Archive for January, 2012

Update on the Family Re-org Project

Sharon January 23rd, 2012

Well, somewhere in late December and early January I kind of petered out, I have to admit.  There was this viral thing, and then we had guests, and then I had four kids 4-1 for five days, and then a stomach thing, and then Eric went back to work.  But I’m doing better with it - here’s what I actually did:

1. I did empty out the pantry room and move things into the extra little kitchen or in our room.  Unfortunately, my room is still a mess.  That’s on tomorrow’s project list.  But we do have that guest room back, which is good, because the thermostat is in there, and during the coldest periods, keeping the door closed in there gets a little scary (also the furthest spot in the house from the stoves).

2. I sorted out some of the games and also cleaned out the game closet - I didn’t get rid of all the boxes, mostly because the kids were concerned they couldn’t see what games we actually have that way.  Still mulling over how to do it.

3. Got my stash of goods for sudden arrivals of foster kids somewhat depleted by the group of four, but this prompted me to do much more sorting and organizing and keep better lists of what I need and don’t need - I’ve now got enough girl clothes in most sizes that I can look for specifics when I go thrift shopping , which is useful, because now I know I need warm pajamas,  sweaters and leggings and bathing suits for girls and cloth diapers for babies, but not necesarily pants and t-shirts in most sizes.  Was able to get through five days with 4 kids without shopping for anything but diapers and formula - which is really good, since I had no time to do any of those things ;-) .  Sorted and reorganized the laundry room, put all the boys’ old clothes away in better-organized fashion.  Sorted out shoes (also often needed on the fly - kids almost always come in too-small shoes, because hey, shoes are expensive) and winter gear (same as shoes).

4. Did nothing with garage, but trained dogs to sleep in the house in cold weather.  Hey, you win some…

5. Reorganized the kids’ room - mostly.  They have mostly unorganized it by now ;-) .

I need to do a major kitchen reorganization next, and also my seed and gardening supplies.  That, and some infrastructure (electrician here now for rewiring that has needed doing for ummm….a long time, plumber coming soon for similar problem…), including better gates for the bottom of the stairs and the wood cookstove will just make life a lot easier.  I also am doing more cooking ahead and storing some kid-friendly meals so that when we suddenly go through the sharp learning curve of getting to know new kids, we don’t have to rush around cooking or order pizza.

How about you?  Did you get your projects done?  Got any new ones?


Eat the Food and Food Waste

Sharon January 23rd, 2012

Thank you all for all the enthusiasm for bringing back the Independence Days Challenge - I’ll put up the details and new parameters for the start of February.  There’s been some good discussion of the merits of an “eat the food” category  and whether it was necessary - that’s a good and reasonable question, but recent news events happened to remind me why I want to put it in there.

We are back up to 1 billionish hungry people in the world, and 1/3 of all food goes to waste worldwide.  Now I’d like to say that none of it went to waste in my house - after all, I’ve been writing about food waste and food security issues for years, and I really have tried hard to ensure that everything gets eaten here.  It does - by someone.  But the best use of my lentil-kale soup is really feeding the people in my house, not the chickens, and embarassingly often, some human food gets fed to dogs, cats, rabbits or goats.

A summit of farmers and food policy experts in Germany makes the stakes clear:

Consumers in rich countries dispose of 220 million metric tons of food waste every year, equal to the entire food output of sub-Saharan Africa, Jose Graziano da Silva, the director general of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, told 64 agriculture ministers meeting in Berlin over the weekend.

“We must change our way of thinking, we must have more education, we must have discussion about best-before dates,” German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner said. “Every food item thrown away is wasted.”

One third of the food produced in the world every year is lost or wasted, amounting to 1.3 billion metric tons, according to Graziano da Silva. As many as 925 million people faced hunger worldwide in 2010, based on the FAO’s most recent estimate.

In rich nations in the global north, the majority of food is lost not in the fields, but somewhere after it begins the process of getting to your table - in shipping, processing, at the store and in our homes.  In the global south most food is lost in the fields, due to lack of adequate capacity to process it.  Food loss in the global south could be reduced by very small increases in available resources - large scale dryer to dry grain crops damaged by moisture, dehydrators and collective refrigeration.  In the north, most of the food loss is *ENABLED* by our fossil energies - it gets freezer burned and tossed in the deep freeze, it gets damaged by fluctuating temperatures during long haul trucking, it isn’t pretty enough to sit out under flourescent lights or it turns green the fridge.  We use vastly more energy in our food system, waste similar amounts of food, but only after we pour fossil energies into it.

What does this have to do with the “eat the food” category of the Independence Days challenge?  Someone once observed to me that they found it harder to eat the kale, or get the green beans before they got overripe, or make sure they cooked with the organic vegetables they were buying at the farmer’s market than they did shopping or growing them, and I don’t think this is a unique experience.  Ultimately, the problem of managing the food in our pantries and our gardens and everywhere else is a task that requires an attention that most of us haven’t given in the same way that we may have given our attention to the learning curve of actually starting seeds or cooking.  We don’t want to waste, we don’t intend to waste, but the art of making full and good use of everything is one that we have not treated as requiring the same attention and thought as the rest of the food project.  There will never be a fully waste-less society, and indeed, our livestock are grateful for a little extra - but a little is what they need.

One of m goals for re-starting the Independence Days project, then, is to be more artful in my use of food, taking full enjoyment from what we have and ensuring we don’t over buy, don’t miss the windows of opportunity for enjoyment, and that we make good meals from what we have - all of it, whenever possible


Bringing Back the Independence Days Challenge

Sharon January 18th, 2012

Ok, folks, I’ve decided I seriously miss the Independence Days challenge - I really need that little kick in the pants to write down everything I accomplish on the homestead.  Am I the only one?  Anyone else want to see it back?

I’m debating expanding the categories a bit to cover non-food related sustainability activities, but I don’t want it to get too unwieldy - I’d welcome thoughts on how to do so, or what you’d like to see.

I’m also going to push the “challenge” part of this harder and publicize it more - after all, this is just plain fun stuff, right?



The Foster Parent Diet

Sharon January 12th, 2012

Given that January is the season for regretting excesses and making new starts, I thought I’d offer Sharon’s patented formula for losing 10lbs fast - absolutely guaranteed to take off the weight like lightning.;
Day 1: Spend most of the day getting ready for a weekend event - running errands, shopping at local markets, prepping to prepare lunch for 20+ people.  Run into friends and acquaintances and chat about the upcoming event.
3pm Day 1: Get a call from your caseworker announcing that she has four children, 4, 3, 2 and 1 in need of an emergency placement - can you take them RIGHT NOW?  In a fit of insanity, say yes.
4pm Day 1: Race around gathering everything together and installing carseats and drive to collect children in Walmart Parking lot.  Call friends organizing lunch the next day and inform them that you will not be bringing food for 20.
5pm Day 1: Receive four terrified children.  Take eight children through Walmart to buy a carseat for baby (because we only have two carseats) and to allow kids to pick out some familiar foods. Weight Bearing Exercise: Each parent carries one child and pushes the other in a cart.  Say yes to Dora the Explorer Yogurt (because traumatized kids deserve some familiarity).  Say no to poparts.  Install new carseat and get
Race home with children, rapidly assemble dinner while holding a baby in one arm.  Let kids play for a while, then feed them.  Feed baby while trying to eat your food.  Don’t eat much.  Race through the house pulling pajamas in various sizes out of your stash, trying to guess what size the kids are wearing.
8pm Day 1:  Bathe four children and spend 3 hours trying to get hysterical, frightened kids reassured and to sleep,  Finally collapse into bed at midnight.
6am Day 2: Begin race to get eight kids dressed nicely for synagogue.  Bathe other four kids.  Gulp half a cup of hot tea while children play contentedly - five minutes later go back to real life, where children need constant attention.
10 am Day 2.  Load eight kids between the ages of 11 and 1 into car and booster seats (where relevant) for the second time.  It only takes 10 minutes this time.  Drive to synagogue.
10:30am - Vaguely aware that there is a service going on somewhere, but spend the time in babysitting keeping children from whacking other children.
Noon, Day 2: Take children in for kiddush (snack time).  Wind Sprints:  Attempt to eat a brownie.  Instead, chase two year old who thinks it is funny to run away from you for a while.
1pm, Day 2 - Playground time.  Lots of stretching and running.
2pm Day 2 - Home for lunch.  Eat with baby on lap.  Discover baby is faster at grabbing your plate of chicken than you are.  Note how quickly cats move in on dropped chicken.  Wave sadly goodbye to your food and feed baby.
Rest of Day 2 - Race around like maniacs trying (and failing) to keep up with laundry, dishes and eight kids.  Calisthenics: Do “baby dance” at high speed for two hours to get cranky infant to sleep,”  Finally get panicky children to sleep at 10pm, then face dishes.  Collapse at midnight again, wakened at 2am by baby and 5 am by own children who are raring to go.
Day 3, am- Get eight kids out of the house appropriately dressed by 9am this time so my kids can go to Hebrew school, and birthday parties.  Entertain non-Hebrew school attending foster children for two hours while husband tutors.  Play ring-around-the-rosie and horsie for two hours.
Day 3, pm - One child has birthday party in vicinity of Hebrew school, so decide to take other 7 children to local chinese buffet (you normally would have packed a lunch, but that just wasn’t going to happen today) and to the public library.  Wind sprints, part 1: During lunch, baby has diaper disaster and you suddenly realize that the change of outfit you found for her requires socks - but previous outfit had no socks and you haven’t packed any.   Abandon hope of lunch and race for van, where wonderful, kind friend has just dropped a pile of outgrown baby clothes with you.  Bless friend’s name repeatedly while triumphantly digging out slightly-too-small-but-still-functional socks for baby.  Run back to restaurant with socks.  Wind sprints part II: When arriving at library (after repeated in and out of carseats which you can now do in 2 1/2 minutes (older son has timed)) decide “we don’t need to haul in the diaper bag (which weighs 20lbs easily with clothes for all these kids and enough snacks to feed a small country), we’re only going to be here a few minutes.”  Realize hideous mistake as we are standing in line to check out and 2 year old creates disturbing odor and related mess.  Run for diaper bag.  Run with diaper bag.  Contain child and mess.  Arrive 20 minutes late to pick up son from birthday party.
Day 4, am: Wonderful, kind Mother in law arrives to help.  Magical addition of pair of third hands makes life so much better.  Actually have time to do dishes and devour 500 calories without standing up.  Meanwhile, eldest son throws up on bus on way to school and is returned to us.  Repeats vomiting a couple of times just to make sure we’re full up on laundry.  Hear explained by three year old that she was sick and threw up the day before they came.  Hmmm…
Day 4, pm:  Take five kids (four foster plus sick but good natured oldest son) to visit with foster children’s  extended family.  Incredibly heart-warming experience when great-grandmother and grandfather both of whom spent many hours in transit (grandpa spent 30 hours on a bus) to come and get their babies and keep them safe.  Feel incredibly good about being foster parents.  Wind sprints:  Leave kids to visit with family and race out to buy formula, milk and rubber snakes (kids have been fighting over single rubber snake in house).  Seek rubber snakes in several locales at high speed.  Return, take kids home feed, put to bed, actually get to sleep before midnight, although not much.  Eat an actual meal with only a little help from baby.
Day 5: Take all four kids to the doctor, and finally, by the end of the day, to reunite with Grandpa, who is taking them home to another state.  Pack from stash four days worth of clothing, diapers, formula, baby food, toys and games for children to take on 30 hour bus ride.  Repeatedly bless all the people friends, family and some blog readres who have helped me build said stash because, frankly, if I’d had to take eight kids shopping for clothes I’d be locked in the loony bin right now ;-) .
Day 5, evening: Bring home children, including stomach-bug ridden second son.  Feed everyone popcorn, apple slices and cocoa, because we’re too tired to do anything else.  Get kids into bed at normal bedtime and anticipate a period of relaxation, recovery and laundry doing.  Join husband on couch to triumphantly celebrate a job well done with glasses of wine and a lovely local cheese.   Talk over the events of the week - exhausting, stressful but also wonderful and well worth it.  Miss the kids.
Day 6, 1am. Succumb to stomach virus brought home by some child in residence, whether permanent or temporary.  Profoundly regret cheese and wine.
Day 6: Consume nothing but mint tea and toast.
Repeat!  A slimmer you is on the horizon!