Saturday, October 24, 2009

Time Gets Away

I've been swamped with work lately.  So much so that I hadn't even noticed that it's ten days since I updated this spot.  Wow. 

Gotta run.  More work to do.  Talk to you soon.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Small Saving Goes a Long Way

I'm an iced tea nut!  I love iced tea.  I start drinking it mid morning (after my two cups of coffee) and drink it all the way up till bedtime.  On average, I drink a gallon of iced tea a day.  I fully realize that information will give the caffeine police a coronary.  Chill. I've tried decaf.  It is expensive and taste like crap.  Not that I've tasted... well, you get the point.

For the last 6 or 7 years I've been drinking 'Cold Brew' by Lipton.  I like it.  It tastes good.  It's easy.  I'm lazy.  A perfect relationship.  Until recently.

As some of you know, B and I have tightened the purse strings in order to save money to buy a farm. For those in the dark, you can read about it in earlier posts

Like most people, one of the areas we are playing with is, groceries.  Since we've become debt free, we've been rather extravagent with our food spending.  So, for a while, we are cutting back.  Anyway, I noticed that Wal Mart "Great Value" tea bags were a whole dollar less than the "Cold Brew" tea bags.  Plus there were two more bags in the box.  I use a box a week.  Right off the bat, by being willing to boil the water, I'm saving $52 dollars a year.  But it gets even better.  After one pitcher, I discovered that I only need to use one bag of the "Great Value" tea versus two of the "Cold Brew".  that's an additional savings of $52.  That's over $100 per year with one small adjustment.  I find that very motivating. 

My House Smells GREAT.....

.... but it's way too quiet.

Brittan left this afternoon for Kansas to attend her Grandfather's funeral.  She's only been gone a couple hours and it's already quiet and lonely.  Roll on, Tuesday.

To console myself, I am cooking up a batch of Chicken Phaull, my favorite quasi Indian recipe.  The one that is impossibly spicy.  I tried an experiment using all dried ingredients; garlic, onion, garam masala, cumin, ginger, etc.  I even used habaneros and ghost peppers that we had dried in our dehydrator.  We want to market the ingredients as a kit next year so I thought I'd try it out on myself first.  As always, the tomato sauce also came from our garden.

The prep time was cut dramatically.  I could toss all the dry ingredients in a small food processor and bam, it's done.  I did have to add extra liquid as the dried spices soaked up all the extra moisture in the tomato sauce.  Apart from that, it looks and smells great.  I'll let you know later how it tastes.

Update:  10:00 p.m.

The results were very good.  The heat was everything one would expect.  Blazing!  The dish was just a little dry.  I added a quarter cup of water.  Half a cup would have been better.  It also needed more salt and more ginger.  But adding more is always better than having too much of an ingredient.  

I expect it will be even better tomorrow.  Tomato based dishes are often better the second day (think lasagna).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Bes Laid Plans Get Blown Up From Time To Time

I remember one time, hearing James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, say that in the heat of an argument, his wife once quipped:  "When are you going to start putting into practice that stuff you write about."  OUCH!

Even after all these years, that story makes me smile, because its such a great reminder that we all mess up.  We all fail and fall short of our own goals and dreams once in a while.  It doesn't make the ideals wrong.  It doesn't make us losers.  Failing is not failure.  We are human and we fumble the ball on occasion.  It's what we do when that happens, that will determine our destiny.

In a football game, when a player fumbles, the object is to regain possession.  Sometimes it means falling on the loose ball.  Other times it means picking it up and running with it.  Never does it mean, quitting.

B and I have dramatically changed our budget recently.  We have tightened the strings just like we did when we are in debt.  We want to buy some farm land and we need some cash to make that happen.  One of the things we've cut pretty much out of the budget is Eating Out.  We love dining in restaurants.  Its fun, romantic and stress free. But it's not cheap.

Also, since we are on the South Beach Diet, we have some guidelines about what foods are best to eat to maintain our weight loss momentum.

This past weekend we blew up both plans in a huge way.  First we at out Saturday night and for two meals on Sunday.  Saturday's meal was loaded with carbs.  Both Sunday meals were at burger joints.  We spent coin and we ate big. 

Here's the deal.  We don't sweat the small stuff.  Sure, there are consequences in the pocket book and on the scales.  But it's not world peace.  It's not sin.  It's not a violation of a Geneva Convention.  The correct procedure is, acknowledge the mistake, learn from it, and MOVE ON.

The key is, Learn From It.  We will be better prepared next time the same set of circumstances converge. 

We all mess up.  Admit it.  Pay your dues.  Repent (that means change your behavior).  Get back in the game.  Grab the ball before someone on the other team does.  Run.  WIN!

Friday, October 9, 2009

President Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Now there's some news out of the blue.  For me, it's a head scratcher.  I didn't vote for him.  Won't vote for him in the future.  I disagree with nearly every policy the man promotes.  If he is east, I am west.  If he is left, I am right.  You get the picture.....

But Barack Obama is President of The United States of America.  And it's a win for the home team, so I congratulate him.  Now if he'd just drop the Health Care Bill he'd likely win the American Peace Prize.  But, that's wishful thinking on my part.

In my mind and in my heart the President has done nothing politically or diplomatically worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.  Except possibly in a leadership area that has gone mostly unnoticed by supporters and critics alike.  Barack Obama demonstrably loves his wife and daughters.  I truly enjoy watching the Obamas intereact.  In this old right winger's eyes our President has set an example for the rest of the world leaders on what Loving your Wife looks like.  Perhaps that in itself promotes a lost notion of Peace.

Congratulations, Mr. President.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"The Vegetarian Myth" - a Book Review

"The Vegetarian Myth", by Lierre Keith, PM Press/Flashpoint, June 2009 is a disturbing, enlightening, frustrating read.  I stumbled on it via a referral on the Nature's Harmony Farm Blog.  I decided to read it as a part of my sustainable farming research.  What I read challenged me on many levels.

First, Ms Keith and I have totally conflicting world views.  I am  male, Christian, heterosesual, right of center and capitalist leaning.  Her positions are always contrasting and often antagonistic towards mine.  Some pages dripped with bitterness.  I found the tone frustrating at times.

"The Vegetarian Myth" describes Ms Keith's journey from Veganism to Omnivorism.  She chronicles and documents her reasoning with great detail and passion.  She rebuts the Political, Moral and Nutritional arguments of vegetarianism (primarily its 'extreme' expression, veganism)  using case studies and scholarly research not often found on the front pages or top shelves of most media outlets.

Keith takes great pains to acknowledge the noble intent and sincerity of the average vegetarian, while attempting to pursuade them that they have been duped by 'Big Agriculture'.  Her arguments are eye opening. Her modus operandi is 'follow the money'.  Sometimes that trail takes the author (and reader) to some pretty frightening places.

I found the section on how commercial farming destroys the soil and environment to be particularly compelling.  But my commitment to sustainable farming and gardening methods may cloud my objectivity.

I was profoundly disturbed by the discussion of soy.  Ms Keith's documentation is there, she's done her homework.  I will continue to research the subject.  If what he says about the risks of soy is even half true, then we have a problem.  Stephen King has never written anything as frightening to me.

"The Vegetarian Myth" is well written and, as mentioned earlier, passionate.  I do not agree with some of her conclusions about the nutritional non value of grains.  But her related arguments about the destructive nature of monocrop agriculture is compelling.

If you read "The Omnivore's Dilemma" you really must read "The Vegetarian Myth".  You don't have to agree with either view, but the open mind demands point, counterpoint.  I am an omnivore.  My world view makes it a non issue for me.  But that same world view drives me to respect the choice to abstain from meat.  But we all must make good choices in what we feed ourselves.  "The Vegetarian Myth" does for Big Agra what the animal rights people have done for factory farming.  Ms Keith has pointed out the abuse, the lies and the all consuming drive for profit.

PETA and their ilk have not caused me stop eating chicken or beef.  They have, however, opened my eyes to abuse and to devise a plan to provide my own meat via humane farming and hunting.  Lierre Keith has not convinced me to stop eating wheat or oats.  But I will learn to grow my own, organically and sustainably.  I will make my choices differently.

After reading "The Vegetarian Myth", I have the strong impression that the author would not like me much.  We are a galaxies apart in the way we see the universe.  But I came away impressed and how many places our different philosophies converged.

Read "The Vegetarian Myth" at your own risk.  But read it.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Nice Reminder

I saw a fun little article on Yahoo Finance this morning that I just have to share.  It's a nice reminder of the 'miracle' of compound interest.  Read it and SAVE.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sustainable, Self Sufficiency - The Third Phase of the Revolution, Part 5

I have an idea.  Let's wrap this up. Even Doctor Zhivago eventually ended.  Not happily.  Nothing in Russia ever does, for some reason.  I have higher hopes.

After realizing how much we were saving by growing our own fruits and vegetables, how much better they tasted and how great it felt not to be at the mercy of big agriculture and big government (even in this one small area), my mind turned to other ways to increase my sense of independence and to tell the world.

In researching ways to provide our own source of meat, I concluded that the best options for suburbanites are chickens (dual providers of meat and eggs) and rabbits (quiet, prolific, tasty and nutritious.  With the downside being that so many people think they're cute).  Goats made honorable mention (small, easy to maintain and dual providers of meat and milk).

Unfortunately, our HOA (big government, neighborhood style) does not allow chickens.  Bummer.  They were out.  Goats were banned as well.  I would have to settle for meat rabbits, only.  Not so fast.  Brittan discovered a paragraph in the HOA covenants that outlaws rabbit HOUSING.  And bee boxes, too.  Well, crap! 

While I understand a subdivision not wanting the neighborhood turned into 'The Beverly Hillbillies', I was disappointed in the narrow mindset that can't grasp the concept of a well designed, well maintained, backyard operation.  Properly designed, housing for 2 to three chickens and a buck and two doe (with offspring) would be neither an eyesore nor a source of foul odor.  The noise would be less than comes from many suburban dogs and most children, the droppings would go straight to the compost bin and the housing could be quite appealing.  But in a neighborhood that doesn't even allow garden sheds, I was just plain out of luck.

For now, we just stick to our veggies.  And I intend to increase my hunting trips this fall.  Hunting is a good alternative meat source.  Especially in places over run with deer and hogs, like Georgia, or teeming with wild turkey, like many places in the midwest.  Hunting also helps keep wildlife populations in balance. 

In the long run, though, our change in priorities (at least my change, you'll have to ask B about hers) means we will plan to move in the near future.  I can't take the HOA restrictions and I want to become truly self sufficient.  My independent streak is too strong.  Besides, we would like to 'downsize' our mortgage a bit.  We're not stretched, but we can't save like we want, our used to, there are too many places available that are nice, cost less and have fewer restrictions. 

As we got deeper into the concept of self sufficiency, the subject of sustainability kept appearing.  Sustainability refers to growing methods and animal husbandry that do not strip the land.  Much global agriculture is destroying the soil by the thousands of acres.  In order to continue to use it, gallons of chemical, fossil fueled spiked fertilizers are doused on the land.  These concoctions find their way via seepage and runoff into the waterways and are slowly poisoning them.  I'm not kidding.  I'm not being alarmist.  I'm just sayin'. 

It doesn't have to be that way.  I am, unlike some people I admire very much, not opposed to all use of fossil fuel or fossil soil (think, peat).  But I am all for moderation and renewable methods.  In our own case, our raised beds and containers, use a soil that is a mixture of compost, peat moss and things like perlite or vermiculite.  It is applied once and maintained annually, with added compost (which we are beginning to produce ourselves).  We believe this is a fine solution for the average backyard gardener and small, hobby farmer.  It saves space, and the environment. 

Similarly, I have become a proponent of 'pasture based' animal husbandry.  Raising animals that are close to the local ecosystem and using natural grasses and fodder rather than Big Ag produced grains.  I full support those who use these methods and intend to do so, myself.

The final step in the 'evolution of Farmer Sam' is a desire to move to the country and put my hypotheses into practice.  Green Acres really is the place to be.  It's not practical for everyone, but it is for me.

Sustainable, self sufficiency, however, is practical, to varying degrees, for anyone and everyone.  I encourage you to think on these things, implement what you can, and change the world.  Or at least, change yourself.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sustainable, Self Sufficiency - The Third Phase of the Revolution, Part 4

Partly, I'm a control freak.  Partly, I'm a cheapskate.  Pretty attractive combination, I know.  Whatever the motivation behind my thinking, it dawned on me that the average American (and Brit, as well) has become enslaved to big government and big business.  Others control, or want to control, what we eat, wear, drive, what kind of, and how much health care we can have and how much we're going to pay for all of it. 

In response to what I felt was an ever increasing encroachment on my autonomy, I decided to do something about it.  Along the way, I've realized that some of the things I've discovered would benefit millions of others.

Phase 3, began merely as a baby step towards self sufficiency.  Brittan and I developed a 3 year plan to grow all (or as close to all as possible) of our own fruits and vegetables.  Because we live in surburbia, we didn't know how much we could accomplish.  So we did our research.  We soon discovered that our thinking about needing many acres and a tractor to supply our nutritional needs was out dated.  It was good news.

We discovered raised bed and container gardening.  In particular, we found the earthbox and the square foot garden.  By using these systems, and supplementing with ordinary buckets, we have taken huge strides towards our goal.  And we do it in a fraction of the space that one would expect.  Visitors often comment, "Your garden isn't nearly as big as I imagined."  That makes me happy, because that's the point.

Becoming self sufficient doesn't require a ranch in Montana.  We can begin right where we are.  We can do it at our own pace and fit it into our individual budgets.

We found that the start up costs were a bit steep, because we did so much at once.  We started with three or 4 large raised beds, about 10 earthboxes and another 10 buckets.  We more than doubled that for this year's garden.  Next year we'll add a bit more, but not a lot.  An individual, or family, could begin with just an earthbox, a square foot garden or even a couple of buckets.  But be warned, it can become addictive.

We eased the pressure on our bank account by working the garden into our budget.  When you don't have other debt, you can do things like that.  So we built one bed at a time and bought earthboxes three at a time.  While you don't need to use our timetable, I do recommend having a plan.

Somewhere along the way, we've had a couple of pleasant surprises.  One is, we've discovered that 'slow food' has.... flavor.  The stuff you buy in the store, even the fresh produce, simply doesn't compare to what we grow.  It isn't even a close race. 

We also discovered, nutrition.  We are filling our bodies with nutrients and are exempting all the chemicals found in store bought food.  Our diet is better balanced and more filling.  And it tastes good.  I said for years that I hated vegetables.  Turns out, that's because I'd never tasted any.  Heck, I even like squash (besides the fried kind.  I always like that).  Next year I'm giving eggplant another chance.  That one will take a miracle.

Our plan is working, financially, too.  We are saving money.  As an example, red, yellow and orange bell peppers range in price from a buck ninety nine to $5.99 a pound at various outlets around our area.  Green ones are a bit cheaper, but still are never less than fifty cents a piece.  A packet of 30 bell pepper seeds is less than $2.  A third of that seed packet will provide the average family more than enough bell peppers for the year.  Plus, you'll have some to give away, or sell to recoup your costs.  This is not rocket science.  Do the math.

A plan like ours can be implemented almost anywhere.  I know of urbanites who have their gardens on their roofs.  Some use their patio's.  Others carve out spaces in various parts of their yards and work the fruits, vegetables and herbs into the landscape.  Many of the varieties are quite lovely. 

The clock on the wall tells me it's time to get ready for work, so I need to wrap this up.  I'll finish next time, by explaining the final step in the evolution of my thinking.  I hope some of this is making you think, too.