Lessons Learned from Local Month

1. Just because you think your homemade tomato sauce should be better than the Walmart brand stuff you normally buy, doesn’t mean your son will agree.

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2. Less really is more. By cutting myself off from all the options at the supermarket, I appreciated what was in season more. I ate peaches (one of my favorite fruits in season) until they were coming out of my ears. I gorged myself on tomatoes almost every day.

Instead of buying the same old stuff at the store, I bought what the farmers were selling, and I ate it. And it was GOOD. I snapped up any berries I could find. I stocked up my freezer for smoothies to come. I ate green beans rather than broccoli, because that’s what they had.

And somehow, with less choices, I enjoyed shopping and eating and cooking more, not less. I expected to be a little put out with the options (and certainly in the winter, I would be), BUT I wasn’t. I could have used some more greens, but other than that, I was more than satisfied.

So satisfied in fact, that I really want to keep eating like this. It isn’t for the sanctimonious (although perfectly legit) reasons that I started with either. It’s because I really enjoyed it.

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3. You help the farmers; they’ll help you. Now, honestly, I’m not eating locally grown food to “help” anyone. I wouldn’t buy from them if they didn’t have a superior product, BUT buying from farmers is a much different relationship than you have with Kroger.

When Kroger has case loads of food that are going to be tossed into the dumpster, they don’t offer them to me (in fact they refuse to give them to you even if you ask them while they are removing the mushrooms from the shelf). When your farmer has giant bags of corn that are going to be wasted, they practically beg you to take them (not that I needed any begging).

When you do your shopping at the farmer’s market, the farmers get to know you. They know that I am the type who would take several hours out of my day to preserve all that corn for the winter. They know that I will cut up and freeze all those green beans that aren’t pretty enough to sell. And it probably doesn’t hurt that I have a really cute son. 🙂

I’ve spent most of my food dollars at the market this year. The farmers regularly cut their prices for me, particularly when I’m buying in bulk. Kroger isn’t going to do this for you.

Walmart isn’t going to go out and pick raspberries that morning and save them just for you that afternoon when you ask for them. Walmart shipped their raspberries from California, and who knows when they were picked and what they sprayed on them.

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4. If you seek, you will find. I found a local source of sugar (maple syrup), local dairy products, local strawberries (in August!), local blueberries, and local eggs; all things that I had foreseen being a problem. I’m still on the hunt for local wheat, but I have a possible lead.

I’m contemplating getting ducks for pest control mainly and eggs. I mentioned this to someone, and she has ducks, so I might be able to buy them from her instead of ordering them in the mail. If you seek, you will find.

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That’s all I can think of at the moment, but if you buy local food, add your lessons to the list in the comments!

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Super Easy, Super Delicious Tomato Soup

So last time I made tomato sauce, I decided it was going to be the last time for the year. I don’t like my spaghetti with sauce, and Caleb keeps complaining about the homemade stuff. Twice a year was enough for me. I was done.

No boil overs this time!

No boil overs this time!

Until I thought of making tomato soup with my sauce. My tomato-basil soup recipe that I use is basically tomatoes + milk + paste + a little flour for thickening. And the herbs of course.

So I took my sauce, added some carrots, some milk, the basil, and BAM, some seriously good tomato-basil soup.

I never liked tomato soups. I thought they were watery, bland, and just tasted bad. But as I grew up, I had some of Caleb’s at Panera, and it was pretty good, not bad. But then I had Bertucci’s tomato-basil soup, and it was just chock full of basil. It was thick and bursting with flavor. So I had to come up with a decent tomato soup recipe.

Super Easy Tomato-Basil Soup

2 quart jars of prepared (preferably homemade) pasta sauce

2-3 carrots, softened in a separate pot

1 tablespoon of maple syrup, honey, or sugar if your sauce isn’t already a little bit sweet

1/2-1 cup of soy milk (if you use cow milk or cream, just wait until you are almost ready to eat to add it)

a couple of tablespoons of fresh basil with as much as you want extra for adding at the end (hint-more is better)

combine all the ingredients (except the milk if you are using dairy) in the blender, then pour the soup into the crockpot or a regular pot and let it simmer until dinner, whether dinner is in five minutes or five hours

If you like a chunky tomato soup, just add a diced tomato or 2 to the pot or a jar of canned, diced tomatoes if it’s winter.

To serve add large quantities of minced basil to the bowls and top with some freshly ground pepper.

So I had to get more tomatoes and make more sauce, just for this recipe. I emailed one of my farmers (yup, I like pretending the farmers at my market are growing just for me) and asked for 2 pecks of sauce tomatoes (and raspberries and some of that GOOD lettuce).

They delivered. Of course, then I saw that one of my other farmers had big old apple boxes full of tomatoes for only $10, so I just had to get one of them… And after I bought a big box of tomatoes, a scant peck of apples (at a reduced price), and some cantaloupe from her, she offered me 40 lbs or so of sweet corn that had been picked a couple of days before that she didn’t want to go to waste.

So yesterday, after tennis, Caleb and I husked corn out in the sunshine. Then I started cutting it off the ears, and I kept cutting it off for a really long time (at least it felt like a really long time). I ended up with about five gallon sized zip lock bags full of corn kernels.

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One of those gallons has been dehydrating in the oven since then. I have an idea to make corn meal out of it. We’ll see.

While I was cutting, Caleb put his curvy board on my desk chair and started spinning around on it, singing to himself.

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Enjoy the harvest!

Hard Work

My last post about having to work for our food by way of cooking it from scratch got me thinking. Well, I had a little help from Joel Salatin and his latest book, Folks, This Ain’t Normal.

If you’ve never heard of him or read his books, he is a farmer in Virginia. He raises grassfed cows, woodland pork, chickens, rabbits, etc. He calls himself an ecological farmer, because for him, it’s not enough to just refrain from using chemicals, etc, he also wants to be improving the land, and operating in harmony with the natural cycles.

Anyway, in his book, he talks about how it’s not historically normal to get all our food, fuel, and transportation with no effort expended on our part. You used to have to work (aka use your muscles and your brain) to get things to eat.

I’m also reading the Little House books to Caleb. We started with Farmer Boy and read it three times back to back, and now we’re on our second time through The Little House in the Big Woods.

Those books really make you realize how little we actually do now. They made, grew, or killed almost everything they used or ate. What are we doing with all our time that we can’t even find the time to cook 3 square meals a day??

One of my primary goals when I moved into my own home was to grow a substantial amount of my own food. And for the most part, all I’ve done is TALK about growing my own food.

Most of my food still comes from other people. And I am wondering how much of that is due to the lack of land, and how much of it is due to my own laziness.

So in the interest of finding hard work to do, I decide to undertake the age-old chore of farmers: clearing land.

I’ve been lusting after this nicely mowed empty lot across the street to make into a mini farm, and I realized that I have way more land available to me than I am taking advantage of. It just happens to be choked with weeds and wild grapevines.

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Do you see the overgrowth uphill of the second box? Well, I took half the day yesterday and gave that box a little breathing room.

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It was hard work, and by the picture, doesn’t look that impressive, but look at the mound of grapevines.

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There was an equally large pile of sticks too, that we burned for our Sunday night fire.

This hill is going to be my fall and winter project. By spring, I want it completely cleared so I can plant more fruit trees, and grow more tomatoes and celery and squash and all the delicious things that I like to eat.

From Scratch

A commitment to cooking from scratch is more than just controlling the quality of your food. It’s also about making it harder to eat.

Historically, it has often been hard for people to get enough to eat. Thankfully that is no longer the case for most of us, but it also means that we can eat ourselves into various diseases of dietary excess.

But cooking from scratch not only helps you weed out the chemicals, it also helps weed out the junk food, even if just because much of our favorite unhealthy things are a huge BOTHER.

Think about it: If you had to peel, cut up, soak, parboil, dry, and fry your own french fries, how often would you make french fries? If you had to slice and fry your own potatoes, how often would you have chips? And if you had to visit the chemist for that orange powder they put on Doritos, do you think you would actually eat the nasty stuff?

In Michael Pollan’s new book Cooked, he has a great quote from a guy that does food related surveys (to sell to food processors). Pollan asks him how people can get out of this food related mess we are in. He says (not believing that people will actually do this)…

“You want to make people eat less? Easy. Cook it yourself. Eat anything you want, just cook it yourself.”

I would quibble slightly. I think we still need to be careful of the copious amounts of super cheap refined sugar, flour, and fats that we have available. So maybe not eating anything that you didn’t refine yourself might be another rule of thumb. And after all, most of us don’t put in the physical labor to grow the foods that we eat either, so you need to keep that in mind.

But over all, that would be a good place to start when you want to improve your diet. Frankly the reason a smoothie is my go-to breakfast is because it’s so easy (plus it doesn’t sit around in my stomach all morning weighing me down).

If you make a pact with yourself that you won’t eat anything that you haven’t cooked or prepared yourself, it refines your diet without really even giving anything up.

I decided, when I bought my hand crank ice cream machine, that I wouldn’t eat ice cream at home unless I made it myself. And the work and the expense of buying the high quality ingredients (milk and cream from grass-fed local cows, maple syrup for sweetening) provide enough deterrent to eating ice cream that we only make (and subsequently only eat) ice cream for special occasions, mostly when we have house guests.

Keep special occasion foods for special occasions when you have the time to prepare them yourself. And time to appreciate them fully.

Local Food Month

My local food month was a smashing success. I mean, it was August, how could it not be?? There was a little hitch in the raw milk department–the farm was getting hassled by the Food Police, but all in all it went better than I had hoped. Of course, it was August. 

Our local markets are definitely light on the greens. Once I found kale and once or twice I got lettuce, but it wasn’t enough for my appetite for greens. My own kale has been a reluctant grower, and halfway through the month the groundhog mowed down my collards. &^%*^! So I had swiss chard, but that was it.

Aside from greens and milk, between our town’s market and the next town over’s market, I was well supplied with a variety of fruits and vegetables. I ate peaches til they were coming out of my ears, and stocked up the freezer as much as I could afford to. 

The downside of trying to eat local food all year is putting the bulk of your food money down in the summer, which is a slow time for toy sales. Some weeks I come to the market with $20 and do the best I can, which is usually enough for the week. But when I have some extra dough, I like to buy as much as I can afford to. 

I made tomato sauce twice, and I’ve made applesauce several times already. I’ve frozen lots of fruit for smoothies and green beans for stir fries and soups. The nice thing about frequenting the farmer’s markets as a real customer (and not as Joel Salatin says in his book This Ain’t Normal as a customer that only buys what can fit into the hand not holding Fifi leash in it as most people do) is that the farmers know you.

When you buy out a farmer’s strawberries every time they bring them to market, they know who you are. They give you discounts. They give you discards. They tell you how this crop or that is doing. You may not know each other’s first names, but you have a relationship. You aren’t picking through their boxes of berries demanding every one be flawless. You aren’t looking over everything carefully and buying one large perfect red tomato. 

I would love to get to the point financially that I can plop down X amount of dollars and buy out somebody’s stock of tomatoes because I’m going to make sauce this week. Or freeze all the strawberries I need for the year in June. But for now, I just buy a little extra each week.

A peck box of potatoes here.

A half bushel of tomatoes there.

All your strawberries, well, just about any time I can get them. 

Of course, ideally, I’d like to grow most of it myself, but that may be further off than I would like to admit given the size of my property. So for now, I’ll keep buying from my farmers. 

 

Go With the Flow

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If there is one thing I think parents should do (I mean, besides all the other things I think we should do), it’s to RELAX.

I see so many parents around that are  just uptight. Rigid is the word that comes to mind. It’s almost strange to see a mother or father relaxed and enjoying their children’s company when they are out and about. Maybe (hopefully) they are more relaxed at home, and it’s just public situations that put them on edge. But that’s not fair to the kids. 

I get it. It’s easy to get hassled and hurried and irritated with these small people that do such strange things. It’s easy to get in a bad mood when the traffic is bad, and the grocery bag broke, and you haven’t gotten enough sleep in days because it’s that busy time of year for work.

It’s hard to step back and look at the situation from an outsiders perspective. It’s hard to realize that maybe we are being unfair. It’s hard to step out of the easy release of grouchiness. 

Transitions seem to be especially hard for us parents. I notice it often at the park or the lake. A family is having a lovely day outside, and then it’s time to go, and the parents get snappish, and many times downright nasty. 

Transitions when you are in a hurry are even worse. In the past, when I was always rushing to the post office at 4:45, I would start yelling and rushing and panicking, and more than once, we missed going, because I was so rude to Caleb, he burst into tears and refused to move. 

When you are preoccupied with yourself and your problems, the most innocent things your kids do will spark a judgment and some harsh words. It’s so easy to snap at them when we are worried about how we are going to pay the electric bill and the Etsy bill in the next week, when August was $500 short of what it usually is.

If you don’t think parents are too uptight, go to the grocery store or the park or anywhere that parents go with their little ones, and just listen. Or better yet, listen to yourself. How would I have felt if someone just said that to me? Why did I have to restrict Caleb’s behavior in this situation? There was no need for that.

Clue: if you hear the words, “you are always…” “you never…” or “every time…” use that as an opportunity to bite your tongue

If it is necessary to correct or inform our kids of something, it can be done in a respectful way, in a quiet voice. Quiet doesn’t mean pushover. You don’t have to talk in a namby-pamby voice “asking” your kids to behave. Be direct, address the problem, but be kind!

If you are seeing problems everywhere, you are going to make yourself crazy with all the correcting and stifle your kids freedom. So relax. Examine what is making you uncomfortable about your children’s behavior. Is it really as big a deal as you are making it into? 

As the parent, you set the mood for your family. And your mood can make or break an outing. Do you really want your kids walking on eggshells around you so they don’t annoy you? 

The problem with giving in to our bad moods is that it can become a habit–especially if your parents were the yelling kind. You can get stuck in a rut of bad-mood parenting that you never intended to fall into. Don’t you know parents that always seem to be in a bad mood toward their kids?

It reminds me of my fourth grade teacher. She had a headache that whole year, and it was always our fault. (My other fourth grade teacher used to yell at us and send us all into the coat room to get us out of her hair. It was a bad year for fourth grade teachers.) 

This post over at Tynan’s blog discusses how to broaden our perceptions when we are in a bad mood.

Focus on the good things about the situation.

Broaden your view of the day when your child is bothering you.

Broaden your view of childhood  when your child wants to run and climb and explore, and that makes you cringe with fear. 

Broaden your view of your child’s capabilities when they want to do something that you think is too hard. 

And just have more fun. You don’t always have to be so serious.

Some of my best memories of driving home from school include us being crazy as loons in the car, and my mom pulling over, because she said she couldn’t concentrate on driving when we were being this crazy. The best times were when she pulled over and gave in to our crazy release of tension and laughed so hard she cried. (I was in high school, and my brothers were in various stages of upper elementary and middle school during the times I remember, just to give you some perspective. Kids don’t always have to act their ages (or even act like humans— sometimes being wild animals is much more fun.) 

Relax. Go with the flow. 

 

You like me, you’ll love these.

This is a new blog from one of my readers here. It’s called Sanity Hacks. I’m not sure exactly what a “hack” is, but the word pops up on the internet a lot. Anyway, she has a lovely post about not underestimating our children (and by inference, not running our mouth when we’d be better off watching). A good reminder.

http://sanityhacks.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/picking-up-sticks/

Leo, from Zen Habits, the first blog that I started following, has started a new blog called Unschoolery. And I’m very excited about it. He’s had big kids and little kids unschooling, and he’s a wonderful writer and motivator.

http://unschoolery.com/

This blog, Clean, is a new one I’ve been following. She lives on a farm (non-commercial) and unschools her kids and makes stuff. It’s my kind of blog. This is a recent back to school post for unschoolers. Because, even though, I thought school was boring, the start of the school year was always exciting.

http://lusaorganics.typepad.com/clean/2013/09/back-to-unschool.html

Enjoy!

Fellowship

Fellowship

It’s the biggest thing I miss about living with my parents and my brothers.

Sure a lot of the time, we’re going our own separate ways, but just by virtue of being in the same house, fellowship happened. The same thing happens in college, which is one of the greatest things about college- all the down time, when you aren’t going to class.

It’s also one of the things that I liked about church as a kid. Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t enjoy church proper- the sitting still, the uncomfortable shoes, the being quiet. But my dad played the piano for the choir, so there were many times when we would be at the church building, but not actually in church or Sunday school or AWANA.

There were always other kids around- pastor’s kids, other choir members’ kids, and we would wander around and play games. We would stack the chairs after the service (the gym doubled as the sanctuary) and gather up the hymnals. We would go flying across the floor on the dollies.

Just being “stuck” there with some other people after hours made magic happen. The fellowship. The real deal, not the fake fellowship that churches like to throw around when they are talking about why you should come to Sunday services.

Frankly if you want the real deal-skip the service, and help clean up afterwards.

Well, now I live alone with one son, and it’s a big difference from how I grew up- one of six kids. I enjoy some things about it, but sometimes, it’s just boring.

Well, last week, we made some magic happen at my friends’ house. They were going to be canning tomato sauce, and invited me to lend a hand, because I wanted to demystify the intimidating process of pressure canning.

I figured it would be a couple hours, and we’d head home in the afternoon, hit the farmer’s market, and grab our usual Wednesday pizza for dinner.

Ha. Nope, we were there for about nine hours.

Two or three hours would have been fun, but in nine hours, you have real fellowship: washing, cutting out the nasty parts, and stirring and stirring and stirring.

It reminded me of when I did the dishes as a child. I used to take FOREVER to do them. It was our least favorite job, but somehow, some nights, maybe a brother would hang out in the kitchen with me and hilarity would ensue, or maybe my mom would be singing silly songs, and the least of jobs got elevated to supreme status.

To be honest, Caleb and I took a break from the kitchen during those nine hours. On their farm, they have these big old apple trees, which they graciously allowed us to pick from.

And we spent time in the rain, fellowshipping with nature.

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Caleb is a climber, but good climbing trees are hard to find.

Especially that have good things to eat hanging from their branches.

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He kept saying, “this is SO fun. This is sooo fun!”

At home the next day (after I got my work done), I made applesauce and apple juice (in the food processor) and the next day, I made apple pie.

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I’ve been listening to Michael Pollan’s book Cooked while I’ve been working the past couple of days, and one of the prevailing themes is that cooking (and eating the cooked fair) brings people together. Fellowship.

Just Do It

I like to read things. I’ve had my nose stuck in a book since I learned how to read. I love reading blogs. I love to research an idea that I’m interested in.

The problem is, I research and read and think about it, but most things require something more.

To actually DO it.

When I started making toys, I read (and watched) everything I could get my hands on about the subject, but I never made any progress (and never really understood anything), until I actually bought a saw and starting cutting up wood.

I read breastfeeding books before I had my son, and while they were sort of helpful, nothing can really prepare you for nursing, and nothing can teach you like actually doing it. And my son was very intent on teaching me (allll day and alllll night).

For some reason though, the lesson hasn’t sunk in. I read organizing and housekeeping books (mostly borrowed from my mother’s library), and I subscribe to Flylady emails, but for some reason, I didn’t realize that the books wouldn’t clean my house for me.

When I was a kid, one of my younger brothers and I would peruse the Lego catalogue and make elaborate budgets for our $3 allowances. On paper, I’d be able to buy the Lego western town by July. But making a budget isn’t the same as sticking to that budget.

Now I make to-do lists: for work, for the house, for the garden. I make schedules for household work. I read organizing blogs. I read homemaking blogs (which are so dominated by the uber-religious, it’s ridiculous).

Finally I realized what I was looking for:

A trick. A magic trick that would make my house clean itself. That would make my shoes put themselves away and my dishes wash themselves after I cooked and ate. iheartorganizing must be able to tell me their secret for having perfectly clean houses all the time.

And then I realized:

There is no secret.

No clever plan that will allow you to watch television while your muffin pans wash themselves.

You just gotta do it.

Often.

Every time it needs doing.

There’s no trick for quitting  a television binge, except to close your computer and go to bed.

There’s no trick for parenting. No way to circumvent listening, being present, even arguing on occasion and disagreeing.

You just gotta do it.

And the more you do it. The better you get at it. The better you are at it, the more you want to keep doing it, and the more results you’ll see.

Stop reading about being a parent. Stop thinking about cleaning your house. Stop doing nothing but researching that new business idea.

Just DO it.

Hi, my name is Cheryl…

Hi, my name is Cheryl….

…and I’m a television addict.

I can go for weeks at a time without watching anything, but once I start. I just can’t stop.

We don’t have a TV proper. We watch things on my computer. I find TV annoying-the commercials, the fact that there is never anything good on any of the 200 channels. But the internet.

Ahhh, the internet.

It has ever television series and movie ever made (practically). The good, the bad, the oh-so-addicting.

And when I find a series I like…

I binge.

I watch episode after episode, but I just GOTTA find out what happens next.

I could blame the internet, but truthfully, before I knew how to navigate the world of streaming video (and perhaps before there was such a world), I was binging on DVD’s.

Alias was my first. A friend loaned me the first season, and I was hooked.

Intellectually I recognized that Alias wasn’t Grade A television, but emotionally I was invested in Sydney’s struggle to take down a super secret rogue intelligence agency posing as the CIA (even to say it sounds melodramatic), and of course, whether she and Vaughn would ever get together.

And then there was Six Feet Under and Oz, and they really were good shows. And I had 10+ seasons worth of catching up to do. But back then, I had to either buy the season, borrow it from a brother or friend, or borrow it from Blockbuster. I couldn’t actually watch all of them at once.

Then along came streaming video.

When I sampled Firefly on my cousin’s recommendation, I watch the whole season in one night (and morning).

And when I re-discovered Alias, when I was four seasons behind, I spent every spare minute catching up.

Recently after a summer of watching next to nothing, I clicked on Suits: Season One. With my Amazon prime membership, it was free to watch. And I fell in love. It was like another Mad Men. The witty repartee, Harvey’s charming smile, the clever storylines, the excellent balance between the comedic and dramatic elements  had me up all night.

Literally.

All night.

Staying up late for TV is bad. Not going to bed at all is worse, but worst of all is when I can’t restrict myself to watching after Caleb goes to bed.

I start sneaking away throughout the day to catch a glimpse here and there. I let him watch videos all day, so I can feed my addiction.

Meals are an after thought, work takes a back seat, my mind, instead of being in the present, is occupied with Harvey and Mike and Jessica (and Donna!). I get emotionally invested in people and lives that aren’t even REAL.

I know this.

But I tell myself I can handle it. I’ll just watch one episode. Everybody watches television after all, and I don’t want to deprive myself. After all, it feels so good! It makes me happy!

So I watch one episode. And one more.

And one more.

And the next thing I know, it is 3 a.m., I have a splitting headache, and I am hating myself. Or maybe it’s 8 p.m. and I’ve been ignoring Caleb for hours, dinner was never made, and still, all I want to do is find out whether Harvey will forgive Mike for caving to Jessica’s blackmail.

I can’t watch just one episode anymore than an alcoholic can only have one drink.

When I finally look up from the computer after the last episode of the show (to date), the kitchen is trashed, I’m behind on my work, and I’m tired. And all I can think of is an alcoholic after a binge and blackout saying, I’ll never do that again!

I don’t want to spend my life watching other people pretend to live. The life I have chosen does not have room for 10 years of watching television. Attachment parenting, gardening, cooking from scratch, running my own business, and enjoying all of it requires attention and participation.