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Book Review: The Duggars

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Posted on : 8:57 AM | By : Nic | In : , , ,



So I recently bought the book above and finished it in one day. I found it very fascinating, refreshingly honest, and not what I expected (in a good way). I bought the book because while I gag at the sugary sweetness that this family apparently has on the show, I wanted to know how they were so organized and well-behaved, since three is definitely going to cause some chaos for me. I expected lots of preachiness, trite Biblical references and general strictness.

What I did find was a family that doesn't use rules to manage their household, but instead had concrete and applicable tips for communicating effectively with your children, and surprising opinions from their teenage children that made me think that they are going to turn out fine (despite what appears to be brainwashing, lol). I also was really interested in how they've stayed debt free, and the tale of struggle to start businesses, live frugally, save up cash and do the things they've been able to do was extremely helpful and informative. Any young couple should read that story and learn some valuable lessons, because it gives a basic formula on how to find opportunities, stay out of debt, and get involved in investing in real estate.

I was also impressed that Michelle gave so many personal details about birth control, that she has nursed her babies for at least 6-8 months for almost all of them, she's had a couple of home births, and other nitty-gritty details about dealing with cracked nipples and problems that she is in expert at.

I will be re-reading it again, which I tend to do because I read quickly and don't absorb everything, and using it as a great idea book (minus the frilly dresses and big hair, lol). I have only one complaint.... the food they eat is awful. Every recipe was indeed very frugal and probably extremely tasty, but each had cheese as a main staple (which we can't eat), and came out of a can. It was fascinating to see how much it takes in a recipe to feed that many people, but we can't live off tater-tot casserole without have extreme digestive and behavioral problems, lol. Maybe these hardy souls can, but not us, lol.

Other than that, I surprisingly really enjoyed it. One thing I really appreciated was Jim Bob's opinions on being a Dad and what those responsibilities are. He really puts a lot of effort into it, and I respect that. I think some people assume that here is a woman who is allowing some guy to take advantage of her, but he really is in this for the right reasons and does a good job of it.

Did I need to buy the book if it was in the library? Maybe not. But I'm sick of trying to get books at my very sad island library, so I just buy them now, lol. You could probably borrow it and be satisfied.

Simple Monday on Tuesday

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Posted on : 3:19 PM | By : Nic | In :



For Today...

Outside my window... the bees and the green leaves on the berry tree, the spring flowers turning into summer seed pods. My broken car that has become useless as well, lol.

I am thinking... I finally got my pack of three books from Amazon and I am thinking about the Duggar family since I am reading their book, lol. I am thinking that I like having babies and a big family, but 18 is too many, even though that's what my ancestors did.

I am thankful for... feeling really healthy even as I'm about to explode.

From the kitchen... homemade whole wheat bread, sourdough starter brewing, and some kind of leftover stir fry.

I am wearing... a long brown flannel skirt that is surprisingly cool in the warm weather, and a green shirt, and no shoes.

I am reading... The Duggars: 20 and Counting!, and Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning

I am hoping... that I go into labor soon. What's new, lol.

I am creating... actually I am supposed to be creating veggie signs for the garden, so we know what everything is. Instead I am procrastinating, but I'll go do that right now.

I am praying... for Annie to learn some common human hygiene habits.

Around the house... tidy up, have the girls pick up their clutter from the living room, and breathe a sigh of relief that it's not too bad in here because we've been outside so much.

One of my favorite things... we invested in a $10 LED lightbulb to see what it would look like. It is insanely energy-efficient, has no mercury, and lasts the rest of your life. It also makes almost no light.

A few plans for the rest of the week... keep the house clean, and keep the garden watered. I am pretty proud of myself that I cleared out a new bed today and transplanted 2 raspberry plants into it despite not being able to bend over. My sourdough starter should finish in another couple of days and then I'll make sourdough, but if the baby comes it will just end up in the fridge.

Factory farms vs. the little guy

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Posted on : 1:35 PM | By : Nic | In : , ,

So... the rumors going around today is that the swine flu came from a lagoon of pig manure located on a particular partly-American-owned farm located in Mexico. Whether or not this is in fact true or not may be difficult to prove, but it has brought up some interesting discussion on how safe factory farming is vs. small farms, and what a factory farm really is.

I've personally seen a couple of ways to keep pigs. I once toured a pig farm in the suburbs of Las Vegas, Nevada that was quite large, and utilized waste cooking grease from the many restaurants to feed the pigs. It was quite a recycling facility. The most memorable part of this tour was the amazing, incredibly overpowering smell. There were what seemed like a hundred little pens, each containing a few pigs wallowing in their own filth. I don't remember touring where this manure went.

Alternatively, my aunt and uncle had a couple of hogs one year in a not very big pen, roomy enough for them to both relax, and there was hardly any smell. Just regular stink, rather than an overpowering, gag-reflex smell. The pigs my uncle had were healthy, clean and happier.

Despite how obviously less healthy the Las Vegas farm was, I don't think that could really be called a factory farm. The pigs were outside, had small shelters and small runs for them to walk around. Water sprayed down on them periodically to cool them off in the heat, and even though it seemed big to me, it wasn't really a 'factory'. The photo below from Farm Sanctuary shows what a pig factory farm looks like:



If you read the website linked above you will understand the pork-production process a little better. I won't get into it too much here, but the key to profitable factory farming is in cramming as many animals into one spot as possible. This causes many fatalities to the animals, but in the long run makes the company more money.

In my search for more info on swine manure lagoons, I found this post on Boing Boing from 2007 about how factory pig farms are some of the biggest polluters, and unfortunately names the exact same company being accused of starting the swine flu. Smithfield's lagoons can cover 120,000 square feet and can be 30 feet deep. These disease and antibiotic-laden pools sometimes overflow after a little rain, and workers just spray it onto neighboring fields, exposing pretty much everyone in the area to whatever was in there. Here's what they look like:


(This photo is from an article from the Iowa State University extension)

It looks pretty harmless right? Lagoons are a common way of handling manure, and in some places replace septic tanks for humans as well. It is mismanagement that can cause contamination.

The other issue is that some people believe there is less exposure to disease on a factory farm than there would be on a small farm, because factory farms try so hard to be sanitary and use antibiotics routinely. Statistically, this is a false assumption. In cases involving salmonella and other diseases, conventional farms are far more likely to have the disease present AND the strain of the disease is more likely to resist antibiotics than on an organic farm (take a look at this example study regarding salmonella).

Although I'm still not convinced that this swine flu is really anything to be worried about, I am glad that it is raising some questions about conventional farming methods and will hopefully give even more credibility to the local food movement. Swine flu doesn't come from eating pork, but it just shows once again how limiting the meat you eat has a much bigger impact on farming practices and the environment.

Raspberry Leaf Tea

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Posted on : 8:22 AM | By : Nic | In : ,



So finally after tons of urging by some herbally-minded friends I finally got myself some raspberry leaf tea. It doesn't really help you go into labor... well possibly with the exception of me because anything and everything causes false labor for me. But, what it does do is help you have an easier more efficient labor by strengthening and toning the muscles. Because it's so full of vitamins taking it before and after labor helps the mother heal faster, reduces bleeding and brings on breastmilk. The way I make it is to drop a teaspoon fool of dried herb into a cup of boiling water, let it steep for a little while (10-15 minutes), and then I sieve out the leaves. I think that as far as teas go, it tastes very sweet. Yum!

The Definition of Pandemic

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Posted on : 1:38 PM | By : Nic | In : ,

The definition of pandemic is a disease that is prevalent over a whole country or the world. Crunchy Chicken blog asks what people are doing about the swine flu. *sigh* It seems like there's always something, doesn't it?

First of all, according to the definition above, it's not a pandemic. Not yet, anyway. It has to be something bad enough that every country of the world is having large numbers of people getting it. In Mexico it could be closer to that, but hopefully they are aware of it and will be able to keep it more contained. At this point, even that isn't a pandemic, although you will hear the word thrown around a bit. Gizmodo has a Swine Flu Pandemic real-time map so you can track cases. We even have it right here in BC (although I'm a 2 hour ferry ride away).

What's tricky about flu pandemics in general is that they hit about every 20-30 years, and they hit younger people in my age group. Everyone in Canada who has it recently went to Mexico, so we're not seeing people getting it indirectly (i.e. from contact with someone who went to Mexico).

One thing that we already do is keep our immune systems strong. Yes, we vaccinate our kids, albeit a bit delayed, and we allow our kids to get dirty and roll around in the mud. Yes they wash their hands after contact with other kids, and we generally avoid sick people, but we don't use antibacterials or strong disinfectants in the house. I just recently read an article about growing numbers of children who are allergic to fruits and vegetables. Seems like every child's dream right? Not so much, and they link it to overprotective parents sterilizing their children's environment and children staying inside too much. It just shows that people's immune systems are compromised. So, since we aren't allergic to fruit and veggies, we eat lots of them which boosts our immunity too. I take extra Vitamin C and sometimes echinacea to help combat illnesses during cold/flu season (especially while I'm pregnant), but my kids hardly get sick. They have gotten the flu twice, both have had croup a couple of times, and my youngest got tonsillitis once after a bad cold. Neither got sick their first year, but they've gotten a cold maybe once a year since then. Since the typical child has 6-10 colds per year (including babies), I think we're doing pretty well. I think its ok to get sick with a cold now and then so that they can build up immunities to that too.

We also have health care and we watch our kids pretty carefully for symptoms of a serious illness. Even though they hardly get sick, we use lots of prevention. We give them tea, we have fever medication on hand, and we're all informed about proper first aid. For example, one big mistake people make with a really high fever is to immediately think to put their child in a cool bath. Wrong! This can send a child into shock. You shouldn't give medication unless the fever is over 102 degrees F because it's the body's natural fight mechanism (unless they are younger than 3 months in which you should just go to the emergency room). If it's over 102 but under 104 and their behavior doesn't scare you (you know when your kids are sick and really, really sick), then they are probably ok with Tylenol. If not, then go to the hospital. People either wait too long, or not long enough.

The same goes with adults. If it feels worse than regular old flu, it's time to go to the hospital. I think people who are most afraid of a pandemic are those without insurance or adequate medical care, of which there are many. Canadians and other people in subsidized countries are not as worried personally, even though of course health authorities are. We can just go to the hospital whenever we feel like it. Of course Mexico is going to be more prone to this problem because of health care issues, and since the US is right next door but doesn't have a particularly high health care ranking itself, the whole North American continent is at risk. According to the WHO health systems report (beware, the PDF is a little big), each country varies in certain important areas, but the ranking goes Canada, US somewhere in between and mediocre, and then Mexico way below. So we're going to see lots of cases in Mexico, not quite as many in the US, and a few in Canada.

That's not a pandemic, and unless this flu morphs again into something ridiculous that we can't fight because its become some kind of superbug, it just means that this flu season will just be a little bit worse.

Respect Without Rules

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Posted on : 9:39 AM | By : Nic | In :

One of the very tricky balancing acts of following the Continuum Concept model of parenting is that really shouldn't be any household rules, and the the kids should be expected to behave in a manner that suggests that they know exactly what the household rules would be if they were there.

Part of the struggle is that as parents, we have only experienced what we knew growing up, which was, of course, "You break a rule, you get punished." I unintentionally and habitually fall into this behavior. Continuum parenting requires that the parent not punish, but rather just expect children to behave in an acceptable manner, and if they do not, simply correct the behavior. It takes a great deal of patience sometimes. As a family that discovered the book after we already had two, we are fortunate that at least we did all the attachment parenting things, but I find that I became child-centered because of it. Child-centeredness is kind of the enemy of Continuum parenting... what it means is that in an effort to give your child all the emotional comfort and closeness they need, you go a bit overboard and become sort of slaves to your children. It's all kind of difficult concepts that are hard to explain, and easiest shown by example. Here's the typical way:

"Ok sweetheart we're at the park now. Please stay near mommy..."
No sooner did you say this than the little cutie has started to run off...
"Darling, you really please need to behave!"
A walk in the park becomes a constant power struggle of who is leading, who is stronger, and who gets the last word. Why? Because the child is pushing you to put your foot down. They want you to lead, but saying 'Please!' for good behavior isn't showing very much leadership.

Ideally, the same scenario would go something like this:
"We're going to the park!"
The child skips along next to you, without holding your hand. Suddenly, she makes a dash for the bushes and disappears.
Calmly, you remind her, "I can't see you!" She pops back out, remembering that she can't see you either. When you decide that you're done waiting for her, you begin walking slowly and she naturally follows after.

One thing we struggle with in our family between the 6 and 3 year old is some sibling rivalry. Things tend to turn into a competition, or they just know each other's buttons and sometimes like to push them. This got way better after we had the girls sleeping together and/or sleeping with us, because most of these issues seem to revolve around personal space. I remember growing up with my sister fighting over armrests, the sink when we brushed our teeth, leg room in the car, whose clothes were lying on whose side of the room, etc. My natural instinct when my own kids do this is to say, "Ok give each other space..." but why? Why can't they touch each other and be close? Despite the cosleeping efforts, it has never entirely fixed the issues, and at this point I have stepped back from getting involved in these disputes unless they need tools to help communicate with each other. For example:

"She's putting her leg on my chair!"
The other one looks innocently up from her own chair.
I ask, "Why can't she put her leg on your chair?"
If she says, "I just don't want her near me!" then I just step back and let her handle it unless it falls to hitting.
If she says, "Its pushing my chair around..." then I would say, "You need to tell her nicely that she's pushing your chair, and to please stop."

The real goal is to not have rules in the house, but rather to simply respect each other, which is easier said than done. I found a great interview with Jean Liedloff (who wrote The Continuum Concept) which helps clarify some of the things the book doesn't cover, which focuses mostly on infants.

Why am I writing this today? Because I need to remind myself. I found a great post on Hobo Mama about idle parenting, which sums up the idea that kids should be left alone to learn and grow, drawn from a very humorous article in the Telegraph. I really enjoyed this article, particularly this part:

"One morning, not so long ago, V and I refused to get up. I imagine we were hung over. At about nine o'clock, the bedroom door swung open and in walked Arthur, then six, with two cups of tea. A lot can be achieved by lying in bed. Simply by doing nothing, you can train children to do useful things. During the last holiday, we found we were lying in bed till 10 or 11. By abandoning our kids, they had taught themselves how to get up, make themselves breakfast and play."

This is precisely what has happened to us many times. On the weekend, I have been simply too pregnant and too tired to wake up at their 7:30 timeframe and have stayed in bed until 9, during which they have made themselves breakfasts of bread and fruit or cereal, found movies or games to play, and gone on with their lives. At 6 and 3, this is the time that they have been most happy, and any argument and sibling rivalry has disappeared in their search for food and activity.

I am going to reprint Tom Hodgkinson's Idle Parenting manifesto here, but please read the article. He's the editor of The Idler, and author of a book on idle parenting as well.

Manifesto of the idle parent
We reject the idea that parenting requires hard work
We pledge to leave our children alone
That should mean that they leave us alone, too
We reject the rampant consumerism that invades children from the moment they are born
We read them poetry and fantastic stories without morals
We drink alcohol without guilt
We reject the inner Puritan
We fill the house with music and laughter
We don't waste money on family days out and holidays
We lie in bed for as long as possible
We try not to interfere
We push them into the garden and shut the door so that we can clean the house
We both work as little as possible, particularly when the kids are small
Time is more important than money
Happy mess is better than miserable tidiness
Down with school
We fill the house with music and merriment

Gatorade Gives Me Energy!

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Posted on : 3:24 PM | By : Nic | In :

After I got really sick a few weeks ago, it was recommended by my midwife to have some Gatorade in order to stay hydrated. I get dehydrated very quickly and she and I both know that when that happens, I have false labor. So I went down to Costco, and got myself a case of Gatorade.

I actually hate the taste of Gatorade. There was a point in my life when I was required to drink three lukewarm glasses of Gatorade at every meal for about a month (that is a really long story which I will never get into). Suffice it to say, this has ruined my appetite for sugary energy drinks forever. BUT, I have a few too many on hand now and every now and then I feel the need to replenish my electrolytes, and I definitely see a huge difference. Yesterday, no Gatorade: managed to help Autumn vacuum, and barely made it through the dishes. Today, a big cupful of ice-cold Gatorade and I made 2 1/2 dozen whole wheat rolls, a loaf of challah, planted the entire garden, organized my books (which entailed moving them from downstairs to upstairs using my pack-mule husband), transported 3 loads of laundry from the first floor to the third floor and folded it all, more dishes, made an actual dinner instead of sandwiches.... and the day isn't done yet.

I'm a person that avoids all caffeine, with the exception of green tea when I'm not pregnant or breastfeeding, and I also tend to avoid sugary foods. I'm not opposed to a little dessert like pie or brownies now and then, but we generally don't eat candy or things with corn syrup. So Gatorade really hits my system with all the force of an energy-packed toddler.

Since the Gatorade was a get-better-quick scheme, I'm not sure I'd ever buy it again, but I did find some great alternatives to make at home for when you are really dehydrated and need something to replace those electrolytes, which is especially important in the summer when you are outside all the time.

Mix this together:
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tbsp. sugar and mix
1 liter of water

Other foods you can eat:
Coconut water
Bananas
Broccoli
Spinach

The Worst Tasting Home Remedy

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Posted on : 10:47 AM | By : Nic | In :

Since I have a pretty deep cough and I really want to kick it before I go into labor, I decided to try some home remedies (as usual) to try to combat it. Being pregnant, I am leery of taking anything herbal, besides a few tried-and-true things, so I stuck to old standbys that you find in the kitchen.

The first thing I did was gargle warm salt water. This absolutely finished the sore throat after I did it a couple of times a day for two days. When using this remedy its better to use sea salt, and to gargle for as long as you can stand it. After a few times, the sore throat should be gone.

Then yesterday, still battling this deep chest cough, I decided to try the chili (or cayenne) pepper cure. Formerly I had simply put some in a tall glass of OJ and downed it which usually helped, but this time I decided to do this: 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup of water and 1 teaspoon of cayenne powder. Add some honey and take a tablespoon full. I had just read that eating something really spicy could kick start labor, so instead of a tablespoon, I figured it wouldn't do any harm to take a big gulp instead. Apple cider vinegar is chock full of vitamins and minerals, so down it went.

The horrendous taste of it was amazing. I've never tasted something so bad that I've felt shocked rather than revolted. It also didn't cure my cough. I would say that the effect of this is to help you cough up phlegm more so you can clear your lungs out, which is probably a good thing. There are other ways to do this as well:

Bee balm: Steep 1 teaspoon of dried bee balm leaves or 2 teaspoons of fresh bee balm leaves in a covered cup of hot water for four minutes. Sip three times a day.

Borage: Take syrup made from an infusion of borage flowers as an expectorant. It can be combined with marshmallow or mullein flowers.

Cabbage: Take 2 teaspoons of syrup from a decoction of cabbage leaves for chesty coughs.

Garlic: Grate a couple of cloves of garlic and mix with a teaspoon of honey for coughs.

Grape: Mix a cup of grape juice with a teaspoon of honey.

Honey: Boil a whole lemon for 10 minutes and allow it to cool. Roll it on a hard surface, cut in half and squeeze the juice into a pint of raw honey. Add a teaspoon of glycerin and take for coughs.

Hyssop: Steep 2 teaspoons dried hyssop in 1 cup boiling water. Cover for 10 minutes, strain, and allow to cool. Drink for an expectorant.

Marshmallow: Use syrup from an infusion of marshmallow as a cough expectorant.

Mullein: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1-4 tablespoons of the plant. Cover and let steep for 10-20 minutes off the heat. Strain and drink.

Onion: Boil and onion for 10-15 minutes, strain and drink several times a day.

Thyme: Put 2 tablespoons of fresh thyme or 1 tablespoon of dried thyme in a cup of boiling water. Cover and steep for four minutes, then strain. Drink it hot.

During pregnancy: You are supposed to avoid cayenne, but since I am trying to induce labor a small amount is ok. You could also use chili powder or tabasco sauce for a less dangerous alternative. You should also avoid thyme during pregnancy as it can cause miscarriage.

The Top 5 Things to Prevent Craziness

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Posted on : 10:40 AM | By : Nic | In : , ,

Ok, sometimes you really can't prevent craziness, but this is my eccentric prevention list for all things crazy, emotionally, spiritually and mentally.

1. Return to your ancestral roots and spend time outside with nature and animals. I was just reading this article about an autistic boy's healing visit to Mongolia, which just reiterates what I read in The Continuum Concept. There are many other books that follow the same lines.

2. It's all in your head. I'm sure many of us have read The Power of Positive Thinking and heard the positive thinking rhetoric. I like to think that's it more than just positive thinking. I just read an article the other day about how aging may possibly be all in our heads. After reading about the great success stories of our time, I believe that most of what we perceive as negative is caused by own thinking or state of mind, whether it is failure, illness, relationship problems, etc. Having an attitude that is absent of fear, paranoia, hypochondria, and all that negative stuff, really does work.

3. Nothing is black and white. Every issue has a grey area, and this especially applies to religion and moral dilemmas. Denmark is supposed to be the happiest country in the world, but has a marked absence of religion, with the third highest proportion of atheist and agnostics in the world. BUT, 82% of these people belong to the Lutheran church and go for baptisms and weddings and things of that nature. The general attitude is that it doesn't really matter either way.... and I believe that letting go of that stress has made them happier. When its not black and white, because you can't really know until you die, then you have let go of the judgements and guilt of the alternative.

4. That being said, it is important to acknowledge a higher power. Humans tend to be a bit egotistical in the position in the universe, and acknowledging our smallness and being able to pray has proven results in our own psychological health. Dismissing the awe of the universe is just not good for us. I believe it is also important to have a spiritual role model, of which there are many to choose from, some better than others, but without using that role model to justify bad behavior.

5. Disregard societies assumptions, and then once you have acquired new ideologies, disregard them as well. Humans are sheep. The ones that choose to question the basic cultural memes (go to school, get good grades, get a good job), often choose a new one from somewhere else (drop out, protest, eat organic!). Very little of what we do is an individual choice and we function unaware that we are following a herd, even if that herd is smaller. It is important to learn to stop wondering what others are thinking, and delve into your own beliefs and dreams.

The Gourmonsters!

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Posted on : 9:17 AM | By : Nic | In : , ,

At the risk of bringing more attention to a NY Post editorial than there already should be, I just can't resist the temptation to tear this apart.

Titled 'Gourmonsters:They're the Food Police, and They Think They're Better than You', this article's only purpose seems to be to slap in the face anyone who believes that eating local, organic or sustainable is better. The author criticizes Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, a restaurant in Berkeley, California which only serves fresh, sustainable food from local farmers, and Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, among others, and teaches Journalism at UC Berkeley. The first thing the article states is that these two people are the chief food police, and the patron saints of the sustainable food movement. This is interesting to me, since I have actually never heard of either, lol, and I consider myself a part of this movement, and have been for quite a few years.

It says: "...[they] are on a crusade to tell you not just what you should eat, but how you should eat it. Like an exclusive clique of anorexic cheerleaders, they think they're better than you."

The article is full of everything except common sense, deriding people who are against junk food (junk food? seriously?) and criticizing the idea that anyone living in this economy can afford anything else: "But mainly she and the rest of the Food Police seem out of touch. While the economy drives people to fast-food dollar meals, they cluelessly extol the virtues of expensive organic grapes. On a "60 Minutes" segment last month, Waters thinks nothing of paying $4 a pound for greenmarket grapes (that's about $10 for a bag)."

The truth is that organic food IS more expensive than non-organic food. However, if you are purchasing junk food over basic staples, you are spending about the same. The reality is that if you fill your shopping cart with frozen fish strips, potato chips, ice cream, hot dogs and Jello pudding cups, you are spending the same amount that you could spend on organic beans and rice, some organic chicken, organic grapes and some organic pasta sauce. The first option only lasts one meal, and the second you should get leftovers from. My point is that the author Carla Spartos has very little experience with what is really happening with the economy and doesn't seem to have any regard for her own health or the health of the nation. You can read her other articles here, which seem to include quite a few positive articles about fast food.

It's quite sad really, especially since I don't think anyone who eats local food feels that they are better than other people. In fact, I would say that most of the people who live on our island just take it that of course you would try to buy local if you can, because its just better for our local economy. But I have also seen so many articles lately that extol the virtues of pesticide-laced foods, hold GMO companies like Monsanto up as trophies of the modern age, and believe the only way to fix the economy is to feed outsourced corporations like McDonald's. Change is very difficult for most people, and probably the reason we are in this economic and food crises mess in the first place.

I for one welcome our new Gourmonster overlords and any changes they might bring. :)

The Practicality of Being Car Free in Nanaimo

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Posted on : 9:40 AM | By : Nic | In : ,

Marshmallow is still dead.... and not very practical for us in the near future. It's an insanely economical, earth-friendly little car, but it needs a new starter. It's not that expensive to fix but since we all won't be able to fit three carseats in it starting probably next week, we are wondering what the next step is.

We've been without a car for about a week, and admittedly we have borrowed our neighbor's car a couple of times (who have the same kind we have), but I haven't missed it really. I usually go shopping for household necessities once a month, and we usually do our groceries once a week, but now our groceries are delivered. So we can either invest in a used van, or invest in an alternative, which means a bike for me and a better one for our 6-year-old. We already have a trailer and a really nice bike for my husband.

But what about long distance options? All our family and friends live at least 20 minutes away by car, and some live 45 minutes to an hour away, so we would need to use the train or the bus.

The train costs about $120 roundtrip for the family to go visit any of these friends and family. Unlimited train is a minimum of $2000 for our family during the off season, and $3600 for the peak season.

The bus costs $60 round trip to visit friends and family using the IslandLink express bus. The regular bus would cost $20 for the whole family to get on as many busses as we wanted in a day. We could buy a monthly pass for about $90 for the whole family. Every regular bus has a bike rack

The car right now only costs us $120 a month in insurance and gas (plus repairs). I think a van would be probably double that. But... a van is soooooo much more convenient and practical for driving places, camping, trips... *sigh*

Steps Taken (a Stolen Meme)

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Posted on : 1:04 PM | By : Nic | In :

I love the list on the side of the Path to Freedom journal that tells the steps they've taken towards self-sufficiency, or the deliberate life.

I'm going to steal from it to give myself a little pat on the back, and maybe make some goals for this year. :)

LOCATION
Vancouver Island, BC

PROPERTY SIZE
1/4 acre

GARDEN SIZE
150 sq. ft

GARDEN DIVERSITY
Over 20 different vegetables, herbs, fruits, berries

FOOD PRODUCED
not sure yet!

URBAN HOMESTEAD SUPPORTS
2 adults, three children

ENERGY USAGE
7 kwh day (and going down!)

"EARTH IMPACT FOOTPRINT"
8.2 acres per person

Everyday Steps

Growing _____% of produce

Food Preservation/Storage:
- drying
- freezing
- fermentation
- cold storage

In the Kitchen:
- baking/cooking from scratch
- sourdough
- cast iron and anodized cookware

Food Choices:
- buying in bulk
- organic
- local
- eating seasonaly
- reducing "food miles"
- fair trade

Composting Methods:
- composting food, garden and green waste

Energy Conservation:
- "powering down"
- cut daily energy use in 1/2 12 kwh to 6 kwh a day
- line drying clothes (soon)

Energy Efficient Appliances (these are my only appliances):
- washing machine/dryer
- refridgerator
- water heater(gas)
- toaster
- microwave
- stove

Energy Efficient Electronics:
- 1 computer/2 laptops
- TV(no cable)/PS3/DVD

Energy Efficient Lighting:
- compact fluorescent bulbs
- daylighting

Natural beauty/no makeup
Homemade Non-toxic Beauty Care Products
- Tom's toothpaste
- crystal deoderant
- Sensibility natural shampoo/conditioner
- natural soap
- Physician's Formula mineral makeup

Biodegrable/Non-toxic Cleaning Products:
- vinegar
- baking soda
- lemon juice
- Orange Ultimate organic cleaner

Natural Health Practices:
- herbal remedies
- prevention
- acupressure/massage

Water Conservation Efforts:
- limit toilet flushings
- limit baths/showers
- handwatering
- follow lawn watering restrictions

Hand powered garden tools:
- broom, rake
- trowel, shovel
- hand clippers

Self-employed Working at home:
- writing
- web administration

Crafts & Skills:
- survival skills
- edible landscaping
- sewing
- leatherwork
- fiber arts
- holistic care
- tinctures
- carpentry
- plumbing
- building
- candlemaking
- herbs
- urban farming
- website design
- photography
- self publishing
- video & graphics

Living Simply:
- making use or do without
- bartering
- monthly shopping trips
- reduce, reuse & recycle
- second hand clothes
- salvage/thrift store
- consume less

Passive Cooling:
- no AC
- wood floors
- blinds
- windows
- screen doors
- "living" screens

Heating:
- fireplace
- dress in layers
- natural gas

Saving seeds

Using canvas bags on shopping trips / no plastic
Food delivered in reusable bins

Transportation:
- carpool
- tiny vehicle used once a week
- walk
- bike

Waiting isn't My Strongest Characteristic

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Posted on : 11:07 AM | By : Nic | In : , ,

I am waiting for three things at the moment... books from Amazon, sourdough and a baby. I ordered three books... The Duggars: 20 and Counting, just because I'm a little bit fascinated with them and also wanted some pointers now that I'll have three, lol. I also got The Backyard Homestead: Produce all the Food You Need on Just 1/4 Acre!, which is pretty self-explanatory. I have quite a large collection of homesteading books (I should pull them out and list them here with reviews), but I'm hoping this book will really give some practical information on small spaces, which I don't have really have in my collection. I also bought a book I've wanted for a while called Preserving Foods Without Freezing or Canning: Old World Techniques and Recipes. I don't have a chest freezer simply because I feel as though if the power went out that would pretty much destroy my food storage, and I love to learn to do things without electricity, which this book will tell me how to do I hope. But, these books are in Ontario and so I have to wait a few more days.

True to my word, I started making sourdough in my quest for fermented grains. This is a many-day process, and I am experimenting with a number of sources, including this excellent post from Two Frog Home. One thing I am trying to do is put it in a crock - people nowadays generally have a jar with cheesecloth and I want to try it the old-fashioned way. Right now I am simply waiting for my grainy mass to bubble, but I keep looking at it because I am impatient, lol.

And finally, I am still waiting for this baby. I have 11 days until my due date, the baby is so low I can feel the head when I walk around, and I am constantly having braxton hicks. The house is clean, the baby's first outfit is all laid out ready to go. Maybe the baby knows I haven't finished planting the garden, ha ha.

One of the things that I have always struggled with is obviously waiting. I consider myself very patient with people, but when I am waiting for something to occur, I would much rather just have it done. I hate limbo, waiting, wondering. Its sort of ironic because at the same time I love the slowness of the deliberate life. When you choose to simplify, to focus on what is really important, you tend to declutter all the unnecessary activities and you find yourself with a bunch of extra time on your hands which you end up filling with long term projects. The world tends to promote projects and information and products that are Instant! Ready-Made! but once you separate yourself from that, you find yourself very busy with things that take months or even years to complete.

Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you - Lao Tzu

Another Scythe Video

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Posted on : 10:34 AM | By : Nic | In : ,



This is Botan Anderson from Mystic Prairie Eco-Farm... which sells scythe supplies and duck eggs. It's amazing how many scythe videos there are on YouTube... check it out!

Why So Much Grain?

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Posted on : 12:42 PM | By : Nic | In : ,

I was reading this article in Scientific American about the possibility of food shortages bringing down civilization. The overall story is a bit overwhelming and probably not applicable on a global scale, but one thing that I came away with is that one reason this could happen is the world's dependance on grain. Grain is pretty much the major crop that is in jeopardy, and also the crop the most people depend on.

But why are we so involved with grain? Many, many people have an allergy to it, and I feel a bit suspicious of any food that people have only eaten for a short while and which takes so much processing in order to eat it. Technically, anything that you have to grind up and/or cook before it becomes palatable is processed, and probably harsh on your system.

For one week, before I had this current blog, I had my family on the Paleolithic diet, the principle of which is that you don't eat anything you couldn't eat raw. This is also very similar to whatever Mercola says, and also similar to the Weston Price Foundation's dietary recommendations.

What is interesting in our family is that although we don't really follow any of these things, we have naturally fallen into much of these dietary practices because we have felt the adverse side effects of following the USDA food pyramid (which is a bunch of propaganda baloney as I touched briefly on in this post). We don't eat dairy, and very little processed sugars. We do eat lots of grain, however - sliced bread, tortillas, oats, barley, corn products...

For the urban homesteader being totally self-sufficient can be a problem when so dependent on grains. In most primitive cultures, they do eat grains but in much smaller quantities and they sprout and ferment them first. In our culture we would know it as sourdough. So I think my goal will be cut back our grain consumption and ferment or sprout what we do use. Which reminds me that I have a sourdough crock ready to go on my counter that I haven't used yet!

Happy Earth Day

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Posted on : 10:59 AM | By : Nic | In :

The first thing I did today to celebrate Earth Day was to look over our budget and finally switch completely over to locally grown and organic food. I'm not completely 100 mile diet yet, but considering that Spud tells me that my food comes from an average of 473 km away, or 293 miles, I'm getting pretty close. Part of the problem is that lots of that food has to come from the mainland and has to take a ferry. The average distance for most people's food is 1500 miles so I feel pretty good!

Making that choice also decreased my global foot print from 2.17 earths to 1.48, even though we're not vegetarian. I think if we were vegetarian that would go down even more. We've done a couple of other things to reduce our footprint as well, including choosing cloth diapers, all natural cleaning products and we made all our bills paperless - in fact we barely use paper anymore and hardly get mail - and it all gets recycled anyway.

It's quite amazing what you can do in a little inefficient old house in the city (ha ha, as I was writing this, I realized I had the windows open and the heat came on - horrors!).

Other than that we aren't doing too much else to celebrate Earth Day except housecleaning and spending some time outside. Next year will be the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, which is amazing to me because I don't remember it always being such a big deal. You can ready about the history on Wikipedia.

I think perhaps if I can get my work done we'll go outside and the girls and I will take a nature survey in the backyard. This is just a survey of all the species that you have living in your own little habitat. We need to get our backyard a little less wild, but I want to keep some of it a haven for birds, squirrels and other little critters. Except slugs - we have plenty of those, lol.

Building the Raised Beds: Part 1

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Posted on : 8:54 AM | By : Nic | In : ,



The first step was to dig out the 4 x 8 rectangles, which meant digging up the sod. They looked quite nice and rectangular, until we put the boxes in, lol. But that's ok.

We substituted even more stuff to try to get the Cheap Version of the Ultimate Raised Bed even cheaper. We are actually doing 4 beds, but one is for our downstairs neighbors, and they wanted to do the work of double digging deeper than we did, and making their bed half the height of ours, which saved money on that bed. The original plans also called for 4x4 posts stuck into the ground, which we substituted with 2x4 sections, and they didn't need to be long enough to stick in the ground (where is the bed going to go?).

In the end, here were the costs of four 4x8 bed frames from stuff we picked up from Home Depot (these are Canadian prices):
Two 2x4x8 = $4
Twenty-one 2x6x96 Spruce = $62
Two 1x10 pvc = $8
Steel strap for the pipe = $3
Screws = $5

TOTAL = $82
Per box = $20.50

That's significantly cheaper than $75! The one thing we didn't get yet was the hoops for the hoop frames - we just installed their pipe holders inside the box. The most expensive part is the dirt.. we bought 4 1/2 yards of garden soil bulk and had it trucked in which cost $300. Three boxes are 12 inches high, and one is 6 inches high, plus we have some pots to fill but all in all, each box cost about $75 for dirt, which is about what I estimated before. But instead of $600 we only spent $382 so we got one of those nice black compost bins too.





The 2x4's were cut into 12 inch sections, and some of the 2x6s into 4' sections for the ends of the boxes. We needed eight 4' and sixteen 12 inch sections. The 12 inch sections were then screwed onto the 8 foot sections.



Then the 8 foot sides were added. They were built upside down and some of the 2x4x8' support lengths were actually a bit longer, but it didn't really matter once the box was flipped and set in the right spot, which is why the corner post sticks out.





Lastly the PVC pipe was screwed on. We cut 12 inch sections and put 3 on each side of the box. Then the box was flipped over and set into the bed.

Repeat 3 more times, and there's our garden! We still have plans to mulch around the sides for little pathways, and we would like to get the hoops and put up some bird netting, but first we'll worry about getting planted first.

Simple Monday

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Posted on : 9:14 PM | By : Nic | In :



For Today...

Outside my window... the guys working on the raised beds... the smell of fresh cut wood.

I am thinking... that as soon as I clear my mind of these projects and cleaning, the baby will come.

I am thankful for... perennials that pop up all on their own out of the ground and make beautiful flowers.

From the kitchen... we had White Spot tonight, lol. Kind of a family work-party treat. I'm afraid if I always do this daybook on Mondays it will seem like we always eat out, but its only because it is John's day off, lol.

I am wearing... the same yoga pants I was wearing last time I wrote this, a long black maternity shirt (it's supposed to be slimming), and a brown hoodie. I'm always barefoot!

I am re-reading... still The Continuum Concept. Everyone in our culture should read this. It explains many of the reasons why we are often so distant and dysfunctional in our families, while third world people and indigenous people aren't. It also should be required reading for parents.

I am hoping... that my Mom has a safe drive, and that maybe we can get the garden planted before the baby is born. If not, oh well.

I am creating... a garden! lol and a safe, happy space for this new person in our life.

I am praying... for myself.

Around the house... laundry! bathrooms! more laundry!

One of my favorite things... this whole 1940's house and the lovely coziness that it has.

A few plans for the rest of the week... plant the garden, keep the house clean, and go into labor.

We Get the First Electric Vehicle - ha ha Losers!

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Posted on : 9:08 AM | By : Nic | In : , ,


British Columbia gets the first (ok, that's a technical term... don't get me started on Who Killed the Electric Car) highway ready electric vehicle, the Mitsubishi MiEV.

What I like about this particular EV is that it can plug into your house and one of those pay electric pumps (so you have either option), and it has four doors. The city of Vancouver and BC Hydro are each getting one for testing, and supposedly they will be on the streets for everyone by the end of the year.

Mitsubishi has some really awesome papercraft projects, including one for the MiEV and the Delica, which is available in BC because they import it direct from Japan. Which reminds me that BC is very good about not being part of the pressure from oil companies in the types of cars allowed on the streets. Besides the diesel Delica van which gets really good fuel mileage, we were one of the first to have the Smart Car.

National Animal Identification System

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Posted on : 8:49 AM | By : Nic | In :

Just a heads up, there is an ongoing discussion about this new system of keeping track of every animal in the United States. While it appears relatively harmless, any kind of federal tracking is a bad idea for the small farmer. It is supposed to prevent disease, but what really is happening is that large producers and agribusiness (who are the only ones who have had incidence of disease) are lobbying against the small farmer.

This happened fairly recently here in British Columbia when they introduced new meat inspection laws that required all farmers to have their butchering done at a licensed facility in front of a BC inspector. This was supposedly to prevent disease, but since there had never been an incidence of contamination from small farm meat, what this really meant was that large producers were trying to force out small producers, many of whom already had low profit margins and now had to spend the extra cost of paying for a facility. It also hurt butchering businesses, many of whom would travel to different farms rather than being in a central facility. There were many protests, but to no avail.

So take a look at the ID, write some emails and don't let them track your farm animals.

Blessingway

1

Posted on : 8:15 AM | By : Nic | In : ,

Yesterday I had the tremendous privilege of having a blessingway. A good friend (who I don't see as often as I would like) organized one for me at her peaceful home in the country, and I must say that this alternative to baby showers is amazing. Showers are a practical and fun, but this really helped me to feel emotionally, mentally and spiritually prepared for the baby.

Here is a great website with some tips for having your own blessingway, but just to let you know what they did for me, I will give you a run down. There were pillows set up in a circle on the floor, and as ladies came in they washed their hands and thought about letting go of their worries before sitting down. At first I thought they meant worries about birth or me, but it was about letting go of their worries in general so that they could bring a positive energy to the group.

One of the first things they started with was to read a beautiful poem about birth from a local poet... I will have to get the name of the poem, because it had wonderful phrases for babies like 'land fish' in it. :)

Another thing everyone did was make a grandmother jar. Everyone took scraps of paper and wrote down their worries about life, put them in the jar and let them go. In the end all the paper ended up in the fire and our worries were gone. It was interesting... I had thought about doing something similar to this before but how much can writing something down and burning it really help you release a worry, right? But this ended up being a very powerful thing to do - and I suppose shows that when you write something down it becomes more potent.... that's probably why I like to write. :) It felt very freeing.

Then we talked about births and things that we have done during labour to manage pain. All of the ladies had had my same midwife and a natural birth, and I think most had 2 children - it struck me suddenly in the middle of this that I was probably the younger woman there and was about to have a 3rd and it made me a bit nervous that I was creating a group of children in my home rather than just a couple, lol. But all the wonderful wisdom they shared about their unique births was invaluable.

At that point they all started working on a poster with positive imagery about birth and babies and pregnancy and life in general that I can hang on the wall and when I am in labour I can look at it and focus on it. They also took turns massaging my hands and feet and I had a foot bath with peppermint (this may have been my favorite part, but I'm not sure, lol).

I came away with a book of thoughts they made for me, some personal notes written by my lovely friends, poems and quotes, and they also beaded two beautiful bracelets to give to my girls as something special to remind them that they are big sisters. I gave them the bracelets this morning and they threw themselves wholeheartedly into the idea and began big-sistering each other at every opportunity, lol.

Thank you so much wonderful friends!

One of the topics that came up when we were all talking was that our culture doesn't really do as many rites of passage rituals. Unless you are part of a church that does baptism or communion, or get to have a Bar Mitzvah, the rest of us really don't have any special occasion to help transition a young person into a new part of their life. It was interesting to me to learn that in native cultures they don't just celebrate the child's transition into adulthood, but rather have a celebration every 7 years, or around the time that they have a milestone in their life. While many churches are celebrating an age of accountability at 7 years old, native cultures do something similar, which I found fascinating. This is something that I'll have to research more about. :)

Resources for Young People Interested in Farming

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Posted on : 10:09 AM | By : Nic | In : ,

This is a list of financial and educational resources to help young and beginning farmers get started, in the US and Canada.

US:

1. Farm Service Agency Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Loans. This is an under $300,000 loan for small family farmers who have been farming less than 10 years. This can also be used to purchase a farm if you have 5% of the purchase price. To apply, find your home state's local FSA office.

2. The Small Business Administration. One of the first steps to starting a farm business is having a concrete business plan. This is one of the best websites for free help with that, and offers many grants to start a business (including farms).

3. National Farm Transition Network. A national network of state-run farm succession programs. This organization works to link retiring farmers with beginning farmers so that farmland isn't lost. Go to the network participants page to find local organizations.

4. Rural Enterprise Assistance Project. They provide small loans for rural enterprises, and help with the business plan and other small business issues.

5. National Council of State Agricultural Finance Programs. They try to find new ways to finance farmers. Check out their list of state programs.

6. Beginning Farmers. Resources and networking for potential farmers, educators and other people, with financing and educational links.

7. Farmers for the Future. A social networking site for young and beginning farmers. Kind of a laid back, country MySpace.

8. Farm incubators... I don't have a specific resource for this. Type it into Google and see what you can find in your local area. These are farms that offer land and support to young farmers for cheap.

9. The Greenhorns. A documentary film about the lives of young farmers. This website also has a variety of resources for networking, and a guide for young farmers starting out. The trailer of the documentary is below:



Canada has fewer resources, but there are a some good ones:
1. Farm Choices. A site that has a business plan builder specifically for new farmers, and some helpful information about what it takes to have a farm business.

2. Farm Start. This has a lot of information for new farmers, but most exciting, it runs two incubator farms in Ontario. These are places that young people can come to them with a business plan and get affordable access to land for their farm business. I think this is one of the best ideas to get young people started in farming.

3. Farm Credit Canada. They offer farm loans to beginning farmers, and also offer a transition loan for retiring farmers looking to pass down their farms.

Cheap Version of the Ultimate Raised Bed

4

Posted on : 9:19 AM | By : Nic | In :


I found this very, very lovely cedar raised bed plan on Sunset, and for a second I was really tempted to build it exactly that way, but I would only be able to afford one. And we need four. Not a very good plan. So basically I am budgeting out what we have to spend, and how to replace the expensive stuff with decent stuff.

I'm happy with pine or fir for my raised beds... I'm not really building for longevity. This cuts my wood prices down by about a third, since that plan calls for cedar. They spent $90 on wood, and so that means my cost will be about $30.

$30 - wood
$10 - PVC piping for hoop frames
$30 - screws
$4 - tube straps for piping
TOTAL PER BOX: $75

I can leave out the mesh hardware cloth... we are double digging under the box a little bit as well because we actually have some good soil down there and we don't seem to have a mole problem. The soil is another question. I really wanted Sea Soil but it is double the price of garden soil, so since I have pretty good soil and a composter going that will eventually give me all the fertilizer I need, I don't really need it. It's about $35 per tractor scoop, which equals about 60-70% of a yard. Since I need a little more than a yard per box, I will need 2 per box - $70 per box is a good estimate.

So total, the article spent $187 on their cedar box (which is about $270 Canadian right now), and I can spend about $140 Canadian per box (which is about $96 US). So I've estimated it to about half the price. Lets round it to $150 per box for taxes and things, which means total about $600.

Will this pay for itself in one year? Well... considering that we can get all our veggies from June to perhaps September, plus a little bit left over, and supposing we spend about $100 a month on vegetables only, we will be getting $400 back plus a little bit. If I extend the season and utilize my hoop covers and plant some extra cold-weather plants like lettuce, I believe it could definitely pay for itself by the end of the year.

When Kids Make Their Own Toys

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Posted on : 8:42 PM | By : Nic | In : ,



I love the Imagine Childhood catalog, I really do. This item made me laugh, however. For $99.99 plus shipping, you can be the proud owner of a replica orange crate scooter. Some people might remember making their own:



It always amuses me when the toys we used to make ourselves turn into an expensive product. And although it is very lovely to have this simple scooter, I think that part of the value is that it was made by hand. You can't really replace the child's experience of building their own toys. It reminds me of this article which I have saved and reread now and then..

THIS Should Not be Happening...

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Posted on : 4:45 PM | By : Nic | In :



That's the map of the 100 mile US Border Patrol zone that people are calling the Constitution-Free Zone. Not many people have heard about this, and I had heard rumors, but I didn't realize they had put it into effect. This was brought to my attention because of a pastor that got his head split open at one of the checkpoints within the 100 mile along the Mexico side of this zone. Evidently, there are now a series of checkpoints along major highways that stop people within the US and have the right to search people, detain people, whatever they want that they feel enhances the security of America.

The map shows what lies within the 100 miles, and is from the ACLU's information on the whole thing (which has been summarized here). I think that a lot of Republicans want to blame the current administration, and the Democrats want to blame the last administration, but in reality both are to blame. One instituted it, and one is allowing it to continue.

I try to avoid politics, I really do, but there should never be checkpoints within a country that have the kind of search and questioning power that these Border Patrol officers do. Whatever the reason given... illegal immigrants, drug trafficking, terrorism... those are just excuses. These checkpoints are for citizens, and when you are driving from California to New Mexico you shouldn't have to stop to tell the government where you are going.

Lots of people talking about this issue have quoted Benjamin Franklin, "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." The first step that Hitler took in Germany to gain power was to expand the police and give them a mandate to take 'preventive action' ... that is, take action against anyone they just felt suspicous of. They stopped people randomly and if they felt suspicious, they could arrest you for really no reason. Of course, they targeted Jews and dissenters, which happened to be their economic and political scapegoats, but is this really any different?

All I am saying is that once again, people need to be aware that certain rights have been taken away without any fuss at all... and that history repeats itself.

The White House Garden: Is Organic Better?

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Posted on : 8:45 AM | By : Nic | In :

Whatever your politics might be, I'm just very glad that the White House lawn is going to have an organic vegetable garden on it. That lawn is fairly useless, and a big organic garden growing food for homeless people just seems to make sense. The layout of the garden to can be found in this PDF. According to the plan, most of the beds appear to be between 4x4 and 4x8 feet, and some of them are using a little bit of companion planting... for example, the nasturtiums and marigolds lining the path will deter pests, and chard and peas mutually benefit each other in growth and pest deterrent.

The garden isn't huge, considering how much room they actually have, but its decent, and its organic, which they've been getting lots of flack for. The Mid-American CropLife Association sent this email to the White House, which basically says in a roundabout way that without the pesticides, Americans wouldn't have had the time to get jobs outside of farming and our world wouldn't be the same. The letter is quite insidious and I'll let you read it yourself, but just some backstory on who MACA is, take a look at their membership and its pretty clear that this is a lobby group composed of agricultural chemical companies and genetic engineering companies, including Monsanto.

One of the things I have been hearing on the internet is that people are arguing whether organic is really better. Some people argue that organic isn't sustainable because it can't possibly sustain all the people in the world. First of all, this is an improper use of the word 'sustainable'... there are two kinds of sustainable. Sustainable agriculture and a sustainable food supply mean two completely different things. Sustainable agriculture is a system of growing food in which everything is self-contained. Even so-called sustainable farms aren't truly sustainable because they might still rely on outside input. For example, an organic beef operation might grass-feed their beef, and use no antibiotics, but if they aren't using the manure from the cows to help grow the grain needed to feed the cows in the winter, its not technically completely sustainable. There are some loopholes... possibly they could market the manure to someone locally who grows grain organically who then sells it back to the cow farmer. But unless this is a semi-closed system where no actual waste is produced by the farm, it's not a wholly sustainable system.

A sustainable food supply on the other hand is one which, quite simply, there is enough food for everyone and it will be able to scaled in output to population growth. Unfortunately even conventional farming hasn't been able to do that, and people worry that switching everyone to organic would only increase the problem, which is a legitimate worry. But, done properly (which means locally instead of outsourcing to Mexico), organic, sustainable agriculture actually would increase yields because they aren't necessarily grown in long rows to be more convenient for machinery - instead, crops are often grown intensively and put out much bigger yields per acre. The difficulty is that this is labor-intensive. It takes more people more hours to do this, and would require more farmers, which means more young people need to be interested in farming.

I honestly believe there would be lots of young people interested in farming if it were treated as a respectable career option. Right now 2% of people are farmers, and those people are losing their farms. There are very few sustainable agricultural college programs out there, and even if a student does find one, getting a job to pay those student loans is tough which makes the education not worth it. There are a few opportunities (which I will post later), but much more needs to be done. If we are worried about food security, and want to stop ingesting pesticides, its going to really come down to who's willing to work for it.

Simple Woman's Daybook

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Posted on : 10:45 AM | By : Nic | In :


I thought I would try this... after I have a baby it might be nice to think about this stuff as a kind of gratitude journal.

April 16th
Outside my window... the view of the bay, and berry tree that is getting very green already.
I am thinking... about the what I need to do today and how little I can get away with. Laundry, definitely... dishes - maybe not.
I am thankful for... my kids. They are eating mandarin oranges but talking them like little people before their inevitable demise.
From the learning rooms... the room full of books is being used for Little Big Planet today. A video game with puzzles so it really is educational - really!
From the kitchen... peanut butter and jelly and lots of fruit.
I am wearing... the last pair of pants that fit my pregnant body and a green shirt that barely covers the basketball I have stuffed under it.
I am creating... a website for my dad and another t-shirt design for Threadless.com.
I am going... to take a walk in a minute.
I am reading... The Continuum Concept again... and Painless Algebra.
I am hoping... for a healthy baby.
I am hearing... kids saying, "Aaaaaah, don't eat me! I am just a baby orange!"
Around the house... diaper pail, dandelions in cups of water, pile of clean laundry for folding, colored pencils.
One of my favorite things... plastic scissors that don't cut anything but paper.
A few plans for the rest of the week: go to a blessingway for me, build the raised beds, find someone who wants to mow the lawn.

Debt Free and Building Credit

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Posted on : 9:52 AM | By : Nic | In :

It's been a huge relief to be out of debt for the past 6 months. A HUGE relief. Of course, there are drawbacks. Last night we had a big trip to Costco and in the parking lot Marshmallow (the '92 Geo Metro) wouldn't start. We've had the problem before, but my father-in-law fiddled with the starter and its been working every since. Fortunately our wonderful basement neighbor was watching the kids, so we weren't too inconvenienced. John went to call the tow truck (no cell phone right now either - we had a pay-as-you-go phone but haven't felt the need to renew it), and as soon as he came back and tried it, it started!


So we said, 'Hmmm... should we risk it? We still need to go get a few more things...' So we decided to risk it and went to the closest store, Toys R Us because I needed a couple of last baby things (namely a diaper bucket and a washable laundry bag, and some more nursing pads). When we parked, we tried the car just to see, and it didn't work. So he called the towing company back and they came to get us.

But even as we were standing there laughing at our 2-door hatchback that we'll soon outgrow (try fitting 3 carseats into the back of it), we realized we don't care about paying the towtruck because we don't pay a monthly payment. We've spent a total of $1000 on it, and had to tow it twice, and it's lasted almost a year. You can't beat that.

We almost got in debt for a vehicle last month, and rationalized that having a car loan would build up our credit. Fortunately, we didn't. But the thought is still there that we need some better credit if we ever want to buy a house. I've gotten a secured credit card (unsecured being against the rules) which I will never upgrade and will use only for things like gas and then pay off every month. This is a simple way to build some credit without having the temptation of a credit limit that's worth more than what you have.

Another thing you can do is get a line of credit on your checking account, and don't use it. What's interesting about credit is that your score isn't really about your reliability... its about how low they can make your interest rate to keep you in debt. If you keep getting more offers for loans, credit cards and overdrafts from your bank, they are trying to encourage you to use your credit more, because they feel like they can trust you since you're paying it off and not really using it. However, having a line of credit is just as tempting as a credit card. It's really not worth it.

What things in life do you really need to go in debt for? Nothing, except real estate or possibly a business. In either situation, having a tremendous savings is really the only way to go. If you've had a checking account with a bank for a long time, and have built up a reasonable credit history, and you've had the same job for a while, you might have enough credit built up to do what you want as long as you have a big down payment. Mortgages have the bonus of having the equity of the property to back you up, so they tend to be a bit easier to get than just a loan. And if you want to start a business, you should already have investors and savings of at least 50%, rather than starting with a loan first.

So the lesson here is to think about why you want to build credit... because if you're not buying a house or starting a business, it doesn't really matter. Credit is just another word for debt. If you have to borrow to buy it, then you don't really need it.

The Frugal Baby

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Posted on : 5:20 PM | By : Nic | In : ,

I hope Continuum-Family.com doesn't mind me borrowing their picture to show them off. I recently purchased a pouch sling from them and I was extremely happy with their service and their product - not to mention they are fairly local to me. I didn't go for the designer sling, and instead went with everyday khaki sateen, but I did upgrade it with the padding along one side. I can't wait to use it. It's extremely similar to a polar fleece sling I made and used with my second baby, which was a tremendous upgrade from the nice Snugli I had for my first. I gave the polar fleece one to my sister-in-law who needed it (everyone needs a good baby sling), and the Snugli to my cousin, so I was very happy to find a low-cost, well-made sling like this. They even refunded the overcharge on shipping to me.


A while back, actually last year, I posted about the only 10 things you need for a baby. I've even cut that list down. Let's review...

1. The sling. Every day when I pick up Annie from kindergarten I see a cute little couple lugging a massive car seat with a tiny baby in it. They set the seat on the ground, since it is so heavy and stand up and talk to the baby while they wait. The baby is always a happy, contented little thing, but it seems a bit silly to me to have it strapped into this contraption and talk to it from such a height. The sling above is a much simpler solution.

2. You don't need anything to give your baby a bath. If you have a sink you've got a bathtub, but what's even better is to just have a bath with the baby. Showering without a water sling is tricky because babies become incredibly slippery when wet, but sitting in the bath with some natural soap and a baby is pretty heavenly and easy. And free.

3. Side bed. The cheapest solution is to buy one of these very nice bassinet/playpens that can slide up against the bed if you aren't going to co-sleep. We have some sleep issues that make true co-sleeping dangerous, but having the baby right next to the bed is the next best thing.

4. Definitely cloth diapers. I knitted my wool covers and was very fortunate to be given some extra covers as well as some extra cloth diapers. My favorite cloth diapers are called Indian prefolds, made of a thick Indian cotton. These are much different from some other kinds of prefolds that are made of a cheesecloth-like fabric that becomes ridiculously difficult to clean. We did buy a small bag of newborn disposables because my babies have really skinny legs, it's easier to keep that cord clean, and those first few poops are really nasty to clean out. So we have them for backup but cloth is what we're doing.

5. The diaper pail and nylon bags are also a necessity but how you obtain these could be as simple as the local second-hand or consignment store. I also simply bought my bum ointment because it is much cheaper to buy a regular old zinc ointment than to make one with essential oils. The higher the zinc content, the better. Same with wipes... its cheaper to buy natural wipes than to make them, and when you have a baby its tough to keep making up the spray when you've got so much other stuff to do.

6. Baby clothes. I went to my local second-hand store and spent $100 on a mountain of non-gender-specific, barely used baby clothes. Each one was about $1 and I now have enough clothes for the next 8 months (unless my baby is gigantic, which I doubt). Since we did not have an ultrasound we don't know if its a boy or a girl, so its been difficult to resist buy that cute little boy jacket, or the pink little dress. But I resisted, lol.

That's really, truly, all you need for a baby. I actually think its kind of funny when people say that they are waiting to have a baby because kids are so expensive. They cost money, but the cost is much less than eating out once a week.

Home Birth and How Rice and Eggs are Cooked the Same

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Posted on : 8:24 AM | By : Nic | In : ,

I was reading Sensible Living's perfect rice recipe, and I decided to post my perfect rice formula, which is very different. Basically start out with a big pot with a lid. Even if I'm only doing 1 cup of rice, I still use a large pot that I also use for pasta - this pot is also nice because it has holes in the top where some steam can escape. The big pot prevents spillage. Then you bring it up to a rolling boil for 5 minutes. If you're doing a couple of cups, 8 minutes might be a little better. Sometimes you still have to watch it and lift the lid a little so the foam doesn't come out. After 5 minutes, turn off the heat and leave it to sit with the lid on for 20 minutes. Stir it up, and serve. Perfect rice.

It so happens that this is exactly the same for perfect boiled eggs. The pot doesn't have to be so big, but it does need a lid. You put the eggs in with about an inch of water covering, bring to a rolling boil for 5 minutes exactly, turn off the heat, let it sit on the burner for 20 minutes. Then, immediately cool off the eggs under running cold water. The eggs shells will practically fall off.

Rice and eggs are the two things that I really hated to make, because I pretty much failed most of the time. A few years ago when we had television I used to be a big fan of Survivor, and do you know what the key is to staying on the island longer? Being able to make good rice. In a survival situation, such a basic skill becomes an extremely valuable commodity. So I learned how. :)

On a completely different topic, my father-in-law sent me an article today from BBC about how home births are now proven to be just as safe as a hospital birth, at least in situations where there are no complications. There's always been speculation about safety and even here in BC where midwives and home birth are free as part of our medical care, I still get that worried look from people. A study three years ago done in Canada showed that home birth is actually safer (not just as safe) than a hospital birth, but still only about 7% of births in BC are attended by a midwife. It may be a bit higher because that was about 6 years ago, but you would think it would be better than that. Even though I've had two hospital births, both were midwife-attended and this third time will hopefully be the home bith. People think once you've chosen to have a home birth, that's what you get, but actually there are many factors and even of ones that start out at home, 1/3 end up at the hospital. Birth is a complicated process, even though it is a natural and generally safe one. Having a midwife just improves your chances of it unfolding without invasive procedures, in a much more comfortable, convenient manner.


I used to work in a hospital for about a year, and one of the things I've learned about the hospital world is that while it is a necessary place, many of the procedures and policies are for the convenience of the hospital, not the patient. This is because they are often understaffed, and so there has to be, by necessity, an assembly-line mentality and the only way to keep the process safe from human error is to use procedures that have risks to the individual, but not to the group. For example, one extremely common procedure is the catheter. Just about everybody gets one, even if the patient is well enough to use the toilet, because nurses don't have time to help everyone to the bathroom. But, secondary infection is a huge problem in hospitals (a secondary infection is one you catch at the hospital), and often you can get one from the catheter. You don't need it, but its better for the hospital.

Anyway, I still believe health care has a long way to go, as does modern medicine. I'm sure 100 years from now we'll all look back and laugh at our medieval ways.

The Simplified, Baby-Friendly Garden Plan

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Posted on : 2:20 PM | By : Nic | In :



Much more scaled back from the original plan, but for this year success will be measured in the greatest yield rather than the biggest garden. I am experimenting extensively with companion planting, which will happen in 4x8' raised beds on the sunny side of the house. I will also be doing some container gardening.

We're doing:
Arugula
Bush bean
Broccoli
Carrot
Cucumber
Lettuce
Garlic
Onion
Green Onion
Spinach
Tomato
Sugar (or Snap) peas
Squash
Radish
Potato

Rosemary
Sage
Basil
Peppermint
Parsley
Dill
Lemon Balm
Chamomile
Witch hazel
Cilantro (or coriander)

These will all be non-hybrid varieties and will probably include more than one type of tomato and other things... diversity is the key. The set up is based on what plants will benefit each other the best, and what we eat the most of. In total I've got about 100 square feet to work with which should give me quite a bit over the summer.

Throwing Away 52 Toyotas

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Posted on : 12:54 PM | By : Nic | In :


I was reading this article today about how much garbage a family makes. I've talked about that before, but this article really had some great comparisons and facts about how much it really is... in the United States, 4.54 pounds per person, per day. In our house, that would add up to about 190 pounds per week, 10,000 pounds per year, or almost 5 tons!

Fortunately, we don't make that much trash... in fact our local waste disposal company in BC wouldn't let us do that because our trash bin can't be bigger than 22 gallons, and weigh no more than 50 pounds. That's a quarter of what Americans throw away weekly. I have to admit that we also have a mountainous pile of recycling, part of which is paper, cardboard and plastic that is taken away by the city, and part of which is cartons and glass which is taken to the recycling depot. And we also do not generally throw food waste out, since we compost any food waste we can. We do use toilet paper, and after we have a baby, even though we are using cloth there will be a disposable diaper or two and disposable wipes.

Is it possible to eliminate garbage? Nope... not unless you make everything you use, yourself, or get your stuff with absolutely no packaging, and keep pigs and chickens to dispose of your waste meat product. Even though we throw away a quarter of what the average American does, the 6 of us still generate 2600 pounds of garbage a year. By the time we live to 75, we will all have thrown away 130,000 pounds of trash = 65 tons = 13 African bull elephants = 52 Toyota Corollas. Should six people really need to throw away 52 Toyota Corollas? Probably not.

I Failed the No-Knead Bread

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Posted on : 12:36 PM | By : Nic | In :

You know that bread that 4-year old's can make? Well I failed it. But it's not entirely my fault! It's what I get for substitutions. The first problem was that the dough didn't rise all that much. It's supposed to rise for 12-20 hours, but I checked it around 8 and it seemed to have reached a limit and actually looked like it might fall, but I left it. The total rising time was about 18 hours but I'm not sure if it doubled, which might have been due to my yeast not being the newest.

Then when I dumped it, it turns out that not having plastic wrap can be a bad thing because it had a dried-out skin on the top. I folded that in as the instructions said, forming a ball, and then wrapped it in the floured towel in my Calphalon stock pot where it had a nap for an hour or so. Then I was supposed to put that whole thing in a pre-heating oven for 30 minutes. About 15 minutes into that, I smelled bread baking. Now I knew that the bread wasn't supposed to baked during that time - it was another rising time, and I started worrying about the towel. So I pulled it out and sure enough, it was baking and the towel was scorched. I had a half-baked loaf stuck (more like fused) to a burnt towel. The first thing I did was leave the kitchen for a bit to avoid looking at such a sad sight. But it smelled so good... surely something could be done?

I pulled the remaining doughy goo and half-baked parts off the towel, dumped them back into the pot and baked them for another 20 minutes. I had to throw the towel away -a layer of bread had attached itself to the very fibers of that thing and weren't letting go. What came out of the oven was a bunch of chunks of very heavy, crunchy, but tasty bread pieces that had a faint flavor of sourdough (wherever that came from).


The lesson learned is that just because it is oven-safe doesn't mean you can bake bread in it. A much thicker ceramic or cast iron container would have been better... I just need to get one with a lid and I can try this again.

Demonstration of Felling Trees by Hand

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Posted on : 10:24 AM | By : Nic | In : , ,

This man lives on Bainbridge Island on $800 a year and does everything by hand... this is an excellent demonstration of felling a tree with hand tools, as well as his philosophy on meaningful work.