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helwen: (MacGyver)
I have to say I don't really keep track of the numbers anymore. We got to a certain point and stopped and are just kind of working away at things as we go, like eating more local foods, etc. But since a few other folks whose blogs I read are doing the numbers, I checked our electric use since we moved. It's a little tricky because our washing machine and our hallway light are on the downstairs power, but I use the machine as efficiently as possible (it actually has different speeds, temps and water levels) and we try not to use the hallway light very much anyway, to keep down the folk's bill. Anyway, highest months of usage were January and September for some reason. Average is 272 KwH per month, 3275 KwH for a 12-month period. Without trying particularly hard we're at 30% of the average American's usage, which is 10,800 KwH. Not too shabby.
helwen: (Woodsy)
How long can paper dollars keep a house warm? by Gene Logsdon, a new favorite writer of mine.

[EDIT: The above link now actually Works]

Local Wheat!!!

Info from an article in the Greenfield Recorder yesterday.... I'm all excited about this because we've been looking at the possibility of growing some of our own grain since we haven't been able to find local grain growers (the nearest is in New Hampshire and they only grow for King Arthur flour company).

Turns out there is some local wheat these days, just that the wheat is grown for pre-arranged dedicated buyers.

Tired of dealing with increasing prices for wheat, some local bakeries are working deals out with local farmers to have them grow wheat for them.

Tomorrow a bicycle-driven thresher and grain mill will be demonstrated at Winter Fare, a new event being held at Greenfield's Second Congregational Church in Greenfield, MA. The event runs from 10am - 2pm.

One Montague baker is planning to grow his own wheat for "Daniel Shays Bread". The owners of the Hungry Ghost Bakery in Northampton are looking for folks to grow wheat locally for them. They're looking for organically grown wheat and had been getting it from North Dakota, which is quite a ways away from Massachusetts - now there's a couple of farms growing spelt and rye for them and for another bakery in Deerfield, El Jardin Bakery. A farmer in Gill grows wheat for Bread Euphoria in Williamsburg.

The wheat being grown currently isn't enough to supply all the bakeries year-round yet, from what I can tell in the article. But assuming all goes well, farmers would probably expand their operations. L talked to his dad about it this morning, and he's open to the idea of adding it as a crop (actually he considered that if it were profitable enough, switching over from hay, but people need hay around here too).

Hungry Ghost Bakery has an interesting plan. They've managed to get seed for some heirloom varieties of grain and will be handing out seed to local customers to get them to try growing some in their yards. Then they want to pedal around Northampton to harvest it for use at the bakery. There's going to be a meeting on March 12 at 7pm at the Northampton City Hall, to teach people how to plant their small plots of wheat. There are plans to store the grain at a local barn and then give people a chance to help with milling the grain.

Massachusetts used to grow a lot of grains, I expect before the combines in the Midwest. Apparently the Connecticut Valley (part of western Mass is in this valley) was once known as the "breadbasket of New England" (Howard S. Russell 1976 history of NE farming _A Long Deep Furrow_).

Apparently some area farmers have combines (smaller than in the Midwest) and "reaper-binders that can be used for harvesting and threshing wheat", but if the operations are successful and grow, threshing, cleaning and milling the wheat and spelt could be a problem that would require trying to get a grant to help with funding. We don't have a real mill in this area.... wouldn't it be great if we could build a water/wind-powered mill? I mean, if you have to build one from scratch, might as well do it right from the start.

The demo of the bicycle-powered thresher and grain mill is from Hampshire College's appropriate technology class, and is sponsored by Hungry Ghost Bakery. There will apparently be some other activities at the Winter Fare as well, and also a winter farmers market.

Greenfield Second Congregation Church is at 16 Court Square in Greenfield, MA
helwen: (water drops)

Above is a link to an overview on James Hansen's latest report on CO2 in the atmosphere and its effects, at a conference this month in San Francisco. Hansen is a NASA scientist who has been studying changes in our atmosphere and environmental effects for over 20 years.

Make of it what you will. As for me, I have some work to do...


Dec. 11th, 2007 12:14 pm
helwen: (jug)
Eggnog came up this weekend, so I looked up a couple of recipes I have at home -- one w/alcohol the other without. I used to make the second one a lot when I was a kid, for our family. Tastier than the commercial stuff, by far!

I was wondering how far back the tradition goes of having eggnog for the winter holidays, because it uses milk, cream, and eggs.

Nowadays most people don't really think about this sort of thing, because factory farms mess with staggering the schedule for when cows get pregnant, when chickens moult, etc. Even here in Ashfield the lights have been on a bit earlier and a bit later to lengthen the day for the past month, because once the chickens start moulting, there won't be any eggs for a while. I expect they'll be moulting soon though, as the demand for eggs is down at the moment, and they do need to moult after all. The local small dairy finished milking for the season on December 1. There's still some yogurt and cream available, but that's it. In a sustainable community, this would be the norm, with people having made some of the dairy products into butter and cheese for the rest of the winter/spring, and making different types of bread that don't require milk or eggs (yes, they exist and are tasty).

At first I was thinking that eggnog was an industrial revolution marker, but in theory it could go back further, because if you store milk properly, it's good for avg. of 38 days for pasteurized milk. Raw milk on avg. is 7-10 days, but you could freeze it, though that can affect the taste somewhat. Farm fresh eggs are good for a few months, as long as they haven't been scrubbed (yes, you can wash them them without scrubbing the protective coating off). So even if the lighting hadn't been fiddled with for the chickens this winter, we'd still have some eggs left by Christmas/Solstice.

So, it's possible to have eggnog without it being a modern novelty, and it might have been such a big deal _because_ it would be one of the last time people would be enjoying eggs and milk. Only for people who can afford rum or an equivalent. Also, it occurred to me that if you made it a bit ahead of time of the holiday celebration, with alcohol, that would help to stabilize the drink and kill/prevent-growth-of unhealthy bacteria.

And consider that clove, one of the spices used in eggnog, has preservative properties, which may also assist in providing a longer shelf-life. Preparing treats for the holidays could start weeks before the official celebratory time, so it isn't a completely crazy idea for eggnog.

Well, free-thinking is all well and good, but I also did a quick search for the History of Eggnog, and got this site and this site plus a bunch that quoted parts of the first site listed here.

Best info available says eggnog only goes back to the 19th century, that alcohol was used to help preserve the perishable milk and eggs, and that eggnog is descended from English possets (like eggnog, served hot). And apparently it was a social status thing in London -- not everyone could afford milk in the 19th c., esp. if you live in a city. In England madeira, brandy or sherry were used. In America rum was used most because it was more affordable.

So, I was right about alcohol being used to increase shelf-life and that it was a special treat (for those who could afford the rum/brandy). And while eggnog is not very old in and of itself, possets go back further, to the Middle Ages. There's a good Wikipedia entry on possets. They were used as minor remedies for things such as colds and such. Ah well, it wouldn't be the first time something medicinal in origin became a treat!
helwen: (water drops)
Interesting thoughts on unnecessary energy use when baking and roasting.

helwen: (water drops)
This morning the farm was shrouded in fog, cool and grey....

Riot for Austerity, John Seymour, Roman Empire... )

The fog is lifting now, though it clings still to the hilltops to the east, and the far side of the field.
helwen: (water drops)
Interesting article: <a href="http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/the-end-is-nigh-be-positive/2007/09/21/1189881771237.html?page=fullpage>The End is Nigh. Be Positive</a>
helwen: (water drops)
The Riot is still ongoing. 288 members on the mailing list. Some are single (either truly single or only person in household trying to cut back on consumption) -- others are couples or families, of which only one is on the list. I'd say that at a minimum there are about 600 people in this little 'movement' now. And of course other folks who haven't committed to the Riot or who've never heard of it, are also working on being less wasteful. Yay!!

Just recently a person joined who lives in a park out west, and has for several decades. She has a service in a nearby city that burns her email to disk and mails it to a nearby neighbor every two weeks. She goes, reads the contents, and responds as she sees fit. No car, teaches others how to live more simply (although not necessarily as simply as she does) -- apparently she's been seeing an increase in students of late. So, when she found out about the Riot for Austerity, she joined to see what people are doing these days, so that she can better advise her students.

Interesting world we live in!
helwen: (Laundry)
No, really, I do. One bloom, on the most mature of the plants that [livejournal.com profile] islenskr gave me :) Quite lovely and happy in its home.

The first Feverfew's doing well, and if I'm up to it, I may plant the second one this weekend, along with some other plants.

Most everything got watered today. I'm going to try to water more in the front yard, either this evening or early tomorrow morning.

Harvested some green beans today, and a few tomatoes (one truly ripe, the others nearly so, but I needed to make space for their buddies), and one more blueberry to add to the others.

The mid-late strawberries are trying to bloom again. The late strawberries are starting to bloom, and one in a pot has a berry on it.

One load of laundry is up on the lines, and I'm about to put in another load. We're still putting some water into the washer from the dehumidifier we have down there, and I caught a bucket of the rinse water from the first wash, which will also go in. If I'm feeling ambitious I may bring in a bucket from the rain water. The pails and barrels have definitely made a difference in our city water usage.

Electricity usage will be higher this month, though. Yesterday we gave in and [livejournal.com profile] fitzw installed the AC in our bedroom. During the last hot spell we slept downstairs and moved his PC downstairs for work. But it seems to be hotter this time around, plus once we're done working on the second floor, we'll be moving down to do construction on the first floor, and I won't be able to sleep/breathe in a dusty space. Plus, given the physical exertion of renovation, we could use some cooling so that we don't get heat exhaustion.

Note of amusement - Punderson Oil came to do its usual mid-summer oil delivery (helps them figure things out for the winter, I think). Only 24 gallons!
helwen: (Default)

Interesting project, pulling on local resources for materials and artisans. The shoes are particularly good. The vest is odd, but might work for some people.

Handwovens today can definitely be done in finer weights than in this project (I would know, yes?)

Got the link from [livejournal.com profile] kass_rants, where there are some good comments on the project.
helwen: (me1)
Friday the 13th falls on a Friday this month! (ref to a former boss who felt that every month had a Friday the 13th.... just wasn't always on a 'friday').

[livejournal.com profile] fitzw is out running. I have some mulching to do this a.m., probably a little boxing and shifting of things. Finish seams on at least one tabard. Might get some other things done, we'll see.

12:30, we'll be at the Tower Theater in South Hadley to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Matinee, only $5.25!

Thread the warp onto the loom... been meaning to do that all week, but really needed to get some other things done first.

After that:

Tues and Wed night we slept on the first floor because of the humidity; 2nd floor was much worse. Only had to use a fan. Last night was cool and much dryer, so we were upstairs again. But have to vacuum the house because too much dust/pollen came in. Itchy eyes and sneezing!

So far I'm doing okay and not needing the AC. We'll see if that holds true next week...

Trying to limit my time online, and not doing too badly the past few days. Oh, for Riot for Austerity for June - usage was up slightly from May. Not a huge amount, 33 KWH. Probably mostly the increase in time online for dealing with the startup of the Riot, plus my first attempts at canning. Which were successful, btw - have 8 pints of strawberry jam set up for the winter.

Well, time for me to work on shutting things down for a few hours!
helwen: (me1)
Was chatting with someone in their LJ about the difficulties of the 90%/Riot for Austerity challenge, and wanting to make all the changes now. I completely understand that frustration. You make a decision that you want to do things a certain way, or learn new skills, or whatever, and then reality sets in. Things worth having take time to achieve -- we keep hearing that in one ear in our society, and in the other is the culture of instant gratification.

Although I think it's a bit more than that... transitions are difficult. Even if the goal is a positive one, there are things that have to be let go of, the uncertainty of whether this is the correct path to take, and the uncertainty/thrill/fear of learning new things (including whether or not one will successfully learn them).

The Riot of Austerity challenges a way of life and of living. Even if one embraces the idea behind it, it's a huge change in how one views life. Some things are easier to give up than others. How to we justify our hobbies? Humans are social animals to one degree or another, it's a part of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Some hobbies and activities are harder on the environment than others, and there are ways to ameliorate some of the effects from them (like, use cleaning products that are better for the environment at Pennsic and other camping events, for instance).

And then there's another part of human nature. If we try to change all of our habits at once, how many of the new habits will stick? Supposedly it takes a month of practice for a habit to stick, but I can tell you from personal experience that even after doing something for 5 _years_, a habit or activity can change. Which is good if it's a bad habit, but not so good if it's a good habit. So, a regular review of one's life is a good idea...now if I can just remember to do that!

My take on the challenge, of taking about 3 or so years, is kind of like going to college. The freshman year is usually the most exciting and also the roughest - learning the basics and the schedule for classes can be kind of funky compared to high school. On the other hand, you meet new people, expand your horizons, and work on laying out what the plan is for your degree program (well, in theory -- mine changed a few times). So our first year we're trying out a lot of things, doing a lot of research, seeing what works for us, etc., and planning what we can do/learn in the next few years. Some of it will work. Some of it won't. Sometimes there'll be frustration at how long it seems to be taking to get something to happen. But as long as we remember to cheer ourselves on and celebrate the successes along the way, we should make it to graduation :)

My two cents.
helwen: (MacGyver)
I picked the black currants today. I think there is half a cup of them. Never having grown them, I wasn't sure how black they needed to get, but I spied one the other day that was wrinkled and drying, so figured that was as good a signal as any. I'll look up a jam or preserve recipe for them, or maybe a sauce sort of thing -- something that will go well with cream :)

The shelling peas in the backyard are still quite short, but are already having peas. I'll be picking the small handful this week, hoping to encourage more growth.

7 out of 9 potatoes that we planted have plants above-ground. One is huge; I haven't been able to keep up with piling dirt and pine needles around it. But we will still have more potatoes than I thought we would. Also, I forgot about a couple of potatoes in the kitchen and found them today. So, I guess I'll plant those where the two that didn't come up were.

The lemon trees are interesting. First I had one, then I had four. Then one of the four disappeared into thin air. Now number 5 seed has decided to join the crowd, so I'm back up to 4....

Finished up the previous batch on the loom and have started up winding warp for the next batch, which will have a thoroughly stripey warp in white and purple (medium). And, much as I'd like to be done with buying yarn for this year, I'm really happy with the stuff I'm working with right now, and it's all end stuff -- once it's gone, it's gone. sigh. Who'd have thought that once I started weaving, I'd go through the fiber so quickly?

5 scarves done so far, plus an extra bit that I might be able to turn into a small pouch/shoulder bag. Yay!

[livejournal.com profile] fitzw has been making great progress in the upstairs room, removing paint/wallpaper, and patching the walls.

Oh, and finished staking and tying up all but the two tomato plants in pots. Hm... maybe I'll just let them be viney....

The rain barrel completely filled up last night. [livejournal.com profile] fitzw moved the water over to the extra barrels, as it may rain again tonight. He's also considering checking over the weekend to see if any of the old sap tanks at the farm might be usable for water storage. Since we're using some of the water for clothes washing as well, might be an excellent idea.

No, I haven't tried handwashing again, but I did bring some rain water in and put it in the washer. The last laundry I did though, I just happened to be in the room when it started the 2nd rinse, so instead of just catching one bucket of water, I was able to catch three. That should be plenty for the next laundry load.

We do have a wringer to try out now, compliments of my MIL Marian. Just have to clean it up, check it out, and get it set up on a frame of some sort (has clamps). Then we'll see if a partially-able person can do a wash easily enough to consider doing it regularly.
helwen: (Default)
June Figures )

Water usage is probably the most notable thing at this point. I don't expect to see huge changes until fall, as we slowly transition our sources for foods, etc. Also, I had plans for acquiring some things this year, and it would be silly and false to put them all off for a year for the Riot and then buy them all next summer.

Still, it's an interesting exercise and definitely worth doing. We'll bring down what we can, and the rest we'll work on over the next 2-3 years, as I believe that's how long it will realistically take for us to decrease consumption in certain areas.
helwen: (water drops)
[livejournal.com profile] loosecanon found this site: Walden. Excellent site. I read the intro this morning and am looking forward to reading the Parts later today.

Am staying with the attempt to cut down on our non-local consumption/treading more lightly/etc. efforts, but switched to special notices only for the 90% email list. Definitely some good thoughts there, but it's taking too much of my time to keep up with the number of posts. Additionally, that means I'm using _more_ electricity instead of less, and doing more reading than doing. Was pretty much doubling my time reading/doing research :P

Having a lot to do not only around here but also having Pennsic, Crossroads at Canterbury, and Ashfield Fall Festival coming up, that's time needed elsewhere.

Ooo, forgot to mention that one of the things I did with the strawberries was make Strawberry Soup (one of the non-alcoholic versions). Tasty! And quick and easy to make, too.
helwen: (me1)
Report by Six Climate Change Scientists who are in disagreement with the UN's IPCC report. Not a real surprise, considering how much had to be cut out or toned down in the report at the request of the U.S., China, and (I believe) some other countries.

Spring has come two weeks earlier than usual to the Arctic, causing some creatures and flowers to lay eggs or bloom early, which is causing concern that some animals will arrive at times not in sync with their food sources. This has been a developing trend over the past decade or so, not just a one-time thing.

Of course in the above article the scientists say that somehow we need to take some of the greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, but we still don't really know how to do that... aside from planting trees -- and better deciduous than evergreens, since the evergreens being dark year-round means they absorb more heat. Oy. Personally, I'd rather plant fruit and nut trees anyway -- deciduous so the snow can help out more with reflection during the winter, and you get food, too.

On the Riot for Austerity list, one of the questions on the demographics questionnaire asked why people were on the list. The two primary answers I saw were essentially "to learn how to use less energy and buy/acquire necessities in a less wasteful way" and "to learn how to do these things while it's still my choice and not being force on me".

A number of folks went on to say in other posts that they're glad to have company in their efforts, even if it's only online. Some have family or friends who constantly question everything they do.

Others have restrictions placed on them because of where they live (can't have a garden because of no space or HOA rules, can't have a laundry line because of HOA rules, etc.)

One person joined recently whose goal is to cut their energy/goops consumption for their family by 50% of average American consumption rates. She hates cooking, they love travelling and shopping, etc. Was concerned people on the list would hate her. Many folks reassured her that they didn't hate her :) 50% is great! It's certainly more than a lot of the fat cats are doing.... although I'd like to mention here that one of the richest men, Warren Buffet, lives in a normal-sized house -- more rich folks could model themselves on him and we would all be better off for it.

So, how much influence can a bunch of individuals have? Well, not quite 3 weeks into the year-long project and the Riot now has over 200 list members, the majority of which are couples and/or have kids, although there are a number of single people as well. Nearly all of the couples and families are participating as groups; some are still thinking about it. A few have shared stories of their partners coming on-board once they see the changes in action. I haven't counted, but someone said our group of participants was at about 500 when there were only a little over 100 list members, so I'm guessing we're heading for 1,000 participants.

And funnily enough, turns out I know one of them, a grad from Smith :)

As for us, we were definitely _not_ low consumers this past weekend! Drove to Gt. Barrington twice, Troy NY once, up to the farm, and over to UMass (hiking place was right on the way home). Our weekends are going to be pretty bad that way for the next four weekends, at least. At least we're doing most of the shopping on foot or bike.... but I have to go to the mall this week (preferably today) -- have to check the post office box and do a mailing. Hm.... maybe we can combine that with a trip to the sports store for the padded gloves I need...

Oh well. Time to go hang up the laundry!
helwen: (MacGyver)
Baseline for 90% Reduction Challenge. Begin date was June 1, 2007. End date will be May 31, 2008. We'll experiment, try some things new or old, see what we can do. Review at the end of the year what worked best, what didn't work, what's worth keeping, and what we want to try next.

Realistically, we won't attain 90% reduction across the board, at least not for a few years. I'm not about to take a bus to the Pennsic War, thanks (although we were joking about taking horses there. That would only take a few months to get there and back again, eh?). But we might have a more economical vehicle by next year...

Figures are behind the cut, so anyone not interested in this stuff can ignore it.

Baseline info and numbers )


helwen: (Default)

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