Monday, February 27, 2012

Mennonite-tis: A Case of Better Living

Our slow shift in lifestyle choices has become the butt of many jokes, recently.
After a few of our Let's Become Mormons jokes
were taken too seriously, I think it is time to
shed some light on our "alternative lifestyle".

Signs of Mennonite-tis:
 - We grow much of our own food and buy things like syrup, eggs, butter, apple cider, carrots and kohlrabi from local farmers markets.
- We don't buy fast food or coffee drinks, and rarely go out to eat.
We do get pizza once a month, or so. 
- We don't have cable TV. 
When we want to stare at a screen for a prolonged period of time,
we can watch stuff online or on Netflix. The internet is our main news source.
We read the paper and listen to NPR and other radio stations.
- We keep the heat down in our house, and supplement
with the two cords of wood we picked up late last year.
- We walk, bike and bus to work whenever possible.
- We're learning new skills!
The more people we meet, the more we have to learn.
Some of our current study topics include
herbalism, passive building and solar energy, plant identification,
animal husbandry (looks like we're getting rabbits at the Garden!),
pioneer recipes and food preservation, basic construction,
furniture building and restoration,
and how to keep our cats from eating violets.

 Note the fine beard and willingness to work hard with 
like-minded folks for food, not money.

Since late December, I have been making bread
every few days. It's easy, healthy, and much cheaper
than buying it from the grocery store. 
The quality of bread we eat is on par with
artisan loaves, and smells so good!

 Plenty of bread means plenty of ingredients. 
We've ordered bulk amounts white flour, wheat flour, rolled oats, 
quick oats, yeast, sugars and more from ELFCO
These buckets have Gamma Lids, which are a life saver! 
Sean found a great company out in Utah that sells all sorts of 
long-term food storage things, like oxygen-eating packets to 
put in with bulk foods - they'll keep for 25 years!

 My first rag rug, made of unwanted bed sheets.
This is just one example of "old-timey"
craft projects currently under way.

Just to be clear, we are not currently planning on
converting to the Mennonite lifestyle
(though I'm sure it is lovely). 
We just think it's awfully funny to say we have Mennonite-tis, 
because it sounds like Meningitis and we are goofy.

We do these things because we want to. 
Financially, it's much sounder. Healthier, too. 
We have a greater respect for the things we
eat, make and use. We care more about where our
food comes from, and enjoy supporting
 local businesses instead of Big Box stores.
And hey, if the zombie apocalypse comes earlier than expected 
we'll have a good chance of outlasting the first wave of chaos.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cat in a Box

Today at the Garden I had the rather
coveted job of planting seedlings. 
Some of the less liked but equally important jobs
consisted of mucking in the compost pile to
air it out a bit, sorting out dirt-filled tubs and buckets, 
and thinning some of the sprouted seedlings. 
Thinning is a bit sad, and feels a bit like playing God.
After Sean shored up the next compost pile zone, 
he helped plant FOUR flats of seedlings
We planted mostly greens - arugula (my favorite),
Red Russian Kale, Curly Green Kale,
some Swiss Chard and spinach. 

Our hoop house house is doing nicely,
after many weeks of existence. 
Our permits came a few days ago,
it is finally a legal structure!
The steel frame modification we did with
garden posts has held, and I couldn't hear the high winds
from inside the tight plastic walls. 
The huge compost and vermicompost piles
keep things at a toasty 90 degrees, 
and the worm pile was steady at 115 degrees at its core. 
We're keeping the seedling flats on top of
the piles (which are covered with straw), 
and the added warmth has made for
some happy little sprouts!

I was knocked down by a horrible cold earlier this week,
and I'm still recovering. The silver lining is that I enjoyed the
6 to 8 inches of snow from inside our cosy house. 
I missed the long walks, but not the shoveling. 
I probably should have gone to the doctor by now,
but it's on the docket for this week. 
Tomorrow I'm back to the book shop and Lansing
will be back above freezing, mostly.

Sean has been slaving over our future dining room table. 
My dad's parents bought it in the mid-1950s, 
and their family of eight used it until they replaced it in the 1980s. 
My parents took it, and served us well in Rochester Hills,
then Dallas, before coming to a rather uncomfortable
resting place in our garage 
when we moved back to Michigan.
Ten years later, Sean and I carted it up to
 Lansing with the hopes of restoring it.

As we scrubbed off old stains and peeled off
strips of masking tape, we became rather fond of the Table.
Sean then spent an alarming number 
of hours alone with the Table, battling the
most stubborn mold stain that has ever existed. 
It took a trip to Vet's Hardware, after trying four local shops, 
but we found the necessary secret weapon: Oxcylic Acid. 
Since the acid worked it's magic the table has been bleached, 
sanded, dismantled and clamped together again... sort of.

Rather than give you what you want, 
here is a photo of ANOTHER table that 
Sean pieced back together and shined up. 
He was a freshman in The Fraternity
when an older brother bought this 
House of Denmark table with Italian marble slabs. 
It was abused over the years, and the
current cast of brothers was about to throw it away!

And of course, Derf.
Sean made what he assures me is a state-of-the-art cat box. 
I think he meant it for the Little Kitten, but Derf took it for herself.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Kittens and Dragons

 As part of my Super Top Secret Project, I've made a make-shift photo studio in our study.
When not in use, it has become Little Kitten's favorite new play area.

Also, we have a pet dragon:

Sean built us a nifty cold frame to cover our little square-foot garden.
Last month (too early, I know!) we planted spinach seeds for some early greens.
They have finally begun to germinate.
Our trusty Swiss Chard seems to have made it through the winter.
I'm hoping that the 6 INCHES OF SNOW we're supposed to
receive tonight/tomorrow won't set us back too badly.

Book Review: When Maidens Mourn by C. S. Harris

I've just finished reading the latest installment in C.S. Harris's Sebastian St. Cyr mystery series.


This tasty little historical thriller, set in Georgian England, features a cast of deliciously wealthy, charismatic aristocrats tied up in a murder case unlike any other.

Gabrielle Tennyson, a progressive woman scholar from a preeminent family, is found dead. Her two young nephews have gone missing. French and English espionage, prisoners of war, forbidden love, unscrupulous academics and government conspiracy and cover-up all add to the excitement. Greed, self-interest and a few very well-kept secrets made this book enjoyably tumultuous until the end.

Intrigue and romance abound, but Harris impressed me with her scholarship. Delicately woven into her well-wrought story are lesser members of the Tennyson family, and the book radiates imagery from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's beautiful poem, The Lady of Shalott. Arthurian legends and English history also play a large part in this book's galloping plot made this book very fun to read!

I haven't had the opportunity to read other of the six (!) books from Harris's Sebastian St. Cyr series, but I hope to do so soon. I came to this book with no former knowledge of St. Cyr or his independent new bride, Hero (nee Jarvis). Harris did a wonderful job of providing enough back story about their tumultuous relationship without overwhelming or confusing the reader.

This book was reminiscent of two other period mysteries I've very much enjoyed over the last few years, Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation series and the India Black series by by the talented Carol K. Carr. Although When Maidens Mourn is similar to both of these series in many way, the well-crafted characters and bedeviled murder case truly set Harris apart from her talented peers. If you're a fan of Willig or Carr, snap up a copy of this latest by Harris. You won't be disappointed.

I also must congratulate the jacket artist, Adam Auerbach, for designing such an attractive book. It drips with decadence, and I am not ashamed to say that this book's cover successfully lured me.

As I am not a mystery reader by nature, I am very glad to have received a free, advance copy of this novel from the publisher, Obsidian (of Penguin). The release date for this book is March 6, 2012.