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Serena, like most toddlers, loves to mimic everything Mommy does. Especially the things Mommy does that are not generally available to toddlers. Like operating a spray bottle full of cleaning chemicals, or using the garden tools.

Today was her day to do it all, just like a grown-up. A few of our plants are infested with aphids. The cure for this, according to our Wise Gardening Neighbors? A very diluted solution of Dr. Bronner’s soap. Another neighbor gave us a big bottle of it, which I watered down and poured into an old 7th Gen spray bottle.

Toddler toy, meet pest control. How often do you get a chance to put those things together in a good way? Serena was delighted. This photo captures her focus and determination. She must have spent an hour carefully spraying everything in the garden. Those aphids and their ant farmers have met their match!

I took a lot of photos in the garden today, as well as some jammaking ones. They’re all up on my Flickr if you want to see more of what the girls and I got up to.

Strawberries, harvested

Strawberries, harvested

Today the girls and I went to Red Fire Farm, the organic farm that provides our vegetable CSA. The bulk of the CSA comes to us in the form of a weekly drop-off at the Growing Center, but we also have an open invitation to go pick some crops at the farm. It’s a long drive, almost two hours. It takes a lot to get me to drive that far with my kids, and this was totally worth it.

In addition to the amazing strawberries we picked, we also got peas, herbs and seedlings (we had to pay for the seedlings, but they were very reasonably priced. one might even say cheap, at about $1.75 apiece).

I had heard rave reviews of Red Fire, which prompted me to sign up with them even though they’re a little pricier than some of the other local CSAs. So far, my experience says it is all true. They really do put out more diverse food, and higher quality produce.

Our first week of the CSA brought us a wide variety of vegetables, not just an avalanche of greens like we’ve had with other farms. We got cilantro, kale, turnips, beets, spinach, green garlic and, yes, two heads of lettuce (but one of those was red!).

The farm trip really put it over the top though. The farm is idyllically beautiful, with pockets of woods breaking up verdant fields and a big, big sky. Being there felt like an opportunity to breathe more deeply and be more fully alive in my senses. It also gave me a great excuse to spend an afternoon alone with my girls, something I do surprisingly rarely considering I’m their full-time caregiver. It feels like we are so often socializing or learning or enriching that we’re rarely just on an adventure together.

We all had a blast, even when the thunderclouds actually broke out into pouring rain on top of us in the middle of picking our peas. We had our raincoats, and it turns out we’re all waterproof. It turns out Rio is an expert strawberry picker. She had a great eye for spotting clumps of truly ripe strawberries, and was diligent about staying inside the lines of the open pick-your-own field (unlike her Mama, who was occasionally lured under the string into the closed off section full of ripe berries). Serena is still at the nibble-and-toss stage of berry picking. She carried a basket around with her for most of the time, and put a few berries in it. Some of them might even have ended up in our stock pot.

My kitchen counter is now ensconced with two gallons of freshly picked strawberries, a flat of jam jars and a few boxes of pectin. Recipe suggestions welcome. I’ve never canned anything before, so tomorrow will be a whole new iteration of adventure. Today all I managed was tying up the herbs we picked at the farm to dry and setting the seedlings out in the garden so they’ll be easy to plant tomorrow.

I’m sure we’ll go back to the farm later in the summer to get a wild abundance of tomatoes. In the meantime, I expect to keep enjoying our weekly haul from the CSA.

I started doing The Compact about a month ago. The Compact is simple: for one year, buy nothing new.

There are exceptions of course. These things were written into the Compact as exceptions:

  • perishable goods (food, cleaning products, personal care, medicine)
  • underwear and socks

I’m a generous sort, and I think five is a nice number, so I’m giving myself a few others:

  • art and school supplies (another consumable good that we use a lot of and depend on)
  • garden supplies as needed
  • something else I have not thought of yet that will doubtless prove to be Very Important

While part of the goal of the Compact is clearly to live simply, it doesn’t require one to give up all shopping. You can buy things used, you can freecycle to your heart’s content, etc. It’s more about sustainable living and saving the planet than it is about saving your pennies.

I’ve been enjoying it so far. I wasn’t a big shopper anyway, but I’ve several times caught myself thinking, “I need to buy this thing…but wait! I can’t! I’m Compacting!” Only a few times have I been tempted to get someone else from my household to buy it for me as a cheat. 🙂

Benefits of the Compact:

  • It’s kind of a huge relief to me, because every time I think, “Should I buy that book/t-shirt/gadget/toy?” the answer is, “No.” and I don’t have to expend a lot of emotional energy on coming to a decision about each item it occurs to me I might want to buy.
  • It’s inspired me to be more creative. The Compact was in the back of my thoughts when I made Rio’s birthday gift instead of buying something for her.
  • It’s a good check on shopping impulses. It’s not that I can’t buy anything – most of the things I would buy I can get used – but it adds another layer to the process, another checkpoint I have to go through before getting out my wallet. That seems to be a good thing, because I have mysteriously been stockpiling cash for the past two weeks as my spending money goes largely unspent.

I’ve joined the Yahoo group, but it’s high traffic and a lot of the posts are off-topic; I admit to not reading it much. What I do read are a few simple/frugal living blogs that I do get a lot of value from. My favorites are Get Rich Slowly, the Simple Dollar and the Non-Consumer Advocate.

Have you been cutting back on your spending, or shifting towards more second-hand shopping? How’s that going for you? I’d love to hear about it, or answer any questions y’all have, in the comments.

In the run-up to Rio’s birthday party, we bought Too Much Food. Like you do when you aren’t sure how many people will be coming to your party, or what they’ll bring to contribute, and your friends are foodies who you don’t dare serve bad pizza to even for a kids’ birthday party.

We also had not been grocery shopping in a month and had a lot of empty shelf space and not much food. Since we were at the store anyway…you see how this goes.

I have spent the past week frantically prepping and preserving in order to guarantee that not one bite of that bounty is wasted. I’m sure I will fail in my mission. We already threw away a huge chunk of leftover birthday cake, but I’m not sure that monstrosity was actually food to begin with. More like “edible sculpture”. And the “edible” bit might only apply if you’re under ten years old.

Today, my fridge is as full as it was a week ago, but the food has been transformed. What’s in there?

– guacamole (two pints)

– pickles (three quarts)

– hummus (two pints)

– sun-dried tomatoes (yes, you can make your own! one pint of these)

– sourdough bread (two loaves)

– banana bread (one loaf)

– yogurt (one quart)

– the usual crock pot of soup

It was fun to dust off all those old recipes. Next stop: salsa.

The prize of my May schedule is a fermentation workshop with Sandor Katz. It’s next Friday at 2:30 at BU. His book, Wild Fermentation, changed my life. You need to pre-register for this event. If the admission fee is a too high and you’re a homeschooling family, let me know. The workshop was organized by another homeschooler who may be able to arrange a fee reduction.

Some other May activities my kids and I will likely be at:

Somerville Open Studios – This weekend, all over town. My plans to host a Kid’s Art Show fell through, which is a bummer but also frees up the kids and I to prowl the neighborhood and check out other artists work. There will be some lovely and amazing photography on display right in our very own house.

Fun With Logical Puzzles at the Somerville Central Library. This is a series of math and puzzle sessions geared to 6-13 year olds. It’s happening May 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th at 4 p.m.

And of course, being outdoors. We’ll probably be at the Growing Center playgroup on Friday mornings more often than not.

Most of my energy this month will be going into personal activities: a long-planned solo mama trip, my eldest’s 5th birthday, and the wedding of a dear friend. Hope to see you all out and about in the sunshine!

Dear Concerned Citizens,

Please do not shout insults or parenting advice at me as I am biking past your car on a city street with my kids in tow. Your fear for my children’s safety is truly touching. However, if you pause for a moment, you may realize that taking your own attention away from the vehicle you are driving to startle, alarm and anger the rider of the bicycle does not make my kids safer.

In fact, were you to cause an accident with this behavior, you can be fairly sure I would not be blaming myself for the harm that befell my babies. I would blame you, and your self-righteous idiocy.

Perhaps next time, instead of screaming, “You’re going to die!” or “That is so dangerous!!!” out your car window, you might want to focus on taking special care that you’d don’t became the agent of our apparently inevitable destruction.

A very good way to do this is to get on a bike yourself. If more people tried that, my kids and I would be a lot safer on the roads.


Your friendly neighborhood cyclist

I’m reading the Tightwad Gazette, famed classic of thrift. Yes, I thriftily got my copy out of the public library. I had been resoundingly unimpressed for the first 30 pages, which were essentially all suggestions on how to “save” on things I don’t spend on: cigarettes, soda, new clothes, dryer sheets.

But then on page 30, things turned around. First, she offers a rule of thumb I like, that builds on my beloved 30-day list for non-essential spending:

Put something on your “to acquire” list, and then shop around for a freebie, a cheaper version, a bargain, etc…until it costs you not to have that thing.

A real life example: I need a wagon for my homeschool group to go to the park near my house. I have needed this wagon for months, but haven’t bought one yet because I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to acquire through Freecycle or another local barter. Now it is spring, and we are going to the park regularly, and it is a PITA. I will buy a wagon this week, probably from CraigsList.

The next great thing she offers is the concept of a Price Book. This is one of those money things so obvious and elegant I cannot believe I did not think of it. She keeps a book with the prices of all the things she normally buys written in it, for every store she shops at. So she knows, when she sees something on sale, if it’s a good deal or if she’d be better off going to Costco.

Now, that plan is brilliant, but a crazy lot of work. Who has time to run around comparison shopping for staple goods at a dozen different stores? Not me. But what I do have is an internet connection and friends. So, without further ado, I present: the Community Price Book. I’ve created a GoogleDoc spreadsheet for grocery and household items. If you live in my shopping area and want to play, just leave me a comment or e-mail me with the e-mail you want to use and I’ll share it with you. Then we can all add our items as we shop, and anyone with a portable internet or PDA can have the whole index with them at any store.

If you don’t live in my shopping area, please steal this idea and start your own community price book. This is the first thrift tip I’ve run across in awhile that I think can really save me some money, and I’m excited to share it.

I just ganked this idea from Get Rich Slowly, who in turn grabbed it from someone else who grabbed it from Sandor Katz.

The idea: hold a swap night where people exchange hand-made items, ranging from handknits to homebaked bread. Like a Soup Swap you present your goodies to a rapt audience, there’s some method to the madness (described in GRS’s post on the topic). You should expect to leave with roughly similar amounts of stuff as what you arrived with, I think.

I’m intrigued by the concept here, though concerned about the chaos that could well ensue with so many people swapping so much different stuff. It reminds me of trying to coordinate the Valentine’s Day swap, which got totally out of control with specialty requests and offers that I had to coordinate. I guess the control here is that it all happens on one night, in one place.

I think I’ll try to set one up. Anyone want to play?

Credo Mobile has a great offer which ends at midnight March 31. They will a) buy out your current contract and b) give you 10% off your cell phone service for the next two years.

What makes Credo Mobile unique is that they exist to use corporate power to promote social justice. According to their site, they have donated over $60 million dollars to groups like Doctors Without Borders and Greenpeace. They also send action alerts with every phone bill, offering customers an opportunity to get involved with the causes they support through letter-writing, phone calls and additional donations.

Their plans and prices are competitive with all the major players. They piggyback on Sprint’s network, so their service will be as good (or bad) as Sprint’s in your area.

I’ve had their service before, and found it wonderful. I’d recommend this deal to anyone not tied to their current carrier for reasons other than a contract (like, say, you have an iPhone, which won’t work on their network).

Even if you don’t want to switch providers, knowing about this deal can help you. When I learned about it this afternoon, I called Verizon and told them about it. They were willing to drop my phone bill 20% to keep me as a customer.

A few months ago I took

Flickr Photos

A little bird told me…

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