Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Day 34: Praying for my fellow Texans

   My blog has been going great and I have learned a lot by looking at the world around me in a different way. I have become closer to my true nature than ever before and it is very cleansing. However, today I couldn't bring myself to write about anything but the wildfire's searing their way through my home state. A person I work with has died along with her daughter and I am sad and disheartened by the chaos of nature. I am humbled and grateful for the simple things God has given me in my life. I am thankful to simply be alive today, to be able to sit next to my husband and son and feel the breeze on my skin. It is during times like this that really make me see the largeness of the world I live in, and just how little control I have over the majority of the events that take place here. Instead of letting that make me feel weak I see myself as lucky to be a part of it all.

  I don't do well with loss, especially of life's lived in too short of time. What I can't understand just as much is how disconnected and unloving people can be in times of such sorrow. I was looking at the national news to see the what was happening in other parts of the state, and I happened on a CNN article. The comments posted on it we're so negative. All people cared about was politics. They were saying terrible things like people here deserved to be burned because of our sins, that Rick Perry is evil and his constituents were ignorant. That everyone in Texas are tea party conservatives with no soul and this is a lesson to be learned about global warming. That because of our politics we shouldn't receive aid from FEMA. I am obviously a liberal. This blog is about living life green, with respect for the environment and for the whole of humanity. And, I have certainly had some very healthy and passionate debates with conservatives and republicans alike. Never have I been so ashamed to be in the same category as people so vastly disconnected from their fellow human beings. Who cares about the political climate. Most of the debates shown during campaigning or on the news shows have everything to do with election and influencing peoples votes. They hate each other on stage and go to lavish parties together the same night.

  If we really want to see healthy change in our society, we have to come together and refuse to let ourselves be pawns in someone else's game. We need to show compassion to others, especially those with different ideas. It is important to have an open mind. Some of the most important lessons I have learned in life came from people who were very different than myself. During times of crisis we need to band together and treat one another with respect, it makes me very sad that while good people are dying and losing their homes, people are simply spouting rhetoric. Let's get over ourselves and lend a hand. Actions speak louder than words, and that is the biggest lesson I have learned in the last month while creating this blog.

I spent much of my life dreaming about what I wanted to do, thinking about what the future holds for me instead of grasping the realities of those fantasies. Now, it's time for me to get my hands dirty and my soul clean. To find bliss in the smallest things and realize that ambition and greed will get me nothing but discontent. Today, I am rejoicing at the sound of my husbands piano echoing off the walls, and my sons laughter as he plays in the corner of the room. This is what life is about, appreciating what has already been given to you.

My heart goes out to all the people who have lost their livelihoods and homes today. I am in mourning for the people who will be missed and hope that the fires will be extinguished soon. Please, love one another and thank God for the miracle of the every day. Blessed Be.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Weekly Top Five

Top Five Sustainable Websites

   This website has come a long way since it's start in 2005. Last year they boasted a revenue of $314 million.  They lesson here? Don't underestimate the power of crafty women! For lack of a better description, the site has often been called Ebay for artists. It is a place where everyone from painters of fine arts to felt crafts can sell their products to people all over the world without leaving their studios or their homes. Buyers can browse through three categories Handmade, Vintage or Supplies. This is why the e-commerce site made the list, because almost everything available to purchase is handmade, often from used items. It is wonderful that so many people, both men and women, could work at home with their families and make a good living. The money spent on Etsy goes toward hard working artisans so you can feel good about what you get! 

   Many people find their homes cluttered with junk they don't need. Some have garage sales, but the hassle and time required often make it easier to just throw it away. Occasionally, someone might take the items to Goodwill, but don't feel like hauling it across town.  Just think about how many old dressers, desks and trash bags full of clothes you see on the curbside during spring cleaning season. Well, Craigslist to the rescue. This is a great place to find used items for cheap! It's great for budget conscious people who don't like to spend an arm and a leg for something they can get slightly used for half the price. You can even find free items, or things owners are willing to trade or barter for. It's like a giant garage sale you can skim through in your underwear. You look through the ads, find what you want, call the person who listed the item and pick it up. Sometimes, you can even negotiate a drop off! And the best thing is your saving a perfectly good product from being dumped in a landfill.

   Much like the above mentioned website, this site is done in a classified ad style. You join through yahoo group with people in your own community and peruse the items listed. However, this one is better because nothing costs money. Everything is free!! Everything from car parts and baby clothes to bicycles and hay bails. You'd be surprised what you find on here. There are a lot of things that people don't want anymore but they feel bad just throwing it away. It's great for finding materials to re-purpose  I've seen stories online about people who built their homes with items found on Freecycle. It's not as popular as Craigslist, but it is on the rise and definitely worth it to look into.

  The Mecca for eco-minded people. They have everything for every kind of earth lover. From blog reviews to new gadgets. It is full of great articles that can interest science fans, homesteaders and every day people who just want to know how they can make a difference. Their list of green blogs is wonderful. They also have great forums where you can become involved in the green movement or get your questions answered and fun games to play when your bored. If you are just now becoming interested in the green lifestyle, this should be your first stop online. They will connect you to anywhere and everywhere on the web. 

  Last but not least is the website for the wildly popular magazine. John Shuttleworth started the magazine in 1970 in his home with a mere $1500. Since then, it has gained a loyal readership of almost half a million. It is the ultimate sustainability information library. They aren't greedy with their knowledge either. Even if you don't get a subscription, if you visit their site, there are thousands of great articles to read through for free. They take you back to your roots, and share traditions that for some reason skipped a few generations. For all of you who grew up ignorant to gardening, canning and cooking the old fashioned way, this site will brush up your skills. There's plenty more where that came from though. One of my favorite articles shows you how to build a cabin for $100! They also have good listings for farms and land all across North America. If you want to learn a homesteading skill like raising chickens, or backyard bee keeping, this is the place. Even if you aren't the do it yourself type, there's a lot of fun and interesting things to find here, and good prizes to win. Hands down, my favorite sustainable stop on the web.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Inspiration Two: My Son

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.  ~Native American Proverb

A lot of women shy away from having children these days. The most common reasons I've been given personally:

"But I just started my career."
"They cost too much money."
"I want to be able to buy a house first, and a new car, and pay off my student loans, and...."
"There's already too many people, why make more."

etc, etc, etc. 

If you have made a personal choice not to have children then that is absolutely your right. However, if you are putting off starting a family because of financial reasons, or making excuses, or think that it will be the end of your life as you know it, there is light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, it's more than enlightening, it's nirvana reaching.

When I was a teenager, I was going to be a strong, successful, career driven woman. Making a family was least on my priority list. But, then life as an adult inevitably occurred, and I fell in love. Now, I am a proud mother of an eleven month old baby boy and I wouldn't have it any other way. Not to say it's all fun and games. Since my son was born, my husband and I have been out on two dates. Sometimes, I only get four hours of sleep. He cries and screams and I can't figure out why and I start crying myself. He starts many arguments between me and my spouse. But I have learned more about myself in this past year than ever before. Despite my ambitions, I can now say that if I died tomorrow, I would be fulfilled. I have created a life out of my own, a miracle in itself. Now, I have this beautiful, pure angel sitting next to me who smiles and giggles when I act like a fool around the house. He loves me, and kisses me and gives me hugs when I'm feeling down, and when I look in his eyes, it just makes everything seem worth it. 

Since he's been born, I have really gotten a fire lit under me. Not just for my career goals, etc, but to find myself spiritually. I have wandered around this earth for over 25 years on a quest for knowledge and religion. No matter what I always felt something was missing. Now, it all comes together because I can follow one simple rule. What kind of life do I see for my child? What kind of a man do I want him to be? And what kind of an example can I set for him. It creates an entirely different set of priorities for my own values, because I can see thing much more clearly. I have always had a problem dealing with acceptance from those around me. And, unfortunately I still do. However, for the first time I can look at him and know that even if other's don't particularly agree with something I do, my son will respect me and maybe even admire it. (At least until he's a teenager!). There is no Pasture, Preacher, or Priest alive that can create in me such a zeal to live a life true to God more than my son. I know he looks up to me, and in him I have a destiny to journey toward. I have finally found a place for myself in this vast universe and that is worth all the success, money and fame in the world. 

I'm not rich. I get government assistance for his doctor's visits and a hundred dollars a month for milk and food. Sometimes I use cloth diapers to supplement my lack of disposable ones (it's better for the earth anyways). I don't feed him meat (which in East Texas is a sin). There are a lot of things that people look down on me for, and make me feel inadequate. But, I never let this get me down, because I know that my husband and I give him all the love in the world. And his smiles and warm nature let me know that I'm doing my job the best I can.  My husband and I have chosen a different path from many our age. We spend as much time as we can in each others arms, playing with our son in our home. This means we don't make a million dollars a year, and sometimes we go without. It has made me realize just how amazingly wonderful the simple life can be. I still have dreams. I want to be an author. My husband is a very talented musician with lofty goals of his own. Soon, we will both be going to school to get our degrees. But, being poor has enriched our lives more than any other circumstance.  There may come a day when we make a lot of money, when the bills pile on and the stress of life weigh heavily on us. In those days, I hope that I can look back on this great experience and remember that family is all you need. If you are surrounded by love, the material things don't matter as much. 

Besides my own personal evolution, the birth of my son has really made me want to nurture the environment he will grow up in. Just as the proverb above illustrates, my son will live after I die. He will have a son or maybe a daughter of his own. What kind of world do I want him to live in. Certainly not one filled with greed and selfishness. Definitely not a world where he can't breathe properly or grow a decent garden on an acre of land. My grandchildren need clean drinking water, and I want them to work hard to make sure that the other 7 billion people (10 billion by then!) have what they need as well. The legacy starts with me. 

In my naive youth, my ultimate career goal was to be President of the United States. Now, I envision the perfect end to a life well lived. In my old age I want to be sitting on my porch next to my husband watching our family reunion. I want to look out onto the beach, or the farm and see a hundred people whose lives would not have existed had it not been for the love of our union. To look out among generations and see that our spirit has lived on in people who have chosen to love one another and the world around them. I hope that one day, all who read this post will find their truest purpose, and have it fulfilled. Blessed Be.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

What is Sustainability?

Since I've started this blog, I've gotten a lot of questions from friends and family. A lot of people don't really understand the concept behind it. So, let me start at the beginning and explain the idea of living sustainably and why it matters.

Although this idea is a bit controversial, the resources that we use for energy are limited. We only have so much oil and gas. Fossil fuels took a really long time to transform from plant and animal matter into the oil we pump into our gas tanks. Our population has increased at an alarming rate since the industrial revolution, and if we are to maintain our current levels and preserve our world for the next generations, then we must live in a way that also preserves our resources.

This isn't to say we must revert back to neolithic times in order to save the planet. In fact, many in the sustainability movement encourage and support technological advancements, particularly the ones that allow us to remain comfortable and happy while doing our part to help make the earth healthier. For example, electric cars, solar panels and trains that run on magnets. It's not about going back in time, it's about moving forward responsibly.

There is a saying “live simply so that others may simply live.” This is the basic tenant of trying to live an Eco-friendly lifestyle. There are people starving all over the world, children in Somalia with arms the size of pencils. There are wars being fought over oil rich territory and innocent people getting shot in front of their families. We don't see these things because we live in the world's most elite country. Even the poorest of our poor are doing better than the poverty stricken in third world countries, because unlike the despotic countries of Africa and South America, we actually have welfare programs. We have churches and philanthropists, shelters and food centers and laws that protect us from killing each other. A lot of people condemn “hippies” and humanitarians. Nobody wants to know that their pleasant way of life is built on a foundation of sorrow and brutality. So, when presented with the harrowing facts of mass genocide, people close their eyes and point fingers at the ones telling them. They call us hypocrites or dreamers.

I don't know about the flower children of the sixties or the transcendentalists of the nineteenth century, I wasn't alive then. What I do know, is that today’s generation embraces technology and good lifestyles. If you have a washer and dryer, then you don't have to spend six hours hanging your clothes out to dry. Today's economy is set up so that the majority of the population can rely on the skills of a few to provide them the products they need and or want. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though it has become abused and taken advantage of. It's a good thing to be able to go to the store and buy hamburger meat and gallons of milk. It's okay that we don't all have to grow our own crops in our backyards to survive. If we still did everything like pioneers and peasants then we would have no free time to think, to improve our hobbies, to invent new technologies or commune with nature. We would be working twenty-four seven just to keep our families alive.

However, I do believe our current system has swung too far in the other direction. It would be better if our washers and dryers ran on solar panels or at least the electricity could come from a local power plant that collects energy from wind turbines and alternative sources. It would be nice if the hamburgers and milk you bought at the store were from local farmers instead of a big corporation. Then maybe Farmer John wouldn't have to sell the land at auction for pennies, the land his great-great grandfather spent a lifetime acquiring.

It's about taking a second to look at society and see the consequences of what you do every day. People line up to vote for the President, despite their votes don't count. Yet, we miss the opportunity to reform our lives every time we make a purchase, every time we cook a meal, every time we interact with one another. These days it's easy to feel hopeless and useless. I don't know about you guys, but the current political climate makes me feel like there's nothing I can do, it's way over my head and out of my hands. This project, this movement is about change. It's about taking that power back with your simple actions. And it really boils down to one basic value, become the change you want to see in the world.

If you don't like the way things are being done on the larger scale, take the time to think about how the same injustices might be happening in your own town, and what you can do to lessen the burden. Become aware, and stop running away from the negativity. It only exists because we allow it to. Believe it or not the power, and the hope for our children really does lie within our hearts and minds. We are a species of intelligence, compassion and love. Let's remember how amazing we are and stop cussing each other out on the road because were in a hurry. Stop trying to get your waiter fired because he forgot your soup. Stop being angry, and stressed out and hateful and embrace your choice to decide how you want to feel. Take charge, and start by smiling at the next stranger you see. Go to the farmer's market next weekend and buy a two dollar peach from the old man. See how much more he appreciates it than Wal Mart. Push for renewable energy and innovative technology so that we can share more with those less fortunate. And most importantly, love yourself and your neighbor, and maybe person by person our world will actually transform into something beautiful.

Thanks for all your support. When I started this blog I thought no one would care about what I had to say. It's nice to know that people really do care, love you guys and hope this post explains it a little bit better. Blessed Be.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Project Three: Baking

I love to cook, but baking has always staid on the back burner so to speak in my culinary history.  Something about the flour, sugar and eggs. The simplicity of it intimidates me. I think back to thanksgivings full of pies, bake sales at school and beautiful golden Panera bagels and think to myself, "How can so few ingredients make so many different things?" Well, I'm facing my demons in the kitchen this morning and decided that this is a good first step in creating a self-sufficient pantry. I suppose simplicity is my new goal, and if I can't get past bread, then  what can I do?

From a personal standpoint baking your own bread will save the average family a ton of money.  The average national cost of one loaf of regular bread from the grocery store is $3. If you want Artisan Sourdough it can pass $8. The recipes I will give you further along in this article will allow you to make your own fresh, authentic sourdough loaf for twenty cents. You could bake your family fifteen loafs of delicious, deli-style bread for the price of one plain jane pack off the shelf!

Now, on a global perspective (because I'm always thinking about the greater picture), this idea could save a lot of people. There are starving people all over the world. Not just in third world countries, but in your own hometown. I don't care if the population is  twenty million or twenty thousand, there is at least one family where you live whose children will go to bed hungry tonight. Now, one sourdough starter cost me exactly seventy-four cents to make. It lasts indefinately, or at least however long I persistantly feed it. Some starters have been passed down generation by generation. That's right, some families are baking bread from the same original batch as their pioneer ancestors a hundred and fifty years ago. The older the starter, the better the bread! The concept is simple, you take one package of yeast, mix it with a little flour and a little warm water and let it ferment for a while. You save half and use half, so no matter what, you always have yeast. If you can grow your own wheat and make your own flour your family won't starve. So, start your own batch today and share it with someone you love, pass it down and keep the world fed.

The recipe I used today was from Food Network, Emeril has never told me wrong so far.



In an electric mixer with the dough hook, combine the flour, starter and salt, and knead until it no longer sticks to the sides or bottom of the mixing bowl.
Place a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle lightly with flour and knead gently, removing any large air bubbles. Knead into a small circle, then shape into a tight ball, pinching the seams together underneath. Place on a well-floured board or baking peel, seam-side down. Cover with a kitchen towels and let rest until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat a baking stone, if available, on the bottom rack of an oven at 400 degrees F. With a sharp, serrated knife, cut a large "X" or cross-hatch pattern into the top of the dough.
Spray lightly with a mister and transfer to the baking stone (or place on a heavy baking sheet lightly dusted with cornmeal) and bake until golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, about 60 minutes. (Sourdough should have a darker crust than other breads, so leave in the oven 5 minutes after you think it is done.)
Remove the loaf from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Basic Sourdough Starter:

In a large bowl, combine the water, yeast, and sugar. Let sit until the yeast becomes foamy, about 5 minutes. (If the yeast does not foam, discard the mixture and begin again with a new yeast.)
Add the flour and stir vigorously to work air into the mixture. Cover with a towel let rest in a warm, draft-free place (an oven with its pilot light or light bulb turned on works well) for 8 to12 hours. (The mixture should become very bubbly.) Use immediately or cover loosely with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.
Preserving the Starter: Each time you remove a portion of the starter for a recipe, reserve at least 1/4 cup and replace the amount you have taken out with equal amounts of flour and water.
For example, if you remove 1 cup of starter, you must replace it with 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of warm water. Whisk these ingredients into the starter until blended but not completely smooth, cover loosely, and return to the refrigerator.
Also, the starter must be maintained by feeding it every few days. Refresh by removing 1 cup of thestarter (give to a friend or discard it) and adding 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of warm water. Whisk until blended but not smooth. Cover loosely and return to the refrigerator.
If you plan to be away longer than a week, freeze the starter in a sterilized, airtight freezer container. Thaw the starter 2 days before you plan to bake with it. Refresh as indicated above with 1 cup each of flour and warm water. Cover and leave at room temperature 12 hours or overnight before using.
CAUTION: Never keep your starter tightly closed! The gasses expelled by the yeast will build up pressure and may cause the container (such as a glass jar) to burst!
Yield: 5 to 6 cups Prep time: 10 minutes Inactive prep time: 12 hours

It takes a little time, but it really is simple. If I can do it so can you. I found a few other amazing places for good recipes which I am including at the end of the article. Thanks for joining this project with me. If you try this recipe, please comment and let me know how you did!




Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Project Two: Composting

When MK and I lived in Fort Worth, we had three giant cardboard boxes. They were filled with paper, aluminum cans and other recyclables. We took our food trash out to the tree at the back of our house and dumped it in a hole in the ground. We did so good at reducing our waste that the trash company stopped making regular stops at our house because we never had any bags at the curb!  I want to get back there again, it really is a good feeling to know that your making a difference.

My last few attempts at gardening failed miserably. The first spring I did really good planting and nurturing, but everything went to anarchy. The herbs bulleted white flowers and tasted bitter, the tomato plants fell over, the  zucchini plant grew some gross fungus that I didn't know how to get rid of. My one strawberry that grew was eaten by a bird and the grass and weeds took over so fast I didn't know what to do. It turned into a wild jungle, and I was getting bigger and bigger with my pregnancy. At the most critical moment in the gardens life, it was too hard for me to bend down and over and pull weeds. I succumbed to defeat. This last spring, I did a half hearted attempt at gardening by putting seeds in the ground. The idea was to start the seedlings in the old garden and move them to the raised beds we had made. Well, at first everything grew great, but instead of moving them early like I had planned, I got lazy, time ran away from me, and the grass took over. I couldn't even find my peppers or sage underneath the jungle. Then, to make matters worse, we had a drought from Hates this summer. It's been over 100 degrees for a ridiculous number of days and I don't remember the last time it rained. So, they would have died anyways.

Well, I have decided not to give up on my quest for fresh vegetables. I will make a fall garden, and I will do it right. Now that I have my blog, I have a tendency to stick to my commitments a bit more. I feel a loyalty to my readers to follow through with what I say I will do. Not to say I won't fail at it, but at least I will try! Texas has a mild winter so I am sure I can grow some peas, beans, kale, carrots, potatoes, pumpkins and butternut squash. I'm excited, but it's easy for me to create goals that are hard to achieve. So first, I will start with the very basics...composting.

Some people make composting seem very difficult and expensive. They have those plastic barrels that cost five hundred dollars, and the complicated multi-layered handmade wooden boxes with red wigglers. They have all these rules for how to layer brown over green and what foods will decay the fastest. It's enough to make your head spin. So, for all you guys out there that have little time and money to spend on something as simple as making dirt, here's my method for my fall compost.

I live at the dead end of a street surrounded by beautiful pine trees, with a creek that runs behind us. Even though we live in the middle of the city on a busy highway, we can retreat into our little neck of the woods and pretend like we're in an ancient forest far away from the world. This is where my compost will be. I will go into the woods and dig a hole of relatively large size and throw my kitchen scraps into it. It will be fall soon, so then as the leaves come off the trees it will fall into the hole. Every two or three days I'll take my shovel out there and stir it around a bit. Any smell that might occur will be minimal and be gone within a few hours. Besides there are no neighbors in the woods to complain about it. Even in Fort Worth when we had our backyard compost (and believe me we had a crazy, nosy old lady that lived next door that would call code compliance at the drop of a hat) no one ever noticed, and it never smelled.

You have to be careful what you put in your compost but the rules are mostly based on common sense. You only put things in there that can easily decompose, but won't cause disease to spread in the soil and then to your plants. No plastics, metals or glass. No meat or cat box droppings (although I've heard that droppings from chickens and birds are good for it, don't take my word for it though do a little more research before you try it). If you put paper in there, it's best if you shred it first.

So, I will start that new project this week and keep you posted on it. I encourage you guys to start your own compost, whether it's my simple version or the more organized expensive one. Either way let me know how it works out, and I'll share it with our readers. I want this blog to be about more than just my efforts, I want it to be a community of people who care about the environment and inspire one another to do simple things to make our own lives easier and to reduce our negative impact on Gaia. Good luck guys, and I hope to hear from you soon!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sustainable Sister's Weekly Top Five

Cool Ways to Charge Your Gadgets

The IDAPT i1 Eco ChargeThe IDAPT i1 Eco Charger (available at firebox) automatically shuts off when your handheld device is fully charged, helping you save energy when you forget to unplug.

Sunpak Dual Panel Solar Charger has a sleek compact design that is easy to carry and charges devices for up to four hours.

Neon Green's Soular Backpack is both fashionable and eco-friendly, they have a lot of other sun powered gadgets available as well.

Has three solar panels that fold in for a design compact enough to carry on your backpack or in your purse.

Vampires need cell phones too right? This wind up cell phone/led flashlight lets you charge your phone even on the darkest days. One minute of winding gives you an hour of usage, available here.