Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bad Idea #4 - The Dishwasher

To Rinse Or Not To Rinse - That is the Question
I posted about not pre-rinsing my dishes before putting them in the dishwasher back in September. Can. Not. Do. It. Don't know why, but it freaks me out. Sister Heather picks on me about it, but then again, she picks on me about a lot of things. That's what VERY MUCH OLDER sisters do, I guess.

I have tried. I've tried and tried and tried to load those filthy plates in the washer, but it simply makes my skin crawl. So then I switched to the old "hand scrape" method, which made me dry-heave. Wierd, since a minute earlier I would have been snatching up that leftover meatball and popping it right in my piehole. I think it has something to do with the food nearing the proximity of the germy sink that makes it so gross. It's difficult to explain in words, but this is how my wierdo mind sees it:

Dry Toast

Dry Heave

Ice Cream

I Spew


Aha! Gotcha! There's no such thing as leftover bacon, silly!

Anyhow, the point is, this idea IS good -- if you have the stomach for it. Personally, I don't. And if this really IS how people load their dishwashers, I'm going to be deeply disturbed.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Supplemental Post - A Beef With The Meat Industry

Need Another Reason to Give Up the Beef?

As if saving the planet and lowering your cholesterol weren't reason enough, check out this horrible, disturbing article about the abuse of downed cattle at a slaughterhouse. Pardon the language, but it's absolutely fucking sick.

Do we really need meatloaf made from real beef THAT badly? If you're totally pissed off about the inhumane treatment, but can't stand the thought of a meatless meal, at least look into purchasing your meat from a local farmer. These cows tend to be grass-fed, antibiotic-free and pasture-raised, and you get to go visit the farm to make sure.

Bad Idea #3 -

Yeah, this is my most oft visited bad idea: Nothing.

When I just sit here staring at the computer screen and the inside my skull is just one big void. This happens a lot. And not just when I'm blogging.

Also, I didn't bother to write anything today, so the timing couldn't be better.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bad Idea #2 - Passing the 'Buck

Giving Up Starbucks in Favor of The Local Coffee Shop

You always hear people talk about how important it is to shop locally. They say it helps to build a sense of community. They say it improves the local economy. They say it is good for the environment. They even say it is good for the soul. I'm assuming "they" know more than "I" do, because social studies was my worst subject in high school whereas "they" always got straight A's.

And so, this week's posts are all about shopping locally. Unless I get distrac---- hey, what's that?

Anywhich, my first change of the week will be to buck the 'Bucks and head to my local coffee shop for my java fix. I'm not complaining about this change. The "local" shop has great coffee, a warm atmosphere and a liquor license -- in case I need a little something besides caffeine to keep me going. Also, they make THE BEST scones on the planet. The only downside is that there are THREE Starbucks that I pass on my way to and from preschool each day. The local coffee shop I like? Yeah, that's about six miles away.


And so, I guess I might as well add "limit the amount of coffee I drink" to my list. After all, it wouldn't be very green of me to drive six miles out of my way just for a cup of joe - even though I bring my own mug. Fortunately for me, I do have to head over that way once a week -- either to get fabric or passing through on my way to the fresh fish store.

So far this looks like a great post, doesn't it? Why is it, then being listed as a bad idea? Well, because after spending twenty minutes composing the damn thing, I started to search the internet for some factoids to toss in that would support my fabulous green idea. And you know what? I couldn't find a single freakin' one. Which is pretty amazing since I am NEVER wrong. Don't believe me? Ask my husband.

In fact, everything I found online talked about how wonderful Starbucks is; how they support fair trade coffee growers, donate their used grounds to garden clubs and swaddle orphaned penguins in handmade quilts and whatnot.

Another reason this is a bad idea? I like Starbucks. A lot. Nobody, but NOBODY makes a peppermint mocha the way they do and the kiddos love their nasty-ass, overpriced, stale donuts. Also? They're EVERYWHERE. You can't throw a dead cat without hitting a Starbucks, which makes them easy to find when you're traveling. A lot easier than wasting gas while searching high and low for a local coffee shop.

Lastly, you'll notice that I never ended up writing any other posts about shopping locally, so apparently something shiny really did distract me! That, or I got all hepped up on a caffeine buzz.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Bad Idea #1 - Lighten Up

Bleaching My Hair With Henna

OK, I can deal with the no manicures thing. I can deal with skipping the conditioner and wearing dirty jeans. I can even deal with my weekly "To Hell With Personal Hygiene Day". But I cannot - repeat CANNOT - deal with the fact that I am sprouting grey hair!

Call me a girly-girl if you must, but I just couldn't take looking at those silver strands another day. And give me credit for not heading down to the salon for a round of chemical highlights. Instead, I found some natural henna hair color stuff at the crunchy-granola store and gave it a try.

Tell me what you think....

Here's the before shot (I'm the big one ;-)

And here's the after shot (again, the big one):

See the difference?

Yeah, me neither. I think the only thing that got lighter was my wallet.

To add insult to ugly, the hair color kit included a pair of disposable plastic gloves and shower cap. Grrr.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Story Hour - Part VI

Story Hour is a collection of short, auto-biographical stories written by my father, about his childhood memories growing up on a farm in Upstate New York.


Spud was a unique dog. A German shepherd, who served his country during the time of war. Alec had decided, during the strong feelings of patriotism in World War II, that his dog was going to war, even if Alec couldn’t. Spud was inducted, trained as a “WAR DOG” and served with honor. He returned home (after de-training) where, perhaps, in the archives of The Pulaski Democrat there exists an article with his picture. As far as I know Spud was the only dog from the Pulaski area that served in the Armed Forces during war time.

As we all do, Spud grew older. His eyes and ears lost a lot of resiliency and he started becoming lame and slow. It eventually happened that a neighbor from up the road was driving home when old Spud walked into the road, directly in front of the moving car. He was not killed instantly, though it would have been better if he had been. Alec was at work at a neighboring farm and wouldn’t be home for several hours. The driver of the car and I carried Spud out behind the house and tried to make him comfortable. It was to no avail. He had been fatally crushed and was obviously suffering.

The only humane thing to be done was done. I buried Spud beneath a small shrub to spare Alec the sight of his old friend who had been so grievously injured. I believe we all shed a tear or two that night.

Several years earlier, on the farm there was another incident involving a dog. Garden planting day was an activity that involved everyone who was capable of helping in any manner. And on that particular day, potatoes were the name of the game.

The soil had been previously “fitted up”, the rows clearly marked and the planters were hard at work. Jack would make a hole with his hoe; Dugal would place a potato with an “eye up”; Dick would cover the potato with soil; and I would proudly step on each hill to ensure the soil was in firm contact with the seed. The big draw back to this plan was the dog thought it was a game and promptly dug the potatoes back up behind us.

After observing this a time or two and shouting at the dog (with no results), I picked up a stick and made a threatening motion towards him. I cannot fault the dog. It was my own action that prompted the dog to knock me to the ground and bite my face. Mom cleansed the wounds and applied iodine while the dog was tied up at the barn to await DG’s return that evening.

It was a very nice, reddish colored chow with a tail that curled over its back. I have heard many times since then that Chow dogs are temperamental and cannot be trusted but I know I caused the death of that dog. There was no hesitancy or regret in DG’s voice as he issued the order to Dick - "Shoot the dog, he cannot be trusted around the children".

And so it was done. To this day, I feel a terrible guilt about that dog.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Story Hour - Part V

Story Hour is a collection of short, auto-biographical stories written by my father, about his childhood memories growing up on a farm in Upstate New York.

The Mother

Mom was the blue eyed, blonde beauty from Daysville that won the heart of the rugged, black haired foreigner from across the ocean. How they met and how the romance developed I really don’t know. It is obvious that nature did follow the usual course of events.

There were many tears in this relationship, stillborn babies, and a son, Donald, struck and killed in front of their home on Rome Street. There was also a lot of hard work trying to make a success of the farm operation and the hardship of the dissolution of the marriage.

For a few months right after they were married DG and mom lived the city life. They did not own an automobile so it made sense to live near where you worked. I get the impression mom worked as an assembler in a typewriter factory and perhaps as a sewing machine operator.

The young couple moved to Rome Street, Pulaski in 1920 proceeded to build a one car garage. The one room garage was hardly the lap of luxury but it did provide shelter while the home was being built.

On May 5, 1919, the first son, Arthur, was stillborn. A set of twins, Dorothy Maude and David George were stillborn in July of 1920.

Donald Gordon was born September 20, 1921 and until his death on May 29, 1925 was the pride and joy of his parents. I have been told that he was a very happy young lad, given to singing hymns and marching around the dining room table. He was struck and killed as he stepped out from between two parked cars, directly in front of the house. This may have been a contributing factor for the move to the farm.

Jack and Dick were also born in the garage in the mid 1920's. I am not sure whether Dugal or I was the first to be born in the house in the late 1920's. Sally and Alec came along in July ’32 and December ’33.

I do not remember if we had electricity in the house or not. I do believe we had running water and an Ice Box. On the day the iceman came you would put the "Ice Card" in the front window with the desired size of ice in the readable position. This saved the deliveryman quite a few steps. At a quick glance to see a 10, 15 or 20 on top, a couple jabs with an ice pick and the proper sized piece would be gripped with the tongs and transported to the kitchen. The iceman wore a heavy leather coverlet over his shoulder to prevent chills.

Mom, in the memory of this 4/5 year old boy, was a presence that gave security and balance to the world. She provided warmth and nourishment for both the body and soul. A sense of humor that carried the proximity of the good earth. Always there to settle a sibling rivalry or if need be, a few firm whacks on the skinny behind of an offender.

The calm acceptance of the difficulty of life’s trials and tribulations always came through I recall seeing my mother cry only on rare occasion; DG’s funeral, her mom’s funeral and the death of Alec’s dog "Spud".

Friday, January 25, 2008

#166 - Like A Well-Oiled Machine

Oiling My Machine (because sometimes the title really IS the subject matter)

I sew for a living. You knew that, though. I can tell because you're nodding in agreement, like, "oh yeah, I know, you've told me that before". You're such a good listener. That or you're groovin' to some DMB on your iPod and I just can't see the ear buds.

Isn't Blogger great? I love this cool, new feature with the built-in web cam where I can watch you. Although, you might want to put on some pants. And you've got some shmutz on your face. No. no. not there.... a little to the right....just under your... there! You got it.

Sadly, I could continue with that pretend dialogue for another hour or so and still be amusing myself. You, however, look like you're losing interest. So let's get on with the daily change.

I sew for a living, making renaissance garb for my sister's website, The Very Merry Seamstress (shameless commerce plug - go buy stuff now). Anyhow, I'm sewing up like a million freakin' chemises this week and with every stitch my machine is making this awful crunchity-poppity noise. Kind of like the way my knees sound when I climb the stairs at night. At first, I got excited about it because if the machine were to go into sudden stitch-arrest, I could get a newer, better machine and that would make me happy, because I like new things.

But that little fantasy was fleeting, as eco-reality slapped me across the face. Duh. Tossing ten pounds of #7 plastic into the trash and going out to buy a new hunk of #7 plastic isn't very green, even if it is tax-deductible. And so, I did what a good earth-cookie should do - I looked in my manual to see if I'm supposed to maintain the damn thing in an attempt to lengthen its life span.

Turns out, I am. Apparently, my little Janome enjoys a good lube as much as my blog buds do. And so, armed with my manual of poorly-sketched diagrams and badly translated Chinese instructions [here to be of the oil stitch drop three], I gave the machine a good, old fashioned oiling.

And you know, she's purring like a kitten now. I tried rubbing some on my knees, but it didn't help.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Why I Miss Paper Towels....

Reason #37 - Dog Puke

#165 - Drawing Conclusions

Recycling Crayons

Got kids? Then you've got crayons - and lots of them. I have an entire Huggies Wipes tub chock full of crayons. I'm not really sure where they all came from. Every year, over two BILLION crayons are sold. I do believe about a third of them are in my house. And they appear to be multiplying daily.

So what do I do when the kids finally outgrow coloring? Or when their crayon colletion outgrows the tub? How cheesy would you feel giving a box of "used crayons nubs" to friends... or even to charity? You probably wouldn't do it. Neither would I. But would you just throw them in the trash? That's no solution. Crayons are made from paraffin wax - a petroleum product - which takes many, many years to biodegrade.

Well there's a company out there that recycles broken, stubbed and well-loved crayons. They remanufacture them into different shapes and resell them. It's called The Crayon Bin and they have a really neat program set up to help individuals and schools recycle their crayon bits. Here's some info straight from their site:

Crayons-4-Crayons Program

This program is an excellent teaching tool, as well as a great way to recycle broken and well loved crayons. It teaches kids the responsibility we have to our environment and the processes involved in recycling. This is a recycling program that allows kids to really do something to help the earth on their level.

Every child has crayons, they're everywhere!!! Rather then discarding them why not let "" recycle them. We all know that when we discard or throw things in the trash they end up in the landfills. Landfills are in short supply and waste management companies are looking for new locations to put a landfill. Most people don't want a landfill in their "backyard" so why not try to recycle and reuse to the extent that we can, to keep as much as we can from being placed into the landfills.

The best part about the program is the Crayons-4-Crayons Exchange. For every pound (a little more than 100 crayons) you will receive a set of new "Recolor Our World Crayons" made from recycled crayons. They come in different shapes like animals, shells, stars, dinosaurs, hearts and more. Since we do not add or remove anything from the crayons during the recycling process, they are still as safe as the nontoxic ones you use everyday. We place a warning on each package that crayons are not recommended for use by children under 3 years of age.

We also have another very special use for the crayons we recycle. They are recycled into what we call "Recolor Our World CrayonTops". These crayons are a special shape made for kids and adults with difficulties in fine motor skills. (Stroke, Autism, Cerebral Palsy or Arthritis) Please ask us about these crayons. As far as I know we are the only Group manufacturing these special crayons, new or recycled.

You may contact us for shipping instructions or we will gladly come to your South Jersey location to pick up your "well loved" crayons and send you some "Recolor Our World Crayons" for every pound of crayons you donate.

Remember to recycle the crayons you get from restaurants, left over crayons from around school as well as those around the house. We encourage schools to place a Crayon Recycle Bin or box in the corner of the classrooms to make it easier for the students to recycle their crayons.

Please do not remove the wrappers, they can get messy and during the recycling process they are turned into Campfire Starters so everything part of the crayon gets recycled. If you would like to sort them by color you may, but it is not required. will except them in any condition.

So how cool is that, folks? I know, I could search online and melt the crayons in my oven and make my own shapes, but by the time I clean out a crayon box, I'm in no mood to start a craft project. Besides, I'm not sure I want to melt crayons in my awesome new toaster oven, anyhow.

**Special super-duper thanks to my friend, Stephanie, for giving me this tip!**

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

#164 - All Warm and Toasty

Using My Toaster Oven Instead of My Big Oven

I am in love - In love, I tell you. And I'm not talking about my imaginary butcher boyfriend. I'm referring to my new favorite appliance.

Get your minds out of the gutter, kids -- it's not that kind of appliance.

It's my Oster Toaster Oven that I got for Christmas! This thing is da bomb, folks and it has been chefing up toasty, tasty meals for almost a month now! It heats up in a jiffy and the temperature control seems to be pretty accurate. I've been cooking hot nuggets and fries for the kids' lunches, mini-meatloafs for dinner and single-serving apple crisps for hubby. I've even been whipping up cookies for dessert -- four at a time, of course! There is nothing this little toaster oven can't cook.

With the exception of toast, oddly enough. It does kind of suck at making toast.

But other than that, it ROCKS! I have only used my big, energy sucking oven twice this month. Once, because the pizza delivery guy came early and I needed to store the pie someplace warm. And again, when I was making bacon and waffles for dinner (nice diet food, eh?) and I wanted to keep the first batch hot while I made more. Basically, my GE Profile Drop-In Range has been demoted to a warming drawer.

This change from daily use of my oven to the toaster oven is pretty similar to my "using the crockpot" post. It's really no extra work, but should pay off in a sizable reduction in my electric consumption.


Let's assume that my average dinner takes about a half an hour to cook. That leaves me with a nightly difference of:

Oven - 8700 watts x .001 x .5 hours = 4.35 kWh
Toaster - 1250 watts x .001 x .5 hours = .625 kWh

I was already crockin' dinner once a week, and once a week we're eating salads, so I'm down to five nights per week that I'll need to use the oven. That makes my weekly oven usage roughly 21.75 kWh while my toaster oven would be drawing 3.125 kWh for the same time period. A weekly difference of 18.625.

In one year, that adds up to 968.5 kWh saved! At my current wind-generated electrical rate of $0.10 kWh, that's a dollar savings of $96.85 - greater than the cost of the oven. SCORE!

Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

It's actually easier to cook in the toaster oven. Because it's such a tiny space, I don't have to wait for the darn thing to preheat. And like I said, I've been making cookies in it and even they bake up nice and evenly, delivering a really nice chocolate cookie fix each night. Of course, eating the dough right out of the tub would save even MORE electricity. Hmmmmm. Food for thought.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

For Beth and Leslie....

Here's your "extra slutty olive oil"

This makes a lot more sense if you've read my "Recreational Sex" post and all the comments! ;-)

#163 - Get My Engine Running

Not Warming Up the Car on Cold Mornings

It's chilly here folks. I know I've turned into a giant, southern candy-ass in the past three years because this 30 degree shit is starting to feel really freakin' COLD!

Now when I lived up in New York, our house was situated about 15 miles due east of Lake Ontario. This put our home smack dab in the middle of the snow belt, where it wasn't unusual to wake up and find three feet of snow had fallen. And we had no garage. And it was bitter, bitter, bitter cold. So warming up the car in winter wasn't a luxury, it was a necessity. You could have an ice pick and flame thrower and it would still take you hours to clear your windshield without the help of the defroster.

But down here? in sunny Virginia? Where it doesn't snow, or sleet, or ice? Warming up the car just keeps your butt from going numb. And so I won't do it anymore.

Now before you old hardcore '69 El Camino restoration freaks drop me a line and tell me how I'm ruining the engine, you should read this article from my two favorite mechanics, Tom and Ray Magliozzi of Car Talk:

With the cold New England winter weather about to swoop down on us, I have a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Why, you ask? Because every winter when my boyfriend and I get into my car, I start it, then I put the car in gear after about 30 seconds and drive off. This drives my boyfriend nuts, and I have to hear about "how bad it is for my car" to put it into Drive before it warms up. He will start his car and sit there for a good five to 10 minutes before he shifts into Drive. My question is this: Am I really doing harm to my car by not letting the engine run for 10 minutes? If not, how can I prove this to him? I found an article in The New York Times a couple of years ago that stated that nothing is gained by sitting in a freezing-cold car while the motor is running before you shift into Drive. He thinks that the reporter at the Times didn't know what he was talking about. But he just might listen to you if you say it's OK. Please help! It's cold here in Boston! -- Lisa

RAY: How do you prove it to him, Lisa? Hand him this column and ask him to read the following aloud:

TOM: Dear Lisa's Boyfriend: You have your head so far up your tailpipe on this one, it may be coming out your air intake.

RAY: How's that, Lisa? Will that do it? You're absolutely right, as is the reporter from The New York Times. On modern, fuel-injected cars -- basically anything made in the past 20 years -- you're not helping the car at all by warming it up for five or 10 minutes.

TOM: On older, carbureted cars, that kind of extended warm-up can actually cause damage to the engine by diluting the oil with excess fuel. So it's even worse if you have a really old heap.

RAY: But with modern cars, all you're doing with a long warm-up is wasting gas, increasing pollution, raising the temperature of the planet and making yourself 10 minutes late for your chiropractic appointment. The proper procedure is to start the car. If it starts and keeps running, put it in Drive and go. Go gently (don't back out of your driveway and floor it right onto a highway entrance ramp), because you'll be warming it up during your first few minutes of driving, but DO drive it.

TOM: If it's bitterly cold out, like 10 or 20 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, you can let it warm up for a minute or two to allow the oil to thin out a bit and circulate completely. But other than that, if it runs, driving it gently is the best way to warm it up.

RAY: So tell your boyfriend he not only needs to get off your case about this, but he needs to stop warming up the car himself.

TOM: AND, to make up for all the misplaced grief he's given you over the years, he needs to start going to bed 10 minutes before you do, to warm up the bed for you on cold winter nights. That's a warm-up activity he can do that's actually useful!

So there. It's good for the environment and not damaging to my car. Now if I can only figure out how to thaw out my butt, I'll be fine.


Warming up the car -- what is that -- like a ten minute run? And we've got about 30 days of really cold weather down here. So that's a total of 300 minutes of needless gas consumption. By curbing the urge to heat up, I'll save 3.75 gallons of gas this winter. Now if I could get all the other Virginians to join me, that would be 28.5 MILLION gallons of gas saved. Now that should get your motor running!, er, I mean, not running.

Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

It's not difficult to do, just a bit chilly. I guess I'll just need to bundle up and wear gloves until it warms up again.

Monday, January 21, 2008

And Speaking of Numbers...

Here's a little brain-teaser for you.

Suppose Sally orders a replacement cord for her laptop on January 11, which is a Friday. She pays an extra $13 for two-day shipping. When will Sally recieve her cord?

A. On the 13th, because two-days means "TWO DAYS"
B. On the 15th, because two-days means "TWO DAYS, EXCLUDING WEEKENDS"
C. On the fourth of NEVER because the laptop replacement cord people have a severe case of THE SUCKS.

#162 - A Taxing Issue

Filing My Tax Returns Digitally

The taxman cometh, folks. Are you ready?

I am. Or I'm getting there, I should say. This, sadly, is one of my favorite winter time activities. Adding machines, receipts, mileage records. Throw in a dash of creative expense reporting and a couple bottles of cider? Ahhh, good times, my friends, good times.

But as fun as this this geeky numberfest can be, it can also result in a disturbingly large amount of copy paper being used. Because, despite what my sister thinks, you can't just draw a big, red X through a 1040 to indicate that you didn't make any money. If there's one thing the government likes, it's backup - a paper trail (unless it's their own paper trail. In that case, they prefer deleted emails and "lost files"). But never fear, my fellow green mathletes, I have a solution that will appeal to your inner-nerd. It is online filing.

Did you know you don't have to pay a fancy-shmancy software company to e-file? No sir, if you qualify, you can take advantage of free online filing service from a number of reputable (or at least IRS-approved) companies. Of course, if you're well-compensated or if your tax situation is complex (like mine, with home businesses and lots of itemized deductions) you'll likely have to pay at least a small fee. But here's a list that should help you find an online filing service that suits your needs:

Free-File -A listing of free filing services offered by the various companies to anyone whose 2007 gross income was less than $54,000

Turbo Tax - An online tax filing program, costs between Free (no itemization) - $74.95 (this is what Burbanmom uses, and has for years)

H&R Block - An online tax filing program, costs between $14.95 - $44.95

TaxAct - An online tax filing program, costs between Free (no itemization) - $16.95

Now, this won't necessarily make your tax return a 100% paper-free project (due to my tax situation, I STILL have to mail some stuff in), but e-filing will definitely cut down on the amount of paper used. Plus, if you're getting a refund, it will arrive a hell of a lot sooner!

Not to mention that e-filing increases your geek factor about ten-fold. Which is always cool. So go put on your bifocals and let's get crunchin'!


Well I tell you what, I'm going to take another interwebbie leap of faith this year and NOT print out a copy of the tax forms for my own records. Instead, I will download a copy to my harddrive and trust that TurboTax will still be in business, should I ever need access to the information (they keep all your data and it's all accessible online). I'm also going to look through the PDF file and print only the sheets that need to be mailed in - NOT all the idiotic worksheets and instructions.

Skipping all this printing will save me 43 sheets of paper. If all the other Schedule C Filers in America did this, it would save over nearly ONE MILLION REAMS of paper!

Difficulty Level: 3 out of 5

It's taxes. Not as hard as brain surgery, but not as easy as pickin' a booger either.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Story Hour - Part IV

Story Hour is a collection of short, auto-biographical stories written by my father, about his childhood memories growing up on a farm in Upstate New York.
The Father (con't)

I do not recall my father being a particularly devout or religious man. I do recall before moving to the farm, walking back from the Presbyterian church on the Sunday that I was baptized. Religious holidays were pretty much work days on the farm. The cows had to be milked no matter what. Other animals had to be cared for and the wood boxes always needed filling.

DG had an ongoing war with the power company and the rural electrification agency. The survey crew would lay out the power pole positions and drive a small wooden stake to mark the pole site. The problem developed when Jack or Dick would be mowing hay with the team, Tom and Jerry. They would step right smartly along and before they could be turned or stopped, the cutter bar would hit the marker stake and break off a blade or two. This, of course, curtailed the haying operation until repairs could be affected. To my taskmaster father this was an affront to his personal property and so every opportunity to pull up and throw away the stakes was a pleasure to him. Eventually the poles were set and the wire strung. We did not subscribe to electrification.

At a later date we did acquire a second vehicle. It was an overused and abused Studebaker pick-up that had a tendency to die beside the road. Jack and Dick were by this time going to Sandy Creek Central School and thusly were acquiring new friends and activities.

From somewhere unknown Dick had obtained a used radio from a car. It worked. The routine quickly developed. On those nights that DG was on the road the chores were quickly done with. The battery was removed from the Studebaker and connected to the radio in the front parlor. The cluster of rug-rats quickly gathered and sat enthralled as the speaker gave forth with the ”Tales of the Inner Sanctum”, “Amos and Andy”, “The Shadow”, the glorious tones of music and other electronic marvels including, “The Lone Ranger”.

There was, as usual, a down side. After a couple of hours of steady drain on the battery the volume would start to fade and we knew that in a short time the entertainment session would come to a screeching halt. DEAD BATTERY! Might as well go to bed.

Jack and Dick realized that in the morning it would be required that they harness at least one of the lighter horses, hook it up to the truck with the dead battery reinstalled and pull the truck around the barnyard until the combination of speed, inertia and the timely popping of the clutch caused the engine to turn over and fire. This accomplished, they went about the regular chores of milking and caring for the animals while the running engine recharged the battery. Gasoline was 20 cents a gallon and I often wondered if DG noticed how much gas we used when he wasn’t around.

By this time, Dugal and I had grown to the size required to help more with the chores in the barn and house. While Jack, Dick and mom did the milking, Dugal and I would throw down hay from the mow for the horses and cows. Each milking cow also got a scoop of grain. Each horse received a portion of oats that we grew on the farm. The chickens got a scattering of corn and oats in exchange for the eggs we gathered. The pig pen was off to one side of the barnyard by a building where the corn meal was kept. A pail of water also had to be carried with the kitchen slops from the house. However, most days the slop bucket was pretty skimpy as we didn’t waste much.

DG was not without faults. He had a violent temper that he had difficulty controlling. He also had a very vivid imagination and a smoldering jealousy (real or imagined). This lead to an inevitable confrontation that resulted in physical violence inflicted on my mom. It occurred early in the morning while Jack, Dick and Dugal were in the barn doing chores. I don’t know the subject matter but DG lost control and used his fists on my mom’s face and body. The results were very noticeable and it was a very short time before he left for work. There is no doubt in my mind that he did not want to be there when Jack and Dick came in from the barn.

It was a school day so Dugal, Sally, Alec and I went up the hill as usual. Around noon, Dick, driving the Studebaker truck, loaded with clothing and a few pieces of furniture, pulled up to the school and picked up the “Brown Kids”. And so we moved again. This time it was to a very small, 3 room bungalow (No bathroom). It did have electricity and an ice box. It was located just up the street from the house where most of us kids had been born, the house that my dad had built.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Story Hour - Part III

Story Hour is a collection of short, auto-biographical stories written by my father, about his childhood memories growing up on a farm in Upstate New York.
The Father

The Laird: David Gladstone Brown, Lord of the manor. An honest, hard working man with the same dream that drove countless Americans as they struggled out of The Great Depression. He was fortunate that he had the security of a full time job as a fireman on the New York Central Rail Road.

Firing on the railroad was not an easy task. Endlessly shoveling coal into the fire box, breaking the “clinkers” with the long, steel poker, adjusting the draughts so that the plume of smoke was always white (that was the sign of a good fireman). Watching the water level and raking ashes were part of the job too. It seems as I look back through the tunnel of time that he was hardly ever around, and when he was around he was trying to catch up on missed sleep.

He came over from Scotland when he was about fourteen, having been born in Glasgow with numerous siblings - six brothers and two sisters. Not much is known about his early years in America other than the family lived in New Jersey for a short time and eventually ended up around Syracuse and Pulaski. His father, my grandfather, was known as an eccentric character who had a taste for strong spirits and a bit of a mean streak. He always dressed the dandy and explained "I was a gentleman in the old country and would damn well be one here”.

One of the grandfather stories I have heard involves a motorcycle and sidecar trip to Canada with one of his drinking buddies. On the return trip from the North, loaded down with bottles of illicit booze, they were unfortunate enough to lose the road and end up in the ditch. The next day, impeccably dressed as usual, relating the story in front of the drug store, he was heard to exclaim, ”And the funny parrt aboot it, we nair broke a bottle”.

There are two possible sources of his income. One was that he owned several tenement houses in Glasgow and was a slumlord. The other was that he was a remittance man. A remittance man is a black sheep, paid by the rest of the family to stay away and out of sight. I really don’t know which, if either, story is true.

He supposedly came to America twice. During prohibition he remarked that, “Any country that made it illegal to take a drink was not worth living in”. And thus, he returned to Scotland until after the repeal of prohibition.

As far as my dad was concerned, I never saw or heard of him taking a drink of any kind. On the hottest day of summer a glass of cool water or switzel would quench his thirst and the work would continue unabated. Switzel was a homemade concoction of water, vinegar, sugar and ground ginger. It sure didn’t taste like Pepsi.

According to sister Sally, DG had a reputation as a ladies man. This may well have been but being a young boy I never noticed any such activity except for one bit of obvious flirtation with our lady school teacher at a school picnic. I’m sure nothing materialized from this and it was promptly forgotten.

DG did indeed have a very frugal manner. Once in a while we would make the trip to Pulaski on a Saturday evening to do the grocery trading. There wasn’t much trading involved as we didn’t have a surplus of eggs, butter or other trade goods but we would buy a few staples such as flour, coffee, salt and of all things - MARGARINE.

The canny Scotsman figured that it was more profitable to ship the milk (instead of making butter) and buy uncolored margarine for pennies per pound. The margarine was white and came with a little color packet of yellow orange powder. When it was properly mixed in the butter bowl it did look like butter, but tasted like grease.

As we progressed down Main Street (DG, Dugal and I) we would stop in the various stores, exchange howdys and my dad would always inquire if there were any bargains on sale. Some times a small bag of stale candy (I remember candy orange slices so hard you couldn’t bite them). Shriveled oranges, over-ripe bananas and stale mixed nuts left from Christmas were all fair game. Now-a-days kids have to go to the mall with a hundred dollars in their pocket in order to enjoy themselves. Times change…..

Another big treat was a trip to Syracuse. This involved DG, Dugal, Sally and I riding in the old Model-A Ford. The purpose of the trip was to visit Grandma Brown, Aunt Sarah and Aunt Jeanette on Comstock Avenue.

Grandma had a parrot that would draw blood if he could get you. He sometimes did a little swearing too. Grandma had a Scots Brogue to the point I had trouble understanding her. Part of these trips was a stop at “Hanks” on North Salina Street.

Hanks was the king of close out shops --- the junk, and overstock capital of Syracuse. You could hardly walk through the place. It spilled out onto the sidewalk and the merchandise was left out all night. I don’t think there was anything worth stealing in the whole place. Nonetheless, DG HAD TO STOP AND CHECK FOR BARGAINS. The only thing I remember getting from there was a soft cap with a snap brim that the kids wore in the 20s/30s (I hated it). I would rather have had the quarter it cost.

Friday, January 18, 2008

#161 - Recreational Sex

(As Opposed to Pro-Creational Sex)

I'm done making babies. Waaaaaayyyyy done. Factory is closed. Not gonna reopen. Ever. Again.

Not that having children isn't a wonderful, magical thing. It's a beautiful expression of the love between a man and a woman that manifests into a screamin', cryin', poopin' miracle. But enough is enough. We've got two and I'll be damned if we're gonna have another and let ourselves get outnumbered. Besides, what's the worst thing for the planet? More people on it.

So, we're against more babies (for us, that is.... you do what you want) but we're not against sex. In fact, I'd say we're very much for sex. When the kids haven't worn us down into a state of vegetative exhaustion that is. So what's a pro-sex, anti-baby couple to do? Get some birth control, that's what.

I gave hubby a year after our last kid was born to do the snip-snip thing, which he swore up and down he would. Guess when that happened? If you guessed "never", well, you're probably married too. So after a year of being on the pill, I went to my vaginologist (makes them sound much more scientific -- as well as dare-devily, don't you think?) to check out what my options were. Turns out, some new products had become available since the last time I inquired.

After going through all the pros and cons with my doc, I finally chose Mirena, an IUD that releases very low levels of progestin directly into the uterus. The IUD is good for five years of pregnancy prevention and is 100% reversible, in case I ever go insane. There is a very minimal amount of plastic waste generated through its use - just the IUD itself and the protective package it came in. But the big advantage it has over the pill and the patch is that it doesn't any contain any synthetic estrogen. Estrogen that, when excreted through urine, ends up making its way back into our streams and rivers.

As you may or may not know, numerous studies, including those conducted by the EPA and the Canadian Fresh Water Institute, have found that increased levels of synthetic estrogen in our waters is leading to the feminization of fish. And we're not talking about handsome little metro-perchuals with stylish hairdos that carry man-purses and go to off-Broadway productions of Sunset Boulevard. We're talking about male fish who have lost the ability to fertilize eggs because their man-parts are too busy making their own eggs.

This, to me, is scary shit. If it's already impacting the fish, will our own sons or grandsons be affected too? I don't have the answers, but I sure as hell don't want to contribute to the problem.

Before you start sending me moron-mail, let me say that I know I have other options available for birth control that are even more eco-friendly. Like abstinence (I'm already married with two kids and a sports fanatic husband, claiming abstinence as our birth control feels redundant) or the rhythm method (yeah, cuz as millions and millions and millions of Catholics will tell you - that's super-reliable). But this particular form of birth control - Mirena - is the one that I felt most comfortable with. It has minimal impact on the environment and minimal impact on me.

Now I know this is a hot-button issue for a lot of folks, and I'm not gonna tell you what type, if any, birth control you should use. I'm just gonna say this: take a moment to do some research of your own, talk to your doctor, and decide what alternative is right for you and your partner. You never know, there may be new options available that you are simply unaware of.

And, as always, feel free to rant and rave about my moral depravity in the comments. I like the masochistic feel of it ;-)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

#160 - Watching My Soaps

Switching From Dove to Dr. Bronner

Every time I think I'm done trading out my mainstream products for side-stream products, I run out of something and realize there are greener options available. I love these changes because 1. swapping one product for another requires no extra daily work and B. changing products is kind of like shopping, which gives me a nice little Compact fix, without the guilt.

Today's product switcheroo is my body soap. Remember when I started showering like a man? Well, I was so focused on reducing the amount of products I used, that I forgot to worry about the type of products I was using. And so I have been happily lathering up with my Dove Sensitive Skin Body Bars for several months now, unaware that the product I'm using rates a 3 (Moderate Hazard) on Skin Deep's Cosmetic Safety Database. Further aggravating the issue are the facts that Dove has not signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics and they test their products on animals. Bummer. I used to love Dove. You know, campaign for real beauty and all that. Something comforting about seeing chicks almost as fat and old as a normal person hocking facial cleansers.

But now I have a new love (besides the butcher). It's Dr. Bronner. No, not Dr. Bruce Bonner AKA The Incredible Hulk. Dr. Bronner, of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps. I picked up a bar or Dr. B's All-One Hemp Peppermint Pure Castile Soap last week. By way of comparison, Dr. B's soap gets a Low Hazard Rating, IS a signer of the CSC and does NOT test on animals. Their products are Certified Organic and Fair Trade. They also use minimal packaging - a paper wrapper made from 90% post-consumer waste and printed with soy ink. Holy crap that's some green soap.

There is a down side though. The peppermint oil. The smell makes me want to eat the bar. Probably not the whole thing, but at least a little nibble. Between that and the Raspberry scented Burt's Bees shampoo, I feel like I should be following up with some sort of Hershey's body lotion. Seriously. Incorporating this change on the heels of Crunchy Chicken's No Waste Challenge? Probably not a good idea. I get out of the shower with a big hankerin for a peppermint mocha with extra whip. Mmmmmm.

Good God, I'm freakin' starving here. Somebody throw me a head of lettuce or something.


Once again, saving lots of nasty chemicals that I didn't even know were in my bath bars. Also saving the additional packaging and some poor bunny's burned retinas.

Difficulty Level: 2 out of 5

Saying goodbye to a product brand that I have been loyal to for so many years was actually a little difficult. Don't know why. It's not like they ever did anything for me personally. And I picked up my Dr. B's soap at the crunchy-granola store up the road, so I'm not even sure if Kroger sells it or not. And I'm ready to eat my arm. This might be more difficult than some other product changes I've made.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Supplemental Post - HELP!!!!

Ok all you super home-canners out there - it's time to ante up. I've given out loads of advice on how to reduce your impact, find imaginary boyfriends and frighten your neighbors and now I'm the one that needs some help.

Last fall, I got a SUPER deal on a huge box of tomatoes so I decided to can them. Well, I got as far as blanching them and removing the skins before something shiny caught my attention and I put the canning project on hold. I put the naked tomatoes in some bread wrappers and tossed them in the freezer. After my four-month coffee break, I've decided to finish processing them.

Question 1. - Is this a lost cause? I hate to toss them because I joined Crunchy Chicken's No Waste Challenge and how big of an ass will I look if my first weeks' waste total is like 20 pounds?!?!?

Question 2. - Not really sure I want to "can" them, per se. I'd like to stick them in the crockpot until they turn to mush, cast a magic spell to remove all the seeds, then add some spices to create the world's most perfect spaghetti sauce. Is this possible?

Question 3. - OK, that's what I'd LIKE to do. Realistically, what is the simplest way to finish processing these? We like stewed tomatoes here. Is it possible I can just pull a couple out a time, heat them up and serve them with dinner?

Any help on this would be GREATLY APPRECIATED!!!

All My Internet Love,

#159 - Sensing a Change

Using the Moisture Sensor on the Dryer

For those of you who are better people than I am and actually hang your clothes outside to dry, please ignore this post and go back to de-icing your socks.

OK, I know any post that talks about dyer habits really isn't that green. But as I've mentioned before, our HOA prohibits clothes lines, except for on the side of our house that is totally shaded by pine trees. And I'm going with the assumption that replacing all of our clothes on a weekly basis due to pine sap damage would be a bigger energy suck than using the dryer. Also.... I'm lazy.

So anyhow, I don't know what type of dryer you have, but if it was manufactured in the last, oh I don't know, 20 years or so, it should have a moisture sensor. Check out the picture I snapped of mine:

I always use the Auto Moisture Sensing side of it. However, I only recently learned (ok, about six months ago, but I was slow to post about it) that clothes weren't meant to be dried in a dryer to the point of being 100% moisture-free. It's really hard on the fabrics to be exposed to that drying heat source after all the moisture is gone. So now I set the dial closer to "less dry" than "normal dry". Sure, some stuff needs to hang on the back of a chair for a while before being folded, but that's really not any extra work. Plus, it will keep my clothes looking and feeling new longer. Added bonus? No more static electricity - that only comes from super dry clothes.


Bringing the clothes out early cuts about 15 minutes off the drying cycle. I do roughly one load of laundry per day, so that equates to about 39 kWh per month or almost 500 kWh per year.

Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

Oooooh, it hurts my wrist to turn the knob the extra 1/10 of a turn. Just kidding. This is another very simple change to make. Try it. You'll like it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

#158 - Wrap It Up - I'll Take It

Getting My Meat Wrapped By the Butcher

You know I have a love/hate relationship with Kroger, right? Like, I love that they carry a good number of my preferred green products, but hate that they sequester them in the "crunchy-granola" section of the store. I love that they promote the use of reusable bags by providing a $0.09 discount per bag, but hate that no one has bothered to train the bag boys on how to fill them. And now, I love the butcher. So I need something new to hate to balance out the yin and yang. I have my eye on one of those old biddies in the deli -- they all look like trouble to me.

Why do I love the butcher? Well, let's start with: what's NOT to love about the butcher? He's got the inside scoop on the freshest meats, knows how to trim a standing rib roast and the one at Kroger actually has a mild sense of humor (unlike those deli be-yotches).

So here's me, wanting some pork chops last week. My dilemma? I don't want them packaged in a styrofoam container and then wrapped in plastic. My solution? The butcher. I saunter on up to the counter and request three butterflied chops. Then meekly ask if he can skip the plasticrap and just wrap it in paper. He tells me "I can, but it ain't gonna be pretty". To which I reply "that's ok, I'll be pretty enough for all four of us".

He laughs, a little too heartily, which I take to mean "lady, you're so hot that if you didn't have two screamin' snot-nosed kids with you and had bothered to shower before you came here, I'd jump over this counter and plant one on ya". Because I have a fun imagination like that.

So I got my three porkchops (sans plastic), a chuckle, and a new imaginary boyfriend. It was a good day.

**Note - the paper, I have since found, does have a waxy coating. Plastic? Dunno. I'll have to ask next time. Unless you know, in which case, please leave a comment!


One styrofoam container and a wad of platicrap. Assuming I buy pork or chicken or some meat product once a week, that's a savings of 52 containers and many, many yards of plasticrap per year!

Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

Asking for chops - easy. Getting them my way - easy. Flirting - easy (the flirting, not me).

#157 - Do Not Disturb

Saving The Environment While Traveling

Depending on where you travel, you may find yourself in a "green" hotel that has CFL lightbulbs, recycling bins in every room and organic snacks in the mini-bar. Or you may be staying in a dump down by the interstate with a suspicious looking stain on the carpet and a double deadbolt-and-chain combo lock on the door.

OK, perhaps your budget plays in to that scenario somewhere as well. At any rate, you don't want to blow the whole environmental thing just because you're away from home, so here's some tips I've found that help me to stay green whenever I go away...

Tip #1 - Reuse your towels, washcloths, sheets, etc. In fact, go a step further and place the "Do Not Disturb" sign on your doorknob for your entire stay. Not only will these prevent the wasted energy required to clean your room daily, but you'll also get interesting looks from the cleaning staff when you do finally emerge.

Tip #2 - Bring your own toiletries. I know it sounds like a pain, but those itty-bitty bottles of shampoo, conditioner and lotion require a LOT more packaging than your big ol' bottle of Burt's Bees. Plus, who knows what kind of scary petro-crap is in those overly-fragranced bottles of goo?

Tip #3 - Don't drink the water. Seriously, there's nothing worse than finding one of those "please help us save the planet by reusing your towel" cards right next to a couple bottles of complimentary Aquafinas. Kind of sends a mixed message, don'tcha think? Don't drink the bottled water -- send them back to the front desk and drink from the tap instead.

Tip #4 - Use the fine china. If your hotel room has those cheap, disposable plastic cups (or worse yet, those plastic cups that are hermetically sealed in more plastic), then call the front desk and ask for a couple of REAL CUPS to use while you're there. Be sure to tell them WHY you want them.

Tip #5 - Keep 'em separated. If your room doesn't have a separate waste can for recyclables, ask the hotel manager where you could find one. You might have to bring them down front to have them recycled. Or you might even have to bring them home with you. That's the price to pay for environmentalism. Deal with it.

Tip #6 - Tell it like it is. When you checkout and they ask you how your stay was. Be honest. Tell them what you liked and what you didn't like. If possible, speak to the manager about the environmental concerns you have regarding his/her establishment. The only reason they would have to change is to keep wonderful customers like you from going somewhere else.

Hope these tips help you out. If you have any other enviro-hotel suggestions, please leave them in the comments so we can all get a little greener on the road. But not in a carsick kind of way.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Story Hour - Part II

Still waiting for the dingity-dang-dang laptop cord to arrive. Here's some more of my Dad's story...

The House

The House, located on North Road out of Pulaski, sits on the side of a long sloping hill. It used to be great sport to take our sleds to school at the top of the hill so that at the end of the school day it would be a mad race to see who could go the fastest and farthest down the road. If conditions were good, packed snow and ice, one could coast almost to the Route 3, the Sandy Creek “Y”. Of course, that meant a ½ to ¾ mile walk back upgrade to get home which was a ¼ mile downhill from the school. Go figure….It was fun, I was an active youngster. We didn’t worry much about traffic. In fact, if we heard a car coming down the road we would all run out to watch it go by and wave to the people. Also, if anyone heard an airplane all activity would cease until that faint speck would be spotted and observed as long as possible.

The house was built probably around 1825/1840, just a basic northern farmhouse. The front door, which no one used, opened to an open hallway with stairs to the second floor. The stairs to the cellar were located directly under the first set of stairs. At the entrance there were two doors, one on each side of the hall. To the right was what we considered “Moms” side and to the left was “DGs” side of the house. That is the only way I recall any of us kids referring to our father. David Gladstone…..DG. (But not to his face). By the same reasoning my mother’s father was GN for George Norris Hilton…..

To answer Heather’s question regarding the reason for moving to the farm. I must admit I never really thought about it very much. I would suspect that considering the economic times during the Great Depression, a large family and other considerations - it made sense to do as most others did and engage in subsistence farming. This meant growing as much of your own food as possible and with a few cows make enough off the milk check to buy clothes and pay the taxes.

My dad worked full time as a fireman on a train engine (New York Central) until he accumulated enough seniority in the “Brotherhood” to become an engineer. I recall twice he snuck me aboard the engine for an overnight run to Massena, Oswego and back to the Syracuse yards. This run was, I believe, called the “Hojack”. Can you imagine, a 6/8 year old boy riding in a train engine all those miles, un-friggin’ real. Actually there wasn’t a damn thing to do except stare out at the dark night going by and stay the hell out of the way. Once in a while I would be allowed to turn my cap around and lean out the window like the fireman or engineer. I think I even pulled the whistle cord a time or two. Now remember, this was a STEAM ENGINE, not a stinking diesel-electric. This had a real train whistle not a bull horn.

Now, back to the house. The cellar was spectacularly unspectactular, other than the spider webs, ear-wigs and centipedes. Laid up stone walls, sandy dirt floor, wooden frames holding plank shelves for home canned goods, bins for potatoes, onions, squash and other dry keeper vegetables including cabbage and apples. Some of the cabbage was destined for the kraut crock. This storage area was vital to our existence. If it wasn’t filled chock full in the summer and fall you could get pretty hungry in February and March when the woodchucks started coming out. By then the winter hog was long gone and the chicken flock couldn’t stand too much more thinning out. Jars and jars of tomatoes, green and yellow beans, beets Swiss chard, sweet corn, carrots, pickles, relishes, tomato sauce and my favorite home made chili sauce. NOT SALSA, rich tomatoey, cinnamon, clove, onion, pepper-flavored “tail end of the garden CHILI SAUCE”.

The “Winter Hog” was butchered in November when it was determined (hopefully) that the cold weather was ready to stay. After being well chilled overnight it was split and carried into the cold pantry. This was a windowless room on the north side of the house behind the kitchen and was the wall of the woodshed. Along the cold interior wall was a broad shelf which was the full length of the room. The hog halves would be laid out on the shelf and broken down into large portions. The choicer portions were used first to safe guard against loss by an onset of warm weather. This was living “high on the hog”.

As the winter progressed the pickins got slimmer and some nights there was not much of an entrĂ©e other than boiled potatoes and milk gravy with bits of pork trimmings. Canned corn or tomatoes and warm Johnny cake ensured we didn’t starve to death. After supper, for a snack there was usually popped corn or, on occasion, mom would make a small plate of simple fudge. 2cups sugar, 1 cup of milk, boiled to soft ball stage. Stir in a teaspoon of butter and pour onto a buttered plate. Vanilla or cocoa could be added during cooking as a special treat.

During the summer with no refrigeration available, meat was limited to what was at hand. DG had to use the truck to get to work so we were left with no transportation to the store 6 miles away in Pulaski. We ate a lot of woodchuck. Actually it was pretty good. They are a very clean animal. They eat nothing but grasses and sustained countless generations of Native Americans.
As young boys we delighted in going fishing or frog hunting. In the fall it was time to seek mushrooms and puff balls. Wild berries and nuts supplemented our food requirements. If Brother Dick had ammunition for his gun (.22 caliber) and a careful aim we would enjoy pigeon pie or a pheasant for a change.
Mom really liked it when we came home with a nice stringer of fish. It didn’t matter what kind, bullheads, suckers, sunfish, bass or pike, that woman loved fish. Cleaned, dusted with a little salt and pepper, coated with flour and fried in hog fat and a slab of Johnny cake on the side ….. It sure beat anything from McDonalds.

Each side of the house was the same. From the front hallway you entered into a front parlor which on DG’s side contained a nice old table and leather “Morris”type chair. On the table was the standard kerosene lamp. I recall a book shelf that had an illustrated copy of “Dante’s Inferno” on one wall. The other significant item in the room was the round “Oak” parlor stove. I swear this thing would hold ¼ of a cord of good hard wood and hold a fire for 2 days.

My Dad, as you will discover, was a dour, old country, stern disciplinarian, Presbyterian Scotsman who believed you were put on earth, NOT to enjoy yourself, BUT to work hard and be thrifty. This strong belief he tried to instill in our young minds, but kids will be kids.

I think I acquired a great deal of his frugality and retained it through the years. Some people even say I’m just cheap. Passing through the parlor you entered DG’s bedroom; a plain unadorned room with a bed, dresser and straight chair. The bed, as all the beds had a feather tick mattress because of the lack of heat at night. In addition to the door from the parlor there was a door back to the hallway and a door leading to the kitchen.

On mom’s side of the house was where the living occurred. From the front hall doorway you were met with a completely different environment then what existed across the hall. Piles and bags of fabric, balls of rag strips for crocheting rugs, yarn for knitting, cats and kittens. Soft comfortable chairs (old but useable), plant stands with a multitude of different plants; Wandering Jew, Christmas Cactus, Flowering Maples, Geraniums, just to name a few.

A traditional table and chairs with a kerosene lamp provided work space for projects such as sewing, drawing, coloring and the occasional school work. In mom’s bedroom of course there was a bed and dresser also a crib and a trundle bed. More plants certainly kept the room well oxygenated.

I have a very vivid memory of sleeping one night in the trundle bed and having a nightmare. Believe me I was scared! Maybe 5 years old and I was in the midst of a herd of stampeding elephants. My bed was bouncing all over the floor. I woke up screaming to find we were having an earthquake. Once mom got me calmed down I went back to sleep BUT I NEVER FORGOT IT.

From this room were two more doors. One went back to the hallway thence to the kitchen the other entered into what we called the summer kitchen.. It was not really a kitchen, no stove or appliances. More of a utility room where we kept the laundry tubs and later a gasoline powered washing machine (progress). This room exited onto the back porch and the primrose path to the outhouse. The regular kitchen back door also exited to the porch. The woodshed and cold pantry were the full width of the house with the end of the woodshed open to the outdoors.

I don’t recall much about the upstairs rooms as I didn’t spend much time up there except to sleep. Dugal and I shared a room under the eaves over the summer kitchen. There was one window that was a mite drafty. I recall waking in the morning and seeing little snow drifts across the window sill and on the floor.,. Once I was sure I had all my clothes spotted I would leap out of bed, grab my clothes and out the door, down the stairs, down the hall into the kitchen and behind the stove where it was warm…..Sure got a guy moving in the morning.

Brothers Jack and Dick also slept up stairs. They had to get up pretty early because they had to do the milking every night and morning. Mom would work right along with them while Dugal, Sally, Alex and myself slept in (Thelma came along later).

We kept a herd of about 30 cows, maybe 20 of them regular milkers. It was not what you would call a prime dairy but it did pay the taxes. We also had four horses. Babe and Elmer made up a light team and Tom and Jerry were a team of half broke, wild eyed western work horses that would rather run away than do anything else. I do not recall what the brand markings were but one of them had a bar and diamond on it.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Story Hour - Part I

My first in a series of autobiographical stories written by my Dad, who grew up in rural Upstate New York in the 1930's & 40's. Keep in mind this is only one generation ago....

The Move

I must have been between four and five. It was late summer, a sunny day and very pleasant. I don’t remember all the details but it seems there was an awful lot of activity going on. My dad and a couple of his brothers were busily loading all our furniture, clothing, pots and pans - in fact all our worldly possessions - onto the back end of a truck. Jack and Dick were helping with the smaller stuff. Dugal and I were getting in the way of everyone. Sally and Alex were small enough that they were in a play pen or something…Leastwise I don’t recall them making a fuss.

Finally it appeared we were loaded and ready to depart. Evidently there had been a couple of previous trips and this was the moment of truth. The last load. I did not realize what was happening, I just knew it was big and exciting.

My dad, being a railroad man, called, “All Aboard”.

Well there was a scramble. I recall some discussion between my parents about my being big enough to ride on top of the load with Jack, Dick and Dugal. It was decided (by necessity) that I had to ride on top as there wasn’t room in the cab for father, mother, Sally, Alex AND ME. This made me feel quite grown up and one of the bigger boys.

I had always been something of a runt, always getting hurt, falling down, more often than not, tears and a snotty nose being my trademarks. Jack, Dick and Dugal, having been thoroughly admonished about their responsibilities of ensuring my safety hauled me to the topmost point which was a mattress, kind of covering things so they wouldn’t blow away. Tugging on ropes and pushing things around created a nest hole just big enough for me to crawl into. There was no way in hell that I could have gotten off that truck if my life had depended on it.

The journey and arrival must have been rather anti-climatic as I don’t recall much about it. I do remember being thirsty and not being able to find a water faucet in the kitchen. As a matter of fact I got a big laugh from everyone when I asked where the bathroom was.

Someone pointed towards the back yard and announced "Down the Primrose Path where the hollyhocks grow the tallest”. Of course I had no idea what they were referring to but I eventually found the old three hole outhouse. It was a little unique as it had two adult sized holes at adult level and a smaller hole at a lower level. The traditional “Sears” catalog hung off a nail centrally located. A small bag of lime in a pail sat in the corner. This was for sanitary purposes. On hot summer days it got a little fragrant and the flies would be quite numerous, so a handful of lime was scattered over the material in the pit.

I was still thirsty so I asked where the faucet was. My dad said, “Come with me”, and going to the sink he picked up a metal pail that was sitting on a raised portion of the sink. In the pail was a metal dipper (there was very little plastic around back then). We went out the side door and headed towards the road and a huge old maple tree right at the end of the driveway. There was a small square of concrete on the ground with a strange iron thing sticking up in the air. It had what looked like a spout on one side and a long iron handle near the top.

My dad hung the pail on the spout and proceeded to lift and lower the iron handle. After several manipulations of the handle I was flabbergasted to see water coming out of the spout and filling the pail. When there was adequate water in the pail the pumping was stopped and my dad took up the dipper and, filling it from the bucket, took a long satisfying drink of cold, sweet water.
Refilling the dipper, he handed it to me with a wink and said, “There's your faucet, but you have to do a little work for it” The water was delicious and so cold it almost hurt my throat. “When you get to be a little bigger”, he continued, “this will be one of your chores, keeping the water bucket full and fresh…..”

Story Hour

STILL don't have a replacement cord for the damn laptop. Hubby now knows about the cord problem and is threatening to buy a new laptop, which I DO NOT WANT. It's not even an environmental issue of disposing of the old one. It's because that means I'd have to move all my data and pictures, reinstall software, re-organize my "Favorites", set up my email again (do I even KNOW my password for that?).... And I'm far too lazy to think about all that. Besides, tax season is upon us and geeky mathlete here is very excited to get on with with number crunching.

Because I have a home-based business, I do a complete set of financials that I use to gauge my progress and fill out my return. This year is even more exciting, since my sister, B-I-L and I formed a corporation together, I get to complete an 1120S for that, plus all the corporate forms the state and county like to see. Ooooohhh baby! Then, when all that's over and I'm feeling all post-tax season letdown - my sister sends me her tax information and I get to start all over again! I love the smell of Schedule C's in the morning.

But I digress. Often.

What I started to post about was the fact that since things are getting crazy around here and I'm starting to feel like I'm spending a little too much time staring at this screen, I'm going to stop posting eco-changes on the weekends. Instead, weekends will be "Story Hour" from here on out. And to make my life even easier, they will often be other people's stories!

If you'd like to nominate me for lazy blogger of the year, please feel free to do so. And then send me your receipts.

Friday, January 11, 2008

#156 - Pro Choice

Using Catalog Choice

I'm still blogging about my attempt to cut back on the amount of recyclables here. Because as we all know, 'tis better to reduce than recycle, right? Today I'll be droning on about junk mail - specifically: catalogs. Before we begin, let's take yet another trip down memory lane. Don't worry - I'm getting old and the brain cells are dying, so it's a pretty short walk....

Back when this all started, one of my first changes was to "Put an End to Junk Mail". Mmmmmhmmm. I might as well have said I was going to "Stop Stupid People From Breeding", for all the good it's done me. I have spent countless hours on the phone with everyone from AARP to Zenith, trying to get myself off corporate mailing lists. And looking at the amount of crap that the post office drops off every day, I don't feel like I've made a dent. It's time to call for backup.

Enter: Catalog Choice

Over the past few months many of my eco-accomplices have raved about Catalog Choice. They've told me about how they've managed to finally stop the LL Bean catalogs from clogging mailboxes or convinced Lane Bryant that they're not a "big girl" anymore. So I decided to give them a shot.

For those of you who don't know, Catalog Choice is a non-profit organization sponsored by The Ecology Center. The mission of Catalog Choice is to reduce the number of repeat and unsolicited catalog mailings, and to promote the adoption of sustainable industry best practices. They provide the Catalog Choice services to both consumers and businesses, free of charge. Consumers can indicate which catalogs they no longer wish to receive, and businesses can receive a list of consumers no longer wanting to receive their catalogs.

Anyhoo, I signed up today and it was very quick and easy to do. I also happened to receive two unwanted catalogs today and found that "opting out" could actually be a simple, quick, online task, as opposed to an arduous, hair-pulling, curse-laden afternoon.

So the next time you get an unwanted catalog, give Catalog Choice a try. It's definitely easier than doing it the old fashioned way!


Guesstimating here, that I get about a dozen unwanted catalogs per month. If they can somehow stop all these marketing efforts, I'll be 144 catalogs lighter in one year.

Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5


Thursday, January 10, 2008


So the replacement cord arrived today. I was positively giddy with excitement as the Fed Ex man pulled away. I tore open the package and pulled out the adapter while doing my little "happy dance". I ripped my old cord from the wall and plugged in the new one.... only to find the damn thing doesn't fit my laptop!!!!

GRRRRRRR. So after a half hour on hold I finally get some chick who is nice enough, but tells me that's the only replacement cord they sell for my model and that it should fit. Yes, because I'm an absolute freakin' moron and don't know how to stick a cord in a hole. Give me a break.

So it's going back tomorrow. In the meantime I'm going to check Circuit City and Best Buy and see if they have anything in stock. Wish me luck.


#155 - Going Paperless

Canceling The Sunday Paper

The Times, they are a-changin. Or a-cancellin', as the case may be. I got our renewal notice from the good folks at the Richmond Times-Dispatch this week. And since I'm trying to reduce the amount of recyclable waste we generate, I've decided not to renew our Sunday subscription.

Those of you who have been with me since the beginning may recall that change #5 was to cancel my Friday and Saturday paper deliveries. And, thanks to the wonders of the inter-webbies, we can go back and review my thoughts on the subject. They were:

I like reading the Sunday paper. I clip my coupons, read the comics to my son (his favorite is Snoopy) check out "Ask Marilyn" in Parade and peruse the real estate section to see how the housing market is doing. I'm also a big fan of "Dear Abby" and "Miss Manners" and the guy that writes local horticulture articles. I've been a Sunday-paper-reader since I was a kid and I don't think that's going to change.

Yeah, apparently I don't know me very well. That, or during the last six months I've unwittingly purchased a one-way ticket on the bi-polar express. At any rate, I feel like a politician flip-flopping on an issue. Fortunately, also like most politicians, I don't care. Because this change will make a significant dent in the amount of recyclable paper waste we generate.


Each Sunday paper weighs about five pounds and is ALWAYS enclosed in a non-recyclable bag -- rain or shine. In one year, that adds up to 260 pounds of paper and 52 plastic bags.

Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

Easy to let a renewal lapse. And now I'll just start checking, the T-D website, and my local television for news. As for Dear Abby.... well, you all have been great giving me advice so maybe I'll start a Dear Readers column of my own. And the Miss Manners thing? Yeah, I've got klass just oozing out my butt cheeks, so I don't think I really need her help anyhow.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

#154 - Tea for Two

And Two for Tea

You're supposed to sing those two versus up there, in case you didn't realize. If you didn't sing it the first time, please go back and do it again. I'll wait.

Thank you.

Today's change has to do with tea. But I bet you already guessed that. You're smart like that. Anyhow, I've decided to swap my daily dose of IBC Root Beer with iced tea. You may wonder why. Or you may not. I'll tell you anyhow.

As you know, we went on vacation over the holidays. As you don't know, this meant that I missed our bi-weekly recycling pick up and now have an entire month's worth of recyclables sitting in my garage. It is an OBSCENE amount of waste. Recyclable waste, yes. But waste nonetheless.

I spent a good portion of 2007 trying to minimize the amount of non-recyclable trash our household generates. And between the diligent recycling, the shunning of non-recyclable plastics and the composting of foodscraps and tissues, I managed to get us down to one 13-gallon trash bag per week. That's pretty good, especially considering where we started. But now it's time to focus on the recyclables. Because even though these items are (hopefully) given new life as different products, they are using up a lot of fossil fuels to do so. [sidenote: if you want to see where some of our recyclable plastic ends up, check out Beth's recent post about the recycling facilities in China]

And so, this will be the first of many steps I take to reduce the amount of recyclables I put out at the curb. By switching from a bottled soda to home brewed tea, I'll be removing 7 -10 bottles a week from our recycle bin.

Alas, it is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to my sweet IBC. Farewell fond friend. You shall be missed. But it was either you or the Woodchuck cider and to be honest, I'm pretty sure you'd choose the same.


My IBC was sold in glass bottles with non-recyclable metal caps. They were packaged with heavy duty cardboard and sold in packs of six. The total weight of each six pack was approximately 3.5 pounds. My Lipton tea bags are packaged in compostable bags with strings attached by a metal staple. Each is wrapped in a paper bag and 24 are packaged in a lightweight cardboard box. Total weight of each package is approximately 10 ounces. I add my own tap water.

So you can see, I am cutting way down on recyclable bottles. The small staple is about 1/10 the size of a cap. And, for every 24 servings, I'm saving roughly 13 pounds in transportation weight. This doesn't even touch on the fact that I'm eliminating the need for the corn syrup, which is a whole other post about Dow and pesticides and such.

Now just imagine how much greener my next batch will be when I find someplace to buy loose tea and can just reuse a cheesecloth bag or something!

Difficulty Level: 2 out of 5

I will miss my root beer. And, to me at least, iced tea has always been a summer drink so it will just feel weird drinking it in January. But today was warm and sunny here and I made my first batch ever of winter sun tea.

And believe me, it tasted a lot better than it looks. Now if I can just figure out how to make the cider.....

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Feeling Powerless

OK, I moved the laptop last night to work on my post and now even the duct tape trick ain't working. My replacement cord STILL hasn't arrived and I'm beginning to wonder if it ever will. I ordered it on the 2nd but I just checked my email folder for "Online Shopping" and I don't have a reciept copy or anything in there. WTF?!?!?! So I'll have to wait until they open today and give them a call to see if they even GOT my order. Grrr.

In the meantime, I'll be saving my battery as much as possible, because it's really hard to type AND hold the cord in the one perfect position that allows the electricity to flow. Plus, I should probably save the battery for creating mailing labels to send out customer orders and stuff. You know how they can be. Always wanting things they've paid for. Ugh. ;-)

Anyhow, my Tuesday's not off to a very good start. I hope yours is better. :-)

- Erin

#153 - Waisting Away

Joining Crunchy Chicken's No Waste Challenge

Crunchy Chicken is at it again! Remember when I joined her Freeze Yer Buns Off Challenge and lowered my thermostat to 65 during the day and 55 at night? Well now she's got a great new challenge called Project NO WASTE - No Overeating While Attempting to Save The Environment.

She came up with the idea while doing a post about overeating and its effect on the environment. Here's me quoting Crunchy, quoting the Journal of Agriculture and Human Values in an article titled Luxus Consumption: Wasting Food Resources Through Overeating:

Between 1983 and 2000, US food consumption, including waste, increased by 18% or 600 kcal per person. This consumption required 100.6 million hectares for the US population, and 3.1% of total US energy consumption. A 3.1% energy consumption increase - just from overeating.

Now these are averages here folks, so if you imagine all the Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen-types bringing down the numbers, that leaves a Giant Chocolate-Covered Finger pointing straight at us - the average joes and josettes. It's time we all shut our big, fat pieholes for good and replaced them with something smaller. Perhaps a tarthole.

And don't think I'm going to be cheating by eating those low-calorie, processed and individually wrapped diet bars and stuff. No sir, those things have so much packaging that it would totally defeat the environmental aspect of the challenge. Plus, they have really weird ingredients that I can't even pronounce. Instead, my diet will continue to be based, as much as possible, on local foods grown within a 100 mile radius, or at a minimum - grown organically here in the US.

Of course, this new challenge ties in quite nicely with my #1 New Year's Resolution to lose weight so I'm doubly psyched about it. And it's fun for you too. Because if you want to laugh at my stats, just check Crunchy's site for updates on the challengers' progress. Or better yet, join the No Waste Challenge with me and we can laugh at, uh... I mean, support each other.


Hopefully this challenge will result in a net loss of 500 food calories per day, for five months. That's a total of 75,000 calories - the equivalent of 140 Big Macs!

After the initial five months, I should be at my goal weight and will maintain that weight by not exceeding 2000 food calories per day.

Difficulty Level: 3 out of 5

Not a fan of the diet. Me likey my food.