Friday, 26 April 2013

Linky Love

I have so many posts swirling around in my head, but so little time right now to actually write any of them.

So instead I'd like to link to three blogs I enjoy reading. They have a love of homemade and connecting family with the natural world in common.

1. My Healthy Green Family:
Free Range Mama lives with her husband and three children on acreage in British Columbia where she raises free range chickens, goats and bees, and an organic garden each year. She believes in making rather than buying, buying second hand rather than new and generally making do with less. I have learned so much from her about making personal care products along with other DIY projects. Her facebook page always has fantastic links to eco and garden ideas.

Click here to see some of her DIY recipes, such as lip balm, whipped body butter, soap making, beeswax food wrap, and borax free laundry detergent.
I learned how to make natural food colouring for my daughters' 
Valentine cupcakes from My Healthy Green Family.
This lovely pink colour is made with raspberries.

2. Go Explore Nature:
Debi, who lives in the Los Angeles area, shares the adventures that she and her explorers (sons) have outdoors. I originally found her blog through the nature photos she shares on Instagram and ideas she shares on Pinterest. I love the ideas for connecting children to nature in the backyard or further afield at beaches, forests and travels. She makes her activities simple enough to help anyone connect to nature, yet often has a new twist on an old favourite.

Click here to see some of her backyard nature exploring ideas, such as imaginary play, nature crafts and rainy day activities.
Although I don't get outside enough with my own girls, we enjoy 
exploring and playing in natural settings like Debi does with her boys 
in Go Explore Nature. Here we are playing in the sand 
at Garry Point, Steveston after flying kites.

3. SouleMama:
Amanda Blake-Soule lives in Maine with her husband and five children who she home schools. She is the author of three books that inspire families to connect with nature and the seasons and to be creative and repurpose items. She lives on a homestead in Maine which is currently home to chickens, sheep, pigs, turkeys, bees, and a large organic garden. I love reading about her slow, simple ways to grow, preserve, sew, knit, create and share. I am particularly fascinated by her recent attempts to learn how to spin wool. She is a talented photographer and her blog is fun to visit alone for the beautiful photos she takes of her children and their farm.

I am occasionally inspired to participate in her {this moment} on Fridays where people can link up by sharing a photo of a simple, special moment from the week.

When we visited this lovely farm on Salt Spring Island last year 
I had visions of my own homestead similar to what 
Amanda Blake-Soule has created with her family in Maine.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Happy Earth Day

There's a lot in the news and on the internet to drag someone down these days. Global warming is worse than we thought? Polar ice caps melting at an accelerated rate? Oil spills in backyards? Stephen Harper pulling Canada out of international agreements? Gah! Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed with information and powerless as an individual.

Personally I've had the rug pulled out from underneath me this past week and a half, with my mother in intensive care in the hospital. The only thing that has helped me to not feel overwhelmed, besides the love from my husband and daughters, has been to get outside and do some much overdue gardening.

I was looking forward to celebrating Earth Day this year with the students in my class. I had some fun activities planned, such as making a salad with the greens and herbs we grew in our classroom container garden. Unfortunately I am not at work while I deal with my mother's illness and care for my grandmother, so this will have to wait until I am back in the classroom next week.

This weekend when I was able to carve out a bit of time to power garden I realized that I was spending the Earth Day weekend how I should be spending it. I was doing something small, something personal and something real for the Earth.

I was excited to add homemade compost to my raised garden beds. We started backyard composting a year and a half ago and this was the first time I used any of it in my garden. As can be seen by the photo below, the garden beds look primed and ready for all the seedlings that are currently residing in my living room. The soil smells amazing; much better than the chicken manure I used last year before my own compost was ready. I was even more thrilled to do this because my neighbour finished building two more raised beds for me this past week, bringing my total to four.
My compost bin last fall, almost ready.

I had quite an ordeal weeding the beds and literally chopping down the kale trees that I had growing from last summer.
My kale and <ahem> garden, last October. I was still harvesting 
leaves at this point. It was probably a foot taller this weekend.

Seriously, they were huge; the stalks were about two inches wide. I would have kept the kale leaves but they had gone to seed and tasted bitter.
All the weeds and leftover garden ready to be chopped for the compost bin.

After weeding I had some pleasant surprises; there were some more beets growing, which I picked for the greens, and the potatoes I started two years ago are coming along nicely. I'm happy to see my garlic growing, although I wish I'd planted more of it last fall as some have not come up.
I am looking forward to seeing how my garlic turns out.

I finished the afternoon planting some peas directly outside, to which I will add some that I have started inside. I've cheated a bit by purchasing a few pea plants from the garden store just so I see some green in the beds.
All my baby seedlings getting ready for the garden.

I have big plans for those four garden beds!

Happy Earth Day.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Push Power

It wasn't until we moved into a single family home three years ago that I realized how much I hate lawns. We lived in a townhouse prior to this and we enjoyed having a grassy fields in the complex for our children to run around, but it was never my responsibility to look after the lawns.

Now that it is our responsibility to cut the grass at least once a week in the growing season I find lawns to be nothing but trouble. I can't believe how much work it is to have a nice, even, green lawn. Mowing, watering, trimming, blah, blah, blah. Such a waste of time, in my opinion. I would rather put all that energy into my vegetable garden. I have long term plans for adding some raised garden beds in our front yard, where most of our grass is, but for now I have to be content with the raised beds I have in the backyard (two currently, with two more being added this spring). I am inspired and motivated by the stories and photos of people who have converted their lawn into a garden.

In the meantime I have to deal with my lawn. I refuse to water it in the summer and I don't care if it turns brown. There is a pesticide ban in my community (yay!) and I refuse to weed all the dandelions because we think they are pretty (and edible). I find it funny how a lawn is such a symbol of middle class suburbia, but part of me does my best, within what I am willing to do, to keep my lawn looking half decent in order to fit the part here.

When we first moved to our home we purchased an electric rechargeable mower with which we were reasonably happy (quite quiet, no emissions). But we soon discovered that no one would service it when it broke down, so we bought a reel mower, which I had wanted for some time. I realize that they are nothing new, and many people use one, but this is generally not the case where I live. A true marker of warmer weather is the sound of lawn mower motors and the smell of gasoline.

We decided upon this reel mower *, although there are many others on the market. It has several different settings for raising and lowering the cutting blades. Modern reel mowers have come a long way; they are much easier to push now compared to the one my father used in the early 1970s. As long as the setting isn't too low for the grass height, causing it to jam and need cleaning, I am very happy with it so far.

I like how I get a workout when I cut the lawn (really - my heart rate goes up quite nicely and my thighs and buttocks are sore after). I appreciate not using electricity or gas to cut something I don't like having in the first place. Often I just leave the grass cuttings on the lawn, but if the grass has been left too long I will rake up the bulk of it, adding to my workout. Bonus - I save the cuttings for my compost bin in the backyard.
No, this photo was not taken last fall - it was a few weeks ago when I cut the grass 
for the first time this season. I'm a lazy gardener and I never raked the leaves.

On nice days my girls will join me, hatching adventures, picking dandelions, and perhaps even occasionally helping me to rake up the cuttings.
Such great helpers.

There are times when the lawn really needs cutting and I'm just too tired (or lazy) to get out there and do it, but I think that happens to people with gas powered mowers as well.

And there are those times when I've left it way too long and I have to go over the lawn a couple of times, lowering the setting each time, as I had to a few weeks ago when I cut the lawn for the first time this season. Wow was I sore and tired after that!
The grass was crazy long a few weeks ago. Oops. I had to 
cut it two more times to get it to a reasonable length.

Overall I love my reel mower. It has zero carbon emissions and sound pollution, it gives me a workout and I get to enjoy being outside.

* I purchased this product myself and have received no compensation for writing this. I just like it and wanted to share my experiences so far.

I wrote this post over a week ago, before a family health emergency that has my family in survival mode. I realized when I came home from the hospital yesterday that my grass is almost as long as the photo above. When things settle down somewhat I'm going to have fun cutting the lawn again.


Sunday, 7 April 2013

Dandelion Bread

I have been in a bit of a funk and feeling down. Going back to a routine after spring break, which would have been good for me, was interrupted by my daughters getting sick. As any parent knows, when one person in the family gets sick it's just a matter of time before someone else gets sick. By the time my girls were ready to go back to school it was my turn to feel sick. I felt like I was dropping the ball at work. Then the beautiful summer-like weather we had the last week of the break turned to more typical chilly spring rain. I really needed a pick-me-up by the weekend.

What is happier than flowers? I have been wanting to harvest and cook with all the dandelions that grow in my lawn for some time after all the delicious recipes I have been seeing around the interwebs. Many people use the young dandelion greens in their salads, especially in the spring, but I wanted to challenge myself to use the flowers.

Dandelions are full of calcium, iron, Vitamin C, Vitamin A and Vitamin K. They also have potassium, folic acid and magnesium. In Traditional Chinese Medicine they are used as a spring cleanse and diuretic. But that's not why I wanted to try them. I just like the idea of foraging for food and eating something people consider a weed. It makes me feel a little rebellious.

My front lawn is covered in dandelions so it is easy for me to pick them.

I had originally decided to try dandelion fritters, but changed my mind and made dandelion bread instead because I liked the look of the yellow bread in the recipe I loosely followed here. I'm glad I found the website and I am interested in checking out the blogger's book, Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager for more "wild" food I can collect in my area.

After picking off all the green leafy parts I had about 3/4 cup of dandelion petals (the original recipe calls for one cup).

Next time I think I will mix in some whole wheat flour for added texture and flavour and perhaps some ground nuts.

One of the reasons I have problems with baking is because I can't help myself; I like to add and substitute. I wasn't sure how flavourful the bread would be with just the petals so I added some grated ginger. I also don't use canola oil, so I substituted with almond oil.

Here is my first version of the recipe:

2 cups unbleached flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup of dandelion petals
1/3 cup of almond oil
5 tablespoons honey
1 egg
1 1/2 cups of milk
grated ginger to taste

Mix the dry and wet ingredients separately, then add the wet to the dry, leaving it somewhat lumpy. Pour into a baking dish and bake at 350 degrees until done.

Overall I like the bread, which has a mild flavour that increased somewhat in intensity the next day. Everyone in my house enjoyed it except for my extremely fussy five year old Banana Girl. Actually I'm not sure she dislikes it or just didn't want to eat more of it once she found out it was made with dandelion petals. In addition to some whole wheat (perhaps 1/2 cup) and nuts, next time I will add more grated ginger because I like more robust flavours.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Green Confession: I Love Disneyland

The eco part of me is ashamed to admit that I love Disneyland.

There are so many aspects about a trip to Disneyland that are hard on the Earth. It certainly doesn't fit the picture for a crunchy vacation.

First of all, there is the getting there part. Regardless of the method we chose to get there, we are belching out carbon dioxide.

Recycling is ridiculous. When we saw signs encouraging us to recycle they only referred to cans and plastic bottles. No recycling for the plastic cutlery, plastic cups and juice boxes everywhere. I certainly didn't expect composting sites for the organic matter people were tossing into the garbage bins. Never mind how easy it would be to have paper and cardboard product recycling.

Speaking of water bottles, we brought our own stainless steel bottles with the intention of filling them at water fountains. I am ashamed to admit that we ended up buying bottled water because we couldn't stand the taste of the tap water. We are very spoiled with the quality of our drinking water here in British Columbia.
Unless we had a meal in a sit-down restaurant, everything was served on styrofoam or in non-recycleable plastic cups. We purchased a few "souvenir" containers so that we weren't throwing them away, but they are plastic, which I am trying to reduce in our home.

I can't even imagine the energy it takes to power the resort and park.  I love the evening light shows and fireworks. Disney really knows how to put on a parade.
We were excited to see Carsland this time, which 
was under construction last time we visited.

I am a sucker for Disney merchandise which is everywhere and at every turn. We walked off favourite rides, like Star Tours, right smack into a gift shop. So much for reducing my consumerist urges

If truth be told I wanted my photo with the 
characters more than my girls did.

Don't forget the gender-typing with frilly princesses for girls and jedi fights and cars for boys (although my girls love it all).
This is from our trip two years ago when the older 
girls were still into princesses. They have passed the 
torch to my three year old who loved meeting 
the princesses in the new Fantasy Faire.

I can't believe how I have been branded by Disneyland. I went several times growing up and I have such happy memories and emotions associated with Disneyland. Two years ago we went with my parents and when we arrived at the front gates my mother and I actually got misty eyed remembering all our good times. For someone who is trying to reduce brand purchases (more expensive than making from scratch, additional packaging, additives, chemicals, etc) this is rather embarrassing.

Imagine my horror when my husband pointed out this sign to me:
I suppose this is a good thing, being forced into labelling toxic materials. Can you imagine if this was done everywhere? Then again, would people care? I'm not sure it would change the public's buying patterns because all their favourite products and brands would be included. Sorry for being so cynical. 

Despite all this, I had a fantastic time and we hope to return in a few years, because I find each age gets something different out of the park. I guess everyone has their weaknesses and Disneyland is one of mine.