. This strange brew manure is then used as a fertilizer on the farms. Which means that, when it rains, all this phosphorus runs off into waterways and, in the case, of the Mississippi, out into the Gulf, creating a giant dead zone from the resulting algal blooms. This is an enormous problem for streams, rivers and lakes downstream from factory pig farms. In some cases, it's an environmental catastrophe.

Enter genetic engineering. Scientists have replaced one gene to help the pig break down the phosphorus. Creators of the EnviroPig achieved this by splicing a gene from the E. coli bacteria and a bit of mouse DNA into a normal pig embryo. This new and improved pig's poop contains 30 - 60% less phosphorous.

An environmental blessing? Well, this transgenic pig isn't quite ready to enter the food chain and end up on your plate just yet, but it could be soon enough. It is supposed to taste the same as a regular Yorkshire pig, even with its minor modifications. I'm not sure exactly how they're testing its safety for human consumption, but I can't say I'll be lining up to try it. Although with the lack of GMO labeling in this country, thousands of people could end up eating it without their knowledge.

While Canada has approved limited production of the EnviroPig, you won't be seeing it in the U.S. anytime soon. However, the FDA is being pretty coy about applications of the pigs being made, so I wouldn't be
surprised if that changed. Testing so far claims that it's equivalent in nutritional value (fats, proteins and the like) to unmodified pigs. But, is that testing enough?

We've seen similar modifications turn out badly, namely with allergic reactions to GMO corn. Indications from other GMO products point to previously unknown health impacts, particularly in feedlot animals. Like sterility and organ failure.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't mind genetic selection to produce improved kinds of animals, vegetables and minerals, but when you start mixing and matching bacteria and multiple mammal DNA well, I get a little nervous about the outcome. But, mostly, I think we are just approaching the problem from the wrong direction.

Rather than modify the pig, why don't we modify the management of pig poop? And, while we are at it, maybe monitor factory pig farming a little bit better? And finally, there's the obvious aspect of maybe eating less meat altogether so we'd have less pig poop to dispose of.

Would you willingly eat an EnviroPig? More importantly, what do you feel about GMO labelling?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Canning & Preserving book winner!

The winner of the book, Canning & Preserving with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Make Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Chutneys & More, is...

Lucky #1. The first entrant - I don't think this has ever happened before. Anyway, Suzic, you are the glorious winner of this super cool book!

Congratulations! Email your contact information to and I will mail the book out to you directly!

Since I seem to be setting a trend with Saturday giveaways, I'll be doing another one this weekend, although I haven't yet decided what it will be. So, stay tuned!

Fighting the mold monsters

The following is an excerpt from my book, The Non-Toxic Avenger: What you don't know can hurt you, that is coming out November 2011 from New Society Publishers.

Living in Seattle means there is a constant battle between good and evil. And by evil, I mean mold. And mildew and, just for kicks, you can toss in mushrooms as well. In every modern home that I’ve lived in here in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve always had issues with moisture. The combination of relative humidity and lack of sunlight means that nothing dries out for nine months of the year. There have been only two places that I lived that didn’t have issues with mold and they were homes built over 100 years ago. In other words, they were drafty. They didn’t have that airtight, energy-saving, heat-keeping tight frame you see in buildings built in the last 50 years or so. The end result is the newer the building, the worse the mold.

When I was growing up in the 1970s, our house (built around 1968 or so) was not just damp, it was cold. I remember always freezing in that house and it wasn’t because my parents were doing some sort of blog challenge, they just kept the heat down. Couple that with the fact that the house was situated on top of some natural spring or stream or something and the end result was a lot of moisture inside. My childhood home is a bad example regarding moisture because we had, for a good portion of the year, a river of water literally running through the unfinished portion of our basement. You could open those wood louvered doors at the end of the family room and step into Ferngully down there with its strategically placed bricks, boards and other contraptions to get you from one end to the other without getting your feet too wet. Kind of like stepping stones through a stream but the hills were made out of black plastic tarp.

It was always my dad’s fantasy to finish that end of the basement and he’d spin images of a giant playroom with a pool table and other such things. I’m pretty sure a wet bar was mentioned once or twice. Something the resident mice and other critters could really get into. The closest he got to any kind of drainage was building a sump pump in the front yard that never really took the edge off the flow. Any time there was a heavy rain, the laundry room got a deluge of water pouring through it. The basement smelled like a mix of must and mold which did wonders for my older brothers’ asthma and allergies.

These two brothers, who still haven’t let me live down the fact that I got the biggest (and, surely, the driest) bedroom in the house, were relegated to living in two of the three bedrooms that were in the “daylight” basement. We moved into this house right before I was born so I don’t exactly recall all that went into their banishment to the basement, but suffice it to say that my dad did go so far as to finish two bedrooms and sort of a bathroom. Being more or less underground just meant that their bedrooms weren’t exactly in the Sahara. And, because of the high moisture content down there, my brother Darryl routinely had interesting flora — of the fern kind — growing in his carpet.

That wasn’t the last time I bore witness to things growing in the carpeting around here. When my husband and I were going to the University of Washington, we lived in an exceedingly cheap apartment in the University District in Seattle. This apartment was partially underground, so that when you looked out our bedroom window, you had to look up in order to see out. We didn’t have much in the way of furniture in our living room, just a futon and an old heavy desk that Hank’s father had managed to fashion out of what must be the heaviest wood found on planet Earth, or rather a mix of lead with a little plutonium. But the most offending object in that room was a television that we never watched and that was stuffed in the corner over by the sliding glass door that opened onto a one-foot-wide balcony.

Since these apartments were built on a slope, on one side we were underground and on the other we overlooked the street. Our balcony also overlooked the extremely noisy Knarr Tavern, which never had the door closed no matter the weather. The combination of jukebox and drunken pool table noise meant that we never had our sliding glass door open. This also meant that the air flow in that apartment was abysmal. We couldn’t really afford to keep this place heated and visitors (of which we had few) complained that we could hang meat in there. Even though we didn’t have too much of a mold problem, when we moved out after we graduated we noticed that we had created a bit of a terrarium in there by the glass door. As my husband went to move the television, he found a bumper crop of mushrooms growing under it.

I point this out only to show that Seattle, under the right conditions, can breed all sorts of internal plant and spore life if left unchecked. We didn’t have anything spectacular going on in our current house even after the basement flooded a few years ago. A few hours with a wet/dry vacuum and some industrial fans for a few days cleared us of any problems. But we did have the classic windowsill mold in this house, just because they seal up tightly. Our last house had old, double-hung wood windows and we never had an issue with mold. Here, however, it was a constant battle. The other constant battle against mold was in our master bathroom. There’s a window, but no fan.

The way the shower was constructed, it locked the moisture in the bathroom fairly well and did a slow release throughout the day. Our options were to leave the window open all day (which wasn’t too pleasant in the winter) or get a fan installed. I’m sure you can guess by now that we haven’t gotten around to getting a fan installed. It always got caught up in the whole, “let’s remodel the bathroom if we are going to do that,” which meant replacing the tiles, fixing the shower drip, installing the fan, replacing the vanity and getting new cabinets. The project always spun out of control and nothing ever got done, particularly since my husband got sick. And the last thing we wanted to endure was a bathroom remodel.

So, in order to assist the open window, I got a dehumidifier for the bathroom. It helped out immeasurably and I didn’t need to deploy evasive mold tactics as often as I used to. But we still had mold both in the shower itself and on the walls. The only thing that worked on the tiles was bleach or some derivative product, like the heinous X-14. I’m fairly certain that I’ve shaved several years of lung and eye health off my life by using that stuff. You really do feel poisoned when you use it, but by gum, it works like a charm. As do most toxic products. I’ve tried a bevy of more natural solutions on the tiles like vinegar and hydrogen peroxide and borax and baking soda and tea tree oil, ad nauseum, but they all, frankly, don’t do a damn thing. I’ve scrubbed and scrubbed and it’s all for naught.

To find out what we ended up doing to keep the mold in our house in check, you'll have to check out my book. I know, I know - very sneaky.

What do you do to manage the mold in your house?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How to acclimate to cooler indoor temperatures

Everybody is different when it comes to cold tolerance. The biggest factor is what you are "used" to and, by that, I mean what you've been acclimated to. Someone who routinely lives in a cold clime can tolerate much lower temperatures comfortably than can, say, my sister-in-law who is originally from Thailand and could barely tolerate the "low" temperatures of California when she first moved here and would sleep in a down filled coat.

I was reading an article the other day about how to deal with cooler indoor temperatures and, in addition to the basic stuff, the focus wasn't so much on staying warm by alternative methods (like wearing a lot of extra clothes, drinking warm tea, or using a space heater), but more on acclimating yourself to cooler degrees. We spend so much time fighting to keep warm as if it were 70 degrees inside, it makes sense to acclimate our bodies to cooler temperatures instead.

Some of the suggestions in the article were to hold off on using the furnace and, once you do start using it, keep the indoor temperature around 60 degrees. Another suggestion was to not overdress or wear extra clothes when you go outside (assuming the outside temp is ~60 degrees at the start of this acclimatization). That way the shock from going from a warm house to the cold outside and vice-versa isn't so extreme. The author also suggested you air the house out for a few hours a day by opening the windows (although you should turn off your central heat during this).

"The lower the temperature your body is acclimatised to, the less of a shock it receives when temperatures begin to plummet. The longer you can maintain this regime, the lower your fuel consumption will be during the winter months... In a sense, you are hardening yourself off just like you do with tender plants in the spring. Consider yourself that tender plant that needs to be acclimatised to the winter cold. The hardier you are the easier you'll be able to weather the months of frost and snow."

This got me thinking of the limits of human cold tolerance. So, I did a minor bit of digging and found out a few interesting things. Laurence Irving, of the University of Fairbanks, ran a study on students that he noticed would walk around barefoot on campus (for religious reasons), even in the winter and in the snow.

He convinced them to do a study wherein they sat in a room cooled to 32 degrees. They were allowed to wear light clothing. As a control, he enlisted a healthy young man to undergo the same test. The control student began to shiver violently after 30 minutes. The year-round barefoot students, however, didn't begin shivering until 50 minutes had passed.

The students who were adapted to the cold were very conscious of what happened to their bodies during the experiment. Every time their fingers and toes dropped to about 50 degrees, they felt a tingling of warmth, which was followed by a steady rise in the temperatures of their fingers and toes to about 68 degrees. Thus, demonstrating that the human body can adapt to lower temperatures without pain or discomfort.

So, clearly, adjusting to a lower temperature is indeed possible and without massive discomfort. Hold off on turning on your furnace this year and/or keep your wood heat to a minimum. If you start slowly reducing your thermostat setting, you'll be adjusted in no time. And, to a much lower threshold than you think you can.

What about you? How low can you go? 60? 55? 45?

This post was included in Barn Hop #33!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Why poor people don't want to tax rich people

I've been puzzling over this issue for a long time now. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, but the gist of it is that many Americans who earn a median income down to the poverty level* defend vehemently the right of rich people to keep their vast sums rather than tax them at a higher rate past a certain earning point.

The most common argument is that those rich people work hard for their money and they should keep it. The same is said for the middle wage earner - they work hard for their money and they should keep it. But those poor folks aren't working hard for their money so we have no right to tax the middle class or the upper class at a higher rate than the poor. No redistribution of wealth, no sirree. That would be communism.

There's a funny statistic out there and, by funny, I don't mean humorous, but ironic. If you ask wage earners where they fall, invariably they respond the "middle class", regardless of the fact that they are closer to the poverty line. Even those in the top 5 percent of all earners refer to themselves as middle class.

I suspect this is an issue for those who are in the top 5% because they "feel" like they aren't wealthy. Especially when they compare themselves to the extravagant, flagrant wealth that exists in this country. Namely folks like Bill Gates, Oprah and the Kardashians.

But what's with the taxation thing? My theory is that Americans, poor and middle class, don't want to tax the rich at a higher rate because they themselves wouldn't want to be taxed at a higher rate. And, since the American Dream is still alive and well, they firmly believe that one day they, too, will be rich. So, you better not start taxing their peeps now because they'll be joining them shortly!

This is just my theory because I honestly can't figure out the whole "rich people work hard so they deserve those hundreds of millions" thing. I know an incredible number of poor people who work harder than rich people. But, then again, maybe they're defining "hard" differently than I. There's some dissociative behavior going on there. It's the distancing of "us" versus the poor - a bizarre discrimination even though most of the "us" are poor but just classify themselves as middle class.

What do you think? Why is there resistance among many of the middle to lower class against taxing the rich at a "fairer" rate? And, what's with the firm belief that poor people are lazy?

*Poverty level is $22,314 for a family of 4 (or 46.2 million people in the U.S.); Median household income is $49,445.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Bushel of Harvest Posts

Rather than reposting harvest related blog posts from years' past, I thought it would be fun to put together a list of posts that would be appropriate for the fall harvest time of the year. Here are my top 8 favorites:

1. Processing sugar pie pumpkins - How to roast, process and freeze all those lovely pumpkins that you either grew or are buying from the farmers market, farm stand or grocery store.

2. Corn preservation methods compared: I compare different corn preservation methods and let you know how they all turn out.

3. What to do with all those apples: From canning, drying, freezing to making drinks, they're covered in this post.

4. How to ripen green tomatoes: From storing them wrapped in newspaper in a box to putting them in a paper bag, what's your favorite method of ripening green tomatoes?

5. Saucy apples: My favorite apple sauce recipe.

6. Hard apple cider: A link to how to make hard apple cider.

7. Preserving food for the winter: This post has my favorite method for drying apples.

8. Grilled pumpkin with rosemary and sea salt: This recipe is up over on my mostly neglected food blog (and at Mother Earth News). It's one of my favorite things to do with pumpkin.

What's your favorite fall harvest recipe or activity? Feel free to post links to your blogs! If you use the linky tool below, make sure you link to an actual blog URL post. This post part of this week's Homestead Barn Hop.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Canning & Preserving book giveaway

Today's book giveaway is Canning & Preserving with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Make Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Chutneys & More. This book will inspire you to begin canning and, if you are already a canning queen (or king), will get you champing at the bit to whip out the canner and start making some canned gifts for this upcoming holiday season.

Topics in the book include necessary tools, canning basics, safety and ingredients as well as recipes for, well, jams, jellies, pickles, chutneys and more.

She wraps it up with seasonal recipes like Fig and Thyme Jam, Beet and Sage Relish and Rhubarb and Amaretto Chutney. Ashley will help take the fear out of canning for newbies and give new spark to recipes for seasoned canners.

How to enter
If you are interested in entering the random drawing for this book, please add your name to the comments of this post. You get bonus points for liking the Crunchy Chicken on Facebook. Just let me know if you're a fan of the page in your comments.

You have until midnight PST this Tuesday, October 18th to enter. This giveaway is open to U.S. residents, 18+ only. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Winner will be selected Wednesday, October 19th and will have 7 days to respond.

Good luck!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Freeze Yer Buns Challenge 2011

It's that time of year, my fellow frosty cheeks. And, woohoo, this year it's the 5th annual Freeze Yer Buns Challenge! Unlike last year, we haven't yet had to turn on the heat so far this season. Outside daytime temperatures have been hovering just under 60, which means that it stays in the low to mid 60s inside.

Keeping the ante up
Again this year I'm going to be offering some really awesome giveaways for participants of the challenge, so you have something new and exciting to look forward to besides freezing buns and chapped cheeks. So make sure you officially sign up even if you've always just followed along in the past.

This year, as per usual, we'll all share hints and tips for keeping the thermostat low without really freezing our buns off. For those of you who use a form of heating without a thermostat, you are still invited to play. The challenge for you is to use less fuel.

How it works
Since I know a lot of you can't commit to as low temperatures as others, it's just fine if you pledge to drop it down one degree or so from where you usually keep it. Even that makes a huge difference. You'll find that, as the winter wears on, you'll be able to drop it lower as you adjust to the new, lower temperatures. So, if you don't want to take the icy plunge, don't feel like you have to drop it 10 degrees right away.

Pledge to Freeze Yer Buns
To sign up for the challenge, add a comment to this post and pledge what temperatures you will keep your thermostat. This year we're staying lower and so I'm pledging for 62 day and 55 night. You are more than welcome to meander through the posts from previous year's challenges if you want to know what you're in for.

As in the first and last year, this year's challenge mascot is the Arctic Seal. That roly poly little snow covered baby seal needs our help. Help prevent his extinction by preserving the Arctic environment by using less energy, reducing the amount of CO2 added to the atmosphere and stopping global climate change.

How low can you go?

Freeze Yer Buns on Facebook
This year I've created a Facebook Page so you have a one-stop shopping place to locate all the posts on the challenge, as well as post your own blog posts, information or anything related to the challenge. So, if you're interested in keeping up with others on Facebook, go "Like" the page!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Keeping Chickens book winner

And the winner of the book, Keeping Chickens with Ashley English, a book which is, not too surprisingly, about keeping chickens, is:

Kara from the blog, "Well, One of My Blogs".

Congratulations! Email your contact information to and I'll mail that book out to you directly!

I'll be doing another Ashley English book giveaway this Saturday, so stay tuned!