Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Handmade Yule

It wasn't really a goal or a formal challenge for myself, but I have managed to put together a handmade Yule.
It feels quite nice to know that none of the presents I'll give out this year were made in China, none were bought at Walmart, and all were made by me.
I made a few different bags, I made some funky fleece hats for the horde of nieces/nephews, some herbs from this summer, and some lounge pants. Nothing terribly hard, thankfully :-) and all went without hiccup. I even had time to make my new family some stockings. :-D
To complete the victory I decided yesterday that I couldn't stand the thought of wrapping all that warm fuzziness in cold eco-not-friendly wrapping paper. So I made gift bags out of cheap holiday fabrics from Jo-Anns. I got a few different fabrics and I made a few different sizes of bags, ending up with 10 bags.Right now they are just closed with elastic in a casing. But, I left the casing open, and I made it larger than needed for elastic. Hopefully next year I can add ribbons or cording to the closing and make them prettier.

And, just to be an overachiever, I got the rest of the diaper covers completed. Yay!
Gift tags and cards still need to be made out of my paper crafting stock. :-)
I'm hoping everything gets done. :-D

Happy Yule,
Blessed be this longest night;
And Goddess Bless with morn's first light.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Did the Federal Gov't just call me fat?

So, brand new changes to the WIC program have rolled out here in Iowa.
For the most part, I really like them. They've replaced some of the juice with 10$ towards fresh veggies and fruit. And we get a loaf of whole wheat bread.
The only part I don't care for is now they require that milk being drunk only by a mom be 1% or skim. So, since my baby is still breastfed and only a little into baby foods, I fall into that category. I HATE 1% and skim. Blegh. And according to my husband, I'm wasting away. :-P So, I guess I wish they would lay off that restriction. But, to get around it, I get a gallon of their free 1% and I get a half gallon of the nice organic whole milk, then I mix them . :-D I know, not ground breaking, but tasty.
It's nice to see the checks fall more in line with WIC's mission. For too long the juices were too much of the check's value, even though all of the WIC merchandise preached fresh fruits and veggies. We did used to get carrots on the WIC checks, due to some (from what I hear) lobbying done by the carrot lobbyists. But I really enjoy the small mountain of fruits/veggies that I bring home now with that 10$ voucher.
This summer I even got checks that worked at the local farmers markets. That was even more awesome! Supporting local farmers with my food assistance dollars. It's nice to see programs like that in place. Government programs done right. Tax dollars being used to help families who need food and the local farmers that grow the food.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Changing of the Guard

A weekend full of sewing has produced a new set of diapers for Rowen. 4 fitted diapers with 6 lay in soaker pads. These will replace the smaller fitted diapers that my mother and I made this spring.

For those of you tuning in who might be interested in such details, here they are. This is the MamaBird pattern, (free off the internet) slightly modified and in a size "Big." I used bamboo velour for the body of the diaper with 3/8" elastic for the legs and back. I used Touch Tape hook and loop for closures, box stitching them on for more strength, and adding laundry tabs. The lay-in soakers are another free pattern found online. I used microfleece for the outer layer and organic hemp terry cloth inside. The microfleece is a wicking cloth, moisture gets pulled down into the terry cloth, leaving a dry feeling for baby's bum. I went with the lay-in soakers because my only complaint about the initial batch of diapers was how long they took to dry. This way the body dries separately from the soakers and everything should dry much quicker.

The first couple of diapers have been tried with much success. Dave did say that he found it hard to deal with the lay-ins while Rowen is squirmy. :-P Of course now with these in rotation I desperately need to finish more medium diaper covers. C'est la vie.
Here's Rowen helping me put away the laundry. He's crawling on two of his wetbags, two of his medium covers are behind him and a stack of momma pads are in front of him. That makes everything in the picture made by me. hahaha

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Well winter weather has blown in with a vengeance this week. We had 6 inches of snow fall last night, so everyone is taking a snow day. Bitterly cold and windy, drifts of up to a couple of feet are expected for the rest of this week. All this means my gardening season is officially over for the year. Below is a picture I snapped in November, the arugula to the left, and the kale on the right.

I harvested the kale patch this weekend, probably a couple pounds of kale. It had been through some pretty hard freezes so I don't think it'll be good to dry, I'm going to have to cook it. Probably either a soup or just as sauteed greens.

That last harvest puts me technically at the 10 month mark for produce production. :-) (My first harvest was spinach in March) That's a personal best for me. We have a lot of produce stored and preserved, either dried or canned. I hope to get an inventory this week so I have a good idea of just how much we have of everything.

Some interesting ideas I stumbled across about window farming in urban areas:

The next time I'm living somewhere with windows, I'm totally going to try this out. I could grow herbs, lettuces, peas and maybe sprouts. Looks fun in any case. :-)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fall harvests

Well, first week in November, and I wanted to brag on my fall gardening successes.
The bed of greens I planted late summer is really going great. We have a grocery bag full of arugula/spinach/kale and lots more in the garden.
I got a handful of green onions, from a neighbor who had misplanted onion seeds. And a handful of green sage, which is very hardy up here in zone 4.
I harvested the last of the cabbage and made a delicious cole-slaw with a kohlrabi and a carrot. Lastly, I was raking the potato bed, putting things to bed for winter, and I raked out 3 more pounds of potatoes that I had missed during my initial harvest.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Anthropology geek out for a minute

Oh my goodness that is cool. I'm thinking spring break 2012. :-D

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

handmade baby continues to grow

I've got 3 new prefold diapers made! Soft bamboo velour with soaker pads made of hemp terry cloth. They fit him great and will replace some really thin ones that I've been dying to get out of the rotation. They have plenty of room still around the legs and I had to fold them down a couple of inches, so he has growing room in these.

You can see one of my handmade covers under his bum waiting to be fastened. :-D

I've read the Republican Health Care bills

That's right, your favorite little hippy has read the bicameral 130-page “Patients Choice Act of 2009," Sen. Jim DeMint's (R-S.C.) “Health Care Freedom Plan,” And Rep. Tom Price's (R-Ga.) “Empowering Patients First Act,” a 130-page plan, HR 3400.

Some of you may be asking, why on Earth would you do that? Well, I've been debating politics with my elders the past couple of days. And the majority of the elders in my family are Republicans. I mentioned that I hadn't heard about any legislation from the Republicans on the whole Health Care debate My father promptly informed me that the Liberal media have studiously avoided reporting on them, thus giving cover for Obama to make the claim that the Republicans had offered no alternative. He sent me a link that had names for three of the bills, I searched the Government Printing Office's website and found the actual bills the congress-people are working with. Since I'm on extended maternity leave/unemployment and really lacking in cerebral stimulation right now, I actually read the bills. :-D

I thought to myself, self, perhaps there are other people who are curious about what's in those bills. Maybe they saw the republicans waving them during Obama's address, and wonder what they say.

None of them, in my opinion, address the root issues the system faces, some of them have sections detailing that abortions can't be had with gov't money. I was tired of hearing the republicans rant against abortion by the end of Bush's first term, I'm certainly in no mood to listen to it now that the dem's have control. :-P Here's my take on the three most popular GOP bills, put forward as alternatives to the Dem's reform legislation.

I read Sen. Jim DeMint's (R-S.C.) “Health Care Freedom Plan", and all it entailed was a tax credit up to 5000$ per family for eligible health insurance spending, and a section trying to fix the liability problems. I think it was trying to limit the amounts people could sue for, I kinda got bogged down in the legalese. While fixing the liability issues facing doctors is certainly important, and I wish the dem's would do something about that issue, the main section of the plan, the tax credit, does very little to help those American's who don't have health insurance. It also doesn't seem like it helps American's, it just seems to shunt money into the hands of big insurance companies, telling them to go about business as usual, with no motivations for reducing costs or increasing efficiency.

“Patients Choice Act of 2009.” appears to be just Medicare legislation. In fact the whole title is Empowering Medicare Patients Choice Act. The purpose: "To amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide for the establishment of shared decision making standards and requirements and to establish a pilot program for the implementation of shared decision making under the Medicare program."
That hardly seems earth moving to me, but I know the GOP depends on the scared old white people vote, so they have to go with their strengths. :-D Although "shared decision making" does sound an awful lot like Death Panels to me. :-D

“Empowering Patients First Act,” is more of the tax credits and abortion limitations. Nothing to help fix the rising health care costs and decreasing satisfaction that excludes so many Americans from health care.

These don't seem like anything I'd waste time talking about in the middle of a debate on health care reform, and I'm not even a Dem. They seem like bandaids, salves that pretend to help Americans but in reality just send more tax payer dollars to big insurers. Although, that one section dealing with the liability issue, that is worthwhile in my mind. That's an actual problem forcing lots of dr's out of practice because they can't afford malpractice insurance. I hope that bit of legislation eventually sees the light of day, but who knows.

Hopefully this sheds some light on the under-reported GOP bills.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Still learning

Well, fall is officially here. The days are now shorter than the nights, and we had our first brush with frost last night. I visited all my garden plots yesterday to square things away for the potential frost. I picked the last of the purple green beans, covered the row of fall greens with some row cover, and generally made sure things were squared away. My fall greens are really going gang busters! I got a handful of arugula, kale and spinach for a little salad yesterday. I'll have 4 butternut squashes and 1 last cabbage head to harvest in October. My fridge is stuffed with carrots and kohlrabi and green beans, I have a box full of onions and garlic, and I've got a few tomatoes on the counter still. Not too shabby.

This summer really flew by. I don't know if it was Baby, or being jobless, or the cool weather, or what, but I just don't remember a summer going by this fast before. I learned a lot though, and did things that I've never done before. My first try at pickling went really well, despite the lack of cucumbers. :-) That zucchini relish has been a hit with everyone who's tried it. The potato trial went well. I'll fix the last of those potatoes this week probably. I still need to figure out how to grow more and have enough to eat on for more than a month plus enough to plant out next spring. But, baby steps. :-) My spring planted garlic turned out surprisingly well, with full heads on all of them, and no difference in taste that I can tell. I made some grape juice with my mother this weekend from a friends grapes that were about to ferment on the vine, and that was a first. It's pretty tasty, and I'll definitely do it again if I get the opportunity. I canned corn and carrots this year, both a first for me, and I doubled the amount of tomatoes I canned. I actually ate my kohlrabi and cabbage this year, another first. I don't know about anyone else, but I have this weird thing where the first year I grow something, i.e. kohlrabi, I'll grow a small bit of it, harvest it, and then watch it decompose in the fridge. Maybe try it cooked in one dish, but half the time I mess that up so bad it just ends up in the trash. The second year I'll actually grow enough of the veggie that I'll have a good batch to work with and I'll try lots of things, and then it actually gets eaten. Maybe that's normal omnivore behavior, I don't know, but it's something to think about. Yea, I knew how to deal with a bushel of tomatoes and I had experience with bags of green beans and okra. However, learning dishes to do with 2 dozen kohlrabi bulbs that wouldn't upset my husband and young child was a whole 'nother level. I'm really glad I started my gardening before I found myself unemployed with a small child and trying to actually feed my family with the produce.

Farmers markets will be closing soon in the northern half of the country, make sure you stock up on your favorite goodies. :-)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fall gardening

Remember a couple weeks ago I mentioned getting your garlic seeds squared away? This weekend I got notice that some of my favorite suppliers are sold out of varieties. There's still time to find some if you're still looking, but don't delay!

Are you remembering to grab seed while you're out in the garden? Green bean pods should be drying, lettuce heads should be drying, if you have split tomatoes you can't eat fast enough, ferment them and harvest the seeds.

As predicted, the full moon sprouted my seeds and now they are busy putting on true leaves. I have Beets, Arugula, Kale and Spinach planted. The lettuce mix I planted to the East of them hasn't sprouted yet, but the Hairy Vetch seed I broadcast is just starting to.

Preserving the last days of summer

It's always sad to see the lengthening shadows and creep of autumn's brown. Luckily there's so much preserving to do it's easy to find ways to not dwell.

My mother brought me over a peck of apples last weekend. And this weekend I found a really good deal on some tomatoes so I had my work cut out for me.

The apples were mostly seconds, I expect she spent between 10 and 15 bucks for all of them. I made an apple pie, and I filled up my dehydrator with apple slices. Tonight I'm going to make applesauce with what's left and I'll freeze up part of it as baby food.

The tomatoes were all either small or spotty or both, it's been a rough year for tomatoes. But at less than a buck a pound, it's hard to say no. 10 bucks later and I have enough for a pressure canning batch. Most of them went into my much loved Roasted Tomato and Pepper sauce.

Cut up a bunch of tomatoes. 4-5 lbs per 9x11 pan. Quartering is fine, no need to dice. Make sure there's at least an inch to the top of the pan, fresh tomatoes are going to make lots of juice while roasting down, and if you put too many in one pan you'll just f*ck up your oven when it boils over. Anyway, I used ~9 lbs of tomatoes and filled two 9x11 pans.

Cut up onion, about 1 per pan. Cut up peppers, about 2 per pan. A word on peppers, last year I used bell and they were wonderful, this year there are lots of gypsy peppers at the market so I'm using those instead. Don't be afraid to use what's fresh and local at your market. The roasting caramelizes the peppers, which makes them sweeter, so you can even pick up some peppers that are usually too spicy for your palette. Cut up garlic, about one head per pan. (1 head of garlic should be 6-10 cloves) Toss onions and peppers and garlic in with tomatoes in the pan(s).
Drizzle olive oil over veggies, about 2 tablespoon per pan. Salt and pepper to taste, a handful of basil.
Roast for 1.5 hours at 450, stirring occasionally.
After roasting there should be nicely burnt/caramelized bits and the whole thing should be cooked down significantly.
At this point some people blend the whole mess into a smooth consistency. I don't, I prefer to be more honest with my vegetables. The sauce is good either way.
2 pans made me 3 quarts of sauce.

I made another 3 quarts of whole tomatoes with the best 2-3 lbs I had set aside from the initial tomato pile.

All 6 quarts went into the pressure canner, 15 minutes later at 11 pounds pressure and I was done. :-)


Saturday, August 29, 2009

In spite of blight

Well, I harvested the last of the potatoes today. They were the little red ones, about half of the bushes were still green when I dug the main crop, so I left them and they plumped up a lot.
My neighbor had a large crop of green tomatoes last week, and with the past 3 days of rain she now has a large crop of split ripe tomatoes. I got a basket of beautiful yellow and red tomatoes, to help save some from rot.
Cold and damp is never a good recipe for tomatoes. This year has been pretty bad, luckily I only had 6 plants this year, so I didn't waste too much garden space on them. But, the ones I have harvested have been wonderful, all juicy and sweet. That's something at least.
The butternut squash vine is quickly taking over the empty potato row and the cucumber hill. I'm glad I allotted a lot of space for it, as it is I've had to loop it's tendrils back in a circle. I've got a few good looking squash on the vine, so I'm excited to get them ripe and seasoned and ready to eat.
The purple green beans are still chugging away. I have a good bunch of seed pods set and drying for seed, and I'm getting more new pods set every time I pick. I'm going to make up some baby food from some today I think.

I was a really good girl and I got some seeds planted for fall last week.
In the empty onion patch at the Franklin plot. I hoed the weeds out and loosened things up. Then I leveled out a bit and I planted little 1 foot rows a few inches apart. I have beets, arugala, kale and spinach seeded. The past few days of damp followed by the waxing moon should have them sprouting this week. If it stays damp and chilly until fall these crops should still produce pretty well. If the goddess decides to toss 90 degree weather at us for a couple of weeks I'll have to provide them with some shade so they don't die. If I'm really on the ball I will plant another little bit next weekend to increase my odds of a good harvest.

Tis the season to be considering garlic crops for next year. Start getting your bed prepared, get your bulbs ordered, or picked out of your crop from this year. They'll need to go in sometime in October. I've picked out a few heads from this years crop to replant. It won't be as much as I'd like to grow, but I think it's the best balance I can do right now. They are safely in a little paper bag, clearly labeled with "Garlic Crop 2010." Covered and enclosed in something is important to keep them dry and dormant and at their best for planting. (And uneaten :-D )

Enjoy the last few weeks of summer, even if they are chilly.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Potatoes! The grand finale!

Well, I actually harvested potatoes. I think I got about 10pounds, maybe a little more.
I really thought the flowering was a bust and I wouldn't get anything, I thought the cold dampness was just rotting them out of the ground.
But, I stuck a pitchfork into the ground to investigate, and unearthed decent little potatoes. (Really, really glad the whole pitchfork in the ground thing worked, because I didn't have a clue how to harvest potatoes, I just had a vague memory of reading in a book somewhere that it could be done with a pitchfork.)
It turns out that the larger half, the southern half, of the row was the Yukon Gold potatoes. These turned out larger underground too. Very tasty. I love 'em. Potatoes were about the size of my fist.
The smaller plants in the northern half of the row were the little red potatoes. These are the favorites of several members of my family. They ended up as large fingerlings I think.
Both colors had a couple of plants that were busts, but equally, both had plants that were amazing.

Thoughts to take with me to next year?
Hilling up was a pain. Growing the potatoes vertically would compound that problem. Until that problem is solved, maybe I should plant the potatoes in a trench and then "fill in" instead of hilling up.
Try and get a potato/garlic storage bin out of one of the woodworkers I know. Something with a couple of large bins for potatoes and a couple covered baskets for garlic, or a space with hooks to hang braids of garlic.
This years experiment definitely broke even, I think in order to really save a significant amount I would need to plant more.

All in all a fairly easy and tolerant crop. I think I will be planting a row in future gardens.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Free food

I like to play a "game" when I'm cooking to see how close to $0 I can get and still have a balanced, satisfying and tasty meal.

Breakfast is pretty easy, oatmeal bought in bulk, flavored with raisins and cinnamon also bought in bulk. Literally pennies. Bonus points for easy to store and easy to find in bulk. :-D If I ever get to raise chickens, I'll be able to make free veggie/herb omelets. *drool*

Lunch of peanut butter and homemade jelly on homemade bread works out to <50cents. Lately I've been eating my zucchini relish with cheese and mustard on a sandwich, and that works out to around 50cents.

Peach Lemonade has been my drink of choice this week. I can't take all the credit for this one though, as my mother gifted me the lemons. But, the frozen peaches are all mine, bought and frozen last year.

Dinner tonight was pretty good, I fed 3 adults for a total of <5$. That's <$1.66 per person. Cheese tortellini with a fresh vegetable and herb tomato sauce. All I had to buy was the 4$ bag of tortellini and the cheese. I tossed together a gorgeous tomato, (the first off the vines this year!) an onion, a zucchini, a bell pepper and 4 garlic cloves with a handful of basil and oregano from my containers. Sauteed it all up in a pan, ladled it onto tortellini and sprinkled with a little Parmesan or mozzarella.

Had I bought all the veggies that went into it, the meal would have cost around $9. So, I saved my family $4. I easily do a meal like this 100 times a year, that's $400 I'm skimming off the already thrifty habit of cooking at home. That's not a bad return on an investment of a few hours a week into the gardens.

It's money not going to giant farms in California, it's money not being added to the tab with Chile, it's gas not being used to ship me fresh veggies or jars of sauce. Plus, it's ridiculously healthy and tasty. What's not to love?

You know you want that kind of excitement in your kitchen. Fall planting of garlic is coming right up, and it's a great time to get a garden started.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Party underground!

I love parties. Even when (especially when) it's for a 3 year old. :-)
It was little Willie's birthday Weds, so Becky and Adam (my best friends) hosted a party in their newly completed shell for their bermed house.
Becky has been building this house for a year now, and she has at least a couple more months of work before they can really start living in it. The project is huge and amazing and I've been fortunate enough to get to help her a little bit. From the first guidelines hammered into the field, through the massive hole digging and endless rounds of support, insulation and concrete pours, I've got to see it all. When she's finally done she'll have a 1200 sq foot house, made out of insulated concrete and half buried. Even without windows or doors or the berm, that shell is breezy and cool even in 90+ degrees. And the view from the roof... *drool*... awe inspiring.
So, it's been a lot of work, and it was really nice to get friends and family together and see more of the transformation from construction site to home.
Here's some shots taken during the roof pour:

I made Willie a stuffed alien for his birthday, as Becky plans to do his new room in a space/rockets theme. It turned out a tiny bit lopsided, but not so much a 3 year old would notice. Half of the fabric I used was free, given to me as a scrap from one of my mother's friends. A little bit of hand sewing, some buttons for eyes, stuff it and voila! An almost free present.

I'm reminded of a conversation I had with my father once. He would always make these elaborate valentines for us girls, every year, by hand. One year it was a spectacular butterfly made out paper and holding candy. I asked him, "How do you make it look like a butterfly?" He told me, "I just keep cutting till it looks right, then I stop."

It's good advice. Whether you're making a butterfly, a stuffed alien or a giant concrete house. The trick is to just start cutting and when it looks right, stop. :-)

Becky, I love you, you've done a great job, it totally looks like a house, and it feels like a home.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


As promised a week ago, another installment in my thoughts on bad habits.

Everyone has bad habits. Things you do because it's easier or cheaper, even though you know it's bad for you and you'll end up paying for it in the end. Things you do because it's routine, even if that routine doesn't make any sense.

In my opinion Americans have a driving habit. For decades government subsidies have assured the American populace cheap gas. Combined with urban planning that has focused primarily on the freeway, and you have what Kunstler over at Clusterfuck calls a state of happy motoring. Drive ins, drive ups, drive throughs, all depending on ever increasing amounts of fossil fuels coming from ever decreasing supplies found on the other side of the world. This habit is so unsustainable it's laughable. Pipe dreams of electric cars or hydrogen cars or cars that run on corn, just aren't going to cut it. The cold hard truth is Americans are going to have to figure out how to drive less in the near future.

This is not a comfortable thought for most people. Even with my dear husband it's a hard sell sometimes. Our family has only one car, a small two door Honda Civic. When our dear son was born, Dave was sure we needed to get a larger "family" car. Now, I'll grant him, the infant rear-facing car seat is a pain with the small car. The front passenger seat can't recline back when the baby is in the car. But, that small inconvenience will be gone once Rowen hits 1 year old and then we'll all fit quite nicely in the car. Most of the time, Rowen isn't even in the car. Most of the time, that car takes Dave to work and gets him home, and that's it. Needless to say, we didn't get a bigger car. But most Americans just assume that everyone needs their own car and preferably something big enough to fit a soccer team in. This is a problem. As a nation, we can not afford the cost of all these cars. The cost to the environment, the cost to import oil, the cost to maintain our expensive highway system, the personal ownership costs... I could go on, but I think you get my drift.

So, that brings us to the question, how do we break these habits? How do we ease ourselves into a transition before we find ourselves looking at 6$ a gallon and no concept of how to get to work?

Start slow. Look into bikes for the family. Most children can probably get themselves to school on a bike, since most neighborhoods are built around schools. Do you live within 6 miles of your work place? You could probably bike to work. With a little practice 12 mph is not a hard pace to keep up on a bike in town and that means a nice 30 minute commute on a bike. Not only do you get to work for free, but you save money on a gym membership too. :-) If you routinely have to carry a laptop or briefcase, look at the wide assortment of panniers available for bike commuters. You'll easily find one that holds your laptop and a change of clothes.

Easier yet, walk more. How many times have you driven the 2 blocks to the nearest gas station just to get a coke or coffee? That's utterly ridiculous, stop it. Just put on some sneakers and walk. I try to do most of the errands during the day with Rowen in his stroller. We walk to the grocery store, the post office, the hardware store, the library, my doctor, one of my garden plots and occasionally to the laundromat. We've lived in two places since Rowen joined us, and both places I was able to do this. Most urban dwellers live within a few miles of these staples. And a few miles is walkable. 100%, not a pain, barely break a sweat even with a baby, WALKABLE. The average American needs to walk more anyway. Studies show that a healthy adult should walk close to 6 miles a day to stay healthy. You're not going to get that by walking from your car to your cubicle. Why pay someone 30$ a month to do it on a treadmill when you can get out and meet your neighbors and smell the flowers and get your errands done all at the same time!

If you absolutely HAVE to use a car to get to work, whether it's too far away or there's 3 feet of snow on the ground, there are still ways to minimize your usage. Carpool, with your spouse, with your neighbor, with your co-worker, there are lots of ways to make this work. Next time you're sitting at a red light during rush hour, amuse yourself by trying to find vehicles with more than one person in them. Keep your car in good condition, properly inflated tires, clean air filters and proper levels of oil can improve your gas mileage significantly. Make do with a smaller car. Sure it's nice to know you can haul the entire soccer team, but how often are you actually driving around with your car full? If 80% of the driving is you and your carpool buddy getting to work, perhaps the Excursion SUV is unnecessary.

Look at your car habit. Is it out of control? Is it using up too much of your monthly budget? Are you totally dependent on your car? What are your backup plans? The day gas hits 6$ is NOT the time to try biking to work. You need to start now, start new habits, work out the kinks before you have to rely on them. Get involved with your local bike community and work to increase the bike lanes in your town. I know here in Des Moines our local bike group has successfully lobbied to put a bike lane in on Ingersoll. It went before the city council last night in fact, after passing unanimously in committee. Or start scoping out bus routes if you're not up to biking. Bus systems take time to adjust to demand, if every American waits till the last second to switch to buses, the buses are not going to be able to handle the influx.

It is possible to break the driving habit, and I argue it's healthier for our country and healthier for ourselves.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Buried in produce

Well, I think my gardens have finally gotten over their soggy blahs. In the past 4 days I've harvested:
Downtown West -- 7+ pounds of green beans
Downtown East -- 14 squashes, 5-10 pounds of potatoes
Franklin -- 2+ pounds of carrots, 26 garlic, ~75 onions, 8 kohlrabi
Containers -- 2 eggplant, 1 bell pepper, handfuls of herbs

So, yesterday I was a good gardener and I preserved some of the excess.

My pretty purple green beans made 5 quarts, plus dinner and I still have a couple pounds to eat on for the next few days. I love how pretty the colors are when I pour the boiling water over the purple beans and they turn green.

Carrots made 3 quarts, plus an ice tray full of tasty baby food.
I'm hoping this weekend to make pickles and relish out of a bunch of the zucchini.

The potatoes, onions and garlic are all outside curing. This step is important so they'll dry out a bit and store better.

Of course, now I have huge sections of my gardens empty of veggies. I'm going to try and plant some root veggies for fall harvest. It's tough to get seeds started in the summer, but worth the effort I think. I'm going to try for carrots and beets and parsnips and some greens.
I'll leave you today with a picture of my Cthulhu carrot.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Mmm Beans!

Well, it took until August, but I finally got my first crop of green beans out of the Downtown West plot. I filled a grocery bag half full! There's at least 5 pounds of beans in there. I also harvested 10lbs of squash. I'll have to try and can some of them this week.

Speaking of, Mom and I canned corn this weekend. We got a bushel of corn from a local farmer, we grilled a few ears up with lunch and still got 22 pints of corn. It worked out to under 1$ a pint. Mom and I halved the pints, so I have 11. Should do just fine for my family's corn needs this winter.

Best tip ever for getting corn off the cob -- Use a Bundt pan and a sharp knife. I've yet to try a corn gadget that actually works to get corn off the cob quickly. The Bundt pan is a stroke of genius though. Put the ear of corn on end on the center peak of the pan, use the knife to cut down one side, the kernels fall into the large bowl of the pan and the ear stays up and out of the pan and easy to cut.

I'll be digging up a potato bush this week to check on things down below. Keep your fingers crossed for me. :-)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Chiquita Banana Habit

As a nation, I believe we need to take a close look at some of our habits. Some of these habits we really need to lose, to help both the environment and our debts, personal and national. So, for the next few days until something more exciting happens in my garden, I'll be talking about some of these habits I worry about.

The Chiquita Banana Habit
This is what I like to call our year-long love of exotic fruits. Kiwis in mid-December, pineapples and bananas flown in a constant stream from countries near the equator, etc. The petroleum consumption on these fruits is staggering. The simplest fix? Learn to love local fruits in season. Spend a year going to the farmers market every week, learn the cycles of the fruits and how to best preserve them. Scared of canning? You can do wonders with a 30$ dehydrator and some ziplock bags. Spend June gorging on strawberries, spend July stuffing yourself with blueberries, August buried in peaches and get your apple a day in September. Preserve some of the overflow and eat those during the winter until rhubarb is ready in the spring. Your money will stay in your own community, and it lessens our dependence on both foreign oil and foreign foodstuffs.
Better yet, grow some of your own fruits. Strawberries are pretty easy to take care of, and most gardeners with an established bed have to give away strawberry starts every few years when their beds need thinning or containing. I get all my strawberry starts that way. (Thanks Karen!) A single fruit tree, when properly chosen for your zone can yield bushels of fruit reliably for years.

Anyway, think about it at least and the next time you're at the store reaching for that peach from Chile, maybe give yourself an IOU for a Missouri peach in August and reach for a locally grown apple instead.

Next installment in my habits discussion: The Habit That's Driving us to the Poorhouse.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Low Impact Baby update

Well, I posted a lot about baby stuff before Rowen was born. Plans and goals and such. He'll be 4 months this week. I thought it might be a good time to revisit the goals and plans and share with y'all how we're doing.

The cloth diapering has been going really well. When we lived in the house with no washer, Rowen and I would load the wet bag full of dirty diapers into the stroller and walk to the laundry mat every other day. It was a little over a half mile to the laundry mat, so it was perfect exercise during my postpartum period. Most of the time I line dry the diapers in the front lawn. As I predicted, Rowen only spent 6 or 7 weeks in the newborn diapers. I'm very glad I didn't waste any time making him stuff for that size. Once he hit 10lbs the diaper covers I made for him started fitting. Last week I officially retired those and we are using the next size up diaper covers that I've been making since he was born. I have been really really happy with those covers. I've made them all out of PUL material and fold over elastic (FOE), some I've put a cute cotton print on the outside of. I haven't had any problems with leaking from any of them. The pattern was free, and I have enough material to make a half dozen of each size at least.
For his next size up I think I'm going to make him some velour prefolds. I made one as a trial in the size he's in now, as well as one made of terry cloth, and I have really liked the velour one. It comes off the drying rack much softer than the regular cotton prefolds. It was a pain to make, so I don't think I'll make him a lot, but I think I'll make him 4-6 of them. It makes me happy that I have fitteds for him in that material already made. They should start fitting soon.
So far, making and using cloth diapers has been a huge success, very doable, and the money savings makes it worth the time.

Other cloth items I made that we've been using include cloth wipes for Rowen, cloth menstrual pads for me, the wet bags and the diaper bag.
The wipes are holding up well. In case you don't remember, I put hemp terry cloth together with flannel for 4" square and 5" square wipes. They were a little hard to air dry until my Grandma DeeDee brought me some nifty drying-clippy-hanger-things. Anyway, I keep a water bottle by the changing table and just wet the wipe with plain room temp water and it does it's thing. There have only been a couple of times when one wasn't enough, and nothing that two couldn't handle. One of these days I'm going to make another dozen of them and replace toilet paper with them.

The mommy pads worked really well during my postpartum period. I am never going back to disposables. Cloth pads are softer, more breathable and less smelly than disposables. And, of course, they saved me money. I do need to find a more elegant receptacle for them than the bucket I was using. I've seen pottery jars that I think would work well, some even designed for the task.

The wetbags have been wonderful. I have two large ones that I switch back and forth between and a small one for the diaper bag. All are still looking great and working well. The large ones just hang on the side of the changing table and they do a pretty good job of keeping the stink down, even though I rarely zip them closed between changings.

The diaper bag has pleased me as well. Dave complains that it's "too small." I think it's perfect. :-D :-D

Home-made is really working out for me, so I tried my hand at baby food this weekend. I had a whole bunch of plump peas and juicy carrots from the Franklin plot. I shelled the peas, diced the carrots and steamed them together for a few minutes. Then I tossed them in the blender with a little bit of the hot water and pureed it. I froze the puree in a spare ice cube tray for easy portioning. Now I have ten servings of organic peas and carrots! For free! I tasted it and it's pretty tasty. For baby food. I want to look into making some from sweet corn, and green beans and squash. Ooh and Peaches. Dave's mother just sent me some recipes, if I try them out, I'll report back.

All in all Rowen is styling in his homemade eco-friendly cloth. He seems pretty happy, no diaper rashes to speak of, no leaking during naps, what more can a baby ask for? :-D We'll continue with the low impact baby, and I'll report back when I have things of interest.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Year and a Day

I always told my parents I wouldn't get married. I knew I would go to college and I figured I wouldn't need a committed relationship to have a comfortable stable life. Plus, I was never happy with the fact that I could marry the man of my dreams but one of my best friends couldn't marry the man of his dreams. I figured when I left the Christian religion it was the nail in the coffin for any chance of marriage.

Today Dave and I mark our year and a day as a handfasted couple. Traditionally for this custom, today would be the day to walk away if we thought the whole thing was a bad idea. Or, alternatively, re-knot the handfasting cords and make the bindings permanent.

A year ago I wasn't sure what I wanted to do on this day. Court battles over who was allowed to marry who were being fought all over the country, including my state. For a brief day in August marriage was allowed between same sex couples, then poof! Gone again pending an appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court. Finally, in April, the court made it's unanimous ruling and upheld the right of same sex couples to marry in this state. I have never been so proud to call myself an Iowan.

After that day, there was no doubt in my mind what I wanted to have happen today. I knew that I wanted to be married to Dave. I didn't need a ceremony or witnesses, and luckily Iowa recognizes common law marriages, so we don't have to have a ceremony or witnesses. For one year we've lived together, paid taxes together, had a baby together and called one another husband and wife. We're still not changing anyone's name, but legally we are married now, and I couldn't be happier or more in love.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Patatas tres

Ok, an update on the Potato Trials 2009.
I have two varieties planted in a 12ish foot row in my East Downtown Plot. A red potato, Desiree, and a Yukon Gold potato. I forgot to write down where I planted them, so I'll have to wait till I dig them up to find out which is which. But, the one in the South half of the row is significantly larger than the other. Also, the flowering was really bad in the North half, I only saw about 10% of it get flowers. That's kind of worrisome, since my book says that's when they are setting potatoes.
I did get them hilled up a few weeks ago, and wow was that a chore. It took 3 wheelbarrows of compost to get it done. I think if I ever plant potatoes in the ground again I'm going to dig a large trench and plant the potatoes a foot down, then just fill in instead of hilling up.

Record Low Temp

Just an update on what's coming out of the gardens this week.

4 Cucumbers
4 Zucchini
2 eggplant
3 Kohlrabi
2 dozen garlic scapes

We are setting record lows today and tomorrow. We are barely going to get over 70. My tomatoes are looking at me like I'm crazy, and my green beans are about to give up in disgust. The onions and Kohlrabi are loving it, although I'll never get my onion and garlic crops to cure right if we don't get some hot dry weather soon. Hmmm, if I was being really nice I could layer some of my floating row cover on the hot weather plants just to keep them warm, but the 70 degree weather isn't going to hurt them that much. On second thought, Japanese Beetle season is almost here isn't it? I should look that up. I like to cover my vines before the beetles get out in force.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wild Food

Baby and I were walking home from the grocery store yesterday and we saw a doe with triplets! All three little fawns were still in spots, and they were all following their mom across the bike trail and into the adjoining woods. I looked it up on Wikipedia and white tail deer can have triplets about 10% of the time. Needless to say, they were adorable.
That same trail has a surprising amount of wild food growing along it. I picked wild raspberries for about 10 minutes and ended up with a quart of them. I can remember berrying as a child with my family in Texas. Someone, I think my aunt, knew a guy with a pasture that had berries in it, and we'd load up buckets and cousins and vans and go pick berries. I probably haven't picked berries since that summer 15 years ago. But, I still remembered the tricks to it. A pleasant walk, all things considered, and the berries will be tasty in some oatmeal.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Yay!! I have scapes! Some of you may recall I planted my garlic early this spring instead of the recommended fall planting. Hardneck varieties of garlic will put up a flower stalk called a scape, and in order to promote bulb formation those scapes have to be cut off. My farmers market friends had scapes a couple of weeks ago, I was starting to think I wouldn't have any. It was quite a relief to see them yesterday.

Produce out of the gardens this past week:
4 yellow zucchini
1 black zucchini
6 kohlrabi
3 onions
basil, oregano, sage

We'll be having Pureed Kohlrabi tonight. And I'm going to try and get the last of the peas cooked into baby food then frozen.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Eating More Turnips

Part of eating locally is adapting to the foods that actually grow in your region. As Sharon says, "Grow what you eat and eat what you grow."
Root crops were not a huge thing in my family growing up. We lived in Oklahoma, it's so hot and dry there, I don't even know if you can grow a decent beet or turnip in that state. It was much easier to live off the okra, tomatoes and beans that thrived. So, now I'm living in zone 4 Iowa and okra is kind of a gamble most years. I keep getting bumper crops of root veggies that I don't have any familiar recipes for. These crops will grow even in late fall/early winter up here, so they're a great way to extend my garden harvests, but I have been scrambling to find ways to eat them.

Then today I was thinking to myself, "Self, there may be others out there who need root veggie recipes." So, here are some of the ways I'm eating root veggies right now.

Turnips can be snuck into soups. I'll be honest, I don't care for the taste of turnips, so I just hide them in things. Last night I snuck one turnip into my Garlic Scape and Potato soup. Turned out delicious and as required, I couldn't taste the turnip. :-D

Carrots I've been putting in everything. Soups and salads are pretty obvious. But a couple weeks ago I had some leftover grilled squash and carrots from a grillout. I made up a tomato sauce and tossed the squash and carrots into it. On some tasty whole wheat pasta, the carrots fit right in.

With beets I like a nice borscht. If you've never had fresh borscht on a cool fall day, you're missing out. It's a Ukrainian soup made primarily of beets. Sooo good.

Don't forget, beets and radishes and kohlrabi and turnips all have edible greens. If you're a seed saver and you find yourself with an overabundance of these, try sprouting some on a windowsill as a nice fresh green in winter.

If you're up in my neck of the woods, try a nice fall crop of root veggies this year. Plant the seeds in a few weeks, end of July-ish. They'll actually taste better after the first frost.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Another wet spring

Well, apparently Iowa wasn't the only one with lots of moisture this year. I'm reading reports of Late Blight in the NE part of the country. Apparently there was a huge lot of tomato starts that went out to chain stores infected with Late Blight.
So, for all you tomato and potato growers out there, even if you aren't close to the NE part of this country, check your plants for Late Blight signs and properly dispose of any diseased plants. This disease was responsible for the Potato Famine in Ireland.

More info:

Things are growing great in my gardens. The West bed of the downtown plots has lots of flowers on my green beans. I seeded a row of carrots in between two rows last week, that's the 2nd planting of carrots for this season, I want to try and do one more in a week or two so I can have a late fall harvest. Hmm, oh the 2nd planting of green beans that I tossed in that plot are sprouting. Hopefully they will set beans after the first plantings have slowed down.
The East bed of the downtown plot has flowers on the potatoes. According to my little book, that means that the potatoes are forming under ground. I did get them hilled, but I think I'm going to need to do it again this week. My hills of cucumbers, squash and zucchini are all getting big. Lots of flowers, I'll probably harvest zucchinis this week. I also transplanted in a dozen or so strawberry starts. They are June bearing, and I got them free from one of my mom's work friends who was trying to tame her strawberry patch. Hopefully the rain we got this weekend will help them settle in to their new home.
The Franklin plot is about to need an onion harvest. They are looking soo big and healthy. I'll probably harvest the first few this weekend, but most of them need a couple more weeks to really bulk up. I still don't have any sign of scapes from my garlic. The plants are big and healthy, with lots of leaves, so surely garlic is forming under the ground, they're just not interested in putting on scapes I guess. The first carrots are starting to form. Still very small and at least a month away from harvest, but looking very healthy. The kohlrabi are doing fabulous. I'll harvest the first of those this week and have at least a couple a week for the rest of the summer. Tomatoes are growing well, as usual with the wetness, the Green Zebra is the healthiest, it's already got flowers and the others are just starting to think about it.
My containers are doing well too. Dave and I ate the first eggplant from my container-grown eggplant on Friday. I made a pasta sauce with it, it was pretty tasty. The great thing is I have 4 more eggplant fruits set on the bush, with another half-dozen flowers. I am definitely going to grow my eggplant in a container every year. It's huge, happy and productive, plus the flowers are pretty, and it's right on my back porch. Couldn't be happier with this experiment. The pepper plant has a pepper set, the tomato is happily growing, the herbs are all tasty. I'll have radishes to harvest soon, maybe a week or two.

All is going great. I love eating out of my gardens, it's so much more personal, eating food that I've grown.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Potato Mission Deux

Happy Summer Solstice everyone. Enjoy these days, they are only getting shorter from here on out. This light cycle is what triggers bulbing in onions. Southern states who enjoy less variation in day length get to grow onions that don't need that cycle to bulb. Did ya know that? :-) Now you do. Speaking of onions, mine are doing just what they are supposed to. I can see the tops of onions forming.

Well I got the potatoes hilled this morning. Baby and I went out first thing, and glad we did too, it's supposed to top 100 in the heat index today. I could see little buds where flowers are forming. My gardening book says that's a sign that potatoes are starting to form under the soil. I'll need to keep up on their water while they are flowering. Luckily the rain showers are doing my work for me right now.

Green beans are putting on flowers too. I need to get a succession planting done soon. :-)

Hope this first day of summer finds you well. More exciting garden blogging soon.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Herb harvest

I harvested the first round of herbs from my container garden yesterday. I filled the dehydrator, that's not bad for mid-June. Dehydrated some strawberries too. Mmmm the kitchen smelled nice.
Test your herb knowledge, in the picture see if you can find the following herbs.
-Green Basil
-Red Rubin basil
-Green Sage

I harvested a large bowl full of lettuce from the Franklin Plot. They were random volunteer lettuces, but still tasty. :-) I let a couple lettuce heads go to seed in that bed last fall, just to see if I'd get any this year, I guess that little experiment was a success. Not hugely so, only three heads, but still cool.

So, my garlic experiment is starting to worry me, the bulbs aren't sending up scapes. Last year I had scapes by this point in June, and this year, not even a sign of them. They are at the farmers market, so other Iowa garlic is producing them, just not mine. *sigh* I guess I'll wait and see, maybe they are just a few weeks late.

It's been so wet here I haven't gotten my potatoes hilled yet. Did you know that green potatoes really are poisonous? That's why you have to hill, because otherwise the little potatoes get sunlight and they turn green and poisonous.

Anyway, things are growing nicely, I've got blooms on my eggplant and on my pepper plant, the onions are bulbing, the kholrabi and carrots are growing bigger, and the green beans and squashes are putting on leaves like there's no tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Potato Mission

First off, shout outs to my Daddy, who planned an awesome family trip for us! My whole little family went and joined him, and a fair chunk of his side of the family, canoeing in MO. Waaay too much fun. Baby had a blast, and thanks to grandma's and great grandma's babysitting, Dave and I even got to go canoeing at the same time on Sunday morning. We managed to navigate 2.5 hours of Jack's Fork River without tumping over or divorcing. :-)

Anyway, I checked on my Downtown Plots this morning. The West bed is full of green beans, all merrily growing and up to a few inches tall already. 2 long rows of a purple bush variety and 2 long rows of a green bush variety. I have left enough room in between the rows to grow fall crops of swiss chard or spinach or beets. (We'll see if that actually happens.)

The east bed has all the hills of squashes and cucs putting on real leaves. It also has the potatoes and they have reached 6 inches. Now, my little gardening book tells me that at 6 inches I should "hill the potatoes." So, my mission today during Rowen's nap time is to figure out exactly one should "hill the potatoes." Is it a simple matter of hoeing more dirt up? Do the hills have to be a certain shape? Is compost cool to hill with or should I use plain dirt? Can I hill too much?

Now, the more observant of you will probably be wanting to know how my potatoes got in the ground instead of my fabulously planned Vertical Potato Trial 2009. Well, the frame got built, but when it came time to put the potatoes in there, I realized I wouldn't be able to easily move it. And with plans to move houses in the next month, I was loath to put the potatoes in the frame and risk losing the whole crop. So, executive decisions were made, and the potatoes got planted in the east bed at the Downtown Plots and the frame got safely moved, and is patiently waiting for a permanent home for Vertical Potato Trial 2010. :-) Potatoes are an experiment crop for me anyway, planting them in the time honored fashion will not be a wasted experience.

I'll report back when I have some answers.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Snapshot

"Jennie, you need to get up, break time is over."

"No, I need to nap, you promised me I could nap."


"You promised me I could nap today."

"I didn't say that."

"Yes you did, this morning, it was the only reason I got out of bed."

"I don't think I said that, if I did say it maybe I meant next week. You can nap next week."

A conversation between Dave and I Monday evening. We are in the middle of a move. Moving was easier before baby. Oh well, back to it. More exciting blogging next week perhaps.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The end of the cold frame.

So, my cold frame has yielded another tidbit of information. I planted 3 different types of spinach last fall. Monnopa seems to be the winning variety from the trial. While the other two were equally tasty, and equally hardy, the Gigantic and Bloomsdale are bolting and the Monnopa is still putting out leaves. That is good to know. You can see the 3 rows in the picture, Monnopa is the one on the left.

Sadly, the cold frame must be dismantled in the next week and moved to our new house. The lettuce I planted will not have time to mature. I might try and transplant some of the larger sprouts into containers, but I can't imagine it will be very successful. *sigh* Sad, I do love my lettuce. But, I guess I'll just have to try for a crop this fall.

All in all, it was an interesting trial. I got a bunch of spinach out of it, and some good information.

The rest of the container garden is planted and ready to move to the new house. Hopefully there's room for them all. :-D
I ended up with lots of herbs, a pepper plant, an eggplant, a tomato, a broccoli, a pot of peas and a pot with radishes and leaf lettuce.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

How my garden grows

So, a quick rundown on my garden spaces this year so y'all out there in cyberspace can keep current, plus, it'll help me organize my thoughts.

I no longer have my massive farm house garden. What I'm working with this year is more of a disjointed affair. I have 3 plots, 8'x16'each, at the community gardens in Des Moines. Two of those are in the Downtown community garden, and one is in the Franklin st community garden. The rest of my gardening will be in the container garden I built up last fall. Total, I'm working with 450 sq feet of ground space and a dozen or so decent sized containers.

The 2 plots at the Downtown garden will be the farthest away from my house. So, those two plots will be vines and beans. One plot will be nothing but squash hills, and cucumber hills. My reasoning is I can't possibly container garden those, and they don't require a lot of daily maintenance. The second plot will be bush beans. Bush beans because they don't require trellising, and they tend to put on beans in waves, which means I won't have to be out there every day picking beans. The other influencing factor is those plots aren't done yet. The city is behind on construction. So, I can't put in anything that needs to be planted early.

The plot at the Franklin Garden will be more diverse, but since it will be closer to our house, I should be able to keep up with it. I have garlic and onions planted in it already. I also seeded carrots and kohlrabi over the weekend; about 6 square feet of each. I have room for a few broccolis and a couple tomatoes and that's it.

Lettuces and herbs are in containers. Peas have been planted in a container, and I have a trellis ready for them to climb. I'm trying my hand at vertical potato planting with a container I built myself. I have a strawberry pot with strawberry starts in it. I want to try an eggplant in a container, and maybe a determinate tomato plant. If I have a pot left I might try a cabbage or a bell pepper.

Aaand, just to make it all really confusing, I'm also dealing with veggies for the CSA with Becky up in Boone. This undertaking is an hour away from my house in Des Moines. But, basically we are trying to start up a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)farm. The CSA is called Open Source Organics and we tilled our first 2 beds this spring. The beds are 3'x 100'. CSA means that people buy "shares" of the harvest before the season starts and then the farmer distributes the vegetable harvest weekly over the course of the growing season. This year we are not a true CSA as we are offloading all our veggies through a middleman company.

So, that's what I'm working with this year. As always, there are a few experiments and some standard garden fare and the chaos known as life thrown in just to make things interesting. I'll post the interesting stuff here. I'm thinking I won't keep track of my harvests by weight this year. With a new baby I just figure the chances of keeping up on the weigh ins is practically zero. :-) What weights I did get recorded would be only partial representations of actual harvest and pretty much worthless. So, no boring posts full of numbers this summer. :-) I'll probably do weigh ins again in the future, they are just too useful not to, but it will be a couple of years I think.

Hmm... did I ever add up all my total harvest weights and come up with a total for the year?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A birth story

It's been awhile since my last post. Things have been a little busy. :-) Our son arrived in the wee hours of the morning March 31st, 1:06am to be precise. He's sleeping right now, and I wanted to take a moment to write.

One of the online forums I frequent has a tradition of sharing birth stories. I read dozens of them in my last trimester, stories ranging from at-home births in bathtubs to emergency cesareans and everything in between. I believe these stories work to counter the over played Hollywood drama of birth, you know the story; the woman suddenly goes into full blown labor, usually someplace inconvenient, and she proceeds rapidly, and loudly, to some crisis point where the good doctor steps in and saves mother and baby. Of course, baby is usually a 10lbs one month old, and doesn't even resemble a newborn, but I digress. I don't know about you, but when I found myself pregnant, that was pretty much the only birth story I knew. That and my own story, but I didn't know much more than I was born C-section and I had seen a couple of pictures once. I think we do our society a disservice by perpetuating that particular story. Women need to hear more about the reality of birth, in all it's nuances and personal differences. They need to hear less of the Hollywood version. To that end, I would like to submit my own story to the dialogue, in the hopes that it gets shared and maybe helps further women's knowledge.

--Rowen Donald Erwin--
I think my husband and I were pregnant at our handfasting. Probably only a week or so pregnant, but I really do think Rowen was there.
The next 9 months proceeded fairly normally as these things go. I thought I had a stomach flu until I found out that morning sickness can last all day. :-) The first 3 months were pretty much spent in a constant state of nausea. I was still dancing though, salsa and belly dance a couple of times a week. I danced all the way through this pregnancy, although the frequency decreased a lot in the third trimester. My feet swelled, so I couldn't fit into any of my dance shoes. By the time I went into labor, my tennis shoes barely fit, I had to leave them unlaced. But, baby was healthy, and I was healthy, so I'm not complaining.

I had a few Braxton-Hicks in the last trimester. Nothing major, never lasting more than 10 minutes. When I woke up on Sunday the 29th with crampy pains, I knew it was something different. After getting out of bed at 8, I lost my plug. At first I thought it was my water breaking, but after careful consultation with the women in my life, we came to the conclusion that it was just my plug. I was having contractions all morning, about every 15 minutes or so, but they were very light. Dave and I packed our hospital bag and alerted my friend Becky. (Becky graciously accepted the position of labor coach, and I really couldn't have done it without her.) Seeing as how things were still pretty light we decided to go to the natural living expo that was at the convention center a few blocks from our hospital. We went and walked around for an hour or so, but the contractions remained light, I could talk through them and they were still every 15 minutes or so. We met Becky for some lunch. A couple of hours later, we decided nothing was happening very fast, so Becky went back home, Dave and I did the same and we settled in for the evening. Contractions continued, that evening they started increasing in frequency. I tried to go to bed around 11, but couldn't sleep, so I camped on the couch and timed contractions every hour or so. I got to 30 second contractions 5 minutes apart, but around 4am I finally fell asleep. I only slept a few hours, but when I woke Monday, the contractions had eased back to every 10 minutes. Dave felt we were too far along for him to go to work, so he stayed home. That ended up being the right decision. Around 11 we were getting bundled up to go for a walk around the neighborhood (to help labor progress) and I felt something pop. It was a very weird feeling, almost like a joint cracking, but in a place I knew I had no joints to pop. Almost immediately I felt my waters and I knew what had happened. Within the next 15 minutes my contractions increased duration and frequency noticeably. We timed them and realized we were at 1 minute long every 4 minutes.
We called Becky and told her we were headed to the hospital. If I was doing things over, at this point I would have insisted on getting lunch before going to the hospital. Oh well. We got there, got checked in and got stuck in a triage room to establish where labor was and get my vitals recorded. I was having to breathe through the contractions at this point and I was not surprised when the nurse confirmed that my waters had broken and we were not going home. We told her we were trying for a natural birth and she was very supportive, telling us she had helped a woman on her last shift deliver without meds. She got us settled in a room and brought us a birthing ball. Shortly after that Becky got to the hospital and joined us. From that point until dinner, we started to get down to business. My blood pressure and temperature both rose a little bit. Rowen sailed through all the contractions without any problems. To combat the temperature and the high blood pressure I drank lots of water. I walked around the room a little bit and sat on the birthing ball as much as I could. Dave and Becky each got dinner, by that point I was NOT interested in food, really I wasn't even interested in them leaving me to get food for themselves, but they needed their energy. :-D At 7 we lost our first nurse, she was replaced by the next shift, which was a little annoying because the new shift had to redo all the vitals tests. Contractions were fierce at this point, and I was having to rely on my support team more and more. I had read Ina May Gaskin's "Guide to Childbirth" and I really connected to her birthing techniques. It was no surprise to me when I moaned my way through the contractions. I rocked on the birthing ball and used low tones to help keep all my muscles relaxed. Deep breaths at the beginning of the contraction helped me hook the low tones into the relaxation I was aiming for. I instinctively found the pitch and volume level that worked for the pain level I was feeling with each contraction. Looking back on it, it was pretty cool, but at the time it was just intense. By 11 I was at 7cm, I pretty much thought I wouldn't make it at this point. I think I asked for drugs around this time and my lovely team talked me out of it, or just ignored me, it's all kinda fuzzy. By midnight I was nearing the end of my strength, contractions were coming hard and heavy and I was told that my half of the maternity wing could all hear me. :-D Around this point I vaguely noticed that the nurses weren't leaving anymore, they were sitting in the room next to me, watching moniters and quietly lending their support, allowing me and my team to do what we needed. They became very helpful when I entered transition a few minutes later and started throwing up. I didn't realize what was happening at the time, I just remember being very upset that I had to deal with *this* too. Time got even more fuzzy from this point on. I know the Dr came in and was scheduled to check me around 12:30. She said I only had a little lip left and she thought I could push through it. Now, Becky had to help me understand what was going on, I was still focusing my way through contractions and I didn't realize that we had gotten to the pushing part. I remember being surprised, "He's coming now?" Hahaha I guess pushing lasted for close to 20 minutes.. maybe 30, but it only felt like 5 minutes. Pushing was much better than the contractions. I finally felt like I was able to *do* something to help Rowen arrive, as opposed to riding along and trying to relax. I remember tryong to push him out slowly in the hopes that I would stretch easier. I didn't really feel it when I tore pushing his head out, it was only a small tear though. His shoulders rotating their way out felt *really* cool. Then, to my amazement he was out and on my stomach.

Dave got to cut the cord. I pushed out the placenta and got stitched up before I finally let the nurses have Rowen to weigh and measure. I got to see the placenta before they took it away for disposal. That was pretty cool, but maybe I'm just weird like that.
Rowen's time of birth was recorded as 1:06am on 3-31-09.
He was weighed in at 8lbs, 7.8oz.

We made it through 41 hours of labor with no drugs and no complications. Breast feeding is going well and he's already getting bigger. He's up to 10lbs 7oz as of Tuesday. :-)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Water update for Riot

I have a small bit of success to report on the water usage from last month. We were down 100CF to a total of 500CF for the month. I put a timer down near the shower to remind me when my 7 minutes are up, and I tried to skip a shower or two a week.

Our water usage is still not anywhere near the 10% goal, our 500CF a month puts us at 40% of the American average. Still, progress is a good thing.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Planting season + Banking woes = ??

It's getting close to planting season here in the midwest. I'm a little fearful about what the last of the snow melt will bring for American farmers.
Like most current business models, they rely heavily on loans to produce their yearly crops. These mostly happen at planting time, they need loans for seed since they can't save their own, and they need loans for herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers since the soil can no longer support healthy crops. None of these items are getting cheaper, and most farmers just don't have the capital to cover them in the spring.

What's going to happen when they go to get their annual loans and the bank they've used for years is no longer extending credit? Or is extending less credit? Or the bank is gone? A small toy store may be able to skate through a credit disruption and come out just fine when the government TARP money trickles in, but farmers have a much more defined schedule. Waiting around a month or two for government bailout money is not going to be an option.

And, that's just the problem facing farmers this spring. There's a much larger gorilla in the living room, it's being talked about in the Peak Oil community, but mostly being ignored by mainstream America. The recent release of the 2007 Ag Census shows only about two percent of the U.S. population is part of a farm family, and the average age of principal operators of farms is nearing 60 years. Take a second and absorb those numbers. Only 2% of our citizens are involved in one of the more important systems for continued life. And the AVERAGE age is 60. If you'll remember your math lessons, that means roughly half of the farmers are OVER 60. The Census reports that the farmers aged 25 or younger decreased by 30% from 2002. I see these numbers and I think to myself that we are failing to replace our aging farmers. This failure is going to become apparent very soon, and I think it won't be pretty.

Kunstler, admittedly one of the more "Doomer" voices had an eloquent take on this problem.
The net effect of the failures in banking is that a lot of people have less money than they expected they would have a year ago. This is bad enough, given our habits and practices of modern life. But what happens when farming collapses? The prospect for that is closer than most of us might realize. The way we produce our food has been organized at a scale that has ruinous consequences, not least its addiction to capital. Now that banking is in collapse, capital will be extremely scarce. Nobody in the cities reads farm news, or listens to farm reports on the radio. Guess what, though: we are entering the planting season. It will be interesting to learn how many farmers "out there" in the Cheez Doodle belt are not able to secure loans for this year's crop.
My guess is that the disorder in agriculture will be pretty severe this year, especially since some of the world's most productive places -- California, northern China, Argentina, the Australian grain belt -- are caught in extremes of drought on top of capital shortages. If the US government is going to try to make remedial policy for anything, it better start with agriculture, to promote local, smaller-scaled farming using methods that are much less dependent on oil byproducts and capital injections.
This will, of course, require a re-allocation of lands suitable for growing food. Our real estate market mechanisms could conceivably enable this to happen, but not without a coherent consensus that it is imperative to do so. If agri-business as currently practiced doesn't founder on capital shortages, it will surely collapse on disruptions in the oil markets. President Obama at least made a start in the right direction by proposing to eliminate further subsidies to farmers above the $250,000 level. But the situation is really more acute. Surely the US Department of Agriculture already knows about it, but the public may not be interested until the shelves in the Piggly-Wiggly are bare -- and then, of course, they'll go apeshit.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Mmmm I Heart Spinach

I ate my first spinach out of my cold frame tonight. It's been ready for awhile, a couple of weeks at least, I just kept forgetting to go out and grab a handful when I was making salads. :-D Well, today I remembered, and it's super tasty! I can't think of a better way to celebrate the beginning of spring.
I spent the morning cleaning up the container garden, pulling out old annuals, getting soil into the empty pots and giving perennials some compost top dressing. I also moved the perennials that overwintered in the basement back out to the driveway. It's supposed to rain for the next couple of days, I'm hoping it gets my lettuce seeds sprouted and perks up the basement plants, they were getting kinda sad in the basement.
It's looking like I'll have a pretty cool container garden this year. I think I'll have green beans, peas, lettuce/spinach, eggplant, tomato, rhubarb and herbs in containers. The rhubarb and chives and green sage and russian sage are already up.

It's looking like my onion sets will be here in Mid-April. I'll have to get them in the ground a few weeks after our little one joins us.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Equinox Potato action!

I've got seed potatoes sprouting! I have 2 varieties, Yukon Gold and Desiree. They will be on the window sill for about 2 weeks, and then I will cut them into slips and put them in my fancy little vertical potato plot.
Of course, we won't mention that in 2 weeks I could be giving birth, or recovering from said birth. But, somehow I'll get potato slips into dirt. Eventually. I'm sure.

It's nice to have things planted and sprouting and growing. The spinach out of my cold frame is tasty, and I've got the other half of the frame seeded with lettuces. Tomatoes are in the basement, hopefully germinating. :-D Yay spring!

This weekend, tonight really, is spring equinox. Which means? Come on, think hard, all the way back to Jr High science.... :-) After tonight the days are increasingly longer than the nights! Dave and I aren't planning anything too exciting for this time of fertility. Mostly due to our own fertility. I'm too big for exciting. :-D (If you've ever wondered what bunnies and eggs have to do with Easter, look up some of the pagan celebrations surrounding Ostera. ) But, I might plant a few seeds or take a long walk. We'll see.

Happy Equinox everyone. If you have some dirt, put some seeds in it this weekend! (nothing frost tender though) ;-)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Spring garlic planting

Finally some sunshine! I was literally going crazy. Literally. Ask my hubby. Another day cooped up inside on that d*mn couch and I think I might have gone postal. :-D Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I spent all winter toasty warm with my little baby space heater, but I am ecstatic to get out and move a bit. It was rather hard to keep active with no safe place to walk, no swimming pool and no abdominal muscle control for dancing. But, now the earth is warming, the days will be longer than the nights, I can get out and walk and that all makes me really really happy. It will help with the upcoming labor too, both physically and emotionally.

We got out yesterday in the community plot and planted the garlic bulbs. Now, these were supposed to go in the ground last fall. They go in when the soil hits 60 degrees in late fall, with a 4" layer of straw to keep them cozy over winter and they pop up in early spring. Needless to say, between the morning sickness and job hunting it didn't happen. So, it's kind of an experiment to see what happens. The soil temps are still in the 30's, so it's the earliest I can manage. Dave had to help me since I'm unbalanced right now, but with his help we got the icy ground broken up and mixed with the nice warm top layer, and the cloves poked into their rows. I did some research, and about half the people who have tried planting in spring said it worked fine, and the other half got only large cloves at the end of the summer. Check back with me at the end of July and see how the experiment turns out. :-D

For my own records, the rows West to East are: German Hardy, Russian Giant and Chesnook Red. Last year I trialed 6 varieties, I whittled out the varieties that didn't grow as robustly, leaving me with these 3. Hopefully, this year I'll get another decent harvest of storable bulbs and I can look into which stores better and longer. But for now, I'm happy with growing all three. I only got about a dozen cloves of each planted, so that means a smaller harvest than last year. I'll have to supplement with garlic from some of my local market farmers in order to store enough local garlic to see my family through the winter. Not a problem, since I can get them for a dollar a bulb or so in August, I just have to remember to set aside the $20 to make sure it happens.

I'm down to the last few bulbs hanging from lonely little braids in the basement. And those are starting to shrivel and sprout, so I'll probably use them up this month. I'll have to try and live with the chopped garlic in oil that's in the fridge until the garlic crop gets harvested. I think we'll make it.

Dave says I should explain the comments about "used diapers" from last week's post. So, just in case anyone reading this didn't understand what I was talking about, here's the explanation.
We are diapering our little one with cloth diapers. They get washed and dried and reused, and when baby outgrows them they can be used for another baby, or recycled into rags or whatever. So by saying we have used diapers waiting for the little one, I was not telling you about a pile of dirty diapers. :giggle: I was telling you about the dozens of prefolds and fitteds that I have scavenged or made. They are neither dirty nor smelly, but they are used diapers.