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Renegade Sister

That last post was partially just to have written a post, so that I could share with you yet another link. This one is very exciting for me. In fact, I’m a little bit pissed off that none of you ever told me about this. Is it really possible that we do not share any readers?

My new blog crush is titled Renegade Mothering. Yeah. Obviously we are sisters. I stumbled upon Janelle’s blog while doing an internet search for “Waldorf circle time” (more on that later). Which is hilarious, as you will understand after you read her work.

Renegade Mothering is not for the Waldorf set. It is not for those of you who tolerate my swearing and sarcasm for the sake of my generally wholesome content. This woman makes me look like a nun. She doesn’t write about cooking or homesteading or housewifery or fighting The Man, nor does she delve deep into the emotional pysche of motherhood. Nope, instead Renegade Mothering is a ranty bitch. If you enjoy the juxtaposition of foul mouthed mama writing, an extremely heavy dose of sarcasm and laughing like a hyena, check it out.

I simply could not choose a single post to direct you toward. You should probably start with Playdate in My Trailer and 19 Things You Must Know About Me. Are You Ready for Parenthood? A Helpful Checklist is hilarious and Parenting in the Gray Area will make you spit your coffee all over the computer.

But, if the idea of a post entitled I Wonder Which One of My Kids Will Grow up to Be a Crackhead offends you, Renegade Mothering may not be for you.

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***Today’s guest post is from Kristen, who writes at Sustainable Suburbia, as well as her personal blog, Narrating Kayoz. I am so excited to still be featuring these wonderful guest posts. Thank you to everyone who has written! I just love the chance to read your perspectives.***

Hi CJ & Apron Stringz fans!

When CJ first put the guest post idea out there, I immediately thought of a post I’ve been tossing around in the back of my head for a while, partly inspired by CJ’s post on little girls, lip stick and nail polish. It’s a post about boys and girls and their books, and why & how boys can enjoy books about girls, just as much as girls can (and always have) enjoyed books about boys. It’s also about why, “If you want to fix the male literary crisis, here’s your solution: Become a feminist.

But that post will have to wait a bit longer, because I’ve been reading Shannon Hayes and thinking lots about skills loss, and I can’t get my head back to kid’s books just now.

I’m currently reading (and loving) Shannon Hayes’s book Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, but the truth is I am not a radical. Whenever I compare myself to CJ (I know, a completely unhelpful thing to do), I am reminded of the line in the Dar Williams song, “The Pointless, Yet Poignant, Crisis Of A Co-ed”,

“I’m not a leader, I’m not a left-wing rhetoric mobilizing force of one,
But there was a time way back, many years ago in college, don’t laugh,
But I thought I was a radical…”

Oh, yes, way back in college.

I turned 40 at the end of last year and sometimes I really feel middle aged and conservative and frankly, boring (not bored though – who has the time for boredom?). Settled and, yes, housewifely. (Actually I suck at being a housewife, but that’s another story).

This is where I am:

I am married to a wonderful man, who shares the work with me – paid and unpaid – pretty evenly. I have the three most delightful and dreadful children (okay, the youngest one’s not dreadful yet, but Three is just around the corner, and if you’ve ever had a three-year-old you know what that means). I have a mortgage on a smallish sized suburban block with a three bedroom house. I have visions of being off-grid, energy efficient, having composting toilets, rain water tanks and of growing as much of our own food as we can on a little over an 1/8th of an acre, including raising meat chickens.

What we do have is three chooks who give us eggs and lots of entertainment. We have only a tiny vegetable garden, since the couch grass more or less took over while we weren’t looking, when our two-year-old was a baby. We have a growing collection of herbs in pots in our sheltered front courtyard. We have a bunch of fruit trees, though three of them are yet to go into the ground, but only one mature one, an incredibly prolific lemon tree. We have half a roof full of solar panels – far more than we need for our own power needs, but being grid connected we figure the excess is going some small way towards making us carbon neutral. And we have two small rainwater tanks which generally cover the needs of our food garden.

What we lack, more than anything else, is skills.

Shannon Hayes explains how most mainstream Americans have lost the skills that would “allow them to live an ecologically sensible life with a modest or low income.” Mainstream Australians are in much the same boat. The particular skills she talks about in that paragraph – knowing how to roast a chicken, or using the leftover carcass to make a stock – I happen to have.  And most other kitchen skills I feel I’d be able to learn pretty easily, even if I don’t have the time or energy to get there just yet (homemade bread, I’m lookin’ at you).

But where I really feel lacking – and unfortunately my husband is not far ahead of me – is in ‘handy’ skills, like building and repairing things around the house and garden.

CJ had a post once in which she talked about her advantage in having grown up with hippy parents, so that she had a head start (compared to most people today) with being self-sufficient. [CJ if you know the post I'm talking about, throw in a link - I did I bit of a search, but couldn't find it] I grew up with middle class, private school educated parents who barely knew how to hang a picture on a wall.

To be fair, my father was an only child who was sent to a boys boarding school at the age of five, spent most of his holidays at his grandma’s (probably a blessing), and pretty much survived by keeping his head firmly in books. My mother had a comparatively normal upbringing and probably could actually hang a picture – she certainly could now – but she was working part-time by the time I was six (when my parents separated), and later full-time, and so she really was part of that generation that Hayes talks about where women moved into the work force en masse and the corporate world responded by giving them more things to spend their money on, to reduce their domestic tasks, thus allowing them to work more and buy more things.*

Actually, my mother taught me to knit, though I do it badly, and to cook (more or less), and more importantly, gave me a lifelong (so far) interest in self-sufficiency and environmental stewardship. Although I don’t feel I grew up developing the skills I needed for that life, certainly we always composted, had a vegetable garden, and recycled all our cans, glass and paper, long before it was trendy.

I should also pay some tribute here to my step-father, who was of working-class farming stock and is still my go-to man when I need to figure out how to do something of a handyman nature. We didn’t get along well when I was a child, worse when I was a teenager, and I don’t know that I learned many actual skills from him. But I learned that you could do things yourself, you didn’t always need to call in a professional, and that knowledge was probably more important than any individual skills I could have gained.

When I was about eight, my parents (mother & step-father that is) decided to move to the country and become self-sufficient. They’d been reading Grass Roots magazines, and wanted to make the tree-change so popular today. That’s my memory of things anyway, I’m sure they might have a different story to tell. But – fortunately, I thought at the time – they were unable to sell our house in suburban Canberra, so the tree-change never happened.

But that yearning has always been there for them I think, and they passed it on to me. At 70-odd, and semi-retired, my mother now makes her own soap, laundry liquid, jam and bread. She’s finally convinced my step-father to get chickens, and of course their vegetable garden remains much more flourishing than ours! My sister, who lives in outer Melbourne and has a block maybe half the size of ours, also has chooks and an organic, permaculture style backyard. And my brother was the first in the family to have a worm farm. So although I feel I grew up without gaining many handy skills, I do have the philosophical support of family in my efforts to move to a more self-sufficient lifestyle, which I value highly.

So now I live on my suburban block with my own family and we slowly, slowly move towards a more sustainable, self-sufficient life. We’ll never be truly self-sufficient, nor do I even think that’s something to aim for. We live in a community, and developing community resilience and self-sufficiency is probably at least as important as what we do on our own little block.

But gaining those skills we have lost (as a generation) will, I think, be important for both those endeavours.  Hayes points out that many of the ‘male’ skills were the first lost to domestic households, when men made the move out of the home and into the industrial revolution. “[H]ow to butcher the family hog, how to sew leather, how to chop firewood” are the skills she mentions. Those were lost long ago, to most families. But how to fix your own car (or even judge what the problem is), patch up the hole in your plasterboard wall, or repair your own fence, are skills that my step-father certainly has, but that few of my own peers have.

Those are the sorts of skills I want to reclaim. Sure, I am making (some of) my own jam, using my mother’s homemade soap, and want to get more into preserving the food we grow (or even food we buy at the farmers’ markets when it’s in season). But I also want to be able to prune my own hedges, fix my own deck, build my own raised garden bed. Especially, I want to be able to use salvaged timber and corrugated iron, instead of feeling like I need to buy a kit, so as to be able to achieve a good outcome.

So that’s where it’s at for me. I am learning to crochet and preserve and cook seasonally, but I have my sights set on learning skills that use hammers and nails and saw horses.  What are your skills shortages, or what are you learning now?

By the way, where you will usually find me is at SustainableSuburbia.net or  my personal blog, narrating kayoz. And that post on boys and books? It will probably show up eventually at my other, other blog, kayoz talks books. Now, what about those skills?

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* I don’t mean to imply that my mother became a major consumer or even that she didn’t cook mostly from scratch – in fact I don’t think pre-packaged & convenience food really made it to Australian in a big way until the 80s and more so the 90s. But she was part of the generation that didn’t pass on many of the homemaking skills their mothers took for granted, like making jam or other preserves, or even mending clothes or knitting beanies, because a  simply lack of time, and probably also a perceived lack of need.

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Untitled

Those of you who know me, or have read here for awhile will not be surprised to hear that after taking this long computer break for the past month, my passion for it has waned to near zero. Once separated from the catalyst of my addiction, I remember how my brain can feel unplugged– slow, quiet sometimes, not always jumping around like a mouse in a cage.

It feels good.

I won’t say I have been having a blissful last few weeks, in fact I am caught up in all kinds of as yet unexplained confusion of the psyche, but the deep breath that a mostly device-less daily life affords is very, very good.

What does this mean for this blog? I am not sure yet. I love to write, and have so enjoyed this space. I want to being able to keep writing. But when you are online, a world of (pseudo) information and connections are at your fingertips, and it is impossible for me not to flit from one thing to another. It is that intrigue of infinite possibility which becomes, for me, the ever gaping maw– opening to consume more and more of my life and time– and eventually altering the very foundation of how my brain functions.

Perhaps I will be able to write just once a week, I think my content here was better when I was just writing once a week anyway. Writing can get watered down by too many words. That’s the very thing about this internet actually, more = less.

Thankfully there are a few guest posts left to bide the time while I consider whether I am capable of being master over this virtual world, or whether it will always be the other way around. Thank you so much to everyone who wrote for me, for us, over this break. I am forever indebted.

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***This week’s post is from an old friend, Jessica, who currently lives in Maine. I know fiddlehead season is long past in most of the country, but do make a note to try them next spring. They are still coming up around here in spots where the snow was banked and has just melted off. I introduced them to the kids as “curlycues” and so far they have gobbled them down. I want to point out that although Middle Eastern chermoula sounds exotic and fancy, it is super easy. We are talking weeknight dinner material if you have a food processor. Thanks for the post Jessica!***

CJ and I are high school friends from Alaska. For my guest blog, I originally planned to delve deep into my psyche and tackle an analysis of how CJ and I have grown up through the years – choosing life paths that are both dramatically different yet remarkably similar.

Then I chickened out.

It’s not really until you sit down to write a blog entry that you realize how scary it is.  CJ really puts herself out there. I have a whole new appreciation for the vulnerability involved, as I write this.  So, yeah, I’m going to take the safe route (this won’t surprise CJ, and probably would have been one of my talking points on that other blog – smile)…

Let’s talk about food! Food is safe! In particular, let’s talk about cooking with local foods in Maine. Last night, I whipped up a bunch of middle eastern food with Maine ingredients.

First off, you probably think of moose and lobsters when you think of Maine. And that’s not that far off from the truth. It is a wonderfully wild state in which to live. Last weekend, my whitewater paddling friends were driving down a logging road during our canoe shuttle, and saw a moose AND a bear crossing the road AT THE SAME TIME (although separated by a few hundred yards). If you can’t live in Alaska, then Maine is clearly next runner up.

Middle Eastern Cooking

I’m basically a novice chef and rely on cookbooks.  I enjoy following recipes, especially the first time through.  If you want to get into middle eastern cooking, I’d recommend Claudia Roden’s book, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food. My top three favorite recipes out of this book are the lentil soup (not your college student days lentil soup), chicken in plum sauce, and the sholezard (saffron rice pudding dessert).  The recipes are very straightforward, and the only hurdle to middle eastern cooking in Maine is finding the middle eastern spices for a reasonable price in such a rural area.

 

Side Dish – Fiddleheads

Mainers love their fiddleheads. Technically, these are ostrich ferns. They are found in the early spring (which means late April or  early May here in Maine). Fiddleheaders canvass river banks that were recently flooded and harvest the fronds. Classically, people sell fiddleheads from their vehicles along the side of the road. Picture a guy sitting in a lawnchair with a cooler and a cardboard sign.  People are very protective of their fiddleheading spots; you’d never ask someone where they fiddlehead – just like you’d never ask an angler where their special fishing hole is or a wild blueberry picker where their field is located. Collecting fiddleheads in Maine is a tradition that goes back millennia with the Wabanki Indians, including the nearby Penobscots.

Currently, fiddleheads are running $2.50-3.50/pound. I first had them while visiting Maine, and then looked for them when I returned to Minneapolis where I was living at the time. I could only find them at Whole Foods and they were $17.00/pound! Here’s what they look like:

 

They’re not that hard to cook, but they do need to be cooked thoroughly due to the acid in them. If you don’t cook them enough, you’ll get a wicked stomach ache.

Some of the easy preparations are to boil them and then add butter and salt. They get mushy but I was always afraid of the stomach ache. And, to be honest, I didn’t like them that much but ate them anyway because that’s what Mainers eat. Then I got brave. Now I sometimes half-cook them and put them on pizzas. I love ricotta, sausage, fiddleheads, and garlic pizza. I hear they’re amazing in omelets.

Another local delicacy is Maine shrimp. These are also sold roadside, although also in the grocery stores and fish markets. They are incredibly tiny, like popcorn shrimp. I have a recipe for a sweet and sour shimp fiddlehead soup. Basically, you use chicken broth and white vinegar to taste for the broth, then put the itty bitty Maine shrimp and whatever seasonings you want (hot pepper, garlic, black pepper, cumin, etc.) into a food processor. This makes a stinky shrimp paste. With the broth heated up, drop the shrimp paste in spoonful by spoonful. It cooks nearly on contact into little flavorful shrimp balls. Then add the fiddleheads at the end and boil them for just enough time to cook them. This probably sounds very strange, but it is super tasty, healthy, and full of flavor. If you don’t have fiddleheads, you could substitute in any sort of strong vegetable (e.g, brussel sprouts).

Last night, I just went with a simple olive oil and garlic sauté to the al dente point and then put a lid on it to finish the cooking process. They maintained great texture that way.

 

Main Dish – Haddock in Chermoula Sauce

One thing I really miss about Alaska is the salmon and halibut. Not only do I miss eating these fish, I miss being able to catch them with my own pole or net. Growing up we would eat salmon at least once a week. Now, my local salmon is the Atlantic salmon and the native variety is threatened on the Penobscot River. So, it is not possible to go catch them yourself. Besides, they’re also really small compared to Alaska’s five types of salmon. This creates one of those sustainability crises (first world problem, I know). If I want the local fish, I would have to get farm-raised Atlantic salmon. If I want my usual wild fish, I would have to deal with the carbon footprint of flying it from Alaska to Maine. And, I can’t find halibut at all up here. So what’s a gal to do? People recommended haddock to me, but it is often compared to cod. I’ve never been a cod fan. Cod is oily; cod is translucent. Blah. But, in a desperate moment of wanting white fish, I got some haddock. It turns out that haddock is great! A fish that can be found just offshore of both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, including offshore of Maine, it appears that populations are currently doing “okay.” Greenpeace has alert out that they could come from unsustainable sources, so it’s important to get them from U.S. regulated fisheries, if that’s of concern to you. They feed on small invertebrate critters, and only occasionally on other fish, so don’t need to fret too much about bioaccumulation or mercury issues. It’s not as thick as halibut, but it is much more like halibut than it is like cod. It’s solid white meat that holds together well. It has a very light flavor (not “fishy). And it goes great with chermoula sauce!

For the chermoula sauce, Claudia Roden recommends:

  • 2/3 cup fresh cilantro (I used the whole friggin’ bunch)
  • 4 cloves of garlic (I used 6 big ones)
  • 1 tsp cumin (I used 1.5 tsp)
  • 1 tsp paprika (I used 1.5 tsp)
  • ¼- ½ tsp ground chili power (optional) (I used ½ tsp of Penzy’s Chili 9000)
  •  6 Tbl olive oil
  • Juice from 1 lemon

Put all this in a food processor and make a paste. Then, use a casserole dish and lay the haddock or other white fish on top of a bed of FINELY sliced onions. I forgot to take a picture of the naked haddock, so my apologies. Bake at 350-400 degrees until it’s done.

 

At this point, you’ve made a VERY green meal, so a little contrasting color is necessary. Carrots are easy.

It was tasty!

I appreciate the opportunity to guest blog!

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***Today’s guest post is from Holli, who blogs at Scratch Treehouse. I requested this subject, since she had referred to her journey a few times in comments. I think most of us could use a little encouragement in the kids-eating-veggies department…. Thanks Holli!***

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I was eight months pregnant with baby number two. Baby number one wasn’t yet two years old and I decided he better start taking a multivitamin. He had become a very picky eater subsisting on grains and dairy and potatoes (if you count French fries as potatoes). He’d eat apples and fruit, but never vegetables. I rationalized that he must be getting some vitamins from all the veggies I ate while he was breastfeeding. But, as baby number two got closer to arriving, I knew I could not keep this up.

One day, I struggled to keep him contained in a big Super Vitamin store, and I felt some defeat. Here I was buying vitamins in a bottle because I couldn’t get my son to eat them from food. And I thought, thankfully, they make vitamins for kids that taste like candy.

Almost one year later, baby number two was starting to eat solids. She still breast-fed, but loved solid food too. She was not content with just soft mashed up carrots and apples. She had to try everything on my plate. Sometimes that meant steamed veggies, sometimes meat and grains. She started to show a preference for meat, dairy and grains. Without much outside influence she started to push away the veggies. And she was barely one-years-old.

During that same time frame, I started to notice her being constipated. At her 9 month check up I had noticed it and mentioned it to the doctor who assured me this was just normal for starting solid foods. By her 12-month check up, I was worried. Pooping had become a long, painful struggle. My daughter would hold it in until she couldn’t any longer and cry while pooping. I was sure something was wrong.

Then came 9 months of specialists, laxatives, natural practitioners and we only got to the point of her pooping once a week. Finally, I consulted a Chinese Herbalist who told me point blank: eat vegetables. And, there were a few extra things like herbs, but I felt like someone had shaken me up. Within 2 weeks she had improved to pooping twice a week.

That first week I struggled: How in the world could I get her or her brother to eat vegetables? I remembered one visit with a Naturopathic team where one intern suggested I increase vegetables in my daughter’s diet. I kept a food journal for her, religiously recording every single thing she ate for 9 months. Everyone praised me on how well she was eating except that one intern. Turns out she was right. So, that is what changed me from believing kids won’t eat veggies to knowing they need them like they need to be potty trained.

I cried my first day on the vegetable crusade in our house. I knew I needed help, so I checked out books from the library on how to sneak vegetables into recipes so kids will eat them. I tried a few recipes, but something was nagging at me. I wondered, if I’m hiding the vegetables, will they every really learn to eat them? It just felt wrong.

I shared my struggle with a girl friend who is a Speech Pathologist (she helps kids under 3 learn to eat who have developmental difficulty speaking or eating). She suggested some things:

1) Introduce one food for a week or more

2) Let them notice it on the table or your plate before making them eat it

3) Present the food in different ways: raw, cooked, etc

4) Don’t give up: try letting the kid feel it and watch you cook it, build curiosity

5) Keep at it

And so, I kept trying. My daughter was just over 2 years old when we started. She noticed the difference with pooping and started to understand that she needed veggies for good poops. Within a month she was eating a veggie serving at every meal. My son was more steadfast in his Picky Eater mindset. I knew he’d be harder to persuade since he’d grown up to that point not having to eat much of them.

I checked out some books from the library on vegetables so the kids would start to be curious about the different types. The ones that perked their interest the most were:

Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z by Lois Ehlert

Strega Nona’s Harvest by Tomie DePaola

The Vegetables We Eat by Gail Gibbons

I also adopted a spot on an elderly friend’s garden. I had heard that if you get kids in the garden where they can see things grow and help harvest, they’ll eat them too. Well, that certainly helped my daughter up her veggie intake, but my son was still a hard core Picky Eater.

Lucky for me I got the chance to try out the methods in a new book, “The No Cry Picky Eater Solution Book” by Elizabeth Pantly. I tried her suggestions before it was printed and slowly but surely, things began to change.

We got him to eat carrots, then broccoli. Just a few months ago, after a year and half of trying, he suddenly asked to try Peas. We all had some on our plate, and he only had his standard carrots. We have him a small portion, and he declared, “I LOVE them!” The funny thing is that I’d tried those as one of the first veggie for him to eat since they are sweet, but he forgot about his dislike. It’s been a long hard road, but I think it’s like anything else in parenting: we have to keep at it until they get it.

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***Today’s guest writer explains herself, but let me just say that although she lives a mere two hours away from our New Orleans home, we met here in cyberspace and have never met otherwise. The internet is a strange and glorious beast.***

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Hello fabulous Apron Stringz readers, I’m Charlotte and I blog at Living Well on the Cheap, a spot dedicated to living the good life (in your home, at least) without throwing a bunch of money at retailers. My husband and I both grew up in the suburbs of New Orleans, but we met at LSU in 2006 and never had the heart to leave Baton Rouge. We live in a great little neighborhood a few miles from campus where the streets are lined with oaks and all the houses are vintage.†Decorating, blogging, and thrifting are the creative outlets that help me balance the emotional demands of my career as a social worker. I love trolling thrift stores and estate sales for vintage treasures. There’s something very therapeutic about finding something old and giving it new life!

I haven’t been doing much of it lately in my state of pregnancy-induced exhaustion, but perusing thrift stores is my absolute favorite way to snag awesome stuff for your home. Bear in mind, though, that thrifting is not for the faint of heart. You’ve gotta be patient and creative. Without further ado, here are my six best tips for a successful trip to the thrift store.

Take your time. Move slowly up and down each aisle, being sure to scan every shelf (the shelves of despair, as one of my favorite bloggers calls them). I usually walk down each aisle twice so I can concentrate on one side at a time.

Remove it from the context.†When examining an item for purchase, ignore the thrift store aura and imagine it in your home all cleaned up, hanging out with your stuff.

About half of what you see here is thrifted

Imagine it at its best.†Almost any little knick-knack looks fancy after a coat of high gloss paint. Look past the dated finish of all that 80’s furniture and imagine it painted to match your taste. Clean white? Happy yellow? Sophisticated gray? Classic black? Look for solid wood, quality construction, and a nice shape. If it’s got a cushion, could you reupholster it? (check out my technique for reupholstering a basic cushion†here)

Knack

Ask yourself what you can do with it. †Hang a silver platter as wall art. Use a coffee creamer or small bowl as a teeny tiny planter. Place a small dish as change-catcher near the front door. Repurpose an old dresser as a TV console or dining room buffet. Remove the original art from a frame and use it to display something more your style. Stack books on top of a chair for a unique bedside table. Platters are plentiful and are easily repurposed as trays for corralling everything from remotes to†the contents of your pockets.

Real Simple

Judge a book by its cover.Check out the book section for hardbacks with attractive bindings (take a peek under the dustjacket). Jacket-free hardcovers stacked here and there are oh-so-Pottery Barn.

Pottery Barn

Look at the lamps.Many thrift store lamps have classic shapes. Look for one you can update with a fresh shade or a coat of paint and you can get a Z Gallerie look for a fraction of the price. I’ve also been totally loving patinated brass lately, so all that thrift store lamp may need is an updated shade, no paint necessary.

Z Gallerie

In summary, the key to successful thrifting is to have an open mind. See not what lies before you upon the shelves of despair, but what wondrous whatnots could abound in your home. The proceeds often go to charity, so you’re saving the world by shopping (not to mention saving some of that stuff from ending up in a landfill). What could be better?

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Potty Humor

***This week’s guest post is by Michelle of A Mom Next Door. Just a warning, it’s going to make you snort coffee up your nose. Put the cup down.***

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Calamity, thanks for offering the chance to guest on your blog. It was very inspiring to write for an audience of people enthralled by your courage, competence, inquisitiveness and sass.

I’m writing this week from New York City, where I’ve dragged my children, Two and Five, for our first-time ever family experience of the Big Apple. May is a Terrible Travel month for our family, because my Husband has a week-long trade business trip in NYC, comes home for 3-5 days, then leaves again to Europe for another eight days. We do this every year. Some years, I try to convince him to go to Las Vegas for the intermission between trade shows instead of returning home. I think it would actually be easier to just have him gone the whole month, than for him to return—jet-lagged, exhausted, stressed about the upcoming trip, and otherwise generally unavailable but still physically present—for just a few days before leaving again, throwing his children into an absolute frenzy of separation anxiety. But the poor man does nothing but miss us and the comforts of home the entire time he’s away, so I can’t bear to bar the door, no matter how difficult it makes my life as a single mom during his absence.

So this year I cashed in on the free companion ticket and hotel points we earn during those difficult separations, and told him I’d rather try the solo mom thing in NYC than be left behind at home for another agonizing month of I-want-my-daddy! Look for a post soon on my blog A Mom Next Door about our adventures, including travel tips for taking on big cities with small kids. I may have to write a whole post about the Horrible Homework Packet of busywork thrust upon us by a teacher who ignored my offer to create an independent work contract centered around the experience of being in New York City. No, my kindergartner wouldn’t learn anything from that—better do endless pages of worksheets instead!

But this post is actually inspired by something looming large in our lives at this very moment: traveler’s constipation. I’d better fill you in on some history first. Me and my children and poop go way back. We’ve been through a lot together.

* Warning, this post contains direct and explicit discussion of all matters digestive and excremental. If merely reading the previous sentence made you uncomfortable or woozy, I suggest you stop reading and go make yourself a cup of tea. If your children are young enough that you are still familiar with the texture of poop, read on, since you’re deep in shit already anyway.

When I became a mom, I expected diapers. I’d had enough experience with babies and toddlers to know that many, many diapers were in my future. But I never supposed that parenting would involve such an intimate familiarity and involvement with my children’s process of elimination. I didn’t realize that a long-term commitment to poop was part of the parenting package. Turns out, childrearing is not just about changing diapers, and changing diapers can be a lot harder than it sounds.

Do you ever surreptitiously smell your own fingers? Once, my infant son’s poop was so tacky, so persistent, I had to scoop it from the crevice with my forefinger, carefully wrapped in a thin flannel diaper wipe that seemed an entirely insufficient barrier. I washed my hands five times that day. But over the years I have become less afraid of poop, accustomed as I am now to the necessity of squeezing a diaper full of a squashed-wide disk of poop into a more toilet-friendly log for our finicky commode. Poop is really not much different from clay. And better than a clogged toilet and sewage on the bathroom floor.

My children like to examine their own poop. I encourage this. We animals learn a lot from poop. I inspect theirs carefully—keeping tabs on their developing digestion, making sure all the food I put into them comes out in the proper way. Both children have been at times particularly obsessed with watching the poop come out of their own bodies. This has created some problems in the potty training process. Imagine a child, clutching the handles on the side of the little plastic potty to lift himself, head tucked down to knees as he tries to get a holy glimpse. Worse, when the poop actually begins to emerge, abandoning the potty altogether to spin in fruitless circles, me chasing after him with a prodigious wad of toilet paper.

My daughter never fails to pipe up with “Me see poop now?!” exactly at the moment when I’ve got her ankles suspended with one hand, swiping at her sticky butt with the other, and no hands free to keep her from reaching out to grab the loosely folded diaper that I inadvertently set just inside the radius of risk. And all this while crouched on the restroom floor, because the frozen yogurt establishment we will never frequent again couldn’t be bothered to install a changing table!

But I do wonder how I will take care of my children when they begin to hide their poop. Who will tell them they need to eat more prunes? So I have already begun teaching them poop’s lessons. I invite them to poke around up there when in the bath and teach them words I know they’re just waiting to say in preschool and kindergarten—anus, scrotum, vulva, intestine, and tampon, of course.

In spite of my open approach to poop and associated processes, constipation seems to be a trait my children share. They are great at vegetables, drink plenty of liquids, take their probiotics without complaint, but still both started suffering from constipation at about four months, before I’d even begun giving them solid food. We’ve tried everything, and yet their animal instincts still urge them to hold their poop until they can eliminate safely in a familiar place.

Which New York City does not seem to be, at least not to the large intestines of a five-year old. When Five was still just three, I finally figured out the connection between his erratic behavior and his cycle of elimination. The claw hands clued me in. My sweet, intelligent, helpful, energetic son would periodically get aggressive and completely obstinate—hitting and scratching with tightly curled fingers, especially at transition times. Then, usually within a few hours of such an incident, he would finally crouch on the toilet seat and have a stupendous, miraculous poop.

It was an instant personality makeover, and once I saw the pattern it became very difficult to keep my nose out of Five’s shit. Children everywhere insist on claiming their own bodies, at least until we teach them otherwise. For parents, charged with keeping those bodies safe and nourished, this boundary is almost impossible to respect. “Put on your jacket!” I’m not cold! “Eat your broccoli!” I’m not hungry! “Time to go potty!” I don’t have to go! Sound familiar?

I knew how fruitless and self-defeating and almost unavoidable it is for parents to get trapped in power struggles of this kind. I had managed to avoid many of them. I never asked my children to put on jackets before leaving the house (not a choice I could practically make if we lived in Minnesota, but in the mild clime of the Bay Area it works). Ten minutes out the door, however, when the kids were feeling the cold for themselves, I’d have that extra layer handy.

My Husband and I never force our children to eat anything. We try to put balanced meals on the table, do our best to eat well ourselves, and limit sugar. We keep soda, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and corn syrup out of the house. But we never tell our children that they have to try everything, or clean their plates. Since we allow our children to decide which dishes they wish to eat from the family table, and to serve themselves seconds as they desire, they may end up eating more rice and cheese at one meal than we’d like. But we notice at other times they’re just as happy to down a basket of raspberries or munch on a carrot.

Still, seeing the connection between my son’s constipation and his behavior was an intoxicating discovery. No more screaming, clawing, hitting, kicking, temper tantrums! I thought. I’ll just teach him that when he feels bad, he ought to try going to the bathroom. That was a failure. “It seems like you maybe have to go poop, son.” NO, I DON’T HAVE TO POOP! I JUST CAN’T GET THE LEGOS TO STAY TOGETHER!! For a while, I could get him to try the toilet by responding, “Then you need to make your behavior match your story. Either stop screaming, or go to the bathroom!” But Five is not one to go down easily. Nothing ever works with him for long: engaging his cooperation is a complex and evolving dance. I did finally figure out some foods that were like glue for his intestines (Pirate’s Booty is a big no-no) and cut him off. I continue to push fruits and vegetables. But for this trip, I invested in the chewable fiber pill.

So far, it’s only made him grumpier. I can hear his tummy rumbling, I can see him clenching his whole body, claws included. But he’s still holding it in. And I’m still hovering, suggesting that he try going to the bathroom more often than I should (which is to say, suggesting it at all), waiting for the sweet and inquisitive boy I know and adore to emerge from the restroom and join us on this big city adventure.

I’m sure thirty years from now he will blame me for his constipation: So that’s why I can’t take a dump! He’ll spend hundreds of dollars to complain about his controlling mother to a therapist, who will finally, exasperated after six months of watching him squirm in his chair, say to him, “Why don’t you just go take a dump! Go ahead, use my private bathroom. You’ll feel better and NO ONE IS STOPPING YOU!”

In the meantime, I’ll sit here at the foot of the toilet and offer whatever comfort is needed as he struggles to make peace with his own inner workings. And on my good days, refrain from saying, “I told you so!” when it finally works.

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Today’s guest post is from Arrowleaf. It’s not about mothering, or cooking, or gardening or making your own. Instead, it’s a tiny vacation from all our sometimes hum-drum revolution of domestic work. A trip to the wilderness of Idaho, to live vicariously through her once-in-a-lifetime experience packing horses. Thanks Arrowleaf, this is just what I needed!

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Hello Apron Stringz readers! A nod of thanks to CJ for providing the platform to share my experiences living in the backcountry, and thank you for being willing readers.

In 2006, my ex-significant other, M, and I did trail restoration work in central Idaho. One job was near an in-holding surrounded by national forest and designated wilderness. The in-holdings along the Salmon River, commonly called “ranches” although the days of cattle rustling are long over, are a mix of privately owned properties or commercial guest ranches catering to fisherman and hunters. This particular ranch was private ownership and located three miles up a drainage which dumped into the river. We cleared the trail that connected the ranch to the river and fell in love with the landscape.

Two years later we were offered the jobs of caretaker and horse packer for that ranch. Knowing the operations, it was an easy decision to make although it would be work (a word I later came to redefine). There were no neighbors less than a days’ hike away, no phone, no roads, no hot water nor electricity on demand. But what it had far outnumbered any so-called deficits….off-the-grid living, huge garden beds, fruit trees, chickens, blacksmith shop, a 90+ year old cabin, wood cook stove, horses, barn, woodshop, wild animals, bird songs, mountains to ramble in any time I wanted, a river to swim in, mushrooms to pick, solitude, each season’s joys, time to indulge my knitting obsession, and most importantly the opportunity to whole-heartedly explore our interests. Our jobs were multi-layered: maintain the buildings and grounds, garden for our personal sustenance, farm the hay fields, cut firewood, assist the owners when they visited, and pack horses.

Because it was a road less area, horses were the muscle and transportation to and from the river. All supplies came upriver on jet boats, which required serious foresight on our parts. This led to really contemplating so-called needs, evaluating whether things could be acquired in a better manner (i.e. dry beans vs. canned), and how best to use every stinkin’ component of whatever arrived at the ranch. Upon delivery to our beach, what couldn’t be shoved into a backpack was loaded onto the animals- seven horses and a solitary mule (Spider, I apologize but I am going to refer to you as a horse for ease). Everything came in this way including a love seat, 6 ft. long panels of roofing, 25 spring chicks, a case of wine, our mattress, two nervous cats, beloved house plants, and the horses’ oats (which seemed like a cruel form of torture).

Although I was raised in Idaho, I was FAR from handy with horses. My parents are both from Phoenix, and bless them for trying to adopt a rural lifestyle, but horses were not on their radar. Like many girls, my sister dreamed of having a horse but I was always content wandering trails and collecting rocks. A particularly bad horse riding experience at age 8 left me swearing off horses forever, which I attempted until it seemed like a juvenile fear and I got back on the proverbial horse.

M was experienced with stock animals and relished the opportunity to learn more; declining a wonderful opportunity out of semi-unfounded intimidation was not something I was willing to do. And thus I entered the world of horse packing. With trepidation, to be sure, but with horses you can’t waffle with dominance or you’ll get taken for a sucker pretty damn fast. I won’t discuss horse behavior and horse culture since it’s an extensive topic and some of you likely have more experience than I. Let’s say initially it was my biggest challenge at the ranch.

These horses were exceptional. The previous caretakers lived at the ranch 17 years, and bred and trained all of the horses. Until a few years ago, the hay fields were farmed with horses so these creatures were valuable machines (stay tuned, farming resources below). From the moment they were born, the foals were imprinted. They had pots and pans rattled near their heads, were herded by a hyperactive cattle dog, heard gun shots, got used to human voices at all decibels, and were generally put through the ringer. The result was divine. The horses were calm and intelligent. I watched one squish a rattlesnake without fear. I saw another cock its head at the sight of a bighorn sheep ram on the trail, as if to say “oh, you again”? One horse packed out a dead bear wrapped in plastic without a second thought. They patiently let me load and unload astronomical weight from their backs. They were free-roaming and had a permanent mental map of the trail to the river.

One evening we dropped a load of items at the beach to be picked up by jet boat the following day. We were tired, it was nearly dark, we’d enjoyed an afternoon beer, and the horses were empty. We decided to ride home, despite not having proper riding saddles. M took the lead and headed down the trail while I was lollygagging, oblivious to the fact my horse was missing her herd. Just as I swung myself up on the pack saddle (a highly delicate manoeuver) she took off, running down the trail in utter darkness to catch up. While wondering if my entire body was actually ON the horse, I experienced an evolution of emotions: terrifying images of my imminent death, a serious questioning of my decision-making skills, appreciation for the horses’ intuition and guidance, and faith.

Ah, faith. That word always comes up when discussing horses and the riding thereof. To me, faith in horses falls under the category of “do not over-analyze.” Of course you need to know about the horse to make good choices to keep yourself and the animal safe, but at some point jumping up top is the best action. I carried this approach forward to my ability to learn horse packing skills.

Each February M and I oiled and mended the saddles, saddlebags, bridles and various other parts. Laying everything over saw horses, the winter sunshine warmed the oil and allowed me to stitch busted leather. Packing season started in early March, so this was an opportunity to prepare and work out any kinks in the systems. Since the horses were free-roaming, I hiked around the hills to locate them. They seemed to anticipate the upcoming trip, and there was an air of pride in their movement.

There were two parking spots in the barn with accompanying oat bins. Packing days were the ONLY time the horses were given oats, and they could stand at the ready until eternity if you maintained the oat flow. We each took a horse and due to my short stature I had personal favorites, which was less about their disposition and more about their height. It didn’t take long to figure out each horse’s quirks. One didn’t care for the foot stool I used, so I loaded him first while I was fresh. Another didn’t mind the stool, but didn’t like the way I put the blankets on him. A third adored being brushed and therefore occasionally struggled with her work ethic. Creativity and flexibility became my new best friends.

Pack saddles are uniquely minimal in order to add weight in the form of loaded boxes or mantis (when you wrap the entire load like a Christmas present in heavy canvas). We used Decker pack saddles and each was specific to a horse. The boxes are hitched to the exterior of the saddle through D rings, one box on each side to maintain balance. One box is roughly 18” x 12” x 12” (this is from memory, don’t quote me) and can accommodate two fruit boxes on their sides or two bags of chicken feed. The boxes need to be the same weight and contents are critical. Something as simple as a rattling spice jar will drive the horse batty. A batty horse makes for a dangerous situation, so the load needs to be tight, secure, and quiet. A combination of knots and hitches (designed to unravel quickly if one end is pulled) keeps the system together. I spent my first winter practicing hitches on the legs of the kitchen chair only to realize there is a dizzying amount to learn.

After 17 years of working with these specific horses, the former caretaker taught us exactly the right hitches and knots. We didn’t mess around with that solid system, and our goal was to prepare the horses in a timely and thorough manner, and work to guarantee there was NO way the saddle would roll. A saddle rolls when the weight shifts and the boxes slide unevenly on the horse, or worse, underneath. Often this is human error, although similarly to airplanes contents may shift during the course of the flight. Which is why knowing the contents of the loads is important.

A rolled saddle was my worse fear when I packed alone. Fixing the problem requires breaking up the string and repacking the load. The horses are tied together using piggins, medium weight string or rope that will easy break under the pressure of a 1000 pound horse in an emergency, but tricks them into believing they are one unit. The order of the horses in the string largely depends on their quirks and behavioral problems. When a saddle rolls, you hear the unmistakable POP of a broken piggin (as the horse self-adjusts), say a few choice words, and then must quickly hitch up the other horses somewhere in order to repack the victim. Without fail this occurs a) mid-slope b) in the blazing sun c) in the middle of the creek d) in the one spot on the trail without trees to hitch to. It is a stressful situation and fortunately there were two of us when that occurred. And, I should note, it was a rare, rare event.

It was under the duress of our first rolled saddle that I had a breakthrough about my energy. Yes, energy in the New Age-y way, but horses pick up on vibes, man. They know when we are concerned or when their riders are tense. I’m naturally energetic, downright annoying with caffeine. I don’t really walk, I bustle around. Therefore, days I was nervous or worried (about the load or my hitches) the horses toyed with me. One would act out, Houdini out of her hitch, another would nip my butt. I began to observe my breath, my voice, my movement around them and watched their reactions. When I was calm, stopped fidgeting, used an unwavering voice, and punished offenders all was well. I’ve since read this is very common, but it took a rolled saddle to clarify this personally. In jest I called this my horse Zen methodology. It also works on people.

In general, I was successful in my solo packing endeavors. Typically both of us got the crew dressed for the day, strung them up, and then I walked lead. Packing to the river was often an empty box affair. Everyone slogged home on the return trip when they were loaded down with river gifts. I liked to walk lead on the trail in order to move fallen rocks and wayward animals. If it was a small load and we could spare riders, M and I would ride home. Those were nice days. Once at the barn it was a race to unload the boxes (perpetual Christmas), tugging and pulling on the horses while they calmly ate their oats. We always examined them for boo-boo’s or heat spots, ending with a rub down and words of praise.

The ranch stopped farming with horses a few years before we arrived. The barn loft was full of horse tack, harnesses, collars, parts instrumental to farming. I have read Small Farmer’s Journal for years and was curious about how the process would play out. I knew each horse was capable of haying those fields, and had mentally selected who I would work with. I wondered if they missed pulling the equipment, feeling the tug of a driver, or if their identity was linked to the task. We hoped to one day farm with them, if only for a singular experience, but didn’t have the opportunity.

After I left the ranch my nightly dreams were full of horses. It took a full year for those dreams to subside, and now I relish the sporadic occasions when I see running horses and hear their hard-working breath as they return from the river loaded with goods.

If you are interested in learning more about farming with horses here are some classic guides and references:

-Search your area for local farms and trainers, hands on is the best approach!

-Small Farmer’s Journal (most issues have basic info, spring quarter 1980 dedicated to horse farming)

-Draft Horses and Mules: Harnessing Equine Power for Farm and Show by Gail Demerrow

-The Self Sufficient Life and How to Live It by John Seymour (not solely dedicated to horse farming)

-The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball

If you are interested in horse packing there are many enthusiastic websites, as well as these books:

-Packin’ In on Mules and Horses by Smoke Elser and Bill Brown

-Horses, Hitches, and Rocky Trails by Joe Black

-Horse Packing: A Manual of Pack Transportation (1914) by Charles Johnson Post

-Hells Canyon Mule Days- annual celebration in Enterprise, Oregon

Do any of you farm with horses? Have you been on a horse packing trip or helped someone load up? Wanna share a horse tale?

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***Today’s guest post is excitingly international– Penny is a mama living in Bahrain, and writes at homeschoolingmiddleeast. Thanks for sharing a sliver of your life with us here Penny!***

I’ve been racking my brains as to what to write in my guest blog. I’m a homeschooler in the Middle East, living on the tiny and troubled island of Bahrain abutting the relatively huge, powerful country of Saudi Arabia. I really wondered about what I’ve got in common with Calamity Jane or Apron Stringz readers, what I could say that would be of interest to them. I can’t stand cooking (although I really, really wish I felt differently) and I’m not a gardener (again, I wish I were different). I would proudly dress my kids in hand-me-downs but we don’t have relatives living in the same country. There’s not much in the way of thrift shops either, just the occasional secondhand sale. So I can’t give tips on living a more frugal life, other than the obvious ideas.

I was intrigued by Calamity’s biography. She came from one kind of background in Alaska, with a certain set of expectations, and had to live a very different one for the 3 years when she moved to New Orleans and experience very different weather too! I came from a very different life to the one I live now (and weather too – from wet and windy in England to incredibly hot and humid in Bahrain).But I feel very blessed, in part because my life here is not often short of surprises, which suits me!

Both Calamity and I seem to share something else; we both aren’t looking to conform. She is trying to redefine the label ‘housewife’. She has done it through homesteading, I through homeschooling. She is trying to defy Society in her own ways, I in mine. Even though we are so far away, we share some fundamental similarities and I’m sure you, her readers, share these too. We also probably share an interest in reading about other people’s lives, especially people with similar values but practicing them, living them, in very different ways.

By glimpsing the life I lead on this unusual island of Bahrain you also get a look into lives that are very different not only from yours but from mine too – because we are surrounded by villages where people still live as if it were decades ago – where women are dressed top to toe in black which even covers their faces, carrying baskets of fruit and veggies from the market on their head and where boys drive donkeys, seemingly for fun but possibly to transport something from one place to another. Shouldn’t they be in school I always think? Homeschooling is illegal for Bahrainis so I think they probably should be there! It’s dusty and dirty. Everything looks run down and unkempt. The houses are entirely dilapidated, built without any kind of building code.

I used to drive through these villages on purpose, partly because the route afforded a short cut, but more importantly as an education for my children on how lucky they are and how other people live. I used to say, “Look at how these poor people live. This is why you have to work hard at school, so you can have choices in life and not have to live a life you don’t want to live.” Now that we’re homeschooling (for all of 2 months now!) I would say, if I still drove through the villages, “This is why it’s important to learn as much as you can, and find your passion, so that you can have choices in life and not have to live a life you don’t want to live.” Although I have always said that many of these people are probably much happier than others with a lot more money because they often have very close family relationships which are very nurturing; money can’t buy you something as important as a loving family. So, a multiple of lessons in our neighbourhood villages!

Why don’t we drive through the villages anymore? Because we’re too scared to, sad as it is to say this. Bahrain has become a very divided ‘them and us’ island. The poorer population, coming from the Shia’a Islamic sect, has taken their long-held grievances to a new level by peacefully protesting regularly but then regularly also burning tyres and throwing Molotov cocktails at the police. Expats have not been targeted yet, but we all wonder it’s a matter of time before the village people look at our houses and look at theirs and think, ‘Hold on! This is our country! They are foreigners! That should be ours!’ And an ugly situation gets even uglier. The problem is that the rights and wrongs of the situation are hard for expats (temporary workers) to navigate. Many of the grievances are wholly legitimate and if half of the stories are true, we really shouldn’t be here supporting this regime. But, we really don’t know what’s true. A lot of it may be exaggeration or even fabrication. Since the protests are regularly in the areas where expats live, the kids often have to run inside from the shared, communal garden encircled by the 9 villas on our compound, to avoid being overwhelmed by tear gas which stings horribly, making your eyes pour and your throat unbearably scratchy.  And boy are those burning tyres toxic, forcing windows and doors to be hurriedly closed! But many people love living here and we’ve got used to the problems and nobody could make the living they do here back at home, we’re all economic migrants desperately hoping everything will be sorted out peacefully one day.

But as crazy as this sounds, at least living in this part of Bahrain is a ‘real’ experience, where you see ‘real’ people, living ‘real’ lives. Living in the Arabian Gulf (comprising Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the U.A.E – United Arab Emirates which includes Dubai and Abu Dhabi) can be very artificial, very unrealistic. For some people, the Gulf is all about shiny high rises, expensive cars, houses bigger than anything they could afford at home, maids, drivers and cooks, drinking at the expat clubs.

I was thinking about how everybody does things differently. Calamity tries not to conform by homesteading, by trying to give dignity and modernity to that horribly degraded term ‘housewife’. We are trying not to conform by teaching our children about how other people live and how lucky we are. We are trying to live with our eyes wide open. We are not being lured into a life of fast cars, cheap nannies, late night drinking sessions in expat clubs, expensive restaurants and having no clue about how the other people living right beside us exist – people from cultures very different from our own – cheap labour from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.  We try and spend most of our time at home and we take the kids with us wherever we go. We like visiting friends and having friends visit us. We are very family-oriented and we never complain that our kids are driving us crazy and we can’t wait to pack them off to school/summer camp/with the nanny. We live in a rundown old villa that my husband feels embarrassed to invite people-from-work to, also because it’s permanently a mess, being a child-friendly, kid-heaven of toys, books, Lego and wooden train sets which just can’t seem to stay in one place for long! We like the kids to play outside in the fresh air instead of video games in front of the TV. We like them to play imaginary games and build forts instead of doing ‘enrichment’ activities like Taekwondo or Capoeira.

We like to SEE our kids, spend time with our kids, even though we homeschool them! People think we’re weird. No doubt about it. We don’t conform. But we think we’re the luckiest parents in the world, living in a fascinating part of the world and if more of us could count our lucky stars, even when the tear gas rains down, or the electricity bill comes in or the baby is awake for the fourth time tonight, maybe more of us could be happier. If we could all shrug our shoulders and think ‘How lucky we are’ and ‘If only they knew’ when people look at us as if we’re crazy. If we could smile serenely when people say, “That sounds lovely but I could never do that!” (code for “You’re crazy!”) whether we’re home educating or making nettle soup from the garden or making our own shelves or avoiding doing all the things people expect us to do, we’d all be a bit happier I think!  The world exerts a lot of pressure to conform. Society is like George W. Bush where ‘You’re either for it or against it’ and there’s no in-between. As Calamity says, “Join me in The Struggle! Let’s resurrect, renew and revolutionize housewifery together!” I concur. And let’s go further, wherever we live, wherever we can, let’s resurrect, renew and revolutionize Society with our positive life affirming family-loving, child-oriented attitudes.

Thank you to Calamity for having the faith in me to guest blog and please do drop into my blog sometime. You would be very welcome! You can find me at homeschoolingmiddleeast.

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***While I am packing up our house like a woman possessed, getting our family ready to move across the continent, several generous readers have volunteered to keep you musing. This first guest post is written by Jasmine Johnson-Kennedy. Jasmine in an Alaskan off-grid homesteader (ironically, I do not know her from Alaska but solely from this virtual space). She also writes at her own blog, Bunchberry Farms.***

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You may think I’m crazy when I say this, but its true.  I have been actively talking myself out of having children for a decade.  How old am I, you ask?  I’m twenty six.

Why have I been dissuading myself from ushering new souls into the world for so long?  Because I want them SO DAMN BAD.

I actually give my younger self a lot of kudos for being so responsible.  As a highschooler, while I personally wasn’t sexually active until late in highschool, I had pro-condom bumperstickers on the back of my truck and in my bedroom.  I talked my friends through the process of getting on birth control.  I was decided that if I should ever need to, I would get an abortion rather than become a teenage mom.  And all the while I desperately desired kids.  I would fight the undertow of the longing.  I would find myself insanely jealous of the young single struggling under-advantaged moms that I worked with at my minimum wage part time waitressing gigs.  And periodically I would have to sit down with myself and have a good long chat about what the reality of kids would mean, about how having an underage mom wouldn’t be doing them any favors, and about how I wanted to be able to choose them at a time their nurturance would be my primary endeavor.

I played gypsy for a year, and then I went to college.  And for five years I indulged in academia and theatre.  I knew I didn’t have the time or energy for kids.  I knew that the time would come for being a mom, that that time was not the (then) present.  But I longed.  Oh, how I longed.  And I dreamed.  Oh, how I dreamed.  The dream of the homestead and the dream of the motherhood came to rival each other in depth and intensity.  They became entwined to the point of identity.  My mantra-goal became “Get the land” because once I had the land, the homestead and the kids could and would come.  I plotted and planned and despaired and hoped and leveraged will power and luck and fate and love to get the homestead.  Meanwhile I would read the parenting magazines at the Laundromat, hide “Fit Pregnancy” (the prenatal yoga issues) and “Natural Parenting” magazines in the wait-station at the restaurant, read the latest “Mothering Magazine” and “Midwifery Today” every time I visited my mom.  I would hide in the magazine section at the grocery store and read “Good Housekeeping” and “Real Simple,” skimming past article with potential relevance to where I was at, and instead focusing on the ones that talked about homework and kids organizational strategies, about family dinner plans and how to pack a school lunch.  I rarely babysat because I was always in rehearsal or on stage or waitressing.  I was engaging in the act of living the life-stage I was in while desperately and nearly obsessively longing for and planning the future.  I have always been the queen of ten year plans.  I am not entirely sure it is the healthiest way to live, expending so much energy and thought and time on a future that you are at the same time ensuring is distant from where you are.

Sometime in college I met my Darlin’ Man.  And as soon as we met, certainly as soon as we became serious, I realized that there was no way I could or would ever get the abortion I had always planned on if we accidentally conceived.  This realization scared the shit out me.  I mean, I thrive on planning the future.  The reality of children was always, always something that I knew I would invite into my life when the time was right.  I wished for them NOW, but I knew this.  When I was maybe 3, maybe 4 years old my little sister was a baby.  I have this vivid memory of sitting in my kid-sized rocking chair (the one that is in the attic space at my mother’s house waiting for the next generation along with boxes and boxes of kids books and toys that I’ve been saving all of my life), in the middle of the afternoon, and singing lullabies to my doll.  For hours.  We had this tape of lullabies, English on one side, French on the other – Lullaby Bersuese – and I distinctly remember one specific afternoon repeating and re-listening to the French side at least two if not three times.  Singing along and rocking my doll straight through from afternoon to dusk.  I wanted to memorize it so that when I was a mom I could sing it to my kids without the tape.  Ever since then, I have known, bone deep, that motherhood was something that belonged in my life, that it was something I would choose for myself.  Accordingly, it became the end-goal of every 10 year plan I ever made.  It was there and real and desperately wanted, but was always placed a decade or so away.  Placed out there in the future with a plan in place to ensure it stayed there.  So when I met my Darlin’ Man and realized that if we conceived I would keep the baby, it scared the shit out of me.  It took the concept of motherhood out this plane of planned activity at the perfect time – a place I had put it, and kept it, so that I would not be prematurely tempted – and (re)created it as a  thing that could happen by chance, something that could happen to me and I would do nothing to stop it.  I mean, no kind of birth control is fail-proof right?  And if the idea is that you manifest in your life that which you focus on, kids are an immanent accidental possibility, right?  And that’s scary stuff.  But even while recognizing the absolute havoc that untimed and unplanned kids would have on my life, on our lives, even while rebelling against the mere concept of the active choice being taken away from me – in my deepest self of selves I rejoiced.  I rejoiced because suddenly, miraculously, my most deeply held desire was a possibility.  Because even a 1 in 10,000 chance is a possibility, right?  And if I hit that one in ten thousand jackpot, well,  I could hardly blame myself for accidentally becoming pregnant with my beloved’s child, right?   It wouldn’t be an ill-considered decision, but fate.

And I rejoiced because I knew that the choice of pregnancy and motherhood was really and truly finally within my grasp.  And that scared the shit out of me.  Because if it was something that I finally could choose for myself, why was I not?   If facing the reality of eminence of the mere possibility of kids brought me such joy and relief, why was I avoiding it?  What was I doing with myself?  If I was defining fulfillment as motherhood, and I was denying myself motherhood, then what sort of messed up mind game was I playing with myself?

So I did two things, I sat down with myself and gave myself the permission to savor this pre-kid life for what it is.  There are many things I love about it that I know I will nostalgically savour when my proverbial style is cramped by the minute to minute reality of littles. This life I’m living now is a step along the way but not merely a means to an end.  (Or so I tell myself when I’m not assuring myself that AS SOON as we get enough student loans paid off, I can then get pregnant.  If that’s not a means to an end, I don’t know what is.)    And I asked myself what motherhood really meant to me.  I found that while the essence of motherhood in my soul stands alone and can be applied to or fit within any life scenario I can imagine, my VISION of my future motherhood was pretty specific.  Once, in the early and turbulent portion of our relationship, my Darlin’Man asked me if I knew what my purpose in life was.  I don’t remember the words I chose – I think nurture was one.  But I remember being very careful of what words I used because I knew the answer as clear as day, and I knew that English lacked a single word for the amalgam of creation and nurturing and tending and supporting and healing and reverence that gardening and mothering and animal husbandry and making art and feeding people and giving them medicine and tending their wounds all have in common.  There is a common element, and it is profound and resides in my soul, but I don’t know that there is a word for it.  I thought about all of this and I realized that my vision of my own experience of motherhood was all entwined in my vision of homesteading.  Raising kids and goats and gardens was all one life action for me.  Which meant I better get the set up in place if I wanted to realize that vision.

So I shifted my future focus onto the homestead (and by this I mean I took all of that near-obsessive planning and applied it to small scale agriculture).  I got married.  My mom moved up here in anticipation of being grandma in the not too distant future.  Last summer we bought the homestead.  It needs a lot of work in creating it as a productive home scale agricultural venture.  It craves digging and building and fencing and lots of compost.  But every time I think about a fence line, or the placement of a coop, I think in terms of little hands on latches, little feet in the grass, buoyant laughter echoing, trees for solace of little hearts.  As I think about where the fruit trees and the barn ought to go in relation to a future barn, and maintaining the direct sun on the solar panels, I’m also thinking of swings and climbing trees.

I’m now on the two year plan for getting pregnant and every time I sit with myself and examine my prospective reality of motherhood, it still scares the shit out of me.  In a deep and challenging way, a way that has within it the distillation of the visions of bliss and golden glowing mama-ness.  A way that encapsulates the dreams and the bone deep blood deep voice that knows about children belonging in my life.  A way that is also aware (as aware as one can be without the experience) of the work and the drudgery and the self abnegation and the frustration.  The responsibility and the giving.

And if the prospective reality scares the shit out of me and I still want it with the intensity of a decade’s longing melting into tender humbleness; that must mean I’m getting closer and closer to actually being ready, right?  Are you ever ready?  Probably not.

And the closer my own motherhood draws, the more I find myself open to following the lead of this land, our (future) kids, this life we’re choosing.  The ten year plan has opened to allow me to glimpse possible vistas of twenty and fifty years down the road – it is less rigid and encompasses much more possibility for change.  Which means I might just make it though, right?

                              –Jasmine Johnson-Kennedy, Bunchberry Farms

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I started packing yesterday. I’m hoping to get a few boxes packed every day for mailing to Alaska, since we aren’t planning to send too much home, I think two weeks ought to get that job done. Then we are going to have a giant garage sale to purge everything else, then it will just be a matter of cleaning the house top to bottom. Which will be a daunting task.

Over our few years here I have accumulated a lot of books. I never used to buy books, I would just get them from the library. But while here, I made the conscious decision to start buying books regularly, sometimes even new, to show my support to what might become a dying industry. And to prepare for My Man and my future fantasy home library. His side– political revolution, deep ecology and legal strategy. My side– homesteading books, DIY, a complete collection of Wendell Berry, wilderness writing and cookery.

With that in mind I bought Feeding the Whole Family last year, instead of inter-library loaning it. It’s a great book emphasizing dinner as a meal for everyone, babies, children and adults. I would especially recommend it for anyone starting out with their first baby and wondering what the alternatives are to bottled baby food, and how to approach healthy food with growing children.

I grew up with hippie parents who just mashed up whatever they were eating for me. And yet when I had my own baby, I nevertheless had a panic attack about food rules. That first time around, it seemed so crucial what I feed our babe, and I felt intimidated. Brown rice and carrot purree were both straightforward and I felt fine about them, but she wouldn’t touch them. I struggled to get her to eat anything at all for the first several months. It wasn’t until she got old enough (about 1) that I started to feel confident picking through our dinner for the soft, smooshy parts. And then her desire to eat exploded! She loved food with flavor.

Feeding the Whole Family has a good section on what’s okay to feed babies (more than you think), another section on foods toddlers and children tend to like, and another on creating meals that serve the whole family. Most of the meals are pretty quick, basic, one-pot affairs using whole grains, beans and vegetables. It’s directed towards a beginner level cook, with thorough instructions. Although there are many different kinds of recipes, overall I would call the food style ‘hippie-asian’ with lots of tamari and sunflower seeds.

If you are still reading, and thinking this sounds like the book you need, I have a secret for you. Although this is a great book, I don’t need it. I have this kind of food pretty much internalized, and though I was grateful to read through the baby/toddler section, once was probably enough. So I’m going to give it away! I almost chucked it into the ‘sell’ box, but figured one of you lovely readers could get good use out of it. For the new mama who’s a bit daunted in the kitchen, this is the perfect book.

Leave a comment below telling me why you need this book. I’ll choose out the most deserving/desperate, and then pick randomly amongst you. Bear in mind, this is a used book. But if you are a real reader of this blog, not a giveaway troller, you won’t care– it’s in perfectly good condition.

Yes, I am going to leave this open to my overseas mamas (and papas?) because y’all rock and I want you to join in the fun too.

Begin! (Open until Tuesday, May 1st)

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I love Novella Carpenter. Her first book Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer is one of my top favorite non-fiction books. She is sharp, funny and bracingly honest. When I saw she had a new ‘how-to’ book out, I could barely contain myself.

Novella wrote The Essential Urban Farmer with Willow Rosenthal. It is a fat, sturdy volume covering everything from soil building to killing rabbits. There are no color photographs, this book is not coffee table material. Instead there are lots of no-nonsense line drawing, diagrams and building plans; lists and tables.

This book would be perfect for someone embarking on a pretty decent sized urban farmstead venture, with very little experience. It goes into good detail about everything a beginner needs to know. They focus on low-tech, low investment micro-farming, tapping into city waste streams as much as possible. They have a practical, punky, whatever it takes to get shit done attitude that you know I adore, but there’s not much personal voice coming through. This book is a bare bones workhorse, it has to be to fit so much detailed information about so many subjects.

If you are just setting out to turn your city lot into an edible paradise on a shoestring budget with little or no experience, and you just want to buy one book, I would highly recommend this one.

However.

I have a problem. At least I know it’s me. I keep reading gardening, farming and homesteading books, even though I already know most of what’s in them. That sounds incredibly arrogant, but it’s true. The problem is how-tos are always written for beginners, yet always bill themselves as being useful to all knowledge levels. And I always fall for it.

I keep hoping I’ll meet a homesteading how-to for people like me, who’ve already been doing this stuff for years and read possibly hundreds of books on the subject. I keep hoping I’ll find something new. Instead, they are 90% beginner information, recycled from countless other sources. In the hopes of selling books (which of course the author needs to do in order to earn any kind of wage for the copious time and energy it takes to write a book, I’m sure!) they try to be the all and everything. The “essential,” the “complete,” “all you need to know.” When really, each author offers only a chapter’s worth of actually novel ideas. The rest has been published before.

Which is not to knock the authors, that’s just how knowledge works in a human social structure. We learn a lot from others, we invent a little piece of our own, we pass it on. I actually think it’s awesome, when you view it in a communal way. Each of us playing our bit part in this big show. A few stars, lots of supporting cast. The whole so much more than it’s parts.

But, as a nearly addictive how-to reader, it gets tedious. I know Novella and Willow have way more experience than me, and I know they could teach me tons. But they had to make space for so much beginner information that there wasn’t room left for the intermediate level information.

I guess it’s only fair for you to ask– why am I still reading about this stuff anyway, if I’m already so damned smart?

How-to books are written for beginners because really only beginners need books. After the initial information flush, you just need to put in your time. Get outside and do the stuff, again and again, becoming your own extremely local expert. The embarrassing truth is that I like to read about doing stuff, sometimes more than I like to actually do the stuff. Don’t get me wrong– I love gardening, and at the end of the day I will always be happier if I’ve been outside working in the dirt. But at the beginning of the day, sitting at the kitchen table with a new gardening book and my notebook of plans is about as close to heaven as I can fathom. The experience of gathering information, of sketching out a plan, of running the ideas through my mind’s fingers like rich silk is so pleasurable I just never get enough.

Really, I need to lay off the how-tos. Homesteading narrative is what I need. Unlike how-tos, which are inevitably more or less the same information presented over an over with slight variations in theme and style, good narratives are truly unique. Which is why I loved Farm City so much, only Novella can possibly write Novella’s story.

And now, I just found out that she had a baby! Welcome to the complex business of loving mothers who still want to kick serious ass. I can’t wait to read her next book.

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Join the Ranks!

Thank you to everyone who signed up on the new Readers’ Blogs page, I see many of you are still missing though. There is a lot of clicking going on, so if you want some keen Apron Stringzy new readers, do take a minute to leave your URL and a good description of your blog.

Non-bloggers, don’t leave yet!

As you know, we will be moving in little more than a month. I will be starting the whole crazymaking business of full scale packing in two weeks, and my writing likely won’t resume until at least mid-June. That adds up to two pretty quiet months here on the ole blog, and I thought I’d offer up the otherwise empty space to guest posts!

If you are already a blogger in your own space, you could either write fresh material just for us or I could re-post one of your old favorites. If you aren’t a blogger, all the better because I know you got somethin’ to say, sister! Crack her open!

You know I cover a pretty broad range of subjects here– the usual gardening, cooking, punk housewifery and parenting as well as more esoteric pontifications on the nature of our chosen path and the commonality of our deepest psychological workings. Basically, almost anything goes. Mamas like me would be wonderful, but divergent viewpoints are particularly welcome. Papas! Grandmas! Kids (ie: people under 30)! Anyone invited and everyone welcome. You can write how-tos, recipes, personal stories, manifestos, pretty pictures, psychological delving, smart-ass sarcasm… I will publish almost any post you send me unless it’s flagrant advertisement or downright offensive.

If you would like to join the fun, leave a comment here and I will email you. If you would like to offer an already written post, you can just send it straight to me, otherwise I will schedule you in and give you a deadline, to keep things on track. It would be cool to have at least one guest post a week during my absence, which would only take 8 submissions all together.

Imagine the fame! You too could guest star at the internationally renowned (err, internationally read) Apron Stringz blog! It’s your moment!

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That’s right, I think we finally outgrew the sidebar. Please check out the new page up top and, if you write a blog, add it to the list as a comment. If you don’t write a blog, wait a few days for the list to grow and then head over to check it out. Should be a nice collection of great reading.

I will be deleting the Readers’ Blogs list from the sidebar, and I’m not going to spend the time to hand-transfer all those links, so it’s up to you. Don’t miss out on the fun!

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I had the good fortune to meet some real punks recently. City-style art punks, living in a huge old  house that looked condemned from the outside. They had their space fixed up beautifully inside, with dozens of old bike frames hanging from the extremely high ceilings, ramshackle shelves made of reclaimed wood displaying everything from canning jars to sewing supplies to Marx– all arranged tastefully with that spare, cleaned up, dumpster art punk style. The extraordinarily tall window was half boarded up with opaque plexiglass, but the top was open to the world and the breeze was billowing out a 16 foot long white curtain. You could tell that they spent their nights drinking homebrewed moonshine and reading Chomsky aloud by candlelight.

Or, I could tell anyway, because I used to be them. The woods version– minus the bike parts and the moonshine. I was 20 in my 20s. All the way, baby. I looked the look. My chosen style was army issue wool pants with 18 pockets all crammed with gear and old Pendelton shirts which I never, ever washed. Rifle over the door, crates of dumpstered food, shelves of canned bear meat and dried wild mushrooms. Some kind of animal skin soaking in a bucket in the corner. Reading Gary Snyder by kerosene lamp light.

Now I am all grown up, with such a boringly regular looking life. And I can’t help but feel a crushing nostalgia.

But as things have evolved, as I have crept ever farther into the ‘This Isn’t How I Imagined My Life’ classic drama of modern first-world adulthood, I wonder more and more how much of what I miss, what I feel I’m missing out on, is pure aesthetics. Do I really want to change the world? Or do I want to look like I’m changing the world?

My Man always reigns me in on this subject– the tendency of people in our subculture to want to be weird for weird sake. It’s just another form of branding really. We so desperately want to believe we belong, somewhere, to something. We can’t just be us for us, we have to be One of Us. As opposed to Them.

It’s the same bullshit we rail against, but transposed onto our own supposedly alternative lives. Them being regular people, Us being ‘different,’ with an unspoken ‘better.’

The fact that I was, I think, insufferably judgmental in my 20s doesn’t help things now. As I become more and more like one of Them, and lose more and more of the badges that used to get me into the Us club, I feel a rising panic in my throat. Am I selling out? Am I failing my ideals?

Of course the answers, if there are any at all to be found, are exceedingly complicated. But lately I am plagued by wondering just how much of my discontent is due to the derailing of my chosen path, and how much is simply a lack of the appropriately alternative appearance. If I were doing all the exact same things– getting and spending the same quantity of money, using the same range of electronics to hand power, buying vs making in the exact same proportions—but in the context of a homemade ramshackle squat, would I feel more like I had succeeded?

I always thought of myself as valuing function over form. Even though I have wanted to be the artist type (you know those people who, no matter what their chosen style, make their home into a thing of composed beauty?) I was never able to make myself give up the incredible time and energy it took. In the end I always came down on the side of practical. But now I am seeing that it is a struggle within. I choose function by default, but then I pine away for form.

Certainly there is lots of overlap, and much of what I am pining for is not just the lost form of my cabin in the woods, but the function of quiet and peace that was undoubtedly in greater abundance. When we lived by kerosene lamp our lives moved slower. And I miss, I crave that mental space.

But many things have changed beyond the structure whose walls we inhabit. We had kids, for example. I never got a chance to play that out, the family woods-punk lifestyle. Would I have liked it? Would I have hated it and dreamed of moving to the city as so many mothers have before me?

I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being last year. One of the concepts that has haunted me is that we only get one chance at every decision we make in our lives. We don’t get to make the same decision twice (in the same circumstance) and then reference afterwards to see which one worked out better. With no possible actual comparison, we can never know if our decisions were for the best or not. We can only keep stumbling through, untethered by the weight of applicable experience.

As I’ve gotten older I have noticed that 1. Most people over 35 feel at least vaguely dissatisfied with their life and 2. They blame it on whatever decisions they happen to have made that led them to where they are.

Having had many friends with many distinctly different lives, I have witnessed the blame flying in all directions. People can feel disappointed because they do or don’t have kids, because they have a partner who isn’t perfection personified or because they’re single and lonely, because they have a nice house (granted not many bitches ungrateful enough for this one) or because they don’t have a nice house. I don’t actually mind a little discontent if it keeps a fire under our asses to work for what we want, something of worth. But the vague and directionless anti-climax of adulthood is less than inspiring, and if any part of this malaise is just a failure of aesthetics, I want to know goddamn it.

Because… what? What would I do then– if it turned out that some bulk of my discontent was wrapped up in pure aesthetics? Is that a base urge to overcome, or a perfectly human urge to indulge? Should I throw out the unattractively normal looking bookshelves I have found on the side of the road or bought at garage sales for next to nothing and instead spend hours of my time scrounging splintery antique boards to build a beautiful art shelf?

I can tell you one thing, and I’m not joking. I’ve been building up to this one for years. I’m going to get a tattoo for my upcoming 35th birthday of a stinging nettle, a wild edible emblemic of my woods self. That my friend is some rarified aesthetics.

 

 

 

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Blogs are increasingly interesting to me, from a sociological point of view. Writing has never taken such an intimate, immediate and responsive form before. Writers used to be “Writers” as in, someone far away, who could maybe write about what it was like to be you, but surely they weren’t actually like you. Surely a Writer must be a far more amazing person to be able to succinctly gather humanity’s collective thoughts and emotions and lay them out in such polished fashion. Surely they sit at their clean desk, surrounded by subtle yet challenging art, drinking straight black tea while they produce those smooth gems of verbalized consciousness.

Overall, I would say blogging is no different. In fact in some ways the medium provides an even better way to lure the reader towards fantasies of perfection. It’s what most people want after all, to soothe their own chaos with Other People’s calm (whether or not that calm has any basis in reality). But I’ve realized over time that blogging has so much potential. Not to replace literature by any means, I do adore books and the expansive feeling of high-quality that is only possible when the writer works over the same piece for months. But I believe blogs could provide a different kind of depth, a true intimacy never possible with books.

Erica at Northwest Edible talked recently about her “health keystone” being sleep, and how could she re-arrange her life to get more of it. I wrote her a teasingly admonishing email about blogging too much. I guess that hit a chord because her next post explained that she would not be blogging on Fridays anymore, in an attempt to take better care of herself. This is all great, I’m so proud of her, except that– doesn’t it seem strange that she should have to explain at all? Where does this expectation for bloggers to deliver the goods come from?

I mean, we are not (for the most part) getting paid. Erica runs a slightly more commercial blog than mine, but she also puts a shit ton more time into it, and I don’t believe she’s making anything remotely resembling a wage. We do this because we want to, because we love it, because we can’t help ourselves. But I have seen and felt this expectation before– if you want a good readership you have to blog often and consistently. If you take a break from blogging, or get patchy, your numbers will suffer. Do you as readers even know that this exists? Do you know that we otherwise self-respecting bloggers check our stats like little junkies?

I myself have been incredibly patchy. I come on strong for a few weeks and then disappear for a month. I try to post at least once/week, but sometimes even that falls away. Because I am a real person. With a real life. That is sometimes smooth and sometimes ridiculous. Not only a real person, but a real mother! My babies sleep or don’t sleep, nap or don’t nap, go through phases of fits, dvd addiction, and even occasionally happy independent play. Sometimes I get in a funk, and even though I have the time, I don’t give a shit about blogging, it seems trite and useless. Other times my absences here mean I’m busy living my life and enjoying it. And yes, my numbers have suffered.

But overall I have been impressed at how, despite the big unspoken threat of inconsistent blogging, so many people do in fact continue to read! You, dear remaining readers, you have stuck with me through these ups and downs like real life friends. I like to think that, in a way, it deepens your experience here– knowing that my occasionally eloquent words come out of a very banal tide of chaos. My readership may be very small, by big blog standards, but I dare to think that those of you who willingly suffer the inconsistency and foul language are unusually loyal.

I love NW Edible Life. I love her range of topics, I love her candor and humor, I love her absurdly type A efficiency fixation so much like my own (if better realized). I would love it if she would post every single day, alternating in depth how-to’s and enlightening social commentary. But in this life, at any given moment, you can either do or write. Or sleep. More than reading her entertaining posts every day, I want Erica to get enough sleep and still have time to actually be the person she writes about. If that means she has to blog less, so be it.

As for me, I feel a bender coming on. I have six or seven posts going in my head as we speak. If only I can carve some calm out of my chaos.

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Before I move on from January’s Quiet Riot focus of electricity, water and garbage, I want to review a great energy book– The Carbon Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Reduce the Fossil Fuel Habit by Stephen and Rebekah Hren. I had looked past this book several times, something seemed too fad-ish about the cover and I expected the projects to be along the lines of ‘replacing your incandescents with CFLs’ and ‘setting up a recycling system.’

But when I finally bit the proverbial bullet and got it out from the library, I realized I had been duped by a good cover designer to think it was fashionable. When in fact it’s a meaty book with loads of substantive projects! The authors are approachable and honest, clear and thorough. I liked it so much, I ordered my own copy.

The book includes a full range of projects– from insulating your fridge to installing solar heating tubes. Each project has a list of stats including the approximate cost, time and potential energy savings. Some are appropriate for renters, though I think the book is much more useful for homeowners who can really re-cap their investment over time. The small to medium sized projects are the stars of the book, in my view– the low to no cost things that most folks could do if they set aside a weekend for set up. The more complex projects would require considerably more information, but this book provides an overview of what’s involved as well as just plain inspiration for things like masonry stoves (yummy).

I look forward to outfitting our own home back in Alaska when we return. I never wanted to live in town, in a real sheetrock and plumbing house (I was going to build a log cabin in the woods), but over time as I’ve come around. I’ve realized the usefulness of it, given the way things actually are. I’ve re-written my goal to owning this modern system, knowing how my plumbing works and how to fix it, and eventually how to divert it into gray water garden irrigation! This book is not just empty inspiration for beginners though, as these books can sometimes be, it’s got real meat.

If you are thinking about putting a little time into the energy efficiency of your home, this would be a great place to start.

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A few months ago, I started adding all my favorite books to Goodreads, an online book cataloging site. When I review books here I like to be able to link to something, anything besides Amaz*n, and I liked the idea of building an online collection of quality books to point readers toward. There’s a lot of books in the world, and honestly not all of them are worth the read, let alone the purchase price. Especially in the homesteading category I have found a number of books written as how-tos by people who’ve just started doing the stuff– a pet peeve of mine. I love to read an honestly written personal story about coming into The Life, but please don’t write a how-to until you’ve got at least 10 years under your belt.

At any rate, I myself love book recommendations and I thought you might as well. I tried out Librarything first, and I do like their less commercialized feel and higher quality book focus, but I’m sorry to say I found it a chore to navigate. Goodreads is certainly more geared to selling books, and particularly best seller types, but the site is smooth and a pleasure to use.

This link will take you to the Apron Stringz sustainable living bookshelf. This is my default category for everything that’s not a novel or a cookbook. You will see a list of more specific categories on the left hand side if you want to do some pointed browsing. The books are listed by order of my ranking, most of the 5-star books are ones that I own and feel are worth owning. Some of the 4-stars are worth owning too if you, like My Man and I, aspire to a whole room of your home devoted to books. The rest are worth the wait of an inter-library loan. With a few exceptions, I didn’t list books that I didn’t like.

In my dream world, I would have time to review all of those great books for you. Instead, I need to go wash the dishes. But I do want to just slip in a quick plug for my latest favorite, The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball. I had seen this one around for awhile but been afraid that, despite the title, it would be one of those romantic depictions of overly precious country life. It is not. She is a fantastic, raw author with an almost unbelievable story. Uproarious, honest, riveting, wise and yes, dirty. I loved it.

Goodreads also has a ‘to read’ list, if you are ever wondering how in the world you might return some sugar to me, I love books…. Ahem.

Lastly, which best-ever books are missing from my list?

**Note that I do buy stuff from Amaz*n, much more often than I’d like to admit. My point in attempting not to link to them is not that you shouldn’t shop there, but that I can’t stand the idea of advertising for them.

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Now! and… Now! and… Now!

Yesterday a friend emailed me a link to a fantastic post titled, Don’t Carpe Diem. If you have ever felt annoyed at the “enjoy every moment” mentality, but never stopped to wonder why, go read this post. It is awesome. I’m not even going to try to paraphrase it.

The blog as a whole? Not sure. Looks shiny. But if you like the above, I suggest you look down under Categories, half click Mother, then click Me. There are several hilarious goodies lined up there; but if you want to laugh like a hyena, you’d better read Airing Our Dirty Laundry.

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Man. Life moves fast. Did I ever fill you in on the Indiana doctor? Whoops.

Thank goodness My Man went up there. Here they were acting like radiation was the only thing that made sense given the prognosis. But the specialist in Indiana recommended just monitoring, no proactive treatment. If he doesn’t do any treatments, the chance of recurrence is 20%, but treatments at that point will be equally effective (over 99%) and the proactive treatments have their own dangers. Radiation has a 2% chance of causing cancer, and if that happened My Man would be dealing with some new kind of cancer, instead of this best possible kind. They don’t have long term data on the chemo yet, they know it can cause some heart problems, but other than that it’s an unknown. The doctor recommended chemo over radiation if My Man wanted to treat proactively, but like I said his top recommendation was just monitoring.

I distrust medicine in general, and had secretly favored the idea of just monitoring. But of course this is cancer we’re talking about and I was ready and willing to trust the doctors on this one. So I was very happy to have the specialist back up my instinct. My Man on the other hand is not happy. He wanted to do something, and after talking with him, I see his point. 20% chance of recurrence is low, but also high. 1 in 5 chance we will have to go through this all over again at some point in the next few years. Which sucks ass, for certain. But then again, 4 in 5 chance we won’t, and he will have never needed to assault his body with radiation or chemo.

Anyway, things have gotten back to normal around here. So normal in fact, cancer already seems like a book I read last month. So normal that all the good, healthy changes we made right away have fallen back into the dust. I told you I read a lot this last month right? Want to know what I was reading? The 653 page tome, Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford. That’s how I roll.

This was actually my second cover to cover reading of Pitchford’s classic. The first time around I was 23 and re-reading it made me realize how much this book set my standards for nutrition. He is absurdly extreme, and somehow, I’ve always liked that about him. At least you know where he stands. Which is for whole vegetal foods, and against animal products except in healing situation. Against fats and oils in any quantity, almost against extracted oils all together. His recommended daily intake for extracted oils is 1 teaspoon! This is the book containing my widely quoted recipe for “Sprout Salad” wherein you arrange three kinds of sprouts in concentric circles on a plate.

That’s it. That’s the recipe. Three kinds of sprouts on a plate.

Clearly the man is half crazy, and I guess I just love crazy people.

As you have probably surmised, we are a most pointedly carnivorous family. I have no compunction about eating animals, since that is just what they themselves do, seemingly without compunction. But I do really like a lot of what Pitchford has to say, and I generally agree with his opinions about healthfulness. He describes foods through both modern nutrition and traditional chinese healing terms. I am usually a very brass tacks kind of girl, and I’m honestly not sure why the “woo-ey” parts of this book didn’t turn me off. I guess when it comes down to it, under my brassy exterior, I do believe some woo-ey shit. Not that particular wooey shit, but I guess I feel like any traditional knowledge, having stood the test of time, has good stuff to offer.

What I like about the book is that the specific constitution of each individual body is given much credit. No food is a panacea and Pitchford gives great hedance to instinct. I like that as a general guiding idea. People seem to do well on all kinds of disparate diets, and I really believe in following our own instincts over the latest nutritional research. In fact, in the realm of nutrition, parenting or anything else, I say figure out what you believe, then find a book that supports it! That’s what most people do anyway, whether or not they cop to it.

Many of my own nutritional instincts were supported and shaped by my first reading of this book, including my excessive concern about high quality oils, my compulsion to include a green food in every meal, my preference for whole milk (although he doesn’t really endorse the use of animal products, he does discuss them), and my un-popular idea that fruit, nuts, soy products and all the supposedly healthy snack foods should not be eaten in quantity, and certainly not in combination (Pitchford recommends a mere six almonds per day and says fruit should be eaten alone, two hours before the next meal).

At any rate, I spent a month re-reading this weighty bible, making lists and plans. I wrote out my “ideal” diet, as well as the ideal for each of our family members, and then how I might combine these for a family plan. I felt inspired, I felt motivated.

Then I felt tired and munchy.

Oh well, I’ll get back on the healthy habits next week. My favorite way to read Paul Pitchford has always been with a cup of coffee and a cookie.

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