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The Urban Homestead

A lot dealing with sustainability answers the question, “How can I do for myself?” A major component of sustainability is keeping things local, and what’s more local than supplying for yourself from your place on this earth? Whether it be an apartment, a small house with a small yard, or a farmhouse, a new book breaks it down in simple ideas for the Average American.

The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficiency (review and blog) examines this question in a simple, easy-to-read format. It’s what we did with the Tolman Guide, it but makes the techy stuff easier to swallow. In The Urban Homestead you will find easy to understand tips for making your own cleaning products, how-to-compost and what to look for, and even a lengthy section on fermentation and storing food.

I will admit, I was a bit envious when I read it. The thought, “We did this first!” kept screaming through my head. But, they did it in a manner that’s easier to understand, and they hit many highlights of living in the city.

A must-read for any person who wants to live closer to the land in the city.

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The Busy Bee

Levi is giving us a run for our money! Since he’s been getting enough protein, so for about a year now, his energy level has been on a constant spike upwards. He goes the moment he wakes up until the moment he sleeps. We can put him down, but unless he’s really sleepy, he will talk to himself or his stuffed animals from anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour! Then there will be silence until he wakes up. Usually naps have been lasting 2-3 hours and he sleeps all through the night. Yea! Night terrors no more!

Here are some photos of Levi helping his parents during this go-go-go of the past few days.

I made bread.

Levi helped, or wanted to.

He is learning to try things on. Maybe this means he’ll help clean the bathroom later!

Levi doesn’t have blocks, but he’s really good at improvising.

He likes chocolate chips (we were surprised to learn) and that reach is getting longer and longer.

Levi also tries on Daddy things, not just Mommy cleaning/baking gloves!

And, he loves helping Daddy. He even has his own real tool.


Finally, he’s basically mastered stairs. Yea, Levi!
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Michelle’s Best Blueberry Muffins

1 C Unbleached white flour
1 C Whole wheat, stoneground, flour
1/2 C brown sugar
2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
3/4 C whole milk
1 egg
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1 C blueberries

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Grease bottom of cups of one 6-cup jumbo muffin tin
  3. Combine flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt in one bowl, set aside
  4. Combine milk, eggs, and oil in large mixing bowl
  5. Add dry ingredients until all moistened, batter will be lumpy
  6. Add blueberries
  7. Spoon into muffin tin until each cup about half full
  8. Bake for 25 minutes, cool 5 minutes before eating

They were quite yummy – sweet and filling.

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How to deal with catty and gossipy mommies?

I just checked my site tracker, and found that someone happened upon a blog from last year with the search terms: how to deal with catty & gossipy mommies. I think I may have an answer to this question, so although it wasn’t directed initially to me, I’m going to take a stab at it.

There are a few things one could do when dealing with folks who resort to childish, passive aggressive measures. One, we can ignore them. Two, we can make sure to not participate in their behaviors we abhor. So, if we’re included in their conversations, we need to not stoop to gossip when they begin. Third, we can confront them on their behaviors. If someone (a mom or otherwise) begins being childish in the catty-gossipy variety, we can say things like, “This conversation makes me feel uncomfortable.” Or, you could be more specific and say something like, “Janet, when you use phrases like _____, it makes me feel sad/hurt/angry.” If that doesn’t stop the behavior you can even say that you need to leave unless the conversation changes.

People are obviously gossipy for all sorts of reasons. But, sometimes, they can be venting something in which they are really concerned. Maybe it is up to us, those who are bothered by the gossip, to help those participating in gossip find more constructive ways of voicing their concerns. If a mother is complaining that all “name a group of people” do “name abhorrent activity”, simply call the mother out and say that’s a stereotype, or correct the language: “You mean, this one particular person, not all, right?”

The biggest thing to remember is to breath when dealing with people who stoop to language we would not otherwise approve. Stay calm, and remember they are often not attacking us personally, but something else. Confront the behavior, and move on.

Notes
For other ideas, see: http://www.cloudtownsend.com/Articles/7articles5.htm.

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Mmm, food!

Well, we haven’t harvested many vegetables thus far. But, our meager garden has made considerable progress. Although it’s getting late, there is still hope the tomatoes will ripen. We will need to construct or add more trellises so that the tomatoes don’t squish our peppers.


I did make another batch of blueberry muffins, and this time I think I have a recipe I’ll stick with. I doubled the batch, and I think I will title them Michelle’s Best Blueberry Muffins.

Michelle’s Best Blueberry Muffins
1 C Unbleached white flour
1 C Whole wheat, stoneground, flour
1/2 C brown sugar
2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
3/4 C whole milk
1 egg
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1 C blueberries

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Grease bottom of cups of one 6-cup jumbo muffin tin
  3. Combine flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt in one bowl, set aside
  4. Combine milk, eggs, and oil in large mixing bowl
  5. Add dry ingredients until all moistened, batter will be lumpy
  6. Add blueberries
  7. Spoon into muffin tin until each cup about half full
  8. Bake for 25 minutes, cool 5 minutes before eating

They were quite yummy – sweet and filling.

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Michelle’s Flax Seed Bread

Makes four loaves. I use a 16 Q stainless steal mixing bowl and a wooden spoon, with additional appropriate liquid and dry measuring tools.

Ingredients
12 cups unbleached white flour + enough for kneading
6 cups lukewarm water
1 cup whole-ground flax seeds
1/2 cup oil + enough for bowl & pans
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons yeast

Directions
For the Sponge

  1. Pour 6 C lukewarm water in bowl
  2. Gently stir, with wooden spoon, 2 T yeast until dissolved
  3. Add 1/2 C brown sugar to yeast and water, stir until dissolved
  4. Add flour one cup at a time, gently stirring in clockwise rotation, until mixture is consistency of thick mud
  5. You will use about 6 cups of flour
  6. Beat 100 strokes until mostly smooth
  7. Cover with damp towel

Let rise for 60 minutes, or until double in size. To speed rising put in warm place, like on top of a warmed stove.

The Second Part

  1. Add edge of bowl: 2 1/2 T salt, 1 C flax, and 1/2 C oil
  2. Fold into mixture
  3. Add flour, one cup at a time, gently folding into itself until dough pulls away from bowl
  4. Begin kneading in bowl, ensuring hands are floured along with dough, still adding one cup at a time
  5. Once dough begins to look more like kneading dough and is less sticky, put on floured surface, preferably a wooden surface
  6. Pour about 1/2 T of oil into bottom of bowl once emptied of dough
  7. To knead, use both hands and pull rounded mound towards you, push out with your the heal of your hands, turn 1/4 turn clockwise, repeat until dough is smooth and not sticky
  8. You will have used another 6 cups of flour
  9. Round dough and put in oiled bowl, turn over so entire mound of dough has a thin cover of oil
  10. Cover with damp towel

Let rise for 50 minutes, or until doubled in size.

The Third Part

  1. Dough should be doubled in size
  2. Punch down
  3. Cover with damp towel

Let rise for 40 minutes, or until doubled in size.

The Fourth Part

  1. Pour dough onto floured surface
  2. Quickly knead back down to size
  3. Cut into fourths by scoring round
  4. Oil four bread pans
  5. Knead with one hand each loaf
  6. Roll into slight log, pinch bottom seam together, place in bread pan, repeat until all four are in their respective pans
  7. Spread dough out with backs of hands until dough touches each side, mold slightly
  8. Cover with damp towel

Let rise 20 minutes.

The Fifth Part

  1. Cut three 2-inch slits in each loaf
  2. Put in 350 degree oven
  3. Bake for 50 minutes or until golden brown and has a hollow knocking sound when the top is gently knocked
  4. Let cool for ten minutes
  5. Remove from pans and put on a dry towel, cover with another dry towel
  6. Enjoy!
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Sarcasm as social teaching

Cristi Christmas.jpg
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

A few years ago, a friend was explaining to me how he and his new love viewed sarcasm as a cop-out for being in touch with one’s own feelings. For a while, I pondered this explanation and considered it an interesting take on sarcasm. Soon, I realized I wasn’t really going to give up my sarcasm even if this mode of thinking was juvenile compared to the more enlightened living without sarcasm; I would rather be juvenile than dull.

That said, recent interactions have reminded me of the importance of sarcasm as a tool for social teaching. Particularly when it is used to show someone they have erred without specifically saying, “You’re wrong.” Sarcasm, when used appropriately, seems to be a way to offer a humorous alternative to the middle-manager. For example, my mother-in-law was helping me make hamburg patties for my graduation celebration. I asked her to add the spices, and she was being very ginger about it. So, I jokingly said, “Come on! You can do better than that!” And, we giggled at the spice mishap.

But, when does it go bad? When does it go wrong? When do we resort to sarcasm too much? For example, I value personal freedom and choice and find ridicule, shame, and embarrassment as means of social discipline infuriating on many counts. Take teen pregnancy as an example. Why do we feel it is appropriate for a teenager mother to be shunted off and hidden away while she deals with a very difficult time in her life and probably shouldn’t be cut off from her support network? When I was in high school, I heard about a school for pregnant moms and a few of my classmates who no longer attended class with us were rumored to be going to “that” school. I don’t know the particulars of their situations, but it seems that hiding the problem only makes it the elephant in the room about whom no one speaks. Were these girls given the choice to attend “regular” public school or the other, or were they politely asked to leave?

Maybe the point is to remember to have fun and be open and honest about how we feel about something. What would happen to our society if replaced the temptation to say, “You should,” with “I feel?” For example, what would have happened to Cristi if I called her when I found out she asked Joe to move in with her. What would have happened if I called her and said, “Cristi, I think I understand that you want to be closer to Joe, but I feel like I should tell you that he makes me afraid, and I feel afraid for you with him living with you, and I feel like you should know how I feel.” Would she have thought about it more? I don’t know what other people said to Cristi about Joe, but I know I wasn’t the only one who was afraid for her by being in that relationship. With my families tendency to assume that the person we worry about won’t hear us, I can only imagine we are saying, “I think you should,” instead of, “I feel.”

So, let’s check ourselves. Maybe that’s the moral of this thought process. Let’s examine when we’re using sarcasm. Are we in a place where wit is a cover up for expressing feeling, or is it genuine fun?

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Levi, the little boy grows up

Levi keeps getting bigger. It’s to be expected, for sure, he is a growing boy after all. But, it’s always a little strange when the transition occurs. During his first year, whenever we would go out, he would be fussed over by strangers. Some would want to pinch his cheeks, others would comment on the cuteness of our baby, and many would gaze fondly at our bundle of joy.

Now, Levi is looking more and more like a toddler as the days go by. Today, Levi and I ventured to the library so I that I was able to return some books and hopefully afford Peter much needed sleep. We were out from about 10:30am until nearly 2pm when we finally got home. During the 3 1/2 hours we were out, Levi received exactly 3 comments. One woman cutely asked if he was a freshmen after we left the PSU library. Another came from an older lady who wanted to make sure I knew he was missing a shoe. I did; I had captured it while he was still playing with it and put in the mesh bag of our new (used) $5 umbrella stroller. And, he received some stares for his staring from 2 passengers on the bus to downtown.

There were two babes on the streetcar we took from downtown to PSU. One 7 month old kiddo and one 11 month old girl. Both received multiple comments from other train passengers, while Levi received none. Since I prefer to sit at the back of a crowd and observe, this new ignoring by strangers comes as some comfort. But, there is a part of me that misses the attention our beautiful little boy received during his cuter, younger days. I wonder what this does to the psyche of us as we receive less and less attention as we get older. Levi, for example, is a ham. He loves attention getting and receiving, and he will put on a show to receive giggles and shouts from others. He usually responds quite well to attention paid him and responds in kind with smiles and flirts. I guess it just goes to prove what we already know, “It’s tough gettin’ old.”

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Flax Seed Bread

I learned how to make bread from the Tassajara Bread Book close to 7 years ago. I took a nearly 4 year hiatus as life changed and I became frustrated with the bread turnout. Recent trips to the grocery store have shown how I can make bread cheaper at home, so I gave it a try again. What’s different this time is that I know what to look for in my bread making. So, for the past 8 weeks, our little family has been eating more home-baked things.

Edward Espe Brown calls for whole wheat flour, but previous experiments in bread making show that bread made solely with whole wheat flour is much too dense for the untrained mouth. For those of us who grew up on white bread, at minimum, bread must be made with a mix of your basic baking flour. I use unbleached white flour. This go-around, I also wanted to see what bread looked like in a simple form. So, this is what my bread looks like without whole wheat flour.


Michelle’s Flax Seed Bread
Makes four loaves. I use a 16 Q stainless steal mixing bowl and a wooden spoon, with additional appropriate liquid and dry measuring tools.

Ingredients
12 cups unbleached white flour + enough for kneading
6 cups lukewarm water
1 cup whole-ground flax seeds
1/2 cup oil + enough for bowl & pans
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons yeast

Directions
For the Sponge

  1. Pour 6 C lukewarm water in bowl
  2. Gently stir, with wooden spoon, 2 T yeast until dissolved
  3. Add 1/2 C brown sugar to yeast and water, stir until dissolved
  4. Add flour one cup at a time, gently stirring in clockwise rotation, until mixture is consistency of thick mud
  5. You will use about 6 cups of flour
  6. Beat 100 strokes until mostly smooth
  7. Cover with damp towel

Let rise for 60 minutes, or until double in size. To speed rising put in warm place, like on top of a warmed stove.

The Second Part

  1. Add edge of bowl: 2 1/2 T salt, 1 C flax, and 1/2 C oil
  2. Fold into mixture
  3. Add flour, one cup at a time, gently folding into itself until dough pulls away from bowl
  4. Begin kneading in bowl, ensuring hands are floured along with dough, still adding one cup at a time
  5. Once dough begins to look more like kneading dough and is less sticky, put on floured surface, preferably a wooden surface
  6. Pour about 1/2 T of oil into bottom of bowl once emptied of dough
  7. To knead, use both hands and pull rounded mound towards you, push out with your the heal of your hands, turn 1/4 turn clockwise, repeat until dough is smooth and not sticky
  8. You will have used another 6 cups of flour
  9. Round dough and put in oiled bowl, turn over so entire mound of dough has a thin cover of oil
  10. Cover with damp towel

Let rise for 50 minutes, or until doubled in size.

The Third Part

  1. Dough should be doubled in size
  2. Punch down
  3. Cover with damp towel

Let rise for 40 minutes, or until doubled in size.

The Fourth Part

  1. Pour dough onto floured surface
  2. Quickly knead back down to size
  3. Cut into fourths by scoring round
  4. Oil four bread pans
  5. Knead with one hand each loaf
  6. Roll into slight log, pinch bottom seam together, place in bread pan, repeat until all four are in their respective pans
  7. Spread dough out with backs of hands until dough touches each side, mold slightly
  8. Cover with damp towel

Let rise 20 minutes.

The Fifth Part

  1. Cut three 2-inch slits in each loaf
  2. Put in 350 degree oven
  3. Bake for 50 minutes or until golden brown and has a hollow knocking sound when the top is gently knocked
  4. Let cool for ten minutes
  5. Remove from pans and put on a dry towel, cover with another dry towel
  6. Enjoy!

Synopsis
You may be wondering why I have categorized this as ‘family’ and ‘sustainability’. I believe people can be brought closer together by sharing food and one of the most basic elements of food is bread. So, we are brought closer together as family by breaking of bread. In regards to sustainability, whenever we get closer to a process instead of taking the steps and burying them, we get closer to sustainability. One aspect to sustainability is knowing where things come from, buying locally, and understanding the process of the thing. By making my own bread I control the ingredients and understand and know the process, which then makes me and my family more sustainable.