Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Antidote


It happened on a blisteringly cold February morning. I checked my Internet source of news before the boys were up. According to Yahoo, at least, the situation in the Arctic was grave. "Have we passed the tipping point?" the quoted scientist wondered aloud. "It's hard to see how the system may come back." Not good news but then the kids were awake. There was breakfast the be eaten, teeth to be brushed, lunch to be packed, a cat to be fed.

The sky was cloudless but the shrunken sun did little to warm the concrete below it. My head ached. There was no possibility of rain, no excuse not to walk my son to school this morning. It is not a short walk but not long either. Thirty minutes round trip in the morning and thirty minutes after lunch. No reason not to - especially in light of the melting ice.

I wrapped the boys in their hats and mittens and ushered them into the double stroller. Off to school we went with the kids tugging each other's hats off. Someone got poked in the eye. In retribution, the other was relieved of his mitten. They laughed. My head ached more. I had almost reached the top of the hill when a silver Hummer passed. The single woman driver gassed it over the top and disappeared down the other side.

Finally, at school, my oldest peeled off mittens, hat and jacket and I signed him in. Bouncing the little guy back into the stroller, we headed home. Crossing the street, the Hummer lumbered past us again. It must have been a quick trip downtown for a latte or maybe a scone. The woman inside looked cozy, content, nonplussed by the disappearing Arctic ice. I felt very different. I inwardly raged at the disregard for our overheated planet, at the emissions that trigger asthma attacks, at the long walk home.

The mixture of frustration, despair and angst I felt was not unique. At my Green Book Club meeting last night, two members spoke of similar concerns, of feeling incapable of facing the really bad news out there. Fellow bloggers, Chile at Chile Chews and Katrina at Kale for Sale voiced similar feelings this week as well. Indeed, this cauldron of emotions is apparently so common that a local magazine ran an entire article dedicated to what it termed "eco-anxiety".

The article delved into the uneasy mix of emotions: the stress of living greener, the fear that one is not doing enough and the frustration with others who have not yet "woken up". The eco-therapist (yes, there are such professionals) quoted in the article opined that "[t]he depression, anxiety, panic and feelings of hopelessness are symptoms of a world out of control. After all, what we're facing is a fear of extinction. The people who are not anxious - those are the ones I'm really scared for."

I tend to agree with her. We have to wake up first. We need to grieve, to absorb the knowledge of what has happened to our planet. And, then, we must gear up for the work to come. If eco-anxiety is the affliction, for me, action is the antidote.

After acknowledging how paralyzing environmental news can be, the book club members suggested we pick a book that offers its readers a road map. They lauded Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle for the power it gave its readers. By eating locally, growing our own food, living more consciously, we can believe that we, like Kingsolver, are at least doing something.

There has been much debate whether individual efforts amount to anything in the battle against global warming. I will leave that discussion to more thoughtful, well informed writers. All I know is that every action I take strengthens me, emboldens me, gives me hope, may allow me to look my children in the eyes. Line drying clothes, baking bread from scratch, sitting in a dimly lit house, freezing my buns off, starting a Green Book Club, hosting a CSA drop site, writing a letter to the governor. Will these things make a difference?

I don't know. Barbara Kingsolver wrote that such "earnest efforts might just get us past the train-wreck of the daily news, or the anguish of standing behind a child, looking with her at the road ahead". No, these small acts might not save the world but they will save my sanity. For me, action is the antidote. What is yours?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Local Yokel


Earlier this month, I wrote about the importance of supporting local businesses in an effort to preserve the diversity of our marketplace and the character of our neighborhoods. I have since put my money where my mouth is.

In exploring my neighborhood, I uncovered soft, locally milled flours at the independent health food store. I began buying my other bulk items from the grocery store owned by a local family. I scoured the downtown antique store for glass refrigerator jars and a clothespin bag. I walked to my locally owned pharmacy to turn in a prescription - and found it closed down.

The mom and pop businesses that our parents frequented are endangered species. This is an age of mass extinctions for them as well as our plant and animal species. What, we cry, can we do to save this species - the local business? Shop there. Tell your friends and family to shop there. I alone cannot save the local business. I need to convince you to help me.

It's not as simple as it sounds, though. Going local can be beautiful, unusual, sumptuous and sometimes very inconvenient.

When my downtown pharmacy went belly up, I debated going back to Walgreens with their drive through window, open 24 hours a day, and our records on file. Instead, I opened the phone book. There are not many other independent pharmacies left. I choose the closest one which is en route to a close friend's house and swim lessons and called to confirm that they would accept our insurance. They do. Then I had my doctor's office call in the prescription. The nurse called me back and warned me that "if there is any problem getting the prescription filled, call me back." Hmm, she's never done that with Walgreens. In fact, my doctor's office is electronically connected with Walgreens and all the other big box pharmacies.

In any event, we were in the area on Sunday and stopped in to get the prescription. No can do! The pharmacy is closed on Sunday. On the way to Monday swim lessons, we swung by the pharmacy again. They were open! Upon hearing my son's name, the pharmacist knew immediately who we were and what medicine needed. Unlike the dozen clerks at Walgreens, he had no need to consult a hugely alphabetized system of plastic bins to find us. He did, however, advise me to call a day before needing a refill of my son's asthma medication. They need an extra day to get it in stock. No problem. I've never had to do that at Walgreens but, because it is a regular medication, I think I can be organized enough to call the day before.

Fast forward a few days and my oldest is diagnosed with strep throat. Once again, I refer my doctor to our newly discovered pharmacy and go in that afternoon to pick up the medication. The pharmacist recognizes me off the bat and brings out my son's medication. Unfortunately, though, does not have the full 10 day treatment on hand. He has 5 days worth. I'll have to come back tomorrow afternoon or the next day to get the remainder. Now that is inconvenient. Not undoable. But damned inconvenient

Convenience isn't everything. It is, however, what has gotten us to this point we're at. Climate change, depletion, mass extinctions, pollution, toxic body burdens - all these things owe their origin to our insatiable demand for convenience. We want to travel more places and to do it faster. We want to avoid the inconvenience of seasons and ship our produce around the planet or keep the temperatures of our homes and offices carefully controlled. We demand an easier dinner, a quicker way to wash our clothes, to mow our lawn, to clean our homes.

Convenience isn't everything. I line dry my clothes but if I put them in the dryer, I wouldn't hear the birds gossip in the trees or see the squirrel hang upside down to raid the bird feeder. I cook from scratch but if we ate take out, I wouldn't have a house that smelled of caramelized onion and winter squash tart. I wouldn't have kids who called out in excitement upon discovering a new vegetable at the farmers' market, who gleefully eat snap peas off the vine, who beg for homemade bread when we run out. No. Convenience isn't much at all.

I can call my local pharmacy a day ahead for asthma medication. I can go back for the second half of antibiotics. I can plan ahead and, in case of an emergency, fall back on Walgreens. Getting my prescriptions filled at my local pharmacy won't save the world. But it is a start.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Pulling the Plug


Melinda at Elements in Time often has great ideas. This week she has had yet another one. She's sponsoring a challenge for the month of March, inviting participants to enjoy one technology free day a week. She's not suggesting we live like the Amish but merely step away from our computers and TVs or video games or whatever electronics suck our time for one day out of every week.

One of my Trim the Fat goals was to reduce time wasted online. In the beginning of the month, I enjoyed a virtually technology free weekend. Without the electric din buzzing in the background, I felt more grounded, more connected, more at peace - as cliche as that may sound. I've spent the rest of February, trimming my online time. I used to spend hours on the Internet following link after link to God knows where. Certainly some of my journeys were eye opening and useful. I didn't, however, need to take them everyday.

For the month of March, I will be taking a further step back from the computer. I will still write my posts, read my favorite blogs and follow the occasional link to an undiscovered world. I'll just be doing it one day less a week.

That other day, whether it be a Friday or a Sunday or a whatever day, I'll absorb the silence. I'll plant seeds in my garden. I'll read my book club's new book. I'll play hide n seek for the hundredth time with the kids. I'll bake homemade bread. I'll find a new recipe for dinner. I'll finally make yogurt. I'll listen only to my own thoughts. I'll pull the plug - just for a day.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Trim the Fat: Kitchen Edition

Three weeks into the Trim the Fat Challenge and I am still nipping and tucking. Last week, I gave my shower some plastic-removal surgery and this week I'm focusing on the kitchen.

Food Waste
Did you know that, of the food that makes it into U.S. homes, 50 million tons of it is thrown out? Holy cow! (pun intended). Not wanting to be one of those statistics, I've spent the month clearing out the frozen depths of our garage freezer (oh!! that's why our electricity usage is high!) and the pantry. Yes, the freezer is stocked full of locally grown winter squash that I carted home from the farmers' market, split open, baked, and pureed - slow food. There are also vestiges of our former food-selves: last year's frozen Trader Joe's stir fry, frozen organic peas and such. While not so tasty after all this time or compared to a meal cooked from fresh, seasonal ingredients, we're eating it up anyway. Better than tossing it, I thought, even while craving a local winter salad.

The Better Meal
Currently, 40% of the American food budget goes to food eaten outside the home. A year ago, that was easily our budget for take out and restaurant fare. We cut back over the last year - mostly because I couldn't stomach a garbage can full of Styrofoam containers and plastic clamshells. We now eat out once or twice a week - a burrito or breakfast at a locally owned restaurant. This week, however, we skipped all meals out.

You see, there is a certain wholesomeness, comfort and joy in home cooked food. Homemade pasta sauce, carefully simmered and stocked away in September, carries with it summer's memories, flavor found only from tomatoes ripe to bursting and identifiable ingredients. Home baked bread - even when it doesn't rise properly - provides nourishment rather than just something to put in one's mouth. Celebrating family night with home cooked pizza teaches the kids to cook, gathers the troops for the all important oft-ignored family dinner and tastes ten times better than anything delivered in a box while the pizza boy's car idles in the driveway.

It is this taste of home and of family, rather than guilt over garbage or promises to trim the fat, that kept us out of restaurants this week. It's hard to turn your back on a pumpkin and caramelized onion tart, fresh cooked corn tortillas or even pizza with half the cheese picked off.

Plastic Surgery
Just as I ousted plastic from my shower, so too am I kicking it out of my kitchen. I am reusing plastic containers from food previously purchased but am trying to keep most new plastic out. I now make our own bread (from bulk ingredients), butter (from heavy cream in a reusable bottle) and buy our locally baked bagels packed in my own reusable ziplock bag. I bought a large wheel of local cheese wrapped in wax rather than shrink wrap and am following these simple instructions to keep it from going bad.

In addition, the "environmentally friendly sponge" has been an issue for me. A while back, I bought a six (or was it a twelve) pack of compressed cellulose sponges from Trader Joe's. I've used those up and need to decide how to restock. Compressed sponges have the advantage of being packed in less packaging (1 plastic wrap for 6 or 12 sponges), taking up less space when shipped, being recyclable or biodegradable and made from recycled materials. Beth at Fake Plastic Fish posted this link for similar sponges available without the plastic packaging. I also found these sponges but, ultimately, I think I'll check the local Trader Joe's first.

The End Result
One of my stated goals for the Trim the Fat challenge was to lean up. How is that going after three weeks of indulging in home cooked meals and pantry leftovers? It would be better if I hadn't lost the battle with some homemade rice pudding! But, still, it's not too bad. I'm down almost two pounds. I wish I could say that I've gone all Chile on you and pledged to give up dessert during the week or some such thing. The truth, though, is that the "better meal" is just better for you and your waistline. Let's just hope the scale keeps moving in the same direction.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Planting a Seed


Ah, you thought this would be a philosophical post perhaps about inspiring others to live greener lives or possibly about making ourselves heard by our government. Nope, just a post about planting some seeds.

It is late February and (apparently) seed starting time here in Northern California. Heck, to look at Elements in Time's posts for The Growing Challenge, it seems to be seed starting time just about everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere.

This past Monday, we planted some lunar white, scarlet nantes and yellowstone carrot and watermelon radish seeds. I've read several times that it is a good idea to plant the two together because the radish seeds come up quicker and remind you where you planted your carrots, which take much longer to germinate. Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots also lists radish seeds as one of the top 20 seeds to plant with kids. The author claims that they grow so quickly that they offer almost instant gratification. Well, golly gee but these folks know what they are talking about. I went out this morning to check on the raised beds after our rainy week and the radish seedlings are up and lifting their charming faces toward the watery sun. They're just about the cutest seedlings I've ever seen.

We also poked some seeds for heirloom peas and unsightly strawberry spinach into our beds. I'm all about planting directly in the soil. Many folks, including Melinda at Elements in Time, claim it is often more successful, it's a lot easier and, quite frankly, I haven't a clue what I'm doing when it comes to starting seeds indoors.

Apparently, I cannot avoid all indoor seed starting though as the packet on my sunberries instructed me, most firmly, to start them inside. After reading up on this, I gathered together saved egg cartons (apparently these disintegrate in the soil when you transplant them), compost, and a cut up yogurt carton to use as seed markers. The boys and I spread the dainty little sunberry seeds in the filled cartons and then put them atop my refrigerator which is ostensibly the warmest spot in my chilly home. I keep them watered but honestly have no clue whether I should keep them up there, put them under the "grow light" to get them to germinate or set them in a sunny window, if I can find one.


It may be raining outside but I'm planting my seeds and inviting spring.




Thursday, February 21, 2008

Dark Days, Pumpkin Crazed


I doubt I was the only one beguiled at my farmers' market last fall. Surely, others were similarly seduced by the amber glow of pumpkins piled under a red umbrella or enticed by bumpy heirloom orbs heaved upon a table. There must have been someone else equally enamored with a blue-green mottled squash to dub it "Frankenstein" or to load their child's radio flyer wagon with a speckled squash the size of a toddler. Perhaps another bean ogled their fall porch "decorations" with anticipation, imagining just the moment when Thanksgiving would be over and the knife would fall, splitting those little cuties in two and unearthing their smooth salmon colored flesh. Was I the only one so charmed by the opal, oblong candy roaster squash to buy not one, but two? Maybe someone else eeked away their New Year's frantically roasting seeds and pureeing pounds of pumpkins. Maybe they too peek into their freezer from time to time, marveling at the frozen coral-colored jars and tubs, and wonder just what in the world to do with all that bounty.

Eat it, of course!

I am in the midst of Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. It is my Green Book Club's book of the month and I'm savoring it, chapter by chapter, like a home baked pumpkin pie. In the book, Kingsolver discusses the Slow Food movement and its effort to convince us to slow down, reconnect with what is on our plate and truly enjoy our food (and the company with whom we share it). Being involved in our food production, whether it be growing backyard veggies, making homemade bread, canning summer's berries for winter's jam, or looking the farmer in the eye who grew our food, imbues the food with the flavor of memories as well as extraordinary taste.

So, to Slow Foodies everywhere, this dish, is for you:

My mom, who is a lifelong winter squash lover and avid recipe collector, saved a beautiful recipe for Roasted Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Tart from Gourmet magazine a decade ago. It was worth the wait.

The recipe, which has been downloaded to Epicurious here, begins with making pastry dough. Because my kids can't have gluten, I used this recipe for a gluten free tart crust and relied on locally milled flour (thanks for the tip, Married with Dinner). I unearthed the tart pan from the back of my pantry. It still bore the Williams Sonoma sticker on the back, a testament to the use it's received in all the years since we received it as a wedding gift.

Assembling my ingredients, I realized I was out of butter. Not to worry. I am a Slow Food convert, and, more importantly, a reader of Crunchy Chicken. I know how to make butter from local heavy whipping cream, a glass jar and some enthusiastic pint-sized helpers.

After chilling my homemade butter, I made the pastry dough only to realize that it is supposed to rest in the fridge overnight. Not to worry. Did I mention that it's all about the Slow Food these days? Who cares if it takes two days to make a tart? I'm sure it will be worth it. (It was.)



The next day, I once again collected my ingredients. A local onion turned sweet and brown in homemade butter and local olive oil. I substituted puree from the locally grown, green monster that perched on my porch all fall for the butternut squash. The puree mingled with a local egg, local heavy whipping cream, local goat cheese, backyard herbs (thyme, oregano), and non-local Fontina and then the whole mixture found peace in a homemade tart crust. After 40 minutes in the oven, the entire house smelled of autumn. Coming home from school, my five year old opened the door, sniffed quickly and pronounced "something smells go-oood!"



And it was! Did I mention, it was worth the wait?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Obsolete Life


"Well, let me see . . . the freezer bowl, yup, it's obsolete, ma'am."

I asked if the operator knew where else to look for a replacement bowl for my ten year old ice cream maker but held little hope. I'd spent the past two days combing the Internet for a new life for my neglected friend. She did not, though, and this appeared to be the end of the road.

Days before, the zipper on my son's Spiderman hoodie broke. "You'd need to replace the entire zipper," my mom reported, examining the damage. She was right. What does a new zipper cost - even assuming I owned a sewing machine and knew how to use it? I'm not Burbanmom after all. The sweatshirt was only $2.00 at a local thrift shop and I am trying to move away from media characters. It seemed that the sweatshirt's useful life had expired as well.

When visiting a friend, I noticed that her 1970's bathroom had a window to the outdoors with slats that cranked open. I noted, with some amazement, that folks used to rely on design rather than electricity to dissipate shower steam. "Yeah, the bathroom is really outdated," my friend responded.

Were these things really obsolete? Beyond repair? Outmoded?

Decades ago, people utilized shade trees and ice cold drinks on a wrap around porch to cool them in the summer. They cozied around a wood burning stove for dinner and companionship in the winter. Is that life bygone? I'm not so sure. As the adage goes, everything old is new again. "Green building" has seen a resurgence in the use of design to forego energy usage for home temperature management. "Natural conditioning" and "passive cooling and heating" are the sustainable architect's commandments. Those words sound a lot like a tall glass of fresh squeezed lemonade and a porch swing to me.

A broken zipper? That too is easily remedied. It turns out there's something called a tailor and even an independent one located in my down town. Sure, it would cost less, in terms of dollars, to throw out a sweatshirt with a busted zipper. The thrift store would even offer up an inexpensive, guilt free replacement.

Ultimately, I just cannot do that. You see, I am not leading an obsolete life. I have given up the twentieth century mores that regard such items as garbage, that consider my trash can, the garage collector's truck, the landfill the logical resting place for anything broken, out of fashion, antiquated, or obsolete.

Even planned obsolescence cannot get the better of me. My ice cream maker would not become landfill fodder merely because some manufacturer deemed it so. No. For every problem, there is a solution and, many times, that solution is Ebay. I located an identical ice cream maker, missing a few pieces but including the freezer bowl and, for a small fee plus shipping, I'll be eating homemade ice cream this spring. Not so bygone, after all.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Beginners Welcome

My oldest is home sick today. Not sick enough to stay in bed but too sick for school so I pack him in the car and head to the farmers' market Sure, we could skip it. We could easily survive on the freezer full of pumpkin puree, dehydrated apples, hoarded potatoes and homemade bread. It would be a bland week but we'd be fine. Alternatively, we could buy our produce at the local Whole Foods - if we were the type of family that enjoyed tasteless tomatoes from Israel or mealy apples from New Zealand. We are not. So to the farmers' market we go.

It's difficult to find a parking spot. Today is one of those rare February days where the sun stretches across a cloudless sky. People pile out of their homes and offices, warming their faces in the winter sun like sprouts reaching toward a sunny window. I pull in next to a dark Volvo sedan and notice two middle aged women climbing out. They laugh, chatting and waving their worn green Whole Foods bags. Their talk about a magazine and their first time to the farmers' market drifts over to us. One of them points to a stand overflowing with chilies and bell peppers and they pick up their step. I smile as I watch them go. Beginners welcome, I think.

My son unbuckles his car seat and I hand him one of our canvas totes. No need for the wagon today. That is reserved for the bounty of summer when I can't possibly carry all the heavy watermelons, dainty berries, swollen tomatoes and dappled pluots in mere bags.

Our first stop is Mike who sells cheese for a local dairy, Spring Hill Jersey Cheese Farm. He greets me and offers my son a sample of the smoked jack. My son, not a big cheese lover, grins and asks for another. I savor a slice as well. We take some of the smoked jack and our usual veggie jack and raw white cheddar. I remind Mike that I have my own bag and we move on.

Here is the young man selling his aunt and uncle's dates under a bright red umbrella. As tempting as the dates are, we haven't finished the ones I bought two weeks ago. We smile at him and tell him we'll pass this week but he's already helping another customer.

I spot the quiet farmer from whom I always buy my tree fruit - plums in summer, pomegranates and pears in fall, oranges and lemons in winter. Half of his table used to be devoted to the wrinkled Shar Peis of the citrus world, mandarins. Now they take up less than a quarter. My son and I stuff as many as we can in my largest eco-bag. The farmer smilingly hands us a slice of tangerine. We cannot resist and pack another bag with tangerines and blood oranges. Grand total: $6.57. The farmer quickly rounds down to $6. Handing him the exact change, I ask how much longer for mandarins. Only another week, maybe two, he laments.

We pass the long line for the local baker and my son stops to ogle some handmade honey lollipops. I point out the apples to him and he happily moves on. The apple vendor is a large man with voice that resonates through out the few February stalls. "Only a few more weeks of apples", he informs another customer. "We've outlasted all of our competitors," he boasts "but there will still be a month between when we run out of apples and the cherries start." "When can we expect the cherries" I wonder out loud. "Oh, you'll see them first week of April from southern California, miss", he replies. I shake my head. That's just a little too far. We'll wait for our local cherries, thank you very much. Those will apparently be here in mid-April.

We eye the cardboard boxes of apples and the vendor offers my son and me a slice. As juicy as they were in October. My big boy picks some Fujis, Golden Delicious, Heirloom Red Delicious (not like the pulpy things you'll find in your local grocery store) and petite Pink Ladies. The vendor is also selling home canned apple sauce, jam and apple and blueberry syrup charmingly labeled "The Farmer's Wife". I forgot to make apple sauce last year and grab a few jars. Fruit syrup is a welcome alternative to non-local maple and we buy that as well. My son begs for some of the jam but this time I turn my nose up. It certainly cannot be as rich as my homemade jam - and besides, eating it wouldn't bring back summer memories of me, a hot stove and a pot brimming with hulled strawberries.

Last but not least, we find Sapphira's stall, belying the bleakness of winter with a bounty of vegetables and herbs - broccoli, radishes, a rainbow of potatoes and yams, onions, salad greens, and the vestiges of carefully stored winter squash. "Look mom, green cauliflower," my son marvels running to the table. "Please can we get some?" He turns blue eyes to me. I assure him that we will and have him select the best one. An older woman smiles down at my son. "It's so wonderful that he likes vegetables" she encourages. I agree and then she asks where I get my netted produce bags. I share the website and she bemoans having used plastic bags - even if she does reuse and ultimately recycle them. We say goodbye and she waves to Sapphira, who's had a lull between customers.

"He's not the same one you brought last week," Sapphira observes, coming over to weigh my produce. I tell her he's my oldest and the conversation meanders to her children and farm help. Other customers file in as we continue to load up on potatoes, cilantro and greens. "Oh look, Jane," a woman next to me calls. The two newcomers I parked near have discovered the dark purple cosmic carrot which Sapphira has cut in half to reveal its rich orange center. They ask Sapphira whether she carries purple arugula. She does not. "Jane" tells Sapphira that they read about it in a magazine and the article instructed them to look for it at their farmers' market. Sapphira promises to look into planting it for next year. Undoubtedly, she will. In the meantime, the women pick a few of the colorful carrots and a handful of wavy greens.

We pay Sapphira and tell her we'll see her next week. She's quickly swallowed up by new customers and we turn toward the car.

As we load this weeks' finds in the car, I think of the two women who discovered the farmers' market this week. I hope they treasure the purple carrots they found, the flavor that only local fruits and vegetables carry and that they enjoyed their adventure to the market, despite the lack of purple arugula. Most importantly, I hope they come back.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Trim the Fat: Shower Edition




As trimming my body fat is not going especially well, I'd like to emphasize ways in which I am successfully cutting back for the Trim the Fat Challenge. One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways has been in the shower. Instead of plastic bottles upon plastic bottles of shampoo, soft soap and conditioner and a disposable razor, I'm looking for cleaner ways to stay clean.





For shampoo, I've switched to the Burt's Bees Rosemary Mint shampoo bar. It is packaged in a 100% paper and therefore recyclable and biodegradable package. No plastic! Better still, it is comprised of a relatively short list of "99.9%" natural ingredients. It cleans wonderfully with no paraben-laced residue and leaves behind an invigorating scent. If you want to be truly low impact, though, you could always check out Simply Green Living and learn how to give up shampoo entirely.


With regard to conditioner, I've followed the advice of Life Less Plastic and many other savvy bloggers and switched to a vinegar rinse. Life Less Plastic shared her recipe here. Basically, you mix a large amount of hot water with a small amount of vinegar and a tea bag or herb for scent. Let it sit for 30 minutes and then apply 3/4 cup or so to your hair after shampooing. The only tea I had on hand was child's Cold Care from Traditional Medicinals - maybe it will at least boost the immunity of my hair! Nonetheless, the vinegar rinse works like a charm, leaves my hair not smelling like a pickle jar and is housed in a repurposed plastic condiment tube. Win, win, win!



I'm still using up an enormous bottle of Whole Foods liquid soap but, once that is done, I'll switch to lavendar bar soap purchased at the farmers' market and packaged in a simple paper band. As to the razor, I'm not as brave as Beth over at Fake Plastic Fish, who has switched to a metal safety razor (go Beth!). I am still using a plastic razor handle I bought eons ago with disposable heads. I only swap out the head once a year and I have several left. When I go through those, I may reevaluate.


That is how my shower, if not my body, trimmed the fat this February.




Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Activist Gene

I recently recited a frightening statistic about pollution to a friend and referenced the book my statistic came from. I expected outrage. Sadness. Despair. A search for a solution. His response contained none of those things. It was simply this: "Why do you read those kinds of books?"

I immediately defended the book and extolled the upbeat manner in which it delivered pertinent information along with constructive avenues for action. After reflection, though, I didn't ask the important question. I should have answered, "Why don't you read those kinds of books?"

In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan disclosed the inhumane horror in which we produce meat and posited that either "you look away - or you stop eating animals." A reader recently commented on The Church of Climate Change post about the moment when she decided to "go green". Theresa wrote that everything "clicked" as she stood next to a transport truck while waiting for a ferry to dock. She turned and made eye contact with "a chicken, stuffed into a tiny crate with 4-5 other chickens. The truck was full of hundreds of these crates. At that moment [she] felt more shame than [she] had ever felt before. [She] was ashamed to be part of the reason for the suffering of that chicken who was looking [her] right in the eye. [She] looked away first" and is now a vegetarian on the way to veganism.

What is it about Theresa, though, that caused her to not avert her eyes? Why did she look in the first place? And, once having looked, why did she confront the truth instead of turn away from it? Why did I read that book, and many others, absorbing the grim facts about the state of our planet, our food system, our marketing system? Why, dear reader, do you read this blog and millions of others like it? What are we all seeking?

Truth.

We are truth seekers, scouring the Internet, the library, the newspaper, the transport truck next to us for truth. What separates us from those who would look away? Those who cling to the walls society has constructed to shield us from the abomination of the factory feedlot, the heartbreak of drowning polar bears, the despair of clear cut forests, the emptiness of our oceans? Those who think "ignorance is bliss"? Why are we different?

Perhaps we were born with an activist gene - one that forces us to not only seek the truth, but to grasp it. To not only face facts but to fight them. To pick up a sign and march. To pick up a phone and call. To peck out letters on a keyboard and publish. To find our voice and speak up. To line dry our laundry, bring our own bags, plant victory gardens, sit in our dark unheated homes reading "those kinds of books." To believe the adage that knowledge really is power.

Or maybe we too experienced a bracing moment when truth slapped us in the face like a chicken's gaze in the truck next to us. Maybe that sting never left us but instead urged us onward.

Again though, I'm not asking the important question. I should ask, not whether we have the activist gene, but how can we pass it on to others?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Stick a Cork in It!


In search of the ever-shrinking garbage can, I often set things aside for reuse. Strawberry baskets go back to the farmer. Boxes and packing material are "free-cycled" for Ebayers. Wine bottles find new homes with home brewers. Rubber bands sneak into Whole Foods for reuse. Ribbons go into the ribbon box, wrapping paper into the wrapping paper box, and so on. I also collect a variety of other items, including wine corks, for reuse at my children's schools. With the help of an inventive preschool teacher and two dozen little hands, wine corks can be transformed into reindeer, trees, and frogs. Schools are a wonderful outlet for reuse but, let's be honest, at some point, your child's art work is also likely to be, ummm, "recycled".

Therefore, when a longer term opportunity for reuse comes along, I take it. Enter, wine cork recycling. If I were truly industrious, I'd turn my corks into a baseboard a la Kate continued. Alas, I am not and was therefore delighted to learn of a "sustainable business", Yemm & Hart, which collects post-consumer wine corks - cork only, save the plastic ones for the schools - and reconstructs them into attractive cork flooring. I recently spotted their collection bin at a Napa Valley winery though you can also send the corks in by mail. Indeed, if you register with the company, they'll even pay you or your favorite non-profit for your corks! Now that is a recycling progam we can all drink to.

photo from Yemm & Hart

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Radio Silence

One of the three pledges I made when I joined Chile's Trim the Fat Challenge was to reduce my electronic stimulation. This past weekend, I made huge strides in achieving radio silence - if only temporarily. With no TV, no radio and very little Internet, I was suddenly grounded (and not in the electrical circuit sense). Books, conversation, companionship, rest and new interests swelled to fill the quietude.

I found time to not only finish reading Affluenza but to truly digest it. (Crunchy Chicken is hosting an online book club for Affluenza and it is not too late to join.)

I slept.

I took up knitting again. I haven't done this since high school and it is, indeed, like riding a bike. The quiet click of bamboo needles and unspeaking draw of dyed wool corral wandering thoughts and restless anxiety. They also produce a thoughtful scarf for the 97 year old grandmother who once crocheted afghans for you.

I talked. Not just in passing. Not just about what to eat for dinner or whose turn it was to read the kids their bedtime books. I spoke and listened.

I walked - in the woods, around the block, past the church. I hoarded the rare February sunshine like the potato seedlings in my drenched backyard.

This weekend, with the electronic din gone, ideas blossomed and conviction settled in. With the switches off, I heard myself. I reveled in the radio silence.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Eeeny Meeeny Miney Me!

It's me! It's me! I've been tagged again. This time, Donna over at Chocolate Crayons & More has tapped me for a six unimportant things meme. Thanks Donna! Ahh, you want to know my deep dark secrets? Sit close so I can share. Oh, wait a minute. Six unimportant things. Hmm, better check the instructions before I divulge:


The rules for this meme are: (1) Link to the person that tagged you. (2) Post the rules on your blog. (3) Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself. (4) Tag six random people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs. (5) Let each random person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their website.

Got it. Here are six not-so-exciting things about moi:

1) Je parle francais . . . un peu.

2) I have very cold hands.

3) I don't drink coffee - have never liked the taste.

4) I once dyed my hair purple and red.

5) I adore salsa (the food, of course).

6) Other than a couple of pepperoni slices in high school, I have never eaten meat.

There you have it. Fascinating, huh?

Finally, there are six bloggers out there whom I'd love to learn more about. Share some nitty gritty won't you, Mel, the Green Gringa, and Shannon at Going Crunchy? Katrina at Kale for Sale, please give up some dirt? Chile, Chile, Bo-Billy, are you gonna share some silly? And, Erin at Going Green, can you spill the beans? You six lucky ladies are the next six from whom the blogosphere would like to learn six unimportant things. You are it!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Monoculture


If you've read The Omnivore's Dilemma, or are aware of big industrial's grasp on agriculture, or pay attention to your food sources, you likely have heard the term "monoculture." Monoculture is defined as "the practice of producing or growing one single crop over a wide area." You know that animals are separated into feedlots far away from Old MacDonald's farm. You know that corn fields the size of cities sprawl over middle America. You know there is no true variety to be found on the shelves of our supermarkets. Corn is in everything. Corn is king.


You shake your head and say, ahhh, but I don't buy processed any more. I've bought in to a CSA. I grow my own. I shop at the farmer's market. "Monoculture", you say, is bad and I am doing my part to avoid it.

But industrial agriculture is only one form of monoculture that is strangling America. It is the most obvious. The easiest to recognize and therefore to avoid. There is another form far more insidious. Another form in which we, or at least me, willingly participate. I am talking about the monoculture of our marketplace.

A month ago, I relaxed in the Napa Valley, just north of San Francisco. For all intents and purposes, it is still "country" there. Vineyards and undisturbed grassland stretch across the horizon. Cows nibble in the pastures. The sky opens up above you, peppered with soaring hawks and fluttering robins.

The town where I stayed was small. It's main street is comfortingly called "Main Street" and is dotted with a locally owned coffee shop, a mom and pop deli, a single barber - complete with striped barber pole, a family owned bakery, and a host of other unique, non-franchised stores. There is no Home Depot here. You won't find a Starbucks, a WalMart, or an Outback Steakhouse. For the most part, the people who own and work in those storefronts live in town. They know each other, sit on the PTA together,and play Bocce ball together.

At the coffee shop, the coffee is still delicious. The talk amongst neighbors gathered there even better. It is set in a roomy, windowed building overlooking the park and local ice cream store. They serve bagels, muffins, scones - the usual fare but it won't taste exactly the same as the scone that you had at the Starbucks near your house, or the Starbucks at the mall, or the one near Burger King or the one inside your Lucky's. No. These scones, this cup of coffee taste like this particular place.

I reveled in the small town feel. I enjoyed the food and drink that was just a little different than anything else I'd eaten or drank before. I welcomed the discovery of each storefront - who knew what was inside, what they offered, what advice they could provide.

Leaving the country behind, we gradually encountered more and more recognizable signs. A Target here. An Office Max there. Just before reaching the highway, on land once occupied by vineyards, cows or wilderness, slouched an enormous strip mall. WalMart loomed above the other buildings occupied by Starbucks, Bank of America, Barnes and Noble, Jamba Juice, AT&T Cellular - a host of household names plunked down in the middle of wine country. I felt both nauseous and at home.

Have you had that experience before? No matter where you go in this country or even abroad, it's like you never left home. There is Starbucks coffee to quench your thrist, a McDonald's to satisfy your craving. Every place looks the same. There is no adventure, nothing new and undiscovered, on global main street.

So, while I'm doing my part to fight monoculture in my kitchen, I need also to consider monoculture in the downtown. As the authors of Affluenza point out, "a franchise dollar is electronically transferred to corporate headquarters, while a dollar spent at the local hardware stays put in towns or neighborhoods." Indeed, you are more likely to find locally made food and products at a mom and pop store than a chain store. Moreover, local businesses give more to charity than big box stores as well as provide interest, local character and that "personal touch." Biodiveristy is as important in the marketplace as in the field as in nature.

I'm not advocating an all out spending spree at local businesses. After all, I am trimming the fat. I am pledging, though, that the next time I need a new garden tool or a cup of green tea, I'll look local.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Dark Days, Purple Haze

I'm still pretty new to the Dark Days Eat Local Challenge. Last week was my second week and I boasted about how easy it is to eat local in Northern California, how I can shop at any one of a bazillion farmer's markets overflowing with fresh, organic produce, and how the real challenge was not getting stuck in a cooking rut. Boy, oh boy, did I get my booty kicked!

If you haven't checked out the Dark Days, you should. Those folks can cook it up! And they ain't basking here in sunny California. No siree bob! Those guys and gals are in the dead of winter, buried in snow drifts crafting noodles from scratch for Chicken Udon Soup, simmering Shitake Risoto and delving into Kabocha Squash Soup.

After perusing my competition, I realized that I need to bring my A game to this challenge so here it is, Dark guys and girls:

Cauliflower and Leek Soup.
To entice the chilluns, I opted for the jewel-toned purple cauliflower sold at my farmer's market. I steamed a head of cauliflower and two local leeks in some homemade vegetable broth. Once soft, I added one cup of local plain yogurt (yes, LifeLessPlastic, I'm still unsuccessfully trying to make my own) and pureed everything, then heated it through again. Served with bread from a local bakery.





The boys were giddy when we first started cooking this. They love colorful produce and have gobbled down purple cauliflower before. And really, how much fun is a purple people eater soup? Apparently, not very because, even though my husband and I enjoyed it, the little guy cried throughout the entire meal. Well, at least he ate the side dish - home fries.





Steak Fries with local ketchup.
Oh, I know what you are thinking. I thought she was bringing her "A game" and here she serves up french fries! Well, yeah, the kids don't cry when I serve these so I figured I could share. I just slice up some local russet potatoes, toss them in local olive oil and salt and bake them at 400F until done. We ate them with local ketchup - store bought but next year, I'm making my own.





Backyard Lemon Bars.


If the kids cried through the soup, they somehow managed to swallow, um, I mean devour the lemon bars. We made them with our backyard lemons, local eggs, fair trade organic sugar and non-local gluten free flour. (My kids are gluten free). I'm still working on finding a local, or at least bulk, source of gluten free flours (rice, soy, tapioca). If you know of any or have ideas where to look, please leave me a comment.





Broccoli Thai Tofu Stir Fry.
This is a favorite dish that I trot out every winter. I'm not much for recipes. I usually just throw a bunch of the ingredients together and hope it's edible but here's how I do this one:

Press tofu for 30 minutes then fry in local olive oil. Process (in food processor) half a bunch of local cilantro, 1/4 cup of bulk peanuts, three teaspoons of non-local Thai chili sauce (yes, I do put this in everything) and set aside. Steam local broccoli until soft (I also included a head of local cheddar cauliflower because it was just about "done"). Mix in sauce and tofu and heat through. Served over local rice. Spicy, spicy, spicy!





















Pumpkin Souffle.
This is a great way to use up all the winter squash you - or at least Katrina at Kale for Sale and I - have lurking around the house. Besides, souffles are light, fluffy and good for breakfast the next day.

The recipe is modified from Diana Shaw's The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook and can be adapted for almost any seasonal fruit.



BASIC SOUFFLE
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
4 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

WINTER SQUASH PUREE
1 1/2 cups pureed winter squash
1/4 sweetener (I use local honey)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch ground nutmeg

Heat oven to 350F. Coat four 8 ounce custard cups or individual souffle dishes with butter.
Mix puree ingredients. Mix in lemon juice and 1/3 cup sugar. Set aside.

Beat egg white until foamy. Sprinkle in baking powder and tablespoon of sugar. Resume beating until egg whites are stiff (like shaving cream).

Using a rubber spatula, fold 1/3 of egg white mixture into puree mixture until you can't see any egg whites. Fold in next 1/3 and then final 1/3.

Distribute evenly into prepared dishes. Put dishes in a large baking dish and add enough water to baking dish to come halfway up the sides of souffle dishes. Bake until puffed and golden brown - about 25 minutes. Serve immediately.



Baked Winter Squash Pasta with Greens.
I cannot take credit for this dish but stole the idea from my competitor, I mean, friend Melinda at Elements in Time (how else do you expect me to get ahead?). Because, I have A LOT of squash, I've already made this twice.



First, I saute half a local chopped onion in homemade local butter (This was a breeze. Follow Crunchy's instructions here.) and then add homemade vegetable broth and chopped greens. I use whatever greens on hand - homegrown chard or farmer's market purple kale. Both times, I used local Potimarron pumpkin puree - delicious heirloom variety! - and mixed in some fair trade sugar, nutmeg, salt, a dash of pepper, some homemade veggie broth or local apple juice, and then a little local milk or heavy whipping cream. After adding in the greens and cooked non-local pasta, I smothered it with local mozzarella and baked at 350 until it is all cheesy, bubbly deliciousness. The kids actually eat this without a single tear.

Chocolate Chip Cookies.
I made these with the local whole wheat flour ground by the ancient mill in Napa Valley (local to us), local butter, local eggs and fair trade, organic sugar and chocolate chips. Served with, you guessed it, local milk. These are great help while I'm looking for ways to trim the fat.


Bonus Points: 100% Local Lunch.
Finally, because I am the competitive sort, here is a photo of my son's 100% local lunch. Local pistachios, local dried cherries, local carrots, local apple, homegrown (my mother in law) home-dried persimmon, homegrown (my parents) dried pink beans and local ketchup. Eat your heart out, lunchables!




And, that, my friends, is how you cook in the Dark Days! Or at least I think that is how you cook but I'm sure I'll get spanked next week by Urban Hennery, Simply Local Idaho and their locally eating possee. Oh well. Keep on cookin'.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Lipo Your Life




I've joined Chile (a.k.a. the Jenny Craig of the Green world) in her efforts to help us over-consumptive Americans Trim the Fat. The blogosphere's own Weight Watcher is calling for a spending freeze for the frozen month of February. She's also suggesting we tighten the belt on food consumption (my Achilles' heel), electronic stimulation (not that kind! get your mind out of the porn shop!), and whatever else clutters our lives.

I've bravely taken up Chile's Challenge and have pledged to stop extraneous spending, eating and Interneting. I'm also humming the Trim the Fat mantra to myself as I go about my daily life, looking to nip here and tuck there.

STOP THE CASH REGISTERS:
This one is easy for me which is why I'm leading with it. ;-) Low hanging fruit, people. Anyway, I'll be posting what we spend on consumable goods under the Trim the Fat banner on the sidebar as the month ticks along.

LEAN MY BEAN:
Chile has suggested adopting leaner consumption over the month of February. While eating less fats, sugars and such sure sounds like the way to go, it is tough for me to ditch the sweet tooth. I'll admit it. I'm a Crunchy Watchers drop out. Oh, I have no trouble not "wasting" food. It's the eating less sugar (fair trade, organic of course!) that needs to the scalpel treatment.


In any event, I'm going to post my weight on the side bar with hopefully diminishing numbers as the month goes by. That should motivate me! I'll also be delving into the depths of my pantry and freezer to use up some of the food we already have. Can you say "winter squash"?


TURN OFF THE COMPUTER:
I don't watch TV much but the Internet is a major time suck for me. I love the blogosphere - maybe a little too much. I'm going to have the computer off when the kids are home (except an hour or two on weekends) and to get outside more instead of planting myself in front of the screen.

There you have it. Ways I hope to slim down in February with Chile and the Trim the Fat team as my plastic surgeons. Flip the switch, team! Get that cellulite off of me.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Rolling the Dice


Seven years ago, I made my home on a tattered hillside, amongst mature magnolia trees and slippery moss covered steps. The driveway was rocky and steep - hard to get up, especially in the rain. An older couple with an overgrown oak tree and lonely labradors overlooked our back yard and our home loomed over an empty lot owned by a neighboring octogenarian. No street lights lit the crooked street at night and no sidewalks paved our steps to a neighbor's house. I was a newly married woman busy with my career and my commute.

Shortly after we moved in, a neighbor knocked on my door to invite me to play Bunco, which the neighborhood women played once a month. Being the shy and hermitish sort, I made an excuse. Eventually, I gave in and gathered with the local ladies to play. Bunco, if you do not know it, is a simple game played with three dice. You work your way from 1 to 6 and try to roll as many 1's, 2's and so on as possible. We played in two teams of two per table. You'd pair up with the woman across from you, whomever that was, and play until the timer went off. The team with highest score would stay put and the "losers" would rotate to the next table. Neighbors took turns hosting and refreshments were mild - a plate of cookies, some wine. We each put $5 in a till at the beginning of the night and the person with the highest score at the end of the night took home the kitty. The biggest loser got their $5 back.

Women of all ages and backgrounds came to our Bunco games. I was just as likely be to set across from a retired nurse as a young mother of twins as an eighty year old still living in her girlhood home as the city grew up around her. The game spawned a couple true friendships but more so, a sense of belonging, of knowing who lives on your street - what their dining rooms look like, what kind of food they serve, what their hobbies are.

I now live in a neighboring city. Our schools are lauded as some of the best in the area. The houses sit close, bordered with straight and smooth sidewalks, precisely mowed lawns and measured flower beds. At night, bright street lights glow. It is a short walk to downtown, the library, and the local Starbucks (both of them). My lot is flat, my driveway easy to maneuver. I know my adjoining neighbors and the elderly woman across the street. I wave to a few other folks on the block but know neither their names nor what their homemade cookies taste like.
Here, we socialize strictly by category. The mothers with school aged children talk. The parents of college aged kids talk. The empty nesters talk. And, as far as I can tell, no one talks to the old woman across the street.

How much might my neighborhood - or yours - benefit from an old fashioned round of Bunco? From a toss of dice, a bottle of wine and a bid to win a pot of money - or at least your $5 back? There are few ways to regain community - particularly the kind that binds together generations - and none so simple as this. All it really takes, though, is someone to roll the dice, invite the neighbors and see if anyone shows up. This spring, I think, I will give it a try.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Crayon You Be My Valentine?


As holidays go, Valentine's Day has one of the smaller footprints. Yes, there is the chocolate (consumable), the flowers (biodegradable) and the cards (also biodegradable). If you think Valentine's Day is green, though, you don't have school aged kids.

Last year, my boys brought home quite a haul in their heart stamped "mailboxes". Valentines with plastic wrapped gummi hearts. Valentines with decorative pencils and erasers (for my then 2 year old!). Valentines with stickers. Heart shaped lollipops wrapped in plastic. Valentines with tongue tattoos (huh!). Cellophane bags bursting with individually wrapped chocolate hearts or plastic trinkets. In preschool at least, Valentine's Day is big business beyond hearts and flowers.

How then do you ask a class mate, "Will You Be Mine, Green Valentine?" Make your own and make it with stuff you already own.

Last year, I read this article about making crayon heart Valentines to pass out. The project hit on everything I wanted to accomplish this holiday. Reusing or recycling (broken crayons), making instead of buying, involving the children and avoiding commercial Valentines.

Through out the year, we keep a plastic cup in the pantry for broken crayon bits. For me, organization is the key to reusing. Taking our bucket of busted crayons, we peeled the remaining paper and melted them in a glass jar in the microwave.



We then poured the molten wax into an old heart shaped ice cube tray and let it cool. Melting in the oven gives more control over which colors go into each heart but ovens use more electricity than microwaves and, more importantly, my ice cube tray would have been toast in the oven. I could have bought an oven safe heart mold, muffin tray or such but that would have defeated the purpose of the project.




Gathering thicker paper from around the house - poster board, leftover paper for cards, we cut out circles. My oldest neatly printed his friends' names and his name on one side. I printed a Valentine saying on the front and we hot glued the crayons to the paper.


Ta da! A low impact Valentine made from completely reused and repurposed items involving the kids. Hey Re-Think It girls, eat your heart out!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Read Me the Riot Act



January is now a memory and the numbers are in. As I posted last month, I am participating in Riot 4 Austerity. The group's goal is to reduce participants' personal consumption to 10% of what the average American consumes - or a 90% Reduction. I've taken a few steps forward and a couple back this month. The proof is in the pudding. Or something like that:

1) GAS: 47% of average

We've had a lot of rain and I am not that hard core to walk or bike in the rain - especially with the kids in tow. We can get this number lower in more accommodating weather. There is, however, a residual issue with my beautiful bike and that fact that I just cannot persuade myself to ride it - subject of another post, I think.

2) ELECTRICITY: 65% of average

We've been using the washer quite a bit more because my youngest potty trained (yeah!) this month. With all the rain, we've also indulged in the dryer more often than not.

3) HEATING OIL AND GAS: 6% of average

Four words: freeze your buns off.

4) GARBAGE: 14% of average

This has been the easiest category to cut back in and, if you are just starting to live more lightly, this is a really rewarding place to start. I'm assuming you are already recycling. If not, go back and to start at the beginning of the blog. ;-)

First, get a compost bin and compost all waste from fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds, egg shells and even paper. Many municipalities subsidize compost bins so you can get one for a steal. Check with your local garbage collector.

Second, ditch the disposables. Get rid of your paper napkins. Use fewer and fewer paper towels and instead turn to dishtowels. Switch out the Ziplocs, juice boxes and water bottles for reusables. When possible, buy milk in a reusable glass bottle. Bring your own bags (including produce bags) to the store. Re-think the rest.

Third, watch the packaging when you buy products and pick those with the least amount of waste. Buy the biggest size available.

Fourth, embrace the joy of light living and haul your now tiny bag of garbage out to the curb, to be the envy (or at least the talk) of the neighborhood.

5) WATER: 12% of average


This will go up as the rain stops and the garden needs water. This is also where laziness (or forgetting to bathe the kids, again) comes in.

6) CONSUMER GOODS: 24% of average

Everything purchased this month was either (1) needed for a repair, (2) dimmable CFLs for two of the last remaining fixtures without CFLs, or (3) needed for the garden. Okay. Maybe I didn't *need* that one really cute metal trellis. Maybe I could have found one on freecycle or made something, but, still, it was made in America and I bought it from a local vendor and, really, I did need a pitch fork and rake.

That said, there is one easy way to get good numbers in this category: don't go shopping! If you really feel the need to shop, hit a thrift store where you can buy unlimited amounts under Riot rules. If you are looking for more ways to cut consumer goods, check out my 10 step program.

7) FOOD: 65% local, 15% bulk, 20% wet/other

In summer, we eat a little more local but this is fairly representative. This is the first month I've recorded food percentages and I could make a few changes in terms of bulk and wet. For instance, I realized I could get cereal for the boys in bulk as I can't get them to eat my homemade granola. Can you believe that? It is so good though, unfortunately, not low fat.

Not too bad for a family of four in the 'burbs. Sure, our numbers could use some improvement - especially on electricity - but I feel like we're living a normal, happy, healthy life without looking too eco-freakish.

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