Sustainability

Remedial Composting

When I did my composting boot camp posts we were under a few feet of snow here in Denver.  I was unable to get outside and get any useful pictures of the compost bin in progress for you.  But over the last two weekends, mother nature has been much more cooperative.  We were able to get out to the bins, and coupled with the spring garden cleaning we did, we had plenty of stuff to add to it.

Both bins were pretty full.  The bin on the right had been covered, and I was hoping that it would be full of finished compost, ready to go.

Instead, it was nearly done.  But there were a lot of sticks and twigs in it from the tree last summer that hadn’t broken down yet.  Rick raked it all out of the bin, while Henry and I collected as many sticks as we could.  The plan is to power compost this stuff so it’ll be ready to go into beds by April or early May.

Here is a close up of that almost ready compost:

It looked pretty good, but there were still a lot of big pieces that I wanted to get broken down before we put it in the garden.

The left side of the bin is where we added our kitchen scraps all winter, fall garden materials and sod this spring that we removed from the edges of our flower and herb beds where it was encroaching.  We didn’t turn the pile over the winter at all, and it had many fabulous layers.

See all that beautiful finished compost at the bottom?  That is what I want!  But there is an awful lot of other stuff on top of it.  So we used the now empty bin on the right side to mix up the stuff on the left side all the way down to the finished stuff, which we will keep separate.

We started moving it over…

Not pictured is a bunch of dried grass and leaves and yard clippings that will get mixed in with the layers.  It’s off to the left of the frame.  We had more stuff than we could immediately fit into the bins without doing this process first.

So we tossed part of that top layer of grass and sod into the empty bin on the right, and part of it got tossed in front of the bin, so we could mix in other layers too.  As we moved layers over, we had H grab big armfuls of dry leaves and dry grass to mix in with the stuff coming from the left bin.

As the right-hand-side pile grew, we put the front boards back in to keep it contained.

We watered the pile with the hose as we went.  Remember, it takes water, air, carbon (browns) and nitrogen (greens) to make a great compost pile.  It was a hot day and the week was supposed to be plenty hot, so I wasn’t worried about making it too wet.

Where the layers were already very wet from the winter snows, we added lots of dry stuff.  If anything was too big, we tried to break it up as well.  The layer from last year’s garden was pretty wet, so it was good to mix in some dry brown material as we went. We were trying to balance it out. 

Also as we got to the middle layers we mixed in some of that first stuff that went over the side of the bin.  The idea it to get it somewhat uniform, so it all rots together, as opposed to the layers we originally had.

You never know what you’ll find in your compost bin.  I found this perfectly grown beet with a weird, crunchy, light-starved top.  It grew somewhere, way down in the pile.

We continued layering and watering and mixing and putting the boards of the compost bin back up until we had reached that finished compost down at the bottom of the left bin.  Then we pulled all that great, finished compost out of the bottom of the bin.

Now we had two piles.  Finished compost on the left, nearly finished compost on the right, and an empty bin.

We could use all that compost on the left, but I really didn’t have a place ready for it yet.  I decided to layer it back in with the nearly done stuff on the right with some of the top soil that we had from the bed edging.

Rick and I grabbed shovels and tossed both piles into the empty bin.

We watered it and then covered it with heavy black plastic. Over the next few weeks, it should cook down to great, useable compost ready to feed this springs’ gardens.

We did all of this work on the 11th.  I’ve checked the left-hand bin pretty regularly. Some days I uncover it and watered it; I’ve mixed it again once with a rake and my hands (so I could feel how wet and warm it was/wasn’t) since then already.  I want to keep it hot and damp, but not too wet.  Like a wrung out sponge or chocolate cake.  We’ve been adding our kitchen scraps and other yard waste to the bin on the right.

That is what composting looks like in action… the down and dirty work of spring cleaning.  ;)

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Categories: Compost, Sustainability, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , | 24 Comments

Practical Ways to Store Food without a Fridge

Over the last couple of weeks there has been an article from treehugger.com floating around Facebook, Reddit, and Pinterest highlighting Korean designer, Jihyun Ryou’s five creative ways to store food without a fridge.  The designer’s goal was “re-introducing and re-evaluating traditional oral knowledge of food, which is closer to nature,” by using objects to make this knowledge visible.  The designs are super modern looking with clean lines and things like sand and water mounted to your wall.  And, I have to admit, they do look cool, despite being kind of impractical.

In light of their impracticality, and because we’ve lived without a fridge for the last 9 months, I’m offering up some practical answers to Ryou’s modern artworks; while less artistic, everyday homesteaders can apply them to their own kitchens.

Symbiosis of apple and potato:

Most fruits don’t need to be stored in the refrigerator.  The taste of tomatoes will rapidly deteriorate in the fridge.  The fridge stops the process of ripening fruits, which if you are buying them from the store is the opposite of what you want.  Potatoes don’t need refrigeration either.  As Ryou points out, potatoes can be kept from sprouting if stored underneath apples, since apples, like many fruits, emit ethylene gas.  Ryou’s design offers a wall mounted box to store your potatoes underneath a shelf to set your apples on.

My mom had one of these hanging produce baskets.  You could do a quick search on Amazon and find a multitude of both hanging and counter-top baskets, and even some bins in which you could keep your potatoes stored beneath your apples. Some of them are pretty cool looking.

Verticality of Root Vegetables:

Ryou’s design is quite beautiful with carrots and green onions sticking out of wet sand (again wall mounted; I’m wondering how heavy these things are).  Here is my solution for keeping vegetables both vertical and moist:

We used this clever design for carrots, onions and celery from the CSA last summer.  Turnips, beets and radishes could go in a bowl.  And a sink filled with cold water will revive a head of lettuce that you thought was a goner too.

Breathing of Eggs:

Many people know that eggs don’t need to be refrigerated.  In Europe, eggs are purchased from a plain old unrefrigerated shelf in the grocery.  Without a fridge, eggs from the grocery store will last about three weeks.  Because egg shells are porous, Ryou offers another reason to keep them from the fridge:

An egg has millions of holes in its shell. It absorbs the odour and substance around itself very easily. This creates a bad taste if it’s kept in the fridge with other food ingredients. This shelf provides a place for eggs outside of the fridge. Also the freshness of eggs can be tested in the water. The fresher they are, the further they sink.

We use this to keep our eggs on the counter.

I’ve been told the eggs at the store can be up to 30 days old already when you buy them, so imagine how long fresh eggs from the back yard would last.  Of course, our eggs rarely make it more than a few days before they are eaten, so we don’t worry about testing their freshness, but I could easily get a glass of water to test them in if needed.

The Dryness of Spices:

Ryou’s design for  a spice bottle is really very clever.  It takes the grandmother’s tradition of keeping some grains of rice in your spices to absorb moisture to keep it from clumping one step further by keeping the rice in its own compartment within the jar.  We don’t really have this problem in Colorado, it is not ever humid enough to make our spices clump.  The only fault I find with this design is that it is once again on a wall mounted shelf.  Spices actually lose flavor when exposed to the light.  It is better to keep them in a cabinet behind closed doors where they can stay in the dark.

Note that this is not my spice cabinet (though I might wish it was).  Thanks to Louise at My Food Voice  for sharing.  My spice cabinet is a jumbled mess, not fit for photography.  ;)

Now, of course, I know that Ryou’s designs are meant to be art, not necessarily practical.  But the purpose of this art besides being beautiful, and the purpose of Ryou’s project, is to get people to see (and therefore think about and use) their food and to think outside of the ice box when it comes to storing it.

What are some other ways to keep food fresh without of the fridge?

Categories: Simple Living, Top 5, Unplugging the Fridge, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , | 15 Comments

February Independence Update

I have to admit that my urban homestead boot camp has been a bit of a blogging boot camp for me as well.  I’ve written more in the last two months than I have pretty much ever, and it’s been a great outlet that I’ve really enjoyed.  And my readership is up as well, which is always fun for me and also amazing, since I am always surprised that people want to read what I’m saying.  So welcome to all of you new readers!  Also, I plan on doing a bit of blog maintenance this week, so if you see anything weird, mid change, please bear with me.

I wanted to do an update on my progress with the Independence Days challenge.  I’ve kept pretty good track on my sidebar, but sometimes I forget a few things here or there.  So for the last month, this is where we’re at:

Plant Something: Planting is on the horizon here for us.  We have seeds and I’m planning on starting some inside (perhaps this week?) but now we’re just waiting on the weather.

Harvest Something: One whole egg.  I’m pretty sure we have more than one egg eater, and I know one hen is in full molt right now.  And one is five years old.  So the lack of eggs, while not totally surprising, is completely frustrating.  I’ve heard from a few people on Facebook that we’re not the only ones in Colorado experiencing this, that it has something to do with our whacked out weather, but in five years of raising chickens, this is the first time we’ve been completely dry.  Especially this late in the winter.  So we have some culling to do in the near future and some replacements waiting in the wings:

Preserve Something: While we were all sick a couple weeks back, Rick dug the Thanksgiving turkey carcass out of the freezer and made up some stock (and some soup).  8 cups went into the freezer.  Other than that though, we’ve mainly been depleting it, and not adding to it.  ;)

Waste Not:  Scraps given to the chickens and compost pile.  Also, a few months back I salvaged a small nightstand /dresser thingy and a book shelf that was going into the local preschool’s dumpster (why???).  Rick has been refinishing them.  The nightstand is solid wood and is cleaning up beautifully.  I wish I had done before/after pictures.  The book-case is both wood and wood-veneer.  It’ll probably end up getting painted.

Want Not: I bought a couple of pairs of pants from the thrift shop, as well as a hurricane for my oil lamp.  We have a case of pasta on order that I should be getting this week or next.  Also, some angel friends dropped by some clothes for C last night, unexpectedly.  I’m so grateful for gifts like that, out of thin air.  I’m glad we found out that other friends of ours are having a baby girl, so we can pay that blessing forward.

Eat the Food: Due to some payroll mix ups, we got to take full advantage of our freezer and pantry this month.  Rick got what we thought was some extra bonus money at the beginning of the month.  It turns out that payroll had made a mistake and then just took the difference out of his check two weeks later… after we had already used it to pay off some debt.  So we had two very lean weeks, income wise.  Thankfully we really didn’t feel much of a pinch, since we had the food stored.  We ate a bit more meat than we usually do, and a few less fresh vegetables.  But we by no means suffered through it.   From the pantry we had spaghetti squash, pickles, strawberry jam, peach-plum ginger jam, white pumpkin, dried tomatoes, peach preserves, plum noir jam, red beans and chick peas, rice, more pickles, pasta, popcorn, nuts….  and from the freezer, we enjoyed elk chili, elk steak, green chiles, elk stew meat, asparagus, the turkey bones for soup, elk for stir fry, green peppers, elk chili again, ground elk, elk steaks, more tomatoes, lots of peaches for tarts and cobblers and smoothies, frozen corn… and I’m sure more.

Build Community Food Systems: At the beginning of the month we hosted our first monthly potluck.  My hope in doing this monthly is to, number one, build community, and number two, share resources.  The first one had a small crowd, but we enjoyed it a lot and are looking forward to the next one on the 9th with, hopefully, more people.  ;)

Skill Up: We’ve been chomping at the bit for spring to get here.  In the mean time, I’ve read up on fan training fruit trees, and I bought a grow light, since I’ve determined that the natural light we get in the house has been insufficient for starting seeds.  Now I have to figure out how to build some adjustable height stand thingy for the light.  Heh.  And, Rick has been doing the aforementioned refinishing, which is new to him.

So that is the summary for the month.  If you’ve been doing the Independence Days challenge this year, what have you been accomplishing?

Categories: Independence Days, Sustainability, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Composting Basics Part II: Hot, Cool, and Greens vs. Browns

If you read yesterday’s urban homestead boot camp post, Composting Basics Part I, you remember that I said I love compost.  Besides what it can do for you (you know turning “trash” into garden treasure, restoring and maintaining soil health, balance soil pH and neutralize chemicals, etc.), I love the way it does it.  I know it’s probably a little weird to love decomposition, but I do.

Yesterday, I told you that there are a lot of choices when it comes to bins, piles, and systems.  Worm bins and Bokashis are pretty specialized and self-contained systems.  I really don’t have much experience with either.   But I have used both a  pile and a bin.

A pile is best for “cool” composting.  It’s great if you aren’t in a rush for your finished compost, and if you don’t want to think much about it.  It doesn’t take a lot to build one.  And a pile probably won’t generate much heat, hence being “cool.”  Plan a year to two years for harvesting.  With this method, you basically just throw your kitchen scraps, yard waste and what-have-you into a big pile, and let it do its thing.  You can help it along by turning/stirring/forking it a couple of times a year, and by chopping up the browns you put into it.  Some people use a chipper or run over their browns with their lawn mowers before adding them to their piles.

You can cool compost in a bin too.  A bin will speed things up for you a bit more.  You will get more heat with a bin, and more heat means faster decomposition.

Right now, our family is “hot” composting.  A hot compost bin decomposes things very fast.  One pallet bin gave us over 80 gallons of finished compost in about 8 months last year.  For hot compost, you layer in your organic waste, give it a good soaking with the hose, and cover it (we use thick black plastic).  As it rots it generates heat, cooking the organic waste.  The heat actually comes from micro-organisms digesting everything. It can get hot enough to kill weed seeds.

The key here is you don’t want it to get too hot.  You want it to rot quickly and kill the bad stuff, but you don’t want to  kill off the good guys.  So you need to rotate it.  Or maybe aerate it is a good word.  Two bins make this nice as you can flip it from one bin to the other.  Sometimes, during the summer, we open it up, put out the half-finished compost, let the chickens scratch through it for a day or two and then scoop it all back in, water and cover again.  If you have a tumbler, there’s no need to use a pitch fork at all, just spin it.

So exactly what do you put in your compost bin?

“The greens” vs. “the browns.”  General advice is that for cool composting you need a 40/60 mix of the two, with more browns.  For hot composting, the ratio is even greater, closer to a 5 to 1 ratio or more of browns to greens. But what are they?

Greens include:

  • fruits and vegetables, whole, pieces, peelings and scraps 
  • moldy food
  • chicken, rabbit, goat poop and other manure from herbivores
  • alfalfa pellets
  • coffee grounds and used tea leaves
  • green leaves or grass clippings
  • hair
  • weeds (if they have mature seeds, make sure they are hot composted, otherwise not)
  • algae and water from fish tanks
  • urine

Browns include:

  • egg shells
  • dried leaves and grass clippings
  • straw
  • wood chips
  • saw dust
  • dryer lint
  • paper, including shredded paper, newspaper, tissue and paper towels
  • cardboard
  • coffee filters and tea bags
  • cotton fabric or string, wool
  • cotton balls and swabs (the kind with cardboard sticks)
  • any plant with woody stalks or stems, including corn cobs
  • nut shells
  • end of season plants

The greens provide nitrogen and the browns give carbon.  The only things I don’t compost are dog/cat poop, human feces, and bones.  All of them can be composted but they can make your pile smelly and attract animals to your pile.

The problem a lot of people have is that the ratios are talking about weight, not volume.  The browns are generally dry and weigh a lot less than the soggy wet greens, so you need a lot more of them.  I have to admit that I don’t really pay close attention to the exact ratios.  I tend to think of the greens as “wet” and the browns as “dry.”  Sort of like the browns are a sponge and the greens are the stuff I’m using to get the sponge wet with.  It’s totally simplistic, but it works somehow.  Even with the hot composting, I just think “Is there enough?  I better put more.”

There are all sorts of cute counter top containers for compost.  I keep a big stainless steel bowl on my counter to catch all of our kitchen scraps, our greens.  I used to use a porcelain one, but it got ruined, so stick with stainless steel.  When it is full or before bedtime, we take the bowl out to the pile.  I cover the bowl with a plate in the summer if fruit flies are a problem.

Most people don’t have a problem coming up with enough greens.  Browns can be tougher.  It helps to keep a source of browns nearby.  Yard waste is perfect.  We beg leaves off the neighbors in the fall.  In the summer, instead of putting grass clippings in as a green, we [have our neighbor who collects his] spread them around the chicken area.  The hens use them as littler and for a couple of weeks until they are completely dry.  Then we rake them up and toss them in the pile.  Dried leaves, straw, dead plants, wood shavings and shredded paper all work.  Usually, as long as you keep plastic out of it, the bathroom trash is all compost-able.

In addition to your greens and browns, you pile will need air and water.  Keep your pile moist – like a wrung out sponge, or chocolate cake.  We cover ours to keep the moisture in during the summer.  And we turn it and mix it.  It gets quite hot in the middle, so we move the middle to the outside edges and the edges in to the center to cook.  Then we water it some more and cover it back up.  Some people add soil or finished compost to their pile.  If your soil is healthy, it has all kinds of good micro organisms that help with decomposing your pile.  It’s sort of like adding yogurt to hot milk to make more yogurt.

What about the smell?  As long as you aren’t adding milk, meat or carnivore poop to your pile/bin, your compost should not smell foul at all.  If your pile has any odor other than a good soil smell, you probably need to turn it, add browns, or both.  Sometimes our bin gets an ammonia smell.  This usually happens after we’ve added the contents of the chicken coop to the pile and it’s had a chance to get going.  Chicken manure is very rich in nitrogen.  Adding in more browns and mixing it up, getting the inside to the outside and vice-versa, takes care of it.

When your compost is done, it should look like great soil.  No big bits or pieces of anything, light and fluffy, not soggy at all.  The compost shown above still has bits of egg shell and wood shavings (the browns take the longest to decompose) but I would put it in my garden like this anyway.

Happy composting!

Categories: Compost, Sustainability, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Composting Basics Part I

Boot camp is back in session.  And I have a confession to make.  I love compost.  I mean I really, really love it.  I love the whole process of it.  I find it completely fascinating.  Compost is so awesome.  Completely dreamy, in fact. I might be obsessed.

The run down… you should compost.  Here’s why:

Compost builds up your soil.  There is a reason it is called “black gold.”  It provides good organisms, holds water, gives nutrients, improves clay soils, improves sandy soils, kills pollutants, fertilizes.  It is awesome.  Using compost reduces the amount of water, fertilizer, pesticides, and soil modification needed to grow a great garden.

Compost gets rid of your waste.  Basically, most things that can’t be recycled can be composted.  If it was alive or came from something that was alive, you can compost it.  Food waste, paper, yard waste, hair, wood, natural-fiber cloth, cardboard, even meat (but you’ll want to do it right).  We’ll call all these things “organic waste” for the purpose of this post.  The only things that can’t really be composted are  plastics, disposable diapers, and other synthetic materials.  Although bones can be composted, they will take a longer time than most gardeners want to put in, or are more likely to get stolen from your pile by some critter.

Seriously, what is cooler than something that turns all of a household’s non-recyclable waste into something that isn’t waste at all?  Something that gives back, that makes the gardens better?  Can you see why I’m infatuated?

How does it work?  Well, here’s the quick and dirty version (tomorrow, I promise a bit more detail):

Compost turns trash into treasure by rotting.  Yep.  Rot.  Experts talk about the greens and the browns, but the bottom line is that a compost bin uses water, heat and air to decompose all those vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, egg shells, grass clippings, leaves, straw, chicken poop, etc.  What you need is a place to put it and a way to turn it to get air into it.

Large bins are great if you have a family, a large garden or a large amount of organic waste to compost.  We don’t have the biggest yard, but we have two pallet bins in the chicken area that we use for composting.  You can make your own, or buy a variety of bins that range in size from pretty moderate to very large. Some even turn themselves.

*Note: Amazon links connect to Northwest Edible’s affiliate links – Help a garden blogger out! 

Or, skip a bin all together and just have a designated pile.

You’ll want to place your compost bin(s)/pile somewhere that gets some sun during the day and where you can get water to it.  A great place is in your garden so that you won’t have to go far with your finished compost.  Close to the kitchen is nice too, so it’s easy to fill, but you really don’t want it right up next to your house.  Trust me.  Our first bin was next to the house and we had a mouse invasion in the fall.  Now our bins are out in the chicken area.  Which is not close to the garden or the kitchen, but it is convenient for cleaning out the coop.  (Yep, broke all the rules I just mentioned.  That’s the way we roll).  It should also be free-standing; not up against a wall or a fence.

If you have a very small area, say only a patio or balcony, you might want to consider vermicomposting.  That is composting with worms.  They are a specific kind of worm, red wigglers, and they can live in a small box (or a big one) and they can eat through your kitchen waste pretty darn quickly.  Their bins can be really small and stacked, and I’ve even seen some that are topped with planters (double duty!).  They don’t need to be turned and they don’t need much “brown” material, but you do need to maintain them (you want the worms to stay alive).  Plus then you have little wiggly pets.  There are many different towers that you can buy or you can DIY with a plastic storage bin or wood.  Check YouTube for a bunch of tutorials.

Worms make excellent compost tea, which is a superb fertilizer that, once diluted, you can pour into your garden beds to help your plants.  Think of it as natural Miracle-Gro.  You can have a worm bin indoors as well.

If the only place you have to compost is under your sink, or if you think you need a way to compost meat or dairy, you might want to consider a Bokashi.  I don’t have any hands on experience with one (we toss any extra dairy or meat scarps to the chickens… except chicken, of course), but they are pretty ingenious.  They are small and air tight, so there is no smell and they use probiotics (the good micro organisms) to decompose what you put in there.  They don’t hold a ton, but they are efficient and get you compost tea quickly.

Tomorrow, I’m going to cover what to put in your compost (you know, “greens” and “browns” and all that), plus the difference between cool and hot composting.

Since I do all of our composting outside, I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on vermicompost and the Bokashi methods.  Tell me, tell me!

Categories: Compost, Sustainability, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

2011 on the Bike

Happy birthday today to my Hard-working Husband, Rick!

I want to take a minute to say that nothing, and I mean nothing, would ever get accomplished around the homestead if it weren’t for him.  I’m really great at the ideas, but Rick is the hard worker that actually makes the ideas turn into something real.  He works hard all week at his job and then he comes home to work hard here on weekends, and I’m so grateful for him.

Last January, I asked Rick to set the odometer on his bike to track how many miles he rode for the entire year.  Then I promptly forgot all about this until last week when he gave me his final numbers.

In 2011 Rick rode 378.83 miles on his bike.  Most of these miles were commuter miles; riding to and from work.  Since I had a baby in July, we didn’t do much recreational riding as a family.  His office is 2.67 miles from our house and his average speed was 11.4 miles per hour.

Most days, due to traffic, he can get to his office or home faster on the bike than if he drove the car.  A fourteen minute commute, mostly on the bike path.

We estimate that he rode his bike to work about 70 days last year.  It’s not clear, because there have been days when he didn’t ride to work, but came home at lunch with his work van to get his bike and then rode home.  But that’s almost 20% of the year commuting on two wheels.    (!)

Rick saved about 20 gallons of gas, about a tank and a half in our car.  His total time spent on the bike:  31 hours, 47 minutes and 43 seconds.

He might argue that it’s actually not work to ride.  I think he likes it.  At least a lot more than driving in traffic.  He’s already had the bike out this year (yep, with snow and everything), and I think he’s going to try to get even more miles racked up for 2012.

Thanks, Rick for all you do.  Especially for supporting my habit of starting crazy projects…  and then finishing them for me.  You are the best!  Happy birthday!!

Categories: Simple Living, Sustainability | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

A Season for Family

I’ve realized from about October to February, is our season of family.  Hunting alone facilitates a great portion of this, and then the holidays manage to cement the rest.  We just don’t have time to spend with many friends, as much as we’d like to.  Family really takes priority.

During the harvest season, I think it is easy to start feeling like you are drowning in the work of a homestead.  I generally feel like I tread water pretty steadily around here, but after a spastic comment on the Apron Stringz blog, when both CJ and Erica of NWEdible reached out to me to make sure that I was alright, I realized my Shiny-Happy exterior was cracking a bit.  While I’m afraid that the comment I left came across way crazier than I intended, the truth is, I have been somewhat overwhelmed.

In April, Rick’s dad was diagnosed with ALS  (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease).  I’ve sort of kept this under my hat, since Rick wasn’t keen on talking about it with anyone, even in person.  He got pretty tetchy when I mentioned it to our neighbor (who is getting to be like family) and to our midwives while I was still pregnant with C.  So I’ve kept it off the blog all this time.  But I started bracing myself.  I’ve seen diseases before.

I’ve had the unfortunate experience of watching my own father pass away.  He was diagnosed with lung cancer when I was fifteen.  Lung cancer has a 15% survival rate and a lot of people treat you as if you deserve to get it.  But my dad hadn’t smoked in over 20 years before he was diagnosed.  The cause of it was more likely asbestos from being a mechanic or possibly having the polio vaccine tested on him while he served in the Air Force.  Or seeing as he had lost a sister to lung cancer, had a brother that got (and beat!) prostate cancer and a father that died of multiple myeloma at 58, maybe cancer was just in his genes.

But my dad was determined to live.  He had surgery, most of one of his lungs removed, chemo and radiation.  He beat the cancer.  He was cancer free for 8 years before his body, racked by the treatments he received, gave up on him.  I was so grateful that my dad lived to walk me down the aisle, to know Rick.  It was hard to watch my dad, superman in my eyes, go from 6 foot tall to 5′-1″.  To see him lose weight.  For me to never sleep in peace, afraid that his oxygen machine would sound an alarm in the next room if my dad quit breathing, even for a moment.  To see his big, strong mechanic’s hands turn soft and thin.  He died at home in 2004, the day before my 23rd birthday.

ALS makes cancer look like the freakin’ flu.

With cancer, there are treatments, even cures for some.  Hope.  With ALS, there is nothing.  Just waiting, watching, making your loved one feel comfortable as they lose the ability to make their muscles work.  The prognosis for ALS is more than bleak.  Stats vary, but we’ve been told that up to 70% of people diagnosed with it die within 18 months.  It is always fatal.  Less than 10% live longer than five years.

Rick’s dad was beginning to show symptoms last October, though we didn’t recognize them.  He’d been feeling weaker for a while longer before that, but just chalked it up to being tired.  He just turned 51 last month.  Because of my experiences with my own dad, I keep expecting to see things plateau with him, but the disease has not slowed at all.  In April, his words were slurred, by May he was hard to understand.  By June or July, he would only answer yes or no questions out loud.  Now it’s even hard to tell the yeses apart from the nos.  His hands and arms are atrophied pretty severely, so he can’t write.  This past weekend, they gave him a feeding tube.

Through this, my, uh… “greenisim” is wavering.  I’m feeling the urge more an more to take the easy way out.  To throw the proverbial grey water down the drain instead of out the window.  (Here’s where the crazy comment on the Apron Stringz blog comes in).  Part of me doesn’t want to care anymore where my food comes from.  I want to turn the heat up to 69° from 67° and not feel any guilt.  Bag the whole Riot for Austerity.  Throwing in the towel looks appealing.  Part of me is wondering why I should care about organically grown green beans when my father-in-law is struggling to swallow.  I’m wondering if  we can sustain our sustainable life style?  And is it worth it?

The truth is, I know in my heart that it is worth it.  But I need to find a way to be ok with what I can do right now.  Maybe the Riot is beyond my reach at this point in our family’s journey.  Maybe CJ’s Quiet Riot, or even just tracking our energy use is good enough for right now.  Maybe I need to be ok with the things we are doing and hold the space while our family gets ready to walk through the coming grief.

I’ve known somewhat more loss than anyone in Rick’s family (all his grandparents are still living), and I know my strengths can be quite helpful in hard times like these.  The loss of his dad is going to be a devastating blow.  And I’m grateful to have this time with family right now.

So here I am, holding the space.  And turning up my thermostat to 68°.

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Categories: Community, Sustainability | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

Putting it All on the Line

I am in love.  My clothesline is actually making me happy.  I find the few quiet minutes it takes to hang the clothes up both meditative and satisfying.  Wait.  Did I just say laundry makes me happy?

This isn’t my first clothesline, but so far, it is the best.  Granted, it’s new, so I don’t know how it will stand the test of time.  But I really love the design.  Which is funny.  I actually wanted a traditional, two post with lines stretched between set up.  I envisioned my kiddos running between the sheets as they hung on the lines.  But we’re short on space, so we went for the umbrella style.  And I love it.  Here’s why…

It holds a lot.  A LOT a lot.  Like four or five loads.  Maybe more.  More clothes than I have clothespins for.  All the cloth diapers, inserts and wipes, all the kids’ bedding, all of my clothes and towels, tons and tons.

It spins.  This means that I can hang the whites on one side and the darks on the other.  Then I can rotate it so the whites get bleached by the sun, and the darks stay in the shade.  Awesome.  Also, I can stand in one place, with the sun behind me, to hang and turn the line as I fill each side instead of moving around or staring into the sun.

What are you hanging under there? In the past, I would hang lots of items, but not everything.  I never hung our unders up, for example.  I didn’t want the whole neighborhood ogling my ultra sexy nursing bras.  ;)  But with the new line, that’s just not a concern.

The trick to hanging the tightie-whities is pretending you’re wearing them – they go under all your other clothes.  That’s right, if you don’t want the neighborhood to know if the husband wears boxers or briefs, keep them on the inside.  Those t-shirts and dish towels are totally concealing the undies from prying neighborhood eyes.

Clothesline?  What Clothesline?  I can take it down and put it away if we’re having a garden party or something.  Not that this has happened, but it’s a nice option.  Also I think taking it down in the winter to protect it from the weather will probably make it last longer.

It is pretty and it smells good.  Ok, that is true of drying clothes outdoors, no matter what kind of line you are using.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t still love it.  Nothing smells so nice as sun-dried sheets.  And I really love how laundry looks on the line.  I feel like I’ve accomplished something when I see a full line fluttering in the breeze.

Do you hang your laundry out?  What do you love about it?

Categories: Simple Living, Sustainability, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

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