happenings 'round the homestead

Fall is here and it is lovely!  Our days have been full of great things, both in and outside, both with friends and family, and a good balance of play and work.  We've really been enjoying this fall so far! 

Things around our little urban homestead are going well too, for the most part.  We are down to 8 chickens, from 11 earlier this year.  We lost 2 of our pullets this summer - one to sickness, one to a hawk, and one of our older hens to sickness or egg-binding, as well.  And while all of that is not great, we are happy that the 3 remaining pullets are starting to lay and our egg production is slowly increasing - just in time to drop off for winter! Ha!  Out of the breeds we got this spring, I'm loving our Golden Sexlink!  She is an egg-laying machine!  She's been laying for several weeks now and I don't think she's missed a single day.  We will definitely be adding more sexlinks to the flock next spring.  As for Oak, that boy loves his chickens.  Yesterday he played outside for about an hour and a good portion of that he spent sitting on a stump by the chicken coop, just talking to his chickens.  They have good talks, he and his ladies. 

The garden is slowing down, just as it should be at this time of year.  We had our first frost this week, but my sheltered garden seems to have been spared.  I think I'll pull the tomatoes and peppers this weekend, though, and try to get a cover crop to sprout before the hard freeze happens.  The temps are cool enough now that the remaining green tomatoes are unlikely to ripen.  All that will remain, then, will be the green beans, a few carrots, and the cover crops I planted in early September.  Not bad, for the middle of October!

We added a few new structures to our little backyard this summer and we've so been enjoying them!  Dan built us a shed, a firewood rack, and a fantastic sandbox for Oak!  The benches of the sandbox fold in as a lid, in order to keep all of the neighborhood kitties out - as well as any free-ranging chickens.  It's so fun to see the backyard become more and more of what we need/want for this season of life.  Our backyard may be small, but we're making the most of the space and I love it.

an {almost} zero-waste birthday party

It's been over a month now since our little guy turned one and since we celebrated that special day with family and friends, but I wanted to take a few minutes to share with you about the little party we threw for him!  

Have you explored the world of first birthday parties on Pinterest???  A few words to describe it would be "adorable," "amazing," "wonderful," "overwhelming," "expensive," "obsessive"....dare I say "scary"???  I have a love/hate relationship with Pinterest.  I love it as a place to keep track of links.  You can be so visually organized on Pinterest, which is awesome!  I love it for the plethora of ideas that you can find on there for just about anything and everything.  I hate it as it I think it fuels the issues that we have in this culture for constantly wanting more and being discontent with what we have.  So, as I started planning for this special one-year-old's first birthday party, I had to continually remind myself that he is one and would not remember this party, nor was the party about having perfect decorations or amazingly cute treats.  No, it was about celebrating the birth of our beloved boy with those we love. 

Simplicity became my mantra (I'm sure you're shocked, right?!) and out of that desire for simplicity grew a desire to keep this party as eco-friendly as possible.  Because, parties sure can create a lot of trash!  My goodness!  Between disposable plates, cups, pop/beer cans, utensils, plastic wrap, food waste, wrapping paper, decorations, etc., there is just a lot of trash!  So, I intentionally thought through all that would be coming in and going out and did my best to limit the trash where I could.  Here are some of the ways I was able to host an {almost} zero-waste birthday party.

  • I made a "forever" birthday banner!  I knew I wanted a birthday banner for the party and so I tossed around ideas of making one that said "one," and that could be use for subsequent children turning one...but as the usefulness of that was a bit limited, I decided, "Heck! We need a banner that can be used every year for each birthday!" And the "forever" birthday banner was born out of leftover fabric scraps, most of which hold sentimental memories, like fabric from the crib sheets, Oak's quilts, a dress I made, our wedding decor, handmade gifts for family/friends, etc.
  • I used photos as decor. I've been wanting to print a bunch of pictures and put them into albums and in frames in our stairway, and so I decided to print pictures of Oak from his first year and put them up all around the room we used for the party.  I used garden twine, mini clothes pins, and masking tape to attache them to the walls. The tape was recycled, the twine will be reused, and the mini clothes pins will be saved for other such events/decoration needs. 
  • I used things I already had for decor.  We had some leftover tree trunk slices from my brother's wedding that we used as centerpieces Also, for Oak's Halloween costume last year he was an Oak tree made out of felt leaves pinned to a shirt, so I used the felt leaves on the tables as well. 
  • I printed simple coloring sheets for the tables.  They were then recycled after the party and the crayons we used were from our church's stash, where we held the party.  We were also able to use the church's cloth tablecloths, which was awesome.

 

  • I bought compostable plates, cups, straws, and utensils.  These were a bit more expensive than regular plastic/paper disposables, but it was important to me to compost them rather than throw them away. 
  • I used real dishes where I could.  I brought a basketful of mason jars that we used as glasses and used real dishes for the food I brought.  Where food was concerned, the only trash we created was a bit of plastic wrap and the only recyclables were beer cans and a lemonade jar. 

I do believe that the wrapping paper ended up being thrown away, rather than recycled, as I didn't help with that clean up process, but other than that, all things were composted or recycled and clean up was pretty quick and easy! 

And for those who are wondering...I made this Harvest Cake for Oak's birthday cake.  It's made with carrots, zucchini, and beets and sweetened with mostly maple syrup.  It was probably the most nutritious cake any of us have ever eaten!  And it was very delicious!  I used all cream cheese for the frosting, instead of the goat cheese/cream cheese blend it calls for, simply to keep expenses down, but I'd love to make it again sometime with the goat cheese...because goat cheese...yum.

The party was a success!  It was simple, fun, and we had a wonderful time celebrating our little Oak tree.  He loved being with his family and friends and throughly enjoyed his cake and opening presents.  It was a fun day, indeed! 

zero waste living :: grocery shopping

One of my resolutions for the new year is to reduce waste in our home.  I've been on this journey for the past few years, but this year I have decided to really make an effort to become as "zero waste" as possible.  If you are not familiar with the term "zero waste," I encourage you to read Bea Johnson's book Zero Waste Home.  In the book, Johnson lists 5 steps to zero waste living: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot.  The order of these steps is very important, as the key to zero waste living is reducing the amount of waste you generate by getting to the source of the waste.  Zero waste living starts by examining everything that comes into your home through the lens of what happens to it once it leaves your home.  

So, I'd thought I'd bring you along on our journey to zero waste through a series of blog posts over the next few months.  We are far from living a completely zero waste lifestyle, but we have definitely reduced our waste over the past few years and I'm hoping to reduce it even more throughout this year.  The main way I'm tackling that right now is through grocery shopping.  I've found that so much of what we as a society throw away comes from the kitchen, whether it be from food packaging or food waste.  We compost most of our food waste or give it to our chickens, so the packaging is the main source of waste in our home.  To reduce this, I need to reduce how much of that packing comes into our home.  Here are a few of the ways I'm working to do that. 

  • Reusable Shopping Bags:  We all have piles of reusable bags floating around our homes that we've received for free at stores, fairs, events, etc, but I've found that for me I prefer to have just two sturdy canvas bags and a woven shopping basket.  The canvas bags hold more than the freebie bags and I value them more because they aren't freebies, which helps me to be more intentional about using them.  The basket keeps my jars and eggs from rolling around and it's so sturdy.  (The basket I have is a handmade basket made in Ghana.  It also works really well for bringing food to gatherings and on the road.)  I've started bringing my own bags not only to the grocery store, but to other stores as well.  Anytime I leave the house with a plan to shop, I grab a bag on my way out!
  • Shopping in bulk:  This is the main way that I reduce kitchen waste in our home.  By bulk, I don't mean shopping at Costco or Sam's Club, I mean shopping in the bulk isle at your local grocery store.  Buying in bulk reduces waste, especially if you are able to use your own containers, which can completely eliminate the need for waste to come into your home for those food items.  Our food co-op has a very large selection of bulk items including wet and dry items.  I realize that many do not have access to this large of a selection, but demand can drive supply!  I currently buy the following things in bulk: produce, eggs, flour, sugar, oats, barley, quinoa, rice, beans, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, pasta, peanut butter, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, molasses, honey, herbs, spices, loose-leaf tea, baking soda, baking powder, salt, crackers, hummus (dried and fresh), coffee, and some candy. 
  • Bulk bags/containers:  Bringing my own containers has become one of my favorite parts of my weekly grocery shopping trip.  (I'm weird like that...)  It takes a few extra minutes to pull together my bags/containers before I leave the house, but it saves me time when I get back home and am able to just put them all back onto their shelves and don't have to worry about transferring things from packages into my storage containers.  I use a few different bags/containers for different types of bulk items.
    • mesh produce bags:  I bought a few of these a few weeks ago and love them!  Our co-op sells spinach and mixed greens in bulk and they work great for that! They also work great for things like mushrooms, green beans, snap peas, and even bigger produce items like apples, oranges, carrots, broccoli.
    • hemp/cotton bulk bags:  I made a few of these out of an old vintage sheet a few months back and then Dan bought me a few more for Christmas.  I love them!  I use them for produce like apples, oranges, onions, potatoes, and also for dried bulk items like flour, oats, beans, nuts, etc.  They work especially well when I have a lot of things to get and don't want to bring a bunch of glass jars/canisters with me.
    • jars/canisters:  I store almost all of our pantry items in glass jars or canisters, and so when their contents get low, I bring them to the co-op and fill them up!  As I said above, some things I bring my jars for and others I use my bags for.  It usually depends on how much I need and how messy the item is.  I've found that for flour, it's nice to just fill up my canister.  However, my canister is really big and it's a pain to lug around, so I usually use a bag for flour and deal with the mess. 
    • egg cartons:  Our co-op sells bulk eggs and since our chickens are free-loaders right now, I've been buying a lot of eggs!  It's great to just keep using the same egg cartons week after week!
    • glass container for meat:  This past week I brought in a container to use at the meat counter for the first time!  Meat packaging is often what makes us take the trash out, as our trash usually gets smelly before it gets full, so using a glass container made me so happy to know that at least for one meal there would be no smelly packaging to throw away!
  • Label/weigh your bags/containers before you shop:  Using your own containers can take longer if you don't have a good system in place.  First, when you use your own container, you have to weigh it before filling it up.  This is called the "tare" weight.  For my bags, I have the tare weight written on all of them in permanent ink so that I can just fill them up when I get to the store.  For my jars, I like to put a piece of masking tape on each of the lids before I leave home.  I then weigh them quickly at the store before filling them up.  I could weigh them at home too, but I like the scale at our co-op better, so I just use that. I then write the tare weight and item number on the masking tape.  For my bags, I use one of the stickers at our co-op to write the item number on my bags.  Some people use crayons to label their bulk containers, which is truly zero waste.  I've thought about trying that, but for now, my system is working well and efficiently.  One thing to note: not all stores may let you or encourage you to use your own containers.  I recognize that I shop at a grocery store that values zero waste and that is not the case at many grocery stores.  However, that doesn't mean that it's not possible to use your own containers.  You just have to ask!  Ask at the customer service desk and if they say no, dig deeper!  Talk to a manager and politely explain that you're trying to reduce the waste in your home and you'd like to be able to use your own container.  It's worth a shot! 
  • Stay organized:  I've found that keeping my shopping basket in an easy to reach place in the kitchen makes staying organized and efficient a lot easier.  After I shop, I empty my bulk bags, throw them into the laundry if needed, then store them in my shopping basket in the kitchen.  As we empty an egg carton, it goes into the basket as well.  Then on shopping day, I make a quick loop around the kitchen and pull out the jars/canisters that need filling and decide whether to just fill the container or use a bag.  Keeping it all in one designated spot helps me to prep and get out the door a lot faster, which is vitally important when shopping with an 11-month old! 

How about you?  Are you able to shop with your own reusable containers?  Do you?  In what ways are you reducing waste in your kitchen??  I'd love to know. 

simple, intentional giving

Christmas.  It's over and January is in full swing.  It feels great, doesn't it?!?  I love Christmas; it's one of my favorite times of the year, but when January arrives, I'm always so very ready.  I love the quiet, calm of January.  It's a great time to organize, purge, rest, and recoup.  It's a lovely month of solitude and reset, and a fabulous way to start the new year, if you ask me.  

And while January is here and we're actually nearing the end, I wanted to take a moment to share with you a few of my favorite giving moments of the holiday season.  The holidays can be so full of family and generosity, but they can also so easily be consumed by commercialism, consumption, and leave us with a feeling of needing to buy and spend more, more, and more.  As you can probably guess, if you've read even a little of my writing, that side of Christmas is not my cup of tea.  I love giving gifts, but I hate so much of what goes along with that.  Setting foot in a mall with a list in hand is nauseating to me.  I think malls should be reserved for leisurely window shopping with a best friend, coffee in hand, and babies in strollers...not for frantic Christmas shopping and navigating crowds of other desperate and rushed shoppers.  Gross.  

In the past, I've combatted these feelings by shopping online for as many things as I can, which is a great strategy for avoiding malls, but not a great one if you're looking to support your local economy.  So, this year, I tried a few other strategies (some I've done before, and some new to me as well) and I thought I'd share those with you today.  

  1. Shopping locally.  This was a new-to-me strategy.  I often shop at a few of our favorite small, local, independently-owned stores for gifts, but this year I made it my mission to buy as many gifts locally as I could, even if it meant spending a few extra dollars on them.  My reason for this was that if I truly believe that shopping locally can help our local economy and I truly value that (which I do), then buying a book for $21.95 at my local book store, rather than $16.99 on Amazon, should not be an issue.  If I'm looking at the value of my actions in the long run, then shopping locally better aligns with those values, even if it means spending a few more dollars now.  I'll share more on how I balanced that expense below.  However, buying locally also had it's challenges.  I ran into issues with things being out of stock, which meant I ended up buying a few last minute items on Amazon.  I also found that shopping at different stores in different parts of Minneapolis in December with a 10-month old is a pain in the butt.  Keeping winter hats and mittens on a baby, getting in and out of the car seat, pushing a stroller over unshoveled sidewalks, wishing I'd brought the carrier instead of the stroller, squeezing in trips to several stores between nap times and on my days off...it was not easy, but I'm still glad I did it.  Next year, I'll start earlier and plan my errand routes and baby needs to better to improve efficiency.  
  2. Want. Need. Wear. Read. This was by far my favorite new strategy and I will keep using it for years to come!  Upon recommendation from a friend (thanks, Tina!!), we gave Oak four presents this year for Christmas, along with a few small stocking stuffers.  For the four presents, we bought something he wanted (well, what we thought he'd want), something he needed, something he'd wear, and something he'd read.  I loved this idea for a couple of reasons.  One, it made our gift-giving very intentional.  I love intentional giving, but sometimes I lack direction for that intentionality.  This solved that.  Second, it limited what I bought for him.  We buy very little for Oak on a regular basis, but I felt the urge to want to shower him with gifts at Christmas!  I saw so many things that were cute, fun, educational, but this model kept me focused and restrained, which helped me to stay on track with our desire for a simple Christmas and a simple house not full of unnecessary objects.  For his "want" we bought him a wooden pull-behind truck with wooden blocks on it, which we bought from a vender at the MN State Fair.  For his "need" we bought him a ThinkBaby stainless steel sippy cup, which I bought at our food co-op.  We are super happy with it and it was probably his favorite thing he opened, ha.  For his "wear" I knit him a new winter hat, with Malabrigo yarn from our local yarn shop.  And for his "read" we bought him the book Besos, for Baby, which he helped Daddy pick out at the local bookstore.  Four presents was plenty for him and I love the way this model gives us room to grow as he grows.  Bigger ticket items can easily be given for the want, wear, and need, and once he's older he will know what to expect with the number of presents, which will hopefully help guide and limit his Christmas wants...I know, idealistic, but it just may work. ;)
  1. Simplicity.  Buying locally did have some added expense, as I mentioned above, so to combat that, I just bought fewer things! For our sibling gift exchanges, we have spending limits and so instead of buying my brother a card game on Amazon for $14.99 and finding some other little gift for $5.00 to add on, I bought his game at a local game store (Games by James) for $19.99 and just left it at that.  Yes, in the spirit of giving, I could have given him more, but I also know that he values small, local businesses too, and so I trusted that if he knew my reasoning, he'd be completely onboard.  I did the same with our nephews.  I often feel like a good gift needs to include several things.  I'm not sure where this idea comes from, but it's a strong urge I have every time I wrap a gift.  However, for our nephews this year, I bought them each just one book.  The books ranged in price a bit, but I didn't worry about that.  I just carefully selected a book for each of them that I thought they'd like and I left it at that.  Both of these strategies helped to simplify my gift giving, in turn making shopping locally a bit more affordable.  
  2. Handmade.  I always give some handmade gifts at Christmas, and this year was no different.  This year's handmades included a hat for Oak, mittens for Dan, a cowl for my mom, felted wool balls and a felt chicken for Oak's stocking and my best friend's baby boy, and baby doll quilts and pillows for our nieces.  I love the simplicity and intentionality that go along with a handmade gift.  I'm not sure that the recipients always feel these things (especially when they are kids), but I love the love that I feel towards the recipients as I spend my evenings crafting away for them.  It makes giving so much fun.

How about you? Did you find any new ways for making your giving simpler and more intentional this year?

berries, a baby, and nap-time jam

I've dreamed for years about berry picking with my little ones.  Picking berries and tucking them away to be used all year is something that I'm rather passionate about and so the thought of sharing that with my children and teaching them about the importance of local, seasonal food has been something I've been looking forward to for years.  In my dreams I imagined picking berries for hours with a happy, little baby on my back.  The reality of that looked somewhat different, but in the end I did pick strawberries with a baby on my back and I'm so glad I did!  He wasn't too pleased about the whole back thing and a short morning nap made for a tired, fussy baby while picking, but he eventually fell asleep and my friend Amy and I were able to pleasantly pick berries and chat.   Over the years, I've found that the berry patch is a wonderful place for deep conversation.  Your hands are busy with a menial task and so it's easy to open up and really share what's going on in life and I love that.  

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I ended up with 10+ pounds of strawberries and was able to go home that afternoon and put them all into their assigned places!  Three pounds went into the freezer to be used the rest of the year in kombucha, smoothies, and sauces.  Some were sliced up to be eaten with brownies and ice cream for a gathering of friends that evening.  Some were put into a second ferment of kombucha and others into a pint of vodka (Spiked Strawberry Mint Lemonade, anyone??).  Some were set aside for a pie.  Some were put in the fridge for fresh eating.  And the rest were made into jam!  Nap-time Jam, that is!  It's amazing what a determined mama can accomplish during a decent nap-time!  By the time that boy of ours had woken up from an afternoon nap, I had successfully washed, hulled, and put away all of the strawberries, made and canned jam, and cleaned up the kitchen!  Success!!  It felt amazing, I must say!  Now, if only all nap times were that productive!  

Strawberries!  I do love them.  And I love being able to enjoy their summer freshness all year round.  It makes their short season so very enjoyable. How about you?  What do you love to do with seasonal strawberries? 

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