Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
Some of the larger tomatoes are beginning to colour up, the two watermelons are still smaller than a tennis ball. The crookneck squash plants each have one male blossom. I'm afraid those guys will not be going to the genetic prom.
Well, still a good six weeks of summer left, so we will hold our breath and hope for the best.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Thousands of people have been forced to evacuate literally at a moment's notice when a fire exploded out of control in a West Kelowna neighbourhood. Just when the fire crews get one fire beat down another flares out of control. Today's worry is a 10,000 acre fire on Terrace Mountain north of Kelowna. More evacuations. [Photo by BC Forestry]
It's been only moderately smoky here before but this morning the smoke moved in so thickly that the solar-powered lights came on, and we had to turn on the lights inside.
Within the last few minutes a thunderstorm moved in. Lots of thunder and lightening. We lost power briefly and in the past couple of minutes all that thunder and lightening have been accompanied by a downpour. YAY We need rain desperately. The forests are dry as tinder, full of dead trees from the pine beetle, and flammable. All it needs is a lightening strike, a spark from a backfiring engine, or most stupidly of all, a smoldering cigarette butt tossed out a car window.
But all this has gotten us to thinking. There are many reasons why people are called to evacuate. Fire comes to mind in this area, with its dry pine forests, but a tanker containing chemicals could overturn on the road, we could have a flood (we do live on the beach after all). It would be smart to be prepared to run at very short notice.
My friend Shona lives in the Australian bush country where fire is an ever present danger. She sent me a letter outlining how she prepares each spring, just in case they are called on to evacuate.
She writes, "Pre fire season I get together a bag containing insurance documents for boat, cars, house and contents, life insurance, copies of recent bank statements and receipts of major purchases that are still under warranty, also copies of our prescriptions.
[I'd add bank cards, credit cards, ID and personal documents like birth, citizenship and marriage certificates. Passports, copies of professional licenses or diplomas and your medical files, as well as your pet's health and vaccination records. AND the laptop, which for me holds my genealogy files and contacts.]
Anything that is really important can go into a second bag ie; photo albums and items of sentimental value etc.
I also like to have a bag made up with a couple of changes of clothing for each of us, plus travel-sized toiletries, toothbrushes and towels. If you wear contacts pack and extra case and solutions. It is a good idea to keep this bag in the car so you don't have to bother with it at the last minute.
I figure if I have all of these things plus our mobile phone and a battery operated radio we will be OK. Most things are replaceable, documents are not, so they have to take priority. Don't forget your glasses and/or contact lenses, if you wear them."
Take your medications with you. You don't know how long you'll be away. I'd add the potassium meter for us and the blood glucose meter for the cat, plus enough of his special diabetic cat food to last several days. We keep the cat carrier by the door, along with his harness and leash. Pop a clean towel in for his comfort and he'd be ready to go, or at least prepared.
While I've been writing this the rain has stopped. We need more but guess we'll settle for what little we got. Five minutes of pouring rain is better than no rain at all. The rain cleared the air of most of the smoke, so it should be more comfortable outside.
Our thoughts are with the fire fighters who are out there in this heat, giving it their all. About the only thing we can do is to make sure we don't make more work for them by being ill-prepared in case of an emergency.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
But it's hard to complain about heat in July. July is supposed to be hot. And though I thought it would never happen, I have okra. Nothing like this okra, but then the package said "dwarf". It did not say "miniscule", which is what mine is. The plants are three inches tall, the okra pods 1/2" long and only about twice the diameter of a pencil lead. These would be hard to find in a pot of gumbo.
On the other hand I will be picking tomatoes in a couple of days as I have two "grape" type tomatoes which are well on their way to ripeness. The other tomatoes plants are covered in tomatoes, but all are weeks away from ripening.
More zucchini picked, no yellow crookneck squash yet, but hopefully they will start blooming soon. The heat has encouraged them quite a bit. They look very perky at 95 degrees, much more so than yours truly.
The melon vine is crawling all over everything else, despite my efforts to keep it on its own trellis. So far no more than a few pea-sized melons because some critter keeps eating them as quickly as they form. Disappointed!
The burgundy bush beans are loaded with slender beanlets, which in three or four days will become part of our dinner. The Chinese Painted Lady beans have a beautiful red and white flower but so far have not produced a single bean, despite being in a prime sunny spot. Next year they will be intermingled with the scarlet runner beans at the front, where I plant them for the beauty of the vines and the orange-red flowers and don't really expect beans. Scarlet runner beans are coarse and not very good eating anyway. But they are vigorous climbers and make a pretty picture overhead. Here you see how the sacrlet runner vines have climbed right up under the clear roof of the deck.
The joys of July are rampant, and mostly green. The biggest task in the garden is watering, and you begin to see the fruits of your labours. Soon the biggest task will be harvesting. That's the day we all anticipate.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
The reason, cherry season! After eating about 10 pounds of fresh cherries in the last few days I have settled in to get as many as possible in the dehydrator. I bought a half-bushel box (about 30 pounds worth) late yesterday and got up this morning ready to get at them. I put on an old shirt because I know how excellent a dye cherry juice is.
I borrowed four extra trays from my neighbour, so I can dry eight trays at a time. I have been busy neglecting almost everything else and have spent most of the morning quartering and pitting cherries. Tony timed me at 15 seconds a cherry. I put on Bach's Brandenburg Concertos and dove in.
Six trays are full and on the go, I will fill the last two shortly. Because I find holding my arms up to work on the kitchen table almost impossible I set up a "station" beside my rocker. I covered the side table next to my chair with a black garbage bag, covered the ottoman with a black garbage bag. The big bowl of cherries goes on the table, the pail for prepared cherries is on the ottoman in front of me, the pit pail is in my lap, with an old and disreputable dishtowel in my lap to catch the drips. I eat about every sixth cherry just to make sure they haven't spoiled in the last minute.
I am purple from toes to forehead. My fingernails are a disgrace. I'll soak my hands in peroxide after I'm done, and hope I don't look like I've never washed since the day I was born more than a couple of weeks. But even if I am as purple as an eggplant it is worth it. Cherries rehydrate so well they are almost as good as fresh ones, and that is a cheering thought in February when it feels like the sun is never going to return.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
"And here, totally unaware of the presence of our camera, we see the rare and magnificent Salvadorus Cattaromppuss at rest on the sun-dappled floor of a suburban deck.
Just look at the majestic spread of whiskers, the relaxed but ever alert ears, the expression of utter bliss. Having dined on his breakfast of Chicken Florentine and eaten the grass spears brought to him by his industrious monkey-slave, there is nothing more to do except doze until the next mealtime.
He may awaken briefly to sharpen his razor-like talons on a tree trunk (or an upholstered ottoman) or to dash up and down his ramp, or perhaps stalk any moth so foolish as to fly into his territory, but these are mere diversions from the serious work of sleeping.
And thus we will creep away and leave the Salvadorus Cattaromppuss to his own devices, and move on to more active species, like the mushrooms in the nearby flower bed."
Scene fades but as this is DBS (Deb's Blog Service) there will be no commercial for youth-restoring creams, magic cleaners or breakfast cereal. Just a gentle zzzzzz as we all nod off on this very lazy Sunday summer afternoon.
Thursday, July 09, 2009
But first; from the garden today, a 3/4 pound zuchinni, the first of the season. It's very heavy for its size, and it will be delicious as part of our dinner. (That brown spot is a penny, so you can see the size of the green torpedo) And cheap! Money spent on garden this spring $342.00 - harvest so far - three meals of bok choi, half a dozen incredibly pithy radishes and a 12 ounce zuchinni. Ah.... frugal living at its best! ;)
But back to our Audit - In the first of the two posts I'm covering Rhonda talks about the things we can (or could) make at home and thus be more self-sufficient. I have to admit that beyond gardening, composting and mixing up my own garden sprays, and drying quantities of fruit and veggies I am not much of a manufacturer. I do bake bread, but not all the time. I do not sew and freecycled my brand-new and never used sewing machine to a young family who needed one.
I do not know how to knit, though I am going to try to learn, if only to make dishcloths and a funny little knitted booties Tony likes as slippers in the winter. I keep working on learning to do more things. I think it would be fun to make my own soap, but will probably never get around to doing it.
But the last post in the series speaks to me, as she talks about the satisfaction of being at home.
I like this place very much, but if you've read this blog for years and years you'll know I loved the wee trailer we had before. It was small and inconvenient in many ways, but before we moved in we completely redid it and made it "ours". And when I saw "we" I mean 80% of the work was done by our long-suffering son, Ian, with a weekend of hard labour by Zak.
I look at the wood paneled walls here, and the dark wood cabinetry and dream of painting and painting and painting. I know what I like. Crisp, icy white, a glowing apricot and cobalt blue. I'm thinking on it. I just read a FlyLady testimonial from a woman who painted the entire outside of her house in 15 minute sessions. It took her two years, but it's all done now. Gives me ideas, but maybe not sane ones.
But in truth I am very content. I love the size of this place, and the efficiency of it. I love the garden, the birds that splash in my bath and my nice new deck. And that's what Home should be, a place you love.
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
This is an area I have not yet tackled, though I have now bought all the supplies, except for soap flakes. I could buy a package of Sunshine Brand bar soap, and grate as I needed but that is a lot of work for my wonky arms, so I think I'll look for some Ivory flakes. I have always loved the smell of Ivory soap. That and chlorine bleach were my mother's stand-by cleaners. The chlorine bleach is now an environmental no-no, but at least the Ivory stays!
Rhonda has recipes for all the green cleaners on her blog, so I won't repeat them. I do plan to go green with my cleaning products as soon as the few household cleaners I have in store run out. Maybe sooner, as I could save the "un-green" products for those few times that green simply isn't muscular enough to do a job.
As for the no-spending week, this has been a sort of free-fall spending week for us so far. Medications $300.00, groceries $180.00 - The fridge and freezer were empty empty. It echoed in there! But I'd last stocked up on chicken and steak when Zak arrived at the end of April, so you can't say I'm profligate. It just so happened that my need to stock up and Rhonda's "No Spending Week" coincided.
I have to admit my jaw dropped when I was looking at one of Rhonda's links about stocking your pantry and shopping in a frugal way. The writer said blithely, "When diced tomatoes are 19 cents a can...." WHAT? Nineteen cents a can? Tomatoes are routinely $1.29 a can here. I stock up in the fall when they go on sale for 89 cents, and feel extremely virtuous. I still have half a dozen 89 cent cans of tomatoes left in my cupboard, so I feel really good about that. Food in Canada is very expensive. I know from talking to my brother in Texas that he pays half as much for milk, 1/4 as much for eggs, etc. It's crazy. This is an excellent country to grow produce, but there's very little grown locally. We need a few of those one and two acre farms to supply local needs.
We do get bargain prices briefly in the fall, and I am thinking of ways to preserve and store away that bounty. I think when potatoes are $10.00 for a 50 lb bag this fall I will buy a bag, cook them about 3/4s done, shred them and dry them. In this form they rehydrate overnight, or while cooking if you put them in the crockpot with a stew. You can use them for hash browns, which we like, or in any other way you'd use shredded potatoes. I keep frozen hash browns in the freezer but while a bag was 69 cents a few years ago, they are now $2.98!
Anyway, speaking of cleaning, my trip to town yesterday means that I have bags and food to put away, dishes to put in the dishwasher, floors to clean, laundry to do, all the things that accumulate when you've neglected them for a day. So off I go to do all those things, and more.
Monday, July 06, 2009
Continuing with our Home Audit Rhonda Jean talks about electricity and water usage.
We've talked about this in a previous post called Riot for Austerity.
This is an area where we have paid considerable attention, because it's possible to be quite sparing in your usage of water and power in an RV. We have driven less than 1000 km (620 miles) in the past year, and thus used 3% of the average amount of fuel for transport. Our electricity usage was 19% of average. Heating and cooking fuel use was 10% of average. Water was about 15% of average. The fact that the toilet uses only a half-cup of water per flush, the washer uses only nine gallons per load, and we shower Japanese-style helps a lot.
And since that post, when my calculations showed that too much was going into the garbage, we've made a determined effort to recycle, we have a compost bin, we always use our cloth grocery and produce bags, and avoid overly-packaged goods as much as is possible.
I haven't gotten into the thrift-store shopping much, although I know buying second-hand is an excellent way to reduce your environmental impact. I just haven't had the extra energy to do it. The thrift shop here is inconvenient in that you have to park almost a block away and carry your purchases back to your vehicle. This is nothing for someone who is strong, but can be the killing blow to my day. But all in good time.
Little by little we do what we can to lighten our footprint, keep ourselves independent and live happy and fulfilled lives.
Sunday, July 05, 2009
This is a area where we have actually done well. I still have three of the six-pack of paper towels I bought last summer. We use cloth napkins at meals, cloth rags, a sponge, and a lamb's wool duster for cleaning, a mop with a washable cloth pad and even cloth wipes in the bathroom. No more toilet paper. We keep toilet paper on hand primarily for guests. Tony uses cloth hankies but I rarely need a tissue so I use toilet paper to blow my nose. We bought a 12 pack of TP six months ago and I think we've used half of it.
We carry shopping bags and woven cloth produce bags which have a drawstring top, so we don't use plastic grocery and produce bags. The only place we accept plastic bags is when we go to WalMart, because we need some plastic bags to bag our garbage. Since composting and recycling we end up filling around two small shopping bags a week with garbage for the dumpster.
It goes without saying that we use no paper/plastic plates/cups etc. I wash and reuse "zipper" sandwich and freezer bags until they are really beyond hope. Hardly ever use foil, don't own a roll of waxed paper. I save usable glass and plastic jars and containers. Some of the plastic containers go to a non-profit which fills them with cleaning supplies and ships them to hospitals and clinics in Africa. I pack bulk and dried food in others. My bulk-bought staples of sugar, oatmeal, etc. are packed in large recycled peanut butter jars.
I'm not sure what else there is to eliminate. I am unhappy about the number of food products which come wrapped in plastic, but I don't buy as many of those as I did, and some of them get reused, refilled at the bulk store because of the handy "zipper" tops.
Hooray! Finally an area I can shine in - and it's in the "throwaways". LOL
Saturday, July 04, 2009
Rhonda asks that we "take stock" of what we grow. Well, we have a relatively short growing season, and vegetables that require really hot weather, like the okra I planted, apparently are a waste of time. You can see here that the okra I planted has never done a darn thing besides come up and sit. It's never developed leaves or grown at all. I have finally decided to pull it and replant the entire area with kale.
So one has to plant what will actually produce. Tomatoes do well here, though it will be weeks before we have any ripe ones. The zucchini squash is probably three or four days away from providing two squashes. The beans are blooming, or are getting ready to bloom, depending on the type. Let's just say while Rhonda can walk her garden and find enough to feed them, we'd be losing a lot of weight in a hurry if we had to depend on ours.
But as we do our "audit" we take into consideration what we must do differently next season:
1) This fall I will set up an insulated "grow space" for starting seeds on the storage unit at the end of the deck. I want to build a frame with clear Coroplast panels for the walls and doors. Over the outside I want to be able to attach removable sheets of rigid pink styrofoam insulation to provide protection from cold nights (and days for that matter). I want two long shelves each topped by a row of grow lights which can be adjusted for height.
2) The 4 x 4 bed in back will be amended with a large bag of sheep's manure and a lot of compost. The topsoil in it now is too heavy.
3) I am not sure about the performance of my SIPs. While the tomatoes planted in them are doing well, they are not doing as well as I'd hoped. Ron's up the way are much more vibrant than mine, and they are just in large containers. This may be because his get morning sun and are protected from the hottest sun of the day, but tomatoes like heat and sun, so I am not sure. The two containers that I sat in larger containers and water from the bottom are doing better than the ones in SIPs. So next year I may set containers inside the SIPs.
4) I will move my zucchini container to a sunnier spot next year. Right now it gets only about three hours of sun a day, and I'm surprised it's doing anything.
5) I will grow potatoes. They used to be "cheap", now a four pound bag of potatoes can be $6.00 - 7.00. The small red potatoes we like cost $4.99 for a two pound bag! I found a you tube video showing how to grow potatoes in a large plastic garbage can, so next year I try this method and will add taters to my list.
6) I will put long planter boxes in the vertical planter in the front and plant salad greens, strawberries, and other plants which tolerate some shade there. One spectacular (i.e. purchased pre-planted) hanging basket for the front will be all the container flowers I mess with.
Of course Rhonda and my situations are different. She has a large area to garden in, a year-round gardening season, room for chickens, room for fruit trees and berry bushes. I have a four-month growing season, a dozen containers and a four foot by four foot raised bed. And while I know I can do better, I will never be able to produce enough food to keep our table supplied. So I buy most of our vegetables, and all the fruit we eat. We are in a food-growing region, and the "first fruits" are just now beginning to trickle into the produce stands. In the coming weeks the trickle will become a flood and I will be buying fruit and vegetables like mad, not only to eat, but to put away for the winter. I primarily dry food, because I haven't the room to store a lot of canned goods, and we don't have a freezer, other than the small one in the fridge.
In the Kitchen
My "pantry" (alas) is my kitchen cupboard. Not a lot of room to store food. But I took stock and we're not in too bad shape. We have lots of the staples we use all the time, like tomatoes, beans of all kinds, canned milk and creamed corn, which is Tony's quick-fix when he needs carbs in a hurry to lower his potassium. Plenty of rice, oatmeal, rice noodles, and spices. I now know what to add to my shopping list, and what to take off. It's not unheard of for me to buy something I already have in the cupboard, which is not a disaster, but can be an annoyance when it's something that takes forever to use.
Rhonda says: "Things to think about:"
Menu planning I regularly fall off the wagon on this one. Menus are a challenge since Tony has gone onto a gluten-free diet.
If you're growing food, how do you intend to use your excess? We may have more tomatoes than we can eat. After I have shared them with neighbours I will dry any excess. Extra zucchini will be dried into zucchini chips for snacking on in winter. I can't see having an excess of anything else. I did plant soup peas, but so far they have not even bloomed, so I may not even have to worry about drying those.
How do you safely store your food? Dried very well, canned goods at cool room temps, in glass or plastic jars, fridge for perishables.
Have you minimized food waste? When I'm having a good week yes. If I'm not feeling well, no. I find food goes to waste when I don't feel well enough to cook. I hate it and feel guilty about it. With so much hunger in the world no food should be wasted.
Do I use leftovers wisely? Leftovers are usually eaten at the next meal or two. We are not too fussy to eat soup for breakfast.
Skills - learn to preserve/can, blanch and freeze, bake, sprout, ferment, fruit cordials She left out my favorite, which is drying. I can do all the above, plus more, but don't often.
Make space in your cupboard to store recycled bottles and jars. Yep, last cupboard to the right.
Do I have enough good cooked from scratch recipes to cover a two week meal rotation? No problem with recipes. I tried something new a week or so ago and Tony didn't much like it (nor did I). It sounded good, but wasn't. We were troopers and ate it though, agreeing it wouldn't be something we have again.
Do I have a good selection of quick and easy fast meal recipes? I am the QUEEN of quick-n-easy (or we'd live on chips and hot dogs)!
Is the fridge cooling as it should? The thermometer in the door says yes.
Do I use my oven efficiently? The question should be do you use your oven? I've used mine twice in 18 months. It burns everything on the bottom and leaves the top raw, even with a new thermostat. Bleh. Thinking of buying a toaster oven, but I'm not sure how well low-wattage ones (suitable to run on a 30 amp RV circuit) bake foods. I do miss baked goods and casseroles.
Is my kitchen set up properly for the tasks I carry out frequently? Yes, I rearranged and organized all that just recently.
If you're composting, do you have a covered container for your kitchen scraps? yes, and the compost bin is 20 feet from the door.
Do you have enough dishcloths and tea towels/dish towels Yes
Do you have enough large glass or plastic storage containers? Yes
I'm in pretty good shape in the kitchen, or at least the kitchen is in pretty good shape. I've even been inspired to write up a menu and shopping list for the week. Lately I've just been going in and buying whatever looked "okay", with no plans for how I was going to use it. This is not very efficient or economical. I will do better!
Friday, July 03, 2009
Today's topic; Living Deliberately and Money.
I think I've said it before, but what the hey. We gave up using credit in 1981. We made the decision not to be slaves to our "stuff". The seed for this philosophy was planted for me in my Grade 12 English class, when our teacher George Spear had us read and discuss two books on how advertising was being used to manipulate us into wanting and buying things we do not need, and that may be actively harmful for us!
After that I couldn't help but analyze the ads I saw, and the techniques they used;
1) Get on the bandwagon! (Be like your peers)
2) Stand out from the crowd! (look "better" than others)
3) Create fear and promise a remedy or protection (this can be the "fear" of body odor or yellow teeth or "flat" hair or "too fat" or "too skinny")
4) Eat! (Achieve ecstasy through pizza!)
5) Escape! (a new car, new boat, new house, new clothes will solve your problems)
Unfortunately the touted products don't solve your problems, and don't make you that much happier. Worse yet, the more stuff you have, the more it takes to house, protect and maintain it. And then there's the guilt which comes when you know you've spent more than you should, on something you didn't really need or even want, once you got it out of the package.
It's not always been easy to live without debt, especially at the bank, where they look at a person with no credit cards and no debt as radically suspect and quite possibly dangerously lunatic!
But we know what our income is, and what our expenses are. Tony loves to keep track, and he knows to the penny what we spent on food, clothing, utilities or any other category for any given month or year. It's handy because we know at a glance if we are on-side with the budget.
Rhonda is including a "No Spending Week" in her home audit. While we routinely go for a week or more without shopping that is not going to happen this week. I have to have a large (and expensive) prescription refilled, and with the local fruit coming into season I will be out looking for fruit to put away for the coming winter.
We try to keep a balanced account, that is we try never to spend more than we have coming in the door. Generally we succeed with relative ease, as our wants are few and modest. At the moment we are a bit behind the curve, having spent money building the new deck, setting up the garden, and buying new storage and a dishwasher. But we are steadily regaining our financial equilibrium, so we are not that concerned. We did not go into debt for any of it.
The projects that we would like to do, that aren't being done, are languishing primarily for lack of energy, not money. With us, strength and energy are commodities which we must budget much more finely than we do our modest income.
Energy and strength cannot be bought at any price, which means we must be careful how we spend our limited supply. This also means we often spend money to make it easier to keep house, cook, or otherwise maintain ourselves.
We find that living within our means brings peace of mind. We don't have to worry about paying off debts, interest rates, or being overdrawn. At the end of the day it's not how much you make, it's how much you spend.
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
When I'm feeling well I have no problem keeping the place tidy, though I admit it is a struggle to dig things I use daily out of cupboards on the floor, or beyond my reach. My ability to get up and down easily disappeared along with my quad muscles. Getting down on hands and knees to get a pan or a baking dish is difficult enough some days that I just can't do it. And the cupboards were all made for the six foot tall man who built them, not the five foot tall woman who has to use them!
So we bought an extra cabinet for kitchen equipment, dishes, appliances and to use as a pantry. It has made my life so much easier. Right now this is what we seem to be doing, spending on items which make it possible to retain our independence, even as we get a little older, a little less able to do for ourselves.
And we continue to back away from personal care and cleaning products which contain ingredients which are toxic to the ecosystem. This past week I bought ingredients to make our own toothpaste and mouthwash. This will be an adventure, and bring us a step or two closer to self-reliance.
But ever so often you need to stop and take stock of what you are doing. Over at down---to---earth Rhonda is leading out in a "Home Audit".
I decided to join in and see how we are doing in our goals of sustainability and simplicity. Follow along, or join up. This kind of exercise always leaves me thinking about what else we can do to lighten our impact on the earth.