Au Natural

The older I get, the more ‘hippie’ I become! The more I read about products or practices in our country, the more disgusted I get and want to stick it to the man. For example, the FDA ‘regulates’ food and drugs. They need to approve things that go on the market. The sad thing is, they are allowing products on the market that have ingredients in them that are harmful!! I don’t trust them as far as I can throw them.

Another example: disposable diaper companies. Using chemicals in the diapers to help absorb better. KNOWING these chemicals are harmful, ignoring the research and health reports and using them anyways.

The hippies knew the way to live, I’m believing this more and more. Living fresh, all natural, letting things be as they were created.

Sounds good to me!


15 reasons my clothes are hanging around

Spring is in the air and that means it is time to begin hanging my laundry outside to dry again.  Here are my favorite reasons for relying on my clothesline all spring, summer, and fall-long.

  1. Everything hung outside smells like fresh air and sunshine.
  2. Gets me (and often the boys with me) outside for more time.
  3. I get to enjoy early morning sounds like birds singing to start the day.
  4. More sustainable because it uses zero electricity.
  5. Saves me about 40 cents per load.
  6. Saves some wear and tear on my clothes because they don’t shed all that lint.
  7. Sheets hung to dry outside feel amazing to sleep on.
  8. Sunshine removes stains and odors from cloth diapers.
  9. Makes towels feel more absorbent.
  10. Socks are matched in the hanging process.
  11. Causes me to be more aware of the weather and when it will rain.
  12. Often gives me a chance to see my neighbor on her way to work and have a chat.
  13. Hanging clothes is a very relaxing chore for me.
  14. I quickly notice if the washing machine did not remove some dirt or stain.
  15. Hanging laundry reminds me of my grandmother.

What about you?  Do you have a favorite reason for hanging laundry inside or outside?

NapaneeGal via Compfight cc

Digital Diet: update 3.

Week 2 was the hardest so far and now all is calm again in week 3. I’m not sure why but I really started to create excuses and reasons to why we would need the Internet at home. What if I need to complete a business need? What if my wife needs it to work from home? I have a global company, I can’t be disconnected at all? These are a few of the reasons I concocted in week 2 but have settled into week 3 comfortable with the idea of no home Internet. In fact, I’ve begun to look at this as another step in my minimalist lifestyle. Un-wiring my house from the digital world. Here’s what’s been done thus far.

1. Internet disconnected.
2. Apple TV swapped for an iPod Touch with a composite cable.
3. Apple Time Capsule moved to my office to backup my iMac.
4. Sold 3 extra iPhones. I had a backup device for myself to use while my everyday iPhone would be charging. Didn’t want to miss an iMessage.
5. Our iPad Mini does not see as much use nowadays.
6. I’ve been playing more Legos with Porter.

Last thing I need to do is swap out my Nest thermostat for a none networking device and then our house is back to analog. It’s really weird to have a disconnected house but it feels good. This move has sparked some ideas for home products for those of us without Internet. I’m currently gathering a team to construct a prototype.

All in all, I’m happy with the change and my wife could care less. I was the one who was all geeked out about not having Internet. We’re saving nearly $800 a year and we made some decent cash to put towards a deep freezer for this seasons wonderful harvest of fruits and vegetables.

Now that I’m not distracted by pixels I’ll be out back making mud pies with Porter.

Bike Trailer Time!!

Ready to roll!

Ready to roll!

So, I have been waiting and waiting to be able write this post:  The weather is finally nice enough to break out the bike trailer!  I’ve mentioned before how much I love commuting to work on a bicycle, and Jen has mentioned why we love being a one-car family, so my enthusiasm for the bike trailer should come as no surprise.  This weekend, the weather in central PA was beautiful, and as if that weren’t enough, Jen took the one car on a trip to visit a friend in VA for the weekend, so if Pete and I wanted to go anywhere, we were going to have to either walk or go by bike.  (We don’t have a second child’s helmet for John yet, so it was also convenient that it was just me and Pete this weekend).

So, after working in the garden on Saturday morning and eating an early lunch, Pete and I got suited up and performed the necessary safety checks: filled the bike and trailer tires, checked for corrosion in the trailer frame over the past year, and ensured all the straps and harnesses were likewise intact.  It always takes me a little bit longer to assemble the trailer when I haven’t done it in a while, so Pete had to wait a little longer than he wanted, but he was excited to hop in and get his helmet on when the time came.  Naturally, when we headed out, our destinations were all free sources of fun: first, the giant playground, then on to the banks of the scenic Susquehanna River where we shared a snack of cookie bars (home-made, of course) and clementines (bought on sale, of course), and finally over to a smaller playground near our home.  It was a full, exciting day and it didn’t cost anything but time and snack supplies.

But wait–what about the cost of the bike trailer and the bike?  To be fair, the bike did cost a few hundred dollars, but it’s also basically my primary vehicle, and thus at least an order of magnitude cheaper than most other Americans’ primary vehicle.  The bike trailer also was not free; it cost 30 bucks.  I bought it a few years ago from a coworker who was selling it for her neighbor, and I’m pretty sure I haggled it down by 5 or 10 bucks.  Brand new, such trailers can cost at least $100-200 (much more for high-end models), and this one was in great shape (though a bit dusty from being in someone’s basement for a few years).  I have also used it (though not as often as I’d like) to carry things in addition to a child, like groceries from the store.  If I did this more often, I would make the bike and trailer investment stretch even farther, and save even more on gas and insurance.

Hopefully we’ll get that second helmet asap, and I can look forward to cruising around with the boys all summer long!

Ditching paper towels

Jen’s post a few weeks back about ditching paper towels has inspired me to do the same. This week at the grocery I avoided purchasing them even though my wife had them on the list. I couldn’t help but think about how much of a waste they are. Not only are you tossing money in the garbage but also a lot of unnecessary paper waste. With that, they have been eliminated at this household.

Today I was cleaning out one of my t-shirt drawers, ditching any shirts that were faded or had holes in them. Got out the rotary cutter and board and went to town making rags. I’ve got quite a nice pile out of 4 shirts and now after a rag is used it will go in a bucket of borax solution to soak before washing instead of the trash.

Thanks Jen for the inspiration.

* Here’s a little fact I learned this week. 40% of food purchased in the US goes into the garbage. Sad!

Buying fruits and vegetables on a budget

Picking blueberries was a family affair!

Picking blueberries was a family affair!

This family needs a budget and we have one!  But as we “upgraded” the quality of our fruits and vegetables in response to learning about the most pesticide-covered produce, aka the dirty dozen, I had to adjust my budgeting expectations.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach for determining what to feed a family and how much to spend.  Would I love to buy local and organic produce exclusively?  Yes and I think it is preferable to buying conventional produce.  In the future I may buy only local and/or organic, but right now, our budget does not allow for it.  Instead, I am choosing to steward our food dollars as craftily as I can to get the best bang for our family’s buck. Here’s how I try to meet my family’s first goal for health eating: Eat more fruits and vegetables (and avoid as much pesticides as possible) while sticking to our budget.

My overall strategy for vegetables includes the following:

  • to only buy organic or less-pesticide local alternatives for all items on the dirty dozen
  • to shift as much food dollars to local options from growers who use organic methods
  • to eat seasonally much of the time
  • to buy bulk quantities of seasonal food when it is less expensive to preserve for when it is costly
  • to buy vegetables on the “clean 15” and other vegetables not available locally from the supermarket or discount store when on sale or available

More specifically and practically, here is how I address the items on the dirty dozen:

  1. Apples – I buy locally grown apples from growers who use IPM or integrated pest management techniques.  IPM fruit growers use “reduced risk pesticides” as well as other no risk techniques like using phermones to disrupt the mating of specific pests.  We save money by buying the apples directly from the growers in larger quantities and by buying seconds, which are apples that are slightly blemished or the wrong size for selling at the “normal” price.  Although these apples still contain pesticides, the amounts may be reduced 80-85% from what is used on a non-IPM apples.  In 2012, we dried apples and made applesauce.  We still have a bit left to get us through, but we will be excited to enjoy apples again in the late summer/early fall.
  2. Celery – I buy organic celery at the supermarket. I save the ends and leaves in the freezer to use for making bone broth so nothing goes to waste.
  3. Sweet bell peppers – I buy locally grown peppers from a farmer who is not certified organic but used organic methods.  This year, I was able to buy a large bag of seconds for a great price.  I then washed, stemmed, and halved the peppers and froze them in freezer bags.  I have used these peppers in soups, stews, and grain salads all winter.
  4. Peaches – I  buy locally grown peaches from growers who use IPM or integrated pest management techniques. See apples. We canned peaches in water last summer and we love them.  I can’t wait to can more of them! In 2011, we froze peaches to use in smoothies, although I prefer the canned ones.
  5. Strawberries – I buy locally grown from growers who use organic methods. Last year I did not buy any due to the relatively high cost.  I hope to buy some this year though because we missed them.
  6. Nectarines (imported) – I buy locally grown nectarines about once a year from growers who use IPM or integrated pest management techniques. See apples. Otherwise, we go without nectarines.
  7. Grapes – I do not buy them as a rule, although as with all of the other fruits and vegetables on the list, we have absolutely zero qualms about enjoying them when others offer them to us.  My kids love grapes and they taste good.
  8. Spinach – I buy organic at the supermarket on occasion  or I buy it from local growers who use organic methods.  This year, I’m trying to grow some for myself.
  9. Lettuce – I buy organic at the store on occasion   I much prefer to buy it from local growers who use organic methods and who grow amazingly tasty varieties that would never transport well and so are never available at the supermarket.  Last year I grew some for myself and it was so easy and delicious.  I hope to grow much more this year in our garden.
  10. Cucumbers – I forgot or didn’t know that this was on the list! I rarely buy cucumbers anyway, but I’ll peel the conventional ones and buy more local ones.  I do hope to buy some large quantities of “clean” ones this year to use for canning pickles.
  11. Blueberries (domestic) – I pick my own from a local farm that does not spray and freeze them to use in smoothies, pancakes, and baked goods all winter.  We still have one more bag left from the summer!
  12. Potatoes – I get potatoes in our winter CSA box from a farmer who uses organic methods. Otherwise, I go without potatoes or splurge on organic potatoes from the supermarket.  They are significantly more expensive than conventional potatoes, but I think they are worth it on occasion. Sweet potatoes, which are on the clean 15, are better for you and taste great, so we don’t miss potatoes much.

Although this is how I decided to respond to learning about the dirty dozen, I do not let it dictate how my family eats when not at home.  We do not worry about eating fruits or vegetables at other people’s houses or at restaurants nor do we ask for or inquire about the origins of the fruits or vegetables being offered to us.  We decided to change our buying habits partly to reduce our pesticide exposure and partly to vote with our food dollars about what we want and I feel that our approach accomplishes both in a way we feel comfortable with.

If you are wanting to buy “cleaner” produce, I hope my story gives you some ideas about how to make small changes while sticking to a budget. If you live in central PA, you can also check out exactly where I’m buying my local stuff on the Crunchy Connections page.

Reusable chopsticks: killing two birds with one arrow

When I was studying at National Taiwan University in Taipei, I saw a pair of stainless-steel, reusable, portable chopsticks for sale at the gift shop.  Since at this point I was eating every meal with chopsticks (except, of course, for my glorious fantuan breakfast–more on that in a future post!), and they were only a couple bucks, I figured I would pick up a pair for a more satisfying and sustainable chopstick experience.

As anyone who has eaten at a Chinese restaurant in the US knows, chopsticks often come in the disposable variety, which are made of either bamboo or wood–often in a single piece that you break apart.  Well, when you figure that there are well over a billion people in the Chinese-speaking world, and almost all of them are using chopsticks for almost every meal, if even a fraction of those chopsticks are disposable, that adds up to a whole lot of timber.  In fact, I didn’t really think about this until I read a recent Washington Post article about how China’s use of disposable chopsticks is a major contributor to deforestation.  Although I didn’t realize the full scale of it at the time, back in 2008 it did occur to me that the more I used my reusable chopsticks, the more trees I would be saving.

However, to be totally honest, the main reason I liked (and still like!) using my stainless-steel pair is that it makes me feel like a real chopstick pro.  These things come in a little case, and to fit in there they each come in two pieces that screw together–like two tiny pool hustler’s cues!  Every time I use them, I feel like James Bond assembling a weapon, preparing to exercise my license to kill on a plate of dumplings or a dish of pad thai.  Jen feels this makes me look a little weird (rightly, I might add), so she has asked me not to use them at the Chinese buffet.  So sadly, they don’t see as much use these days.  I do still keep them in my backpack at work though, and have more than once used them in a pinch to eat my lunch when I forget to bring a spoon or a fork.  Jen probably did not intend her bean burgers to be eaten that way, but you have to make due with what you have.

As it turns out, you can buy reusable stainless-steel chopsticks online that seem pretty much identical to the ones I use.  Now after realizing the plight of China’s forests, I like to think using them is both fun and crunchy–thus killing two birds with one arrow (as the saying goes in Chinese).

Like two tiny pool cues...

Like two tiny pool cues…