Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Alternatively titled: Thank goodness I'm not a migrant worker

Saturday I took my 5 year old, my mother in law and myself to a Pick Your Own strawberry farm about 30-45 minutes from our house.

The berries were, of course, pick your own and $2.60 a pound.

I spent about an hour and a half out there picking, with help of course, and can't help but think, what a very middle class thing to be doing. To be paying for the privilege of picking my own berries when out in the world, the strawberries in my grocery store could very well (and probably were) picked by Mexican migrant workers.

My back ached and I got sunburned and I was only out there for 90 minutes max. I was hot, sweaty and at the end a little light headed. I honestly said, out loud, "Thank God I don't have to do that for a living."

While we were out there we did meet a toadally sweet Toad who was working very hard in the fields as well catching bugs.

The place we went was certified organic which I didn't know until we were there. It was nice but I gotta say, it looks like they need more toads. A lot of the berries had been dined on by bugs and so it was a lot harder to pick than I initially anticipated.

The berries were small, much smaller than what you get at your local grocery store and that of course was expected.

In the end our 90 minutes of not so much constant picking yielded about 4 lbs of strawberries.

More importantly we had a good time and at least for me, it really highlighted how much work we DON'T do to provide the food that we consume.

I'll detail later what I did with the strawberries because I'm pretty proud of it both because I picked the berries by hand and also because it was my first experiment.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fail fail fail

So after getting the basement closet MOSTLY cleaned out I have STILL not managed to purchase the water needed to go into it. It's depressing.

I also have not made much headway on the landscaping in front of the house. Also depressing. It's been oppressively hot and that, coupled with the fact that I was studying for my professional certification exam have put me behind schedule everywhere.

This weekend the plan is to go to a PYO strawberry farm and attempt to pick, well, strawberries, if they haven't been cleaned out yet. I'm hoping to make some strawberry jam this summer and it would be great if I could manage it from a PYO since my strawberries seem to have stopped bearing.

My tomatoes however are setting fruit nicely and at least one Roma plant has 4 small green lumps forming. It continues to do better than my Topsy Turvy tomato plant.

My pea plant, the last survivor, has been slowly decimated by an unseen pest. I did manage to find a lone green caterpillar last week and moved it off the pea plant but yesterday discovered what appeared to be a discarded cocoon between some leaves so either he came back or his sibling was still there and I never found them. I harvested 7 pea pods yesterday but I think I may have left them too long on the plant to actually BE edible. I'm trying to leave a few pods on there to seed save for next year and my understanding is that they need to dry completely on the vine.

Cucumbers have SHOT up in the last week and while I still do not see any flowers I am starting to see a bunch of new growth and tendrils. The onions are still not large, not much larger than the sets I started with, as best I can tell, but their stalks are starting to fall over. Not sure why but I will leave them in the ground as long as I can.

So there is my update.

We plan to set up a raised bed next year for me. While I love my containers, if I am to grow any real quantity of anything I need more room and currently I wont get that from my containers. So I think next year we will do maybe an 8ft x 4 ft raised bed to accommodate those items that I want a quantity of such as the peas, tomatoes and cucumbers. I can also see re purposing the containers to grow more items but not having to combine multiple plants into the same container like I tried this year. Specifically I can see potatoes in my future with one of my containers.

I will say that while it is only late June I still feel like I have learned so much about plants and gardens already.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Continuing with goals

I finally have the majority of the under-the-stairs closet cleared out and am ready to start putting STUFF into it.

My goal is to put the water in there to start and also our BOB's when I get those together. After that work on the pantry aspect of it.

I found a variety of items, many of which made their way to the Goodwill near my mother in laws house.

There is one thing that I found a little disturbing though, as she attempted to help me clean out the closet.

I have a LOT of paint in there. There will be a hazardous waste cleanup in our area in September so for the time being I'm just moving the paint to the garage. But my sweet mother in law kept telling me to keep this paint and keep that paint because you never know....

She's not a hoarder but that is certainly the mentality.

In any case, the paint is going. And soon.

I am pretty excited to be setting up my first official "Storage" area in the house and readying it for "prep". I'll show pictures when I finally have something to show.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Practical Skills

Today I read THIS blog post by one of my favorite Sustainability bloggers Wendy (who occasionally comments on this blog).

I have much to say on the subject and was just going to respond in her comments but decided to instead write this here.

I hated high school. HATED it. Passion of a thousand firey sun hated it. I hated chemistry, hated geometry, hated second semester of Algebra. Loved other subjects but was bored in most of them. But I couldn't drop out because I was white, middle class and expected to go to college. Which I did eventually do and I have a Bachelors to prove it.

I got pregnant my sophomore year. I was so OVER high school and had high ideals of what life would be like for me if I could just start LIVING already.

About 2 months into my pregnancy I happily chose to move over to our local "pregnant girl school" which was called Crossroads.

I had been taking Advanced English, Advanced History, Chemistry, Geometry, Personal Finance, gym, & had just started home economics but I don't actually remember doing anything in the class.

When I moved I began taking Children's Classics, Social Studies, Computers, Maternal Health, Personal Finance and other stuff I can't remember. (Cut me some slack, that was 15 years ago)

The glaring difference in the teaching styles between the two schools was, in one, it as all very abstract and I couldn't see how any of it mattered or applied at the "regular" high school. At Crossroads all of the subject matter (except I suppose for computers at the time) was practical, hands on, must have skills knowledge and it had to be tailored to fit 100 girls whose ages ranged from 12-19, who were in different grade levels, learning levels and had only pregnancy as the common thread. Oh and there were only 2 and a HALF teachers.

I learned all about my pregnancy, the baby, birth, labor and exercise and health through my maternal health class. I was better prepared than some adult women I've known in my lifetime.

Personal finance is the class that I always brag about though. In high school is was gear towards a macro economic learning model. At Crossroads I learned how money applied practically in my world.

Our Public School system forced the girls at Crossroads to clock in and out each day. Our instructors used this to a)prove we were there and b) pay us in pretend money.

It worked like this:
At the start of the school year we had to find a job that we would be qualified for, assuming we had graduated high school, and present it to our lead instructor. She would then interview us like a real job interview. We would get the job (or not and have to start over) and would receive a rate of pay. At the end of the week we received "paychecks" based on the number of hours we had been at school previously. The rate of pay was either stating in the job listing or she took an average of what the job paid.

We had to find an apartment and present it to her and fill out a rental application and fake rental agreement.

We opened fake bank accounts and had fake checks printed for us. We had checklists of bills we needed to pay and had to pay them each week. We had to reconcile our checkbooks. We had to pay bills we received from the lead teacher for electricity, gas and water (if it wasn't' included in our rental agreement). We had to pay for at least a bus token to show how we would get to and from work and had to figure out the bus schedules.

We had to make a menu for the month and it was based on flyer's from the grocery stores. We had to present them and if they did not meet the food pyramid they were reject or received a less than passing score.

That course taught me how to file my taxes when we had a real tax preparer come in and discuss it with us.

We consistently had guest speakers come in to give tips on how to interview for jobs, how to open a bank account, how to apply for public assistance (if needed), explain what the process was for food stamps or WIC, discuss nutrition and how to cook. (I didn't learn that, sadly, until much later). We had people from Job Corp come talk to us about their program, we had parenting coaches, we had real world situations to deal with.

My final semester in the school (last semester of my junior year) I WAS the bank for the personal finance program. I entered the checks the other students had written in their "bank accounts". I printed pay checks and distributed them based on the calculations from their time cards. I loved it.

That school was not college prep in any sense of the word. The teacher was very frank with me and told me their GOAL was to send out girls who were prepared to take care of their children. If they graduated from HIGH SCHOOL it was a resounding success. Of the girls that graduated from the school the same year I did (5), only 2 of us went to college. Another went back several years later. Only one has her bachelors, one has her associates. The other dropped out after her first semester. I've been told by that same teacher that 40% attendance to college is amazing and most years they don't have any that go.

It's not quite the same as the real world skills that Wendy talks about, growing food, fixing your own home or equipment.

But it's a glimpse into how schooling COULD be. It could be practical and skill focused. It could prepare those that leave it to become productive citizens instantly or at least sooner than those who don't.,

Don't mistake me, I don't have a problem with someone going to college and majoring in ANYTHING and getting a degree and I expect it of my children if that's their calling.

But if you can't balance a checkbook no amount of money is going to really be a support to you and you're never going to have a real appreciation for it. I suspect the same will be said about food soon but in a more dramatic fashion. If you can't grow your own food you wont have enough time to appreciate the skill it takes to grow it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Goals List

This is my list for the next two weeks:

1. Completely clean the storage under the stairs. Currently residing under there are a number of cans of paint, at least 1 cooler, some pictures of my ex husband and I and 1 half of a closet door, the bi-fold kind. I don't know where the other half is. I need to learn how to dispose of paint.

2. Store 15 gallons of water based on the calculation of 1 gallon per person per day for minimum of 3 days. This means I need approximately 28 2 liters of water if I go that route.

3. Store 1 bottle of bleach. Can be a small bottle but it is for water purification. My whites are white enough, thankyouverymuch.

4. Store at least 2 items to flavor the water. Initially I said containers of either Tang or Kool Aid but upon reflection, I have a bunch of Crystal light containers of flavoring that can do a gallon at a time I believe. So I will store of of those to handle some of the water flavoring. I just need to figure out how to keep that organized.

This should be completed by 6/18/10 and I will post pictures and updates for accountability.

Something to ponder...

For the previous two weeks we had a bit of a plumbing snafu that really made me reflect and think on our sustainability lifestyle I'm attempting.

Everytime we did a load of laundry our laundry room flooded.

Now, this does tend to happen once a year or so in the spring because of the age of the pipes under the house and roots getting into them. My dear father in law brought over his snake and he and the husband took off the toilet in the basement and snaked it, dragging up a decent set of roots in the process.

So we did some more laundry.

And the laundry room (which is in the basement) flooded. Again.

So husband searched and plumbed. He poured copious amounts of draino like substances down the drain in the laundry room itself. He plunged. He messed with pipes and water and spent a silly amount of time in the water heater room next to the laundry room trying to fix it.

And we still flooded.

We are a household of 5, including 1 6 month old, so going without laundry is tough. We managed to do very small loads without flooding the laundry room but when I say small loads we are talking about 5-8 pieces of laundry at a time. That is not efficient for time management to say the least.

As we worked and struggled to keep from paying a ridiculous amount of money for a plumber I wondered to myself how we would do laundry in a, say, post peak oil world. I mean, the CONCEPT of putting clothing in a bucket of water and scrubbing it together is not foreign, and I can envision that concept but what about putting that into practice. What about laundry detergent? Of course I can dry items outside, not that I have a clothes line, but what about the AMOUNT of clothing we have? I mean, if 5-8 items per load isn't cutting it, how often would I have to do laundry by hand and how relative is clean in that situation?

Lots to ponder.

In the end we called a plumber who charged $260 for 15 minutes worth of work. The OTHER drain in the laundry room was clogged with lint and despite every effort to push it out, we failed.

Stings a little bit, I'm not going to lie.

But it gives me more to ponder.

Perhaps later this year or next year my goal will be to move towards hygiene issues without electricity.