Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Put It All on the Line (Literally)

Monday morning on my run, I noticed a new clothesline at a neighbor’s house. It’s one of those single pole types with multiple rows of lines filling a metal frame. Shirts on hangers hung neatly from each row and waved in the breeze. I didn’t stop to be certain, but my casual in-flight count was 24 shirts! That’s a lot for such a small set up.

At our house we have a single line with pulleys on both ends. One pulley is attached to a pole on our deck and the other is atop a long metal pole secured in the ground with cement. Because our line runs down hill, the pole is extra tall.

It’s surprising to me that more of my neighbor’s don’t utilize a clothesline. A dryer is one of the biggest energy hogs in the house. Our electric bill goes down by half in the summer thanks to solar powered hot water and the clothesline. I resisted the line for too many years thinking it would be too time consuming, too labor-intensive, too ugly.

Now when I drive up my driveway and see the clothes blowing in the breeze, it makes me smile. And I look forward to the five minutes I spend each morning hanging clothes out. It’s my time to listen to the birds, take in the sunshine, and be left alone. No one ever offers to help hang out the laundry (except my father-in-law’s wife who understands the sacred space created by clotheslines).

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lovely Unnecessary Lawns

I’ve been thinking a lot about grass. My horses also (presumably) think a lot about it. They’re disappointed so far this year because our pasture grass has not truly begun to grow yet. Another frost this morning is just adding to our very late, very cold spring. I stand at the fence and study the grass and worry about it. The grass is the main food source for my critters all summer. Our winter hay ran out early because we had two solid months of snow-covered ground. My hay guy and neighbor keeps bringing me what he can, but it is increasingly less attractive as he digs deep into the recesses of his barn for hay baled nearly a year ago. I toss out a few flakes and the horses sniff it before walking up the hill in search of better food, only to return soon after to pick through the hay. When you’re hungry you’ll eat almost anything.

My husband and two of my kids returned late Saturday night (actually early Sunday morning) from a work project in Honduras. They were helping to build homes for the homeless in a remote village in the mountains where prosperity is judged by whether or not you have any chickens. I asked my son how the food was during their 9 day stay and he said, “I’ve learned to be a lot less picky about my food.”

The horses are figuring this out too while we wait for the grass to grow. I sent a soil sample off to Penn State for analysis and found out that my pasture soil has a perfect ph, plenty of nitrogen, but is low in phosphorus.  This will require a custom blend of fertilizer which is probably more money than I’m willing to throw at this problem. This led to some research on fertilizers.

Did you know that Americans use 90 million pounds of fertilizers and 78 million pounds of pesticides on their lawns each year? And nobody is even depending on that grass for survival. In light of the stories and pictures from my kids’ experience in Honduras, that seems grossly excessive. Those fertilizers do make the grass bright green, but they also contaminate rivers and streams and eventually drinking water. There is a creek at the bottom of my hill and every time it rains we watch as a steady torrent of water runs from our pasture, down our driveway, across the road to the stream below. If I were to apply the fertilizer I’m considering, how much of it would land in Deer Creek? And is it really worth it?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What's Hiding in Those Eggs?

Easter is only a few days away. In previous years, I’d be prepared. This year, despite its late date, it snuck up on me. Considering there was snow falling from the sky last night (enough, already!), it’s been hard to get in the mood. Yesterday, and again this morning, my youngest, most subtle child, said, “I hope the Easter bunny’s figured out what he’s going to put in the eggs this year.” This child knows me. He’s also a snooper and has probably noticed the lack of stashed treats.

It’s hard to bring myself to buy crappy candy. Yes, I know, this is what Easter’s all about. Candy is part of the deal. Still, it grates on my soul. Tomorrow I will drag myself up to the Wolfgang Candy outlet in York and buy the obligatory sweet stuff. At least I’ll be supporting a local company.

One year, when I was more ambitious, I actually made organic homemade chocolate covered cream eggs. Who was that woman and where did she go?

Every year I try to think of other things to stuff the plastic eggs with beyond sugar drenched, food-dye laden, artificially flavored lumps (because really people, that’s what this is).

Now, don’t take me for a scrooge. I’m all about Easter. I love watching the kids hunt for eggs. I love surprising them with a few nice things in their Easter baskets. I just wish I had something better to offer them in their eggs.

My older kids are always looking for a handout, so money is an obvious option. I’ll fill a few eggs with cold hard cash. But what else fits in that tiny egg? I turned to the internet for ideas.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Garden Remodel and Mint Invasion

The peas are in the ground! Finally! I don’t know that I’ve ever planted them this late. (the picture of the planted peas was just dirt, so I took a picture of crocuses instead.)  This year’s garden is going to be a haphazard affair, it seems. We’ve got a construction project going which has forced me to relocate my strawberries, another chore I took care of this weekend. They wouldn’t all fit in the temporary bed I prepared for them, so some of them went in pallets. I’ve never tried this, but am hoping it works.

The driveway is being expanded and repaved- a project that has been overdue for at least ten years. New terraces and swales are being cut into our hillside to fix drainage issues. In the end, I’ll have two new huge garden beds! Well, since I’m losing one (the strawberries) in the process, it’s only a net gain of one bed. But as long as I’m still sending the garden to lawn ratio up, that’s all that matters.

This is the garden that's going -(I built that wall myself ten years ago by the way)

I’m a little nervous about one aspect of the garden remodel. In the bed where the strawberries used to reside there is mint. And when I say there is mint, I mean the entire bed is overrun, underrun, completely overtaken by mint. The strawberries have generally been able to hold their own in the battle for control, but the mint has always been on the winning end and I have to ally myself with the strawberries by mid summer and ruthlessly pull out any and all mint I can find. That still leaves plenty by fall when I cut it and dry it to make mint tea. My concern is this – when the old bed is bulldozed and the new beds are terraced into the same hillside, will the mint be EVERYWHERE?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

DIY Organic Spice Mixes

Cooking is all about spices. This I’ve learned. If you’ve ever watched professional chefs work, you’ll notice they add spices, and particularly salt, by the handful, not the teaspoonful. I like a lot of spices. I want to taste my food.

When we turned over our organic leaf, I struggled to find organic versions of the spice mixes I’d become dependent on for seasoning taco meat, spaghetti sauce, pizza, seafood, and steak. It was hard to give up McCormick’s Montreal Steak Seasoning (the secret ingredient in my husband’s famous burgers) and who wants steamed shrimp without Old Bay seasoning?

Most commercial spice mixes contain MSG, plus all kinds of preservatives that most people would not even consider food. For instance, Old El Paso taco mix contains silicon dioxide which is the same thing found in those little packets that say “do not eat” in your shoe boxes. It also features ethoxquin which is a preservative AND a pesticide. If you google ethoxquin you’ll find a huge controversy swarming around its use in dog food. Apparently dog owners don’t want their pets eating pesticide! Well, I don’t really want my kids eating pesticides either.

Organic versions of popular spice mixes are silly expensive and not always easy to find. And there’s no need to – you can make your own!