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!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Flushing the toilet with greywater

When we first moved into our house almost 5 years ago we were told the shower in the master bathroom had a leak, but that it had been fixed. The inspector checked it out and it looked good. For a while. Slowly, over the course of months and years, the drip returned.

We tried a number of different solutions to slow the drip, some more successful than others. Short of tearing out all the tile and replacing 50-year-old plumbing, we chose to ignore it as we had other, scarier stuff completely eclipsing our lives. The little drip (along with other home projects) went unattended.

Things around here have since stabilized, more or less, and in order to avoid expensive repairs we started collecting the dripped water in a bucket. During the summer months, this collected water gets dumped into the rain barrel. It's clean drinking water and can be used for whatever needs watering. During the wet season which, in Seattle, is most of the year, the collected water is used for flushing the toilet.

We don't flush the toilet a tremendous amount of times during the day since we off and on use cloth wipes and practice the mellowing yellow mantra. But, when it's time to flush, using saved water makes me feel like it's canceling out the drip.

For those who haven't tried using greywater (saved shower water or bath water or, really, any used water) for flushing your toilet, you just lift the toilet seats and pour it in. The volume of water causes the toilet to flush. It's like freaking magic, I tell you. But, then again, I'm easily amused by all things related to the potty.

Anyway, over the last month or so, that slow drip has increased to a more moderately paced drip. And now we are collecting far too much water to sanely ignore this issue any longer. I'll be calling a plumber this week to see what damage is required to resolve the problem and, in the meantime, I've been sort of feeling forlorn about not having as much water for flushing the toilet.

So, this morning I tried an experiment. Instead of just collecting the shower warm-up water (which I'm more apt to do during the dry summer), I took a shower with the bucket in there with me. It doesn't take up much space, but it does collect quite a bit more water. Since we use biodegradable soap, anything that splashes into the collection would be relatively harmless. As a result, I'm thinking that once the shower is fixed, I can still have a goodly amount of greywater for flushing or watering plants or whatever.

Do you use saved water or greywater for flushing your toilets?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Urban Homesteading Giveaway Winners!

I know you all are waiting with bated breath to find out who the winners are of Urban Homesteading Giveaway Week.

So without further ado, the winners are (gosh, it's almost as exciting as the Academy Awards!):

1. The 50 gallon Algreen Rainbarrel goes to:
Robyn M. of the blog, Adapting in Place!

2. The Keeping Chickens and Canning & Preserving books go to:
Chris, aka JanesDaddy!

3. The Raintree Nursery $50 Gift Card goes to:
Rachel of the blog, Dog Island Farm!

4. The Soilsaver Composter goes to:
Brad of the blog, Highly Uncivilized!

5. The Urban Homesteading Gift Basket goes to:
Survivor of the blog, Emergency Disaster Survival!

Okay, all you lucky winners. Email your contact info to:! And congratulations!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Urban Homesteading Gift Basket Extravaganza

I thought I'd round out Urban Homesteading Giveaway Week with a gift basket of sorts. You've got the rain barrel, the fruit trees, books on chickens and canning and a composter to contend for. But, what about something to satisfy the urban homesteader in more ways than one?

The Giveaway
Today's giveaway gift basket includes:

1. The book that (sort of) started it all:
The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City, by Kelly Coyne and Eric Knutzen. Plus, they are being harassed by them who shan't be named and, therefore, must be supported.

2. Subscription to the mother of Urban Homesteading:
A one year subscription to Mother Earth News, which has been writing about urban homesteading longer than some people have been living it.

3. Subscription to Urban Farm Magazine:
A one year subscription to Urban Farm because it's, well, about urban farming.

4. A $30 gift card for seeds n' stuff:
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has the best damn heirloom seeds available out there. And, you can't be an urban homesteader if you aren't planting stuff, now can you?

How to enter
If you are interested in entering the random drawing for this gift basket extravaganza, please add your name to the comments of this post. You have until midnight PST this Friday, February 25th to enter. This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Good luck!

Make sure you check out the other giveaways going on this week:

Win a Soilsaver composter
Win a Raintree Nursery $50 gift certificate
Win a swanky looking rain barrel
Win the books, Keeping Chickens and Canning & Preserving

Note: There are affiliate links in this post.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Soilsaver Composter giveaway

Every backyard gardener needs a compost pile. But who wants a big, stinky mess to deal with? And, further, if you live in an urban area or are short on space, who wants to annoy the neighbors or be annoyed with a pile of kitchen and garden waste attracting bugs and critters?

In order to remedy that problem and jump start you in making your own compost gold, today's giveaway for Urban Homesteading Giveaway Week is a Soilsaver Classic Composter.

This composter promises that you'll be producing rich organic dark humus in 6 to 8 weeks from kitchen and garden waste. In addition it:
  • Works in all climates and can recycle up to 30% of household waste, helping reduce landfill cost, hauling cost and curbside pickup
  • Is made from 100% recycled material. Locking self-watering lid keeps varmints out and allows for easy entry
  • Has a heavy, dark wall construction that helps produce heat which helps the bacteria and micro-organisms breakdown waste to produce rich soil
  • Has two sliding doors allows easy access to soil.
  • Includes a free composting guide
  • Dimensions: 28"W x 28"D x 32"H
This composter is easy to use as well as easy on the eyes. Just add kitchen scraps and garden waste to the top of the bin and remove finished compost from the bottom of the bin. Turning is optional (if you want faster composting).

How to enter
If you are interested in entering the random drawing for this composter, please add your name to the comments of this post. You have until midnight PST this Friday, February 25th to enter. This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Good luck!

Make sure you check out the other giveaways going on this week:

Win a Raintree Nursery $50 gift certificate
Win a swanky looking rain barrel
Win the books, Keeping Chickens and Canning & Preserving

Note: There are affiliate links in this post.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Raintree Nursery $50 gift card giveaway

I'm particularly excited about today's giveaway for Urban Homesteading Giveaway Week because I looooove Raintree Nursery. I get their catalogs a couple of times a year and, if you like seed catalog porn, well then, you'll love the Raintree catalog and will want to take it into the bathroom for some private time.

Raintree sells, primarily, fruiting bushes, vines, shrubs and trees, alongside nut trees and bushes with some other oddities thrown in for good measure like jujube, goumi, paw paw, aronia and a whole host of other fruits and nuts that you'll be tempted to buy even if you have no idea what to do with them.

For my part, I have purchased in the past blueberry bushes, strawberry plants and a 4x1 dwarf cherry tree (wherein they threw in an additional graft just because). The plants and trees always arrive in perfect condition.

If you live in Western Washington, you can visit them personally (they are in Morton, WA) or you can do all your shopping online. And, for all of us crazy Raintree stalkers out there, we can now follow their nursery magic via their Facebook page.

The nice folks at Raintree have been kind enough to humor me and sponsor today's giveaway for a $50 gift certificate to one randomly chosen winner. That means you could buy:

1 self-pollinating dwarf plum tree, 25 Tristar strawberry plants and 10 asparagus crowns


3 grape vines/plants and 1 fig tree


whatever suits your fancy like one self-pollinating dwarf 4x1 cherry tree like I have.

No matter what you choose, they are all perfect for establishing or adding to your homestead.

How to enter
If you are interested in entering the random drawing for the $50 gift certificate, please add your name to the comments of this post. You have until midnight PST this Friday, February 25th to enter. This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Good luck!

Make sure you check out the other giveaways going on this week:

Win a swanky looking rain barrel
Win the books, Keeping Chickens and Canning & Preserving

Note: I am in no way affiliated with Raintree Nursery nor am I getting paid for this review/giveaway. I'm just supporting my local nursery peeps.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Keeping Chickens and Canning & Preserving book giveaway

I've been waiting for a good time to do a giveaway of these two books and this is the perfect opportunity. Since it's Urban Homesteading Giveaway Week, today's items up for grabs are the two, wonderfully pictographic books by Ashley English. As part of the Homemade Living series from Lark Books, they are a great way to start your library of homesteading books or add to it.

The first book, Keeping Chickens with Ashley English, includes detailed information from selecting a breed to where to get them, housing options, feeding, health, hatching and raising chicks and recipes. This book also includes profiles of people who have taken on the chicken-rearing challenge as well as two projects with exploded woodworking illustrations and photos: a simple nesting box and a mobile chicken tractor.

The second book, Canning & Preserving with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Make Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Chutneys & More, will inspire you to begin canning and, if you are already a canning queen (or king), get you champing at the bit in anticipation for this year's harvest.

Topics 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 these two books, please add your name to the comments of this post. You have until midnight PST this Friday, February 25th to enter. This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Good luck!

Make sure you check out Sunday's post where you can enter to win a swanky looking rain barrel I'm giving away.

Note: There are affiliate links in this post. Consider yerself warned.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Roll out the rain barrel giveaway

Let's start Urban Homesteading Giveaway Week with a bang, shall we?

For those of us who practice urban homesteading in close proximity to the neighbors, sporting a butt-ugly rain barrel can be a concern. I personally like the looks of the traditional rain barrels, but many neighbors (and homesteaders) do not. Even if the neighbors can't see the barrels, many people don't want their yards to look like an Ed Begley, Jr. experiment so they seek out something a little more subtle. Beautiful even.

That's what I did when I got our rain barrel (pictured at left). Not only did it look more like a large, earthen urn but it included a planter on top.

I drilled holes in it, lined it with barrier cloth, filled it with potting soil and planted strawberries and cyclamen to add some visual interest. The raised strawberries worked out great because it kept the slugs, critters and chickens away and produced all summer long.

If you don't want to use it as a planter, you can use it as a birdbath instead. In either case, it looks much better than a giant pickle barrel and, no doubt, the neighbors will be less likely to give you funny looks. Funny looks that they can save for when the dairy goats move in.

For today's giveaway, one randomly selected winner will receive a 50 gallon Algreen Rain Barrel (pictured at right). It's a little smaller than my 65 gallon one, but the principles are the same. It features:
  • Molded plastic that won't chip, crack, or fade
  • A 4-foot garden hose with shutoff nozzle
  • A screen guard and removable crown planter
  • Measures 23 x 33 inches
How to enter
If you are interested in entering the random drawing, please add your name to the comments of this post. You have until midnight PST this Friday, February 25th to enter. This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. You do not need to be an urban homesteader to enter this giveaway - just someone who needs a rain barrel.

Good luck!

Note: There are affiliate links in this post. Consider yerself warned.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Urban homesteading giveaway week!

Welcome to all my new readers! I'm happy to have you visiting my little virtual homestead on the intertubes.

To begin, I have an announcement. Last month this blog reached 2 million page views after going live almost four years ago. I can't believe that many people have stopped by (granted, many of them were looking for "goat porn") and I'm pleased to have a new crop of readers as well.

Starting tomorrow, in honor of preserving the freedom of urban homesteading, I'll be doing reviews and giveaways of a number of books and few something-somethings related to urban homesteading. (And, no, it won't be live chickens.)

Stay tuned for the fun and action!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Paleo Blueberry Almond Smoothie

I was getting a little tired of the Paleo Spinach Coconut Smoothie I was making and decided to branch out a bit. I ended up altering a recipe from the book, Clean, and adapted it a little based on some things I was reading from Mark Sisson's site, Mark's Daily Apple. Since I started eating more of this "paleo diet" thing, I've already noticed a change in my body. It's almost kind of freaky how quickly your body changes.

I also started following Mark's strength exercises (he has a free e-book explaining them as well as a bunch of YouTube videos) in addition to my 30 minute daily walk. The strength exercises are great in that you don't need any equipment, just your own body weight and he breaks them down in the videos showing you how to progress from easy versions to hard for those of us wimps out there.

In any case, here's the smoothie o' the day. The cardamom is what makes this takes good, but if you don't like the taste of cardamom, you can substitute cinnamon. Make sure all your ingredients are organic!

Paleo Blueberry Almond Smoothie

1/4 cup almond butter (preferably fresh)
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cup coconut milk (I use So Delicious Original)
1/2 cup ice
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 - 2 teaspoons agave syrup

Place all of the above in a blender or Vitamix and blend until smooth!

Note: Argh! There be affiliate links in this post. Consider yerself warned.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ladies who lunch

Here are the chickens on our urban homestead, working on some leftovers and a few dandelions. In goes food scraps. Out comes eggs.

If you just can't get enough hot, live chicken action, here's a new video for you. With some random commentary in the background. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Urban homesteaders: cease and desist

Talk about shooting yourself in the back...

There's a bit of hub-bub going on on Facebook right now about how the Dervaes family (of Path to Freedom fame) has successfully trademarked the terms "urban homestead" and "urban homesteading" and is forcing Facebook to shut down pages that use the term and sending legal notifications to businesses with the term "urban homesteading" in it.

I don't know where this is all going or how much of this is true, but if it is, I'm going to be seriously disappointed in the narrow-mindedness of their actions. I do hope they clarify what they are up to. I can't see how they could possibly take ownership up the concept of urban homesteading since it's a common term.

At the bottom of their website it states:

Path to Freedom, Urban Homestead, Urban Homesteading, Grow the Future, Homegrown Revolution (and trowel/fist logo) are registered® trademarks of Dervaes Institute.

I don't know about you, but this sure doesn't sound like a path to freedom to me but rather a branding of a lifestyle that doesn't belong to them. It's like trademarking "farming". Hopefully they'll clarify their position here soon.

Yeesh. Anyone know what the scoop is?

Given the response to the actions by the above mentioned institute, several grassroots groups and petitions have begun:

Petition to cancel trademarks on "urban homestead" and "urban homesteading"

Take Back Urban Homesteading Facebook page

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Stupid comments about special needs parenting

I'd like to think that people are well meaning when they dispense their parenting advise on how to better manage my child who has Aspergers, OCD, ADHD, panic, anxiety, sensory processing and tic disorders. Needless to say, this grouping of behavioral issues makes life difficult for him and, in turn, for us. And, apparently, for those unfortunate people who have to bear witness to it all.

Here are my top 5 "favorite" suggestions, which are really just criticisms of what we are doing wrong:

1. You should spank him. Really? Do you think he wants to behave the way he does? Do you think that hurting him physically will make him change his behavior or just make him more upset and confused? Generally his hyper-focus makes it difficult for him to switch gears. If that's not the issue, his behavior is a result of him not understanding what he should be doing in the situation or is a way of trying to control his environment to reduce his anxiety. Hitting him will only make him more anxious and confused.

2. You should make him eat all his food. He has a fear of swallowing and a phobia of eating certain foods. For him, trying to have the most relaxed and supportive environment is the best way to reinstill a positive relationship surrounding food.

3. Don't give him whatever he wants to eat, he won't starve himself. Um, yes he will. Fear and panic trumps hunger every. single. time. See #2 as far as how establishing a positive relationship with food goes.

4. You give him too many choices. Just tell him to do it. Having controlled choices that he can decide helps give him control over his environment and reduces his anxiety and still gets him to do what we need.

5. Don't let him wear those old clothes. He looks like he's homeless. Having sensory processing disorder, OCD and anxiety means that he feels safe when he wears certain clothing. Taking that away from him only makes him feel anxious - transitioning him to new clothes is the more desired method. Making fun of him and berating him will not help. At all. But it will make me want to strangle you.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Going green is hard

Even though I feel like I've done a ton of changes to lower my carbon footprint and other things that are more environmentally friendly, I can acknowledge that I and even experts in the field still have a hard time making personal changes. Even those individuals that educate others as part of their jobs.

I'm not going to name names, but suffice it to say that we are all guilty of doing the things we preach against. It's the whole case of "do as I say but not as I do". I suppose the same thing can be said for doctors and other specialists but it's amazing how, even in the face of evidence, people still choose to do the things that harm themselves, others or the planet.

It's easy to let a few things knowingly slip, but it's also easy to check your work at the door and not even realize you are doing something that goes against your understanding or beliefs. Along those lines, what things are the most difficult for you to change whether it be giving up diet soda, using less toxic products or driving less than you know you should?

For me, I've slipped back into consuming more and ignoring my plastic consumption. With other changes I've been trying to implement I have to pick my battles, but that's my biggest weakness at this point in time. What's yours?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sanre Supple Sunshine product review

During all of my searching for non-toxic products for my book project, one of the biggies I was trying to avoid was the chemicals in sunscreen. I generally use an SPF of at least 30 on my face every day of the year, regardless of the weather. I freckle and mole a lot and need to protect my skin so, even though I live in the shadiest of places, I still need sunscreen.

The stuff I was using at the beginning of my book research contained all sorts of scary crap and a whole bunch of ingredients that I didn't even know about since they don't need to be listed if the manufacturer doesn't want to. The short list was parabens, phthalates and PEGs (for maximum hormone and endocrine disruption with a little carcinogenic action thrown in for good measure). In addition, the chemical sunscreen in it was one of the more scary ones, the kind they recommend you don't use on kids.

So, I went in search of the seemingly impossible - a facial day moisturizer that had a safe sunscreen in it that didn't have any toxins in it either. My first stop was to search through the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Database and see what they had listed. Each year they do a workup on sunscreens, based on the latest data on the chemicals being researched as well as the latest products.

One product stood out for me - Sanre's Supple Sunshine. I bought some last spring and have been using it off and on (depending on where I was in the book project). Needless to say, I've been using it exclusively for the last 5 months during the day.

The ingredient list is short (and organic): safflower oil, grape seed oil, beeswax, coconut oil, aloe vera, lavender, rosemary, red thyme, patchouli, hyssop and, most importantly, the zinc oxide ingredient they use as the sunblock is a non-nano particle mineral.

Without going into a huge diatribe on chemical sunscreens that get absorbed by your skin versus the nano-debate with mineral sunscreen (you can get all that info from EWG or my book), suffice it to say that it's a freaking miracle that this exists. When I started searching I think we had something like 7 different sunscreens in the house, all of them having some sketchy ingredient in them and, with some of them, all of the sketchy ingredients.

Now, this stuff is a little thicker than what I was used to and it takes a bit of rubbing going in, but it does absorb well and it smells great (don't be put off by the patchouli in the ingredient listing - I can't smell it at all and I'm super sensitive to it). I'm just now at the point of needing to reorder it. It's a small jar and not cheap, but it lasts a fairly long time and I wouldn't want to run out of it. More importantly, I'm willing to pay more for a "clean" product than something cheaper and full of chemicals or something cheaper, but doesn't work very well.

Bottom line - go analyze your moisturizer with SPF. Make sure it uses a mineral sunscreen rather than a chemical one (zinc oxide is better than titanium dioxide). If it's a mineral sunblock make sure it not nano-particle in size. Make sure it doesn't have retinyl palmitate in it (more on this in another post) and doesn't contain oxybenzone, "fragrance", "parfum" or anything ending in -paraben. If it does, head over to the cosmetic database and find one that works for you. Finally, I'll be reviewing some safer sunscreens for the body in the next few months as well.

Please note: I am in no way being compensated for this review and have no connection whatsoever with Sanre.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Paleo Spinach Coconut Smoothie

I've been reading a bit lately on early human (well, pre-agricultural) diets and how the modern diet does not mesh well with our physiology. In other words, eating a buttload of grains and dairy does not a healthy human make.

Most of the "popular" books call it something like the paleolithic diet or some such derivation. The idea is to focus your diet on eating mostly vegetables, proteins (meat, fish, eggs, seeds, nuts) and some fruits with little in the way of grains, sugars, dairy, legumes, salt, processed oils and the like.

I'm probably more interested in this than the average person given my background and degree in evolutionary anthropology, but suffice it to say that years of studying evolutionary medicine, hominids and hunter-gatherer groups gives me a bit of a bias towards belief in these theories.

I'll talk about this more in the future but I wanted to share with you a recipe of a smoothie I had this morning that I really liked:

Paleo Spinach Strawberry Bliss Smoothie

1 cup coconut milk (I use So Delicious original)
1 cup packed baby spinach
1 cup frozen strawberries
1/2 cup Coconut Bliss Naked Coconut frozen dessert

Place all of the above in a blender or Vitamix and blend until smooth! If you want to liven it up, you can add in some flax meal as well.

Note: Argh! There be affiliate links in this post. Consider yerself warned.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Coconut Bliss review

Coconut Bliss. Oh, how I love thee - let me count the ways...

When I was doing my month long detox in January for my book on toxins I eliminated all sources of dairy. I also avoided sweets, but one thing I did indulge in was organic dark chocolate and a container or two of Coconut Bliss ice cream. Well, it's not ice "cream" so much as a frozen dessert because it's non-dairy and vegan.

It's base is made from coconut milk rather than milk, cream and eggs, like ice cream. While most flavors have a mild coconut flavor it's not overwhelming and some flavors don't have much of a coconut taste to it at all. If you have sensitivities to dairy, soy or gluten products or are lactose intolerant, this coconut ice cream is a great alternative. My favorite definitely has to be the Mint Galactica. My picky kids loved it and even preferred it over Häagen-Daz.

What's the story with Coconut Bliss? Well, the ingredients are certified organic, the company works directly with farmers in Thailand for their source of coconut milk and their chocolate, cocoa, vanilla and coffee ingredients are certified fair trade. The company itself is a hippie's dream come true, with a biker's incentive for staff members and they provide someone to come into the office three days a week to prepare vegan, organic lunches. Plus, they are located in awesome Eugene, OR.

Having tried various non-dairy frozen desserts in the past, I fully expected it to taste like crap or, at the very least, cardboard but I was overwhelmed at how comparable it is to "real" ice cream. So, in the future, in spite of the extra cost I will definitely be picking up Coconut Bliss instead of ice cream not just for the taste, but for the health benefits of coconut milk as well.

Please note: I am in no way being compensated for this review and have no connection whatsoever with Coconut Bliss. Although I'd be happy to advertise this awesome product in exchange for food.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Spring flowers, plants and palms

Although we are nowhere near spring and the temperatures at night in Seattle have been somewhat low and chilly in the 20s, my springtime flowers are doing just dandy. The ones pictured here are under some shelter and don't seem to be minding the cold, but I have other ones planted in an area that is a little more exposed so I started covering them at night and will continue doing so until the night time temperatures pick up a little.

I certainly can't complain given the fact that half the country seems to be under snow. The ground still stays frozen during the day in spots, which makes doing any other kind of planting difficult, but these are all in containers, so it's not much of an issue.

I repotted my new windmill palm. These hardy palms can withstand low temperatures of the kind we never get around here. It's a fairly slow growing tree and this particular palm is very popular in North Seattle.

It's nice to have a bit of tropical feel up north where pretty much all you see around our neighborhood are Japanese Maples, rhododendrons, azaleas and more rhododendrons. I don't mind a little variety.

The house down the street has two windmill palms in the front yard that are definitely over the height limit but are in no way threatening anyone's views. They must have been planted when they built the house over fifty years ago because they are quite large and really work well with the architecture of the house which is a sort of Spanish colonial style.

You wouldn't think you'd find this style of home in Seattle but it's not uncommon to see homes that are adobe or Spanish style in homes built between 1910 and 1960. In fact, there's an area near Greenlake in North Seattle that has a number of adobe homes that always catches me off guard when I go by them.

In any case, I have a lot more yard work to do, I'm just waiting for the ground to thaw out a bit. I have a Winter Daphne I still need to plant as well as my elderberry. And that's the outdoor excitement around here!