Here’s a Challenge for You…

Claudia and I have been trying to chat on Google + or via cell phone each Thursday morning and yesterday she told me about a book that she was reading called Making Home by Sharon Astyk. Claudia is living the life that we all should be living. By that I mean, she makes things for herself and her family rather  than going out and purchasing those items. Essentially, she is homesteading. Claudia lives in a small city in New Hampshire and up until recently, she and her family had been renting but were able to purchase a home. Still, she and Steve, her husband of over 20 years, are living a life we all should be living. They don’t have a lot of money. Steve is a nurse and brings in the money for the family but Claudia and Steve together add to that by instilling a handmade philosophy that I truly believe we all need to embrace to a certain extent.

So, in having my weekly inspirational chat with Claudia, I looked online for a Kindle version of “Making Home” and it wasn’t available digitally so I looked at other books by this same author, thinking that Claudia and I could share and trade ideas that we each gathered from the other’s book. I purchased Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front [Kindle Edition]. I just started reading it yesterday so I haven’t gotten very far but I like what I am reading so far and I just want to set out a new challenge for you today. Just something to think about as I read and learn about how we, as a nation, can come together to help resolve some of the issues that we are going to face in the future as our fuel consumption takes on a different life for us.

The Challenge: Find a local person that has a skill (that you spend money and fuel on to go and purchase) and become an apprentice to that person to learn that skill. Be it sewing, canning food, gardening, cleaning, growing a food that you can’t buy locally, and share this with the community so that we can release some of our independence on consumerism.

September in New England…

Many of you know my long time friend Claudia Altemus, from Berea College. She was my maid of honor in my wedding and we have reconnected. Sometimes, we  feel as if we were connected at the hip because we share so many things in common. Claudia is an avid gardener, both by necessity and also, just because she loves it and feels that more of us should be making the effort to make ourselves more sustainable and use our own resources rather than rely so heavily on mass production of foods and products. I share these views and asked Claudia if she would contribute a segment to my blog. She agreed, but only if she could write it as if she were writing me a letter. What a lovely idea, don’t you think? So I dressed the wording up to make it even more special and am happy to share the first in a series of posts by Claudia for you to read today. We want to make this a regular sharing of ideas about nature, environmental issues and homesteading but, today her letter is about the asters and the butterflies in her garden as Fall is arriving in New England.

Enjoy and Thank You, Claudia, for a wonderful addition to the blog.

Water Usage…




My oldest son was home for a visit back in April. They moved to Seattle last November after their October wedding. They love Seattle and I am hoping to see their new home this summer when I take a trip there myself. The story that my son told that I thought was fun about their new home, other than Seattle being an incredibly “green” city, was that his new bride had embraced this green-ness by competing against the other residents in their apartment building with overall water usage. The funny part of this is that the other residence weren’t aware they were in a contest. Thomas and Bell live in a building that houses about six apartments that all share a garage like space on the bottom level for their cars etc. Each apartment’s water meter is also in this garage and as they would come into the garage, Belle would look at each apartment’s numbers on their perspective meters. She was trying to gauge how much water they were using in comparison to her neighbors. When she realized that the numbers didn’t reset at the beginning of the month, she kind of gave up because it would mean that she would have to set up a spread sheet and do a daily check of the numbers to see if they were ahead or behind. I just got a kick out of this story and the competitiveness of my new daughter-in-law.

Belle came to visit this week and I brought up this story and we laughed about it. She then said that I would be disappointed with how she washed dishes after I shared how I had noticed other people’s dish washing habits. I’m now wondering how this trend has come about and if people even think about their water usage in terms of what is going to save them the most. The way I look at it, every drop that comes out of my faucet is paid for by me and I want to make that money count with every drop. So, I thought I would share how I try and conserve water in my house and see if I can get any of you to help all of us to save even more water.

This trend that I spoke of to Belle, and which she confessed to doing, is washing dishes with the faucet running the entire time, no stopper in the sink and a continual stream of water going down the drain. I have witnessed this on many occasions, mainly with my kid’s generation.

When I was growing up, you would clean out the sink, and add the stopper and then fill the sink with your hot dish water and soap. Your companion sink, either to the right or left, depending on how your set up is, is filled with hot rinse water. As you wash your dishes you then dunk them into the hot rinse water and stack them into a dish drainer. NO additional running water. I would estimate that you probably are using about 3 gallons of water total. Two for the washing and maybe a gallon for the rinse.

In times of drought here in Virginia, I have used a plastic dish pan in the sink to wash the dishes in and rinse the dish above that dish pan of wash water capturing ALL the water and then that water in used to put on the garden in the evening to help keep a plant alive during those dry spells. I believe this is probably the best way to truly salvage all the water and not let any of it go down the drain.

I’m told that using the dishwasher is absolutely the best solution because it uses the water in the most efficient way. However, I see people washing their dishes in the running water method BEFORE they then load them into the dishwasher. While most dishwashers, mine does, should be able to handle the dirty dish without even rinsing off the foodstuff, I understand that some don’t and the dishes may need a little help before they go into the dishwasher but I believe that you could probably get away with a good scraping with a rubber spatula into the compost or trash instead of involving any water at all. I worked at a YWCA camp one year in college and each table had a rubber spatula that the kids were required to “squeegee” their plate before stacking them up, eliminating the extra pre-washing before loading them into the commercial dishwasher in the kitchen area.

I use a lot of water conservation techniques in my pottery too. I have a dishtub in the utility sink in our basement and try at all costs to avoid any of my chemicals going down the drain. That dish pan gets really full of waste water and maybe gets dumped out into my grass once a month. That same water is used to wash out brushes, containers, glaze buckets and even rinsing off my hands before I finish for the day.

Drinking Water Brochure Outside

Drinking Water Brochure Inside


This topic could obviously be a completely new post due to all the chemicals that get flushed down the drain daily and end up in our watersheds.

My hope is that you will share your dishwashing techniques with me and help others to think more about their water usage and maybe even get into the competitive spirit of my sweet daughter-in-law, who is having fun trying to save the planet in her small way in Seattle. Good luck Belle and I hope you can figure out a way to get your neighbors involved in your game! I really love the spirit of this idea!


Clean drinking water...not self-evident for ev...

Image via Wikipedia

During the summer months I become super aware of our water use. I am out in the garden and am taking care of the plants and watching the weather for rain. Herb loves to kayak so he watches the weather and online gauges to see if the Shenandoah is full enough for a float.

Our water in Tom’s Brook is very expensive and so since moving here 16 years ago we have certainly watched our usage due to that. After awhile you develop a habit to turn off the spigot or to take a shorter shower. I’ve even developed tricks to make sure that I catch water that would normally go down the drain during years of drought by showering with a bucket to catch water for my plants.  The house has several cisterns that we also catch rain water to water outside with and not have to pay for that water.

Things to consider about water use:

  • don’t run the spigot while washing dishes. Catch water in the sink in a larger basin so that you can lift out the water and use it on a plant outside when you are done with the dishes
  • don’t prewash your dishes to put them in the dishwasher. Most dishwashers today can handle the food that might be left on your plate. Of course, if you have something stuck on the plate, by all means do a quick scrub of that.
  • only water outside in the mornings so that you don’t lose water to evaporation in the heat of the day. This really makes me crazy when I see a business running sprinklers in the heat of the day. This is a huge waste.
  • Use a broom to sweep dirt from a sidewalk or patio or driveway. This is another huge waste of water. I see this one all the time too with gas stations that want to hose down their parking lots or garages. This water goes into the storm drain and takes all those pollutants directly to the river. Be aware of where the water goes and what it is taking with it.
  • Use rain barrels. We have three rain barrels and they are wonderful. We catch the rain water in those and on most days I visit those barrels numerous times rather than having to turn on a hose to pull water from my cistern reserves.
So, I’ve had water on my mind this week and even though we have had a great season for occasional rain showers. I thought I’d share some of my summer water ideas with you today.

On the Ninth day of Christmas

My True Love gave to me… Nine Lords a leaping.

leaving Amsterdam in May 2010

Leaping from place to place is what we do across the nation and the world. We love to travel the globe. I did my first trip abroad this year, going to the Netherlands to visit some college friends. I would really love to do more but wonder about my impact on the planet.

I’m currently reading a book by Joan Dye Gussow called Growing Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life, and Vegetables. The New York Times calls Joan a nutritionist and matriarch of the eat-locally-think-globally food movement. But in this book she journals about all things environmental as well as understanding her feelings about losing her husband of 40 years to cancer and growing older.  In one of her rants on travel, she talks about how so many of the people of “money” seem to think they need to escape their large homes for an exotic locale. Joan feels that, if they are so unhappy in their homes, with swimming pools and tennis courts, that they need to escape to some other place, then they must not be really happy and that if we all stayed home more we would be happier and the planet would be better off. And what about those people in the slums who really deserve a chance to escape to one of those island paradises.

She had read an article in the NY Times about Penguins in Trouble World Wide because global warming was melting the ice on which they lived and later in the day she emailed a farmer friend this letter:

“I had an Aha! today when I saw in the paper that the penguins are disappearing. My first thought was “Oh, God, I’ve got to go see them before they disappear.” My second thought was “It’s that sort of impulse that is helping them disappear.” If we all travel all the time to see things before they’re gone, we’re helping warm the planet, which means they will be gone. We’ve gotten used to thinking that because we can do everything technically, we also can do it, so we go ….on and on.”

One of the points Joan is making is that we can’t create livable communities if we are out escaping to somewhere else. She sees this as a moral issue. By burning fossil fuels, which raises the CO2 level of the atmosphere and causes parts of the planet to warm. This, in turn, accelerates the melting of the polar ice sheets, thus threatening the wildlife and their food sources.

Lonely Planet has a wonderful article about Responsible Travel and how our tourism has had an impact on cities across the globe turning them into shopping meccas and disrupting the infrastructures of these places. They have made a commitment to advise travelers to be more responsible. They say, and I totally agree, “that it’s only through travelling, through meeting people that we begin to understand that we’re all sharing this world. We are all coming along for the ride, despite the barriers which governments, religions and economic and political beliefs often seem to build up between us.”

One way to have less guilt about travel is to purchase carbon offsets. Climate Care is the site that Lonely Planet recommends and Green Irene has a series of carbon offsets for not only air travel but also SUVs that you may own. You can also offset your large home or a small car. Carbon offsets are set up to pay into a company or project that is creating efficient energy. The most common project type is renewable energy, such as wind farms, biomass energy, or hydroelectric dams. Others include energy efficiency projects, the destruction of industrial pollutants or agricultural byproducts, destruction of landfill methane, and forestry projects. Some of the most popular carbon offset projects from a corporate perspective are energy efficiency and wind turbine projects.

While carbon offsets, like Cap and Trade policies, are somewhat helpful, I don’t think they are the end all fix. To me, it is basically paying a fine in order to be allowed to break the law and trash the planet. Interesting article about that here at Green Living Review.

street scene in Haarlem, Netherlands

I have told my Facebook friends who do lots of traveling that I can go to so many places by looking at the photos they post. Many of them are traveling, not so much for pleasure but out of necessity for family or work. While they go they take photos and share with me so that I can take virtual trips. This year, I have been to Rome, Greece, and China virtually and physically to the Netherlands. I dream of places I’d love to see before I die but know in my heart I may never physically see. I feel good about the efforts I am making in my own backyard to make my own little place my exotic escape.