Saturday, December 18, 2010

Your Car Is Not A Space Heater

I'm constantly amazed at how many people are unaware of the toxic effects of idling their car. This time of year, I frequently see people sitting in cars (most often parents at a school or an event like a soccer game, frequently with other children in the car), and they are idling the car, presumably to keep the heaters running. I don't think they know the increased risk they are putting on themselves and their children. People will actually wait five to ten minutes in a drive-through line at Starbucks or McD's when getting out of the car and going in not only saves them fuel and exposure to the toxic pollutants of idling, but time as well (often the line inside is minimal at rush hour, while the drive-through lines are long).

I made up a simple document that is small enough to hand to people and outlines the dangers of idling in a bulleted format that's quick to read. If you have Idlers in your area who are not aware of these issues, please feel free to copy and print these to hand out!

Please Don’t Idle Your Car
For the sake of your health and of those around you

A Few Idling Facts:

Ø       Vehicle exhaust is the leading source of toxic air pollution in Oregon.
Ø       Vehicle exhaust contains at least 21 air toxics which are hazardous to human health.
Ø       Emissions from idling vehicles can be as much as 20 times greater than those from one traveling at 32 mph.
Ø       Inhaling these pollutants can:
o         aggravate asthma,
o         cause coughing or difficult breathing,
o         decrease lung function,
o         exacerbate cardiovascular problems and
o         lead to chronic bronchitis.
Ø       Children are especially sensitive to the eff ects air pollution because they breathe more quickly and take in more air than adults.
Ø       Children inside an idling car, or directly in the vicinity (as in school drop-off zones) are at increased risk for health problems due to inhaling pollutants
Ø       Asthma is the third leading cause of hospitalization for children under the age of 15. Asthma is also the most common chronic illness in children.
Ø       Studies have linked pollution from vehicles to increased rates of cancer, heart and lung disease, and asthma.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Apples to Apples

This time of year, it amazes me how much fruit is left on trees around town. I wish there was a way to better hook it up with people who need food, since it seems positively shameful to waste nature's bounty like that. Yesterday I found an apple tree in an abandoned lot, just full of fruit. The leaves are all gone, so it looks like a Christmas tree except hung with perfectly bright red globes of fruit. I stuffed my jacket pockets as full as I could get them of the wonderfully tart/sweet apples, and I'm coming back next week with a bag. Applesauce anyone?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Getting Ready For the Dark Days Challenge

Yes, it's that time of year again. Over at the Urban Hennery, they are once again challenging us to think local, to source local, to eat local. It's the 4th Annual Dark Days Challenge and I'm planning to do it again. Yes, it's tough to find local foods in the dark of winter when the garden is buried under snow and the locally available vegetables consist of kale and, well, kale. I like kale, so that's not a problem, but there's only so much of it one can eat.

One thing I've found from participating in the challenge in the past is that when you forge new local connections for food sources, you tend to keep utilizing them in the months to come. Or you think out of the box and plan for ways to eat more locally in the winter. For instance, I cut the Zucchini That Ate New York into small cubes and put it into freezer bags in my chest freezer. I like to use zucchini with my eggs in the morning, so I can just take a handful out of the freezer and fry them up whenever I need them. That's a great easy way to add local vegetables during a season when I can no longer grow them.

My locavore omelette includes eggs from my chickens, local goat's milk, spinach and tomatoes from my garden, pork sausage from a local pig (in my freezer) and chantrelle mushrooms harvested locally. I'll be finding more ways to eat locally in the dark days to come!

Monday, November 08, 2010

What Bicyclists Lost in the House and Senate

I know that people in many states are feeling strongly about the outcome of the recent elections. But regardless of your political stance, from a bicycling and cycling advocacy standpoint, we lost some big supporters in the House and Senate last week. We  lost our biggest champion on the transportation committee, Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) and more than 30 members of the Congressional Bike Caucus in the House. Congressman Oberstar was instrumental in passing much of the important cycling and pedestrian legislation in the last two decades. Things like Safe Routes to Schools were shepherded through by this tireless public servant.
Here in Oregon, I'm incredibly grateful that Peter DeFazio is returning for another term. He has been a long-time supporter of sustainable bike and pedestrian legislation and in fact my favorite bicycling bridge here in town is named after him. If I lived anywhere near Washington D.C. or had the money to travel there, I would definitely be attending the National Bike Summit to make sure our congresspeople know that cycling is a huge priority for our communities.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Green Bean Bonus Makes More Dilly Beans

Unfortunately, I can never make green beans last around here. I love dilled green beans so much that even if I have a bumper harvest, there's never enough to can. I can eat a jar like this in two days flat. Lucky for me, our green beans took advantage of the late warm fall weather to produce a second harvest. I got a couple of colanders full, and now I have at least a few days supply of dilled green beans.

Here's my easy-peasy way to make dilly beans (from my mom):

1. Save the pickle juice from a big Costco-sized jar of dill pickles.
2. Remove stems from green beans and snap in half
3. Lightly steam them just until tender
4. Throw them in the pickle juice for a few days
5. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

How To Sling A Pumpkin

This year my rogue pumpkins (all volunteers) even started climbing my fences. This one started setting a fruit while twining up my flimsy fence. I knew it would break off from the vine as soon as it started to get heavy, so I put on my thinking cap for a minute mesh shopping bag to the rescue! Now I have a pumpkin sling, and these mesh bags are great because they expand so much, this pumpkin could get quite large before it tested the capacity of this bag. As you can see, the pumpkin is starting to ripen up nicely, and I think it will survive to maturity in it's happy little sling.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

More Than One Out of Ten

I'm happy to say that I'm one of the 11% of Eugeneans that commute by bike. Our town now has the highest bike commute rate in the nation for a city of its size or larger, according to the U.S. Census. Do you remember about a year ago when I wrote that I thought that the number of cyclists I was seeing on my commute was going dramatically up?  As it turns out, that was accurate. Our bike commuting has increased by about a third in the last two years. So it's not just anecdotal, there really are lots more bikes on the road (and the bike racks are full when I try to lock my bike up somewhere).

I also just recently participated in the Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan process, and am excited that our city is on the path of adding even more improvements to our bicycling and pedestrian access and safety. Just this summer, in addition to the ubiquitous road improvements, I have noticed some ped-and-bike-friendly improvements just in my neighborhood. A local street was revamped and sidewalks added. This means we can now walk our dogs to the dog park safely instead of having to drive them there. The bike path near the school was widened and re-paved, taking out the unsafe bike-tire-eating cracks and making it wide enough to pass pedestrians safely. I already blogged about the new bike bridge and the intersection redesign which made my commute safer and gave my kids the ability to bike to the pool and park. We also have revamped and repainted a bike box downtown (though cycling advocates had hoped for the bold green bike box paint that Portland is now sporting for better visibility). Since I go through this intersection frequently though, it's nice to at least have it clearly marked as a bike box (it used to be ambiguous).

All in all, although there are many areas where my city could definitely improve (one street in particular), I am happy to see them continue to move in a direction that encourages non-motorized transport.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Happy Spa Chicken and Harvest Time

I'm happy to report that the chicken spa treatments did the job. Voodoo's foot is back to normal and apparently we didn't have to face the dreaded bumblefoot. Now it's just harvest time in the garden, a race to get all the produce in and dealt with, as well as mulching and taking care of our late fall/winter crops. I had hoped to have a space to move my cold frames to, but it was overtaken by rogue pumpkin vines that have set fruit. Since we all love pumpkin here, I'm loathe to move the pumpkins until we've harvested them, which means the cold frames may have to wait.

Every year at this time, this blog takes a significant lull as I try to keep on top of everything going on outside in the few weeks of good weather we have remaining. Happy gardening to all!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Spa Day for a Chicken

Meet Voodoo, one of our favorite chickens. She's a six month old Barred Rock, a breed which has given us some of our mellowest and most friendly hens. Our oldest hen Hera is a Barred Rock, and a real sweetie too. Voodoo however is a little more adventuresome than most, and has consistently figured out ways to defeat the chicken pen security and escape to freedom. We find her on our front lawn, with all of the other chickens clucking indignantly that they should be out to roam too (we do actually let them out to free range as much as possible, but not when we're not around the house). It was probably on one of these escapades that Voodoo hurt her foot, and we noticed that she was limping a little bit.

Then Wayne and I went out of town to the Reno Air Races with my dad, and my mom stayed with the kids. It was during this time that the foot started to swell up and get noticeably worse. From the laptop in our hotel room, I frantically started Googling "chicken foot injury" and came up horrified. Who knew that there was this dread chicken foot disease called "bumblefoot"?? Fortunately, I don't think that's what she has after looking at the foot, but Mackenzie was very panicked when it swelled way up and many of the websites talked about lancing and surgery and antibiotics.

What I did tell him to do was to go and get some epsom salts and start soaking the foot, and move her to a sterile environment indoors. So he and grandma set off to the drugstore. Unfortunately, Epsom salts have now gone designer, with all kinds of herbal addititives (gone are the days of the $3 bag of just "Epsom salts" apparently) and they came back with a scented bag of chamomile salts. So we've been joking that Voodoo is getting her twice-daily "spa treatments" at the Blue Skies Ranch, and so far the swelling on her foot has gone down almost completely and she's putting weight on it again. Another day or two and she'll be done with her little spa vacation and can go back with the other ladies and tell them all about it. I bet they'll be jealous.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Hundred Hen March

This week at our town's big celebration and parade, one parade entry will be the Hundred Hen March. They may well have more than a hundred hens as it seems every other house in our area of town now has chickens. Asa is planning on going, towing a couple of hens along (caged of course) in our bike trailer.

The purpose of the Hundred Hen March is to increase awareness of backyard chickens and the growing food sustainability movement. Sounds like a good cause and a fun time to me. I may have to make some kind of clever sign to march along with. What do you think of "Feeling Clucky Punk?"

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Okay, I Take It Back About the Snap Peas!

You might remember I posted awhile back that my attempt to stagger my snap pea plantings looked to be a failure. As it turns out, it wasn't at all! My snap peas that I planted later have continued to produce as the first ones burnt out, with the result that I still have bunches of snap peas every day, and we're eating fresh veggies from the garden like I had hoped. In past years, we've just had a burst of snap peas and then they were gone, but this year the staggered plantings worked like magic and we've got a sustained harvest that so far is not letting up. I love it when things go right!

Since my kids really love raw veggies and aren't so keen on canned or preserved stuff, it's one of my goals to move towards a year-round harvest. This means staggering how I plant things, and using our sun room and cold frames to try and extend the season as much as I can. I'm still learning as I go, but I count this as a victory along the way.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Encouraging Bike Commute

I'd consider my new bike commute as a report card on how well our city accomodates bicycles. I'm working at a new job, teaching kickboxing at our karate dojo which is in the next town over, about 11 miles from here. So far I've been commuting by bike most days. It's really a terrific commute, which takes about 45 minutes each way on my around-town commuter bike. There is not a single block of the journey that I'm on a street without some sort of cycling accomodation, which is very encouraging as a bike commuter.

First, I start out on a street that's marked as a bike-friendly street. Around town they're delineated by green destination signs and these painted symbols on the street. They're generally low-traffic streets in which biking is encouraged and driving discouraged. In some cases, they have restricted entry to cars or speed bumps to discourage through-travel by cars.

After three miles on that street, I enter the riverfront bike path. Most of my commute is along this path, which winds along the Willamette river for miles on either side. This path connects the two cities of Eugene and Springfield.

Five miles down the bike path, I turn north onto a series of low-traffic streets with designated bike lanes. A new roundabout on one of the streets has a terrific bike accommodation to make it safer for cyclists. Eventually I end up on a new bike path that parallels I-5, and crossing over the freeway on a new cycling-only suspension bridge. This is one of two bike-and-pedestrian-only bridges that I cross on my commute. Our city has invested heavily in making sure cyclists and pedestrians can cross rivers and freeways easily and safely, and this makes my commute much more enjoyable.

The last part of my commute is about one mile on a high traffic street. It's the least enjoyable bit of the whole trip, but I have a good bike lane to travel in, and all of the drivers so far have been exceedingly courteous, yielding to me even when they have the right of way.

All in all, you can see how over the years the accommodations that my city has put into place to make cycling safer, easier, and more convenient have all added up to make it possible for me to commute to my job by bike. All of these changes did not occur overnight, or even in the same decade. It might be a bike lane here, a path there, a bridge here, a traffic change there. But when a city commits to making cycling a priority, you eventually end up with a network of paths, lanes, and streets that make commuting by bike an option that more and more people will choose. And that's to all of our benefit.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Getting Clucky in NYC!

On CNN Money, urban chickens in NYC!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Better Biking Ahead

I'm very excited that a major intersection near our house that was extremely dangerous for cyclists has been completely revamped this summer when they repaved it. I think there are regulations in place now that when they re-design an intersection it is mandatory that they have to include bicycle and pedestrian accommodations. This intersection lays in between our house and the public pool, so my teenager has been biking through it by himself and I am SO grateful that there are now bike lanes and that he doesn't have to ride up onto the sidewalk and risk getting nailed by cars coming in and out of the business parking lots that front the road.

Essentially, the intersection used to have two lanes of traffic  in each direction, and they removed one lane and put in a nice wide bike lane and a wider sidewalk as well. You can see clearly here how the pedestrian and bike access has been vastly improved and made much safer by these improvements. To the people planning them, it might just seem like paint striping and pavement, but to a mom whose children are on bikes next to one-ton vehicles, it means that I breathe a lot easier when they want to bike someplace by themselves.

As a society, we want our children to be healthy and fit. Childhood obesity and inactivity are huge health problems, yet we often don't put the necessary systems in place to make sure that kids can navigate safely around town using their own two feet. I'm happy to say that my city is making this possible!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bale Fail

Sorry to say, the straw bale planting experiment so far has been a total failure. And I thought maybe it was just me, but my other friends who tried the bale experiment haven't had much luck either. At first, all the plants looked like they were doing fine, but then they just withered away. Meanwhile, the stuff in my garden is thriving and growing like crazy. I know there's lots of great photos on the internet of straw bale gardens just bursting forth, but I wonder if maybe they are using some kind of fertilizer on them? I was under the impression that the composting bale would have enough nutrition for the plants to grow in (in addition to the dirt I put into each hole in the bale that I planted in.) but it doesn't look like it was enough for my poor little plants.

If anyone has bale garden tips and techniques or success storied, I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

So Much for Staggering Snap Peas

In years past, I've only planted one batch of snap peas. They've produced a good amount of peas, but in a short period of time and then they're done. So we gorge on snap peas and then they're just gone for good. I though this year I would do something really clever - I'd stagger my snap pea plantings by several weeks and then we'd have peas for a much longer time period. So in the first garden box I planted some snap pea starts that I bought at a plant sale to benefit our local food bank. In the second box I planted seeds at the same time. In the 3rd and 4th boxes I staggered more pea plantings at 2 - 3 week intervals. Hah, I would have an unending supply of snap peas!

Except that it was cold and rainy through May and most of June, so almost nothing grew. Then a couple of weeks ago when it suddenly got really warm, they all exploded with growth and blossoms. Now all of the snap peas look identical in size, no matter when they were planted, and they're all bursting at the seams with pea pods. So guess what? I'm picking a colander a day of snap peas and we're all turning green from eating them. And I guess they'll all be done about the same time since the weather is in the mid-nineties and not falling anytime soon. Snap peas don't really care for the heat.

I guess we'll just have to enjoy them while they're here. We're definitely eating very locavore right now!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Last Year's Tomatoes, This Year's Sauce

I have to admit, I never got around to canning last year's tomatoes. Oh, I had the best of intentions, but September's siren song of the last of summer's sun called me away. So I stuck the tomatoes in one gallon freezer bags to can in the late fall. Of course late fall means kids' activities and preparing for the holidays, so it just never got done. But all was not lost. Whenever I've wanted to cook up some tomato sauce, I just take a big baggie of tomatoes out of the freezer and pop them in a saucepan with some water. After they've cooked down for awhile, I fish out the skins and stems, add spices, some onions and garlic, and reduce it down to a yummy pasta or pizza sauce. The kids swear they've never tasted a better sauce, so you can't beat that! Sometimes laziness pays off.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Mystery Chicken Death

A couple of days ago, one of our chickens went missing. Just gone from the coop. No tell-tale pile of feathers from a raccoon or raptor attack, just no chicken. Today she wandered back into the chicken pen in the middle of the day and promptly squawked twice loudly and fell over dead. I have no idea what was wrong with her, a mystery chicken death. I am wondering if she ate a mushroom of some sort since the recent massive rains have caused a large sprouting of many varieties of mushrooms in the woods and even in my raised garden boxes! We have had another chicken die like this a couple of years ago and I just don't have a clue.

RIP Bingo, this is a photo of her about three years ago, happily foraging through our leaf piles. She was a bit of a  mystery chicken from the get-go, she was supposed to be an Americauna chicken, but never developed the fluffy face feathers that our other Americaunas did. She had her own unique look to her, but was a very pretty girl. Here she is in her awkward teenage days, next to Saphire, our Blue Andalusian:

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Garden Updates

It's been hard to get much gardening in the last couple of weeks. The rains have been absolutely torrential, in the fullest sense of that word. We got more rain in the first four days of June than we usually get all  month (and June is not particularly dry here). The weather seemed to have a perverse ability to clear up when I had to be someplace away from the house, and just as I was thinking "at last, I can do some gardening when I get home", the dark clouds gathered and began to dump water from the sky.

Many of my plants are not doing well, especially melons, squash, and cucumbers. They're just not liking the combination of cold and wet when they're supposed to be growing. The snap peas on the other hand are ecstatic.

Still, in the couple of nice days we did manage to have, I got the whole front garden weeded out (weeds don't seem to care about less-than-ideal growing conditions) as you can see above, it actually resembles a garden plot now! To the left of the fence, you can barely make out the newly-fenced addition where I've got a double-row of corn planted.

Lucky for me, I didn't transplant out any of the tomatoes from the cold frames, because the tomatoes that are out in the open air look puny and unhappy. The ones in my cold frames look quite good, especially since they were grown from seed! They're having a happy time, and I'm not sure yet when or even if I'm going to transplant them out of there.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Good News For Chicken Fans in My Town

On the heels of posting the Chicken Rap, here's some great news from our own city. Our council suspended our city's two-chicken-per-household limit! You can read more about it here. It will be interesting to see what they come up with for a future chicken rule.

Some options are:

- No limits (let current nuisance laws regarding noise, odors, etc. stand in cases where there are complaints)
- Four chickens per household plus one extra chicken for each 1,000 square feet of land (this is the law of our neighboring town)
- Revert to two-chicken law (not really very helpful since chickens are flock animals, trying to keep two is crazy)

I'm obviously hoping for one of the first two. In order to have eggs for a family of four, you really need 5 - 6 chickens.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Chicken Revolution Rap

Residents in Salem, a town just an hour up the I-5 corridor from here, are fighting for their right to keep backyard chickens. Here in my town, the city council just discussed increasing the flock size on urban lots from the three that the law currently allows (as most chicken owners know, there's virtually no way to keep only three chickens - what if one dies, you can't just get one baby chicken and introduce it, they're flock animals for pete's sake!). This rap video pokes some fun at the more outlandish concerns that people have about urban chickens (leading to meth labs in the neighborhood? really people!).

Strangely, folks are so concerned about harmless chickens. Yet did you know that dogs bit nearly 2% of the U.S. population - more than 4.7 million people annually? That over 800,000 of those bites are serious enough to require medical attention? That 1,000 people A DAY are treated in Emergency rooms for dog bites? And about 25 - 35 a year are FATAL? That most of the victims are children, half of whom are bitten in the face? That dog bite losses exceed $1 billion per year with over $300 million paid by homeowner's insurance?

So after reading all of that, how on earth residents can be opposed to chickens amazes me! Quieter than a dog, less destructive than a cat, and safer to humans and other animals than either! Now don't get me wrong, I'm a dog owner and a cat owner and I would hate to give up either. But in a city like Salem where you can keep up to a 100 pound pig as a pet, what is wrong with a couple of chickens?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bales of Fun

The straw bales are definitely doing their job, composting away and become another vegetable garden. When I went to plant in them, I dug a hole in each to fill with dirt/compost. Inside the bales it is definitely HOT! So they are composting on the inside, and the plants I've put in them so far are doing very well. I used the double-high bale fence around the garden to plant cucumbers, squash, zucchini, and pumpkins, hoping that they'll just spill over the side into the garden area. In the area with just single bales, I put some more tomatoes, artichokes, and some mystery plants (stuff I started from seed but the labels got too wet, so now I don't know what they are!)

In the front garden, I've got all of my pole beans planted, a week earlier than last year. And Wayne fenced off a new area to transplant all of the tomatoes from our cold frames. It's funny, but they took so long to germinate that I thought it was a bust to try to grow them from seed, so I went out and bought some tomato starts. No sooner did I have those installed in the back garden than my cold frame tomato seeds took off like wildfire. Now the tomatoes in the cold frames are almost as big as the starts I bought! So the bottom line is that I have 12 more tomato plants than I bargained for, which means I guess I'll be canning a lot of salsa this year.

Speaking of bonuses, a friend salvaged a TON of little blueberry plants from the yard waste recycling center, so now I need to find places around the yard to transplant a bunch of baby blueberries. Not that I'm complaining or anything...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Sadly, A Ride of Silence Reminder

You can read my post on my Ironmom blog about why this Ride is so important and cyclist safety continues to be an issue taken far too lightly by far too many motorists with far too many fatal outcomes for cyclists.

The annual Ride of Silence is May 19 at 7:00 pm. You can find a location near you at their website.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Turning Straw Into Gold

Strawbale gardening: it's not something I'd heard of until this year. My friend loaned me the book Food Not Lawns, an excellent resource for yard transformation which I'm reading, and we've been thinking on how we can restructure our massively sloped north-facing back yard to be more of a food producing zone in the "paradise garden" style that the author discusses in that book. But that's a multi-year project to say the least. In the meanwhile, we had some pressing problems like how to effectively fence off our raised beds from the pups that joined our family this year, what to do with the big dirt patch in the middle of the lawn where the trampoline was until recently, where to put the blueberries and raspberry starts (hopefully in a dedicated berry patch) and how to keep some lawn for the dogs while beginning to transform the rest.

Enter the strawbale! Did you know you can grow things right in a strawbale? You basically put the bale where you want it, get it wet to start the decomposition process, wait a few days, make a hole in the top and put in your plants. So our new fence around the raised beds is now going to be a double-high strawbale garden, thus giving us even more growing room with no extra digging or planning for the year. We've mulched in between the raised beds with straw, in the eventual plan to turn the beds into a more free-flowing design with water channels to reduce water needs. For the next couple of years, the strawbale mulch will begin this process by turning the paths to more usable ground.

And that big dirt hole where the trampoline was located? Now covered with straw bales which will house even more plants. The new berry patch is fenced off with twine in the upper right corner of the yard. Stay tuned for how the big strawbale experiment turns out!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mother's Day For Peace and Activism, Not Commercialism

Motherhood, a transformation from a life in which it's easy to only think of yourself to a life when by necessity and by the overwhelming power of love you think of others first. Mother's Day, a day to rightfully celebrate all that is wonderful about mothers.

When you look at the fuzzy little head of your newborn and hold them to your breast, the concept of war is unthinkable. When you bounce your toddler boy on your lap, the idea of him being drafted to go kill other human beings is unimaginable. Now my baby boy is a teenager, the reality of the day he has to register for the draft looms closer. I think it's worth taking a moment to contemplate the origins of Mother's Day, before it was co-opted by the forces of commercialism.

In 1872, Juulia Ward Howe, the woman who wrote "Battle Hymn of the Republic", proposed an annual Mother's Day for Peace.  On the heels of the horrible carnage that was the Civil War (over half a million dead, the costliest war in our history), Howe was committed to idea of abolishing war. In her Mother's Day Proclamation, Howe wrote: "Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs".

For 40 years, Americans celebrated Mother's Day for Peace. Then, our memories of the horrors of war grew long, and the powerful forces of commercialism grew stronger. Mother's Day was moved from June into May, and businesses quickly saw the opportunity to co-opt a day of activism and turn it to a day of moneymaking.  As a Florists' trade journal stated bluntly, "This was a holiday that could be exploited". And exploited it has been. Mother's day is now a billion dollar "industry" and the political activism of our great-great grandmothers is all but forgotten.

For myself, I've always asked that my family not buy me anything for Mother's Day. I don't need flowers or Hallmark cards. If they want to cook me breakfast or make me something handmade of course I am always grateful. My own Mother's Day tradition has always been to head out to a lake for my first open water swim of the year, and so yesterday we went over to the coast to a small inland lake and enjoyed the day as a family and with friends and I got to swim. But while our Mother's Day is not commercial, I've also discovered it's not really honoring the original intent of the day, so I am putting a note on my calendar for next April, I am pledging that I will find a way to celebrate Mother's Day by activism for peace, justice, and the good health of our land and our children.

Read the original Mother's Day Proclamation and more history of Mother's Day here, and pledge to take back Mother's Day for Peace!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Look for the Blue Skies in Urban Farm Magazine

You may not know it, but as of last fall, there's a magazine aimed at those of us who are urban gardeners and keepers of chickens and the like. Not surprisingly, it's called Urban Farm and is from the Hobby Farms magazine group. The Summer 2010 edition has a whole section on the positive mental aspects of farming in the city limits and our family and this blog is featured (look for the photo of Asa holding a chick). The magazine itself is gorgeous and touches on the areas that those of us interested in sustainability, local food webs, and urban farming are into. This edition has articles on food storage, making your own wine, watering techniques and water-wise gardening, container gardens, the yard-sharing movement, backyard goats, chickens, rabbits, etc. fruit gleaning and more. Highly recommended from yours truly to enjoy over a cup of mint tea (easy to grow your own mint in containers by the way!)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Using Available Home Space

Back when I was still working at Microsoft, I got an opportunity to work on a CD-ROM project (Remember, children, back before the web could do things like stream multimedia content, there was this brief period in history where people got their content on CD-ROMS! thus ends your history lesson for the day).

This project happened to be on Frank Lloyd Wright (I can't believe it, but I actually found the link to several used copies on!), and included a biography and photos and text on most of his structures, as well as cutting-edge (for the day) three-dimensional walkthroughs of some of his most famous houses, like the Ennis House , which by the way has appeared in the culturally iconic Karate Kid movies (number III, I believe) as well as in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

While Frank Lloyd Wright didn't design homes in the time of "Green Building" and "Sustainable Development", which are hot topics now in the architectural world, he did often make very good use of small spaces and natural heating and cooling, especially in his series of Usonian Houses , which were made to be modular, partially constructed by the owner themselves, and employed natural cooling (no air conditioning) and radiant floor heating under a tinted-concrete slab (something newer green homes are emulating). If you want to take a look at the way he used very small spaces with efficient built-in furniture and unique features like pull-out kitchen countertops (much like the roll-out breadboards), the book Wright-Sized Houses has some beautiful photos and inspirational ideas to incorporate.

During the time that I worked on this project, we got the opportunity to take a tour of the Brandes house in Sammamish, Washington. and were able to see first-hand some of the innovative ways that Wright used small spaces and inexpensive construction as well as his signature connection to the environment in which the house was situated. That style of home was brought to mind when I saw the following video. This young architect has taken the notion of using small spaces and built-in functionality to an incredible extreme, and we could all learn something from his ability to think outside the box when it comes to space and design!

Okay, and since I'm a Lego Geek, I can't pass up on the opportunity to drool over these sets. Who can resist the Guggenheim and Falling Water in LEGO!!!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Just Plant a Seed!

I'm all caught up right now in long-range gardening plans, especially for the backyard (most of which we have just let be for quite awhile now). We're really looking into multi-level contoured gardening for the backyard and moving away from the notion of having specific raised beds and areas set aside for food production separate from the landscaping. These are very long-range goals of course and sometimes I feel overwhelmed with trying to plan out where everything will go.

But that brings me to the simplest of all joys of gardening: putting a seed in the ground. Whenever I feel like gardening is just too tough or complex or overwhelming, I just go out to some dirt and put a seed in the ground. It doesn't really take much more than that. A little dirt, a little sun, a little water, a seed, and voila! The miracle happens. Even for a apprehensive gardener like me, I can make things grow!

So today I weeded out all of the raised beds, transplanted most of the remainder of the starts, and just put some seeds in the ground: more snap peas, some lettuce, more carrots. I'm trying to do more phased gardening where instead of just planting seeds once, letting them all grow up, and harvesting the food, I'm remembering to keep planting. Plant some snap pea seeds in March, get a few snap pea starts that are bigger, and plant more snap peas in April. That should keep us in snap peas for more than just the usual week or two.

As years have come and gone and I've just done the simple act of planting seeds, I've grown in my intuitive knowledge of our own land, what grows where, how long things take to sprout, and how many different crops I can grow in one season. Some of the seeds I sow today will not sprout. But that's okay, because others will, and my gardening will keep on growing.

So even if you're nervous about gardening, about getting it right, don't let that stop you. Just get out and throw some seeds in the ground and see what happens.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Four and a Half Eggs? The Chickens Oblige

I recently had to cut a recipe in half, and that brought the number of eggs required to 4 1/2. How to do that? No problem, one of our chickens recently started laying again and obliged me with a half-sized egg!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sunroom Starts

Last year, we enclosed our front deck to make a sunny room/covered entry into the house. Although it's not finished off yet, it has already shown to be extremely useful at mitigating climate (providing a warmer entryway than the cold outdoors in the winter, and shading our front door from the hot western sun in the afternoon of the summer). The deciduous tree right outside the windows ensures that it stays cooler in the summer but lets the sunlight in during the winter months. This time of year when the sun can be shining but still chilly outside, it has proved to be about 15 - 20 degrees warmer than the outside air during the daytime hours.

We also used it this year to start some veggies for the garden, and it has proved to be a nice little greenhouse growing room. Now that last week's frost, sleet, and pounding hail are (hopefully) all done with, it's time to plant all of these little guys out!

And speaking of veggie starts, these radishes are coming right out of our cold frames and into our salads. Yum! The cold frames did not provide enough heat to germinate the tomatoes I planted, but the basil, cilantro, lettuce, and radishes are all in good form. This radish variety produces a variety of colors, it's the Easter Egg II from Territorial Seed

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Cooking from scratch. Cooking From RAW Ingredients!

Recently I was involved in a bit of a Facebook kerfluffle about cooking from scratch. The gist of the discussion was whether or not it was part of a homemaker's job to cook for the family. My personal take on this is that there's not much that comes in a box or package that passes muster for nutritious living in our family's book, so cooking from scratch is more or less a necessity if my family is going to eat in a way that I feel is healthy. I understand that the time constraints that many families face make cooking a very difficult time trade-off to fit in on a regular basis, especially if both parents are working full time. But if one parent is home, and their job is as the "Home-Maker" then in my book, cooking is part and parcel of the deal.

As you can imagine, the notion that a homemaker should cook for the family caused a bit of a brouhaha in this day and age of "Don't put me in a box and tell me what I should do" feminism. In reaction to the June Cleaverism of the 1950s, we have swung so far in the other direction that no woman wants to be told that she should be in the kitchen (and far be it for me to tell anyone what they should be doing). But to me, it's not really an issue of feminism or not. My husband is often the at-home parent and when he is, he cooks. End of story.

In the midst of all of the hubbub (anyone notice that there are so many great synonyms for a Blogging Brouhaha?), was this simply astonishing quote:

"i think that we don't all understand cook from scratch the same way - for the ones who supposedly cook from scratch at every meal every day, you wouldn't be on facebook if you understood "from scratch" the way some others do. My sister in law cooks "from scratch" every meal and she is never out of the kitchen, unless it's to go buy some raw ingredients - RAW ingredients"

Which I think is worth addressing in depth. There are several parts to this myth that bear some serious discussion. The first is that cooking from scratch, or using "RAW ingredients" is some sort of terrifying bugaboo that modern homemakers just can't face. To debunk this, I'm here to tell you that I started out as a lousy homemaker. I was going to be the career gal: you know the one who has it all and comes home from her mentally stimulating and fulfilling job to kiss her lovely well-scrubbed kiddos hello and sit down to a family meal together. Except that I really couldn't make that one work. Kid #1 more or less demanded that I set the career path aside and become a full-time mother (which of course meant that I needed to start homemaking as well). Not having been much of a cook to start with, I had to learn from scratch to cook from scratch. Which is all to say that if I can do it, anyone can.

Myth number two is that it takes some insanely inordinate amount of time to buy and cook with RAW ingredients (I'm going to just keep capitalizing that one because the effect is so epic, as teen son would say). So much time in fact that you would never be out of the kitchen unless you're leaving to go buy those RAW ingredients. Now on account of my children's food allergies, I'm required to cook from scratch even more than the average homemaker. I can't simply go buy a bag of Bisquick and whip up some pancakes, nor can I buy the already made and pre-frozen waffley thingies. I have to start with some RAW goat's milk, RAW eggs, and add in the flour etc. until a pancake batter appears. To confront this sisyphean task, I simply bought a copy of Betty Crocker's cookbook and I go to the store once or twice a week. If I'm feeling especially organized, I whip up a triple batch of the pancake batter in the evening after dinner and store it in a handy lidded container in the fridge so we can pour a few spoonfuls on a hot griddle whenever POOF we want a pancake to appear. Time to make pancake batter from scratch: About 15 minutes.

Again, I'll make the point that I utterly and totally started out as the suckiest cook ever (my hubby can attest to this), not unlike Julia Child. So if I can do it (even if I have never risen to the level of a souffle-maker but have just mastered the basic pancake), anyone can. Heck, cowboys on the trail of a cattle drive managed to make flapjacks from scratch, and they were certainly no gourmet chefs, so I'm fairly confident that most folks can master it.

Myth number three: If you buy into the enforced slavery of the cooking-from-scratch mentality, you won't even have the time to update your Facebook account.

So here's a typical menu and time breakdown:

Breakfast: Omelette with sausage, onions, zucchini, and mushrooms: 15 minutes
Lunch: BigAss Salad with chicken breast, dried cranberries, pecans, and goat cheese: 35 minutes including cooking the chicken breasts and making the dressing
Dinner: Turkey with Portofino sauce over steamed cauliflower (I'm eating Paleo right now and not doing any breads or pastas): 45 minutes

Shopping: Two one-hour Costco trips a month amortized on a daily basis = 4 minutes per day
Three Weekly trips to the grocery store by foot = 2.5 hours = 22 minutes per day
One weekly trip to get our raw goat's milk = one hour = 8 minutes per day
Caring for chickens (where we get our eggs) = one hour = 8 minutes per day

Total Shopping time: 42 minutes per day
Total Cooking time: 1:35

Total Kitchen Slavery Time: 2:17

As you can see, I don't spend anywhere near my entire day cooking and shopping, and I even have time once in a while to update my Facebook status and get in these crazy discussions! Also, three of our grocery shopping trips double as dog-walking time, so they really should get some time deducted for that, and most people don't have to go out of their way to buy raw goat's milk or raise chickens for eggs. I'd say for most folks it could be 1.5 hours or less to cook from scratch with RAW ingredients, including shopping time.

Robin's Cooking From SCRATCH with RAW Ingredients Time Saving Tips:

- When you can, prepare ingredients for more than one meal at a time. If you're chopping onions, peppers, zucchini, etc., chop two or three instead of just one. Store the others in tight-lid glass containers in the fridge. Now when you want to whip up a salad or a stir-fry, it's quick and easy.

- If you have a batch of time available, mix up batters ahead of time as well. Making a double or triple batch of pancake, waffle, or muffin batter to have available in the fridge makes quick work of nutritious breakfasts. The kids like to bake teeny muffins in a cute little pan I got that fits in our toaster oven. It's almost like those fun "easy bake ovens" that you can buy for kids except that it works really well and the food is nutritious. Having batter on hand for them to make themselves a breakfast muffin also saves money from the endless boxed-cereal grocery bills.

- Plan meals from menus (I'm just now getting the hang of this one!) and shop from a grocery list made from those menus. Then you're guaranteed to have the ingredients on hand to cook what you want when you want to. If you don't have to do last-minute trips to the store, you save on gas, time, and frustration.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Quote and Image of the day

"Obama is not a brown-skinned anti-war socialist who gives away free healthcare. You're thinking of Jesus." - John Fugelsang

Matthew 25:
35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Those are some radical words right there.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Hitchhiking for Peace

Normally I'm not driving down Jefferson street on a Saturday morning, so perhaps that's why I've never seen her before, but there she was, a woman somewhere around her mid-50s standing near the curb with her thumb out. I slowed and stopped and she climbed in, I asked if she had missed a bus and where she was headed. Her answer was not something I was expecting to hear:

"I'm a hitchhiker for peace".

She told me that she started hitchhiking after 9/11, and that her mission was to spread the idea that war solves nothing and that we all need to embrace and embody peacefulness in our words and our actions. That was it, five minutes later I let her out downtown. Her words stayed with me throughout the day, her words and the fact that she took the time to share them in such an interesting way.

This morning with my cup of tea and my eggs, I read this passage from the book God Sleeps in Rwanda:

"As I stood there with [my wife] in my arms, I did not know what the future held...I did not fully understand the havoc that war wreaks on communities. Yes, war kills--I knew that--but that is only part of its destructive path. War makes widows and orphans. War cuts off arms and legs and rips emotional wounds that never fully heal. War drives people from their homes--in this case hundreds of thousands--and dooms them to lives of poverty and displacement. John F. Kennedy once said, "Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.". As I held Liberata in the gas station, I did not yet know what this meant.

One knows how war begins, but no one knows how it will end. Countries rush to war thinking it is the quickest, easiest solution to conflict, only to find themselves still entrenched years later, suffering more losses than they expected and asking themselves, bewildered, "How did we get here?" There is no "winning" a war.

From the hitchhiker to me to you: what can we do for peace today?

Friday, March 26, 2010


Meet Annabelle, she's one of our two new Rhode Island Reds. The other is named "Nugget" (Asa named Annabelle, Wayne named Nugget). We also have Spreckles, a Speckled Sussex, and Mackenzie has Voodoo, a Barred Rock.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Back To The Bike

Wow, I can't believe how much more we've spent on gas since I broke my arm. Not being able to ride a bike just has made such a huge difference. The number of miles isn't all that enormous, but the little driving trips around town - just to the store or to take the kids somewhere - that all adds up and the car gets much worse mileage on such trips. Normally I only take the car if we're going a substantial number of miles, but until this week I've had to drive everywhere.

Finally I've been able to start riding my bike, I rode to work tonight for the first time, but I'll have to say that my arm was so exhausted that I had to ride part of the way home with just one hand on the handlebars. It's still not quite all the way good for riding, but it's getting there! And I know it will be a few more weeks before I can even think of riding the tandem with the kids. Luckily, I think I will be all healed by the time the good weather really rolls around!

And to piggyback on that good news, here's something even better. From the League of American Bicyclists Blog, an article about Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood's address at the National Bike Summit. There may be some things I don't like about the way the President is doing his job, but one thing is for sure is that everywhere behind the scenes, changes like this are taking place. They might not make the news like the big Health Care Debate, but they are positive steps that will affect all of us.

I am very excited about this! Read on (quotes from the League of American Cyclists Blog)

When the Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood stood on a table at the National Bike Summit to thank the crowd and show his support for bicycling and walking, he was just getting started.

Today, he announced his new Policy Statement on Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation Regulations and Recommendations. It is simply the strongest statement of support for prioritizing bicycling and walking ever to come from a sitting secretary of transportation.

On his blog, he writes:

Today, I want to announce a sea change. People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.

We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally-funded road projects. We are discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians. And we are encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.

To set this approach in motion, we have formulated key recommendations for state DOTs and communities:

Treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes.
Ensure convenient access for people of all ages and abilities.
Go beyond minimum design standards.
Collect data on walking and biking trips.
Set a mode share target for walking and bicycling.
Protect sidewalks and shared-use paths the same way roadways are protected (for example, snow removal)
Improve nonmotorized facilities during maintenance projects.
Now, this is a start, but it’s an important start. These initial steps forward will help us move forward even further.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Extending the Gardening Season

Last year Wayne picked up some windows at a garage sale, and we also replaced our shower door so he had the old glass door to work with. He took those plus some reclaimed lumber and some newer wood and hammered up three lovely cold frames. There's already lettuce, radishes, basil, and some other stuff cropping up in them. I'm excited to be able to extend our growing season into the cooler months of spring and fall with these. It will be a learning process this year, so we'll see how they work out. In the 3rd one, I planted a couple of different types of tomatoes from seed. I've always grown tomatoes from starts before so that's another new gardening adventure!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Who Wins the Stupid Award??

Does it go to the guy out there in the pouring-down pissing-down rain today going at the sodden sidewalk with a leaf blower??

Or does it go to the city officials in Orange, California who are suing a couple for removing their lawn and replacing it with landscape bark and drought-tolerant plants, even though they have reduced their water usage from 299,221 gallons in 2007 to 58,348 gallons in 2009.

You be the judge.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Captivity: Not Good For Man Nor Beast

A couple of years ago, I blogged about the increasing violence among disenfranchised elephants. Growing up being removed from the company of older, wiser adult animals, potentially seeing members of their families slaughtered for tusks or for sport, and driven off of lands taken over for farming, elephants are increasingly turning to violence against humans, other animals, and each other.

Now this week we have yet another case of intelligent animals with strong communication skills and close relationships who have taken to fighting back. With the Orca attack at SeaWorld this week, we are confronted with the issues around capturing sentient beings in their natural habitat and forcing them into a life of slavery and confinement for our entertainment purposes. I have to admit I've been to more than a couple of marine mammal shows at zoos, aquariums, and SeaWorld itself. This excellent article by Alexander Cockburn is making me think I will not ever be doing that again. These types of attacks are far from rare, and often are even coordinated between the animals in the tank. It's possible they are not so much random as deliberate acts of retribution. Having swum in the wild with cetaceans on more than one occasion, I have always been struck by the very feeling of intelligence you get from them. It's hard to believe that they don't feel much the same way we would if pressed into a life of servitude and enforced performance.

I will be interested to read the book mentioned in the article as well: Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden Story of Animal Resistance by Jason Hribal

Monday, February 15, 2010


I put the lid up on our new cold frames today because it's been so nice and sunny. But then later I forgot and let the chickens out to forage. Of course they found the cold frame and all of the tasty little teeny plant shoots within. So there goes my veggie starts. Wah!

Chalk that one up to experience, I guess.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mad Love for Re-usable Bags

My favorite re-usable bags are Chico Bags, I've probably raved about them here before because they're so lightweight and fold up into teeny-tiny stuff sacks just like little sleeping bags that dolls might use. They hold even heavy stuff and unlike canvas bags I don't forget them because of the nifty carabiner clips they come with that let me clip them onto everything in sight. I wish I'd seen their new Valentine's bags before today, aren't they cute??

So today I'm at a store across town and I tell the checker I don't need a bag because I brought my own, but she had already started putting things in a bag, so she takes the two items out and then throws that bag in the garbage. Like two self-contained rolls of masking tape are going to contaminate the bag. Sometimes I wonder if there's a little "Piss off the environmentalist" board game that they secretly play where you get points for something like that. Maybe the lady who almost ran me over in the crosswalk today with her 80-ton SUV talking (now illegally) on her phone was playing too. Or maybe it's just that they don't really think anything of just taking a perfectly good plastic bag and throwing it away for no reason whatsoever.

But while the checker was wasting the bag, it occurred to me how much the culture of where we live plays into our actions. Strangely, although I was just across town from where I live, the culture of this side of town is very different from the culture on that side of town. They could really be two separate cities (which is evident every time we have elections here and the votes are split 50/50 conservative/progressive.) In my side of town, where I shop for groceries the checker just sits there expecting you to pull out your cloth bags and start putting the food in them. If you don't do that in a reasonable amount of time, they say "Oh, do you need a bag?" and pull one out for you. On the other side of town, the goods are whipped into a plastic bag so fast you can't even get the words out to tell them you don't need it before they're ripping it off of the little rack and handing it to you. Sometimes if you're really lucky, they'll put one item per bag and even double-bag the heavy things so that by the time you get home you realize you've consumed not one or two but seven or eight bags. I guess no one blinks an eye at this over there.

Where the culture expects you to bring your own bags, you actually feel kind of bad when you don't have one. No one actually makes you feel bad, but it's clear that you're not following expectations when you don't have them. You feel keenly that you're out of the ordinary if they have to pull a bag from the small stack under the counter. Where the culture expects that you'll just consume endless bags, you might not think twice about what that really means to the world.

I know bags are a relatively small issue in the grand scheme of things (compared to say global climate change or peak oil) but they're just one indicator of how the culture around you can influence everyone's actions. If locker rooms or showers are provided at work, the message is clear that arriving by bicycle or on foot is not only acceptable but encouraged. If people scowl at you when you carry your helmet into the building or poke fun at your two-wheeled transport, it can change the way you feel about it. The only way a culture changes is by individual action, so while our actions might feel like drops in a bucket, eventually that bucket fills up and tips things in another direction entirely. Our actions are more than the sum of their individual parts, they're creating a culture in which everyone feels more comfortable acting that way as well.

By the way, if you love frogs, you can get this cool custom Chico bag by becoming a member of Save the Frogs.