Children & Big Business

I try to support local business as much as possible. I did all my Christmas shopping in small stores, except for a few things I could only find online. In particular, I use our small local hardware store whenever I can, only going to Home Depot or Lowe's if the small store doesn't have what I need. This week, though, I went in with a big list, and I know that they had everything I needed, but I left empty handed. Why?

Two words: No Carts.
Despite the fact that they have wide aisles and plenty of room for some small carts, they don't have any. Which makes it very hard for me to shop there sometimes with an active, independent 2 year old. Lucas just won't stay with with me for very long, he wants to run around or lead the way around the store, and I can't carry him and a bag of grout and ten other items. We picked out paint chips and a couple small things, and by then (10 minutes into the trip) he was refusing to listen. So after a couple warnings from momma, we left with only the paint chips and a crying child to show for it.

The thing is, Lucas loves shopping. He will tell you himself. He whoops with joy when we get to a store, and he will happily sit in a cart for hours. So, it looks like for the next few months, while we work on this issue, Mommy will be shopping at Home Depot. Which saddens me. I'd rather give my money to the little guys.

At my own health store, we have a central room, and we are comfortable with children running around in there (Lucas does, why not everyone else's kids?) But at our store, while there are no carts to be sure, there is also nowhere for them to disappear to, no aisles or nooks, and the kids are always in sight. Which is good, because moms are our best customers. I am not sure why the hardware store hasn't thought of this, or maybe they have and it isn't a priority for them. The majority of their customers are men -- but I wonder if they had carts, if more women wouldn't shop there?

What about the rest of you? Do you find that your children shape where you shop? Or are they better behaved than mine? LOL.


Living Off the Grid

Yesterday brought up some interesting conversations in my house. It all began with a posting on craigslist.com for a $700 1982 Winnebago that "ran excellent, needed some cleaning." My husband's first comment was, "that would be so cool. Then we could buy some land, put up a few quick outbuildings, and take our time building a house while we live in it." Well, color me shocked. I mean, I know he likes the idea of building our own place and that he's into green-living, but I never imagined he was so close to my own thoughts on the matter. We were so excited to have this prospect, we were set to buy it before we saw it, planning how we would rent it to his brother for $200 a month until we had some land, or how we could go "camping" in the summer.

So we looked at the 'bago, and WOW, needs some cleaning was an understatement. That vehicle, while great on the outside, was a biohazard inside. The windows were slightly open to air it out for visitors, and we didn't even go inside, but the mold set off my coughing for a good 30 minutes afterwards. The seats and ceiling were totally ripped up, and the carpet was foul. We agreed we'd rather live in a teepee if those were our options!

But it did bring up other thoughts, like how rough would we want to live in the end, with or without power, off grid or not, outhouses, etc... And it turns out he is much more of an off-grid guy than me. While I want to reduce our power consumption and can and grow a lot of food, I also like seeing what the world has to offer, and partaking in it. I would be cool with an outhouse in the summer, for most toilet needs, but in the winter, no way. If given the option, I would much rather spend the money on fancy composting toilets for the house.

And, until the nation is much much greener, I feel that it is my duty as an environmentalist to buy power from the electric company: because see, we buy 100% green energy through an option that our provider gives us. The way I see it, the more of us that ask for these options, the more the power companies will have an incentive to create green energy, and provide the options to more people, and so on. Of course, I am trying to reduce our electricity consumption, but I want to make sure that the power companies know that I exist as a customer. Because if all of us who want green energy go totally off grid, we simply disappear as a voice. The power companies forget about us, and forget about green power. And I, for one, don't want to see that happen.


How to Brew Up Some Good, Healthy Fun

As promised, this post includes herbal ale recipes, and one great mead recipe. Always sterilise your equipment and bottles, and use only stainless steel pots and steel or wood utensils -- no aluminum, that can react with your brew.

My family makes cognac and liquer, and I spent a fair bit of time as a wee one touring factories. But as an adult, my first personal foray into brewing any sort of alcohol began with mead. My very first recipe was a success, and I have tried many variations of it. They have all been very tasty tho some variations had a bit too much fermentation, and there were a few explosions! Those recipes have been retired, so have no fear: the mead recipes in this post has never exploded, and always tastes great.

Most mead recipes you'll find online involve months of aging before they are ready to drink: not so this recipe! It is best drunk within 6 months, but can be tasted as early as the week after you begin.

* Speed Mead Recipe *
(a refreshing, light but strong mead)

3 gallons water
2 Tbs Powdered Ginger or 4 2-inch slices fresh ginger root
4 Cinnamon Sticks
2 lemon's peel
1/2 Grapefruit or Orange Peel
1 Tsp Fennel Seed
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
5 LB Honey
Baker's Yeast, 1 packet

1. Bring water to a boil, lower heat, add spices and simmer spices in water for 10 minutes.
2. Add Honey, stirring constantly. Do Not Boil, this will kill the live aspect of the honey.Skim off any white "scum" that appears, this is the non-soluble part of the honey. When no more scum forms (after about 1/2 hour), remove pot from heat and cover for 12 hours.
3. Strain liquid to remove spice particles. Dissolve yeast in a 1/8 cup warm water, and add to liquid. Cover and leave for 12 hours.
4. Rack (pour slowly) into clean, sterile jugs, leaving the settled yeast dregs at the bottom of the pot. Fold clean paper towel or fabric, place over top of jug, secure with rubber band and leave undisturbed at room temperature (pantry is great for this) for 2 days.
5. Refridgerate or put out in cool area at 40-50F for 12 hours.
6. Rack again, leaving any dregs. Refridgerate or put out in cool area at 40-50F for 2 days days.
7. Add 1/4 cup vodka to kill yeast. Cap jugs and refridgerate or store in cool area for 3-4 more days, minimum, to allow carbonation.
8. Bottle and/or drink!

* Red Rose HerbAle *

5 gallons Water
1 cup rosehips
1/4 cup dried lemongrass
3/4 cup fresh ginger, sliced
1 tsp coriander seeds
5 lbs sugar
1 Tbs. baker's yeast

1. Bring water to a boil. Lower heat and simmer herbs in water for 15 minutes over low heat.
2. Remove from heat, let cool enough to handle, strain and add sugar.
3. Let cool to 75-80 degrees and add yeast. Stir and cover. Let sit for 48 hours undisturbed.
4. Bottle. This will continue to ferment slowly for a month or two in bottle, but can be drunk as early as when it is bottled. Ours was best after two months, and stored great for several more (beyond that I don't know, it was all gone by then!!)

* Spring Cleaning HerbAle *

3 gallons Water
3/4 dried dandelion leaf
3/4 dried nettle leaf
1/8 cup dried orange peel
1 tsp cardamom
3 lbs sugar
2/3 Tbs. baker's yeast

1. Bring water to a boil. Lower heat and simmer herbs in water for 15 minutes over low heat.
2. Remove from heat, let cool enough to handle, strain and add sugar.
3. Let cool to 75-80 degrees and add yeast. Stir and cover. Let sit for 48 hours undisturbed.
4. Bottle. This will continue to ferment slowly for a month or two in bottle, but can be drunk as early as when it is bottled.


BYOB -- Brew Your Own Beer

After I get off work today we're taking a little road trip to our "local" brewing supply company about 30 minutes away. There we'll be buying some of the ingredients we need to brew some of our own beer and wine, and I'll also be picking up some malt powder or extract because, well, it tastes good and is good for you! As a child, I grew up on a fabulous mixture of malt, carob and brewer's yeast mixed with Milk called Tiger's Milk. Unfortunately the company now only makes snack bars, and I really miss that drink sometimes... But I digress.

In our home, we love to make things from scratch -- presents, foods, furniture, and yes: alcohol. My husband dreams of the day when I'll let him set up his own still. For now, he is limited to the softer stuff. I like my home, and I think a still needs to be far far away from it!

In the past we've made honey mead, dandelion wine, herbal ales (the biggest hit of those was a rosehip & lemongrass brewed with sugar, about 9 percent alcohol.), clone beers, elderbery wine and red grape wines. This spring I want to make an old-school, 1400's style ale with dandelion and nettles: cleansing your liver and kidneys while you drink!

My husband is Irish/Scottish, and a big fan of the beer. I'm an herbalist, and believe that if everyone switched from modern beers to drinking more of the old-style ales from the days before hops-style beers, they'd all be beter off. Someday, I can see us running a small brewery where we make ales like that... Hops are a relatively new introduction to beer that became quite popular b/c their bitterness helps preserve beer -- great for when beer was all you had to drink on long sea voyages where water wouldn't keep long. But hops are also chock-full of phyto-estrogens that are great for calming and for menopausal women, but not great for men: they don't need all that estrogen, and it puts a lot of extra weight around their abdomens. So, I do my part to try and brew an herbal ale with healing properties for every modern hops beer he brews. The rosehip beer I brewed had ginger in it, great for digestion, gas and metabolism, and the rosehips added a lot of vitamin C, calcium and pretty rosy color...

I'm not sure what we'll come back with this time, but you can bet there'll be some recipes and reports here on Monday. I'll also go and dig up that great rosehip recipe. In the meantime, we'll be at the brewing store and reading our favorite brewing book.


Spring Thaw

This is what it looked like here in CT yesterday, with temperatures practically spring-like in the low 40s. Ice was melting on the slow part of the river, which was misnamed "Lake" Lillinoah by settlers because in this wide stretch the river actually slows down so much that it freezes and you can skate or fish on it. After this gorgeous afternoon, we had an evening of snow. The weather channel reported it as a half inch -- try 5 inches! No one plowed the roads until late, and cars were stuck everywhere. It was totally unexpected, totally beautiful, and the last hurrah for winter. It's already halfway melted, at 8:30 this morning.
More ice melting.

Luke running to the water's edge to find rocks and throw them into a small open pool. Gotta run fast, those rocks are sneaky!

Huh. Where'd they go?

Goodbye winter!
We'll miss you, just a little bit.


The good things in life ARE free.

Love. Air. Sex (for most of us anyway). Peaceful thoughts. Laughter. And, now, actual things are free. Thanks to craigslist.com, freecycle.org, and bulk trash pick-up days in a town near you, you can get most of the things you need for free, or substantially cheaper than you would buy them. We all know that we live in a consumer economy, and the thing is, most of us have more stuff than we can handle. So we give it away. We throw it away. We even plead with people to cart it off, sometimes!

I know people who have remodeled their kitchens with very nice appliances that they got for free or a couple hundred dollars on craigslist. This morning, I am picking up 18 free canning jars in the town next door, from a posting I put on freecycle. I am hoping to get more this season, but it is a good start. So far my husband's uncles gave me 12 1/2 gallon jars and 12 quart jars, and now I'll have 18 pints. Canning jars run 1-3 dollars apiece retail, so so far I've saved around $65.

Two of my favorite weekends every year come once in Spring, and once in the fall: they are the weekends before bulk pickup week in a ritzy town nearby, when every one cleans out their attics, barns, closets and such and put things out in neat little piles on the side of the quiet country roads.
In past years we have gotten brand new wrought iron garden benches, nice antique chairs, feeders for our chickens, slides and gyms for our son for outside, fencing of all kinds, brand new windows, lights, shelves, tables, tricycles and bicycles, a new push reel mower, purple marten house, and oh, too many things to even list here. This year I'll be looking for nice fencing (iron would be great) and more canning jars. A small freezer would be nice, too.
The key, I've found, is to have a clear idea of what you want, and an expectation to find it. Every year we get the exact things we are looking for, plus a whole lot more. The year I wanted a purple marten house, I actually found it on the last road I went on, and as I drove down the road I was singing "purple marten house, purple marten house" as I approached each house. And then as I neared the fourth (and second to last) house I said, "here, it's going to be here!", only - 70% believing, and when I got out and looked behind the huge pile of carpets and junk they had out, there it was, a huge one, lying down on the ground, in great condition. Not a beautiful wooden one as I'd hoped for, but a very nice large metal one that would be easier to clean out each season. Last year, I got a greenhouse that is a clearly a bit um, aged but with some paint will be beautiful. I looked it up on the internet last night, and brand new it would have cost be $749 plus shipping. Not bad!

"Freecycling Weekend" as we like to call "bulk pick up weekend" is really fun, lots of other people are out looking at the piles by the road, and the previous owners leave signs on things like TVs and Ovens to let you know if they work or not, or even what they need to be fixed. It's recycling at its best, because this stuff is headed straight for the town transfer station, and then the dump.

So, don't be afraid to look, and to ask, for what you'd like. It's out there, just waiting for someone to love it.


Edible Flowers: Violets and Dandelions

Spring is right around the corner, and with it dreams of fresh, good eats straight from the garden. Two of the first flowers to appear in my yard (and lawn, much to my neighbor's dismay and my delight!) are Dandelions and Violets. Both are edible, and very good for you.

Violets are packed with vitamins A and C -- in fact, ounce per ounce violets have more vitamin C than oranges. The flowers have been prized for centuries for candies and jellies, and can also be used in salads. The tender leaves, too are very good in salads. Dandelion is a superb liver cleanser and diuretic (the french name for them is "pissenlit", pronounced "peace-on-lee", which literally means bedpisser). Every part of the dandelion is edible -- you can use the root for teas, coffees, flours and tinctures, the young greens are great in salad and the elder greens after the flowers come out are good in soups or cooked like spinach. The flowers can be made whole into tasty fritters, or made into wine or jam. The wine, is an old family favorite, in fact my grandmother says my grandfather liked it a bit too much, so she stopped making it. Poor grandpa... This spring, I plan to make Dandelion and Violet jam, as part of my canning mission.

*Dandelion Jam Recipe*

2 cups dandelion petals
juice and zest of one lemon
2 cups boiling water
3 cups sugar
1/2 packet of powdered pectin
Pick the dandelion petals from the flower tops, avoiding the bitter green bits. Pour boiling water over the petals and lemon zest, and steep for 20 minutes. Many recipes call for you to strain the dandelion out to make a clear jelly, but I prefer to keep the beautiful petals in the mix. Add the lemon juice and sugar, return the infused mixture to a boil, then add the pectin and boil for 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Take the pot off the heat, pour into canning jars and process via water bath for 10 minutes.

*Violet Preserves*

2 cups violet petals
3 cups sugar
2.5 cups water
2 teaspoons lemon juice (preserves the violet color)
1/2 packet of powdered pectin
Pour boiling water over the petals and steep for 20 minutes. Many recipes call for you to strain the violets out to make a clear jelly, but as with the dandelions, I like to keep the petals in. Add the lemon juice and sugar, return the infused mixture to a boil, then add the pectin and stir it all the time and cook it for about 20 minutes on the low heat or cook until thick. Take the pot off the heat, pour into warm canning jars and process via water bath for 10 minutes.


Baking Day

After a romantic weekend spent walking hand in hand with DH at the aquarium and many home improvement stores, and having a good carpenter/roofer friend over for dinner, I feel much better. Apparently, where our roof is leaking indicates that it is an easy fix, and our friend even offered to help us when it's time. I think he will also get really into our solar heater design, too. I had so much fun at Lowe's that I am going back today to pick up some bamboo blinds for our bedroom (they look so great in the other window we put them in).

Today is baking day, again, in my house, and today Luke and I had help from our friends, a mom and daughter, age 3. We made bread and my magic oatmeal cookies. They are magic because they are so healthy that I don't mind if my son eats them all, and they taste divine! Every time I make them they are a little different, b/c I always change the flours, the dried fruits, the nuts and kinds of chocolates I put in. But here is the basic recipe:


2 cups flour (any kind! mix them up. I love using a 1/2 cup almond meal for added nutrition)
2 cups rolled oats
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 cup olive oil, vegetable oil or butter
1/2 cup sugar (or honey, agave, molasses, maple syrup, or stevia powder, adjusted)
1 Tbs Baking Powder
1 to 1.5 Cup Add-ins: I usually put in dried fruit, chocolate chips & nuts. Mix it up! 2 of the best combos I've done were: Prunes, Cranberries, Currants, Walnuts, Hazelnuts and Semi-Sweet Chocolate OR White chocolate chips, apricots, almonds and cranberries.

Spoon onto trays and bake in preheated oven at 350*F for 15-20 minutes.

Today's batch used dried pineapples, walnuts, and semi-sweet chocolate chips. No sugar, just 1/4 cup of powdered green stevia leaf. For flour, I had some old jiffy cornbread mix I needed to use before it expired, so I used that for one cup of the flour, and regular unbleached flour for the other half. This was one of my most experimental batches and it is fantastic. My friend ate about 7 cookies before she left! I've even made them with rye flour, with great results.



Heat Tape Rant

Well, as you all know, we have a leaky roof due to ice dams this year, which we hope to fix next month. It leaked a tiny bit last year, too, but we thought it was an isolated event since it only happened one day. The previous owners from four years ago had put up heat tape on the roof, which we've never used, having never used heat tape in any other house in CT in over 30 years. After the leakage this year, we plugged in the heat tape to melt the ice which was blocking the gutters, which really helped with the leak. But the bloody heat tape, which is only covers the about 60 feet (alas, in a zig zag pattern, so its at least twice that long) increased my electricity bill by $100 dollars, and almost doubling our usage. I am really, really annoyed.

I suppose I should be grateful that my roof has only minor damage. And that we use 100% green power. And also that Spring seems to be coming early and everything is melting. . .

Nope. Not feeling grateful. Ah well. Maybe tomorrow. . .


Inspiration Strikes! Rock Wall Ideas

In our living room we have a wood stove (our dearest winter love) and behind it, about a foot away on the wall going up about halfway, we have black tiles with white grout (my husband's biggest pet peeve in the home) as a sort of "firestop". So finally, this year, we are hoping to getting around to putting in something more attractive. We've been thinking of replacing the tiles with smooth round river rocks, which we can get cheaply nearby. We had also thought of putting in an artsy copper tree silouette, since my husband is a metal artist. But today I saw the above photos in an article about mud/plaster in home decor, and I am sold.
I am thinking river rocks below, with the tree growing out, and some nooks in the tree and possible wall for candles, etc. I am so excited. We will be puppysitting for my mother in march, and that will be the perfect time I think! Of course, it may also be the ideal time to work on our leaky roof (*sigh*) and I suppose that is more important. It only leaks when there's an ice dam, which has only happened once this winter, and once last winter. Obviously, we missed the boat last summer on fixing the problem. We thought it was a fluke, now we know better. Our roofer friend says its because they didn't install a special barrier that prevents ice dam leakage...
Well, most likely, I will not be on the roof anyways, as someone will have to watch our dear little tornado, I mean, toddler. So maybe I'll get to build that wall after all... In the meantime, color me inspired!


Spreading the Good Word

Today my partner and I received a call from the local paper wanting to do an article on us, and they came in right away for the interview. Apparently, they heard that our small "Natural Health Center & New Age Store" belongs to one of the few sectors that is still doing well in this economy, and that lots of people are turning to stores like ours to talk to psychics. Ha ha -- we wish! Our store started tanking over a year ago, when the economic downturn was just beginning. We have, however, been slowly climbing back out of the hole for the last four months or so. We each work about 25 hours a week at the store, and have been taking home a whopping $200 a month. It's a labor of love people, and boy, what a looooong labor it has been!

But the woman was, in a way, right... I've noticed three things over the past months among our customers, both of which are good trends.

First, I see a lot more people coming in looking for self-help books, or metaphysical books that will help them get "tuned it, tapped in and turned on" to their inner beings. People are seeking to know themselves better, and understanding that this will help them go with flow better, which in turn will lead to them a better place, both spiritually and economically.

Second, there has actually been a decrease in our traffic for the psychics or intuitive counselors, while there has been an increase in traffic for all our energy healers. People are seeking to better align themselves energetically, looking to learn how to be in balance with themselves and their surroundings. This can only lead to better things, for them, and for the world.

And, third, there has been an increase in people buying gifts for other people. Rather than thinking of themselves, the majority of people are looking for little ways to make their friends and families feel better. This is a grassroots compassion movement, and I for one am ecstatic to see it surging.

To help it along, we have offered our customers a 2-week "spread the love" 25% off sale on all retail items in the store. Not because we need to move merchandise, which most sales in retail are motivated by, but because we want to help make it possible for this compassion movement to continue.

In the meantime, it appears the universe is sending us back a little "love note" to thank us: free advertising in the form of an article in the paper! THANK YOU, UNIVERSE! We love you, too :)


The Staff of Life

Monday is baking day in my household. Not so much out of routine or necessity, but somehow, I always seem to bake on Mondays. After spending the weekend with my husband and son, taking it easy, I find that Monday is a restful day, and I usually feel like I'd like to do something nurturing for my husband to show I care in a little big way. Something to show him how much I appreciate him, and miss him when he goes back to work. Baking, to me, is one of those things.

Sometimes its just cookies, others its bread, or maybe a quiche or empanadas. Sometimes its all of them. Always, Monday seems to involve flour.

Today my son and I are baking a simple whole wheat and unbleached white wheat bread. Actually I'm making two loaves, one to eat this week and one to freeze for next week. We found a gorgeous breadbox at the goodwill yesterday for $3, so I am looking forward to seeing if it makes a difference in the bread after a day or two. Luke really loved kneading the dough, and getting shoulder deep in the flour.

This recipe is a basic european recipe that I found in Carla Emery's Encyclopedia of County Living, which I received for Christmas. I am in love with this book, and am reading it cover to cover, all 928 pages. I think i am about 1/3 of the way through now. If you are interested in living off the land, homesteading or just learning more about how to make things from scratch, this is THE book to get. It has everything. I have several other "homesteading" books, but none of them hold a candle to this one.

Raw Milk is Real Milk

This morning I found out that the Department of Agriculture is pressuring my beloved state of CT to put much stricter regulations on raw milk, including requiring all sales to be on-site. All the farmer's are up in arms, and the consumers too. If we have to start buying our milk on site, we will have to drive 30 minutes each way to get it, which is just silly. The hearing is tomorrow, and I have written about 50 people on the committee about it, and signed a petition. I wish I'd known earlier, so I could have arranged to be at the hearing -- and I am surprised we didn't know, since my husband is a retail distributor of raw milk. He sells to about 6 people a week, but the farmer never told him. Ah well. Wish our farmers luck!

We love our raw milk, which we've been drinking going on 4 years now, and selling for 3. My husband doesn't mark it up at all, nor do most of the grocery stores around here who carry it, they just like to offer it to their customers. For my husband, who runs a auto repair shop and convenience store, he had a dairy license and began carrying the milk so we wouldn't have to drive so far to get it.

Raw milk is unpasteurized, and non-homogenized. This means it is whole milk with cream on the top. It tastes fantastic, like nothing you've ever had from a store. And its healthy too. Pasteurization began to protect children and adults from the very poor standards at city dairies in the early 1900's. Raw dairies these days are extremely sanitary, and generally use milk cows like Jerseys or Guernseys who don't add extra hormones to their milk like Holsteins do (all Holsteins pituitaries are naturally amped up so that they will give unnaturally high amounts of milk each day, so they put out large amounts of hormones in their milk, whether they are given rbgh or not.) And raw milk is loaded with good bacteria, aka probiotics, that strengthen your immunity and improve digestion. For more info about raw milk, go to realmilk.com


Talking to Angels

And talking to fairies. And Devas. And animals, insects and plants. Over the last few years I have been doing a lot of research on co-creative gardening. This is the sort of gardening that made Findhorn, that gardening miracle, possible, and that fuels most flower essence companies today. Rudolf Steiner and biodynamic gardening have also embraced the idea of co-creation. Some great books about this are "Behaving as if the God in all life mattered" and "To hear the angels sing." Both books have very Christian titles, but no dogma lies withing their pages. The writing is entirely about communing with nature -- which necessarily connects you to Source energy, and the realization that All is One, and so, yes, God is everywhere.

In essence, you relax your mind, and open yourself to communication with the nature spirits on your property. Some people do it through meditation, others sit down with a pen and paper and let the words flow. Myself, I like to sit at the computer.

You'd be amazed at how much information they have to share with you, and how much easier it can be to maintain your land when you pay attention to what they have to say. On my own land I have recieved instructions on how and when to fertilize (clean wood ash in the fall, and compost in the spring. Mulch with 6-10 inches of hay, never need to water again) and what the ants would like in exchange for not invading my home each spring (a small bowl of sugar in a sheltered spot outside in the garden). I have talked with a huge swarm of honeybees and had them agree to build their nest in the woods bordering our property in exchange for free access to the yard (after this, even the yellow jackets behaved sweetly.) I have been asked to leave an area that was covered with toxic dolls-eye bushes wild for one summer, and told that the next year I could clear it without the doll's eyes returning. That "wild" summer, the other plants took over the doll's eyes, choking them out, so that they never went to seed, and now the area is cleared and a safe, favorite place for my young son to play.

Now, they've given me instructions and reassurances on how to fix my roof, where and how to plant new crops in the spring, and where to place a solar collector for hot-air heat on the house.

Somedays, for fun, we like to go out and take pictures of the property. And Sometimes, the nature spirits show themselves to us in the photos. There's one in the upper left of the banner for this blog, and here are some more for you to enjoy. Their message is always the same: Be joyful. Be joy-FULL. Be in love, and know that you are loved. All is one, and you are one with Spirit, with Source. All will be well.


Solar Heating for the Home

Every year about this time I begin looking at solar options for our home. With visions of tax returns and sunny days looming in my head, its only natural. In the past I've focused on solar power, which we haven't been able to afford -- Even the small arrays haven't been cheap enough.

This year, I'm looking into the possibilities of a passive solar collector/warm air heater, which we could build for a few hundred dollars, and/or a solar cooker. While a solar cooker is a very cool idea, it's the solar heater that I am most enamoured of. The idea is to build a shallow, big box made with corrugated fiberglass (like on greenhouses) and black paint inside. Nail it to your south wall or roof, and let it collect the sun's rays. A small vent into your home, equipped with a blower fan, is all you need to bring the sun's heat into the house. Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

Well, here's the thing. We live on the east side of a mountain. To the the south and north of us, we are bordered by a nature preserve: lots and lots of trees. In December the sun hits our property directly for about one hour. Today, we are getting a couple hours of sun -- this sun is all filtered through the naked trees. Not too good for solar collection. But this morning I looked up at the roof, and saw that although the ground around our one-story house is getting minor rays, the roof is high enough to be getting full sun.

So I think the solar collector may be a go! At the very least, it could definitely heat our house in October, March and April, when we usually burn the wood stove several hours a day to take the chill of at night and in the morning.


Sugar and Spice, and Everything (Not) Nice

Another group of scientests has done a study of High Fructose Corn Syrup, and confirmed what the first set found: mercury is in more than one-third of HFCS in your grocery store, and at rather high doses. Move over vaccines: slide on in, Welch's grape jelly, Quaker Oatmeal and Hershey's Chocolate Syrup. We've got a whole new group of contestants to blame for autism and mercury-poisoning.

We all know that HFCS isn't one of the better sugars for our bodies, even my grandmother knew that, but who knew that it was actually toxic? Raise your hands. Anybody?

"Mercury is a potent brain toxin that we know accumulates in fish and seafood, although diet is not the only route by which we are exposed. When babies are exposed to elevated mercury in the womb, their brains may develop abnormally, impairing learning abilities and reducing IQ. For these youngest children, the science increasingly suggests there may be no “safe” level of exposure to mercury.

And yet for decades an increasingly common ingredient in processed foods, HFCS, has been made using mercury-grade caustic soda. Caustic soda (also known as sodium hydroxide or lye) and a number of other food industry ingredients are produced in industrial chlorine (chlor-alkali) plants. “Mercury-grade,” also known as “rayongrade”caustic soda, comes from chlorine plants still using an outdated 19th century technology that relies on the use of mercury. While most chlorine plants around the world have switched to newer, cleaner technologies, some still rely on the use of mercury." (From the report, link below)

This is just another example of how much better fresh, organic produce is for you. When you make your food from scratch, and you know the ingredients (even better if you know the farmer!) you have a much better chance of keeping poisons off the table, not to mention lowering your carbon footprint and supporting local commerce.

And of course, it is another example of how the FDA and USDA have failed us. Again. They actually have known about the mercury present for four years, and done nothing to alert consumers or remove it from products. They are still doing nothing. Call the companies. Call the FDA. Call your representatives - or email the president and your reps at congress.org. And maybe then, someone will do something. Myself, I am going to tell my mother, because she works as a high-level consultant for the World Bank, and from a waste management perspective these products are leaching mercury into the ground water all over the country once they are thrown into landfills, and so she can work it on getting it banned it from that end.

For more information from the study, and a list of the worst HFCS offenders check out these links. http://www.healthobservatory.org/library.cfm?refid=105026 & http://www.healthobservatory.org/library.cfm?refID=105040.


Snow days

It's snowing...again. This brings up several issues for me.

I love the snow, but as a small (very small!) business owner, I must admit that the snow seems to be dragging us down a bit. The accumulated snow days over the last month made the difference between paying the rent, and not paying the rent this month.

In the past, people in the northeast were acclimated to "bad" weather and went on with their lives as usual. Now it seems as if the media hypes all everything up to such a frenzy that even these 2 inches of snow that we're getting, which is not expected to stick, is causing early dismissal from schools and businesses are closing early, too. I mean, come on people! This is not Austin or Seattle where we are not prepared. The majority of people around here drive SUVs with 4-wheel drive, but their fear levels seem to have tripled from the days when most people drove smaller cars with 2-wheel drive, getting around quite well in the snow and ice. It boggles my mind, and I wonder if everyone in CT now is actually from New York City or Los Angeles??

These are the things my mother taught me, and her mother taught her, about weathering the winter in the Northeast:

  • Remember to put snow tires on your car before the snow usually comes (Around here, that's in November).

  • Wear layers (remember long underwear?) and lined, rugged-soled boots.

  • Keep a blanket in your car in case you get stuck somewhere. (And a flashlight, and boots, and gloves, and a spare tire, yes, OK grandma)

  • Don't overheat your home, wear a sweater!

  • If a big storm is coming, especially one with ice, fill up the bathtub with water, or at least a few pots, so you can still flush your toilet, etc., when the power goes out.

  • If the power does go out for more than a couple hours, and it's below freezing outside, let you faucets run at a slow drip/trickle, so your pipes don't freeze.

  • If you have a short-haired dog, get the poor dear a jacket for those cold, wet days. And use animal friendly ice melter, or just plain sand, so their paws don't get burned.

  • A thin layer of Vaseline or beeswax balm on the face will help children play outside a little longer without getting too chapped or windburned.

  • Hot soup, tea, and oatmeal will warm you up in no time :)


Seeds of Green

I've been pondering this blog for quite a while, and now, here I am. For my first post I think its appropriate to start at the beginnning: seeds!

Having turned the corner through the dead of winter, our days are getting longer and everyone (at least here where I live) is dreaming about Spring and days that don't begin with a stoking of the fireplace. Seed and plant catalogues are a great way to feed the mind and soul during winter, with beautiful images of flowers and vegetables, herbs and exotic grasses. I recently found a great article from Mother Earth News that had links to seed companies all over America. This is a fantastic resource, because when you buy seeds locally you are accomplishing two things: you are supporting local business communities and your plants are more likely to thrive in your soil, having been bred for generations in that spot of earth.

When you are reading about seeds, you will come across the terms Hybrid (F1), Open-Pollinated (OP) and Heirloom. Hybrid seeds produce specially bred varieties that are often disease and drought-resistant, or have special production properties. They are also usually designed to create more seed buying and protect the seed company's economic interest in their stock, which means that they will not breed true: if you want the same plant next year, you'll have to buy the seeds again. If you try and use seeds you collected from the plant, they will grow into a different plant, generally with different fruit production, or not even germinate at all.

Open-pollinated seeds breed true, and are often organic or grown without pesticides. You can save seeds from an open-pollinated plant and expect the exact same plants the next year. Environmentally, they present a better heritage for our children because these seeds are dependable and safe. Heirloom seeds are generally considered open-pollinated seeds which have been growing true for over 50 years or plant generations -- these are the seeds of our grandmothers, and theirs. Some heirloom varieties are endangered, and I love knowing that I am preserving a little bit of istory by planting these varieties in my garden.

Here in Connecticut, I choose to order from two companies. The first is Comstock, Ferre, which had many OP seeds to choose from, does a lot of their own growing, and is the oldest seed company in the United States. The other is a small company just a few towns aways from me, in a really tiny town, actually, called John Scheeper's Kitchen Garden Seeds. I can't wait. This year I have a small greenhouse standing against my house on the south side, and when the seeds get here I am going to begin right away with some Spinach. The greenhouse needs a little work on one door (I got it late in the fall on the side of the road during bulk trash pick-up week) but I think it is going to work great. Its wood frame is 20" deep, 4" wide, and 0ver almost 6 feet tall. Beautiful!