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Friday, March 29, 2013

Epsom Salts for Pain Relief

Hope springs eternal; no pun intended.  With temperatures finally climbing into the 50s this weekend, I'm ready to declare the official beginning of gardening season.  And if you are like us, that typically means finding muscles you never knew you had and abusing them in ways you haven't done since last October.

Actually, Mr. FC&G and I are always finding new ways to abuse muscles and joints.  As you may know from reading this blog, our hobby is ballroom dancing.  It is a wonderful activity to share with your spouse, and it is tremendous exercise, but you can believe what you see on Dancing with the Stars when otherwise healthy middle aged people start sprouting strains and injuries like crocuses popping through the snow.  Done correctly, dancing can be strenuous; done incorrectly (like while you are learning a new technique), it can be inadvertently painful.

But you hate to come home from a night of doing something good for your body and pop a handful of pills.  It kind of seems counterintuitive, don't you think?  So I have been investigating non-medication aides to help with sore joints and muscles.

Epsom salts are a traditional home remedy that is recommended for use in soaking baths and in hot compresses to help with sprains, strains, sore muscles, and bruises.  It also has a variety of other uses, as you can see on the bag above, including as a laxative and as a gardening aid.  I haven't investigated those.

Somehow, Epsom salts, once a staple of everyone's home, somehow has sunk into oblivion as we reach over the bag at the store and for the OTC pain relievers and for the prescriptions from the doctor.  It is too bad.  I fully intend to investigate the mechanisms of action of this simple salt, as well as its other uses, but right now let me say that I have tried it a few times in a hot soaking bath for pain relief for my bad knee, and I am pleased with the results.

Two cups in a tubful makes a nice bath and an excuse to read a book for 20 minutes.  The times I have tried it, I have had significant pain relief.  Now, this is not the kind of dramatic pain relief you get when you pull out the big prescription guns, but it is a slow easing of the pain that seems to last very nicely through the night if you do it right before bedtime.  It certainly has allowed me to avoid hitting the OTC pain killers a couple of times.

Two cups sounds like a lot, but the whole 6 pound bag was only $3.29 at the grocery.  A bargain for some natural pain relief, I say.  I'm definitely going to keep us stocked up and maybe see what other wonders this simple remedy has in store.

The Analysis
Fast:  I starting feeling pain relief within about 20 minutes with an Epsom salt bath, which is about the amount of time required for pills to hit your bloodstream.

Cheap:  Epsom salts are cheap, but you do use a lot.  However, I think the cost is manageable to avoid taking medications when possible.

Good:  Anything that soothes those sore joints and muscles is a good idea to me!
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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Progress on the Money Challenge

So it's time of year, folks.  The time of year when I start to feel I have nothing new to share with you.  That's not true, of course.  Even if I repeat some topics, I'm still practicing sustainable living techniques.

But mostly I'm kind of bummed because this is the time of year I should be starting to share new developments in the garden with you.  Last year, by this time, we were starting to get unseasonably warm days, and I was planting potatoes and peas.  The year before, we started broadforking the ground in February.  This year, we are watching a 5 inch snowfall melt and I am trapped inside.

So I am doing what I always do when the weather is untenable, and I am saving my pennies for my next trip south.  Remember the 52 Week Money Challenge from New Year's?  It is still going strong.

For those of you who didn't see this idea around Facebook and the like, the idea of the challenge is to put aside, each week, the number of dollars corresponding to that week's number on the calendar.  So, in week one, you save $1; in week 2, $2; and so on until the last week of the year you save $52 and have a total of $1,378 in your account or envelope.  Many people are using this to bolster emergency savings, but I'm in the group that is using it to add to the vacation fund.  So, in addition to my normal savings into retirement accounts and my main savings (that pays for household improvements and emergencies), I am putting aside money from my weekly cash to do the challenge.

If you follow the plan exactly, we are on week 13 and you should have $91.  I have been skipping around a bit, as you can see from my chart, because sometimes I have a $20 bill and slide it in the envelope and then check off whatever week or weeks that corresponds to.  I currently am running a little ahead at $113.

Of course, things are going to get more interesting when the weekly amounts are in the $40-50 range, because my weekly cash is usually in the $50-75 range, so I might feel I'm shorting myself a bit.  But as of right now, I am on track, and I'm looking forward to taking my cash and making quarterly deposits into the vacation fund.

How are you doing on the 52 Week Money Challenge?  If you haven't started yet, please jump in where we are and tell us how you are doing!



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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Grow Lights

Years ago, we found this wonderful wooden planting box that was discarded by a neighbor, and we snapped it right up.  It is about a foot deep and about four feet long by two and a half feet wide, making it the perfect size for growing greens, both in the sunroom and out.  But even though our sunroom is sunny in the winter, we knew we could grow our greens faster with the addition of a little bit of light.

What you see suspended over it is Mr. FC&G's new grow light.  It is constructed of two shop lights that each hold two grow lights, making it four lights wide.  It is possible to buy a four-light fixture at the hardware stores, but we could not find one of the length we wanted that would hold the grow bulbs we wanted to use.  So, Mr. FC&G, with his ultra-detailed craftsmanship, attached the lights with two metal bars and fixed chain to suspend the light from the ceiling.  The metal attachment bars, per Mr. FC&G's detailed nature, are filed until all rough edges  are smooth and rounded.  And, of course, the light hangs perfectly level.

Oh, and that screen you can barely see over the planter box?  That is the critter guard that Mr. FC&G constructed last year to protect our greens when they are outside.  We really don't need it on there now, but it is as good a place as any to store it.  It is constructed of a wood frame and metal screening, and he has tailored the screen edges so they are all rounded and so there are no rough pieces of screen sticking out to hurt hands and bare legs when we remove it.

The Analysis
Fast:  It didn't take Mr. FC&G long to construct the grow light to his preferred dimensions and his exacting standards in his shop.  He worked on it a couple of hours each of two weekend days.

Cheap:  Certainly, it will take a while to recoup the cost of the two relatively-cheap lights just in wintertime greens, but the project in total was probably less than $50.  "Anything for more greens," said Mr. FC&G.

Good:  I've wanted a large grow light like this for years, but commercial seed-starting racks can be expensive.  This was within budget, does the job beautifully, and allows me to enjoy some more of Mr. FC&G's detail-oriented craftsmanship!
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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Hybrids and Heirlooms

If you are ordering your garden seeds, you are probably trying to sort out whether you should order hybrids or heirlooms.  There is a lot of advice out there.  On the one hand, people will tell you that hybrids are more readily available and often more reliable, which can be true.  On the other, people will urge you to go for biodiversity by growing some heirlooms, also a valid argument.

There are many beliefs on both sides of the debate, so I thought it would be useful to examine a few.

Hybrids are evil.  Well, no, probably not.  After all, a "hybrid" is just a cross between two parents; you are a hybrid.  In the seed world, a hybrid has been purposely crossed and bred to exhibit certain characteristics, such as disease resistance, cold tolerance, or early fruiting.

Where you get into trouble, just a bit, is the so-called F1 hybrid, which is a first generation hybrid.  If you save the seeds from these, they will not "breed true" to the mother plant.  So, if you love your F1 hybrid zucchini and save the seeds, the resulting zucchini you get next year will not necessarily have the characteristics you want.  In some cases, the seed won't germinate at all, or will do so poorly.  But if seed-saving is not your concern, hybrid seed is not a big deal in your own garden.

Hybrids are destroying biologic diversity.  It is true that the number of commercially-available varieties of plants has decreased dramatically, and this is partly because of the ubiquity of certain hybrid varieties.  On the macro level, this is of concern because the way we adapt to a changing world is to have a big "library" of genetic diversity available.  So, if you are concerned about climate change warming your area in the near or far future, it will be useful to know there are tomato plants out there that someone has carefully nurtured for generations to grow in a hotter climate.

This doesn't mean, however, that you should never grow a hybrid.  Just make sure you include an heirloom or two; since heirlooms are open-pollinated, they will also cross with other plants in your garden, and soon you will have a variety that is suited to just your little neck of the woods.  As I have stated many times, my most robust tomatoes ever year are the volunteers that spring up like weeds from the compost pile.

Heirlooms are fussy:  Sometimes.  The real issue is that there are so many possibilities that it is easy to pick an heirloom variety that doesn't love your particular garden, while commercial hybrids are generally bred to withstand a wider range of climate differences.  For example, last year I grew a beautiful tomato called Ukranian Purple.  The fruit was lovely, but the poor plant didn't really love the wave of 100 degree days we got, which I should have expected from a hybrid that came from the Ukraine and was bred for a short season with a cold spring.

You aren't  a "real" gardener until you grow heirlooms:  Nonsense.  Yes, like any hobby or sport, gardeners quickly get into little competitions about who is growing the most arcane variety of the most arcane plant.  I have talked to Italian gardeners who won't make sauce from anything but paste tomatoes descended from Italy, and home gardeners who are trying to grow paleo-grains for grinding into their own flour.  I'm guilty of doing this, somewhat.  But if it isn't your thing, don't let it hold you back from gardening.  Sure, I want a bunch of garden nerds who want to spend hours talking to me about their seed choices, but what I really want is for everyone who reads this blog to go out and grow an edible plant or two on their land, whether that is in a pot, a raised bed, or the back 10 acres.  If what that takes is you going to the hardware store and picking up a bunch of commercially-grown hybrid seed, then do just that with no guilt whatsoever.

What varieties are you most excited about this year?
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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Laundry Pre-Sort System

Some time ago, I mused on the question of Is Organization Frugal?  Having determined that sorting through your junk makes you less wasteful (as anyone in the tiny house movement could attest), we have continued on, slowly fighting the encroaching chaos in the house that comes from daily lives.

But, I was surprised a couple of weeks ago when Mr. FC&G suggested we buy some laundry hampers that allow for sorting clothes into loads at the time of consigning them to the dirty clothes pile rather than just before laundering.  Am I glad he did!

We had always done a little bit of laundry pre-sorting.  Mr. FC&G's work uniforms (which he wears when he will be physically working with wiring or machinery rather than designing and programming) go into a hamper in the closet that holds his clean uniforms, and he takes care of that oily load.  Towels, sheets, and table linens go into the laundry room.  Delicates (in our case, the black load), go into a hamper in our bathroom that doubles as a bench seat.

But that left a mass of undifferentiated laundry that piled up in a basket on my side of the closet.  We would sort and wash that pile every time it started to obstruct my efforts to extract my own clean clothes.  System-wide, we did about 5-7 loads of laundry a week.  Plus, the laundry chore was impeded by the fact that the sorting went on in the bedroom, the only open space near the baskets of doom.  If anyone was sleeping in (and Mr. FC&G and I tend to sleep on slightly different scheduled when he is on a big project), then the other person couldn't do laundry.

With the introduction of this three-bin hamper system, many of these problems have diminished.  Either of us can sneak into the bathroom and extract a pre-sorted load; it also makes it very visually clear if we are truly "out" of a certain kind of laundry or if we just are amassing laundry at a consistent but manageable rate.  Over the two weeks we have used this system, we have done one fewer load per week, and the sorting time is down to practically nothing.

Right now, these bins hold whites, underwear/socks, and "undifferentiated," a load that still needs to be sorted but which can be dealt with fairly quickly by someone standing over that bin.  When things warm up and I am hanging most of my laundry outside again, the bins will become whites, things that can line dry, and "undifferentiated" that needs to go through the dryer.  I'm really glad Mr. FC&G made the suggestion to try this system!

The Analysis

Fast:  Here's your big benefit.  This system cuts a good chunk of time off your laundry tasks for the week, which is always a bonus.  Pre-sorting also makes it much easier for either of us to do a quick load of laundry without disturbing the other or being uncertain of sorting protocols.

Cheap:  We did buy the bins for $30 at the hardware store, and it will take a lot of foregone water and homemade detergent usage to pay for that.  But your savings are in time, in this case.

Good:  I don't dislike doing laundry, but I don't want to do it every single day.  This system makes it easier to only do laundry when needed and to share the task more equally between us, a very important factor when we both are very busy with our jobs.
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Friday, March 8, 2013

What I'm Growing Now

A few years ago, I had a conversation with a novice gardener in about July.  I hate to be the know-it-all gardener when I'm talking to a newbie, but sometimes your heart just breaks if there is an obvious mistake.

"So what are you growing?" I asked.

"Well, [blah-blah-blah] and peppers.  But my peppers are so small.  I don't know if they will ever produce peppers this year," she mused.

"You mean you just have little peppers on your plant?  Or did you direct seed?"

"I'm growing them from seed," she said proudly.

With a growing sense of foreboding, I asked, "when did you put them in the ground?"

"Oh, Mother's Day, like you do."

Sigh.  I knew this poor newbie was going to have a failure of a pepper year, because there wasn't enough time for the peppers to reach maturity.  I tried to gently suggest that she could bring the plants indoors when it got cold, so long as they had set fruit already.  Of course, she direct seeded into her garden rather than a container, so she was going to face the "reverse hardening off" process that I find so difficult.

In any case, I always think of my newbie friend whenever I start my peppers -- in February.  I usually seed on Groundhog Day (because spring is coming, darn it!), but this year I was about three weeks late due to vacation.  Nonetheless, my peppers have sprouted and are catching up under their grow lights.

On my Mom's birthday (March 1), I always plant my tomatoes (her favorite fruit/veg!) I'm growing from seed.  This year, I have only seeded the Ox Heart tomatoes, and I'm waiting for them to sprout.

Regardless, it is a wonderful celebration of spring.

What have you started for your garden?  What zone are you in?
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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

On Learning to Eat Meat

I've been thinking about writing this post for a week now, but I've been resisting.  Part of it is because it deals with personal experience, and I'm not really that kind of blogger.  I mean, I admire those who can write freely about their feelings and experiences, but I'm much more of a "how to" kind of girl.

Part of it, too, is because I'm going to talk about eating meat, and on a sustainability blog, that can be a topic that brings out some intense feelings on both sides.  And I know that the expected path, with a blog like this, is for my journey to start with embracing sustainable living and practicing yoga (which I do), and end with a full commitment to veganism or at least to vegetarianism.  And, indeed, I have been nearly vegetarian -- more, even, than the trendy "flexitarian," -- for at least a quarter of a century.  "Meatless Mondays" are more the norm in my world than the exception -- along with mac-n-cheese Tuesdays, PB&J Wednesdays, and leftover potatoes Thursdays.

But I have decided I need to eat more meat, and the transition is not proving an easy one.  And I thought it might be useful to share that with you.

First, let me lay out some beliefs for you.  I don't typically choose meat because I don't like it.  I don't like the flavors, and I really don't like the texture.  I like a good piece of fish every now and then, and I really like sausage (where the texture has been altered), but the moment I was allowed to start choosing my foods as a young adult, I started omitting meat whenever possible.  I am the cheapest date in the world -- to heck with the surf and turf; I'm happier if you let me order off the side dish menu.

However, I don't really have any philosophical objections to eating meat.  Humans evolved as hunter/gatherers, and our systems are designed to derive nutrition from meat.  I don't have a problem with that.  I do have a problem with large scale CAFO meat production operations where animals are pumped full of GMO corn, hormones, and antibiotics and crammed into cages or stalls to suffer until they are butchered.  But I don't have a problem at all with the concept of hunting a creature in the wild or raising it in relative peace and freedom and then turning it into dinner.  Your mileage may vary.

I figure food is kind of like yoga; you should make the choices your body and soul dictate.  Some days, you crave a vigorous sun salutation, and other days it is all child's pose and savasana.  Some days it is t-bone steak, and other days just the baked potato, thank you very much.

Except I never have those t-bone steak days.  I buy grass-fed, organic, and free range meat and wild-caught fish, and I cook it up, and then generally I turn my nose up at it and eat the side dishes.

However, I have come to the conclusion that my body really isn't getting enough protein.  Part of it is watching via Facebook the experiences of a friend who has elected bariatric surgery; this friend now has a daily dietary protein goal that I'll bet you anything it takes me four days to eat with my standard diet.

Part of it is my recent vacation, on which, quite without thinking, I ate chicken or fish at every major meal, and I felt terrific.  Now, in another post we can sort out all the things that are different about vacation as compared to real life, but certainly the diet for me is one of those differences.

So I've decided to try to have chicken, fish, or sausage at least four to five days a week, just to up my protein intake.  And I am finding it a mighty struggle.

Yes, I know I could eat tofu and beans, but I think I hate those things worse than I do meat.  (I'm a picky eater of Olympic caliber.)  If I don't get some meat in my diet, I will be getting my protein exclusively from peanut butter and cheese, as I have done for 25 years.  I don't feel like that is adequate any more, especially as I expect my body to respond to regular dance lessons, some pretty vigorous gardening efforts, and all the other activities of daily life.

Yet, every time I put meat in my mouth I'm disappointed.  This weekend, I had some awesome mahi-mahi at a local restaurant, but the times I can tell you I really enjoyed my dinner with meat or fish in it are pretty few and far between (vacations notwithstanding).  Generally, I can eat a wonderfully-healthy meal filled with vegetables and chicken or fish, and I get up from the table feeling like I passed time but didn't really consume anything.  And I'm not talking about trying to go low- or no-carb here; I'm just changing the proportions a bit and adding a protein source.

So there you go.  Most of the people I have talked to about my switch back to meat have been very enthusiastic and supportive, which I appreciate, but most of them also have actual meat cravings in their lives.  More than one person has said some version of "Good for you -- I tried to be a vegetarian, but I missed cheeseburgers too much!"  I sympathize, but I also have to tell you that the last time I ate a cheeseburger had to have been sometime during the Carter administration (not kidding; and look it up, kids!), and I haven't missed them a bit.

I'm going to continue along this path because the most important thing about sustainable living is that it creates better health and life for each person and family, and I think my body isn't getting the nutrition it really needs to keep dancing and gardening and writing for another 50 years (God willing).  But getting used to it ain't easy.




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