happy things


Or at least things I’m doing that aren’t going to kill the Earth as quickly.

1. My garden. I’m hoping to grow a large percentage of our family’s summer and fall food, and hopefully keep the garden producing through the winter, as well as keeping some of our harvest with root-cellaring. Our house has a perfect room for a root cellar. It’s cold, dark, and if we get a door on it, I think it will be ideal all winter. Plus, I just got a book on four season gardening, from some people in Vermont, so I have to trust that they’re serious about producing even in the winter.

2. Composting. I’m so happy I have my own compost bin, and I will have a separate heap to put all the yard scraps in. That way, when I need some brown to put on top of the kitchen scraps, I can just grab some from the pile. Less goes into my trash, and I have home-made fertilizer for my lovely garden.

3. Cloth diapering. I can’t stand the thought of putting those horrible “disposable” things in the landfills. The funniest thing is seeing how huge my baby girl looks in the giant cloth diapers, though. I had to buy some summer clothes for her yesterday, and I ended up getting a bunch of skirts and some shorts that are the 4 year old size, so they will fit over the diapers.

4. Buying recycled clothes. There’s really no reason to shop for new clothing, since there is so much out there that gets discarded, but is in perfectly good shape. Plus, I have a love-affair with thrift stores. The other day, when I got home from a thrift store spree (there are about 7 thrift stores within a couple of mile of our house), Derek asked me how my treasure hunt had gone. I giggled. But I do love finding treasures that have been cast off for whatever reason, and I feel like I’ve avoided adding to the burden of resource depletion and possible human rights violations. Keeping goods in the loop eases my consumerist mind.

5. Using the local library. I love reading, I love books. I can’t afford to buy all the books I want, but more importantly, I want to avoid using up more resources by purchasing books I will only read once. Which is to say, I still buy books, and I still love them, but I’m buying fewer books. Plus, one needs to support the local library for so many reasons. They have so many books you will never be able to buy, they support literacy, both the boo variety and the computer variety, they have so many community programs, and they are havens of peace and quiet. My sanity would be much more threatened without the local library.

6.Turning things off. I try to leave lights off as much as possible. I try to hang the laundry to dry whenever possible. I encourage my kids to notice when things are unnecessarily ON, and help them understand why they should be OFF. I’ve tried to use as many low-energy things in our house as I could, with all compact fluorescent bulbs, low energy refrigeration (lesser of two evils, as far as I’m concerned. I wish I didn’t have one at all), low energy (and low water) washer and dryer, etc.

7. Opening windows. This spring is so gorgeous, but it’s already started getting hot. I’ve been opening the windows for circulation, rather than turning on the air conditioner. If I do end up desperately hot, I will try to keep the thermostat at something in the upper 70’s, rather than actually trying to make my house cool. Seasons are good for us, and a constant 71 degrees is not good for our dear Earth. During the winter, we kept the heat at 61 at night (I know, we could go lower, but my baby girl won’t keep herself under any blankets yet, and even with two pairs of fleece pajamas, she still got pretty cold) and 64 during the day, except on the days that I just couldn’t take it anymore, and turned it up to 68. I believe in sweaters and wool socks. From the thrift store, of course.

8. Recycling. Yes, I know how cliche all my things are, but I believe in recycling. I recycle everything I can. I want to really reduce how much trash we send to the land fill, so I recycle the things that can’t be used again, use up what can be used, make regular donations to the thrift stores, send the organic stuff to my compost bin, and give stuff away. I also try to purchase things that aren’t excessively packaged. Sometimes I get the large size, sometimes I skip something I want because it has too much plastic on it. Packaging makes me sad, especially when it’s intended to make the item look bigger or more exciting, and when there are multiple, unnecessary layers.

9. Making my own. Last night, I made a bunch of flannel baby wipes, and poured some home-made wipe-juice on them. I like to make my own cleaning products, using vinegar, Borax, baking soda, essential oils, and other good stuff. I would love to be a brilliant craftswoman, designing and building furniture and clothing out of reclaimed materials, but I’m just too lazy. Yesterday, I was about to throw an umbrella away. It has been on our porch all winter, and it was a piece of junk to begin with. It was rusty, all the little wires were bent, and it was unusable. When I picked it up, I suddenly thought how it would make a cute (and waterproof!) skirt for Kiki. All I need to do is cut a circle out of the middle and add some elastic or a strip of fabric with a fastener. Then I could decorate it with some ribbon or embroidery. Or maybe some tiny tassels on each of the points. I’ll post some photos when I’m done. And maybe while I’ve got the sewing machine out, I’ll get to those curtains I’ve been meaning to make since last November!

10. Use less. I try to limit the use of things that aren’t totally waste free and non-toxic. I’ve started only washing my hair about once or twice a week, instead of every other day. There’s really no reason to wash your hair every day, since your natural oils help your hair stay healthy and shiny, and also help with the frizzies. Plus, washing your hair often makes your skin produce more oil than it needs, so it gets greasier faster if you wash it all the time. I also don’t put clothes in the laundry unless they’re really dirty. By that, I mean that they have discernible spots or smells. Clothes shouldn’t be laundered often, because each time you wash them, the fibers break down more and the color fades, so if you want your clothes to last, don’t wash them so often. Just because you wore a shirt doesn’t mean it’s dirty. I give my shirts at least two days, and this may be TMI, but pants can last a couple of weeks. After all, that’s what underwear is for: to protect your clothing so you don’t need to wash it as often. (I’ve also found some more environmentally friendly laundry detergent that I love. Seventh Generation makes some that does well in an HE washer, and it smells incredible, like eucalyptus and lavender.)

Happy Earth Day!

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When I was in Europe with my brother Icecat, my BFF Sheila, and my cousin Liz, we had the usual stupid ways of amusing ourselves while on the road. We had rented an Opel Corsa. This little car I will never forget. It was so tiny that we had to pack our luggage in a certain way every time we got in, and we all had saved seats so we would fit. I got the most space, since I was the designated driver. I can’t get into the damage we did to that car right now, because I have another story to tell that’s not remotely related to anything under the sun.

We made up poetry. I’m referring to the stupid ways of amusing ourselves. We had this one poem that came about after entering a charcuterie (I’m not positive that’s the noun form, but it’s a place where you get different kinds of cured meat and sausages.) We had sampled various hard sausages: saucisse, saucisson, chorisson. As we strolled through downtown with our saucisson, walking when we were permitted by the “pieton” signs (that’s pedestrian, for you pedestrian non-speakers of the Language of Love), we invented this little beauty:

I do not like your saucisson!
I do not like it, Pierre Pieton!
I will not eat it in the Louvre.
I will not eat it on the move.

I do not like it in the park,
I will not eat it after dark.
I do not like your saucisson.
I do not like it, Pierre Pieton!

I think there might have been some other verses, but these are they which survived the ages. There was another, notably less witty, poem that Icecat and I made up after viewing a commercial in London, wherein a block of cheese falls onto a bare surface. “Cheese!” I chimed. Another block fell on top of the first. “More cheese!” called Icecat. A third block fell. “Three cheese!” and after the last, “Four cheese!” This wonderful poem had another incarnation when, as we were driving through the wild and winding roads of the Italian Dolomites, we spotted the carcass of a victim of the road. Then another, and two more.

Roadkill!
More roadkill.
Three roadkill.
Four roadkill.

You could really use that form with just about anything. And you have my permission to do so.

I am reminiscing about these marvels of our invention because, a short while ago, I overheard my two boys, 6 and 4, poetically discussing their own love of cheese.

“Mmmm, blue cheese!”
“What kind of cheese is that?”
“Colby-Jack.”
“I like head-cheese.”

I swear by all that is holy that I have never, ever, ever fed my kids head cheese.

I just did a pace calculation for a 45 minute 10K, and there is no frikkin way I’m gonna run 6 miles at 7:15! I am hereby revising my goal for this weekend’s race. I aim to finish in 60 minutes, or slightly less. That should be possible, yes?

I’ve been having some hip pain during my runs lately, and my 7 mile run yesterday was pretty painful the entire time. I kept pretty close to a 10 minute pace, which is normally so easy. Last week I ran a 3 miler in 25 minutes and something, but I don’t know if I could keep that up for a whole 6.2 miles (which would still be more than 50 minutes), especially since the forecast is for rain on Saturday. 😦

Nevertheless, perhaps this will make me quit worrying about my time, and enjoy the associations of a couple of my favorite people whom I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting face to face. Eeeeeeee! I’m so excited! Hopefully Elizasmom and Elizasmomsmom will not be disappointed with my squareness. Also, I get to finally meet my neice, BuiBui and spend some time with my awesome bruzzer and his wife.

What better way to start the day than to run 5 miles, including a speed-trial 3 mile in 25:31? And then to get home and find out your basement is flooded? And it hasn’t stopped raining? And it’s really pouring? And I’m not sure there’s quite enough water in my basement? And of course the home warranty that we have is mostly only for appliances, and our insurance has a deductible of $2,300? And there are at least 30 other people in the queue before us at all the clean-up places we called? And there were 20 boxes of books waiting patiently on the basement floor for the day when we would finally be able to purchase a bookshelf? Or twenty?

I’m sorry, I really am. I’m just so giddy. This isn’t your everyday sort of excitement. And just so you know, the reason I haven’t been commenting on y’all’s blogs is because I haven’t been reading them. I really, really miss you, but I am not fully put together right now, see? So be patient. And for your viewing enjoyment, here’s a video of my darling baby girl. I tried to get her to sing “Hot Cross Buns” but she only sang the first part, and you have to use your imagination to catch the words. She does get the pitches, though. There’s also a little bit of whispering where Calvin is trying desperately to distract her off the right side of the screen.

I recently started making breadsticks on a semi-regular basis. The reason for this is that the first time I made them, I took a couple of shortcuts with the recipe, and ended up with the easiest ever breadsticks that my family absolutely loves. These are easier than buying a tube of “biscuit” dough and popping it open. They’re more stick than bread, not like those fluffy, gross things you get at everyone’s favorite fake Italian restaurant. They’re long, crispy on the outside, and very slightly chewy on the inside. Depending on how fat you make them, of course. We like them about as big around as a toothbrush. I don’t roll them out, so they’re slightly uneven, but the rolling takes sooo much time. Trust me, this way is better. Also, this dough makes fantastic pizza crust.

(You will notice that some of the photos are taken from about 3 1/3 feet above the floor. This is where I could no longer do the one-handed photography, and my wonderful little Calvin came to my rescue.)

Here’s what you do:

3 cups of all-purpose flour
1 cup of whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast OR 1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
almost 2 cups cool water

In the bowl of an electric mixer, with the dough hook attached, measure flours, yeast*, and salt. Mix on low for a minute, to incorporate the salt and yeast. With the mixer running, add the water until it forms a ball on the hook. Mix on the second speed for about 4 minutes. If it’s too sticky, and there’s a lot of dough still on the side of the bowl, add flour a tablespoon at a time, until it pulls away. Stop the mixer and let the dough rest for 5 minutes. Mix again at the second speed for about 2 more minutes. Place the dough into an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for a while.

I say a while, because the rising is not so crucial here. I’ve let this rise for 1 1/2 hours, and for 3 hours. Once it’s risen, you can put it in the fridge for later. Just take it out about 1/2 hour before you plan on baking. You can also put it in the fridge overnight, which will improve the flavor. If you want, you can punch the dough down and let it rise again, which will also improve the flavor, but it’s not necessary.

About an hour before dinner time, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Grab a sheet pan and grease it with olive oil.
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Spread the oil until it all over. Set it aside.
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Flour your work surface. Yes, this is the entire work surface in my kitchen. Derek and I were talking last night about how, next time we buy a house, we won’t pick one with a mini kitchen.
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GENTLY loosen the dough from the bowl and dump it onto the floured surface. You don’t want to de-gas the dough, you want all the bubbles.
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With a knife or bench scraper, cut the dough roughly in half.
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Keep one half, and return the other half to the bowl and cover.
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If you are making a lot of breadsticks, you’ll use that other half. You won’t want to make extra for tomorrow, because these don’t keep especially well. The nice thing is that when you want more tomorrow, you can just pull the extra dough out of the fridge, cut it, and bake!

Cut that piece in half again.
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Move one half aside, take the other half, and gently pull the corners so you have a rough rectangle.
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Cut a piece from the long edge, about a finger’s width.
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Pick up the piece from both ends.
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Gently pull each end.
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It should stretch really easily, since you didn’t de-gas it or knead it after it came out of the bowl. When it’s about as long as your pan,
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lay it on the pan, the long way.
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Continue until your pan is full, then brush a little olive oil on each breadstick.
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I like to sprinkle Kosher salt on the breadsticks. Sesame and poppy seeds are also really good.
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Bake them for about 12 minutes, then check them. If they are not golden, bake for a few more minutes. If they are brown, they are maybe a little over done, but certainly not burned! These ones were crispy and yummy!
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You could experiment on how crispy you like them. I like them to be able to stand straight, so you could put them in a vase or something, and to crunch when bitten, but to have a chewy center. If they’re brown like the darker ones above, they will be crispy all through, like a long crouton, but still excellent.

One night when I made these, I realized I only had one cup of all-purpose flour. I substituted 2 cups of bread flour, and 1 tablespoon olive oil, to tenderize the dough, since bread flour has that extra gluten. I think you could also skip the whole wheat flour and use all white, but you might need less water. And if you’re in a high-altitude place, or a desert, you will need more water to make the dough soft enough.

*If you are using dry yeast and you like to proof it first, add it to 1 cup of the water, dissolve, and wait until it bubbles up a little. If you are using instant yeast, you just add it directly to the dry flour. If you’re like me, you use yeast often enough that you only proof it the first time you use it, just to make sure it’s alive, and then you pretty much use up the whole jar in a couple of months, before it has time to die. Also, you always keep it in the fridge or freezer.

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I noticed this marvelous change in my mood this morning when I went out to run. I had anticipated a crappy run, since I had to leave before 7:00 am so Derek could get to work early. I don’t love running in the dark. I geared up for a dismal 22 minutes, checked the forecast, and was astonished to find that it was 60 degrees outside. It was 61 inside. Hmmm.

I removed my long-sleeved shirt and replaced it with a short-sleeved one. I stepped outside, and it was, indeed, the same temperature on both sides of the door. After the 4 degree runs last week, things were looking up. Even my tights were a little warm.

For the past month and a half, I’ve been having pretty severe regrets about buying this house. I keep having to think back to October to try to remember how much I liked it then, how excited I was about the neighborhood. I’ve been angry at the cold, wishing we’d taken that job in Tucson. I’ve been wishing we had taken more time searching, and had found a house that didn’t leak, or have millions of drafts, some of which I positively cannot find. I’ve been disappointed to find out that we apparently live in a snooty area. Not that I’ve met anyone snooty, but everyone who doesn’t live here automatically assumes that we’re snooty and rich, because of our location. I’ve felt a little trapped.

But today, with the temperature approaching 70, all that remorse is blowing away with the 5-mile-an-hour wind. All the snow melted from the yard, so I can see my pretty yard, with greenish grass everywhere. Most of the drafts are plugged up with torn bits of cereal boxes, but that doesn’t even matter, since I’ve got the front door open to let the cool, live air in. People are walking around outside. I got the kids ready to walk Calvin to school, and they didn’t need jackets, so it only took 30 seconds to get out the door, instead of 15 minutes, with searching for and donning boots, coats, mittens, sweaters, more mittens, hats, and blankets for the wee one in the stroller. There was no complaining. They were all equally thankful for the chance to get out and run, and see some sunshine. Even the stroller cooperated more than usual, allowing me to steer one-handed while holding hands with Zeeb, who loves holding hands more than any child I’ve ever met.

Today is the perfect day to start my compost. I’ve been trying to decide on the best way to contain our compost, whether it be in a wood bin, a chicken wire fence, brick, or a simple heap. Since today is so lovely, and I don’t have any wood, chicken wire, or brick, a heap it is. I don’t know where to find some manure, to make sure the compost heats up properly, but this is Ohio. I’m sure it won’t be too difficult.

A friend from church has invited us to spend some time at the park after school. It’s hard to be grouchy when the weather is so fine.

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