Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Top Ten Things I Love About Line Drying

I have finally gotten to dry a load of laundry outside for the first time this year; this has been a strange year in that regard.  We've had a pretty cold spring, and even when it was warm enough to line dry, I wasn't in a position to do laundry.  So I'm getting my first load out there about a month late this year.  If past experience is any guide, I should have a good five months of line drying yet ahead of me, and I will love every minute of it.

Why do I love line drying?  My top ten reasons:

10.  The bamboo sheets have a wonderful texture after line drying.
9.  I finally get to whiten my whites with sun bleaching after a long winter.
8.  I get a chance to walk outside and clear my head during the work day.
7.  I don't pump any drier heat into my house to make it harder to sleep at night.
6.  I don't use any additional electricity beyond that I used with the washer.
5.  I get a smidgen of exercise and burn a few extra calories.
4.  Hanging laundry is a good chance to stretch!
3.  I can get a fair amount of sun in a couple of 20-minute bursts, so I work on my tan while I get some extra vitamin D.
2.  Sunshine wards off depression.
1.  Hanging laundry on the line means summer is here!

What are your favorite things about line drying?
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Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Sock Loom Revisited

One of the things that is fun about blogging is that you have access to so many analytics.  It is really cool to spend some time getting to know which posts are the most popular, where your readers come from, and even what kind of browser they use.  (In case you are wondering, my readers come, predictably, largely from English-speaking countries, and they typically use Internet Explorer.  You can see the most popular posts in the sidebar to the right.)

Somehow, over time, a post has gained unexpected popularity:  my post on my  hatred of the sock loom.  I'm a little surprised, but I'm also pleased that so many readers have written in to suggest ways that I can knit our socks without jamming this hard, rectangular piece of wood framing into my stomach while I sit watching TV.  (Apologies to those of you who love it -- if it works for you, you should absolutely ignore me and keep rocking that sock loom!)

As for me, I am still not using my sock loom (anyone want to buy a gently-used sock loom?).  Instead, I have tabled the project because most of my free time for needle arts is now spent crocheting yoga socks for my Etsy store, Carrot Creations.  However, I'm thinking it would be easier for me to crochet socks since I'm more comfortable with one needle than with two.  I plan to give it a try pretty soon.

So let's hear from you again -- are you knitting your own socks?  Crocheting?  Using a loom?
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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Shifting into Spring

See that scraggly vine?  That's what happens when a gardener has a long winter to get through; at one point in January, I shoved a potato in a hanging planter just to see what would happen and maybe add a little green to the sun room.  The result is a long, ugly vine.  But hey, I hadn't grown a potato vine with no hopes of getting a potato since that awful experiment they have you do in elementary school; you know, the one where you suspend a potato in a cup of water with toothpicks?  I still don't know how the teacher could stand that, with the smell of 30 rotting potato pieces filling the room.

But now it is officially spring, and the microfarm is up and running.  I have potato and tomato seedlings growing in the greenhouse, and we are eating regular salads out of the greens bed in the sun room.  This weekend, I plan to start some of the squash that is ultimately destined for the garden.  The dill is started, as are the peas and the container potatoes.  We are starting to bring some of the early crops in as harvest, so I will have a true "How Much Does a Garden Grow" column at the end of the month.

I feel so much better being able to get out and work on our property.    What are you working on this month?
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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Not Quite: Winter Potatoes

Remember the winter potatoes I was growing in the sun room?  I had it on pretty good authority that one could grow potatoes in one's garage, so of course I had to try it.

And there you go.  When the vines died back and I "harvested" Sunday, I had a whopping two ounces of potatoes.  Yippee.

And yet, you know that I'm going to try it again.  Given that I only used potatoes that had already sprouted in my potato bin, there were no "seed" costs involved.  I think perhaps starting the winter potatoes during the late summer, so they get some growth on them before winter hits, will be the better approach.  Also, since we now have grow lights in the sun room, a little extra light and heat are sure to help.

And, as Mr. FC&G points out, anything that preserves my sanity in the winter is worth it.

The Analysis
Fast:  The whole winter to get 2 oz. of potatoes?  I can do better than that.

Cheap:  Thankfully, there were no seed costs, but there is the expense of foregone space in the sun room that potentially could have been used to grow something more successful this winter.

Good:  Time to rethink and try again.  But I'm sure this is a viable idea, somehow.
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Friday, April 12, 2013

Sustainable Pin: Regrowing Romaine

Normally, I try to link these sustainable pin posts to a particular site or blog that was my original Pinterest inspiration, but I've seen today's idea so many times that I can't pick just one source.  I'm glad to see it and to contribute to the flock of people pinning and promoting this idea, because this is a game-changer.

You can regrown romaine lettuce by sticking the unused root end into some dirt.

Now, I know that regrowing some vegetables is not a shocking idea.  I've already hoed this ground, so to speak, when I talked about regrowing green onions.  But most of the regrowing-from-compost-leavings ideas involve veggies that are typically used in small quantities, like onion tops and celery (I have to try that one...).  This, however, is actual food.

Now, I'm excited for myself because I pretty much just jammed a couple of the bottom ends of romaine hearts into some moistened dirt in a pot in the sun room after Easter dinner, and about 10 days later I had some small, but legitimate, leaves.  Along with the mustard and spinach that are growing in the sun room, this is going to make for a tasty side salad this weekend.  (My romaine is larger than the picture shows, and I'll only take a leaf or two at first.)  But I think the implications go much farther.

This is the tip for every person who says they can't garden because they have no land, or they can't bend or reach, or they don't have a green thumb.  This is the tip for everyone who lives in a city apartment without any outdoor space who wonders what can ever be done on just a window sill.

This is the tip for every food pantry lucky enough to be able to hand out fresh greens; in fact, I call on someone to find those food pantries, and make sure they are stocked this spring with recycled plastic pots filled with potting mix.  Tell your patrons to take that romaine home, make a salad for dinner that night, and then jam that end into the dirt, water it, and put it in a sunny window.  Soon it will regrow.

Will it single handedly solve anyone's food or poverty crisis?  No.  Will it provide enough veggies for a family every day?  No.  Will it substantially reduce food transportation costs by allowing everyone to grow everything at home?  No.

But what it will do is put a leaf or two of lettuce on a sandwich where there is none currently.  It will save a few cents off the grocery bill in a kind of living coupon that is easy to cash.  It will teach someone that they can grow their own food and be just a little bit more self-sufficient than they were yesterday.  It will ignite an interest in botany, an interest in frugality, and an interest in independence.

I tell you, it may look like something for the compost pile, but I promise, this can be a game changer.

The Analysis
Fast:  Let me repeat:  Cut end off store bought romaine, jam into dirt, water, and leave.  Doesn't get much faster than that.

Cheap:  Given that the end of the romaine is otherwise headed for the compost, every leaf I harvest is pure, if small, profit.

Good:  I love tips like this, because they are a great way to foster the values of sustainability and self-sufficiency.
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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Can I Take My Own Candy to the Movies? The Ethics of Frugality

Frugality and sustainability often cross paths, and discussions of frugality sometimes head into questions of ethics.  One of the most common of these is whether it is ethical to take your own candy to the movies, and similar questions like what your ethical responsibilities are regarding the complimentary toiletries in hotels, and the like.

I have read some fascinating articles that attempt to address these issues in terms of classical philosophy, but I try to employ the Golden Rule and leave it at that.  My ethical guidelines for such situations include:

You must respect the core business of the company or service provider.  
We often visit a restaurant/bar that hosts the occasional salsa dance.  It is possible to dance at these events all evening, only sipping water and tipping the wait staff a minimal amount.  Sounds like a frugal evening, right?

Remember, the core business of this establishment is restaurant/bar; the salsa dancing is just a draw to get you in the door.  Dancers are often a difficult group to deal with, because we tend to not want to weigh ourselves down with huge meals or over-imbibe and lose coordination before we hit the dance floor.  Nonetheless, Mr. FC&G and I make sure that, at these free salsa events, we at least buy a couple of drinks and split an appetizer or dessert.  We also tip the wait staff generously, aiming for at least 25% to compensate for the smaller-than-dinner check we are running up.

You may take what is offered to you, but you can't ask for more unless you need it.
This idea comes into play in hotels, which typically offer trial size bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and hand lotion in your room.  As you can see above, I have no problem with tucking a partial bottle of hand lotion in my purse and bringing it home from a trip.  The same is true for the other toiletries; if I have shampoo left at the end of a visit, I will bring it home.

However, I draw the line at purposely asking the attendants and maids for more of a product unless I run out during my stay.  It is not fair to ask for a few extra shampoos to tuck in your luggage, or to help yourself from the maid's cart.  It is true, as some say, that the maid  may not care, but you will ultimately pay the price for this when the extra expense the hotel incurs from these little nibbles to the bottom line result in rate hikes.

The same is true for the complimentary breakfast buffet, if one is offered.  I don't have an ethical problem with smearing peanut butter on a bagel and bringing it back to my room to eat at 10 a.m. rather than 6 a.m., and if this means I get to skip buying lunch, so be it.  But it is wrong to eat a full breakfast and then pack yourself a lunch.

You have to play by the rules of the business you are visiting.
So what about taking your own candy into the movies?  Surprisingly, this has been a fairly contentious topic among some people, and I can see both sides.  On the one hand, the core business of the theater is a movie, so one shouldn't feel compelled to buy food and drinks just to support them.  On the other, theaters often make a substantial portion of their money from food sales, so bringing your own harms the business.

For me, if the theater has a sign posted disallowing outside food or drink, then I don't bring any.  In fact, I really don't like to eat or drink during a movie anyway.  It is perfectly ethical to eat a nice, cheap, healthy meal at home before treating yourself to a movie; the price of the ticket gives you entry into the movie, which is all you want in that situation.  No one is requiring you to eat.

And no fair sneaking into another film after yours is over.

What are your frugality ethics guidelines?
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Friday, April 5, 2013

How to Make Sustainable Food Choices

If you pay enough attention to advice on sustainable living (yes, even mine), you may quickly get to the point where you can't eat anything at all, because nothing ticks all the boxes. As an example, the other day I wanted to find something to replace the wheat-based pasta that I have too frequently during the week, and I remembered Japanese buckwheat noodles.  The only kind I could get had been produced in Australia and imported here.  I bought them anyway.

When I'm trying to make food choices for my family, I tend to think of a hierarchy of priorities.  I make selections based on these criteria in order, but if I can't hit them all (and I usually can't), I don't worry so much about the ones I missed.

  1. Did I grow it?  This is the top choice.  If Mr. FC&G and I actually forked dirt, weeded, and harvested, that effort will not go to waste.  When in doubt for dinner, look at the produce basket on the counter, the table in the sunroom, and the garden just outside.  Eat everything that's ripe.
  2. What is the nutritional value?  Obviously, stuff from the garden is nutritious, but if I'm not in the garden, I have to think first of nutrition.  In the extreme, think of the pit stop at the Flying J or other similar truck stop/convenience store you might make on a long road trip.  If your choices are down to a candy bar or a box of raisins, take the raisins even if they were imported and grown by questionable means.
  3. Can I avoid unwanted additives?  Big things that I don't want to see in my food include HFCS, meat or dairy from animals raised with supplemental hormones and antibiotics given prophylactically, and produce raised with pesticides/herbicides.  I also try to avoid GMO soy products (that is to say, most products with soy) and products with multiple types of sugar in the ingredients (like a list that says sugar, fructose, dextrose -- I mean, really?).  
  4. Is it local? This is perhaps the first criterion that addresses global sustainability, but I try to buy as local as possible.  This means, the bulk of our meat comes from the farmer's market, and the majority of our yearly produce comes from my garden.  In some cases, this means I choose US-produced over something produced in a foreign country.  However, I don't worry too much about imports that are characteristic of a certain country and that we rarely purchase in any quantity; for example, Mr. FC&G has taken a liking to Digestive Biscuits after our recent orgy of watching British television shows, and I don't feel too bad about picking up a package imported from the U.K. every other shopping trip or so.
  5. Is it organic?  Surprised this is the last thing on the list?  I turn to the organic certification only as a proxy for some of the items above.  Specifically, an organic certification is shorthand for the third item above in the list, in general, in that organic products don't have HFCS, pesticide/herbicide exposure, or GMOs.  However, I'll take the word of an Amish baker at the farmer's market over an official certification any day.
And what about price?  Well, I'm price sensitive like everyone else, but I generally use price as a tie breaker or as something to tell me where to stop on this list.  For example, a gallon of Meijer brand milk (from cows not given growth hormones) is less expensive than Hartzler's milk (which is local, non-homogenized, and from cows raised under sustainable methods) which is less expensive than the boutique brand of organic, grass-fed cow milk in the little quart carafes.  Mr. FC&G drinks the Meijer milk; we make sour cream and yogurt from the Hartzler's brand (especially since it seems to have lots of cream).  We just chuckle at the boutique grass-fed brand, which, the last I checked, would come in at something like $16 a gallon.

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Monday, April 1, 2013

Not Necessarily Fast and Cheap: Peanut Butter Frosting

This is not necessarily frugal.

This is not necessarily sustainable.

This is some of the best-tasting frosting you will ever put on a boxed chocolate cake.

Inspired by Buckeye Bark:

1 stick organic butter, melted
1 t. organic vanilla
16 oz organic creamy peanut butter
1 c. powdered sugar

Mix with your mixer until fluffy and creamy.  Spread on cool cake.

You're welcome.
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