Thursday, April 30, 2009


I don't have a good photo for this. Sorry. Use your imagination and picture a photo of me banging my head against a wall. Or something like that. I'm going to go fix myself a drink.
We got our Utility Bill in the mail today. Where we live we get one bill for electricity, water, & sewer. Normally it, like all other bills, isn't something I'm excited about finding in the mailbox, much less eager to open. This past month, however, we've been on our "re-using water challenge" and so we've been eager to see the dent it made in our bill. (See the "Damn Spigot" post from March 30th if you are totally lost here)
Imagine my shock then when I opened the bill and found out that our water usage has gone UP! Not down but UP!!!! I called the City and they told me to give it another month before starting to worry that something is amiss. Maybe they should've told me that before I drank that huge cup of coffee.
I called them back and asked them to pull up & print out a compilation of our bills for the past year. As you will note if you look to the right of the blog, we've been keeping records of our energy usage over the years. I did do something different this year and note on here the dates I was starting and ending at - I can't remember what I did in previous years. So .. note to self for future years.
Since we moved in we've been able to see the usage drop from an average of 49 kwh a day to between 32 and 34 a day. Trying to figure out where we stand "on average" with other households in the area is pretty near impossible, but from what I've gathered we are on the low end, so that is good.
Justin and I talked about where we thought we were doing good, where we've maybe laxed in things (line-drying clothes), and other things that could help.
It is really frustrating though, and this is something I can't deny or gloss over. To some degree I don't want to even try and gloss over it, because that would take away the truthfulness of it all.

This is part of life. And it really is pretty much as simple as that. Sometimes it doesn't matter how hard you try. We KNOW we're saving water, we KNOW we've taken (important) steps to reduce our energy uses. Maybe those steps aren't big enough to show up on the bill and make us run around going "WOO HOO!!!" Apparently, we might not even be able to tell by looking at that piece of paper that we made a difference. I wonder if our generation hasn't almost been raised to expect, in this type of case, that if you do such good things that when you open your bill the next month it will be either 1)only for $5 or 2)contain a check made out to you for $200 in place of a bill. Wasn't there some vague monetary promise for every A, B, or C earned????

And now, with my Wonder Woman magic shield & bracelets being put firmly back on & in place, here is how I think it ought to be looked at:
You do the things you do because you KNOW them to be right. You reap benefits of your good actions and deeds, but not always in the way you want to. Part of our reward is our kids. Not in living our lives through them, but in seeing the things we've helped to show and teach them. Part of our reward is the way we begin to immediately see the world differently. The way our minds & actions don't immediately follow & fall into patterns we've been trying to get out of.
Those are the real rewards. Yes, a much smaller utility bill would've been a REALLY NICE "reward for good behavior" - but we know we're doing the right thing, that is good enough.

Of course .... the bill has only just come today. The check hasn't been written. The mantras of the above paragraph will need to surely be repeated many times between now and then. Many times.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I Am Wonder Woman

Ok, maybe not THAT Wonder Woman. But I AM still Wonder Woman!! For those who've known me any length of time I'm sure this comes as no suprise since you've been wondering about me all along. (sorry, bad pun, couldn't resist)
Here is why I am Wonder Woman:

I Wonder how people can freak out over the newest and latest food-borne illness, avian flu, or swine flu and not begin to see how it, on some level, relates to the inherent wrongs of industrial farming.
I Wonder how they can think the answer lies in more chemicals, pesticides, and poisons.
I Wonder how people can be so apathetic about the way things are around them. Common sense is practically extinct. When we have to put the most asinine warnings on things, so that people don't stupidly kill themselves, well ... what happened to the natural balance of nature? Have you seen the movie Idiocracy?? If you haven't, you should. You really only need to watch the first 1/2 hour of it, then walk outside and look around. It is happening, it is already here.
I Wonder how we can bail out big companies whose lack of morals make the Devil look like a Saint, how we reward those who "use the system" by not trying and instead making a living off of Social Services, but we punish those who are trying and don't actually do anything to help them out. --- Of course, we do keep calling them, emailing them, and so on asking them for more money. I realize my local fire/rescue/EMS/police services need support .. but I don't want a call from Texas (or some other state they've outsourced it to) asking me for money.

I could go on and on, but really .. I am beginning to depress myself here.

So, with my Wonder Woman powers I will: continue to use the light that naturally comes in the windows to see rather than turning on lights. I will continue to grow as much of our own food, in organic & sustainable methods, and then support local farmers, who grow the same way, for as much of the rest as possible. I will continue to encourage my children to think, to see the world as it is, and to realize that they can make positive impacts on it. I will NOT raise brain-dead zombies who live on video games. I will collect rain water to help water my plants, and continue to try and re-use grey-water from within the house. I will hold Seed Swaps and encourage more people to just TRY planting something that they can eventually eat.

With my Wonder Woman shield I will magically deflect insults about: planting edible trees that might *gasp* produce fruit (aren't you worried about it hitting __X__ -- no); using good liquor in cooking (no, it isn't a waste of it, it is a USE of it); my poor homeschooled children's lack of socialization (this has to be one of the funniest things, especially if you've met my children); how do we think we're qualified to teach our children what they need to know (another insult that is only worthy of me trying not to pee my pants in laughter); using free wood-chips as mulch (saving them from the landfill in the process) rather than spending too much money on "pretty" (I think the wood chips ARE pretty) mulch that will disintegrate within months; not immediately using chemicals and poisons to kill anything that might be seen as negative; and so on.

See, I told you I was Wonder Woman.

... I don't Wonder who wrote the Book of Love though because isn't that the Kama Sutra?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why Homeschooling is Fun

Several of you already know the answer to this, or at least you do for your family and lifestyle. This is why it is fun for ours.

Lesson 1: "B is for Bob"

This shirt was Shannon's and now has been passed down to Tristan. We got it from Soul Flower (, a very cool website with some very cool clothes (though I do miss their lot clothing selections!). Tristan was wearing it the other day and I told him that Bob Marley was on his shirt, pointing to his belly where Bob was. Hearing a 2 1/2 year old say "Bob Marley" is about one of the cutest damn things in the world.
That day's lesson was "B is for Bob." We listened to his music, along with Ziggy's music, and learned a little bit about what they stood for, what they thought. We focused on peace and the healing, loving powers of music.
When I asked Shannon later what Ziggy Marley was about, he told me "flying a kite" ~ I asked why he wanted to fly a kite, and Shannon responded with "because he didn't want to fight." -- This is almost a direct quote from Ziggy's song "Love is My Religion" ~ a very groovy song. On an adult note, the line "let's go fly a kite" is cheesy and stupid and you just say "he couldn't think of any other rhyme there!?!?" ... but on a parental level, well, Shannon GOT it. He understood it, it was simple, and he got it. Maybe that is the point.
Everytime we get in the car now Shannon has asked if we could listen to Bob or Ziggy. I think I'm going to have to make a cd of all the really good songs from both of them so I don't have to keep switching discs back and forth constantly!

Lesson 2: Schoolhouse Rocks!

I remember watching this a little when I was in school, and more I remember listening to the cd that came out in the 90's. I still LOVE Blind Melon's rendition of "3 is a magic number."
As much as I swore (as so many parents do) that MY kids would NEVER watch tv, there are many times where I plug it in (literally, it is unplugged right now) and let them watch something. I'll admit, sometimes it is just so that I can have a little time to myself to do whatever needs to be done.
We bought them the Schoolhouse Rocks dvd because it is fun, it is catchy, and it is educational. And, since as I type this I am singing the songs to myself, I think it even helps us re-learn forgotten facts!
The kids really aren't that into it yet, and that's ok. It isn't meant to be the main learning tool. But it is a fun one. And that I like. I like that learning can be fun, and I think that for the most part it should be.

These are just two reasons why homeschooling is fun for us. There are so many more. But these two I just wanted to share with you.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


I'm not a girly-girl. Frou-frou would never come out of anyone's mouth when they are describing me. But I have a confession to make. I love, I mean really and truly LOVE watering my seedlings with my delicate teapot.

This teapot was given to me by a former boss, dear friend, and second mom. I love it. It isn't a porcelain teapot, more stoneware (proper term is escaping me at the moment, sorry), which means it holds heat better. I use it all fall and winter long for my tea.

You can see in the above photo the strawberries and flowers, the vines around the woody-esque parts. It is earthy, yet feminine.

When we started seedlings in trays this year, I needed a way to water them that didn't flood them. Something that would let the water go in between the small peat pellets. Looking quickly around the kitchen, I spied my teapot. It was only one tray of seeds, so the teapot was the perfect size. It's spout was perfect for pouring the water "just-so." I've been using it for watering those seedlings, and the ones that followed, ever since.

Tonight we transplanted some of the seedlings. Some of the Romanesco Broccoli went outside. Our tomato plants our growing amazingly quickly (while our peppers and celery lag woefully behind), so we set to work giving them more space. We were able to transplant almost all of our Cherokee Chocolate tomato plants into larger containers. The others will just have to hold on a little longer until we are able to transplant them.

When it came time to water the plants, all of which needed watering, I got Justin to fill up the teapot.

Something struck me as I stood in our sunroom tonight. Here I am, a mess no matter how hard I try. My shirt (luckily a tie-dye) had been splattered with cherry juice while I was making cherry-lemonade earlier. My hands were filthy from digging up this, replanting that, and countless trips into the bag of potting soil. I've not only managed to spill dirt on my shorts, but earlier today I managed to dump parmesan cheese down the front and the INSIDE of my shirt!! Yet, in all my messiness, there was a delightful Zen in using this frilly, delicate little teapot to water those little plants. Something about the teapot itself being so dainty and the plants being rooted in soil. A very Yin-Yang balance if you will.

SO .. if you ever happen to pass by, or drop in for a visit, don't be surprised if you see me pittering about, watering plants from dainty teapots.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Chicken on TV

The Carless Brit, aka River Laker, is a chap living here in Roanoke who gave up his car 4 months ago and has been documenting his life since then.
He's hosting a Carless Roanoke Party and wanted a farm animal that he could hold and pet during the commercial for the party. I offered up one of our biddies, and he chose LadyBird, our Buff Orpington.

Shooting the commercial happened early last Friday morning. Unfortunately, we'd been having steady rain all of last week it seemed. Personally, I like the rain - good for gardens. But, when you've got a chicken who's been out in the rain all week, well ... a bedraggled chicken isn't the prettiest thing for the commercial, is it??
So, we brought her inside. We went out there after dark, in the misting rain, and scooped her out of the nest box. Even though it was dark LadyBird is our lightest bird, so it wasn't too difficult to spot her. We grabbed some straw and put it in Jomo's old puppy crate and put LadyBird to bed for the night. In Our Bedroom!
We were worried what the dogs might think of a chicken spending the night inside, and so felt it was just easier to leave the crate where it had been, in our room. We've since come to the conclusion that LadyBird has spared herself ever being put in the stock-pot. I just don't know that I could eat a chicken that I shared a room with one night.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Urban Heirloom Homestead

When I was younger, my mother used to breed and show dogs. Several years ago, I wanted to work with large breed dog rescue, something that still tugs at my heart strings. But, when we started getting into the world of urban homesteading, I found something that spoke to not only my work with rescue, but also to my love of history and culture. Heirloom plants were the start, with originating dates that dated back for sometimes a couple hundred years. Breeds that have been nearly lost in the mass hybridization and genetic engineering (thanks you evil bastards Monsanto!). Reclaiming our right to grow our own food, collect our own seeds, this isn't just something novel to us .. this is a nation-wide, a world-wide movement! Thanks to dedicated work from people such as the Dervaes family, there are now movements like this: --- Truly, amazingly, and mind-blowingly inspiring!!!
When we got chickens, when we made the decision to get chickens, I started off in my usual fashion .. research, more research, and more research. Those who know me know I can and will dominate a conversationg about chickens! One of the things that really blew my mind was that there were breeds of chickens, as well as other traditional livestock animals, that are on the brink of going extinct. We knew about the importance of heirloom seeds, but somehow heirloom/heritage animals hadn't really entered our minds. After all, there is already the polar bears, panda bears, wolves, and several other highly publicized animals keeping our worry squarely (and justly!) focused!
Three breeds of our chickens are on the ALBC, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, watchlist. ( Our Dark Brahma and Partridge Cochins are considered under watch; our Buff Orpington is considered a recovering breed; our Speckled Sussexes (which we ate for meat) were considered Threatened. We had intended to breed them, but that fell through.
I've been reading a fascinating book, Renewing America's Food Traditions by Gary Paul Nahan. Reading about not only grown foods that are endagered, but also raised foods and animals. Milking Devon Cattle, Silver Fox Rabbits, Tennessee Fainting Goats.
Mom may have bred dogs, I want to breed farm animals. I want to not only show the benefits of heirloom veggies, fruits, and herbs, but also the animals. Anyone who has raised chickens knows the shock registered by most people when they realize that eggs come in more shades than white and brown. Ours are two shades of brown - some that are speckled, pink, green, and blue. When we chose Speckled Sussex (with the hopes of breeding) as our meat birds, it was because over 100 years ago they were common table birds in England, renowned for their meat.
Intentionally or not, subconsciously or not, we have gone from being a nature and society over-flowing with diversity in foods, based on the seasons and the areas of the country they were originally from - representing the local peoples of those areas.
Until the fates change and we perhaps buy a farm where we're safe to raise agriculture of our choice, we're here. Living on our little plot of land, a block from Main Street. Doing what we can, when we can, living frugally, living consciously, teaching our children along the way. Small yes, bit by bit we'll grow and learn. The Blue Nymph .. our urban heirloom homestead.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Better to do Something than Nothing - but don't expect people not to complain

McDonald's, normally known for Super Sizing everything, is apparently trying to make a change. They are looking at taking steps to reduce pesticide use in their potatoes (fries for those who are locked on fast-food thought). Though they're the largest purchaser of potatoes in the US they don't grow their own potatoes, meaning the company will ask suppliers like ConAgra and J.R. Simplot to cut down pesticide use. This could have an effect of shaking up potato crops across the nation grown buy these suppliers.
Now, I'm not one to say that eating at McDonald's, or any fast-food chain, is good for you. It isn't. I'm not saying anything about what truly motivates this change. I'm saying something is better than nothing.
I learned about this move from reading this article:

Here is what has gotten my proverbial panties in a bunch:
* "I don’t care how you fry it up. Eating deep-fried organics is not healthy. You could eat sticks of organic butter all day long, but you’re not gonna get any thinner, folks." - from the comment about the health impacts this change could have, as well as the impact on local farmers and so on. -- OK, no deep-fried food ISN'T healthy for you, you're right there. BUT - organic deep-fried food IS a better/healthier choice than pesticide ridden food (which potatoes are notorious for absorbing). It's a step in the right direction.
* "On the other hand, if a corporate giant like Mickey D’s forces more companies to go organic, it could help the market considerably. Not to mention the environment. Then again, it could also devalue the work and value of organic farmers and undercut their prices." -- Yes, industrial farming is bad, even when it is industrial organic farming (somehow that seems to be worse for the self-promoting green-ness/goodness). BUT, again, it's a step in the right direction. It's a start.

Look, as much as we may want it to happen, fast-food chains, pre-packaged foods, mega-box stores and so on are NOT going to go away!! At least not anytime in the immediate future. But they can get better. Little steps are better than no steps. Making an effort is better than not giving a damn at all.
And, the majority of people are still very naive &/or ignorant when it comes to trying to live sustainably, live healthy, and be eco-friendly. They've been raised on and bought into the society we live in, which isn't a healthy one: for ourselves or for the Earth.
But, just as you can't teach a child to read overnight, you can't educate (and expect immediate results) the general public overnight. And, most certainly, holier-than-thou eco-nazis who slam anything that can be perceived as good but comes from "evil" companies (McDonald's DOES have a bad, bad track record) end up cutting their noses to spite their face. How can someone possibly be good enough, much less motivated to try and do more, when they're constantly condemned for everything that they aren't doing??
Drive past a McDonald's around meal-times and see how long the drive-thru lines are, see how full the parking lot is too. Most likely, THOSE are the people who need the most "enlightenment". So rather than berating them, insulting them, and making them feel humiliated and overwhelmed, why not encourage them? "Did you know McDonald's is trying to give up pesticides in their potatoes" -- this line alone could open up a wonderful discussion as to why that is a good thing, why & how pesiticides are bad for our health as well as the Earth, and possibly encourage them to think about this when at the grocery store, maybe even encourage them to grow their own organically. The possibilities are endless!!! Unless you start out with hate and disgust, in which case I will personally shove a super-sized Mc-Something up your hoity-toity ass.
I'm tired of being looked at like I'm crazy when I tell people I brought my own bag (though this isn't the case so much anymore), or that I raise chickens, or that we're planting veggies in the front flower beds instead of the typical suburban-approved landscaping. I'm also tired of people like Veronica, who are have gone so far the other direction that they criticize you for eating meat at all (heaven forbid you kill it yourself!), not walking everywhere, not re-stocking your house with completely fair-trade and recycled materials from top to bottom and every drawrer, closet, and what not in between! Either I'm too green for the neighborhood or I'm not green enough for the uber-greenies.
Where did common compassion go? Where did the ability to say "it's a step in the right direction" go? The ability to say that previous statement, even if you personally wouldn't eat there for a million bucks?
I say, if you're in the boat with Veronica, then truly you're as bad as the people and companies you hate. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Even if it is McDonald's.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Getting Seeds Planted & Started, the 2009 Egg Tally to date, and Tally Ho!

NOT a terribly impressive photo, I know. Sorry. When you're gearing up for things, the photos are always that impressive, what can I say? So, what the hell are you looking at there .. well, I'll tell ya! On the left, the green things shooting up are garlic bulbs coming up. I've been slack and still have yet to order my desired garlic, these are from store-bought garlic cloves that sprouted and I figured can't hurt to plant 'em. Obviously, there are some Black-eyed Susans planted next to them. To the right of the photo you can see some not-impressive looking strawberry plants. There are 6 of them there, though it is hard to see in the photo. We transplanted them for else-where in the yard to that spot, so we'll see how they do. Finally, in the front you can see some mustard greens (planted last year) coming up.
This past Sunday we took advantage of a pretty, and dry!, day and went to work in the front beds, planting seeds. We planted kale, buttercrunch lettuce (a really well-growing staple in our yard), rouge d'hiver lettuce (a red lettuce), and some more mustard greens. These were all planted in the same area, roughly speaking, as the photo above. It'll look good when they come up, so you'll just have to trust me until then.
We also planted some Chantennay Red Carrots and some Cosmic Charlie Purple Carrots. Ok, they aren't really called Cosmic Charlie, they're just called Cosmic Purple, but we're too ingrained with Grateful Dead songs .. so we've affectionately renamed them. We switched up the areas of planting just a little bit, rotating crops some so as to better preserve the soil. We've already planted some onion seeds, Newburg Onions, which are beginning to sprout up a little, but nothing picture worthy yet. This is our first year actually trying to grow onions, so we're really excited about this.
Indoors, we got a seed tray going. We started Romanesco Broccoli, Hungarian Sweet Banana Peppers, Tall Utah Celery, Anaheim (hot) peppers, and Red & Yellow Bell Peppers (seeds we had saved from previous growing seasons). As of today, the broccoli seeds have started to sprout!! YAY!! We also had a LONG and "very stern" lecture with the kids about NOT messing with the seed trays. They tend to enjoy digging in the plants that we have in the sunroom, so we explained that the seeds really needed to be left alone if we want to have a good garden this year. While out getting groceries yesterday I picked up another seed tray, this one will be all tomatoes. We're going to be doing mostly all Cherokee Chocolate tomatoes, but we'll also have some that will be good for sauces and ketchups. I can't decide yet where exactly to plant them though: their heirloom and open pollinated, meaning they will cross-pollinate with each other - something we learned about the hard way after our 1st year. We'll see about that though as the time comes closer.
This should get us well underway. Everything else can be directly sown into the ground once the time comes. We still need to put the new fence up around the garden, and then get some more straw down in there, but that will come. Oh yea, and we're growing hops for our beer again this year. The Cascade Hops from last year are coming back up, but we think all the other ones were destroyed by the dogs last year (the Cascades were the only ones that really grew last year). We'll be ordering the rhizomes in a couple weeks, and should have those in the ground by the end of the month.

As you may remember (or maybe not) our Egg Tally for last year was 72 eggs. Considering the chicks were born a year ago today (HAPPY BIRTHDAY LADYBIRD - who is pictured above, ANN BANCROFT, PATTI, and PATTI), and everything we went through, we were thrilled with this number. We've been keeping count of how many eggs we get a day, even which colors we get so that we can know who is laying. Here is the EGG TALLY for 2009:
January - 53 eggs
February - 98 eggs
March - 109 eggs
2009 EGG TALLY as of March 31st - 260 Eggs!!!
We've given away at least 10 dozen, though I think the number is higher than that (I think I gave away several 1/2 dozens without writing it down). It sounds like a lot of eggs, and to some degree it is, but as I type this, we have no eggs. There was one outside this morning when I went out, but I cooked 2 eggs for Justin for breakfast and the boys split 6 eggs, scrambled, for lunch - so unless there are more outside, we're currently sitting on empty. Still, it is a wonderful feeling to know that the eggs we eat are usually only a couple of days old, if that!
Finally, inspired by the Dervaes and they're Little Homestead in the City,
, we've realized the importance of keeping a tally of how much we're able to grow. We're also going to attempt to keep a tally of how much we're able to save. This helps us know and remember the impact we're able to make, and foster a positive attitude about it. The Dervaes call it "Tally Ho!" and for now we will too.
Look for some slight changes to the blog as I figure out the best way to share these tallies with everyone.