I am a Radical Homemaker by Carol
August 29, 2011, 7:33 pm
Filed under: by Carol, Clothing, Food, Shelter

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I cannot fully express my joy to finally have a title again. I am indebted to Shannon Hayes for this title which is from her book by the same name in which she describes the lives of men and women who are living very similar lives to mine and whom I did not know existed. In fact, radical homemaking is now a movement of sorts.

The question “what do you do?” has been my nemesis for so long now that I have  avoided social situations at times so as not to have to deal with it.  How would I respond? Ummm…nothing? Ummm…everything? Either could be true depending on your perspective. For the corporate work-a-day world I once inhabited, the correct answer would be nothing. In that world, what you do=what your paid work is=your identity. Mothers generally get a pass in that world as child-rearing is still considered a valid way to spend time and it is usually just a temporary time out anyway.

From my perspective, and that of my family, I do everything that does not involve earning an income (though I do manage our finances) and in so doing create for us all a balanced healthy life lived at a much lower stress level than most of the people I know. We do NOT spend our weekends catching up on all of the requirements of life that we don’t have time for during our hectic workweek.  For the most part, we spend our time hiking, visiting, enjoying each other’s company and engaging in creative pursuits. In the past year, I have been making more and more of our products, growing more of our food, forgoing all but the most necessary house cleaning, becoming ever more frugal and slowly decreasing our dependence on purchased goods and services. Cecily too helps with many of these activities as she can balance with her corporate job. And now I know we are not alone.  About the book:

Radical Homemakers is about men and women across the U.S. who focus on home and hearth as a political and ecological act, and who have centered their lives around family and community for personal fulfillment and cultural change. It explores what domesticity looks like in an era that has benefited from feminism, where domination and oppression are cast aside and where the choice to stay home is no longer equated with mind-numbing drudgery, economic insecurity, or relentless servitude.

Radical Homemakers nationwide speak about empowerment, transformation, happiness, and casting aside the pressures of a consumer culture to live in a world where money loses its power to relationships, independent thought, and creativity. If you ever considered quitting a job to plant tomatoes, read to a child, pursue creative work, can green beans and heal the planet, this is your book.

I’ve been working on my own definition as well because the above is a bit long for a cocktail party answer. 😉 My working version is “a radical homemaker manages his or her home as the center of a life lived in increasing harmony with the earth and decreasing dependence on corporate products and services”. Not too bad I think. Leaves room for questions for anyone whose interest goes beyond social politeness. One of the passages from the book really resonated with me and lends itself to personalization as well:

It is time we come to think of our homes as living systems. Like a sour-dough starter, the home’s survivial requires constant attention. A true home is inhabited by souls who live, breathe, eat, think, create, play, get sick, heal and get dirty. It will wither in an antiseptic condition. A true home pulses with nonhuman life – vegetable patches, yeast, backyard hens, [sprouts], blueberry bushes, [soaking grains], culturing yogurt, [drying calendula petals], fermenting wine and sauerkraut, [steeping infusions and herbal tinctures], brewing beer, milk goats, [aging cheese], cats, dogs, houseplants, kids’ science projects, pet snakes and strawberry patches. A living system cannot respect the hours on a time clock and requires the involvement of all the inhabitants in order to thrive. When we can see our home as a living system, when men and women both play a role in its care, even if one of them goes out to a job for part of the day, we have taken the first steps to restore the important partnerships our Neanderthal ancestors innately understood. We will have moved toward creating a true Earth Community.

The bracketed items were my additions from our personal living system. This life is not for everyone. It certainly isn’t for this Salon contributor. As for me, it is the life I’ve chosen and I’m so excited about the new title that I had cards made (free from Vistaprint of course)  to make it easier to connect with people.  Viva La Radical Homemaker!


Skills Crash Course by Carol
August 19, 2011, 6:08 pm
Filed under: by Carol, Food

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Photo credit: stock.xchng

I’ve long wanted to learn how to make cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut and pickles as these are very useful skills for a budding homesteader. I didn’t expect to learn them all in one 24-hour period! But sometimes you have to make hay, or at least try to, while the sun shines.

After a long day of land searching, our gardening realtor gifted us with 4 lbs of baby cucumbers, a head of cabbage an additional bag of veggies of many varieties and a gallon of  milk from a farmer friend. Now I already had veggies and milk in the refrigerator and we are just two so I saw this as an opportunity to try out some of the recipes in Wild Fermentation and the next day we set out to pick up a few crocks for the ferments and some cheesecloth to convert some of that milk to cheese.

That night we got the cabbage chopped and salted and crocked and thereby on its way to kraut and mixed up a brine with dill and garlic for the cucumbers to soak in. So far so good. It would be days before we knew whether the fermentation was successful. Then we got started with the milk, which smelled just fine at the time. I re-viewed previously bookmarked online videos for raw milk yogurts and dutifully followed the instructions happy to be able to have another use for my dehydrator. As long as you can maintain a steady temperature of 110F, a yogurt maker is not necessary. Next we made the cheese and finally understood that old nursery rhyme about curds and whey! We even jazzed it up with some chives from our garden before hanging it to drip for a while in our bathtub. Homesteading is so glamorous.

The next day we checked on the yogurt and it still wasn’t set. We added a bit more yogurt starter and gave it a some more time but ultimately only about half of it set up and it had a very runny consistency. The cheese set up very nicely but upon tasting it, we realized that the milk it was made from was a bit off. The day we brought the milk home was very warm and despite our best efforts to keep it cold, I suspect something went bad during the 1 hour transport. The milk smelled fine but we might have noticed the off flavor if we had thought to taste it before making the yogurt and cheese. This would be one of several lessons learned during this adventure. Subsequent milk from the same farmer has been most delicious.

We monitored the ferments and kept the veggies in the brine as instructed. The pickles seemed to be progressing  just fine but after a few days when we went to pull them out for a taste we realized that the whole batch had gone beyond fermented to rotten. One good thing to come of that was validation of our reading that there would be NO DOUBT about the edibility of the final product. I think the words were “nothing will make you eat a spoiled ferment”. Confirmed!

The sauerkraut took on its krauty taste after a few days and we transferred it to the refrigerator where it will continue to get krautier but at a slower pace. We are enjoying it immensely and glad that 1 out of 4 of our experiments resulted in success. Truly though it was all a learning experience and so all a success. We’re not YET dependent on our skills for survival and thank heavens for that. We had read that ideal fermenting temperatures were between 70F and 78F. What we WISHED we’d read, but learned later, was that at 80F, cukes in brine are unable to develop the proper acid balance and are almost certain to rot. Our energy-saving frugal ways mean that we don’t use the a/c until we really have to and that means mostly at night so there were definitely many 80F hours for those poor wanna-be pickles.

Now we are better informed, better equipped and ready to try again. Maybe one at a time next go around.

Firefly by Carol
July 22, 2011, 9:07 pm
Filed under: by Carol, Clothing, Food, Shelter

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Some people know fireflies as beautiful beetles with iridescent internal organs that magically appear in summertime. We love them, as most do, and marvel at their magnificence every year. No less magnificent is the Firefly Gathering which happens around these parts every summer. A camp for people to learn “skills to live with the earth” it is an amazing meeting of minds and hearts with more interesting classes on offer than is humanly possible to take in. This was my second year attending and Cecily’s first. Last year I was there for 2 days and 1 night and this year I really felt the need to be there. Without even knowing all the classes that would be offered or who would be teaching them, it was pure instinct that nagged at me to make a bigger commitment this year.

So we packed up for a 4 day and 4 night full experience last weekend which required a couple of days off work and some help with cat and plant care. It has taken a while to write this entry as there has been much to synthesize and integrate from the experience. Where to start…okay well we rented a cabin since we don’t have camping equipment. That put us is in a small  but  happy minority considering the amount of rain we had the first couple of days. Not that we were without moisture. Nothing in the cabin was dry the entire time we were there. But at least our temporary home was not floating on the flooded fields as many tents were. Our first lesson was in proper packing for the outdoors. A mere 40 minutes north and at higher elevation, our downtown home has been so warm that we’ve been sweltering for weeks. Expecting sweaty sleepless nights, we packed two fans, sheets, lightweight clothes and proceeded to freeze our behinds off that first night in the woods. Cecily went back home the next morning to resupply us as her scheduled class was offered another time.

Speaking of the classes…. between us we took classes in felting, bee keeping, home orcharding, spinning, earthen paints and mead making, 3 permaculture classes and 2 plant walks. Most of them were amazing. The permaculture classes were taught by some of the country’s best and most experienced instructors. Lucky, lucky us. All this in a beautiful camp setting.

Then there were the people. It turns out liked-minded people come in many shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds. I think this is one of the best things about the gathering. Buckskin-clad 20 yr olds mixed with 40-something real estate agents related to 70 year old lifelong learners interspersed with children of all ages. At one point many of these people were waltzing together to live music before the hokey pokey broke out. This was followed by the drum circle which went until the wee hours.

Ahhh… the drum circle. We like us some drums as much as the next girls and can even appreciate the accompanying primal yells from time to time. But after 3 nights of it, combined with brain saturation from so much knowledge-share, we decided to return home to our DOWNTOWN condo one night early where we could get some PEACE AND QUIET on a SATURDAY night! Can’t wait for next year.

Food AND Shelter: A two for one visit by Carol
July 9, 2011, 4:03 pm
Filed under: by Carol, Food, Shelter

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Purple Cone Flower

Photo courtesy of stock.exchng: Echinacea

A couple of weeks ago while searching about online I learned about Ashevillage, a sustainable living demonstration site, which turns out to be less than a 1/2 mile from our little urban wanna-be sustainable living demonstration (a.k.a. our condo home).  I was thrilled to learn they offer tours and we were able to tag along on a tour scheduled the next day.

The place is an oasis. The moment I arrived I wished I never had to leave. It is alive with edible and medicinal plants, arbors and trellises waiting for their viney cover, multiple levels of interconnected ponds thriving with water loving plants and animals, and a green house/chicken coop combo all arranged against a backdrop of mature trees as a three-dimensional feast for the eyes. We were lucky there were only 4 of us on the tour so we had the chance to ask our many questions.

If all that weren’t enough, it turns out Ashevillage is also the headquarters for Kleiwerks International, a not-for-profit organization for that uses natural building as a means to promote ecological and social resilience internationally. They had recently hosted a natural building workshop onsite so there were several examples of structures built (not necessarily completed)  using earthbricks, strawdobe and other natural building techniques. THAT was a bonus as we’ve long considered using some of these methods in our own home design and here we were walking around with a world expert in the field!

As part of my not-so-secret agenda to be allowed more time at Ashevillage, I offered unskilled volunteer labor when needed. I was invited to be part of an onsite work party yesterday to build out one of the walls of a partially built “casita”. So in what can best be described as a six-year-old’s dream come true, I learned how to mix piles of sand, clay and straw into the right consistency by throwing on loads and jumping around on them until they were well mixed. Next we learned how to apply a coat of mudslip followed by layers of our mixture in a way that would bind them all together and to the base of earthbricks and strawdobe wall forms.

I’m certain I’ve never been dirtier than when I left there after a great days work. My hands and feet still have a tint of orange from the clay, the tops of my fingers are raw and bloodied in places (from what I do not know), and every muscle in my body hurts today. In other words, I’m ecstatic.  And inspired! 🙂

Worms! by Cecily
July 3, 2011, 1:32 pm
Filed under: by Cecily, Food

We currently live in a condo. We have about 40 square feet of outdoor space on our deck and we are using much of that to grow veggies, herbs (medicinal and kitchen) and beneficial flowers.  While we are doing our best to implement permaculture principles on a micro scale, the one thing we can’t do, that we really WANT to do, is to compost. One of the guiding principles of permaculture design is to re-use inputs as many times as possible before they leave your land.  Another is to always look at ways to increase the fertility of your land over time.  Composting helps our plants grow stronger and heartier and reduces our waste, both really good things. But we don’t have room to do any of the traditional composting methods so what to do?  Well, use worms, of course!

You can make your own worm composting bin pretty easily with a plastic tote, a drill and some dirt but we decided to buy a commercial version with stackable trays.  This will let us expand operations as our worms reproduce. We want to do some serious COMPOSTING!  You can get your worms from the local bait store but we wanted to make sure our worms were truly the right kind (only a few work really well) so we ordered our red wigglers from a local supplier and within a few days a box of live worms in dirt arrived at our condo.  We prepared the bin with bedding and a little food and introduced our worms to their new home.  The literature says that worms take a few weeks to get acclimated before they start eating and doing their composting thing but we must have provided a pretty cozy space because they started in quickly and haven’t stopped.

Worms eat most kitchen scraps.  Our “waste” is their tasty delicious food.  They munch on all of that and provide you with wonderful worm poo to use directly in your garden. The worm bin does not stink because it is an aerobic composting environment.  The bin just sits there and the worms quietly do their thing and every so often you go in and harvest. We have already used a first harvest of worm compost and the plants loved it! It feels good to have found a way to apply such an important principle right here in our condo, even though it is on a small scale (but getting bigger by the day! worms reproduce really fast!).  Our waste is down, our worm population is up and our container “land” is growing ever more fertile.  What’s not to like?

Millet by Carol
June 23, 2011, 6:19 pm
Filed under: by Carol, Food

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Millet growing in a field

About six months ago we started feeding the neighborhood birds from a little feeder on our balcony. Happy birds, happy cats watching birds, happy humans watching cats watching birds. Along comes Spring and we decide to start our patio garden with planters and rail boxes. We fill with soil and plant our seeds and low and behold things start growing. But those things weren’t quite what we had in mind. The millet from the bird seed was growing like mad in the boxes where the messy birds would toss them.

So like good gardeners (but not so great permaculturists) we plucked out those little “weeds” and tossed them out to give our planned crops a chance. We also moved the bird feeder to a point below the level of the planters so that the many stray seeds would fall to the ground away from our crops.

And STILL some makes it into our planters. How DO they DO that? So I get to thinking “my word that stuff grows everywhere.” And then I get to thinking “my word that stuff grows everywhere AND it is something I BUY from the store and EAT!” Now here I just started this blog about FOOD, shelter and clothing and I’m tossing out “weeds” of a food crop that seems desperate to grow. What am I THINKING?

So I do a little research and find that it does indeed grow here and people do plant it for bird seed. Well if it can be grown for birds, how about for me? So now I’m experimenting with a couple of little pots each with a baby millet plant growing. We’ll see how it goes but these kind of “aha” moments are happening a lot lately. I think about everything I am eating now in terms of whether I can provide it, or something similar, for myself. And THAT is a whole lot of thinkin’!

Sprouts and Greens and Grass, oh my! by Carol
June 14, 2011, 6:55 pm
Filed under: by Carol, Food

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Photo credit: Cecily

My kitchen counter is lined with microgreens, sunflower sprouts and wheatgrass. My refrigerator contains sprouted mung beans, a sprouted pea blend and a leafy sprout mix or two. My cupboards hold seeds for future sprouts of lentils, alfalfa, buckwheat lettuce and many other varieties. I LOVE SPROUTS. We eat a salad of locally (how much more local can you get than 6 inches?) grown greens nearly every day, in every season. They need minimal care, minimal light and you can start small and build your grow skills over time.

I started with a sprout jar which I inverted in a bowl. Worked real nice. A friend led a sprout workshop which I attended and this visual learning was a great nudge to the next level of sprouting. In addition to the jar, I added sprouts grown in dirt or other growth mediums such as coir. Wheatgrass, while not a sprout per se, was an easy tag along. There is nothing particularly difficult about growing any of these sprouts. It takes a little time and some planning ahead to stagger harvest but it gets easier with practice as with most things.

While I still do purchase the seeds and so do not have a closed loop food source as yet, it IS a food we grow ourselves to nurture our bodies (and souls). I am indebted to Sprout People not only for supplies (can you say Easy Sprouters?) but for a wealth of information delivered with a personality.

My next sprouting goal is to hold my own workshop for locally interested people. Oh yeah, and figure out how to save seeds.