Thursday, April 30, 2009

Quinoa And...

I am noticing that a lot of our meals, particularly the ones that I throw together from whatever I have on hand in the fridge, are Quinoa And Something. I love quinoa - easy, versatile, yummy and packed with protein (listen to me, you'd think I work for the Quinoa Growers Association or something!). I also like watching it cook, and seeing the germ separate from the seed. And it can be sprouted - I am currently working on developing a recipe for Sprouted Quinoa Bread, which is turning out pretty well so far. From a local foods perspective it leaves something to be desired, as it does not grow easily in North America and is primarily cultivated in the warmer high-altitude climes of Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru. Even so, pound for pound I think it's a good choice.

Yesterday we ad Quinoa and Chard for dinner - yum! I sauteed one chopped onion with some garlic in canola oil, and then added finely chopped chard once the onions were soft. I cooked that for awhile, until the chard was wilted, and then added about two or three cups cooked quinoa, salt and pepper, and a pinch of sugar to counteract some of the bitterness of the chard. It warms a mother's heart to see her kids devouring leafy greens without complaint!

PS - Can you believe that Blogger doesn't have quinoa in their spell check dictionary???

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Not a Toilet Paper Tube

On Monday we had our daytime meeting for the Holistic Moms Network, and the theme was REUSE, in honor of Earth Day. The idea was to just take stuff from around the house and see what we could make with it. The kids made all kinds of things - pretty boxes for their treasures, bracelets from cardboard, and, of course, monoculars from toilet paper tubes.

The inspiration for this activity was Antoinette Portis' books Not a Box and Not a Stick, which are our favorites around here. Bess especially likes them because the simple, repetitive text and minimalist drawings make it easy for her to "read" the book herself. I like how the cover of Not a Box is made of brown cardboard - like a box. Very clever! I've often thought that a really fun spin off of these books for older kids would be to just pick something, anything from around the house and make up your own book by thinking of as many uses for it as you can. You know, like Not a String, Not a Cup, Not a Chair, whatever. If you try it, let me know how it goes.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I give up!

I'm still not back to 100% (not really even 75%) so I vegged out in front of the television last night after the kids were asleep. I am starting to get into Planet Green TV, and watched a few episodes of Stuff Happens with Bill Nye (The Science Guy of my childhood).

I learned something I didn't know before. Maybe you did - that large scale hog farming is fueling the collapse of anchovy fisheries off the coast of Peru. Apparently, anchovies are considered a cheap and plentiful source of protein for pig food, so Peruvian anchovy fishermen (fisherpersons?) are netting them by the ton and shipping them off to Kansas or wherever pigs are intensively farmed. It is estimated that by the year 2050 there will be no more anchovies. Bad enough that we will soon have no more anchovies for pizza toppings and Caesar salad dressing - but penguins are on the brink of starvation because all their anchovies are being shipped to the hog troughs of the American Midwest. Not that I'm eating tons of factory farmed pork or bacon, but...that's just crazy. American pork consumption = starving Antarctic penguins? Crazy.

This reminded me of the True Price exercise that my friend Zoe Weil did during her MOGO talk at the Oasis Cafe here in Long Valley this past week. When we try to examine the true cost of the things we buy and use to ourselves, the environment, other people, and non-human animals, there are a lot of questions that we can never really answer. Was the shirt we're wearing today (for example) made by workers who were paid and treated fairly? Was the cotton grown sustainably? Did animals lose their homes so that land could be cleared to grow it? Is the dye used to color it toxic? Who knows?

Zoe's answer is to simply educate ourselves and bring our inquiry to bear when we make decisions. I agree, but I find that the more I bring my inquiry to the table, the more I find that there aren't a lot of great choices out there, or maybe it just takes a lot of work to identify them. I feel like it's always a compromise. Like the hog/anchovy thing - how could you ever know something like that? How could that ever even cross your mind? In a world as complex as ours, how can you ever really, truly grasp the full range of the consequences to the things you do? It's a little overwhelming, if you ask me.

I will be starting a Healthy Child, Healthy Planet study group at my house this week, and one of the readings in the first section is about a family who chose to not buy anything for one year, except consumables (like food and shampoo). The author even reused vacuum bags, opening them when they were full, emptying them, and stapling them closed again. I'm starting to think that isn't such a bad idea. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of MOGO, you know?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Natural Life

I have an article in the latest issue of Natural Life magazine outlining the principles of Humane Parenting. It doesn't seem to be online yet, but I can email a copy to anyone who is interested - or better yet, check out their website and subscribe to the magazine! It's pretty cool, it has a lot of articles about natural parenting, alternative education, and sustainable living - I always look forward to its arrival in my mailbox.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Our Newest Addition

Yes, still talking about laundry. What has my life come to? Actually, it's amazing how much you think about it when you can't do it easily - though our dryer did get fixed yesterday. That said, I currently have laundry drying on the fence anyway. Why waste a warm sunny day?

We decided to install a ceiling mounted laundry airer in our newly-renovated laundry room, for drying small loads of laundry or things that shouldn't go in the dryer. Unfortunately, I don't think outside drying is a good long-term solution for us. For one thing, the winter up here is LONG, not conducive to line-drying laundry. The other thing is that our house is surrounded by trees, which means 1. shade, 2. bird poop, and 3. pollen (which is not a great thing for my boys, both of whom have respiratory issues that are aggravated by allergens to varying degrees). So I think an indoor clothes line is the way to go for us. This one is on pulleys so I can lower it to put the clothes on, and then raise it to get it out of the way and make use of rising heat. So far, I LOVE IT!

And you can't see it in the picture, but I also sewed curtains for the laundry room myself. The hem isn't great, and I had to pull it out a few times on a couple of the curtains (I made three), but you have to start somewhere!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

How about "Refuse"?

I have spent the last several days stuck in bed with a wicked sinus and middle ear infection which I mistook to be allergies until it was totally out of control. As a result, my plans for TV Turnoff Week were waylaid as I was desperate for ways to keep Bess occupied and quiet as I laid prone, unable to turn my head, moaning in pain (a slight exaggeration, but unfortunately not by much!).

Yesterday being Earth Day, naturally every children's program we watched was about "environmentalism" - recycling, turning off the lights when you leave a room, or turning off the water when you brush your teeth. Clearly, I don't expect any sort of examination of Deep Ecology on Nickelodeon. However, by the end of the day, if I heard one more mention of recycling I was going to FREAK OUT (my tolerance was pretty low).

Hey - recycling helps. It minimizes the need to manufacture or mine raw materials, and it keeps some trash out of landfills, particularly trash that does not readily decompose. Reduction and reuse helps too. That's all fine and well. But to teach children that they have fulfilled their obligation to the Earth, that they can call themselves "environmentalists", because they put their newspapers in the recycling bin is missing the boat. Big time.

Let's say that 100% of recyclable materials actually found their way to the recycling plant, which they don't. And let's also say, for the sake of argument, that 100% of these materials were used to make new products and packaging, which also does not happen. But even if that were true, recycling still uses energy - lots of it - which is probably not from renewable sources, and it still produces pollution - lots of it - which enters our air, land and water.

So I say, let's add a fourth R to the equation: Refuse. Refuse to believe the consumerist culture that tells you that it's okay to buy, buy, buy as long as you reuse and recycle when you can (or when it's convenient). Refuse to believe that the answer is that simple, and that the only thing required of us in order to "save the Earth" is to bring an extra can or two to the curb on garbage day. Refuse to participate, when you can, in the use of energy and resources by only taking what you need from the Earth and making the most efficient use of what you do take. Refuse to stay quiet, but instead speak up to your friends, neighbors, community members and legislators. Refuse to take anything at face value, but commit instead to thinking it through on your own. You'll be surprised at what you might find if you do.

Friday, April 17, 2009

An Ode to Laundry

Our dryer broke a week ago. With two small children, two adults, and four animals, this is not a small problem. I realize that people used to have two outfits - everyday and Sunday - but that's not how things are in our house. The laundry has been piling up waiting for the repair person to come.

This week I have learned how often we wash things that aren't really dirty simply because we can. No longer must we wait for a sunny day so that we can put things out to dry - now we simply throw clothes in the washer and then in the dryer, rain or shine.

The mountain of laundry was beginning to become overwhelming, and we have been informed that it will be at least another week before our dryer is repaired. We finally had a nice sunny day, so I decided to wash the clothes and hang it out over the fence to dry.

I will concede that it is not the most attractive yard adornment in the world, but I must say that there is something meditative about hanging out the clothes, then bringing it in. It reminds me of Zen Buddhist philosophy. There is also something fresh and invigorating about the smell of clothes dried outside (though the towels are a little crunchy). I am anxiously awaiting our next power bill to see how much we've saved during our involuntary dryer amnesty.

During my laundry meditation today, I began to think about how divorced we have become from the cycles of nature. We do our laundry no matter what the weather. We eat asparagus in November and apples in May. We no longer have any concept of what foods belong to what seasons, and are barely affected by the weather (except, perhaps, for our hair). The change in seasons is a time to rotate our wardrobes...and that's about it.
My husband commented about our use of solar energy to dry our clothes - so of course I felt the need to remind him that, on some level, it's all solar energy. It's just that some forms are more efficient than others. Oil was once solar energy that was captured by plants which were eaten by animals who died and decomposed over millennia and became fuel which was then burned to produce the energy we use to run our dryer (in addition to pollution as the carbon is re-released into the atmosphere). On second thought, the term "solar energy" is probably a misnomer, or at least a misleading term.

I am becoming pretty attached to my laundry meditation time already. It may be time to install a clothesline.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Just a Quote for Today

"The mothers of the world hold the key to the healing of our wounded planet." - Deepak Chopra

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

When BEARS (?) Attack

Yesterday morning John was watching the news, and I just caught a glimpse of one of the "human interest" stories at the end. I didn't hear the commentary, just saw the footage and the headline at the bottom: "Polar Bear Attacks Human".

This was not a polar bear in the Arctic who, starving, raided a research camp looking for food. No, this was an animal who lived in a zoo and attacked a person who was in his enclosure. It was not clear from what I saw whether this was a keeper or a patron who somehow ended up with the bear, but either way, I'd have to say that it is not a very good idea to get yourself into that sort of situation. After all, if I were a wild animal who was trapped in a completely unnatural enclosure, unable to fulfill my natural drives, and probably pretty uncomfortable given that I am designed to live in a climate where temperatures can reach fifty degrees below zero or colder - I doubt I'd be all that inclined towards hospitality myself.

I had to wonder - who's attacking who here?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Home Grown

Yesterday I spent much of the day making bread and cheese from flour and milk. A few years ago, you would have never caught me doing that. In fact, I rarely touched a vegetable if it wasn't in a can or from the freezer case. But these days, there is a lot of fresh food in my house, and things are made from scratch if possible.

Why the change? As my husband often wonders, why bother taking the time to peel, boil, and mill apples when I could just as easily, or more easily, buy applesauce at the store already made? Why would I boil the milk, add the starter, and strain the cheese by hand when it would be much faster to just throw it in our grocery cart?

Well, I can't say that I always choose homemade over convenient, because I don't. Sometimes I don't have the time, energy, skills or inclination to do things myself. But when I do, I like to make things at home. There are many reasons for this. One is that it is often much less expensive to do it that way, particularly as it relates to my daughter's many allergies and food sensitivities. Another is that I prefer throwing apple peels in the compost, knowing that they'll someday feed my garden, as opposed to consuming the energy and packaging that is required to get the same product at the store.

But mostly, it's because I like doing it myself. There is something about the satisfaction of eating something, knowing that you made it with your own hands. Food tastes better when you know where the ingredients came from and what they looked like before. The exhaustion felt at the end of a day of hard work is satisfying. I think it is important to know, in our culture of consumerism and specialization, what it takes to make the world tick.

On the New York Times' Motherlode blog, Lisa Belkin interviewed Carl Honore about Slow Parenting. It's worth a read. He talks about how Slow does not mean at a snail's pace - it simply means that you give tasks the time they deserve to be completed properly. Instead of rushing through life in the name of efficiency, people who embrace the ethic of Slow take the time to enjoy the things they do, and do them well.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Despite the snow (SNOW!) today, our little garden is in full swing. We planted peppers, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, zuchini, pumpkins, and lettuce over the weekend, all of which are sitting on the windowsill in our laundry room, nice and warm, waiting for the last frost to pass. Today the strong bend of the beanstalks and the delicate tendrils of lettuce peeked out of the soil - our garden has officially begun to grow! I'm very excited - especially for the coming of warm weather.

We're also continuing our indoor "gardening" by investing in some real sprouting equipment. It's nothing, really, just some quart mason jars and some screen, but it does make sprouting much easier than the cheesecloth contraption we've been using. We're experimenting with quinoa sprouts, and looking forward to making some yummy fresh gluten- free bread with them this weekend. I'll let you know how it goes.

Mobile Blogging from here.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Humane Parenting Curriculum

I am reading a book right now on Ideology Diffusion Theory called Communicating Nature: How We Create and Understand Environmental Messages by Julia B. Corbett. The book includes a short quiz on page 20 to help readers determine their degree of environmental literacy. I've seen several different versions of this type of quiz, but this time I read it and it struck me - what an interesting way to set a "curriculum" for humane parenting, trying to answer all these questions with your child!

1. Trace the water you drink from its source to your faucet.

2. What stage is the moon in right now?

3. What was the total precipitation in your area last year?

4. Name two native, edible plants in your region. Name two native grasses in this area.

5. From what direction do winter storms generally come in your region?

6. Where does your garbage go?

7. How long is the growing season where you live?

8. When do the deer (or other ungulates) rut here, and when are their young born?

9. Name five resident birds in this area. Name five birds that migrate from this area.

10. What primary ecological event or process influenced the landform here? What's the evidence?

11. From where you are sitting right now, which direction is north?

12. What spring wildflowers (not human planted) are consistently among the first to bloom here?

How did you do?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

All the Colors

This week I haven't had much time for blogging, or really for thinking at all. Both my kids and one of my dogs are sick, so I have been doing a lot of driving to the vet, the pediatrician, the hospital, the pharmacy, back to the vet, back to the get the idea.

I did have one evening to myself this week. Thursday was my Holistic Moms Network meeting, and our topic was Holistic Moms' True Confessions. The idea was that we would each share our biggest holistic passion, an area of holistic living that we wanted to learn more about, and our most un-holistic habit that we are unwilling to live without. The group was small, so it was very intimate and informal. Everyone was willing to freely share our "secrets" about the things we do that we aren't particularly proud of, and I thought afterwards what a great discussion this would be to introduce new members to the group. The word "holistic" can often be intimidating. But holistic living means something different to everyone, and we are all on a path where we learn new things along the way that change the way we do things. The more you know about holistic living, the more you know you don't know. There is no such thing as being "holistic enough".

Likewise, I don't think there is any such thing as being "humane enough". The more people I talk to, and the more I learn, the more I see that there are many, many shades of grey for humane parents. Several months ago, there was an online discussion among my classmates at IHE about whether it is a "requirement" for humane educators to be vegan. Most of the participants in the discussion said that it is preferable that humane educators be vegan, and some people were very vehement that it is an absolute necessity. I did not pipe in because I felt intimidated that what I had to say would not seem "humane enough", but I disagree with this perspective.

Living in a farming community, I see how much damage is caused to the land and how many animals such as mice, snakes, and birds are injured and killed by farm machinery. Even the CSA where I belong, which I think represents the epitome of responsible land stewardship, uses tractors which are bound to injure and kill animals. They also use natural pesticides which injure or kill insects and other small animals which damage their crops. This is the reality of farming. If someone who lives in the US and is vegan eats banana from a supermarket, they have no way of knowing if the person who harvested it is paid fairly for his or her labor, and they can be assured that a fair amount of fossil fuels were burned to get it there.

I have come to think that it is naivete and/or hubris that allows many people to believe that their choices represent the only acceptable options. I do not believe that a vegan diet is as "cruelty-free" as many people like to think it is, just as I do not believe that someone must eat a certain way or use certain cleaning products or make certain choices about medical care to be able to consider themselves "holistic". It takes all kinds of people who make all kinds of choices to build a community. The key is respect. Clearly, I think that we should critically examine our choices and educate ourselves to be sure that we are doing the best we can for ourselves, our families, our communities, and our planet. However, I also think that reasonable people can disagree about how exactly we can best fulfill our potential to be agents of change.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Indian Night Part II

Since we had sprouted lentils at our Holistic Moms meeting on Monday morning, we decided to have Curried Sprouted Lentils for dinner tonight. We used a recipe from The Nourishing Gourmet blog, as well as her instructions for sprouting (we're planning on making her Italian Rice Salad tomorrow!). We actually had planned on only using half the batch and dropping the other half off at a friend's house tomorrow, but it was so good that we ate more than our half! Luckily it's so easy to make that we'll probably make some more in the morning. We used half brown lentils and half red, and it was very good.

Instead of the cilantro sauce, we used some of our leftover Kheere ka Raita from the other night. Dee-lish!

PS - Lentils grow on a bush. According to Wikipedia: "The lentil or daal or pulse (Lens culinaris) is a bushy annual plant of the legume family, grown for its lens-shaped seeds. It is about 15 inches tall and the seeds grow in pods, usually with two seeds in each."