Monday, August 23, 2010

jeebie chreesie it's hot

it's august in texas which means it's quite normal for it there to be entire weeks in the triple digits. upper triple digits. high of 105, heat index of 111. thankfully the humidity has only been in the 40% range or it would be truly miserable. everything looks like death warmed over. warmed well over.

im counting the days until fall. ive always been partial to fall - it's when my birthday is, when sulla's birthday is, when halloween is, when, at least growing up in the midwest, the weather gets crisp and it's sweater and jeans weather.

my love of fall has grown in the last 5 years of living in DFW simply because i can finally get to projects that have been utterly ignored for the last two+ months because i dont want to die from heat stroke - and folks who hire others to do their lawn care because they dont want to sweat are assholes. there i said it. plants and flowers get their second wind and it's almost like spring again. jeans and sweater weather usually comes in november, but i can wear colours darker than a deep blue without turning into a walking solar oven.

it is also back to school time which means i will have more time to do things. sad but true. this fall the plan to:
  • continue to mulch the backyard. Mr. R from next door continues to give me cardboard and i also found out the local petsmart doesnt use a trash compacter and has an entire dumpster for cardboard. theyve got large thick boxes for their live fish deliveres and then the smaller flats for canned food that are perfect for laying against the fence or over gaps and along seams.
  • build mini pergallas or archways for living awnings around the south and west windows come next spring.
  • take out the walkway stones
  • burn the piles of wood from the last storms
  • weatherise and insulate the metal awning over the back of the house that makes the back porch a sweat box and not as usuable as it should be.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

dirt in places you can't even imagine

i borrowed the urban homestead from the library. some of the content was stuff i already know/have, but it contained a few inspirational gems that really got me thinking about what i want to do and where i would like to go with my own sub-"urban homestead." one particularly nice underlying factor is that the authors/blog owners live in L.A., California. They are zone 10, while I am zone 8a and colder, but their ideas work for areas prone to droughts and extreme and extended heat.

They have five "essential projects."

  • build a compost bin
  • vermiculture - a worm compost bin
  • "mulch your yard"
  • build a raised bed
  • build a self-watering container

I've already built my rolling compost bin and im not sure im ready for a worming bin. building a raised bed is out of my budget right now and i havent had good luck with container gardening. it's been my experience that in the summer, when most stuff looks like death anyway, you need the ground and lots of mulch to keep the soil as cool as possible. pots and containers turn into little dirt ovens regardless of constant watering. or you can shuffle them around to shadier parts during the day but that's just a pain.

While thumbing through I found their page on Lawn Facts - lawns require 2 to 4 times more water than shrubs and trees, the average home owner spends more than 40 hours mowing the lawn. Ive had my own conflicting ideas about what to do with my own 1/4 acre backyard. I want to put in native buffalo grass but then i like it in it's feral, overgrown state. Then i hit this paragraph.

Kids and dogs are often held up as reason why any decent family would keep a
lawn in their yard. The truth is...that kids love hunting for food in vegetable gardens...and playing in little pockets of wildness....Kids and dogs alike benefit from the sensory stimulation provided by permaculteral yard. A lawn is a flat void. A little jungle is a whole world to explore.
That was the sticking point. As it stands, the boys dont play much in the back yard, despite much effort on my part. It just doesnt hold their interest. They prefer going to parks where there are other kids or paved areas where they can ride bikes. In the spring it has some cooler weather weeds that die back in the hotter summer, only to then be replaced with grass burrs - horrible spikey seed that have microscopic reverse spines that hurt just as much being pulled out as they do when you step on them. All those weeds, especially the grass burrs, are a sign the soil is extremely devoid to nutrients. Even if we had money to sod it with buffalo grass, it would require truckloads of mulch and topsoil to create a medium the grass could grow on successfully.

It's one of those weird moments when all signs point to a certain outcome, but you just didnt realise it until it's given a name. I've already made the conclusion I will probably have to take a year off to build up the soil after having a less than stellar year with the summer garden and focus on vital landscaping projects. I've also been trying to kill back bermuda grass in the front of the house, a yard so small and exposed to the hot western sun, mowing is tedious to the point of utterly annoying.

So yes, I'm going to "mulch the yard." In one fell swoop I can: get rid of the useless patches of invasive grass (i dont have sidewalks but i do have devilstrips), build the soil for future garden beds, and create a surface the boys might actually play on. Who knew doing one thing would solve all those problems.

And best part, i can do it on the cheap. I'm lucky enough to live 1.2 miles from a free, constantly refreshed, pile of native and partially composted wood chips and 4 miles from a horse stable where i can get unfinished horse manure. in theory, you should never used uncomposted herbivore manure - unless it's rabbit poop and just the poop as urine in bedding will burn - because the nitrogen overload burn up plants. but if what you want to burn and kill is weeds, then it fits the bill. it's called lasagna mulching. first on is a layer of compost/composted manure, than a compostable weed barrier - newspaper, cardboard, cotton sheets or towels, then you put more layers of mulch and compostable material on top. I also live next door to a business which will give me their cardboard boxes (lower the trash bill). And one of the employees said i could borrow his pickup truck to bring in mulch. The only cost to me will be time, which i have plenty of for at least one more year, and gas.

I put this into into affect yesterday.

This is the south side of my house. Ive got a black berry in the foreground and towards the back, there is a blueberry bush with some heirloom tomato plants. You can see the patches of grass taking over and bare dirt from some spring peas that died back in the heat.

I threw down a car load of raw horse manure over a particularly pernition patch of bermuda grass and then put mulch over that.

Four hours and six or seven trips to the wood chip pile and one trip to the stables - which was only possible due to weather cooled by two days of rain and an overcast morning. Here is the finished product:

The wood chips go to the property line and it feels very pleasant to walk on the soft ground. After this breaks down some more i will probably put a week barrier down to put down more mulch and inundation of leaves that blow down the street in the fall.

Friday, June 18, 2010

holy shite, im posting something

the agrippa and sulla are taking their yearly summer trip to Poppy and Putzie's house for 2 plus weeks and i am Uberhausfrau-ing it up. yesterday i cleaned out and switched around the pantry and baking implement cabinet. i also washed the dining nook's walls as well as some of the cabinets and the outside of the fridge.

today i met a lady who will be my rabbit poop connection and made a composting barrel. now it is mid-afternoon and too friggin' hot to be outside so i need to find something inside to do. i wanted to rehang the bedroom/laundry room door, but i need to head to the hardware store to buy a chisel to imbed the hinge in the door frame.

i made a video about my compost barrel. this is my first video ive made. please excuse the amateurish nature. i tried to keep the hems, haws and ums to a minimum but i dont think i succeeded. a transcript will be up soon.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

yes, i totally need that broken coffee maker

it's that time of year again. the school year is winding down and im itchy for summer to start (or just itching because the humidity, pollen and mold are way up). that means it's college graduation time! the time of year when hordes of late teen/early twenty-somethings with more money than sense realise 9 months worth of college life is not going to fit in the back of mom and dad's sedan, or pick-up truck or the minivan. so it all goes into huge dumpsters.

there are only a few places i allow myself to really splurge. one is the library, the others are thrift town during their super earth day week-long specials and Town Talk, a super cheap deep discount grocer. Truly, it is the grocery store equivalent of diving. my favourite splurge place happens to be private college dumpsters. a good friend and i spent a truly lovely (thank you weather for co-operating) friday night knee-deep "turning your trash gold." among some of the better things we found were:
  • a working floor lamp
  • those really popular polka dot wellies in friend's size (i have been blessed with an unpopular shoe size so i almost always have to pay full retail for my footwear)
  • various appliances that, if they dont work, will be perfect for the little people to take apart
  • a huge CD collection - someone must have done college radio
  • a neoprene laptop cozy and *crosses fingers* a working cordless laptop mouse
  • sheets, blankets, egg crate foam bed pads, etc.
  • other random stuff that kids go batshit over like silly string and mardi gras beads
  • there would have been more stuff if some jerks hadnt gone through our hard earned separated treasure while we were getting the van

so here's my little ode to and why you should go dumpster diving.

It's fun! - really, it is. besides the joy of finding something really valuable - like a 50dollar modular cube shelf unit - or something you really need - like laundry detergent - you do get to eavesdrop on people's lives. ive discovered college kids really like easy mac, capri suns, and throwing away entire garbage bags of clean, folded clothes. they also lose a lot of shoes as evident by the multitude of single shoes found.

This is the cleanest trash I've ever seen - Yes, you will come across a used condom or two, a jock strap and used paper towels, but this isnt lunch room trash. most of it is, like i said, is whatever crap was left in the dorm room during finals week and could not fit in the car. there will be food and cleaning supply murm on your hands but it's easily remedied by baby wipes and hand sanitiser. hell, you could even wear work gloves if you're that squidged out by touching weird things. sturdy shoes and jeans will keep any goo,and glass, from touching your lower body as you wade through the gold mine.

If they didnt want it, why should I? - some colleges have partnered with aid organisations to get students to donate unwanted things before they head to the dumpster, but there will always be those that are too busy or just want to go home and say Ef' it. here's a short list of common items found in the dumpsters and what you can do with them. Of course, any items in decent shape you find can be donated - like towels, clothes, appliances, housewares, shoes, etc.

  • shower caddies - i picked up several of these last year. they usually have crud on them from being used to hold toiletries but a little elbow grease and a trip through the dishwasher and they come out fine. they make great holders for paint and arts supplies, gardening tools, and cleaning supply buckets.
  • notebooks, hand outs and worksheets - rip out the used pages and there will probably still be tons of usable sheets of lined paper. one-sided printouts can be flipped over and used as printer or scrap paper, especially if, like me you print out a lot of recipes, coupons or print-outs for the kiddos.
  • box tops, soup labels and pull tabs - again, because this garbage is fairly clean, it is easy to get into real trash without getting that dirty. many schools or charitable organisations collect box tops, soup labels or the pull tabs from aluminum cans. they can make an otherwise underwhelming bag worthwhile.
  • recyclables in general - recycling cans or shampoo and laundry bottles would be a worthy cause if you reach an already well picked over dumpster.
  • food - the trash in the dumpster is likely to be only a week old and not have moldering foodstuffs. it will probably have single serving chips, granola bars, or other shelf stable things. as long as the package is relatively clean and unopened, it's safe in my book.
  • shoe boxes and magazine - the boxes are good for storage and the magazines are good for crafts if not for their content.
  • textbooks - chances are, if a book is in the dumpster, it have very little resale value. you know, they changed the caption of the picture on page 375 (not like you even got that far)so they need a new addition and that $80 book is now worth a buck o' five. donate it to an adult literacy or prison book program.

Are you sold? I hope so. You've got another week or two before you have to wait another year. Wear solid shoes and pants. Put your hair up and out of your face. Have a backpack with baby wipes and hand sanitizers and large garbage bags. Make sure your keys and other important things are secured - you wanna be looking for good stuff not your keys. wheeled hand carts or wagons are handy if you cant pull the car up next to the dumpster, but they're not necessary.

Now get diving.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Defending Ms. Jackson

This may be a day late and a dollar short, but that's only because it's been rattling around in my head for several weeks. In certain blogs I follow there has been a certain story about a certain woman talking openly and honestly about a certain medical procedure.

And probably the worst commentary - screeds of "dumb murdering bitch should have kept her legs closed" do not count - comes from "with friends like these..." former Planned Parenthood director Mary Ann Sorrentino. She states:
But the right we were fighting so hard for -- which was granted only a
short 37 years ago -- was based on what the Supreme Court called 'privacy.'

We wanted a woman to be able to make personal decisions about their
pregnancies in the privacy of their most intimate circles -- her partner,
family, closest friends, physician and religious advisors, if she so chose. Or,
she could decide as a panel of one and discuss it with no one.

Angie Jackson has the right to choose to take RU-486 and then write
about her cramps, her bleeding, and the eventual expulsion of the products of
conception on the Internet. But many of us who have spent our lives on the front
lines of the abortion debate also have the right to hate the fact that she chose
to do this.
The right to privacy regarding medical conditions and treatment does not mean one has to remain silent or "discuss it with no one," if that is not their choice. I dont think it's particularly helpful or healthy not to discuss something if you think it is important. I've been on the listening end of several things that could be considered, on the lighter side, disgusting/Too Much Information, or more seriously, disturbing, disheartening or uncomfortable. However, I would think the fact those people choose to tell me meant that it was something they needed to say for their own selves AND, just as importantly, they trusted me with their truths. Why is someone who is open and honest about their experiences is worthy of "hate" by seeming allies is repugnant.

I'm reminded of the I had an abortion project and subsequent tee-shirt that was released several years ago. There were conflicting opinions then about the nature of the shirt - was it brave? tacky? aggressive? If anything, it put a real living face and body on the topic. One that would be difficult to ignore or forget. Wasnt that the point?

In an interview Ms. Jackson gave to CNN, she stated she read, one of the more popular abortion story websites, but certainly not the only. I found the abortion page of the experience project - where it appears one can discuss just about any "experience" one has. There's also the forums of and the "abortioninfo" community on Livejournal. But these are all in the relative anonimity of the internet.

Does anonmity make it easier to tell an abortion story? I would think yes. The written word on a blog or forum is a mostly one-way form of communication. It can be done over a longer period of time with plenty of room for editting and re-writes. There's greater control over the dialogue, either by choosing where/to whom one discloses or disabling comments. One can cathartically purge, or give a more rational "review." Both can be very helpful to the experiencer as well as the reader. Again, that's the point. And that was the point of Ms. Jackson's tweeting and video (And hell a tweet is something like 140 characters, the videos are a few minutes long. this damned post has taken me several days to hammer out.) Why Ms. Sorrentino thinks we should "hate" her for here media choice is beyond me.

Another thing stuck in my craw is this idea that one on the "front lines of the...debate" is somehow more worthy than the person actually living the experience. Wasn't and isn't the whole point of the vast history of sharing abortion stories to humanise abortion that is often relegated to abstract theory and hypotheticals. You can debate until the cows come home, but eventually those words turn into actions for, or mostly against, real living women and their families.

As I come to a close of this very long, and long time coming, post, I have to think of other stories I've experienced -- birth stories, conception stories, videos of births, pictures in the various stages of labour or post-delivery, babies nursing. These are acceptable themes for women's experience-sharing. They may make some segments of the audience uncomfortable or squeamish, but I know of no woman who would want to discuss her birthing who would be shunned or hated for it, with the exception of a snark/humour blog.

Pregnancy, for all the privacy surrounding it - the act that got it started was probably private, the medical care a woman receives is a private matter - is very much out in the public. Truly, have a huge belly is its own message shirt that practically screams "I had sex with my partner/had anonomous sperm shot up in me/had stressful fertility treatment." It's an open topic for discussion either to the joy or annoyance of the woman.

In the majority of abortion cases, the pregnancy doesn't enter the public discussion awareness sphere. However, it is completely false to assume no one wants to hear it, no one should hear it and, without a doubt, it should never be spoken of.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

belated friday fill-in

we've all been sick and sulla has been home from school. as always, i have lots of back blogging to do. let's start with the fill-ins

1. Johnny Weir is who??
2. I havent watched any of the 2010 Olympics.
3. And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a not touchin' that one.
4. Eating chocolate is perfectly acceptable if you get an urge.
5. Having sweet dreams means i probably had some wine the night before. Otherwise i dont recall dreaming or have really bizarre ones.
6. What does it take to get my carrot seeds to sprout? or keep my other seedling alive, for that matter.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to watching Sneaker, tomorrow my plans include cost-co and Sunday, I want to finally finish the children's book and go to church!

more to come, hopefully.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Fill-ins

ah. writing prompts.

1. Pickles should not contain blue #4
2. We are playing in the snow at home
3. Snow is awesome and reminds me of home
4. It's fun to watch my kids playing in nature.
5. It's 5:16 PM; that means I'm going to be standing by the stove.
6. In Texas, decent winter wear is hard to find.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to finish reading "the Children's Book", tomorrow my plans include leaving the house and Sunday, I want to go to church!


Saturday, February 6, 2010

im a sucker for bulk

husband and sulla went fishing today so agrippa and i finally went to Costco and got a membership. oh boy. i tend to have horrid buyer's remorse so i had put this off long enough, usually going with a friend who has a membership. like the majority of women in partnered relationships, i do the majority of shopping (there's an actual statistic out there but i cant find it) for the family and, well, the more money you spend, the more likely you are to maybe spend more than you need. anyway. so im in the land of buying way more than you need 'cause, oh my gourd, the cost per unit price is slightly less than you could get at your average grocery store. yes, i do need 152 ziploc bags! shoot, it's a recovering alcoholic going to Oktoberfest "just to hear the music."

So I went in with cash and was very specific about what i was buying. I knew my prices Again, nothing pre-prepared, food basics, etc. I bought raisins, cranberries, pears, lettuce, way more breakfast sausage than i would usually want to buy, but again better per unit price and it had no preservatives. im thinking it should last us for the year. And a soaker hose. Two of them actually. it was a very good price and ive been wanting to get some since last year and they will save money come summer when im watering several times a day.

there was nothing i bought that wasnt purposeful or necessary. i bought pears instead of apples because i didn't like the packaging the apples came in- plastic clamshells i could not recycle vs. plastic bags i could; a large jar of organic almond butter, because agrippa cant have peanut butter at his school for the price of a regular sunflower butter. i walked away from the britta pitcher filters and the electric pencil shapener (both things we do need eventually, but not now) but, still, as i checked out had the "holy crap! i spent how much on food!?" shock and it boiled down to "a fridge full of condiments and no food." i still need to go to the regular grocery store and some stuff i was really hoping they'd have - cocoa powder, non-nestle chocolate chips, regular soymilk - they didnt.

what did i just do? did i start a supersized bulk obsession? will i re-coup my membership fee in actual savings? remorse and guilt are kicking in big time. we use quicken to track our finances and will be looking closely at my spending at this store.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

just a little update

"Spring" gardening in DFW starts in january with another push in early february and then one last big one in march. oy. ive been busy and am soooo hoping to make back the money ive already invested. Time to start picking up more horse poop again, me thinks.

I'm crossing my fingers for potatoes, salad greens, spinach and two types of carrots. Next week i start with broccoli and some other stuff i cant think of off the top of my head. I've got seeds sitting on the top of my fridge that im fretting over like a methed out mother hen. And there's still more i need to do!! AAAAHHH! Not enough hours in the day!!! And when I have them, im puttering on the interweb!!

And now that im talking more food stuff, the google ads are finally getting away from binkie and formula adverts. hurray!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Week two and three

There was not much to report from the last two weeks. Dinner was made, groceries were bought, cookbooks were much perused with a serious desire to buy. We did eat lunch at a local hamburger eatery last week when husband was off, and mac and cheese and ramen noodles were made but they are gone. I can't recall anything particular i made, but have figured out:
  • I need to seriously need to stock up on the basics. Besides running out this last week of just about every staple - ketchup, freezer bags, flour - I was honestly surprised by the variety of food I could make without going grocery shopping several times because of monetary restrictions. Captain Obvious, I know.
  • I need (well, maybe more of a want but still a highly functional want) a food dehydrator. I borrowed two Raw cookbooks from the library and was intrigued by a few recipes. Plus, I would be able to preserve more food. Woot! for homemade fruit leather.
  • a deep freezer would be awesome, if we could figure out a place to put it. But that is dreaming really, really big.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Week one of the new year

I semi-successfully negotiated my home-made resolution. With the exception of a single last minute trip to Chick-fil-a to meet friends and play, I managed to make breakfast, lunch and dinner this first week of the new year. Even the leftovers got eaten and only the barest of scraps were fed to the feral kittehs. The menu items included:

  • turkey breast with collard greens and box potatoes found in the pantry
  • meatloaf, garlic potatoes and broccoli
  • pot roast, leftover garlic potatoes and corn
  • ground turkey helper with corn
  • black bean and polenta casserole
  • Singapore Spicy Noodles with seitan (recipe below)
I'm adding some new recipes sites to my blog-roll so I can get away from expensive meat-intensive weekly meals. If there was one use of the money spent at Chick-fil-a, the restaurant we went to was right next to Central Market, a grocery store I've avoided based on financial necessity and anti-principals. But, I will have to admit, they do have a very nice produce and bulk food selection. I think I can afford it if I go once a month and stock up and not take the kids - Sulla had his eye on a 15dollar bottle of extra virgin olive oil. I don't care how tasty it might be, generic will do us just fine.

Singapore Spicy Noodles with Seitan
I found this recipe with some others I must have collected when I first went vegan and never actually made. The seitan was added to make it a more substantial meal. Meat and taters loving husband gave it a thumbs up. I found it a little bland, but will make it again since husband and the kids liked it so much and will fuddle with the spices. Here it is, as I made it.
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 2 TBSP ketchup
  • 2 1/2 tsp packed brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp fresh chopped cilantro (or like me, you can add as much as you have handy)
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp garlic granules
  • 1/2 tsp dried parsley
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 chopped green onions
  • 3 TBSP chunky peanut butter, natural
  • 8 oz spaghetti, cooked and drained
  • 8oz seitan, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp minced garlic (or more, never can have too much garlic)
In medium saucepan, combine water, ketchup, sugar, cilanto, cornstarch and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; summer uncovered. Meanwhile cook pasta and sautee garlic and seitan. Add green onions and peanut butter to sauce. Mix well. Then toss seitan, sauce and noodles together and serve warm.