Monday, February 28, 2011

End of Febuary, must be time to eat shredded zucchini

There is a really good supply of frozen rhubarb in my freezer; one nearly empty quart bag of blueberries; plenty of strawberries I plan to make some fruit leather with; and an abundance of shredded zucchini.

Each summer I find overly large zukes in the garden and at the farmstand for a steal.Sometimes they are abandoned like babies on my door step. Each summer I shred these zukes. It is a laborious task. Often while at this task I ponder why I preserve the zuke this way. Those large zukes would make good chicken feed. The growing piggie would enjoy them too. So why do I do this?

Once we are no longer eating from the garden we start eating the veggies we have preserved the summer before. The corn and tomatoes always seem to go first. One of these years I will figure out the proper amount of corn and tomatoes to put up. There is the broccoli, peas and beans a worthy replacement for the greens we crave. Inevitably, those frozen quarts of zucchini get tossed about until they sit lonely at the bottom of a nearly empty freezer; hidden under bread butts saved for making bread crumbs and containers of soup put aside for Mark's lunch for work.

When I was shredding those zukes I thought about the muffins, soups and sweet quick breads that they will be. Tonight, however, it is the only vegetable available until I can get some local greens at our healthfood store. Yes, the end of the veg is nigh! Oh, sure, there are plenty of pickles but out of all the free veg gleaned from my farm job last summer, all the veg I harvested from my garden, out of all the food preserved in my freezer and canned; all that remains is the lowly shredded zuke. Granted it was not nearly as much as what I have done in past years because of our move; but, oh boy, it SEEMED like a lot. What is a resourceful homesteader to do?

Zuke patties!

All measurements are approximate.

1 quart of shredded zucchini, defrosted and left in a strainer till it is dry-ish
3 tablespoons parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic minced and sauteed in olive oil until soft
about 1/2 cup bread crumbs, I also threw in a little wheat germ
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a bowl adjust amount of bread crumb until you have a firm texture. Form into small patties. I used a couple of teaspoon to shape. Heat olive oil in a skillet. Drop patties into pan and brown on both sides.

These would be good served with a chutney or mustard.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Independence Days Challenge

A few more inches of snow have fallen. An ice storm is promised for tomorrow. But a new season is promised soon. The end of our winter hibernation comes with the first few chores of the season: tapping trees, starting seed. So in this spirit it is time for me to think about the Independence Days Challenge.

This will be my fourth year of participating in this challenge. By now, most of what the challenge asks of its participants are pretty well entrenched in my routine. But there is something satisfying about recording the progress I make week to week. Each year I discover new ways of building redundancies into our homestead, find new ways to build self- reliance, learn to let some chores and skills fall by the wayside as I refine what is important to my family.

Plant: I started birdhouse gourd seed, swiss chard and cabbage. I hope to be able to eat the cabbage I start as seed indoors this summer and then plant a succession crop for the fall. I plan to transplant the swiss chard in our cold frame for an early green that can be protected through the fall and perhaps next winter.

Harvested: I brought in a couple of the basil plants I had in the garden last summer. I have kept the pot in a sunny south facing window. We have been eating fresh basil all winter. Not enough to make pesto but definitely enough to serve on pizza and pasta. The plants got a little leggy around winter solstice but since then I have been picking flowers off of it. I hope to bring in a couple more plants next fall. We have tapped some maple trees but it has not been warm enough to really start collecting sap.

Preserve the food: Not yet but soon, very soon...

Local Foods systems: We have been attending our local winter farmer's market. Our local feed store also sells local milk and meats.

Eat the food: Just the usual; soups, breads. In fact we have eaten a lot of food and the freezer has an unsettling echo in it.

Waste not: Our little dorm fridge is keeping food waste down a lot, more about this later this week. We are using an old woodstove that was left on our property as part of our sap boiling set up this year. More on this later too. I also am exploring origami newspaper seed pots this year as a way to save money.

Want not: Seed order has been placed, trees are starting to be tapped, we hope to have 35-40 taps in this year. We might try to make maple sugar this year as well as maple syrup if we get enough sap.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The squeeze is on...

Here we go again. The price of oil has climbed over 100.00 a barrel in response to the instability in North Africa and the Middle East. This is the bumpy plateau of Mr. Hubbert's peak. In a matter of a couple of weeks we should see gas prices leap, heating oil prices skyrocket and food prices, already at highs, will become even more expensive. Takes a lot of diesel to move the food from California eastward.

In real life, main street, kitchen table terms it means that we are all gonna feel a squeeze. Some of us more than others. At our own breakfast table this morning we started trouble shooting ways to cope with the increasing prices.

Here is a partial list:
  • We will eat less meat. We eat meat two or three times a week. We can cut this down to one or two times a week. And those meat meals can take the form of soups and stews.
  • Mark car pools one day a week with a co-worker, maybe they can share another day.
  • Because "town" is a lot closer, in our new community, we find that we drive in and out of town several times a day. We will see if we can cut down these trips.
  • We will stock up on a few more staples like oils, flour and oats before their prices make a big leap. I will put the flour and the oats in my freezer. It is getting pretty empty in there and this will improve its efficiency.
  • We will fill a gas can or two for our chainsaw. We don't pay for heating oil but our form of heating is still dependent of fossil fuels.
  • I am going to follow Wendy's blog as she documents the next 21 days. Oh and I will pre-order her book too;)
  • We will review things we can do to increase the gas mileage of our car.
  • We can save some money on groceries by making our own cheese from local milk.
  • It is time to start the Independence Days Challenge again!
Our family will be able to weather the oncoming price shocks with some wise adaptations but there are other families with tighter margins in their budgets who will have a hard time. So maybe instead of planting one row, I'll plant two.

I would also like to ask again if anyone could advise me on creating a button for the Plant-A-Row Challenge. I will have all participants listed by the end of the week. However, it is never too late to join the challenge!

So do you have any other tips to share?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A passive solar bermhouse

We live in a passive solar berm house. It was built as an off-grid home in the 70's during a time when back- to-the land-homesteaders inhabited the back roads and hollows of Maine. Driving around in the more remote parts of the state we have found many alternatively built homes from that time. We feel fortunate to live in one ourselves.

Because of the oil shocks of the 70's, building for energy efficiency was a serious consideration and this can be seen in our homes construction. Because it is a passive solar home the first thing to notice is that the house is south facing. We have some windows on the east side and one small window on the west side. As the sun passes over our dome during the day the sun shines in our windows most of the day. The over hangs from the roof provide some shade from the sun during the summer when the sun is higher in the sky. But I am, also, working on shades and room darkening curtains in order to keep the sun out during the height of the summer day. During the winter, when the sun is lower in the sky it shines right in the house, warming the house nicely. Most winter mornings we have been able to shut down the wood stove and rely on a slow burn from the stove and the sun to keep us warm during the day. This really cuts down on the amount of wood we have to use.

A second feature of a passive solar home is its ability absorb heat. We have concrete floors, a stone hearth, a concrete wall in Evan's room and the brick chimney in our bedroom. These features absorb heat during the day from the sun, the heat generated from our woodstove and other heat generating appliances like our fridge, cook stove and freezer. At night the collected heat is slowly released.

The final feature of our home is the berm. This is hill of dirt that is built up around the east, north and west sides of the house up to the top of the first floor. It insulates the north side of the house, which is the coldest side of the house. It cools the house in the summer and helps to maintain a constant temperature. Our cold room is located in the berm and keeps pretty cool in there.

The windows that are on the east, north and west have homemade shutters. These shutters have a thick layer of insulation in them and we keep these closed during the winter. The rooms are small and efficient to heat. The door at the top of our stairs is also insulated. When we need to get the house warm we close this door and only heat the down stairs

Because the house is over 30 years old there are some updates we need to take care of soon. The doors into the home are handmade with a thick layer of insulation between some fancy wood work. But you can see light . We have tried weather stripping around them for this winter but we have noticed that is has started to wear away with use. So it would be best to replace them. Our windows are double paned but original to the home and are foggy. We have grander plans to extend the foot print of the second floor to the full size of the first floor. But in order to maintain the integrity of the passive solar design we will find an architect to help us with this. Finally we need to work on some ventilation for the cold room so that it is a room we can use for 4 seasons. Because it is basically underground, condensation creates problems in the summer when temperatures swing from warmer day to cooler night. Eventually we would like to tile the concrete floor on the first floor but for now this is not a priority.

Living in a home like this has been a lesson in not only how one lives in a house but how one uses a house to its maximum efficiency. Our house was originally built as an off-grid home. The person we purchased it from had power put in it 2o years ago. One day we hope to return the home to off-grid but before we do that we should learn to not need as much energy as we use. Learning to use our home in the manner for which it was designed is one step in this process.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Into the fray

I am a rural homesteader. I grow my own food, I raise livestock, I hang my laundry out to dry, I collect rain water, I bake bread, I knit and make things by hand instead of buying them, I use wood to heat my home,I forage wild food, I preserve food. But this is where I am now. My journey to homesteading began in Portland Maine. In my 3rd floor apartment on Munjoy Hill.

I started as an Urban Homesteader in 1996. I had a 10x15 community garden, where I grew herbs, winter squash, tomatoes. I would bring my kitchen waste to the compost bins at the garden. That garden fed us well curing some VERY lean times. I grew greens, tomatoes, and basil in pots on a large roof just outside my kitchen window. I collected rain water on that roof. My neighbor and I would go strawberry picking at a farm a fifteen minute drive from my home. We then learned, together, how to make strawberry jam. I baked bread. I walked down to the beach and collected seaweed for my garden. I foraged for wild raspberries on the hill leading to the beach. I harvested pole beans and froze them in my tiny little apartment freezer. I canned tomatoes. I joined a barter network and learned to work with my neighbors in a new and exciting way. I learned to knit and started making warm clothing for myself and my son. I was a single mother and I was an urban homesteader.

So, I was sadden and not a little annoyed that the Dervaes Family has decided to copyright a series of phrases including the term Urban Homesteading.

All I have to say is that if the Nearings were living, I very much doubt they would be copyrighting the term Homesteading. I think they would be very excited to see a movement grow to encompasses a lifestyle they promoted whether is was rural or urban.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My First Challenge....Plant a Row!

This post and challenge is inspired by this post over at Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op.

The food crisis never really went away but because of political, environmental and financial factors the cost of food is nearly at the same levels as 2008. Remember 2008? I do. I bought a 25lb bag of King Arthur Four for 11.oo in January of that year, by the end of February the same bag was 21.00. Oil would later become 147.00 a barrel and the economy collapsed. Many,many folks lost their jobs, had hours reduced, lost benefits or did not get raises. The social safety net was stretched.

In developing countries the effects were even more harsh. Some countries stopped exporting rice, causing the price to rise even further. Haiti and other countries had food riots.

Corn went to 7 dollars a bushel and suddenly we realized the food products used as fuels causes food to become expensive. The relationship between food and oil finally became a mainstream reality. The idea of the 150o mile salad took on a more menacing reality as food security slipped through the fingers of more people.

Nearly 3 years later, revolutions are being fought and won by the spark of hunger.

This is the global reality in developing countries but western societies will be challenged by the food crisis this time as well. In early 2008 a lot more people had a lot more money and jobs. Unemployment is still at 9%. This is the number of folks still looking for work. The actual number is closer to 16% if you count discourage workers, part time workers who want full time. That's a lot of hurting.

In addition to an economic recovery that does not seem to be reaching many folks there are austerity measures from every level of government threatening the very weave of the social safety net. From heating assistance for the poor to The Woman, Infant and Children's nutrition program these vital services are under attack.

I do not want to get on my soap box too much here. It would be easy to debate the morality of a society that bails out big bankers at the expense of those most needy; and there are a lot more needy.

Instead I think it is time to think globally but act locally.

So here is my challenge, Plant a Row. In my state of Maine and many other states, the cooperative extension sponsors a Plant-A-Row program. Farmer's and Gardener's Pledge to plant a row of fresh vegetables and donate it to food bank or soup kitchen.

My thinking is that the challenge will begin in March. Some folks will be able to start their gardens in March, some of us in the northern reaches are still dreaming of gardening. But it is a good time of year to plan. The challenge will go through the whole growing season. For the coming month I would like folks to start planning. This could include researching the plant-a -row program in your own state, choosing a crop or crops that you would like to grow. If you do not have a garden maybe you can discover alternatives in your community. Perhaps there is a community garden that donates the food to low-income folks in your community. If you don't have a garden but would like to participate in the challenge, maybe you could explore opportunities to volunteer at local food pantries or soup kitchens. Do you have cooking skills or food preservation skills you can share? Do you know a family who could use some assistance getting a small garden started? If you have a container garden maybe you could plant a couple extra pots of greens or tomatoes. Every little bit helps.

As for help, I would like to make a nifty button you can post on your blog, if there are any tech savvy folks out there that could lend assistance I would be most grateful.

So, if you would like to join please leave a comment to this post. I will create a widget listing the participants at the side bar. I will check back mid- March for an update at which time you can either post your up-date or link to your update.

Please Spread the Word!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Local Dairy

I am a pretty fortunate locavore. I live in a state, Maine, where the amount of food that is produced in this state will feed 40% of its population. Ideally it would be great if we could have that number grow. But it is pretty good.

I can buy locally grown and milled wheat, locally grown and processed canola oil. I can buy mustard milled at a mustard mill in Eastport, Maine. There are farmer's markets all over the state. I even find one in my small town of 1300 on Saturday mornings during the growing season. We are the first state to start a CSA for seafood. We have a strong Organic Grower's Association here which supports not only large scale organic producers but small growers as well.

There is a strong local foods culture here.

It is in the building of that culture where Maine has been successful in reaching that 40% number. But in order to increase the number beyond the 40% I think it will take a lot more. I can see where organized cooking classes that help folks learn more about cooking in season would be very helpful. Classes in food preservation would be helpful too. We have many good organizations in this state that are working to make the connection between our local farmers and our plates.

But the source of the inspiration for this post comes from a conversation I had the other night.

First the back story, I have had a busy few days here and I left the house unprepared for Evan's late morning munchies. I needed to find him a snack. I stopped in a small convenience store that was along the way to my destination. The challenge when I walk into a store like this is to find the least offensive-to-good-nutrition sort of food. Oh sure lots of chips and soda but can you find an apple? Not likely. I really wasn't thinking I would find it here. As I entered the store there was a big display of candy right at the 4 year old level. We walked past a vast display of bright orange chips and doodles. The coolers were packed full of many sugary drinks in an array of colors not found in nature. BUT in the back there was a cooler with milk produced not 5 miles from the door of the store. Milk, whole and organic. Pretty cool eh? I was able to find EVan some milk and some popcorn with a minimum of additives.

So the next night our only working car decided to take to its bed. Mark and I spent a good part of our afternoon figuring out how we were going to get home. A good friend helped us out. But while we tried to get it all together we decided to have dinner at a new restaurant in town. We had heard that the restaurant was going to try to use many local ingredients. We both found a good beer and a good burger. While finishing our meal we met the owner who, come to find out, is the owner of that little convenience store I had been in the day before. I asked about the milk.

He told me that he is selling the milk for 4.29 a gallon. If I were to buy it at the farm it is 5.00 a gallon. He acknowledged that he is not making much money on the milk. But he is selling enough volume for it to be worth his while. He also expressed that he thought it was important for him to sell the milk from this farm.

Now that is pretty cool!

But this seems to be where a move in the local foods culture of Maine needs to go in order increase that number of 40%. I know of many great local health food stores that sell local produce,milk, meat and value added products. Whole Whole Foods touts its support for local agriculture. But it is when we find local products in the places where we least expect it that I think we will move the idea of locavorism beyond those more specialized markets that folks who seek out local foods shop. In other words, local grown and produced foods will really be an ingrained part of our local food culture, even if you find it next to cheese doodles:)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

In My Herb Garden

Yesterday I shared my goals for my garden and some of my seed list for this coming growing season. Jennie asked about the list of herbs I plan to start growing this year. I thought I would share with you a little bit about these herbs and why I have chosen them for my garden.

Elecampane is an herb that relaxes the lungs and helps to clear mucus. It has antibacterial and antifungal properties. It is also known as scabwort for its ability help with skin disorders. After the plant has established itself the roots can be harvested in the fall. It is a tall perennial with bright yellow flowers.

Lovage can flavor soups with its celery flaovor. It can restore appetite and a zest for life. It also attracts beneficial insects.

Borage can be used in a cough syrup. It has a cool flavor like cucumber which can be added to salads. It is a source of gamma linolenic acid, or Omega 6 fatty acid. This plant can spread so it will have its own special spot where it can roam a bit. I am attracted to this herbs anti-inflammatory propertied

Feverfew will easily reseed itself. It can be used for headache, improve liver health and promote an healthy menstrual flow.

Motherwort is used by women during life transitions. Combined with some other herbs it contributes to a tonic that can relieve hot flashes.

Lavender is calming. I love the smell and plan to use this herb in some handmade gifts such as little pillows for aiding sleep.

Chamomille is an all round great herb. I use it to make a calming tea. I will use it as a rinse in my hair. I will pour some in a relaxing bath.

Toothache plant numbs the mouth when chewed. It can stimulate the immune system much like echinacea.

These herbs will join the yarrow, mullein, echinacea, lemon balm, mint, catnip,oregano thyme, comfrey that I transplanted last fall. I chose these plants for their medicinal properties but also because they will add some lovely color to my garden. I love plants that can do double duty.
I have multiple sclerosis and can not enjoy some of the immune boosting benefits of some of these herbs. But my family can. I am also a woman of a certain age (44) and I have noticed changes as I become fully steeped in peri-menopause, so some of these herbs will also provide some relief to some the symptoms associated with this time in my life.

Some books that I find most useful as I learn more about herbs include, The Woman's Book of Herbs by Deb Soule, the founder of Avena Botanicals. Common Herbs for Natural Health by Juliette de Baircali, The Herbal Medicine Maker's Handbook by James Green and finally a wonderfully beat up copy of the Rodale Herb Book that I found on Paperback Book Swap.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Seed Order 2011

It can be a long walk to the mailbox when it is a cool zero degrees outside. But the walk back indoors is always warmer when there is a seed catalog to browse.

The other day the Pinetree Garden Seed catalog arrived. The cover is a delightful mix of reds and greens like a good greens salad. But my go-to catalogue is Fedco with its standard black and white print, witty drawings and thoughtful wise words from C.R. Lawn:

"Even if we wished, we can't go back to an economy based on unsustainable levels of credit. We lack the means and we lack the confidence. On our farms, trickle-down may be a good way to irrigate, but in our economy it is only a good way to irritate. No wonder our political discourse leads us to one sullen ill-mannered impasse after another!"

Wish I wrote that, pretty much says it all these days...but I digress.

I love my Fedco seed catalog. It is a thick rich tome full of really good growing information. I consider it as indispensable a reference as the Encyclopedia of Country living. It is easy to get lost in the catalog during a cold winter day. Goes really well with a cup of mint tea:)

So as we ponder our first full growing year in our new home we have some serious foundation work to lay down in the garden. Last fall I was able to bring many perennials from our last home and transplant them here. But it helps to have some long term goals for our garden and landscape.

Some of these goals include:

  • I would like to build some food guilds around the base of a couple of our apple trees this year. This will include planting bulbs around the furthest perimeter around the trees, a mix of food perennials like egyptian onions, rhubarb and some cover crops. There is some great information on building one of these guilds in the book, Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway.
  • I would like to extend my herb garden to include a few more medicinal herbs.
  • I would like to add a few more colorful flowers to help our local pollinators.
  • We would like to take a further step in our own self-sufficiency by providing some of our own winter fodder for our live stock.
  • I would like to add a few more highbush blueberry bushes. We have some that are almost 4 years old but a few more will help us be self-sufficient for blueberries.
  • We transplanted hops from our old home but I would like to get a few more so we have a good hops yard started here.
Another really big goal this year is start many of these plants by seed. We have some really great south facing windows. My goal this year is to start many of the herbs, flowers and other crops by seed. In the past I have made vary valiant efforts to achieve this only to have my efforts and tender care undermined by tomato plant eating cats and a peat pot pillaging dog. We have a couple of shop lights and I am hoping to arrange some sort of arrangement that will not be hindered by any domesticated critters.

As for the ambitious seed list, here are a few of the plants I hope to grow this year...

  • Herbs: elacampane,feverfew, lovage,borage,motherwort, lavender,chamomille, toothache plant.
  • Flowers: Butterfly bush, bee balm, nasturtiums, lots and lots of Sunflowers, hollyhock.
  • Fodder: mangle-wurzel beets, field pumpkins, lots and lots of sunflowers.
  • People fodder: Highbush blueberries, Sea Kale a perennial green and all of our other favorite varieties of veg...kennebec and carola spuds, scarlet nantes carrots, contesca romanesco zukes, boston picking cukes, amish paste tomatoes plus a few other heritage tomatoes, scarlet runner beans and so much more...yipee!
My final goal for this year is to save as much seed as possible. As a way of keeping track of this endeavor I will add a saved seed widget at my side bar to document what I have saved; much like what I have done with the food I preserve.

Let's here it for the promise of a new growing season!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

On a winter's day

I like the simplicity of walking. This time of year there are so many outdoor activities that require equipment. Snowshoes, cross-country skis, ice skates. Don't get me wrong. These are all great activities and we partake of them all.

But this winter we have had a lot of snow. Each snow requires the breaking of new trails: the trail to the compost bin, the trail to the sheep shed, the trail to the wood pile, the trail to the car. Each day after a snowstorm we have had just the most amazing sunny days; a respite between storms to move snow around, sweep laden roofs, load wood boxes and grab a few hours outside moving our bodies before the next low pressure system sweeps through and we find ourselves huddled by the fire.

As a family we will don our gear and take to the woods. Mark will break the new trail with his snow shoes, I follow behind and Evan tags along on little snowshoes. We will follow the prints of coyotes or snowshoe hare. We will stop and wait for the smallest set of feet to catch up. Towards the end of this journey we will coax, prod and bribe with hot chocolate the owner of those small feet. We arrive home and there are heaps of snow-wet clothes draped on furniture around the woodstove.

But sometimes, a momma just needs a brisk walk. A simple outing where all that is needed is a good pair of boots, a plowed road and a knitted wool cap. Our road is 2 and 1/2 miles to the pavement. It is a good road of dirt with plenty of little hills, wide open expanses to get lost in,remnants of the sheep farm that was part of much of the land I walk through. I find that during these walks that, even though I am alone with my own thoughts, I am not surrounded in silence. The trees just recently coated in a layer of ice, creak in the wind. A dog woofs a greeting as I walk by. A snow blower engine turns over a couple of times.

I am alone with my own thoughts. I clear away of the clutter of the days and gather together what is good, lose the negative thoughts that can creep in. Several weeks after my 44th birthday I am still trying to reconcile my perception of self, in my mind, with the person who faces me in the the mirror. More gray, more wrinkles. I come to realize that I do not have any regrets for decisions I have made in my life. It would be so easy to hold onto the bad choices as some sort of excuse for not moving in a different direction. If this makes sense. What I feel is that there are choices I can make now that will not be impeded by a fear of failure or rejection. Is this wisdom gained?

Anyway, I am at the pavement and turn towards home. The wind is a little brisker heading home. I put my hat on to keep my ears warm. The little hill is a little more challenging as I walk against the wind. I am daydreaming about the perfect grilled cheese sandwich I will make when I get home.Homemade bread, local mustard, cheddar cheese, onion and local spinach. I like the simplicity of a walk....

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Anyway Project update

January has passed. Today is Ground Hog day and it is snowing heavily. Mark has a snow day from school. The house is clean and mostly tidy. How this happened, I have no idea;) So perhaps a snowshoe and some serious knitting to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader audio book. Gotta love a snow day.

As I post about my second full month of participating in the Anyway Project, I realized that having these small goals each month have really helped to make our homestead work a little better. In small ways and large ways we are refining systems. It is exciting to see that by small actions we are reducing our electric bill. Larger actions connect us to our community in a better way.

So on to the update..

Domestic Infrastructure: Mark was able to get a few more boards up on the shed. We have started stacking some of our really dry wood in the shed which means that it is burning much more efficiently and keeping us warmer. I have been giving each room a good cleaning. From Tristan's room I was able to get a whole bag of clothing to the Thrift store. I rearranged it and it seems to work much better for him. I rearranged Evan's room. We needed to put a dog crate in there because Cheddar, loyal friend, has had some anxiety issues since we moved and can not be trusted at home alone. The kitchen got a good cleaning. After being here for a few months I realized that even though the room is smaller than my last kitchen, the stuff in the kitchen was not placed in a way that worked best. Now everything that gets used often is easily in reach and no one needs a memo or a map to find it. For this coming month, I would like to continue with the room refinement. My sewing corner is a mess. I need to spend some time figuring out how to make this space work better but with little cost.

Household Economy: Well we did not track expenses. But we talked about it this morning and came up with a plan for entering our daily expenses into a spreadsheet. We did open the Christmas club. We also opened a small savings account for Evan where we automatically deposit a small amount. We would like to use this money for lessons. I would like to come up with a goal for how much food we could put up next year. In our attempt to become as self-sufficient as possible, I would like to learn to sew some of my own clothes. I have a few good pieces of fabric for a summer dress and a couple of skirts. This would definitely grow my sewing skills which are pretty primitive.

Cottage industry: Well, I paid for a day of advertising on Etsy. I need to explore more ways to draw traffic to the shop. I have an idea for a couple of smaller items to post in the shop. I am currently working on designing a sweater pattern that I hope to put up for sale on Ravelry. We need to finalize our seed order.

Resource Consumption: We did pretty well this month. We insulated the hot water heater which brought our electric bill down by 5.00. I did not get the big curtain made for our bedroom yet but that gets me back to the sewing corner thing. Once we start tracking our expenses I think it will be good to see how much gas we are using right now. One of cars has died and we are on the fence whether to replace it or not. But it might be worth our while to find a car that gets better gas mileage and not use our Subaru as much. With gas prices climbing again we need to be better tuned into condensing trips and maybe think about keeping the car off the road a day or two a week.

Outside work: I've been teaching kids to knit at Mark's school. This is a lot of fun. I am going to post a flyer at the local yarn shop for donations of needles and yarn. Right now all the kids are knitting small squares for a blanket or scarf that we will be donating to Nest Maine, an organization that donates hand knitted items to those in need. I have two separate groups and they share knitting. I would like them to have their own knitting needles that they may take home at the end of the year.I am still going to work on teaching a class for Adult Ed next fall.

Family and Community: Much has happened here. A couple of days a week I take Tristan into town for his GED class. This leaved Evan and myself a couple of hours to kill. We have been spending some time at the library. But even though we get a lot of time outside Evan doesn't have a good space to just run around. So I found that the local community center had a gym open for walking. I figured that I could walk and he could just run around. Well, just after the hour of walking we found out that there was a preschool playtime. So we stayed. He had a blast. I have been trying to connect with some local homeschoolers, so I told some of them about the preschool gym. But many of the kids are older. I was able to reserve some time at the community center for our homeschooling group for free. Also, we are still looking for a church. Many of the UU churches in our area are more than a half hour away from where we live. One of the reasons that we want to join a church is to feel connected to a community. But it is hard when it becomes a long drive. So we attended a UCC church in Farmington. It is a large congregation with a big Sunday School. There are many folks that we know that attend the church. I love being a UU. I love the way it is governed by committee ( I can hear Garrison Keillor cracking a UU joke right about now). I love the idea that there is more than one path, or book of faith that we can learn from. I love the liberal religious tradition. We'll see...

Time and Happiness: I have been taking long walks on my country road. I love snow covered hayfields, finding footprints of critters in the snow, clearing my head in the brisk air....