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, 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!

Hoop Houses for Fall

I was planning on doing the last book club post for today but I'm sick and I spent a couple hours in the ER yesterday with my mom, so I just don't have the energy. Soon, though. I promise.

In the meantime, I thought I'd show you a picture of the hoop houses that I have set up for fall. The following picture is looking through two raised beds with floating row covers. They are set up over the top of irrigation tubing that's secured by short pieces of rebar. I've got 3 more raised beds that are planted with fall veggies (one with a hoop house over it).

In the bed in front, I've got:

* Italian Flat Leaf Parsley
* Swiss Chard
* Beets
* Carrots
* Winter Romaine Lettuce
* Brussels Sprouts

In the bed in back, I've got:

* Winter Romaine Lettuce
* Red Bunching Onions
* Mixed Lettuce n Greens

Against the fence in the far back are some of my grape vines. Here's a picture of the grapes growing. This is the first year they've produced. I don't think they'll ripen to the red color they should be.

The other beds hold variations of Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, chard, red bunching onions and carrots. I've had an infestation of cabbage worms and ended up pulling some things. You can see some of the damage in the first picture, but it's really the other beds that have the most damage.

I just planted next year's garlic and fava beans. Our strawberries and blackberries are still (slowly) producing as well as other herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, chives).

So, even though I feel like the main growing season is over, we still have a bunch to look forward to. That and the steady supply of eggs.

Do you have any fall vegetables still growing strong?

This post is part of this week's Homestead Barn Hop

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Replacing the 55-year-old Toilet

Our house was built in 1956. We still have a lot of the original elements - tile, cabinets, plumbing fixtures, hardwoods, etc. In spite of the dated look, I like to keep the mid-century modern look going. Which means that the pink tile stays. And some other details that scream, "1950s!" This is all coming back in style so I'm glad we kept them.

One thing we've been meaning to replace since we bought the house 6 years ago was the toilet in the kids bathroom. On one hand, I didn't want to replace it because it was the original toilet (see date stamp on right: October 29, 1956). On the other hand, it was a water hog. Since the kids don't ever remember to flush the toilet, it hasn't been much of a problem. But over the last few years, we've had more problems with it running continuously. Constant fiddling with the handle and replacement of a few parts haven't fixed the problem.

Last week the thing started running constantly, forcing us to just turn off the water supply to it. And, as a result, we went on a hunt for a dual flush water saving toilet. My friend (who owns several rentals) counseled us that Home Depot had a dual flush toilet for less than $100.

Between that and the $30 rebate from the City of Seattle, we were sold. I seriously doubt that it will last 55 years like the last one, but in the meantime we'll be saving money on water.

And the novelty of the pee versus poop button hasn't quite yet worn off. For any of us.

Do you have dual flush toilets? Or do you have water tanks with fillers or just low flow toilets? Anyone want an "antique" toilet?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pumpkin Fail 2011

This spring, I had 30 gorgeous Rouge Vif d'Etamps pumpkin plants that I grew from seed last February. I grew them under our new grow light operation, made sure they got watered and didn't get leggy or funky. They grew into beautiful pumpkin starts. And then I proceeded to screw things up from there.

I was hoping to create a new pumpkin patch in one of our beds in the backyard. I dutifully moved the starts outside to harden them off and then my back went out on me while I was digging up and preparing other parts of the backyard for planting.

Since I was incapacitated, I couldn't prepare the future pumpkin patch area. So, I waited. In the meantime, the pumpkin plants got slightly ignored and maybe not watered as often. May turned into June turned into July and, just as I almost gave up on them, I decided to plant them in some newly made space in our regular vegetable beds.

It took a while for them to recover. But, they did and eventually they started blooming and we got a lot of flowers and a lot of little pumpkins growing. Unfortunately, it was too late in the season for them. So, instead of getting this:

We got this:

They are like large grapefruit. Sigh. At least I can buy some "real" ones at our local nursery for processing. They make fantastic pumpkin puree for all sorts of cooking and baking.

Short of hiring someone to help me out, I don't think I could have done anything differently. But, to be sure, I won't be making that mistake again if I can help it.

Did you grow pumpkins this year? What kind and how did they fare?

This post is part of this week's Homestead Barn Hop and An Oregon Cottage's Tuesday Garden Party!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Keeping Chickens Book Giveaway

Today's book giveaway is the wonderfully pictographic book by Ashley English. As part of the Homemade Living series from Lark Books, this book is a great way to start your library of homesteading books or add to it.

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.

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 have until midnight PST this Tuesday, October 11th to enter. This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Good luck!

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Skinny vs. Curvy Ideal

This picture on the right has been making the rounds on Facebook. And, everyone has an opinion, of course, as to which one is more "beautiful". I apologize for the crude language at the top.

I'm not sure what happened between the 1950s and 1960s, but clearly there was a change in ideal body size for women. It went from curvy (Marilyn Monroe) to skinny (Twiggy). And, then in the 70s and 80s the athletic figure was more the norm. Or at least the idea of "aerobics". And then it went back to skinny and the heroin chic of the 90s.

Where are we today? Further afield? The average size of the American woman is something around a size 14. The average size of a female model is a size 2 - and that's on a 5'10" frame.

What's happened in the interim? Why has it swung from one side to the other. Well, a more voluptuous figure used to mean wealth. A woman with a few extra pounds on her frame generally indicated she came from a family who could spend money on food. When food became plentiful (at least, in western society), being uber skinny was the desired form. That meant the woman had self-control.

Today is no different. In a society where obesity reigns supreme, being underweight (either naturally or by "hard work") is the desired figure. But, who is desiring this? And, why should it matter?

Women who are naturally skinny are offended that people think they starve themselves to fit some arbitrary beauty ideal. Women who fit more in line with the 1950s body size ideal are offended that they no longer are, culturally, considered "beautiful".

But, both are beautiful. It just depends on the viewer. On one hand, we are culturally trained to see the size 2 as beautiful. But, when we see them in a more natural setting, they can look more like a concentration camp victim.

As for the more voluptuous woman, seen in a staged, magazine layout setting, they look beautiful. But, when portrayed in more of a "People of Walmart" setting, they look gluttonous.

So, what's today's body ideal? Skinny or fat? Does it matter or does it depend on the staging? Do you consider yourself to fit into a beautiful body size regardless of what's "popular"?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Post Harvest Blues

The tomato plants have been pulled. The last of the zucchinis are safely stowed in the freezer. And, the rest of summer's bounty is but a memory. Sure, the ground is being prepared for garlic and fava beans and the hoop houses are still working their magic on the chard, lettuce and carrots but, for the most part, the main season is over.

For those of you who use gardening as therapy, working the soil, tending your plants and enjoying the sunshine when times get tough, post harvest blues can set in.

I, personally, switch gears to baking, sewing, knitting and other projects that make me feel like I'm still producing something. But that doesn't mean I still don't gaze longingly to the backyard, plotting next year's crops and looking forward to another year of fresh fruits and vegetables from just outside.

So, what do you do between the last of the crops and when the seed catalogs start arriving in January, reigniting dreams of another year of voluptuousness in the garden? Do you immediately start planning or put everything aside?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Better Off Book Club: Section 2

Welcome to the second post of the Better Off Book Club! This is the second of three book club summary and discussion posts, covering the three sections of the book, Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology, by Eric Brende.

In Section 2: Growing, Eric gets to know the men in their community a lot better. When Eric goes to his first barn raising he not only gets to know many of the men and starts to feels like he's become a little more part of the community, but he also learns that he and his wife, Mary, aren't the only ones that argue about duties.

He also learns a lot more about individuals' beliefs and how they differ from one another, some leaning towards the more conservative and traditional religious ideals, while others are just more interested in the lifestyle and less on the strict religious aspect.

On the more practical side, Eric also finds that their milk cow is producing far more milk than they can consume either as cheese or in liquid form. Without a fridge, preserving it becomes a problem and, rather than throw it out, the neighbors' suggest they get a pig to take care of the extra.

In the first chapter in this section, Mary finds out that she's pregnant and becomes rather homesick. They take a road trip to scout out areas that they might end up once their 18 months are up but aren't satisfied with any of the places they visit.

Upon their return they decide to visit the local church in hopes of feeling more connected with the community. They were somewhat surprised at how interminable the service was but they felt like they were accepted into the group even though they clearly didn't belong. During the long service, a child begins wailing and the mother immediately takes it outside and spanks the girl for all to hear and the author offers some insight into the occasion:
What about this practice of spanking cranky children in church? I didn't dwell on it at the time, but later I reflected a little. For the most part, these young ones are supremely well-behaved. The reason is manifest. In the strict German tradition of child-rearing, which these immigrant-descendants retain, disobedience to parental will is simply not tolerated. The slightest lapse or transgression is roundly rewarded, so it takes only a few lessons before the child wises up. This unflinching submission to authority may help to explain why even Amish adults submit meekly to the regimentation of Old Order groups.

1. Were you surprised at Mary's pregnancy? Did you think that it would prevent them from finishing their stay?

2. When they were disappointed with the cities they visited when scouting out a place to live after the 18 months are done, did you think they would stay where they are or move out of the area as soon as possible?

3. What did you think about the whole section on spanking the kids in church? Is it something you agree with or not?

4. Eric argues that, in order to embrace simplicity, going motorless is critical. That the hidden costs of automated devices goes hand in hand with an upward spiral of material wants. Do you agree? Are machines the gateway drug to excessive materialism?

5. In this section, Cornelius claims that you couldn't do what they do without Christianity. That living simply would have no value without Christianity. What do you think?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Going fridge free

Well, after an illustrious 6 years, our GE Profile fridge finally kicked the bucket. Early last week it started making weird clicking noises in the evening. By the time I woke up the next morning, everything in the freezer compartment was defrosted and the fridge was up to 50 degrees. I went out and bought a few bags of ice and stuffed them in the fridge. Everything in the freezer that could be saved went to the chickens.

The ice kept the fridge compartment at 50 degrees, but wasn't exactly keeping the items in there cold. In the meantime we deliberated what to do. I spent a bit of time researching replacement fridges. I knew I wasn't going to get anything nearly as big or as technologically advanced since getting something more complicated seemed to be the reason for the failures we were experiencing. On the other hand, I wanted to know if we could just have the digital thermometer piece replaced - that maybe that was why it wasn't holding the temperature.

Against my better judgement, I called GE to come in and take a look. They charge $80 just to make the trip regardless of what you have done. As I suspected, the motherboard in the thermostat dealy was toast. The quote to have that replaced (including the trip cost, labor, etc.) was about $500. But, that wasn't the actual problem with the fridge. The real problem was that the relay was out and possibly something else with the compressor.

Since the fridge we were thinking of replacing our current one with wasn't much more than the total quote just for the motherboard (and not the relay and compressor), I stopped the service guy from going any further and decided that, given its current problems on top of all the additional problems we already had with the fridge, it was about time to just cut our losses and start anew. As much as I'd like to repair it, this boat anchor just wasn't worth it.

So, after 4 days of being fridge free, we got a new fridge. This time, we got a smaller contraption with a CEE Tier 3 Energy rating (using 150 kWh less per year than our old fridge) and no extra computer chips, gadgets or whatnot. In other words, we are going old-skool with our fridge. You adjust the temperature in the fridge and freezer with a manual dial. The only thing fancy is an internal ice maker (my husband insisted on this) and a light bulb in the freezer.

One thing I did learn, however, was that (in addition to buying an extended warranty on major appliances) we really do need some sort of fridge. I'd love to think we could do without, but even if we didn't consume as much dairy and cheese, we rely on it too much for storing leftovers and keeping other perishables from going bad overnight.

What about you? Can you live without a fridge?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Parenting Special Needs Kids - 5 Truths

Parenting, in and of itself, is undoubtedly difficult. If you are one of those lucky parents that has the easy kids (and, by easy, I mean neurologically and behaviorally normal), it's hard to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Someone whose child or children don't behave or react normally.

Last week's multitude of events around here brought into high relief once again that the job of a parent with a kid with multiple issues is vastly more difficult. So, if you are on the inside looking out with me or on the outside looking in, here are some things I've learned.

1. You will lose most, if not all, your friends. It's often just too difficult to maintain relationships with people when your own child/ren behave outside the norm. Especially if your friends have "normal" kids. Most parents are super busy, trying to juggle a number of things. Adding to the mix the constraints your special needs child requires just makes outings, meals, get-togethers, etc. extra difficult. Sure, they may throw you a bone once in a while, but don't expect much beyond that.

2. You will be blamed. Unless your child has some obvious physical deformity, any behavioral issue will be placed squarely on the shoulders of the parents. It, of course, has nothing to do with the child's own inability to handle certain circumstances. It, therefore, must be the parent's poor job of raising that child.

3. Behaviors will be blown out of proportion. Any out-of-the-ordinary behavior will not be analyzed based on the child's underlying inability to handle a situation. No, other adults (even specialists), will assume your child's reaction or behavior means they will become a mass-murderer or is just plain dangerous.

4. Your other children will suffer. I generally get the old, "your daughter is gaining so much by learning to interact with your son". I just wish she didn't have to deal with any of the outbursts, whackings and limitations in pretty much everything we do.

5. You will be afraid. You will be afraid for your child. And, in some circumstances, you will be afraid of your child. This is probably the worst part - not knowing whether or not those behaviors will progress to something worse. The big problem is, you never know if those dimwits in #3 are right.

Do you have kids with special needs and, if so, do you experience something similar?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Peak oil - Community vs. Survivalism

This is one of my favorite posts and worth repeating. I ran this way back in 2008, but want to get an updated response. As people become more aware of our diminishing oil supplies and learn about the dangers of fracking, oil disasters and such, our collective understanding over the years will change. I hope.

Peak Oil CampI promise this isn't going to be a Peak Oil blog all the time, I just wanted to put something down that I was mulling over in the shower. That is, why do people respond to Peak Oil in the way that they do? Why does it seem like there is a strong gender difference in how people react to the coming energy crisis?

Humanity has a great history and tradition of believing that their generation is the one that's going to bite the dust. Each generation has this belief that they will witness the next coming of Christ, the end of days, or some other catastrophe or apocalypse. For some, I think there's the idea that people have reached some point either because they've earned it or because, as my paranoid Grandmother used to say, "it's Sodom and Gomorrah out there".

The majority of people writing about Peak Oil and, therefore, proposing their version of the future are men. Perhaps it's the extremists that stick out and are what people remember, but I've heard many complaints about the whole prediction that Peak Oil = Social and Economic Armageddon. Several of you stated so in your comments to yesterday's post. I, frankly, think this prediction is ridiculously inaccurate. I like to think it's because I subscribe to a certain logic about how the world works. Others might argue that it's because of my gender.

Of the women writing about Peak Oil, the predictions are much more metered. The conversation revolves mostly around preparation. I find it similar in concept to that whole "nesting in" period right before a woman gives birth. It's like instinctually women know some trauma is coming and need to prepare by making the home comfortable and clean and storing up food and supplies. Nothing panicky, just getting things done. If the home is set up right, we somehow know that we can handle pretty much anything to come. Even if deep down we're scared shitless.

The male reaction must be based on something else because for many male Peak Oil writers out there, it degrades quickly into Ramboism. Load up the shotgun, honey, this is going to be bad! In fact, I would argue that many actually welcome this breakdown of society. But what could this be attributed to? Bear with me here while I stereotype half the population.

The human male, over the last several centuries, has been stuffed into a society where all their evolutionary self-preservation instincts are kept under lock and key. Not to reduce a gender to hormones (although I just did above with females), but over tens of thousands of years men spent their days physically fighting for power, physically overtaking women and killing other animals to survive. I would argue that modern society is a vast improvement over this, but you can't instantaneously remove thousands of years of genetics primed to succeed in this environment. Realistically, we're only a couple piddling generations out from this "lifestyle".

So, faced with the potential disaster of Peak Oil, why do some men so rapidly carry out the thought experiment to survivalist mode? There's a definite romanticization of living off the land, tribalism and protecting the women. Is it because the desire to unleash all those things that, presently, aren't socially acceptable is so strong? In these survivalist scenarios, the men get to scratch that evolutionary itch. I think it's safe to say that fantasy is one thing, but the reality is that most modern men are ill-equipped to deal with the violence that comes with anarchy.

Of course these are all just gross generalizations, but then again why am I hunkering down into gatherer mode, dehydrating strawberries and stockpiling peanut butter? I sure as hell ain't pregnant.

And now that I've completely stereotyped everyone, I admit that you can't reduce people down to instincts only. But, I do think it's important to see where people are coming from, what their motivations are, conscious or otherwise and take that into consideration when reading someone else's predictions. It's all a crapshoot as far as the future goes, but it helps to process the unknown when looked at this way.

What do you think about this? Did this help or do I need to lay off on the rum cache?