Modern Muse = Green Scene

We (Modern Muse) went live this week on Alameda Patch, a local online “newspaper” that is part of the much larger AOL-Huffington Post media family. Doesn’t family sound so cozy? It’s a business — what can I say? — to which I contribute mostly voluntarily, and occasionally on a paying basis.

Mostly I just wanted to let ya know that I’m cross-posting and you’ll see the same posts on Alameda Patch as Green Scene, although I will also post on non-green stuff here as well. Clear as mud? Yeah!

In the meantime, today I’m doing about 6 things at once. Some guys from the rental company came to fix the bathroom wall where the roof had leaked behind the tiles and turned all the grout rust-colored. They just finished. I wanted to look busy while they were here, because who wants the hired help of your landlord to think that you are lazy? So I vacuumed. I know — call the press! And washed all the bathroom rugs and shower curtain because they had to get moved anyway for the painting guys. I wore my apron all morning. I am wearing it still. See? [twirls]

I had some lemons and blueberries and the lemons were looking a little sad, so it was time to make blueberry muffins. Ding! Just heard the timer… Mini-muffins are fun to eat. I don’t usually make them mini-size, but then I discovered some mini-muffin papers that I must have bought? some time? for the holidays, maybe? These are a good clean-out-the-fridge food — I used up the two sad half-lemons, the rest of the package of blueberries (they were a BOGO), and I also used a half cup of plain yogurt in place of some of the milk, to finish that up. They smell good.

Although my Plastic Purge doesn’t start until June 1, I am looking at my house and life with new eyes. Through plastic lenses, maybe. I started a mental list that will soon have to jump to paper or pixels as it grows and grows — what I buy or use now that includes plastic, and what will change in the future. I can’t wait for the challenge to begin. I’m ready now. Alas for such things as calendars and commitments. Let’s see if I can keep my mojo going for 30 whole days.

Yesterday I planted the rest of my garden, mostly squashes: watermelon, yellow zucchini, cabocha, white and orange pumpkins (2 types), Texas orange squash, acorn, and spaghetti squash. Looks like a squashy summer ahead. We finally ate the last ginormous zucchini of 2010 last night for dinner. It was huge. I mean — huge. (See photo of dishes, where giant zucchini rests on the bread box like a lizard on a rock.) The rind was thick so I cut it off, then steamed and served with olive oil and Tuscan herbs. It was — OK. Not great. Sauce or butter or I don’t know, something would have helped. It was just a little blah.

Too bad. The chickens liked it this morning, though. Ta-da. No waste.

two-week whirlwind

This is a fortnight of open doors. Sharing my home with an open heart creates connection. I am a peaceful water lily.

I am saying these things to myself to stay focused and calm during these coming days. Tomorrow, Isa arrives from Germany to live with us for a year. Thursday, Fabi’s parents arrive from Germany to take her home after 5 months with us. The parents are staying for 10 days, during which time I will have two German students, one leaving and one getting used to America, plus tour-guiding the folks around…and one of my own daughters is moving out at end of the month. Not to mention the rest of the Park-Tracey clan and animals. So — who sleeps where? Who gets the bed? How do you say goodbye? Detach? And then welcome a new one, and attach? Be open emotionally to two young hearts, just beginning their life journeys? And not have my guts ripped out in the process — yet not shut it all down, either?

I’ll let you know. Because I don’t really know — that’s why I am resorting to the statements above. I am trying to let doors open, to be open and live in my heart, to create connection, and also — to stay calm and serene like the water lily, or else I’ll run screaming up to my room with a box of chocolates and a stack of Women’s Day magazines and some fresh juicy heroin, and just give the whole thing a miss. What would you do?

Meanwhile, back on the farm…

I just froze 4 ziplock bags of chicken, using ingredients on hand. My friend Deanna traded me about 2 dozen Meyer lemons for a jar of my citrus marmalade, so I used a few of them in making a garlic-lemon marinade for chicken. I had a can of coconut milk in the pantry, and added a tablespoon of curry to make a Thai-like chicken dinner. Chopped aromatic veggies plus white wine and chicken broth will simmer as a French country one-pot meal. And the last one is marinated in Basque sauce from the pantry. That’s 4 nights of not thinking. If I pull it from the freezer the night before, it can defrost overnight and go into the Crock pot in the a.m., or defrost all day and then go into the oven for an hour. These chicken thighs were a steal at Safeway last week — BOGO family-pack packages means I got 24 chicken thighs for $7.40. Four chicken dinners for $7.40. Add rice, bread, salad, whatever — it’s a bargain any way you look at it. (Unless you were the chicken. Sorry about that.)

This week’s dinners include pad Thai (to use up homegrown bean sprouts and the rest of the tofu); Taco Tuesday (to use up the rest of the tomato sauce from last night’s French bread pizza, plus a pack of soy taco mix from when the vegan was here); sausages (I got good deals on Johnsonville sausages this week — $2.49 with coupon for a 5-pack at Raley’s/Nob Hill) with potatoes, cabbage and apples; and a lasagna for Thursday, when I make my second run to San Francisco International Airport to pick up the German parents — a shove-it-in-the-oven dinner that night will make my life a lot easier.

There are just three days of school to worry about this week — it’s a short week because of MLKjr’s birthday, and it’s also finals week at Encinal High School. Fabi will finish with her semester and Isa has not yet begun. So that means just 3 days of lunches to make, and three mornings of hustle to get out the door.

I also spent some time outside today — since California is having its January “false spring” — temps in the 60s, with some sunshine, and it’s quite nice if you stay out of the wind. Almost balmy. I bought 3 six-packs of pansies yesterday for the front porch, plus repotted a succulent and my kitchen basil plant. It’s always nice to get outdoors and soak up a little sun, smell the dirt, feel the breeze. Can I get an amen? Thank you.
I hope to blog in the next few weeks but if I don’t, don’t say I didn’t warn you. I am a peaceful water lily. I am a peaceful water lily. I am a peaceful water lily. (grabs chocolate, heads for stairs…)

about the dustmop

Update on yesterday’s post, wherein I yearned for a dust mop to swipe up the furballs: I don’t currently have a mopless handle, as it turns out, but a nice person on Freecycle is going to give me one, and my nice friend LisaPie says I can crochet a mop top out of cotton yarn, of which I have aplenty. So I will not be buying one. It was just a momentary flicker of lust and desire…a new dust mop…(swoons).

Lovely reader Heather was telling me about her indoor laundry-drying system, and how she also uses wool balls in the dryer. I’m like, wool balls – huh? She sent me this link, and says these felted (handmade) wool balls cut your drying by about 40% in the dryer. Who knew?Guess what I’ll be working on?

These are some other goofy things I’ve been doing lately, Compact-wise.

  • I’ve been using the extra sticky strips on packets of stamps as tape to hold the envelope closed. The other day I had a large (reused) manila envelope to mail, and at the PO, realized it was not sticking. I was going to ask for some tape, but I spied someone’s trash from a packet of stamps on the counter. All the sticky in-between strips were still there. So I didn’t have to buy a roll of packing tape nor ask for the borrow of some. Cheapskate me, huh? Well, it worked. And then I found a penny.

  • Just got a tasty recipe for some protein-filled snacks, made from our cheap friend, the lowly garbanzo bean. This recipe courtesy of April, a friend from high school, who posted it on Facebook the other day. I buy garbanzos dry, then soak and boil. April buys the Costco-size can, rinses, then makes them into snacks. So overnight I soaked, today boiled for 30 mins, then drained, and proceeded with the snack: drain well or pat dry with a towel. Arrange in 1-2 layers on a cookie sheet (no need to grease sheet). Sprinkle with your choice of seasonings — salt, pepper, taco seasoning, onion or garlic powder, chile lime salt, chili powder, whatever. Put in the oven at 350 for about 2-3 hrs til dry and crunchy. A whole potful filled a cookie sheet double layer, then baked down to a single layer and filled a 2 lb peanut butter jar. And the guys are eating them by the handful, like peanuts. I think that potful of these crunchy beans cost about 50 cents, and they are pure protein, plus a little salt. No fat!

  • Looks like the season for appliances to poop out, and last night it was the rice cooker. Mr Husband has had it 20+ years, and it warms things but doesn’t cook rice anymore. So I might keep it as a warmer for a while. Or plant something in it. I cooked the rice on top of the stove instead. It was just as good.

  • I’ve noticed in the great Coupon Savings Challenge that almost every single time I buy something at the store, on sale or with a coupon, that at least one price is wrong. I get so flustered in line when it’s busy, and they go so fast. We used to have to call out the prices (a million years when dinosaurs roamed the planet and there was a class called “Beginning Cashier Training” in high school). But they don’t do that anymore. You’re supposed to watch the checker/machine – but also watch the baggers who keep trying to give you plastic bags because it’s easier on *them*, and then seem incapacitated by the problem of where to put the gallons of milk. Um — they don’t need a bag. So while I’m keeping an eye on the bagger, the checker just jams everything through, and then I have to read the receipt and catch booboos after the fact. It’s a little annoying because I feel like The Problem Shopper, always complaining. They see me coming and their faces say that they recognize me — not that happily, or am I imagining it. Doh! But what the heck? They ought to get their advertised prices right. If it says 2 for $4, they ought to charge you that price. Just thought I’d kvetch about that a little bit.

  • Still eating our way through the pantry and freezer. Interesting that we’ve been eating better now that I have to work harder to make a decent meal out of the weirdest stuff. (Although we cooked apparently bad bacon on Sunday and made Mr Husband sick. Oops. Sorry.) But they keep telling me, “Great dinner!” I made a different 3-bean salad out of last summer’s frozen green beans, more of the garbanzos (boiled, not baked) and some edamame. It’s pretty, healthful and tasty. Last night’s Chinese-Japanese-Korean dinner included more of the frozen edamame, brown rice (dead cooker), stir-fry veggies with everything in it (clean out fridge), some Aidell’s chicken-pineapple meatballs (freezer), and a fruit salad I made out of fresh oranges, 1 persimmon, 1/2 a grapefruit, the last pomegranate, and a can of tropical fruit in juice. Plus green tea and some vegetarian “pork” buns that I had made and frozen a few months ago. Very tasty, all of it.

Here are a couple of photos of the dead garden just now. One shows the hot pepper plants under glass with 3 hens having a dig for worms.

Happy days, keep your fingers warm, and don’t forget to floss.

keeping track

This is a year of keeping records on what we’re growing, how much we’ve produced, where we’re saving and how we’re getting out of debt. I’ve been doing all these things for a while but now I’m actually tracking them. And you, Dear Reader, will get to follow along as I pinch pennies, pick up grains of rice and glean fallen apples. Doesn’t that sound enticing? Well — trust me. I’m excited about it.
   I hate to call them resolutions, although I’ve resolved to live this way. These are more like over-all goals and ways of being. Being rather than doing. A context rather than a rule. So here are the ways of living for 2011, in no particular order, and weighing equally in importance. More or less.

1.  Compact living. (Continuing my fourth year…) That’s the pledge of not-buying-new and not using up as many resources as possible, a la most Americans. Conserving electricity, water, recycling, thrifting, gleaning, getting rid of stuff and living more simply, eating locally, less waste in food and avoiding excess packaging, making do or doing without, debt reduction and cash living…all that kind of thing. Just more of it. Interested? We’re a dedicated bunch — more than 10K of us yak regularly at The Compact. Join us.

2.  Savings Challenge: This is the year of saving $25,000. That is, we will be $25,000 richer a year from now. Doesn’t mean a pile of gold, my friends, but it does mean we will pay down bills, and thus save in interest payments. We’ll add to our 401K and get the company match, which is free money. We’ll make donations, save pennies, and avoid avoidable fees, and in the end, by Dec. 31, 2011, we will be $25K better off, somehow. I will tell you that this is already going well. As of Jan. 1, I made a few adjustments to bills that put us close to the $1,000 mark already — by paying off a bill with a high interest rate and making a donation and changing our insurance coverage. Look for occasional posts on this topic, not as bragging, but more as crampons on the icy slope toward financial freedom. And believe you me, if we can do it — with 5 kids, two divorces and years of struggling single-parenthood, assorted debts, college loans, and just one income — anyone can. By the way, I made a spreadsheet for this.

3. Fat Ass Challenge. OK, as I type this I am eating holiday M&Ms. So how badly do I need this challenge? I would like to shed 20 lbs but I can’t seem to get off my fat ass, so this will be an ongoing battle. It used to be easy for me to blink and lose 10 lbs. But I had a year of disability during which I moped, and did not exercise, and the blub has settled. I gotta move my ass. That’s all there is to it. And stop eating candy, fer crap’s sake. Willpower, my ass. Literally.

4. Garden Production. I have a garden and some chickens. So what? I’d like to know how much my little farm is producing and what that is worth to me in the food budget. So I made a spreadsheet for that, too. I stole the idea from the Dervaes family of Little House in the Suburbs — they are some fine folks and I recommend you check in on them once in a while to see how you could make your suburban plot of land completely arable and productive. They chart their progress and I shall, too.
This ends up in the plus column, because if I am getting eggs at the rate of 3 a day, then I am saving $10 a week by not buying 2 dozen organic brown eggs. My eggs and veggies are worth something, and not just their own intrinsic value. They are worth barter or trade value as well. If I trade eggs for something instead of cash, so much the better.

5. Meal Planning.  I was given a month-by-month desk calendar that no one else wanted and it seemed perfect as a meal-planning calendar. I have been planning meals a week at a time for a while but this helps me keep track of what we eat all month, and I can look back to see what we ate last month, etc. This is not just about budgeting and keeping our health on track. I am also trying to eliminate food waste in the house, and using leftovers or using up what we have is easier if there’s a plan for it, and you know what you’re doing day to day. I know how my brain works, and if I don’t know by noon what is for dinner, then it is not happening. I get slower and slower and lazier and more lethargic — maybe just more tired — as they day ebbs, and I will end up ordering a pizza ($10-$20) or Chinese ($35) or sushi ($50) if I don’t plan and stick to it. So how often can I blow my budget with sushi? Not much, if I intend to get us $25K this year. It’s all part of a Master Plan.
     This week’s menu includes finishing up the holiday ham. We didn’t eat much of it when The Vegan was here, but she went back to NY so we’re eating meat again. We had mac-n-cheese-n-ham bits on Monday. I made a ham-yellow pepper-cheese frittata in the oven in my cast iron skillet tonight, and tomorrow will be white bean soup with the last of the ham. The beans are doing a passive soak overnight.

6. Coupon Saving. Yes. I’m one of the crazy coupon ladies. But I’m a clever crazy one. I don’t buy sh*t that we don’t eat. I don’t buy cleaning supplies and Airwick candles. I don’t buy Pampers. There are TONS of coupons out there for that kind of crap. However, with judicious use of coupons for real food (plain cereal, cheese, milk, yogurt, veggies, cat food, health foods), and combining with store sales and rebates, I saved easily 40% on my grocery bills the second half of 2010. Our Christmas was one of the “richest” ever, despite spending less, because of coupons, sales, rebates and deals. So…I started a spreadsheet to track my savings. What I don’t blow on paying full price at the store will go into the savings column on my Master Plan spreadsheet. If I save 40% every week, that’s a significant amount of money not wasted at the store, and that we can spend on debt reduction, investing elsewhere, and so on. It’s a Master Plan, I tell you. (cue evil laughter)

7. Homemade Throwdown. Damn that Max Wong. She challenged us on The Compact to an ALL HOMEMADE year. Make it or fake it til you make it. No buying gifts, etc. Make it all. EEE-gads. Well, OK. I guess I can do that. So watch for this goofy little challenge to rear its ugly head somewhere in the future, probably when I’m drooling to buy something that I could make but am feeling lazy. Like pizza. Or some cute vintage red Italian pumps.

Are seven challenges enough? Yes. But wait…there’s one more.

8. One-Car Family. Yep. The old Isuzu died, and we decided not to go into further debt to buy a second car, and also that leasing a car would be a total waste of money with nothing to show at the end. We might as well just go out for an expensive meal every night for the next two years, if we’re gonna just throw money away. We will share the one car that we have — a 2004 Mitsubishi Outlander that gets good mileage and has about 93K on it. Here’s to riding my bike, taking the bus, walking — and, I hope, walking my Fat Ass off. I’ll be writing about these adventures this year.
Plus — children, chickens, writing, the world, and my ongoing quest for spiritual fulfilment in the garden.
Can you dig it? Say yes — and email me at if you want me to send you any of these spreadsheets for your own use.
Ciao, bellas.

still life with yarn, harvest and sneezes

We added another hen to our flock, a cull from another flock across town. This one is also a golden-laced Wyandott but she is altogether darker than Violet; we’ve named her Dahlia (which we liked better then Waffle, her previous name). All of our “flowers” are prospering, still enjoying daily run of the backyard, grass, worms, bugs, seeds, and household leftovers. In return, a clutch of eggs for the house, and companionship. There’s nothing like a chicken looking in the door at you and asking for food to make you feel wanted.

I had been making crafty gifts to sell at Sunday’s craft fair at Temple Israel, and so looking forward to it, but I caught Fabienne’s cold and am still in the middle. Since the sale is tomorrow, I would have spent today baking and labeling, but instead I’m drinking tea in my bathrobe and reading old National Geographics and wishing I could bake and label. Oh, well. Clearly the Universe is telling me to chill out. So I chill.
I’m not much for television, but I did watch a little Food Network yesterday and mildly enjoyed Paula Deen and Rachel Ray and Giada de Laurentiis. I think I liked Giada the most and Rachel the least — but cooking is fun and it’s nice to watch masters (mistresses) at work. I wish they’d say “I’m gonna compost this” and that they’d use the “unpretty” parts of vegetables — I saw Giada throw away half of some scallions that were perfectly usable — they could have a stock pot for vegetable bits or a compost bucket somewhere, but nope, not very green, any of it. Rachel Ray was serving veal, which I have never eaten and never will, and a truckload of garlic, which I don’t eat too much. Paula was very entertaining and I loved her homey accent and cheerful count of how many sticks of butter she had used thus far, but I couldn’t eat like that and I don’t think anyone should, really. Talk about gilding the lily.
So there’s my assessment of the only daytime TV I could stand to watch — aside from a little PBS international news. That was also instructive — to remind me how many people there are in the world, and those on the edge of poverty don’t give a rat’s ass about composting or recycling; they just want to get by. It is terribly alarming, actually, looking at numbers in China and India, where people who drove rickshaws and bicycles now drive cars that need gas and spew exhaust — the smog, pollution, toxins, fuel consumption and other issues are just frightening. And then I go get into my car and tool around town buying stuff and playing chauffeur, and how is that any different? It isn’t.

So many troubles in the world. [deep sigh]

I’m not the sickest I’ve ever been — the Swine Flu 18 months ago was the worst — but when I have a snootly-sneezy cold, I ought not to be in the kitchen handling food. On the counter is a bowl of tomatoes asking to be made into sauce, and a bag of apples that really want to become a pie, a cake and some muffins. I hear their little voices calling me, and I can’t answer — wait a few days, I think, but the fruit flies race for another meal, and pretty soon it will all end as chicken feed. So I feel a little sense of urgency to recuperate. And I would have liked to have done that craft fair, dang it, because I have the stuff to sell, and that was gonna be our Christmas budget, and instead we’ll have to reach deeper and find more pennies and resources. Disappointing, to say the least, and the table fee is non-refundable.
Well, that’s the way of it sometimes. Happy weekend to you, and start thinking about Thanksgiving and Christmas and how to stay warm and be jolly. If jolly’s what you do.