Friday, October 31, 2014

Sowing Seeds and Making Connections

I wish I could say that the first thing I did after deciding that we should be eating better was to leap into action.  Unfortunately, it wouldn't be true.  The first thing I did was to mope and whine to myself and my husband that it was too hard and that we just couldn't afford to eat better.  The second, and by far more productive, thing I did was to look long and hard at where our food dollars were going.  While it was true that they were pretty much all going towards healthy foods, many of which were still in a fairly raw state and thus about as cheap as they could get there was still some waste that could be cut and plenty of room for more beans and rice (which the kids happen to LOVE).  I could save a few dollars a week by making my own bread, granola bars, and broth, but that didn't really cover things like organic milk or free-range eggs or the double produce share from our local CSA that we would need to feed our family.  While I was still in the feeling sorry for myself stage a friend called and said the words I always love to hear "Can you babysit for me later this week?  I can pay you in eggs."  You see, this friend has amazing kids that play so well with my kids that babysitting for a couple of hours really doesn't feel like work.  Plus, her family keeps backyard chickens that produce exactly the kinds of eggs that I like to eat and enjoys a good loaf of homemade bread even when they don't need babysitting.  That simple request was the kick in the pants I need to start getting creative.  I realized that even though I couldn't grow all the food we needed, even the small things that I can do add up and can be traded with others in a way that both of us win.

Capturing rainwater for the garden. 
That realization got me thinking about our grocery budget, our kitchen and our backyard in a whole new way.  I realized that even if I couldn't grow everything we needed, every little bit would help.  I planted a small garden from seed to minimize the upfront investment and thus the risk of my black thumb setting us back even more than before.  I realized that even a few fresh herbs would let me dress up the otherwise boring meals made up of cheap staples that we'd be eating while we saved towards bulk purchases.  I started looking up local farmers and ranchers on and Local Harvest so that I could get an idea of just how much I would need to spend each week/month/year to feed us all.  The more I looked, the more I realized that the expensive part of eating locally grown, organic food was just getting started, not the day to day eating.  Grass-fed beef can be had for under $7/lb, humanely raised pigs for under $6/lb and grass-fed lamb or goat for around $8/lb provided you buy a whole animal directly from the farmer and have it professionally processed (the cost of processing is included in that number).  Honestly, that isn't much more than you would pay for conventional versions of the same meat at the grocery store.  The problem with that is two-fold.  First of all, while the unit price is pretty reasonable, when you are buying dozens or even hundreds of pounds of meat all at once it adds up quickly.  The second problem is where on earth to store that much meat.  We have a dedicated freezer, but even that will still only hold half a cow with little room for anything else.  Thankfully we have friends.  I started talking to everyone I could think of that might listen and found some other families that were interested in sharing the meat.  Once we had friends who were willing to split the cost and the meat we all started saving.  It took months, both to save the money and for the animals to grow, but a just a few weeks ago I took delivery on a whole hog all neatly wrapped up in butcher paper and our plans for a more fresh, local, organic diet really started getting traction.
This is just the hog...
Once we had meat I was able to take the part of our grocery budget that I had been spending on conventional meat to get us through and redirect it towards a CSA share.  Now that our garden is more established I can sometimes walk out the backdoor for meal ideas instead of looking at the grocery ads which has allowed me to route more money towards the CSA share.  Add the money that I'm saving by baking my own sourdough bread and other baked goods and the $40/week that a double CSA share* costs is suddenly affordable while still saving for next year's meat.  Now that we are getting a CSA share and have a freezer full of meat and a garden with flowers and herbs and a sourdough starter begging to be baked into bread every week we don't need to buy nearly as much from the grocery store.  Suddenly we are sitting down to dinner some nights and realizing that everything on the table is not only organically grown, but that we can name the people who grew or made most of we have on our plates.  When we pick up our CSA share from the same group that my husband and I picked up our first CSA share 7 years ago the faces are the same and we are remembered despite the fact that we had taken a break for 1.5 years.  When we bite into the amazingly tasty pork chops I smile, not just because they taste better than any pork I have had in a long time, but also because I remember watching the piglets play and nap in the shade of some huge trees when we visited the farm where they were raised last June.  I don't have to forget about the cruelties of commercial hog raising because this hog lived a life that I know won't give anyone nightmares, not even my highly sensitive 3 year old.  When I watch my kids lick their plates to get the last of the applesauce, I don't have to worry about checking the ingredients list for corn syrup, instead I can remember picking the apples with my husband as the kids helped and played in the mud in the orchard.  I can remember hanging out in the kitchen with my husband late into the night as we peeled, cooked and canned over 100lbs of apples.  I can smile, knowing that I have dozens more jars stashed under our bed to (hopefully) get us through until the apples are ready again next fall.
Making applesauce together.
We still have more to do.  I haven't planted our winter garden yet and we'd really like to get some beef in our freezer instead of just pork.  I'd like to find a better source for milk than the factory farm organic that we are currently buying.  I need to order a turkey for Thanksgiving and figure out how to cure the sweet potatoes that are almost done growing in the flowerbed.  I need to figure out how to make bread from freshly ground, whole wheat instead of just using flour from the store.  I need to roast up the pumpkins from our CSA that the kids decorated for Halloween (they used stickers) so that I can make the pumpkin bread that we love eating for breakfast and snacks in the fall and winter.  However, as I stand typing this in a kitchen that smells of baking bread and simmering soup I know that we are already further than I realized towards our goal of eating well.  I also know that I can't wait to see where we wind up.
Butternut squash blossom from
the garden
*Remember that I am feeding a family of 5 and it is not uncommon for us to have a couple of extra mouth at our table for a few meals each week.  If you are a single person or a couple that doesn't entertain very often your costs will be MUCH lower.
Black-eyed peas growing in my garden

Thursday, October 23, 2014

We Are What We Eat

This is a phrase that I have been thinking about a lot lately.  It is a phrase that has been around for as long as I can remember, but it wasn't until I was reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan (or rather listening to it while driving across the MidWest) that I really started to take it seriously.  You see, Pollan points out that we are quite literally what we eat.  All of the carbon molecules, amino acids, fats, sugars, etc that our bodies use to build new cells, run the ones we have and repair old ones come from the foods that we eat and the liquids that we drink.  I always knew that my husband and I felt better when we were eating a healthy, balanced diet.  However, I never really thought about the fact that the very carbon atoms that build my children's bodies come directly from the food that they eat as do the protein that builds their muscles, the fats that turn into hormones, and the sugars that turn into energy for their cells so that they can run and play, grow and learn.  We all know that eating a good breakfast is important for school success and that it is hard for anyone to concentrate when they are hungry, but it is easy to get stuck in the mentality that food is little more than tasty fuel for our brains and bodies.


It would not be fair to say that this is a novel concept to me.  In college I studied wildlife biology.  I took classes that talked about how different grasses nourished game and livestock in different ways.  I also learned over and over again about how our cells work and how our bodies digest our food and turn it into the building blocks of life.  I even had classes about how different types of common livestock animals have bodies designed for specific types of diets and all of the things that can happen if they get the wrong kind of food for too long.  I knew about CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) where grass eating cows are packed into tight spaces and fed lots of corn/antibiotics/animal byproducts/etc instead of hay.  I have driven by large scale dairies and CAFOs that could be smelled many miles before they could be seen.  I even knew a little bit about commercial hog production, though the little bit I knew about that was enough to keep me from wanting to learn more.  I also worked for years doing computer stuff for our local cooperative extension service.  I posted the warnings when the EPA decided to pull certain pesticides off of the list of allowed chemicals because they caused too many health problems for those applying them.  I saw a tiny bit of the backlash from conventional farmers who felt that they could not grow crops without these chemicals.  I saw the extension service working to help farmers who were dependent on "roundup ready" crops figure out what to do when the weeds became resistant to the only herbicide that those farmers knew to use.  I really had no excuse for sticking my head in the sand and pretending that all food is created equal.
This is a swale I saw in Iowa while on our roadtrip.  I was
so excited to see good land management that I took a picture.
Despite all of this and a love of good food I never really thought too much about it once I had kids because I was too busy thinking about other things like how to raise them into the best adults that I can.  That isn't to say that I've been feeding my kids junk.  We try to eat meals as a family, snacks are frequently fruits and veggies and some sort of non-grain plant food pretty much always appears at the dinner table.  We are lucky enough to live in a region with a year round growing season in a neighborhood where fresh produce is used to draw people into the grocery store so despite a very tight grocery budget we still eat pretty well by modern American standards.

However, I have always been a little bit of a "slow food" person at heart as well as a lover of books (especially nonfiction) and bit by bit I have been realizing that changes need to happen.  At this point I am responsible for raising three amazing children* and I am the main person responsible for making sure that they get what they need in terms of food, shelter, clothing, teaching, love and responsibility to grow into amazing adults. (Yes, my husband helps, but he is also at work all day earning the living that supports the rest of us.) However, the kinds of changes that need to happen are ones that I have been told over and over again can't happen on a tight food budget.  I really want to start feeding my kids mostly organically produced fruits and veggies.  I want to feed them milk, cheese and yogurt from cows that have eaten grass.  I want their eggs to come from chickens that have been allowed to roam free, and not just packed into a giant shed with a little door they could theoretically go out if they could find it and weren't too demoralized to care.  I want the meat we eat (because we really are omnivores here and feel better with meat in our diet) to come from animals that have been humanely raised and allowed to eat the diet that they evolved to eat.  So how do I do it?  How do I feed a family of five organic produce, grass-fed meat and organic dairy products on a seriously tight food budget**?

The answer to that involves planning, saving, cooking and some creativity.  I started the planning and saving phase back in April after that fateful road trip and things are just now coming together, but it is totally worth it so far.  I am hoping to share my journey with anyone who is interested and would love to answer any questions that come up along the way.  I would also love it if this post and those that I hope will follow it inspire someone to eat even a little bit better or to spend their food dollars in a slightly more sustainable way.  Who's with me?

* Yes, yes, bad blogger, no cookie. I had a baby that didn't ever get mentioned here, but if I have any followers left that don't know me in real life I'll be shocked.  I'm pretty sure the 3ish visits this blog sees each week are all from my dad.  Hi Dad!
**When I say seriously tight I mean it.  When I first started budgeting I looked up what people got in the way of food stamps and used that as my jumping off point.  I increased it when we needed to and decreased it when we had extra and needed something elsewhere.  I haven't checked recently, but last I did our food budget is below the USDA numbers for frugal shoppers feeding a family of 4.  That said, cash is an important part of how I have made grocery shopping at this level work as is living in a place where we can literally grow food crops year round and the local farmers can too.  I honestly don't know if someone who is limited to food stamps or living in a climate that has harsh winters would be able to make this work on the budget that we are using.  However, these tips may still be useful in helping others in those sorts of situations move in the same direction.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

One Day

Last night I came across a list of day when A was about 6 months old.  It made me smile and wondered what a normal day was like for us now.  There is no such thing as a "normal" day with young kids.  However, as we have no special plans for today I figure this is as good a chance as any to track exactly what our day looks like.  I figured I would share so that I could go back and read it later.  Maybe someone will get a smile from this entry or a better insight into exactly what it means to stay home with young children.  Maybe it will do both for someone, maybe it won't.  Either way, it is a good way for me to see exactly where all my time goes so here you are:

Sunday, September 9, 2012


As I was sitting there rocking and nursing T to sleep tonight I started thinking.  I started thinking about how big he has gotten.  I started thinking about the fact that it probably won't be long before he no longer wants me to rock him to sleep (already if he wakes up when I set him down he rolls over, grabs his stuffed bunny and goes back to sleep).  But most of all, I started thinking about the last year and a bit since he was born*.

T was very proud to "finally" figure out how spoons work.
My kids are a little over 22 months apart and I love that.  I still remember when we told people we were expecting our second child the overwhelming response was something along the lines of "was this planned?" and "already?".  Everyone went on to warn us that it would be hard having two kids so close together because A still needed so much from me.  The thing is that T was very much "planned" and we were excited to have our kids close together.  We knew what we were getting into.  We knew that having two kids under two while DH was working full time and in grad school and while I was working part time from home would be downright crazy; especially since our family is pretty far away.  We also knew that my sister and I are only 21 months apart and very close because of it.  We felt it would be worth all of the work and crazy if our kids could grow up with the kind of bond that my sister and I share.  Thankfully, it wasn't as hard as I expected (though that isn't to say it wasn't/isn't very hard sometimes) and our kids are very close.

A showing T how puzzles work.
As I was rocking my sleeping boy tonight I started thinking about why it was that the last year didn't seem so hard.  In retrospect it really probably was quite hard, but I didn't see it that way at the time.  The only reason I can think of for this is what my expectations for this last year have been.  While I would have loved to have everything totally together before T was born, I knew that between being huge and pregnant in August and the time I spent chasing A around that just wasn't going to happen.  Instead I made an effort to get highest priority stuff done first and work from there.  Once T was born I expected that he would need to be held and nursed a lot. As such, when he occasionally wanted to be set down to stare at toys or the dust bunnies under the couch it was a welcome surprise instead of a relief.  I also expected him to go through 12-18 diapers a day at first which meant that when he was regularly using 18-24 I just sighed and threw another load in the wash (we use cloth diapers, in case you somehow didn't know that) instead of wondering why my baby was peeing every 20 minutes (well, I also realized that this was probably due to the fact that he was also nursing every 20 minutes).  I expected that A would have a hard time adjusting to having to share her time with me so I dusted off my carriers and made sure to do lots of stuff with her while T napped on my chest.  Because I expected these things it really didn't seem like that big a deal to take my newborn and not-quite-two-year-old to the grocery store (well, that and the fact that I just strapped him to my chest and continued life).  After all, it was a bit of a pain logistically, but the alternative was not having food in the house which would be even more of a pain.  The things that I expected I could prepare for physically, emotionally and logistically.
A playing at the turtle pond while T napped on my chest.

What did throw me for a loop were the things that I didn't expect.  I didn't expect that my labor with T would go so fast that my mom wouldn't even have a chance to start driving down from her house 2 hours away before I had him (thankfully we had wonderful neighbors who watched A for us until my mom made it down, I'm sad that they have since moved).  I really didn't expect that after a short and comparatively** easy labor and delivery I would have some complications that make a full recovery take weeks.  What I really didn't expect was that when I woke up the morning after T was born feeling great and wanting nothing more than to go home to see my husband and daughter that I would have to stay two more days because T was jaundiced.  Honestly, those two days were probably harder than any other two days together since he was born and I think it is because an extended hospital stay was the one thing I didn't expect.  I didn't expect that I wouldn't be able to go home to see my girl or that my new son wouldn't be able to wear the cute little hat I knit him because all of his skin would need to be exposed for the lights to work.  I didn't expect that after a VBAC we would wind up staying at the hospital almost as long as I did after my c-section.  I didn't expect that my mom would have to be watching A for that long while recovering from gallbladder surgery or that I wouldn't be able to bring her new grandson home for her birthday.

If you look closely you can still see the yellow around his eyes.
Once I talked to the doctors and the nurses and the lactation consultants I was able to get my expectations in line, however.  I was able to see the silver lining and make the best of everything.  I was able to enjoy the quiet hours I spent laying there with T under the lights*** bonding with my new baby in the same quiet way I had bonded with my older one.  I was able to rejoice in the fact that the degree I had never actually finished had still given me the knowledge to speak intelligently with the doctors and nurses about the treatment and how to make it work for our family and our baby.  Most of all, I had time to just be and recover in ways that I never would have had were I at home with A wanting me to read just one more story and instead had time to lay there and read my own stories on my Kindle.

The two of us under the lights.

This last year has taught me a lot.  I have learned how to better juggle my life.  I have learned just how much my almost-three-year-old can do to help and just how strong her will can be.  I have learned just how fast a baby can crawl when he really wants to get to something before you can stop him.  I have learned how much a barely-one-year-old can get into when his big sister is there to "help".  I have learned how amazing it is to watch children grow and learn every day.  I have learned how frustrating it can be when nothing goes the way you plan.  I have learned how to let go and enjoy what I can.  But most of all, I have learned the power of expectations and how they can shape our lives for better or worse.

He climbed up on his own and got down safely.  I was
standing by just in case.

* I don't want to hear any complaints about my lack of blogging or pictures.  As much as I love writing, I've been rather busy lately and my family comes first.
**Compared to A's birth.  Honestly, even with the issues I had later, T's birth and the recovery after was way easier than A's.  But that is a story for another day (if I ever find time).  All I will say is that I prefer natural childbirth to a c-section any day of the week even though I am really, really thankful for the doctor that delivered A and kept us both safe.
*** The standard way to do phototherapy is to keep the baby in a bassinet under UV lights.  However, T would not have any of that and would scream his little lungs out and refuse to nurse which just made stuff worse.  The solution that we found with the help of a very helpful lactation consultant was for him to lay next to me while I was awake and to put the lights over both of us.  Since I was nearby he stayed much calmer and was even able to nurse under the lights which would not have been possible with the standard protocol.  This solution is not for everyone, but it worked really well for us and I am thankful for the staff that helped make it happen.

Friday, June 22, 2012

{this moment}

{this moment} - Inspired by Soulemama. In her words: A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you want to participate head over to her blog and enjoy!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Flats Challenge Day 3 - For the Love of Flats!

For those of you who somehow missed it, I am participating in the 2nd Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge.  If you want details click the link, but basically everyone who is participating (almost 500 households) agrees to use flat diapers that are then handwashed and air dried for a week.  Each day those of us with blogs try to talk about the same topic so that we can all share our ideas and learn from each other.  The topic for Day 3 is "How do you use your flats?".

Being me, I assumed that this question was asking what your favorite folds are which I briefly touched on in my last post (origami for T and pad fold for A).  However, when I started looking around I saw that this post could be a lot more broad.  The topic isn't just flats this week, but flats in general.  That is a topic I can really get behind (please pardon the pun).

Tired boy models the origami fold.
While flats may not be me normal "go to" diaper, they do see a lot of use in our house.  How hard our water is seems to change a couple of times a year and when that happens I have to adjust my washing routine for my diapers.  While I'm figuring out what's wrong I switch over to flats because they are the easiest to get clean and the fastest to get dry.  If I can get any diaper clean and dry quickly it will be flats.  My cotton prefolds are next on the list (and my general favorite), but they are still harder to wash and slower to dry than the flats.  I also love flats for when my baby is in between sizes of diapers.  When the infant prefolds were just a touch too small and the next size up was still rather giant, flats fill the gap.  When A became a supersoaker and was leaking out of her diaper at night a folded up flat provided the extra absorbency we needed to save the sheets.  Flats are also really breathable so when we have had problems with diaper rash a flat with a wool cover gave our kids the air their bums needed to heal.
A much younger A sporting a flat and shorties during last
year's challenge. We use the same set-up for rashes.
However, the place we use flats most often is as a backup against running out.  A despises disposables and refuses to wear them.  Now that she is verbal she claims that they hurt, especially when she pees.  Because of this we can't really plan to buy disposables if we run out of diapers due to lack of planning.  We keep a few flats and two one-size covers in the car in case we run out while running errands or visiting friends and we keep a stack of flats in the house in case we get behind on laundry.  We try not to need these back-ups, but when we need them it is nice to know we have them.  I especially love that I don't have to worry about leaving A in a wet diaper if she uses her last one when we are at a friend's house or carrying a half naked T in to the laundry room because I didn't realize until it was too late that I hadn't pulled the diapers out of the dryer yet.

A still loves her flats, this time in her training
How about you?  Do you use flats in every day life?  If so, how?  Click here to read everyone else's answers.

Flats Challenge Day 2 - What Am I Using?

As I said yesterday, I am participating in the 2nd Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge.  Basically everyone agrees to use flat cloth diapers and then to handwash and air dry them for a week.  If you want to hear more about the challenge follow the link above.  As part of the challenge anyone who has a blog is encouraged to discuss a variety of topics in an effort to get the information out where anyone can see it and make it easier for us all to help each other.  The hope is that if one person is having problems they will be able to blog surf a bit and find a place where someone else has posted a solution.  These posts are also nice to refer back to later on if you wind up in a situation where you are having to start from scratch or run into a problem.  All that being said, today's (well, really yesterday's, but I'm running behind) topic is "supplies" so I'll blather on about mine :)

Since I did the challenge last year and cloth diaper normally I already had everything I needed.  Well, actually, I have WAY more than I really need :)  That said, I'll do my best to lay out exactly what I'm actually using this year in hopes that it will help someone else who is buying a stash for the first time.  The supplies really fall into two categories, diapers and washing supplies.  Since I have two kids that are very different ages I'll lay out what I'm using for each.
The diapers and wipes are folded and ready to go.
T. is 9 months old and is still very much in the traditional diaper phase.  For him I am using the Ikea "burp cloths" that I bought last year for the challenge.  I have 24 of these, but am not coming close to using all of them.  I think if I had to do it again I would only buy 15-18 of these and I know that in a pinch I could get away with 12.  I am using the origami fold with these and securing them with a snappi and then putting a waterproof cover over them.  I use onesize covers and both he and A are currently in the same size so I have WAY more covers than I need.  I think I could get by pretty reasonably with 4-5 covers and have managed with 3 in a pinch.  The brands we like are Thirsties Duo, Bummis Super Bright and Blueberry covers, but both of my kids are long and skinny so we really need that double gusset.  We are also using cloth wipes from Green Mountain Diaper and with two kids and washing daily we'd probably be okay with 24 wipes.  That's it, diapers, wipes, covers and a snappi...pretty simple really.  I also use some fleece liners, but this is just microfleece that I found on clearance and cut to size, nothing special and $4 worth of fleece got me more liners than I can ever use.

The flat on the left is folded to the same size as the original
insert on the right.

When it came to figuring out diapers for A. I was a little more worried.  She is 2.5 years old, very active and in the process of potty training.  She still needs something when we are out and about or when she's sleeping, but whatever she's wearing has to be easy to pull up and down in case she suddenly realizes she needs to go.  We'd been using the Flip Trainers which are nice because they have a wipe-clean reusable shell and a bunch of cotton inserts so you can get away with fewer pairs.  The insert is held in place with velcro which my active toddler really needs to keep everything from shifting.  I tried pad folding the Ikea flats we are using for T, but they kept bunching.  I tried the Flour Sack Towels I got from Target last year and had the same problem.  Then I remembered the Gerber Flats that I'd been given at my baby shower before A was born.  They are small, overpriced and not terribly absorbent, but they also have a looser weave than anything else I had.  I pad folded one to the same size as the insert and gave it a try and sure enough it worked!  The weave is loose enough that they stick and the lack of absorbency doesn't matter so much when it is just meant as a back-up.  I will say that we have had one leak when A. wet her bed this morning, but as she normally wakes up dry I am going to consider that a fluke.  We actually started using this system over the weekend and last night was the only time we've had a problem with it.  We are using two of the Flip shells and going through about 3 Gerber Flats per day.  Since the Gerber flats come in packs of 10 (I think) you should be plenty fine with just the one pack.

A wanted to help with the washing.

The final category is washing supplies.  For this I'm keeping stuff pretty simple.  I throw the dirty diapers directly into a 5 gallon bucket that has a lid (I dump any poop into the toilet first, but a quick shake of the fleece liner and it comes right off).  Once the bucket is half full I switch it out for a new bucket (I have two and they are worth every penny) and start the diapers in the old bucket soaking.  I use a cheap plunger with holes drilled in it for agitation, Charlie's Soap and Oxiclean for washing and a clothesline in the backyard for drying.  I'll go into details in another post, but this set-up when combined with the hot and windy weather we've been having has made it a lot easier than I remembered.  I think the secret is the second bucket because it means that I'm not under any pressure to finish the wash cycle before I can change the next diaper.

Here is a short list for a toddler and a baby for those that just want to skim:
18-24 Ikea "burp cloths"
1 pack Gerber Flats
4-6 PUL covers
2 Flip Trainer Shells
24 GMD wipes
24 homemade fleece liners
2 5-gallon buckets
1 plunger with holes in it
clothes line
medium wetbag for when you out and about, though a plastic grocery bag will work if needed.

That's it.  Really, that's all I'm using to diaper 2 kids and the crazy thing is that those supplies would last me for both kids from birth to potty training if they had to.  If you want to see what everyone else is using head over to the main page for Day 2.