Sunday, May 10, 2009

Yesterday's Backyard Harvest

Here's what I collected yesterday from the backyard. I can get used to this gardening thing....

The green stuff is the forever-producing lettuce that I planted months ago. Will they ever stop?? The flowers are squash blossoms whose fate will be to the tune of stuffed, battered and fried (thanks to CC for that idea!). The purple fingerlings are Pakistan Mulberries. The little yellow balls are loquats. And of course, blue eggs from the girls. They pumped out four of 'em in one day!

Hopefully very soon I can treat you to some tomato eye candy.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


We decided we needed a pantry to clear up some counter and cabinet space in the kitchen. This pantry will be the future home of all foodstuff for the kitchen including cereals, pasta, oils, flour, etc. The kitchen will then have enough cabinet space for all our gadgets and hardware.

We closed off the weird doorway from the dining room to the laundry room and put this pantry in the corner of the laundry room where that doorway used to be. Can you visualize it?

Here are some pics...

I didn't think to take any pics during the process of building the shelves. Oops!

Here it is with the shelves completed and the main walls of the pantry up. One set of shelves is very deep, the other set is kinda shallow.

Here I have the rest of the framing up, with one sheet of drywall installed. Getting those pieces in the middle angled correctly took some time and a couple of wasted 2x4s. But it's perfect now! I'll find a use for those wasted 2x4's, don't you worry. I'm thinking chicken ladder...

My third hand.

Here it is fully drywalled, with our first visitor.

Here it is with the first coat of mud. Have I ever told you how much I hate mudding? No? Well, I hate it with a passion. By the time I get around to the third coat, my patience is gone and I rush through it. Since this is such a small job, I'm hoping I can dig around for some patience and do this thing right.

I won't bore you with anymore photos along the way to blissful pantry-dom. My next pantry post will be of the final product, fully stocked.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Going Gangbusters

As a friend of mine put it, "Those tomatoes are going gangbusters!"

They are indeed. And I'm shocked, because I've been known by many to possess a black thumb. That is, until I got my hands on this book. I've read other gardening books, but man.... I couldn't put this one down! I am a serious gardening dork now.

Oh and by the way, everything in the veggie garden is totally organic. I use no chemical pesticides or commercial fertilizers, because what's the point, right? Might as well just buy it from the store...

Most of the pests are taken care of by the hundreds of lizards that live around here, as well as those cute pest-eating chickens of ours. I used Neem Oil to spray for bugs once, but later I realized the bugs were not enough of a problem to actually spray. Plus, those bugs are quickly devoured by the ladybugs (a major beneficial garden insect). Chicken poop is my fertilizer of choice since it's free and abundant at this point.

Anyhow, here are some pics of my victory garden! Click on any of the pics for a close-up view.

Below is English Thyme growing between rocks in one of my raised beds:

Below is a vigorous Patty Pan Squash plant started from seed:

Close-up of a Patty Pan Squash. They are small and delicious! Check out its interesting shape.

These are rows of Sweet Corn in a raised bed. These were also started from seed:

Pole Beans started from seed as well as transplants, climbing up a trellis that I made out of 1x2s. Notice the tendrils wrapping around the pole, which I am way too mesmerized with. I spend too much time staring at those little rascals.

View of the corn/squash/beans/peppers raised bed. These four plants are great companions, since they all contribute to the growth of one another by providing special nutrients to the soil. My raised beds were made out of broken concrete chunks found around the property and/or found for free on Craigslist.

Integrated Pest Management, a.ka. the Adorable Chickens.

These tomatoes were started from seeds that came from a package of Trader Joe's Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes I had bought for rapid consumption. I just picked a few from the package, squished the tomatoes into the ground and voila! Here's what I got! I do believe cherry tomatoes are the easiest plants to grow and also one of the tastiest. Who doesn't like cherry tomatoes???

View of my tomato/lettuce/radish bed, most started from seed. I have too many different kinds of tomatoes to list...

These are Butterhead Lettuce started from seed. We've been pulling the outer leaves off and they keep producing more for us. I will forever be planting lettuce.

Look closely and you will see a Jersey Giant Asparagus sprouting up. Asparagus plants are perennial and they can last up to 25 years! Preparing an asparagus bed takes some time, but is well worth the effort in the long run.

These are Mary Washington Asparagus ferns. The asparagus you saw above will look like one of these, if it's not picked. It is not recommended to pick any asparagus the first year, in order to establish a good fern/root system. The ferns grow into billowy, 4-foot-tall beauties by the end of the season. Yummy and ornamental!

These are Mammoth Sunflowers. They are almost 2 feet high now, but should reach about 8 feet high, with heads 1 foot in diameter! They will produce seeds for roasting as well as for the chickens to devour.

I hope you enjoyed touring my veggie garden. I just completed a third raised bed (with Anisa's help!) and I will put it into production starting this winter for cool-season crops. In the meantime, I will let the soil settle and build up an earthworm population under a thick bed of chopped macadamia tree leaves.
More updates to follow....

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pakistan Mulberry

Check out these finger-sized mulberries from our 3-year-old Pakistan Mulberry tree:

The first year they were a lot sweeter. I'm wondering if I gave the tree too much water this year.... I fertilized once, after the fruit had started to come in, which could've been a mistake I guess. All part of the learning process!

If anyone has any experience with this type of mulberry, let me know how to make the fruit sweeter. I'd appreciate it!

They are still very tasty though. Just not like they were the first year.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I Love You, Honey

Sniffle sniffle,
Honk honk.

Sniffle sniffle,
Honk honk.

This is the poetry my nose makes this time of year starting at 5am every day. The story usually ends around noon. It is an epic poem, complete with suffering and tragedy. I have lived with seasonal allergies for most of my post-pubescent life. In high school I was called "tissue box girl" because I sported a box of tissues everywhere I went. My record for number of back-to-back sneezes: 31... on the bus home from school in 8th grade.

I have tried all sorts of medications, from your standard Claritin pills to cortisone-laden prescription nose sprays. Nothing worked without side effects. I couldn't figure out whether the combination of side effects plus drug dependency was better or worse than the actual allergy symptoms themselves. So I just stopped taking medications. They never worked 100% anyway.

Needless to say, my allergies have affected me adversely for many many years. Until this year. This year I learned about local raw honey. A spoonful every day and my allergies stay at bay. It's a beautiful, simple thing and it makes so much sense. For many people (like me), allergies are caused by pollen released by trees and plants in their local area. While all this pollination is going on, bees are busy collecting it and dropping a little bit of it here and there in their hives and consequently in the honey they make. The small amout of pollen in the honey helps to build immunity in our bodies, working similarly to allergy shots. The only caveat is that the honey regimen must begin a few months before allergy season begins, in order to build this immunity.

If this treatment seems interesting to you, read on...
It is very important that your honey is local and that it is raw (i.e., not pasteurized or sterilized). The reason you want local honey is obvious: it contains local pollen that is causing the allergies. Local would be considered a 10-15 mile radius. So if you know of any neighbors who keep bees, it's time to start making some friends. The reason the honey should be raw is so that all the good stuff that the bees deposit into the honey (like pollen) isn't killed off.

This type of sweet treatment obviously doesn't work if you suffer from dust, mold, pollution, animal and/or grass allergies. Bees tend to stay away from that stuff! We don't have much mold, dust or pollution around here, so these things are not a problem for me. The only pets we keep are chickens, which are pretty darn hypo-allergenic. I am allergic to grass, but I have proudly and successfully decimated my lawn so at least grass is not within my property line. The honey also won't work if you buy it from a grocery store, since most of the honey in stores is mass-produced, pasteurized, and shipped all around the country. I found mine at my local farmers market. We also have a beekeeper down the street from us who sells his honey from time to time.

Who knew?
I'm guessing this is how people took care of allergies before shots, pills and money.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the many chemicals with which we are bombarded on a daily basis contribute in a huge way to the cancer rate in the U.S. and worldwide. I recently spoke with a long-time friend of mine who is a breast cancer survivor of seven years. We are blessed to have her in our lives. She and I share the viewpoint that cleaning our bodies and our homes with home-made, natural products are a great way to avoid many carcinogens.

Aside from injection (via hypodermic needles), there are three ways for chemicals to enter our bodies. If I can control just one of these, I'm better off:

  • Ingestion - eating and drinking

  • Inhalation - breathing

  • Absorption - coming in contact with the skin

The one I believe I can control the easiest is absorption. This is because I can truly control what is spread onto my skin. I'm the only one doing that. As for inhalation, I can choose to live in an area that has documented cleaner air than other places. This is very helpful in eliminating chemical exposure via inhalation, but not foolproof due to many factors beyond people's control. Ingestion of chemicals is also a little tougher to control, but can be minimized by choosing better foods. I'm guilty as sin in this arena (I'm a foodie!), but I am trying to get it right by growing more of my own food.

My friend and I talked about our recipes for homemade products and we agreed we would exchange recipes. I figured I'd go ahead and make a blog entry out of my recipes so that I could share them with everyone who might be interested. Not only are these recipes free of harmful carcinogens, but they are also cost-effective and simple. If you have any recipes that you would like to share, please add them in the "comments" section of the blog.

  • Here's the goat's milk soap from that we LOVE in our house. We will never use regular soap again. They don't mention in the video or in the article that all measurements (besides the goat's milk) are by weight, not fluid ounces. Be aware of this, and get a kitchen scale if you are going to make your own soap:
  • I spray a water/vinegar mix on all of my produce before washing. The vinegar helps loosen a large portion of the pesticides used on fruits and vegetables - as much as 75%! I use a spray bottle with about 10 parts water to 1 part vinegar and let it sit on the produce for a couple of minutes. After spraying, I triple-rinse. Produce with the highest levels of pesticides are strawberries, peaches and broccoli due to their absorbent qualities. I am extra-cautious with these, making sure they are cleaned well.
  • I love to make this simple body scrub: mix equal parts epsom salt with grapeseed, soybean, almond, or olive oil. Add a little lavender essential oil or tea tree oil, if you'd like. Scrub the mixture on the body and let it sit for a few minutes. This is a very cheap alternative to all of those expensive, chemical-and-fragrance-laden body scrubs out there.
  • Here are some recipes for natural hair color solutions from Mother Earth News, my favorite magazine:
  • Here are recipes for safe household cleaners, also from Mother Earth News:

It's time we all opened our eyes to the fact that we can clean ourselves and our bodies quite effectively without the use of chemical-laden products manufactured by large corporations. These corporations' only interests are to make huge profits and to keep us sick so that we consume their pharmaceuticals. I'm not buying it anymore. The freedom I am rewarded with is beyond measure. I just breeze right past the household cleaners and beauty aisles when shopping. I am no longer tempted with the latest fragrances or anti-bacterial wonder-cleaners.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Garlic: Product of China

Here's something that blows me away, something to get you flabbergasted: about 80% of garlic sold in the U.S. is from China. Eighty percent! I heard this statistic awhile back on CNBC and didn't believe it until I saw it. Next time you buy your little pack of three, check the label at the top: Product of China, it will say.

Obviously, the reason we import garlic here is because it's much cheaper than our U.S.-grown stuff. A pound of garlic from China can cost as little at 79 cents. A pound from the U.S. can cost as much as $4.99. The average American consumes about three pounds of garlic a year. Do the math and see if it makes sense for you to buy garlic from China. It's about $55 extra per year for a family of four to buy garlic from the U.S. versus China. Nevermind the environmental costs of shipping food all the way from the other side of the world... whew, I don't even want to think about it.

I have no problem with China. But I do have a problem with China's soil. Due to soil degradation (caused by rapid urbanization), farmers have resorted to using large amounts of pesticides and fertilizers to keep production levels up. Another result of rapid urbanization is industrial waste, of which there is plenty in China's air (and I imagine in the soil as well). We all know that garlic grows under the ground, rather than on top of it. This makes it more likely to soak up whatever "stuff" is in the soil.

They have a lot of mouths to feed in China, and a lot less of those mouths belong to farmers who know how to grow their own food. Which brings me to my point: growing our own. We've decided that we should grow as much of our own food as possible here at our lovely lizard lair. One of those foods is - you guessed it - garlic. I have read that I can plant a clove and get a whole head after about 90 days. Beautiful! I have also read that garlic and roses are great companion plants. If roses were my thing, I'd plant a few garlic cloves near them to keep aphids away. That's lovely, times two!

Garlic also goes well with a variety of other garden vegetables, like tomatoes. Apparently, a lot of insects/pests don't like the smell. Cool. I need all the help I can get. I'll be planting two or twenty here soon...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Rockin' the Bottled Water

I think Chris Rock put it best in this short 1-minute video:

We stopped buying bottled water in our household over 2 years ago, when we invested $150 on a reverse-osmosis purifier and about $30 on some re-fillable bottles. There were many reasons why we chose to stop rockin' the bottled water:

  • It's expensive. At $.50 - $4 a bottle, it gets pretty out of hand after awhile.

  • It's heavy. We were tired of hauling bottled water crates out of the car and into the house.

  • I was reading bottled water labels and began to notice that most of the water comes straight from a public water source (i.e., city tap water) and has undergone purification very similar to what you get from a home reverse osmosis system.

  • Even though we recycled, we still felt it was extremely wasteful. Reducing consumption - or eliminating it entirely - is one step better than recycling.

  • I felt guilty, even before I watched the above video. I am aware that people around the world are dying of thirst because they have no access to clean water. In this country we are fortunate enough to have clean water available literally at our fingertips any time we want it, yet we go out of our way to buy it in bottled form.

  • And finally, I began to believe that it is impossible to get chemical-free water from a bottle. Most of these bottles have been transported and stored at high temperatures for months at a time. I noticed that my bottled water sometimes tasted "plasticky." I now know that this is because water will leach chemicals out of the plastic, especially if the bottle has been exposed to high temperatures (like in the car on a sunny day).

Anyone wanting to make a move to seriously increase their physical and financial health should stop rockin' the bottled water. It's such an easy fix. We purchased our filtration system from Costco and we use stainless steel water bottles. We are trying to phase out the use of plastic in our household as much as possible, due to its destructive effects on our bodies and landfills. And honestly, our filtered water tastes so much better than bottled water. We've had many visitors in our home ask us about our filtration system because they noticed the same thing.

Happy drinking!

Friday, January 23, 2009


Let me get this straight: being out in the sun is bad for my skin. Putting on moisturizer is good for it. Okay, great, I think I got it. It's been beaten into my brain since I was born, so it's now a no-brainer: to keep that stinkin' sun off my skin, I should apply this nourishing moisturizer with all kinds of good stuff in it. Alright, here I go... rubbing it in... rubbing it in... smells great... good for me... it's going to keep me looking young and chipper.

One problem, though. That moisturizer they're throwing at me contains parabens. Researchers have found traces of parabens in tissue taken from women with breast cancer. While there is no direct evidence (yet) that parabens cause cancer, scientists have called for the use of parabens to be researched. I have a problem with the fact that no research has been done on this chemical. Why do cosmetics companies need to put parabens in their stuff? Oh, I see. It's a great preservative. Extends the shelf-life. And, since no good research has been performed on it, one can deduce that it is harmless and therefore belongs in most of our cosmetic products. The cosmetics industry insists that parabens are safe. Well, if they insist, then it must be okay.

Since I trust that the cosmetics company's main goal is to keep me looking young and sweet, I guess I'll slather some more of this good stuff on my skin to keep the hot 'n nasty sun off of it. The propylene glycol will do a great job nourishing my skin - it'll keep it nice and moist, since my skin doesn't know how to do that naturally with its own oils. Wait. Propylene glycol? Isn't that anti-freeze? Well, since the cosmetics industry wants me to look younger, I guess I need anti-freeze in my moisturizer to keep my skin silky-smooth and to stave off wrinkles and cancer that can happen from the horrible despicable sun.

I think I'll ignore this quote from the Breast Cancer Fund website and keep slathering more of this good stuff on me: "Breast carcinogens have no place in cosmetics and personal care products. Yet despite growing concern from consumers, the U.S. government does not systematically assess the safety of personal care products, and major U.S. companies continue to market cosmetics with known and suspected carcinogens, mutagens and reproductive toxins."

Hmmph... something smells funny. I think it's the lotion on my face. Maybe next time I'll just use a hat.

Call me crazy, but I believe that these chemical-laden products are far more harmful to our bodies than the sun. And call me double-crazy, but I believe cosmetics companies' main goal is to make a profit.

I stopped using most commercial products on my body when I was pregnant, because I was concerned about my skin absorbing so many chemicals and sending them to the little one inside of me. I used straight soybean oil as a moisturizer on my belly to prevent stretch marks. That was it. After the birth, I felt no need to go back to the chemicals (that includes deoderant. Yes, deoderant. And yes, sometimes I smell European because of it). It's been three years now since I opened my eyes to this issue. I don't believe the quality of my skin has decreased. In fact, I think it may have increased. My natural oils are doing a darn good job protecting me from most of my normal sun exposure. If I know that I will be out in the sun for prolonged periods, I like to use a hat and a small amount of titanium dioxide-based or zinc oxide-based sunscreen. These two naturally-occurring minerals act as a physical barrier on the skin, rather than being absorbed into the skin. Other than during periods of prolonged exposure to the sun, I have found no other time that it has been necessary to use a commercial moisturizer on my body or face for the last three years.

Suggested websites to do your own research:

An excellent series from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (thanks to my hubby for finding this):
Choosing safe cosmetics:
Creating a healthy home:
Eating smart:

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

My first blog - the clothesline as inspiration

Today it's sunny and 85 degrees with low humidity and a light breeze.

You don't need a San Diego weather update? Actually, the reason I chose to write my first blog is because I wanted to share the moment of inspiration that hit me when I was hanging my clothes out to dry this morning.

As I stood there surrounded by fresh morning air and birds chirping, I wondered: Why would anyone choose to use an automatic clothes dryer on a day like this one?

To me, there is no option. Actually, I must be nuts because I plan my laundry days around the sun. Well... the "planning" goes more like this: I wake up in the morning and if the sun is out I know I should throw a load in the washer (which is solar-powered too). It's too easy. Sometimes I do it at night if I know the next day will be busy for me. I just hang my clothes out overnight and collect them the next day.

The rewards of line-drying are many:

  • First, it gets me outside even more.
  • It's great for my wallet (or purse, rather).
  • I get to listen to birds singing instead of a machine working.
  • The smell, the SMELL! Sleeping under a blanket that's been line-dried is an experience in-and-of itself. It has a wonderful, earthy smell that's hard to describe and impossible to replicate with dryer sheets.
  • No more mysteriously shrinking clothes and a lot less wear & tear.
  • And most importantly - it makes me feel good.

The only drawback that I have noticed with line-drying is that it takes some time to set the clothes out. Maybe an extra 3 minutes or so. The luxury of throwing the clothes into the machine is gone. But, really, I feel like I am surrounded by luxuries every day (like this handy computer, for instance). It's nice to go back to the basics and to do things a la grandma.

So my first blog ends like this: I felt like I had a moment of inspiration with the clothes and the birds and figured I should start typing these moments up so that my kids can make fun of me about it one day.

Hey - if you have any questions about setting up a clothesline, I am more than happy to help. I like the retractable ones, because they're out of sight when you're not using them. They are available at your standard big-box home improvement centers. I got mine online, but that's because they weren't available in the stores until about a year ago. I guess this is one of the items they decide to stock during a recession.