Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Intentional Communities

Recently my partner and I have been considering joining a land co-op or intentional community. While we have been making choices in our lives to live simple and make sound ecological choices, we both feel as though we are lacking something- a greater sense of community. Neither of us have family in the area and we live so far out of town we rarely have visitors.

Intentional communities are able to offer the ability to live more of a communal lifestyle by sharing tools, studio and workshop space, and even a garden area. I have many things I feel that I would like to share with others (chainsaw, rototiller, wheelbarrow, car, music, recipes, cookery, and on and on). We would also choose one that had other children so that our child-on-the-way would have more social interaction. Generally, the communities are formed to share similar values as well, everything from spirituality to green living to self-sufficiency. Members are able to teach one another trades like permaculture, herbalism, alternative building, yoga, etc. While I wish that I could find more of a community feeling where I am, truth is I'm not going to become friends to the neighbor with the GOP candidates and Anti civil union/gay marriage signs on his front lawn. I feel that sharing a dream with others searching for similar goals is where I would like to see myself in the next couple of years.

This website has a list of intentional communities all over the world. Some are trying to form and others have been operating for years. Some of them have separate housing and even private acres with large shared common land and others all is shared. We are leaning more towards our own dwelling, but with shared common land-more of a cooperative. This way we could still have our "space", but still feel part of a community. This community really is attractive to us both.

So if anyone has had any experience with or have heard about other's experiences with intentional communities I would love to hear from you.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Incredible, Edible Pumpkin

Another thing that I love about the autumn harvest is the wonderful pumpkin. This is the time of year here in northern Wisconsin when there is little local produce to be found except root crops and perhaps some brussel sprouts or kale. The oven starts getting used more and the smell of squash and cinnamon mixes with the smoke from the woodstove.

Baking pumpkins or squash to be used for other baked treats is an essential part of autumn. I can't believe people still buy cans of pumpkin puree from the store when it is so easy and frugal to cook ones own. Here is my easy technique:

* Cut the pumpkin in half and romove the seeds and stringy "guts".
* Cut the halves into large chunks and place skin up in a baking dish with a little water
* Bake at 350 for about 1 - 1 1/2 hours
* When cool, peel the skins and puree the pulp or press through a sieve
* Keep refrigerated or frozen

Today I used some of the puree in one of my favourite pumpkin recipes Pumpkin-Blue Corn Rye Bread from Beth Henperger's book Baking Bread: Old and New Traditions. Here is the recipe:

1/2 C blue cornmeal
1 C water
1/3 C molasses or honey
5 T butter
1/2 C pumpkin puree
2 1/2 t salt
1 1/2 T yeast
drop molasses or honey
1 C warm water
3/4 C medium rye flour
3/4 C whole wheat flour
4 to 4 1/2 C bread or all-purpose flour
1/4 C coarse blue cornmeal for dustinng

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the cornmeal and water. Cook over medium heat until thickened. stirring with a whisk. Stir in the molasses or honey, butter,pumpkin, and salt. Stir until the butter is melted. Remove and let cool.
2. In a large bowl sprinkle the yeast and molasses or honey over the water, stir to dissolve and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
3. Add the pumpkin-cornmeal mixture, rye, whole-wheat, and 1 C of the bread flour. Beat hard for about a minute until creamy. Slowly stir in the rest of the flour turning the dough onto a work surface when needed. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes, but don't add too muck flour. Place the dough in a greased deep container and cover with a damp cloth. Let stand at room temperature until doubled, about 1 1/2 - 2 hours.
4. Divide the dough into two equal portions. Form into rectangular loaves for 2 greased cornmeal-dusted 9-by-5 pans or form two rounds and place on a greased baking sheet. Cover with cloth and let rise for about 40 minutes. Preheat oven at 350.
5. Slash the loaves decratively no more than 1/4 inch deep. Bake in the oven for 40 - 45 minutes. Remove and let cool.
The finished products. The color is off (they are more orange)

I have done many substitutions for this recipe. Today I used yellow cornmeal and I substituted barley flour for rye because I was out of both. I also used whole-wheat pastry flour in place of the bread flour. It still came out great. I just had a slice with some hot apple cider.

So this is one of my top pumpkin foods. What is your favourite pumpkin food?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Locations of My Soul (part 2)

Goldbug Hotsprings outside Salmon, ID for healing

One of the several pools at Goldbug
What could be more healing than soaking naked in a natural hotspring high in the mountains? Not much. Goldbug is one of those special places that my mind returns to in order to feel the hot healing mountain water. The springs are located in a fairly steep canyon. The hike is pretty short, maybe two miles, but steep. I visited there in April of 2005 (also when these pictures were taken). It was a chilly day, but once in the 100 degree plus water, I warmed right up. The pools are fairly private because of the steepness and shrubs, so it makes for a nice private soak even if there are a couple other people up there. Natural hotsprings are one of the things that I miss most about living in the west.
Emma on the trail up the canyon
An old building skeleton next to the trail

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Locations Of My Soul (part 1)

Porcupine Mountains, UP Michigan for calmness
Lake of the Clouds-the heart of the park

I believe that our experiences add to the depth of our personalities. Where we have traveled, whom we have known, what we have learned all become part of our lives forever. Locations are especially important because we remember them for the profound experiences we had while there. Categories of the positive experiences tend to be memories (like the spot of first kissing ones lover), spiritual epiphanies, or just being overtaken by natural beauty. These special locations become part of our soul. They are especially important for me because I find myself returning there in my mind in times of turmoil to find solace. I use different locations to achieve different feelings.

The Porcupine Mountains State Park in the UP of Michigan is where I go to find calming energy. In the case of this week, I literally went there to find calmness (hence the idea for this post). I rented a backcountry cabin on Lake Superior for the evening. My partner was planning to go, but decided against it at the last moment. I guess hiking back to a little cabin in below freezing temps being seven months pregnant ended up not being appealing. Anyhow, the area was so quiet I was able to focus on nature and myself. I did a lot of reflecting on the upcoming birth, my job hunting and all of the other stressors I am currently experiencing. The experience was so healing for me that in the future I will be able to focus on the certain spots in the Porcupine Mts. to help me through times of chaos.
Lake Superior just below the cabin I rented

The Cabin through the Birch Trees

The Big Carp River

Emma on the Government Peak Trail

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Wal*Mart Using Sustainable On It's Website: Serious Statement or Greenwashing Rhetoric?

It seems to me that the word sustainable has become so over-used that it is now basically a meaningless term. One company that I feel is exploiting the term is Wal*Mart. Apparently they have gotten so much negative publicity, they are trying to paint a new image for themselves. On their corporate website they have created what they call a Sustainable Values Network. Many of the things they have set goals for sound great, but given their business model and globalization philosophy they seem impossible.

There are many problems that I have with Wal*Mart (perhaps more in the future), but one that my community is currently experiencing is their poor development practices. They currently have a smaller store on the far east end of Ashland. Now they are clearing acres of woods and meadows for a new Super Wal*Mart, instead of remodeling their current building or building in an already developed area.

Land Being Cleared for Ashland's new Super-Sized Wal*Mart

According to Wal*Mart's realty website this is common practice because they have hundreds of older buildings for sale or lease. How can Wal*Mart imply they are looking at ways to reduce waste when they continue to clear farmland, meadows, forests, and wetlands to build a new store while their old ones sit empty?
Wal*Mart's example of a wetland/retention pond (notice the diversity of plants and animals)

Call me a skeptic, but I just don't get how a company centered around waste and greed can ever become, for the lack of a better word, sustainable.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Acrobat Cats

I forgot about this photo. My mother just sent me this the other day. She took it where we used to live 25 years ago (with a cheap 110 camera). The cats would look into the window and wait for their dinner. Classic.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Reducing Waste Begins With Purchase

For quite some time I have been putting a lot of emphasis on reducing the amount of waste I produce. Here in rural northern Wisconsin we have no trash pick-up, but must take our waste and recycleables to the local township transfer station, which is open Saturdays 8-1. We also have to purchase yellow trashbags for two dollars a piece. Fortunately recycling is free, but no paperboard or plastics beyond #1 & 2 are accepted. This inconvenience has made me work even harder on reducing waste. For a family of two, we barely fill up a plastic grocery bag with garbage weekly. Here are a few things I have found help:

1. Think about how much of the product you are buying will end up as garbage. Just being aware of how much unnecessary packaging is in a product can help me decide which product to purchase. I try to avoid products that come in both boxes and plastic bags. There seems to be more waste than food.

2. Try to use products that come in returnable containers. Many dairies are now offering milk in returnable glass or plastic bottles. Many local egg producers also are happy to get their cartons back. we even have a local berry farm that takes back its cartons.

Some of the versatile containers I reuse-or are designed for reuse

3. Buy in bulk. This one is a no-brainer. If you are lucky you will have a business that offers more than beans and rice in bulk. I am able to buy most of my food and households like laundry soap, shampoo, and dish soap. It helps to have a business that has scales set up for weighing your own containers instead of having to use new plastic bags. Some co-ops even have old clean containers already weighed for customers to use. Even our herb/medicine cabinet contains items bought in bulk

4. Buy larger quantities. If buying in bulk isn't an option consider purchasing a larger version of the product.
This brand of cereal creates little waste. Sometimes I even reuse the bag.

5. When buying a product in a container, consider its reusability. I love Nancy's products because they use a #2 instead of #5 like other yogurt companies. These are more durable and take the place of tupperware in our household.

6. Set up a compost. Even when I lived in a city I had a backyard compost.
My rustic, homemade compost bin.

7. Shop at thrift shops and garage sales. When buying things other than food, it helps to buy products used because the packaging has already been eliminated.

8. Reuse as often as possible. Boxes, containers, envelopes- whatever. Before recycling it is best to reuse.

9. Finally, those wonderful canvas bags. Don't leave home without em'. I will take a plastic bag from a thrift shop every now and then to use as my garbage bag.

I'm sure I'm just touching the tip of the iceberg. I'd be happy to hear how others are tackling this issue.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Tribute to the Black-Capped Chickadee

One of the things I enjoy about winter is watching the birds that frequent my feeder. My favorite, although not as exciting as a rare visitor such as a grosbeak, is the Black-capped chickadee. They are hardy troopers who spend the entire year in the northwoods. They visit my feeder on the coldest of days when other birds and animals remain silent in the woods. Personally I would like to see the chickadee as the state bird for Wisconsin, instead of the fair-weather Robin. Having the robin as the state bird would be like having a governor who spent half of the year in Florida.

Purple Finch Enjoying Some Sunflower Seeds

Since I just started keeping my birdfeeder filled I haven't spotted that many species yet this fall. So far, besides the chickadees, we've had the hairy woodpecker, purple finch (I'm curious if he will spend the winter), dark-eyed juncos (they will probably head south in a week or so), and blue jays. In the past I have had problems with bears and deer raiding the feeders, but none yet this season.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Ashland Area Elements that I Could Do Without

The idea of this post was directly taken from a post on the Crallspace blog about the town in Oregon that he resides in. Normally I try to list the positives going on here, but hey, everyone has some issues about where they live. So here are mine:

* Wal-Mart. In a city of just over 8000 we have one going supersized. A group of locals tried to get them to add green elements to their new building, like a couple of their stores have, Wal-Mart claimed to consider but declined.

* Bear Hunters. This so-called sport makes no sense to me. It consists of radio collared dogs that chase a bear up a tree. Then the hunter shoots the bear and drags it to his truck with an ATV. What's worse is when one of their dogs is killed by a wolf because they where hunting to close to the wolf's territory. Then our tax dollars pay the hunter for the price of his dog.

* The Coal Burning Power Plant. This thing sits right on Lake Superior and is ugly, smelly, and partly responsible for te mercury in our lakes. There has been a lot of push to start putting wind farms on the Great Lakes, but many are opposed because of aesthetic reasons. Yeah these look much better.

* ATV and Snowmobile Recreators. Many people argue these have their place and bring revenue to our depressed economy, but they annoy me. Most of the revenue goes to the bars and gas stations anyhow. Plus, there are always cases of some yahoo tearing up a wetland causing decades of environmental damage because he thought it would be fun to go muddin'.

* April and May. Winter here just never seems to end. I greatly enjoy it early on, but by the time maple sugaring is done, I'm ready for spring. Instead we get a month or so of freezing, thawing, snow storms, and slush.

* Hunters for sport only. In about a month the woods will be filled with blaze orange. I think hunting is wonderful. We have too many deer up here and it's great to get some venison from neighbors and friends, but the individuals who just want the buck head sicken me. There are often reports of deer being found in the woods skinned and beheaded.

* The person who leaves those fearful Christian Pamphlets at the artesian well. The one that was there the other day was called "Happy Halloween" and was about a boy who got hit by a car and went to hell because he quit going to Sunday School and refused to repent his sins and give his life to Christ. They are all so negative and fear based. They really give Christianity a bad rap.

* Green Bay Packers stuff everywhere I look. I'll admit I'm not a fan of football (I used to be and I liked the Packers), but there should be a limit.

* Huge consolidated schools. Like many places, a lot of the small country schools have been closed down forcing kids to travel sometimes over 30 miles to school. No wonder so many people homeschool up here.

* Rich yuppie tourists from the cities in GIGANTIC SUV's that tailgate me into town. Enough said.

Well I guess that was enough complaining for one evening.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Simplicity, Consumerism, and Back Again

Lately, as I have been surfing around the web of simplicity and homesteading blogs, a feeling of hope has overcome me. I was lucky in a sense, although I didn't always realize it as a child, to be brought up by my parents who were attempting a simple life. My father was an old hippie and my mother was brought up Mennonite who still followed many of their philosophies.
Me, twenty some years ago

We were homesteaders in a way. We had a huge organic garden and sold food at the farmers market (not that common in Illinois in the early to mid 80's). We canned and preserved 100's of quarts of food yearly. My father had a job as a lab technician and my mother was a stay at home mom. We hardly ever went shopping, except for groceries, so my wardrobe consisted of hand-me-downs or cheap souvenir t-shirts of places we visited. I was brought up on venison and non-pasteurized milk from our dairy farming neighbor. We had a very small black and white television (no VCR) so my dad could watch the occasional sports game. We had one old car or truck that seemed to accomplish all that we needed. At some point in my early 20's I went through a phase where I enjoyed shopping, eating out at chain restaurants, watching television and movies, going to college with the intention of having a high paying job and a nice Volvo or Mercedes. While I never fit the stereotype of the suburbia over-consumer, I did seem to be going in the wrong direction. When I moved from Illinois to Northern Wisconsin, I once again started on the simple path. It has been a gradual progression, but I feel as though I am learning more and accomplishing more each day. One of my accomplishments has been to discover items that I feel that I can live without and to develop a list of items or practices that I would like to be free of.

Items that I live without
1. Television. (Of course I have my iMac so I still watch the occasional dvd and keep up with current events)
2. Microwave. (Ever since I had one that blew up and had to pay $20 to dispose of it, I found I no longer need it.)
3. Stereo system. (once again my iMac seems to be all I need for music)
4. Dishwasher
5. Tupperware (old yogurt containers and jars are wonderful)
6. Snowblower (sometimes I wish I had one)
7. Bed. (We do have a futon, which can be restuffed so there is no need to ever buy box springs or mattress. Plus it can be a couch.)
8. Big truck or SUV. (My Subaru does all of the hauling I need)
9. I'm sure there are more, but I'm going blank

Items or practices I am striving to reduce
1. Fewer lights/lamps and more usage of oil lamps and candles
2. Never use the dryer. I do have a drying rack that I need to use more.
3. Less driving to town.
4. Buying books (especially fiction). I am an avid library user, but I still spend too much on books. I can wait for a new book to get to my library.
5. Buy less clothes. Most of my clothes are from the thrift shop, but we have an awesome sewing machine that we could use to make more.
6. Buy less fruit and veggies out of season.
7. Once again I'm sure there are more, but it's a start.

We can all take steps to reduce things that we feel that we don't need. Of course they will not all be the same ( I don't really want to give up my computer and I'm sure others don't want to give up their TV), but any small steps we take will enhance our lives as well as the planet's.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Little Snow

We didn't quite get the snowfall that was called for, but our temp this morning when I woke up was 21. It must have got down in the teens last night/early morning. More snow expected today and tomorrow.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Needle Felting Is A Blast

Yesterday my partner and I took a class on 3-dimensional needle felting at the local community college. They offer a lot of "continuing education" classes conducted by community members (everything from art to yoga to film discussion). This class particularly interested us because we both want to create dolls and finger puppets for our child-on-the-way. I also enjoy creating nature tables and wanted to learn how to make characters for my themes (I'm planning on a winter theme next with king winter on skis, especially because snow is already in the forecast for midweek.) Anyhow, we had a blast at the class and even created these little figures (I did the gnome and sheep).
It is a very soothing exercise and much easier than I thought. The wool is very forgiving, so if I mess up, I just add more wool and keep shaping. The supply list is small as well; a large needle, a piece of foam to work on, and the wool. Pipecleaners can also be used for a skeletal system like I did with my sheep. Someone in the class even said she planned on using wool from sweaters that had been shrunken. Since I don't knit, I now have a handwork craft to sit by the fire and work on this winter.

Friday, October 06, 2006

A Trip Over To Da UP Eh

The other day I had to drive about an hour east of where I live to go to my dentist (why I travel an hour to go to the dentist is a long story). Anyhow, I crossed the Wisco state line into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. For anyone who thinks the UP is just the top of Michigan is greatly mistaken. The people of the UP refer to themselves as "Yoopers" and the rest of Michigan is simply "the other side of the Bridge". If one visits in winter you'll see snow up to the houses windows. They get anywhere from 200-300 inches of snow a year in many places (not bad for an elevation of around 1300 or less). While I was over there I couldn't help but buy an infamous yooper pasty. Normally I'm a fairly healthy eater (organic, local, little meat), but regional food has a way to tempt me. So I plunked down $3.00 for a artery clogging meat and potato filled pasty at Joe's Pasty shop in Ironwood. The pasty was brought to the UP by cornish miners (More on the history of the UP pasty here) and has stayed there ever since.
As I mentioned before regional foods tempt me with fascination. Here in Wisconsin every bar seems to have the best Friday Night Fish Fry. We also have deep fried cheese curds. Chicago has both stuffed pizzas and Chicago Hot Dogs (celery salt is the secret there). When I'm in coastal Washington I buy oysters. I know New Orleans is all about Cajun. I've even tried alligator in Florida. So I'm curious, what other regional foods are out there?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Getting Ready For The Long Winter

I love the Northwoods, but I have to admit that the winters are too long. By the time late April gets here and it still feels like winter, I'm ready for a trip to the Southwest. The long winters also require plenty of preparations. In my case plenty of firewood. This year we took the easy way and ordered some loggers cords to be delivered. I didn't get out in the woods early enough this year to harvest any firewood. Still I found a local firewood dealer who only charged $350 for 5 cord (mostly oak and maple)

Me and Emma. I have plenty of splitting ahead!

I also can't seem to spend enough time in the sugarbush. The yellows are so brilliant and the smell of sweet dried maple leaves makes me feel at ease. I also need to haul some dry wood down to the sugarbush and store it for boiling in the spring. There is nothing worse than a crumby damp fire when trying to boil sap. If I feel extra motivated there are a lot of hemlocks starting to grow up around the maples that should be cleared out.
My rustic boil pan. I really need a stainless steel pan.
The Bent Sugar maple.

Emma on the trail.

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