Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I Heart Rotting Stuff!! Or, Compost 101

I've had rotting stuff on the brain lately. Maybe it's Halloween, maybe it's the recent zombie crawl, but more likely it's the fact that winter is coming on and it's time to put the compost pile to bed and let it work its magic. I love compost. I really, really do. And if you compost, you know what I'm talking about. If you don't, then it's time to get started!

Composting is SO easy, there's no reason not to do it. I have a teeny, tiny urban yard and I compost, so pretty much anyone can do it. Here's what you need:

  • A dark-colored container. I have a black plastic vertical compost container that I got from Green Guardian for about $35. It's nice because it has a removable top for throwing in stuff, as well as a sliding door on the bottom for removing the black gold. You can use any kind of container, but the dark color is important, because you want the thing to get warm.
  • Some "green stuff": grass clippings, kitchen scraps- basically stuff that's not dried out
  • Some "brown stuff": dried leaves, small sticks- the dried stuff
Seriously, that all you need to get started. There are a lot of web sites out there that advocate using a lot of other stuff, like worms, a thermometer, fancy barrels, but really in my experience, you don't need all that stuff. When you start your compost, feed it with a little "starter" dirt. Then, just be sure that whenever you add green stuff, you throw some brown stuff on top. This keeps a nice balance and keeps odor down.

One thing you might want to add is a container of enzymes from your local garden center. We did this the first year, and haven't had to add any since (we're in year 4). Other than the enzymes, just keep feeding your compost pile all spring and summer with your yard and kitchen waste, and if you want to, turn it once in a while, especially in late fall just before you put the pile to bed.

In spring, you will be amazed when you open up that bottom door and there's lots of beautiful, black compost for you to spread all over your garden! It's like magic. Since using compost on our garden, we have had great harvests, huge plants, and used zero pesticides or fertilizers. We don't compost in the winter because we're in Minnesota and it's just too darn cold, and sometimes the snow is too high to even get to the container. If you're in a more temperate zone, you can certainly compost all year!

Compost is a wonderful way to garden organically, reduce your garbage volume, and have some fun with dirt! Dive right in, and I bet by this time next year you will have rotting stuff on the brain, too!

Here are a few resources to get you started:
http://www.howtocompost.org/
http://www.rethinkrecycling.com/residents/compost
http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/rrr/composting/

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Earth Life

Today marks the beginning of Earth Week, culminating in Earth Day on Friday, and so it seems apt that I should share a blog post about my new adventures into strict vegetarianism. I think this may actually be several posts, so I'm just going to scratch the surface on this one...
I innocently picked up a lovely green book a few weeks ago at my church bookstore called "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer. I've been going through a lot of changes in my life lately as I more intentionally align myself with my values, and this book grabbed me for many reasons. I have toyed with vegetarianism my entire adult life, having settled on a diet that's mostly veg, with some chicken and fish thrown in for good protein, but if I'm really honest with myself, I prefer a totally veg diet for both aesthetic and humane reasons. So, when I saw this book I thought that it might just give me enough of a reason to cross over to the totally green side.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Book in hand, my husband and son and I headed back to our car, and after a bit of discussion about the book,  my confirmed carnivore husband made a final statement, "Well, I'm going to eat whatever I want!" It was his final battle cry, and he was going down. I had long ago resigned myself to the fact that he would never budge on his dietary choices, and I was fine with that. Or so I thought.
After reading just a few chapters of the book, I was gushing to him about what a great writer Jonathan was, how engaging the book was, and how much it really made one think about the meat industry. Well, I must have gotten to him at a particularly vulnerable moment, because the next thing I knew, he was reading the book! We were actually fighting over book time!
And now, here we are, just a few short weeks later, and my confirmed carnivore husband is on his second week of being a vegetarian! I can hardly believe it! We're in unchartered territory, and I will go deeper into what he learned that really pushed him to the green side in future posts, as well as chart out our adventures in these unfamiliar waters. Who knows...maybe we'll inspire a few more veg heads who will wake from the nightmare of The Meatrix like we did!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Yoooo Looook Mah-velous!

Remember that skit by Billy Crystal where he would be interviewing someone and then just blurt out in the middle of them talking, "Let me tell you something, dahling, youuu looook mah-velous, simply mahhh-velous!" Well, maybe I'm dating myself by bringing it up, but he comes to mind when I think of Spring Fashion!! I capitalize because it's just that awesome to think that there is even such a thing as Spring! Woo hoo, I'll say it again: Spring!!!!!!
OK, now that we've gotten that love-fest over with, what the heck are you going to wear once this uber-fabulous season arrives? Well, dearies, I've been doing some investigating (don't say I never did nothin' for ya) and I think the fashions for this Spring are going to make you happy. Some of my personal highlights:

  • It's all about comfort! Clothes are drapey, billowy, gauzy, layered, as seen here (click through the slide show to the Michael Kors dress at the end-- divine!!)
  • There is life after skinny jeans! OK, I confess, I actually have come around to skinny jeans and really like mine, but fashion-wise, I've never been a fan of the one-note sonata. So, I'm glad to see that the flare jeans are coming back. High waists are coming back, too, but they won't be around for long, as they are very hard to wear. My advice-- wear the waist rise that works for you and don't worry about it. But flare jeans are pretty much the most flattering fit for anyone. They make your thighs look skinny and they make you look tall. What's not to love about that?
  • Pale neutrals.... OK I'm a little blah on this one, but I think they way I'd wear this trend is to punch it up with a little color here and there. Maybe a pale neutral suit with a great coral tank or even a colorful statement necklace. The pale pieces can make up the foundation of your wardrobe, and then accent with more fun colors. 
  • Coral! Think pastels punched up. So, pink becomes coral, baby blue becomes turquiose. These are the fun, accent colors that you can play with in your accessories, t-shirts, tanks, even shoes
  • White! Even though some fashion houses are showing head-to-toe white, I really don't think it's a good idea for most. You'll end up looking like you should be admitting patients to the ER. Instead, get some great white jeans, maybe a white jean jacket, but don't wear them together. Use white as an accent. And remember, anywhere you put white will look larger!
OK, I'm doing this when I really should be in bed, so I'm not posting photos and links like I know I should...I'll try to get those in later. In the meantime, have fun looking forward to Spring, pick 1 or 2 of these trends that you want to embrace, and HAVE FUN!!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Remember When GE Meant General Electric?

Well, GE now stands for something much more sinister: Genetically Engineered. It's the food that we eat every day. 90% of soybeans are genetically engineered and 86% of the corn crop is GE, 80% of Hawaiian Papaya, 93% of rapeseed which is where we get canola oil from, and 95% of sugar beets. You can see where I got this data here. Notice the sentence at the bottom of the GE food chart:
             "In addition, various genetically engineered micro-organisms are routinely used as sources of enzymes for the manufacture of a variety of processed foods. These include alpha-amylase from bacteria, which converts starch to simple sugars, chymosin from bacteria or fungi that clots milk protein for cheese making, and pectinesterase from fungi which improves fruit juice clarity."

If you want a VERY scientific but thorough explanation of how GE seeds are created, check out this blog called Sandwalk, written by Biotech professor Larry Moran from the University of Toronto. If you're not a biochemist, you won't fully understand it but you can get the picture. Basically, Monsanto wanted a crop that would be resistant to its pesticide, Roundup, which is glyphosphate. They set about searching for some living thing that would show resistance to glyphosphate, and not surprisingly, they found what they were looking for in a strain of bacteria from the waste-feed column at a factory that made-- what else-- glyphosphate. They isolated the gene that was resistant to the chemical, did a few waves of the magic wand, and got it to combine with the DNA of the crop they wanted to modify.

Of course, there were promises galore about how these "Roundup Ready" crops would increase crop yield, make it easier to grow crops in harsher climates, thus creating cheaper food and possibly food that could feed people who would otherwise starve. Not only has this not been the case, but now the results of using GE seeds for the past 17-ish years are starting to show, and the picture is not pretty. In a nutshell, all the promises made are turning out to be the exact opposite of the reality.
________________________
Here are a few stats and quotes which I found at sourcewatch.org. You can (and should) read the entire article here.

         "GM chemical companies constantly claim they have the answer to world hunger while selling products which have never led to overall increases in production, and which have sometimes decreased yields or even led to crop failures" says Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director. According to the report by the Soil Association, "The yields of all major GM crop varieties in cultivation are lower than, or at best, equivalent to, yields from non-GM varieties"

        "...while Roundup and similar products were originally used against weeds, 'they have become a food product, since they are used on GMOs, which can absorb them without dying,' maintains the biochemist Gilles-Eric Séralini. A member for years of the French Commission on Biomolecular Genetics (CBG) [and also a member of Criigen], responsible for preparing the files for requests for field studies, then GMO commercialization, he ceaselessly demands more intense studies on their eventual health impact" 

        "While farmers growing Roundup Ready crops initially used lesser amounts of herbicides other than glyphosate, that trend has changed in recent years. Increasingly, farmers find it necessary to apply both increased rates of glyphosate and large quantities of other herbicides to kill resistant weeds." This upward spiral in resistance/usage can be expected to continue.'

        "The increase in herbicide use on HT crop acres should come as no surprise. Weed scientists have warned for about a decade that heavy reliance on HT crops would trigger changes in weed communities and resistance, in turn forcing farmers to apply additional herbicides and/or increase herbicide rates of application. The ecological adaptations predicated by scientists have been occurring in the case of Roundup Ready crops for three or four years and appear to be accelerating". It concludes, "the average acre planted to glyphosate-tolerant crops is requiring more and more help from other herbicides, a trend with serious environmental and economic implications
 _____________________________

If the above quotes don't scare the crap out of you, get this: because the heavy use of Roundup on these crops has resulted in super-weeds, farmers are going to have to use stronger and stronger herbicides to kill the weeds. Either that, or go back to tilling their fields to kill weeds, which negates the so-called benefits of using GE seeds. Oh, but wait-- they can't just till their fields because there is now a Roundup-resistant weed that is so huge and strong that it DAMAGES FARM EQUIPMENT. Yes, you know that huge farm machinery? This weed damages it!!!
                "Pigweed can grow three inches a day and reach seven feet or more, choking out crops; it is so sturdy it can damage harvesting equipment"

So, why am I bringing this all up now? Because on January 27th, the USDA approved the unrestricted use of GE alfalfa, a crop that was barred from being planted in 2007 due to court order. Well, Monsanto wielded its corporate heft and got the ban lifted and now we can ad yet another GE crop to the list. Not only that, but they approved unrestricted us, which means they included no safeguards for organic crops. Organic crops growing near GE alfalfa fields CAN and probably WILL become contaminated. Not only that, but this just furthers the use of GE seeds, thus hastening the emergence of more super weeds, more and stronger herbicides, and more chemicals going into our bodies. I strongly encourage you to send a letter or email to the White House and give them a piece of your mind. Here's a link where most of the work has already been done for you: http://ota.capwiz.com/ota/issues/alert/?alertid=24747501 
Sign it and tell your friends. Enough voices CAN make a difference.

Friday, January 28, 2011

I CAN Live on Bread Alone...

if it's THIS bread! OK, so I'm going through a bit of a farm girl phase here, and for the last couple of weeks have been lusting after home-baked bread. Or better, the IDEA of home-baked bread. Then, last week at my book club my friend told me she was getting in to baking her own bread, too. I was inspired. A couple of days later, I headed for my co-op and bought some whole wheat bread flour and made plans.
I could already smell that wonderful yeast-y smell emanating from my warm kitchen as I opened my laptop and pointed my browser to my most favorite farm girl, Ree Drummond, a.k.a. The Pioneer Woman. If you haven't been to her site, you must go. But be prepared to lose the rest of your day, because you can't just go to her site for 10 minutes and leave. But that's a whole other story. I was talking about bread... so I went to her site, clicked over to the Cooking section and headed straight for the Breads. What I found was heaven on a LCD monitor: "The Bread, In His Words". Oh, lovely, lovely, loveliness! But I didn't just drool on the screen-- I actually went so far as to print the recipe! AND make it!!
Oh, how I wish I had a great camera like Ree! But I don't, so you will have to forgive my substandard photos. I try. This is a before-the-bake shot. I used 3 cups of the whole wheat bread flour and 1 cup white all-purpose, so it did not get a dough-y as Ree's. I did not get the "window pane" (read the recipe; you'll see what I mean), but I figured that much whole wheat flour just isn't going to act like white. That's OK by me. So here it is, scored and ready for the oven. I do not have a Dutch Oven, so I put the ball on a baking sheet in a 450 degree oven for 10 minutes, then reduced to 375 for another 40 minutes. This was per Ryan's comments, since a lot of readers were in the same boat as me. I also put a bowl of water in the oven in an attempt to create steam. I don't know if that really worked or not; I later read that I should have used a pre-heated metal pan for the water. Next time.
So, after 50 minutes, it came out like this:
It bloomed! I let it rest a few minutes-- and congratulated myself on my saint-like patience-- and then cut in:
Ooooh baby! It was worth the wait!! Yum. Yum. I say, yum.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cheap Thrills

I have always wanted to do a blog post on this; actually, given enough ideas, I would love to do a whole blog on this: cheap thrills! Especially in "these economic times" (don't you just love that, as if there could ever be anything but THESE economic times), but even in more prosperous times, I have always been on the lookout for little indulgences. They can be anything from a great piece of chocolate to a fabulous pair of shoes for $20. But whatever they are, they don't break the bank, they're fun, and they make you feel faaaabulous!

I have a few I'll share now and who knows, maybe this will turn into a regular thing.... Being a highly spontaneous person (Aquarius on the cusp of Pisces, that's me) not given over to planning, you just never know.

So, one of my favorite, favorite indulgences is actually FREE! Yes, I said FREE! And it's in a place you would never expect to get anything great for free: Starbucks! I'm a girl who still does love her $4 lattes, even though every time I buy one I think to myself that next time I will- I WILL- just get the dark roast. But I digress. So, Starbucks can be blamed for a lot of expensive addictions, but one thing that you can get there for free- FREE- is great music. I'm not talking about the CD's that they tantalizingly put right there at the cash register that you just can't help but pick up to look at the playlist, put back down, pick back up, and guiltily slide across the countertop. "Yes, I'll take this, too. Thank you. I have no willpower." No, I'm talking about the little cards that I know no one takes because there is always a ton of them sitting there, that are coupons for free songs! Grab that little credit card-sized bit of wonderfulness, stuff it in your pocket, and when you get home, go to the iTunes store and click on "Redeem". Enter your code and voila, you have just discovered what could be your next favorite band. Or not. Doesn't matter because it was FREE. Now, if the card ended up costing you $25 because you bought a latte, a mug and one of those cute little bears, don't look at me. Apparently you also have no willpower.

My next cheap thrill is so incredibly girl-y that I'm almost embarrassed. Almost. But not quite, because it's really the artist in me that loves this stuff: nail polish. I really, really do love it, tolulene and all! The husband of a friend of mine once asked me what it is about nail polish that is so appealing (he so didn't get it, so I tried to enlighten him). I told him that it's because I adore color so much, that any chance to put it on my body is welcome. That shut him up. (The exception is tattoos, the explanation for which I just don't have time to go into right now, but suffice to say it has nothing to do with propriety. I just have a hard time committing to anything. Except my hub.) But nail polish is wonderful; it comes in absolutely any color you can imagine, it totally transforms the look of any outfit (glam? goth? innocent? vamp? it all can be communicated in the nail polish!), and it's CHEAP! What's not to love?! Personally, my favorites are OPI and moreso, China Glaze. China Glaze makes the most amazing, brilliant colors that will just knock your socks off. It can be hard to find, but Sally Beauty Supply always has it. It's just totally yummy. Right now I'm wearing "Mediterranean Charm". It's my little weapon in the battle against these godforsaken Minnesota winters.

That's all for this week's edition of Cheap Thrills! Tune in next time when we talk about...well, since I'm not a planner then your guess is as good as mine! ; )

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Down the Drain

Are you ready? It's time to be an activist! Don't worry, no picketing or getting arrested involved! In fact, it will make you feel great! It's about reducing the massive piles of discarded plastic water bottles that litter our planet, fattening your wallet and getting healthier all at the same time!

Check this out: one of my favorite groups, the Environmental Working Group, has done a study and found that bottled water consumption has more than quadrupled in the last 20 years. This seems like it should be a good thing, right? Of course, drinking water every day instead of soda is great for your health, but tossing those plastic water bottles in the trash is the problem, and a study by the EWG has found that many bottled water companies won't disclose what's in their water! That's a bit frightening if you ask me. Not to mention the fact the creating all those plastic bottles consumes energy and contributes to greenhouse gasses. AND the fact that bottled water can cost 1900 times MORE than tap water!!!! Yikes!!

A better solution? Install a water filter on your kitchen faucet and fill a reusable water bottle like a SIGG bottle. I have an ancient kitchen, so I haven't been able to install a filter, so instead we fill and re-fill gallon jugs at the local co-op's water station. We make about a trip a week and fill 8 gallons of water. It's easy and it's cheap. If you decide to do that, just make sure you're refilling your jugs at a good store where you can see the water quality report from the company that's maintaining the water station.

For more about your drinking water , click here to see the report, and pledge to reduce your plastic water bottle use!

To order a SIGG bottle, try the web site backcountry.com. I've ordered from them and they're very friendly, and quickly replaced a bottle that arrived with a small dent in it. I'm on my second SIGG in about 3 years, only because I use it every day and it's pretty much attached to my hip. I heart my SIGG bottle!!

See, being an activist isn't so bad! And now you have an excuse to go out and buy a cute, new water bottle! It will pay for itself in just a few refills, and you can feel good that your cash-- and the planet-- is no longer going down the drain!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I'm Obsessed!

I don't know what has come over me, but I am suddenly obsessed with a certain color. It's what I call Peacock Blue. It's that teal-y, green-y, blue-y color that is in peacock tail feathers, and I am completely in love with it. I probably sound insane to most of you, but you artists out there know what I'm talking about! So, I had to have, possess, own this color NOW! I had a vision to update my living room--which already has lots of warm tones of yellow, red, and orange--and adding that blue as a counter-balance seemed the perfect solution.
I was on the hunt. I headed for the fabric store, with no luck. Everything looked too blue or too green. Nothing in the beautiful hue I was obsessed with. Next stop, Pier 1. They have lots of tropical colors there, and I hoped that they might have just what I was looking for. I walked in the front door and low and behold, there it was: the pillow! What I call my Big Lebowski pillow (it ties the room together):
See that blue-green color around the edges? THAT'S the color! Peacock Blue! Yahoo! So, I grabbed the pillow and kept looking. I found a lantern and some yellow grassy-looking things and left with a twinkle in my eye! I needed just one more piece (for now) to really make the room sing, and I knew just the place-- Homegoods! If you have not experienced the awe and wonder that is Homegoods, I am sorry for you. If it's because you don't have one in your town, I am doubly sorry for you. If it's because you just never got around to it, shame on you! Go now! No, finish reading, then GO!
Because when you see what I got there for $14.99, you are going to cry--and I got the only one! Here it is:

Isn't that the most beautiful Buddha head you have ever seen??! Of course it is! It has that crackly finish, the multiple layers of glaze, even some wear...it looks like it's about 500 years old! Yes, I am in love with my Buddha head!
You can also see the lantern next to it from Pier 1, and a strand of Tibetan flags that I got in the mail long ago (free!). All together, the mantel looks like this:
I love it, I lurv it, and the bright lightness of it is helping me to forget about the dark, cold days outside. Well, that and a hefty glass of wine! ; )