Sunday, February 26, 2012

Random Musing and Updates

So because I haven't written in so long, I feel there is so much catching up to do. I've been busy at work, that is true. But I also have been up to a lot of crafting and around the home projects. These generally give me a break and save my sanity when things are so hectic.

My uncle has this poster he made that still hangs in my childhood home "Everything I needed to know, I learned on the farm." Some day I will copy it here verbatim, but one thing that comes to mind during busy times like this is one part that says "there is only so much work that can be done in a day, then it's time to drive pickups." It makes me smile, because it is so true. No matter how many things you put on the To Do list for the day, it seems mentally, physically, and emotionally, we can only take some much. Then, all of a sudden, out of the blue, the new top priority becomes that you just MUST go to town for parts, you really OUGHT to drive to the ridge to see the fields. It's human nature telling you "I'm done for the day; I need a break, I need something else."

And so I attacked the cupboard you see above. I am so busy at work, I've been on my computer every moment of my spare time it seems. I was in a documenting marathon when I went up to get a drink, and there it was... the messy cupboard that suddenly seemed to be priority #1. I tore everything out of it, got out my mason jars and some labels, and soon I had this...

All of the jars have labels of the contents on the lids, and for items I got in the bulk section at the co-op I included the bulk section number of that item. The nice thing about mason jars is that they come in a sectioned box that is useful for carrying several jars at once. I kept this so that when the jars are empty, I can just toss them in the box and bring everything together to the bulk section to refill. Since they have labels on top, I will know what to refill them with without having to make a list.

I tried to make bread, and failed :). But I had fun!

I tried my hand at spinning...

And succeeded! Above is a 1 oz skein of 2-ply wool yarn I made. Interested in learning to spin? Let me know, I am planning on going back to Serendipity in Zumbrota MN for more free spinning classes! I am begging Equah for a wheel!

I have been making MANY MANY pysanky, or Ukrainian Easter Eggs. I just left 5 at Serendipity to try to sell.

Speaking of which, a little egg comparison when I was blowing out the eggs before dying them. This isn't the best photo, but it contains 1 farm egg and 1grocery egg. Can you guess which is which? Of course! The farm egg has a healthy yellow-orange yolk and the grocery egg is pale and watery. Plus the farm egg was much smaller and had a much larger yolk.

I have a new favorite bottle. On the right is my new Life Factory bottle that I'm loving so much. On the left is my stainless steel bottle, but I can always seem to taste the metal when I drink from it. The Life Factory bottle is glass with a silicone sleeve to protect it. The sleeve also protects your hands from hot beverages. I am definitely ordering more of these. They have larger bottles that come with flip tops as well.

Other things that have struck my fancy lately include a maple-syruping course that will be held at a local state park, sooo want to go to that. Noodler refillable pens... still want one. Cloth napkins... why not? And a never-ending quest for a better lunch box- preferably one that will hold hot meals.

So here to more blogging in the future! Wish me luck.

Recipe: Cold Press Coffee

This is my new love: homemade frappuccino with cold press coffee.  It's really easy to make and saves both money and calories. I love hot coffee as much as the next person, but sometimes I just need something different. My coffee kept getting bitter when I tried to make it hot (suggestions anyone?), so I finally took the leap and tried this. And guess what? It's super easy and almost no-fail. In fact, there isn't much of a recipe for this at all.

1. Find a container for your coffee. You can use the pot you have, buy a french press, or do like I did and save a milk bottle. The glass milk bottle worked great, cost very little (only the $1.50 I would have gotten back on the bottle deposit), and holds 1/2 gallon. I avoided plastic because it tends to make drinks taste bad and well, it now appears it isn't very good for us. I try to avoid it for storing foods.

2. Grind you coffee of choice. Pour this into the container. Sorry I don't have more exact measurements, but I would say I used about 1 cup for 1/2 gallon container. Really, this isn't an exact science. Since the end product is diluted with water before you drink it, add less if it turns a bit weak, or more if it turns out very strong. Really, don't stress yourself over these things.

3. Cover with filtered water and let sit for 24 hours at room temperature.

4. Strain and return to container. I just used coffee filters, but next time I would do the first pass through a wire sieve and then again through the coffee filters. Using the filters alone worked fine, but it just took a REALLY long time. Rinse the remaining grounds from the bottle before returning the finished coffee there. I ended up with no grounds in mine.

So the great thing is that per my own experience, this keeps a good long time in the fridge. It can be heated if you like coffee hot (even MORE convenient than instant coffee!).

For basic coffee:

- Dilute 1 part cold press concentrate with 1 part filtered water. Adjust this ratio to your preference.
- Heat if desired, or combine over a glass of ice for chilled coffee

Salted Coffee:

- 1 part cold press concentrate
- 1 part water
- 1 pinch salt
- Glass of ice

- Pour coffee and water over ice, add salt and stir. No kidding! What a great way to enjoy coffee without added sugar or artificial sugar!

- 1 part coffee
- 1 part milk
- 5 drops Stevia

- Combine over ice if desired, I just mix mine right in my to-go Life Factory bottle.

Remember to store cold press coffee in your fridge  :)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dollars and Sense

Psychologists have this term... Cognitive Dissonance. It describes the experience of stress and discomfort when our actions depart from our values. We generally will try and change our actions, or at least justify our current ones, to rid ourselves of this feeling, or suffer under its consequences. I bring this up, because I, along with a growing number of people, experience this in one form or another whenever I am faced with simple, every day decisions. Especially shopping. The topic is big enough that I felt it would be good to address.

I generally try to focus my purchases in the following order:
1. Local and organic
2. local
3. organic
4. other

I should go into further details on why I value these things, but that may be left for another post. Still, whatever you values may be, if they deviate from products produced from large-production, centralized operations, you will generally find the goods you value, cost much, much more than the standard fare. It is easy to find podcasts and blogs telling you just why value extends beyond a price tag, but it's hard to extend that to actually coughing up 1, 2, 3 times the amount of money for a similar product. This can get even more complicated when your finances are shared with another person (e.g. my partner). I can't say what anyone else can or should do, that's far too judgmental in my eyes. Instead, I'm hoping to do this, and some following posts, about the struggles I face, the decisions I've made- good and bad- and what I'm doing to live by my values and stay sane.

So, lets not talk in general terms, lets talk about me in specific. I want to support local, decentralized processes. I generally try to by organic, because if nothing else, organic products SHOULD at least be non-GMO. I am actually not as convince about some of their other "virtues," except that maybe their productions methods are a bit more in balance with nature. I try to buy local, even before organic. My partner, on the other hand, has absolutely no interest in anything outside of saving money and buying a lot of stuff for a good price. This is not to blame her for everything, I find it very difficult to resist a $4 whole chicken at Hy-Vee, even thought the $12 local bird is tastier, less fatty, and generally meatier. I am not perfect, and in fact the driving force behind this post is that I have slipped in recent months and I, personally, need to unpack and re-evaluate these things. If I ever get to blogging consistently again, I think I will include this as a weekly topic. Here is what I have so far...

Ways to shop by my values:

1. Think of Continuous Quality Improvement, not perfection. Sometimes extremes are fun, they shake us out of our comfort zone, they challenge us, and they make us feeling like THIS week is oh-so-different from the last. On the other hand, they are unforgiving and sometimes unattainable. OK, so the nerd in me had to frame this in CQI terms, but it isn't a bad concept, and if applied to life it can be a joyous, motivating, yet forgiving nudge in a better direction. Think about improving a bit at a time, month by month, or even year by year.

2. Budget. Equah and I have a wonderful budgeting system. We are the gold standard for a couple working together on money matters and I'm very proud of us for it. It uncovered a lot of previously unseen money, and seemed to give us "more" money for everything. I will try include a separate post on how we budgeted and went on a cash diet. I know it doesn't directly relate to most of the blog's content, but I think we have a system worth sharing and it does impact how I am able to do some of these things, so I feel it would help the blog be more holistic.

3. Cut back in other areas. I overspend in some areas that truly affect my finances. I am wayyyyy too prone to buy items for work or splurge on impulse buys when there are things I want more.

4. The three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, when applied holistically, will work in favor of saving money, not spending it. Reduction of energy usage, purchasing used clothing, recycling items for new uses vs. purchasing more commodities, these are all ways I try save money.

5. Reduce eating out or eliminate all together. This, THIS, above all else, is what takes up stupid amounts of my money. Not only are dining out option not healthy- even low calorie items are usually devoid of nutrition- they are so expensive. Yet every morning I seem to convince myself I am in such rush that I am justified to just pick up breakfast AND lunch on the road. (I work out of my car).

6. Add extra income. I am working toward selling some art, crafts, and homespun items to produce a personal income in addition to my current job. My hope is to use it to contribute to our grocery budget and "make up the difference" for shopping local or at the co-op. Equah is not opposed to anything but the prices there, so I think she would be open to spending more money if the additional cost came out of my personal moneys and not the household budget.

7. Shop in bulk. The bulk section at the co-op is much cheaper that all the other sections. In addition, shopping in bulk reduces waste and garbage.

The post is getting long, but I feel this will be a topic for continued discussion. Writing this post has reminded my of how fun and beneficial blogging is for me. It really helps me to better weight options and analyze things that I don't necessarily get the chance to do on a day to day basis. I've been overworked and overstressed lately, and like most healthy, positive things in my life, the blog was an easy thing to nix from my routine. I can't make too many promises, but I think it would be worth my effort to pick up the slack a bit and write more often. It keeps me focused on the positive things in life... and there is no price tag too big for that.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fiber CSA

So i'm taking a quick mental break from documenting... yes, I'm pretty busy this time of year... and I discovered something I just had to write a new blog post about.

Half of the time I blog as a way to store information for myself. I use my blog for recipes, links, and as a general reminder about things I've read or heard about. This is one of those posts, but hopefully it will be of interest to others as well.

I was reading a magazine and it had an article about starting your own fiber CSA. For those who don't know, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Most of the time, you purchase a share in a CSA in return for a monthly box of seasonal produce. CSAs have expanded to include meat, cheese, dairy, flowers, herbs, fruits, honey... But a fiber share? What a dream for any knitter! Now of course I am not literally interested on purchasing a herd of sheep and starting one myself, but it did inspire me to google "Minnesota fiber share"... and I found one here on I gave the contact person a call. They are a small operation but are expanding. She refered me to their website and said I should also send her an email and she will let me know when she has updated prices and availablility for new members. There is also a general local harvest page for the farm Here.

Over the phone she gave me some estimates. They offer two basic types of shares, one for completed yarn and the other for raw or washed fibers and roving (for spinners). She stated that a 1/2 share of yarm would be about 6 oz of yarn every other month and that a spinning/fiber share would be about 1 lbs of fiber every other month.

So I'm very excited about this, especially since I tentatively have been OKed to purchase a spinning wheel by Equah if I can find one that is economical (under 200 bucks, these things aren't cheap!). I will have to compare prices as it is much easier to find local roving than local yarn. Also, these have rabit, goat, and sheep fibers so it would be a good way to learn to spin different fibers.

Here's to new adventures.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

General Update

So you may have noticed a dire lack of new posts here. Things have been very hectic, though I've been doing some interesting projects as well. Right now I'm swamped with work and documents, so for the near future I'm taking a hiatus from blogging. Don't let that fool you into thinking I'm not busy, though! My newest adventure is that I took a spinning class and made my first yarn, pretty neat! But I will have to wait and put a full post on that in the future. I'm been doing a lot of cooking and have been dying Pysanki, "Ukrainian Easter Eggs" to sell (hopefully). Let me get through this rough patch and then I plan to tell you more about my recent cooking, crafting, and learning adventures.

It is odd, me being so busy, because lately I've been crafting a LOT more. Knitting a pair of socks is one of my recent projects that has been helping keep me sane, centered, and focused. I haven't made soap lately, mainly because I really don't need any... I'm pretty much stocked up for the year. I'm toying around with the idea of trying to sell some products at the Farmers Market this summer, but haven't looked too seriously into that yet. We will see. So until I get a bit more time to devote to my blog, I'll just say "see ya later" for right now :).