New Years Resolutions

I don’t like New Years Resolutions, but I do them anyway. But to me its more of an “After Christmas Resolution” as I LOVE Christmas. I spend all year waiting for Christmas, and then when Christmas comes I eat whatever I want and do whatever I want “Because its Christmas!” This year this was compounded by a vacation 2 weeks before Christmas. Christmas + Vacation + a well intentioned Mother in Law giving you way too many sweets is a bad combo! 

Anyway, Christmas is my time to fall of the bandwagon, on EVERYTHING (well, at least I didn’t get drunk). So this is the week I pick myself off, dust myself off, and think “How am I going to fix this?” This year as a family we really have one major focus, becoming more self-reliant. We want to earn our own money, grow our food, buy our own stuff, take care of ourselves. There are two focus, finances, and health. 

Financially we are better off than most of the world. I realize this. We are in a good place. But we want to take better care of what we have, and make our money go further, so that we can do more, and help more with what we have. Ace has the goal of either doing music full time or opening his tea shop. My goal is to actually outright own our home, both take a lot of money.  I am working on a budget, and keeping track of ALL our spending. Our biggest waste by far is eating out, followed by entertainment and buying stuff we plain old dont need. 

Our second goal is to take better care of ourselves. I’m going to hit this one from many angles (most of which will benefit the first goal). First, we plan to grow as much of our own produce as possible. That means we have lots of healthy (organic, heirloom)  choices we will be excited to eat. We have a long growing season here, with lots of plants that do well. Our yard already has 2 kinds of fruit. Soon I will be starting, lettuce, tomatos, cherry tomatos, watermelon, strawberries, and peppers. I hope to add to those as the season goes on. I am also building an aquapoics system to grow fish and food together in a soiless medium (more on that in my next post). 

Second we are taking more walks and bike rides. I try to take Mark out everyday to walk or bike for a half hour (or more). I take one of the dogs along and we all get some good free exercise. So far, this has been really great! In the summer I hope to find some parks and hiking areas and bring lunch with. Its a great way to wear out Mark for his nap and help me stay active. 

Finally, we are tracking our weights. I made a chart and every sunday we are going to weigh-in. In 6 months we are going to take a little 1-2 night trip and who ever loses the biggest percent of weight is going to pick where we go. I’m pretty excited. 

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Steps Towards Self-Sufficiency: Sustainable Urban Farming

I’d love to be able to be completely self-sufficient someday, in case of an emergency or disaster,  but that day is a long long way off. In the time being I can take steps to get us closer. My hope is have a healthier, more frugal, more sustainable way of life that we can keep up even if the rest of the world was to fall apart.

There are several things I’d like to do eventually, they include; learning and buying firearms, buying and installing solar panels, harvesting and re-using rain water, stocking up on basic necessities and food that can be stored long term (dired and freeze dried, canned, frozen), and of course, growing our own food.

I was going to wait till spring to start a garden, we have an area planned for raised beds that is currently coved to kill the grass and keep the soil warm through the winter, but now I’m thinking I may try a different approach much sooner (we’ll still start a summer garden as well). In fact if I didn’t have a sick toddler who’s been sleeping most of the day, I’d be out in the garage figuring out what supplies I have and what I need right now!

I’m going to try my hand at aquaponics. In short aquaponics is growing plants and fish in harmony in a relatively low maintenance environment that yields very high amounts of fish and plants for the food and energy put in. I’ve read that aquaponics uses 1/10th the water of traditional gardening in the soil, and the only food you put in is whatever you are feeding the fish (which I’ve read of many creative ways to feed your fish for cheep or free). I’m hoping to start a small system using either a fish tank or a plastic bin and ordering a few fingerling fish to start. The waste water from the fish tank would be pumped up into a medium sized growing tray where the plants can use the nutrients naturally created by the fish and the bacteria, creating clean water for the fish to grow in. The water would then flow down back into the fish tank. Some people use siphon system, but I think I’m just going to go ahead and use a fish tank pump on a timer to start. I plan on trying indoor and using grow lights. Even if I can just grow enough lettuce for Ace’s sandwiches and a few salads I’ll be pretty happy.

I have bigger dreams too. I got my hands on a free pool last fall that I planned to set up for Mark to swim in, but it may turn into a much larger fish tank. If I can get a few other people on board to help. I’d love to set up a large aquaponics system and share the fish with other families that help maintain and build the system with me. If I can figure it out on a small scale, why not a large scale? If we grow enough plants we could even sell them and make money. Currently selling homegrown aquaphonics fish is illegal, but you can sell the plants.

As I’m dreaming of this I think of all the things I wanted to do and haven’t, that’s why I decided to blog it. If I put it out there you guys can keep me accountable (all 3 of you that will read this). Either way it will motivate me to actually do it. If I can get this going along with a traditional garden we will be rolling in produce this year and it will save us LOTS of money!

Working Towards a New Lifestyle

Since moving we kind have been floundering in our everyday life. With no job, school, or even scheduled hobbies to structure our life things have been…. laid back… to say the least. Its been nice though just spending time with each other and exploring our new city and neighborhood. I’ve learned the Public Transit, been to the zoo, countless food carts, finally figured out a grocery shopping routine, even had issues (now resolved) with the neighbor. We’ve had visitors for the first time now and that really marks the end of our time of settling and now its time to get into gear.

There are several changes that seem to be happening quite naturally. The first is that our baby is no longer a baby, and we are starting to treat him a little different because of that. Its nothing we really planned its just happening naturally. Mark is wanting and we are allowing him to have more time by himself. Often he wants to just play with his cars or his trains, sometimes he ‘reads’, or draws or just wanders around our front yard. I check in on him from time to time, and remind him to use the bathroom, but more and more he’s just doing his own thing for periods of time. We are also letting him fuss more and are not catering to his every want, or just making him wait a minute. We don’t make him wait just for the sake of waiting (we do love him, and that’s not cool to do to anyone you love) but we let him realize that we also have needs and wants and that he needs to learn to respect all people (and their things). This in itself could be a whole blog post, but lets just say Mark is moving from baby, to child.

We also seem to be moving away from screen time. Part of it is the great climate and culture here, we just want to be outside or other places, not sitting around in the house. Part of it is that we are all trying to read more. You don’t have much time for the TV or computer when you are trying to read every extra minute of the day. Whatever the reasons, moving away from screen time is a good thing. My migraines have totally stopped since I lost my phone a week ago and stopped staring at the tiny screen and my son isn’t constantly asking for TV. Its nice. Right now he’s sitting on the couch “Reading” a book of poetry.

Another change we would like to implement (we haven’t succeeded yet) is eating at home more. We said that when we moved to Portland we were going to “get in shape” and “be healthy”. Well, with all the delicious, not great for you food out here, that hasn’t happened. Ace stopped losing weight and I started gaining weight. There are tons of healthy options to eat out with here, but the BBQ, noodles, and sushi, are often too tempting. I love a good pulled pork sandwich or a slab of ribs covered in sauce with a big piece of cornbread, but its not exactly the lunch of champions… So we are trying to get better. This week I planned to eat all our breakfasts at home and planned out 3 lunches and 3 dinners. We have food for a little more than that, but I know I will be cooking 3 dinners at home this week. That will be the best since we moved (yeah.. there have been a lot of pizzas and burritos the last few weeks). Hopefully we can save a few dollars this was too, but the quality of the food I’m buying makes eating at home just as expensive most of the time.

We are also becoming more relaxed. That’s just how things are around here. The neighbor across the street runs a garage out of his…well, garage… and he works at his own pace. It was a little annoying how long it took him to look at my car, but I learned a bit about how Oregonians work and live and became a little envious of him. He said “I work on farmer time, but I’ll only ever change you book time, probably less” (in fact he did my car for free that day). Somedays he takes all day to get one car done, other days he’ll push though four in a few hours, but most days are the former. Its importnat to note that its culturally acceptable to drink beer or smoke pot pretty much anywhere at anytime, so that certainly helps people to relax. Our mechanic neighbor has offered me beer as early as 10am. This isn’t to say there aren’t busy people, but here in SE Portland they are sparse, and I like it.   I’m learning from the neighbors how to relax and not always be in a hurry, this is causing us all a lot less stress. Somedays we just sit around in the front yard. I’m take the bus places, which means walking (sometimes 6 blocks to the 19 route), waiting (up to 20 minutes), then riding (up to an hour), all opposed to a 20 minute car drive. Making life slow down a bit. But when you have time to spare its not a big deal. You meet interesting people and expose yourself (and your child) to new experiences. Our pace of life is just slowing down and I like it, a lot.

The last part the puzzle that needs to fall into place is making money, and becoming more self sufficient  I’ve already started by trying to do my own minor repairs and installations around the house. Some I’ve succeeded in, (refurbishing a table, installing curtains), some not so much (like that shelf for the bathroom that is now in the closet). I never leaned how to use drywall mounts or fix a toilet or make compost as a kid, but thats not going to stop me. With books and the internet I can do almost anything. Once I can buy a saw I’ll really be set. Its looking like Ace is going to get an awesome part time job teaching guitar and piano, between that and renter income we should be set. If I can make a few bucks here and there building or fixing something and then selling it, even better.  I’m considering trying to build basic skate ramps and selling them. In our neighborhood alone, I know that would be a hit.

Our lifestyle is changing a lot, but its for the better and I really like it. I’m hoping along with these changes means more writing and regular blog posts too, so keep checking back.

Healthy Eating: The Basics

I am by no means any sort of expert on eating well. In fact I can’t even manage to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight on a consistant basis! But I’ve made a lot of progress the last 3 years or so, so here I am writing about it! 

Today at Meijer I met a bagger I actually liked.

That alone is a miracle.

Anyway, he commented on my groceries saying, “I notice all the young people eat pretty healthy while the older people eat really bad”

First of all, I’ve always wondered if baggers judge what people are buying or more specifically if they judge me for buying all organic but never bothering to use reusable bags and thinking that I’m a hypocrite. Apparently the do! But, back to the point….

I told him that having a kid really makes you re-think what you eat. And he told me how in general more and more of his college friends are paying better attention to what they eat and noticing that they feel better when they eat well. He also told me that he cooks all his own food at his studio apartment and that hes a vegetarian because its cheeper to eat healthy if you don’t eat meat.

Some people like this kid are really catching on. What we eat matters! It matters A LOT! Some people want to change but still need a little help, others just need a reminder of how to keep up. Here are my very basics on eating healthy:

1. Eat Organic

Search the “Dirty Dozen” to see where you should eat organic first! Its an expensive switch that we’ve done over time. We started with dairy and meat, then added apples, then added veggies, then other fruits. Now we barely eat any dairy, so that is a non-issue. Organic meat is amazingly different that non-organic. Free range meat is even better.

2. Eat Local

Know your farmer. Seriously, if you know where you’re food comes from you know what’s in it. Factory food is is awful, full of chemicals, anti-biotics, hormones, and more. We buy most of our food at our local farmer’s market and literally know some of the farmers! I get my eggs from various family members that raise their own chickens, some of the chickens I’ve met! There are more benefits to eating local that I can list but in short; you know what’s in your food, you are eating what is in season, and you aren’t wasting money or energy on gas to trasport food across the country.

3. Pay attention to WHAT you eat

I read recently “People on any diet are healthier than those that aren’t on any” and it went on to say that if you are paying attention to what you eat and being strict about it, whether its low carb, paleo, vegetarian, doesn’t matter. People that pay attention to what they eat are healthier. It also mentioned to be careful what friends you hang out with when you eat. If you hang out with friends with poor eating habits you are much more likely to eat poorly. My only direct advice on specifically what to eat or not eat would be to avoid sugar as much as possible and to limit carbs. More and more studies are showing how blood sugar spikes are horrible for all aspects of health and limiting carbs and eating lots of protein is the best defense against this.

4. Eat at HOME

When you meal plan and eat at home you can know what exactly what you are eating. There are no lingering questions like, “Did they make this with milk?”, “Did they wash this salad?”, or “Is there corn syrup in  this?” You know what you make. Also you end up eating less, and most often, end up paying less. Around here it is hard to come by restaurants that use organic ingredients anyway so by eating out I’m already lowering my standards. I’ve found that lack of planning is what kills me in this department! Meal planning is your friend! Even if its only 1 or 2 days out, PLAN!

For more info on eating healthy I would highly recommend watching “Food Inc.” and “Forks over Knives”. I also learned a lot from the book “Master Your Metabolism” which has a lot of info about how chemicals change how our body functions.