Monday, January 31, 2011

doing the unstuck

Wintertime always leaves me a static-y disaster. Everything is so dry, my malnourished hair sticks out in a thousand directions and my clothes hug all the parts of me I've added extra padding to for the winter. It's not a flattering look. Up until recently, the only thing that gave me some semblance of control over the madness were dryer sheets. I've always had a hard time wrapping my head around using these. They seem innately wasteful since they are intended for one-time-only use (I can stretch them out successfully a few times, but with diminished results). I can't fully convey my excitement and bliss when I found in a cool little zine-like book called "make your place" a recipe for a DIY fabric softener pouch you can use over and over again, opening it up to refill it when the scent wears out! Brilliant! In case you want to buy less all around and not buy a bunch of polluting crap (and my guess is that's partly why you're here) here's the gist of it:

DIY Fabric Softener!
~Cut yourself several squares or rectangles of tightly woven fabric, fold each of them in half and sew almost all the way around, leaving yourself enough room to turn them inside out to hide the seams.
~Mix together 1/2 c of baking soda, 1 T arrowroot powder, 1 T cornstarch and 1-3 drops of the essential oil of your choosing. (The "recipe" called for lavender, but my husband detests smelling flowery~ he says it clashes with his manliness~, so we went with orange.) You can smell like whatever suits your fancy, even changing it with the seasons. Bonus!
~Spoon some of your mixture into each of the pouches and sew up the little hole. (If you want to hide the seam, be my guest. I made the seam right where I can find it easily, for ripping out later to refill them.)
~This easily makes three pouches, maybe more depending on how much you fill them. Just pop one in the dryer and you are good to go. When the scent fades, simply rip the seam out, refill it and re-sew.

No more paying upwards of $2.99 a box for those wasteful sheets and throwing them and the package straight in the trash soon after. (I'll spend my hard-earned money on some nice locally raised meat instead, thank you very much!)

Hope you enjoy being able to smell like whatever you want and not "mountain rain" or "blue sparkle". (What the hell are blue sparkles supposed to smell like anyway, huh, Snuggle Bear? Explain to me exactly how you know....)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

pause and consider

this morning the trees were glazed in white, coated as they were with freshly fallen snow. winter sometimes brings a stillness you can't find in other seasons. it's a refuge, this silence, a time of pause and consideration.

there's been a lot here at my semi-farm lately of the pause and consideration variety. this weekend, we've paused and considered not only what seeds to order so we can start them soon (hopeful for an early spring), but also the chicken coop. we've narrowed down the seed varieties to a healthy mix of all we love to eat, including several varieties of heirloom tomatoes, a few assorted peppers, both hot and sweet, cucumbers, carrots, blue potatoes, some broccoli, cauliflower and beans for the garden. the herbs will be planted in a bed near the house and the lettuces in containers on the patio, where we can move them out of the heat, remember to water them regularly and easily harvest them several times a day without walking far into the yard. it's going to be a technicolor garden for sure, but one that is fun, vibrant and packed full of nutrients. we're also planning on an herb garden in beds near the house and an experiment with quinoa, which we can use to make some damn good (and healthy) tabbouleh. mmm. yummy.

the chicken coop i'm not sure we are going to be building, due to time constraints. we'll still have chickens, but we have limited tools and i'm not sure we can coordinate the building process with my dad around three separate full time jobs, two part time ones, childcare and his home improvement projects. it is a lot to juggle since my schedule varies quite a bit. i've reached out to a few companies to see if they would sponsor us, but if i can;t find any takers (and i'm doubtful i will), we will most likely order this model:

the entire back comes off, so it should be a lot less cumbersome to clean than other chicken tractors or small coops you can't walk inside. the warehouse for this place is only roughly an hour and a half from here so i could potentially pick it up and not have to pay shipping. if anyone who has chickens would share their thoughts, i'd be appreciative of it for sure.
there is so much to do that i'm finished with pausing and am considering getting started~ just a few more weeks until seed starting (according to the farmer's almanac around march 8th). cabin fever is setting in and i am ready to get on with this business of making food.
it's tough not to wish away the remaining days of silent winter with dreams of spring. if only there was sunlight. then it might be easier to bear the last few weeks.

Friday, January 28, 2011

join me in song

I adore the new Iron & Wine album. It reminds me of everything I love, all at once just rushing in, like a gentle blow to the soul. It's crisp fall air, a baby's smile, a musty, dog-eared book and lying on a blanket in a meadow with your lover all rolled into one.

Enjoy this little bit of zen~ if I close my eyes I can taste all the things Sam describes. It's poetry and brilliance, and I'm so immensely grateful for it all.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

bringing back the barter

I've been greatly missing this friend I have with whom I used to work. She's my local chicken mentor and biggest writing cheerleader and, although we certainly keep in touch, it is admittedly not the same since we don't occupy the same physical space on a regular basis. In addition to her sharp wit, depth of knowledge, humor and voluminous compassion, one of my favorite things about our friendship is the sharing of ourselves and the variety of forms it would take. For the sake of her privacy, I won't share her name, but my hope for you is that you'll recognize her as someone you have in your life too.

One of the distinct downfalls of being a creative type and a homesteader at the same time (or blessings, depending on your perspective) is that your dreams and dollars don't typically equal out. That is to say, at least for me, I have a constant stream of ideas, of things I want to do or try and very limited resources for making them happen. Couple that with my inner environmentalist rallying against unnecessary consumption and it makes for a bit of frustration, to say the least. And I'm thrifty. Due to previous experiences I want to learn from rather than repeat, I (try to) sock cash away like it's going out of style, in case I need it for something my DIY self knows would not be a good idea for me to try (like plumbing and electrical work). I often find myself with a lack of constructive things to do and, when this happens and it is cold outside, I either write or bake.

My small family of three can only freeze so much bread without a chest freezer, so I used to bake loaves three at a time: one to eat, one to freeze, and one to give away. My "chicken friend" often ended up on the receiving end of my boredom baking, and I am deeply grateful for both her and her husband's patience and kindness as they became involuntary test subjects in my experiments with flour and yeast. After a while, she started paying me for my baked madness with the coolest of country currency, fresh organic eggs. Of course, this only served to encourage my disorder and I have since evolved into creating muffins and quick breads too.

I don't see my friend very much anymore, now that we don't share the same office and the weather has been frigid and surly. I miss not only her friendship and the intelligent conversation we used to have, but I also miss the little bit of commerce that spontaneously sprung up between us. As more of my money these days goes out just to stay warm and I struggle to market myself as a writer without Facebook, I find myself pining for that exchange again and dreaming of an economy built on relationships rather than greed.

Ultimately, all I want out of my little homestead and my freelance business is the joy that comes with knowing what it takes to sustain my little family unit and more actively participating in making that happen. There's something way more satisfying and tangible in this kind of work. It's more vibrant and real to me. In the traditional system, invisible dollars move into my bank account once a week and I promptly move them out to corporations I can't see for things that often seem intangible themselves. I never even really see the money which has the huge prospect of making me lose the appreciation for what it took to earn it. I find regular economics leaves me vaguely unfulfilled. It seems hollow, just moving the numbers from one column to another without really experiencing anything. Bartering replaces that. It has more substance to it and gives us greater closure when we give of ourselves.

During the Great Depression when there wasn't much money, a lot of this type of commerce went on. I think our communities were stronger for it too. We helped each other and more intimately knew our neighbors, what each had to offer and what each of them, in turn, needed help to get. I want this for my family, for my friends and for society at large. Here in America, as the President said, we do Big Things. My hope is that the biggest among them will be bringing back bartering, to build our communities and encourage appreciation for what we have. It makes the dreams that take longer to achieve much more meaningful when they are finally realized. Life returns from frustration and want to wonder and dreams.

We've all got so much to do to make life better for everyone that our ideas are bigger than our wallets. How do you and your families barter to build your community?

Image by artist Jing Wei from her blog here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

no farms. no food.

Props to new blogging buddy Ashley English of Small Measure fame for sharing this video and my pal at Oak Tree Farm for turning me on to Joel Salatin. I am way excited!!

Farmageddon Trailer from Kristin Canty on Vimeo.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Warm Up to Cinnamony Goodness

Today we spent the whole day indoors, hiding out from the cold and snow that just won't seem to leave. When it's cold here, I do laundry and bake to warm up the house. I usually bake all my family's bread, but we already have some whole wheat for sandwiches in the freezer and needed some variety for breakfast. So I threw together some granola adapted from a recipe from the Complete Tightwad Gazette with raisins, almonds, currants and coconut and decided to bake some bread. Behold the beauty of my Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread~ hand-kneaded, raised with heat from the dryer and just as tasty as it is beautiful.

While I wish I was clever enough to have come up with the recipe, you can find it here on and make some cinnamony goodness all your own. **Hint- I used bread flour in place of all-purpose and it's best enjoyed slightly warm with a little butter. Mmm! Yummy!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Of blogs and bees

I really think if you've found your way here, you most likely understand how I feel about nature and how it's our responsibility to be good stewards of all we've been blessed with here on earth. You've also probably noticed how important I think creating sustainable food economies is (I hope~ that's sort of the point).

The producers of the documentary FRESH the Movie have asked bloggers to help spread an important message about the plight of bees, which are disappearing at alarming rates. Not only do they make amazing honey, bees are also essential to the pollination of plants and our ability to grow food to feed ourselves. For those of us that homestead, they are a key element in the link between us and our self-sufficiency. Please take a minute to read the below and, if you are able, follow the link below to sign the petition.

From ana Sofia joanes, FRESH the Movie:

"Bees are mysteriously dying across the country, and it’s putting our entire food system in danger.

The death of bees is catastrophic. Bees don’t just make honey; they are responsible for pollinating a full third of our food supply. These tiny creatures are vital to life on earth - if we let them die we are looking at a world without fruit, vegetables, cotton, nuts and oils. Our entire food chain is in peril, and it is up to us to do something about it.

It’s become clear that small group of pesticides is at the root of the death of bees. We need to get the EPA to ban these poisons to save our food and bring back our bees.

We are partnering with the great film Vanishing of the Bees to protest this dangerous pesticide. Sign our petition to the EPA and its director Lisa Jackson to ban these bee-killing pesticides now, and watch a short video to learn more.

The death of bees is real. A recent study shows that already 96% of the four main bee species of the U.S. has been wiped out by the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder. [1]

Mounting evidence suggests that one widely used class of pesticides may be a critical factor in the mass casualties. One of these pesticides, clothianidin, is produced by German company Bayer Crop Science and has been widely used in the US since 2003.

This isn’t your usual pesticide - it’s applied to the seeds of plants themselves. It remains in the plant as it grows, and comes out through the plants' pollen and nectar - honeybees' favorite food. The poison attacks the nervous system of bees and other insects, killing them off while having little effect on other animals.

Already France, Italy, Slovenia and Germany have banned this pesticide from use on their crops - and their bee populations have bounced back. [2] Now that we know the danger this poison presents to our entire food system, the US needs to ban the poison, too.

Tell the EPA: ban the bee-killing poisons that threaten our food. Click here to sign our petition. We’ll deliver your signature to Administrator Lisa Jackson and other EPA decision makers.

These poisons aren’t new to the EPA. Unfortunately, the EPA knew of the dangers to bees, and yet approved the pesticides anyway.

A leaked memo, brought to light by beekeeper Tom Theobald, shows that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been well aware of the dangers of this pesticide to the bee population - their own scientists called it “highly toxic” and “a major risk concern to non target insects [honey bees].” [3]

Yet just last year, despite this clear evidence at its disposal, the EPA approved this dangerous chemical for continued use. But now it’s out in the open.

The EPA needs to immediately move to ban this pesticide so our country’s bees can come back to live. It’s so essential for our food safety and security. Sign our petition to the EPA now.

Our food chain is becoming more and more delicate as the chemical companies assault our crops with pesticides. The researchers who are tasked with assessing the impacts of these chemicals are in the pockets of the companies who produce the chemicals. We need to speak loudly against this pesticide and move closer to a world that is safe for not only us, but the tiny hive workers who keep the whole system running.

With hope,

FRESH & Vanishing of the Bees

[1] Researchers Find "Alarming" Decline in Bumblebees

[2]“Nicotine Bees" Population Restored With Neonicotinoids Ban

[3]EPA Leaked memo"
The above text is © 2008 FRESH the movie - New thinking on what we’re eating.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Treats for People and Puppies

I've become a bit obsessed with this website called All Recipes. It's helped to get me through the winter, supplying me with a seemingly endless list of baked goods to try, from breads to cobblers. Lately, since I've been dreaming of warmer weather, I've had smoothies on the brain. I turned to my favorite recipe site for inspiration for some smoothie DIY and came across a recipe packed with fiber and protein combining tow of my favorite things, berries and oatmeal.
Sound a little gross? I'm very weird about the texture of my food, so I was frightened too for a minute, but you really shouldn't be. It turns out just about a smooth as a regular smoothie would be but really fills you up. Check out the recipe from All Recipes:

Strawberry Oatmeal Breakfast Smoothie
Prep Time: 5 MinutesReady In: 5 Minutes
Submitted By: ASTROPHE Servings: 2

"This is a fast and filling vegan smoothie with a deep pink color and a rich, creamy texture. "
1 cup soy milk
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 banana, broken into chunks
14 frozen strawberries
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons white sugar
1.In a blender, combine soy milk, oats, banana and strawberries. Add vanilla and sugar if desired. Blend until smooth. Pour into glasses and serve.

If you try a new tasty treat, don't forget your best friend! I recently found this great local business that makes yummy healthy treats for the four-legged and furry set, like my dog River. It's called One Lucky Dog Bakery and is located in the historic Medina square in the beautiful Arcade Victoria. The owner, Stacey, is very nice and really cares about making healthy treats for pets. Her chief taste tester and blog writer is her Scottish Deerhound Finn.

Isn't Finn cute? To take a look at my article about Stacey's shop, click the link along the right to my Examiner feed. After you're done reading it, stop by and visit her shop for some super smelling treats your pet will love!


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I Believe There's a Storm A-Brewin'

Mid-day during the day today, while I was happily chatting with my mom in her living room, the sky just opened up. Great big fluffy white tufts of winter started hurling themselves from the sky toward the ground. Then, just as quickly as they started, they had formed little armies, quickly taking the driveway, surrounding my car and blanketing the street. We were being infiltrated by one of Northeast Ohio's most insidious foes, snowflakes.

The thing about snow that makes it so sinister is its stealth. I'm pretty sure this is the only weather event around these parts that shows up so quickly and without warning (except, of course, for tornadoes). Maybe it's just more difficult to see since the skies are generally a drab gray color every day this time of year, making distinguishing the color of an impending snowfall that much more difficult. Most ninja-like of all though, is lake effect snow, which only a few locations in the world even have to experience. One minute it can be just chilly and drab and the next~ well, sometimes it's so dense it's hard to see the fingers on your own hands.

Tonight is supposed to be a mixed bag for our area, with accumulations ranging from an inch to 9 inches by the time it's all said and done. Such variety and range! Those crazy, talented snowflakes just can't seem to decide which neighborhoods they like the best this year.

While they are welcome to visit, I hope they don't stay long. I'm ready for this winter white to be replaced with the lush greens of springtime. Here's to hoping the invading troops are just as soon pushed out by the return of our ally, the sun.

Until then, stock up on blankets and books, start some stew and bake some bread, just in case you get snowed in, to warm you inside and out.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"Super Yummy Produce Muffins" ~or~ "What to Do with Leftover Cranberries"

I made these scrumptious muffins tonight. They are my favorite kind, the kind that is spawned from whatever is left in the house that needs used up before it spoils. (In this case, it was a bag of fresh cranberries.) They were surprisingly delicious for being so good for you.
My husband is diabetic, so I used honey and Splenda. I suppose you could use white or brown sugar, but they might turn out a little dry. If you do use sugar, try using unsweetened applesauce in place of the oil for more moisture.
Here is the recipe should you want to try it for yourself:

Super Yummy Produce Muffins


  • 2 cups shredded peeled apples (I used one each of Granny Smith, Gala, and Honeycrisp)
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 3/4 cup Splenda
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans.)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt


  1. In a bowl, combine apples, honey and Splenda; let stand for 10 minutes. Add cranberries, carrots, nuts, eggs and oil; mix well. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt; stir into apple mixture just until moistened. Fill paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full.
  2. Bake at 375 degrees F for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. Makes 2 dozen little bits of tastiness.

Food Rules

Saturday, January 1, 2011

a year in retrospect

The new year brings with it planning and change: people vowing to ditch their bad habits and adopt new routines to better themselves. I've got big plans, but I decided I'll use it for a little reflection too...

As 2011 begins and I really look around to see where we are and what we have, I am both astonished and proud of myself and my family. We are a resilient bunch, to be sure. I can hardly believe that 7 years ago around this time we'd just about lost everything~ and I'd about given up. My husband needed a surgery it seemed no one would perform and was completely unable to work. We were a young family with a very small child, just starting out, and had to sell our home and most of what we owned and move clear across the country. I just couldn't keep it all going on my retail income, though over the years I've certainly tried. For those last seven years, my entire life was ruled by fear and uncertainty over where we would sleep and how we would eat. But we never gave up~ all we had was each other and our dreams, so we just kept on going, even when we weren't sure where we were headed. We've had to be both humble and strong, persistent and patient.

But in 2010 that dream came true. We finally moved out of our apartment and bought a house after 5 years of struggling and saving (mostly funded from quitting smoking), thanks to a fantastic USDA loan program (and a very patient real estate agent and loan officer). With the help of an incredible extended family, we were able to fix what needed fixing and acquire all that we needed to get settled and ready and move it all here along with a loyal and loving dog and two forgiving cats we've dragged all across this country. With some faith and patience, we got our tax credit check, paid off nearly all our debt and promptly set to work, clearing out overgrown and dead shrubbery, starting a compost pile, tearing astroturf off of the back porch and clearing out the storage shed. We've already grown some food on that same porch in containers, had a few backyard barbecues, and had family visit for a week from Arizona and Michigan. We've mowed the huge lawn (repeatedly) and plowed lots of snow with our little green tractor and got our daughter all excited about John Deere and a new school. We've accomplished a lot here at the homestead over the last 7 months. All that work makes the resting and planning of winter a welcome break, but the warm weather we've had the last few days has me longing for spring and ready to start all over again.

I never would have imagined that we'd get such a second chance, and am so very grateful to be where we are, starting this new year with steady jobs, our health, great family and friends, and a home with land where we can grow food to provide for ourselves and those that have helped us. We can finally help them when times get lean. We've redefined what success means for us~ it's about people, not money or things. We're growing a community now to help sustain us and we're trying harder to be part of sustaining the larger world around us. It's miraculous really, this give and take. We certainly wouldn't have survived without the kindness of others and a willingness to fail and to learn. Although I don't ever want to experience all that heartbreak again, our lives are certainly richer for it~ we have been on the receiving end of and seen first hand real examples of grace. I'm so glad to be hear and be part of this.
We've got big plans for this year, from the addition of a coop of chickens to our very first large garden. We've spent this time indoors dreaming of berry bushes, herbs and vegetables and picking paint colors so we are ready to go when the time is right. (And I am trying to do more meditating and yoga so I am mentally ready too.)

The year ahead is going to be all about growing: healthy food, herbs and flowers, but also my freelance business, growing our relationships with our community through volunteer work, and personal growth. I'm looking forward to helping others, letting go of fear and being myself. Hopefully we'll see bumper crops this year of both food and friends.

Thanks to everyone who has made time for us and our dreams. It'd be awesome if you'd keep growing right along with us. Wishing you and your families a safe and happy 2011!