The Farmer's Market: Week 3

I've never really looked forward to grocery shopping before. I've never dreaded it, but it's also never been on my list of favorite things to do. But I look forward to the Farmer's Market. All week long, it seems like I'm thinking ahead and planning for what I'm going to buy that Saturday Every week, there's something new to try. And even better is that I'm saving money. Each weekly trip to Meijer seemed to cost me at least $80. I've been spending between $30 and $40 each week at the market, then an additional $15, maybe, for other items that have to come from the store (crackers, milk, pizza crusts, tortillas, etc).

This week I got zucchini, a whole free-range chicken, free-range eggs, 2 types of tiny plums, mozzerella cheese, a pound of butter, peaches, and a small basket of tomatoes. I ordered a food mill from Lehmen's, and I'm going to attempt to make my own tomato sauce over the next few days. Stand by for that adventure!

Over the past 2 weeks, my eating habits have changed drastically. Since I made a pledge to abstain from eating meat and dairy products of unknown origins, I've eaten a TON of salad. Every night I have a salad for dinner at work, either one I bring with me or from whichever restaurant my partner and I choose. When I'm at home, I snack on fresh fruits and veggies or whatever Ive baked recently. I still eat some junk food (cookies, homemade pizza), but I'm getting better. This will be an interesting journey...


I like meat, but...

This just about made me sick. God gave us the earth and its creatures to take care of, not to be cruel to. I do eat meat. I will continue to eat meat. But I think I'm done with meat from factory farms. This is disgusting. I don't want to eat something that has lived in its own shit, then fed antibiotics just to keep it alive in the terrible conditions. I want healty, naturally raised food. "Farms" like these are just another reason to know where your food comes from and how it was treated before it came to your table. When eating out, I'll take the salad, please. Pesticides and all.

This video is pretty graphic in spots. Fair warning. One of the clips that really got to me was edited out of this video. It showed a calf that couldn't walk being dragged around by one rear leg by a man at an auction. The calf was kicking and bawling, and when it struggled he's just yank on its leg harder. Maybe not as terrible has some of the clips of dying animals dragging themselves around, but it just really bothered me.

Please watch this. You deserve to know what you're eating. You, and the animals we eat, deserve better.


Help, I'm turning into a hippie!

Well, almost. I still take baths :)

Yesterday I made and used my first batch of homemade laundry soap. I used the most common recipe, which is 1 c of grated bar soap (I used Fels-Naptha, but I'll be looking for a biodegradable alternative for next time), 1/2 c of washing soda, and 1/2 c borax. For a standard washing machine, 1 - 2 T should be plenty. We have a HE washer, so I used a little under 1T. Everything came out flean and fresh, and there was no static in the dryer! It also didn't have a strong scent like commercial detergents, so that was nice was well. We have extremely hard water, and we didn't notice a problem with the detergent like we did with "natural" automatic dishwashing agents. At approximately $0.01 per load, I can see this will save us a ton of money!

This morning I ventured out the the Walkerton Dairy Herd Farm to take a tour and learn about raw milk. Since we're talking about procreating, the idea of hormones and antibiotics in my body is starting to worry me more. Although our government prohibits the sale of unpasteurized milk in Indiana, they can't keep you from milking your own cows and drinking it. The WDH sells shares of cows, and you are legally able to keep the milk that "your" cows produce.

The facility was very clean and pleasant. The cows appeared healthy and happy. I got a tour of the "bottling plant" where the cows are milked and the milk is bottled and refrigerated. Then, I got to sample some of the product. I was a little nervous about this part. I've grown up hearing that whole milk tastes awful, and that it has tons of bad things in it. I'm starting to accept this as the bullshit it is, but I was still a little leary about drinking milk straight out of a cow. Oddly, I was more worried about taste than safety. The way I figure, people have been drinking milk straight from the cow (or goat, or yak, or whatever) for thousands of years. We've still progressed. Our species has survived. I think our society as a whole worries too much about germs and bacteria. But I digress...

The milk tasted like milk :) It had a milder taste than even 1% milk, even though it had lots of cream floating in it. She had to shake it before she poured in, since the cream floats to the top. It did have a slightly grassy aftertaste, which was a little odd, but not bothersome. Pasteurized, homogenized milk might have an aftertaste too, we're just so used to it that we don't notice it.

I haven't yet decided whether raw milk is for me or not. I hate how it's so difficult to find unbiased information. The government claims raw milk is evil and will make you sick. It also claims that pasteurization doesn't kill any enzymes or reduce vitamin content. Raw milk proponents claim that unpasteurized milk is healthier and can cure or eliminate many common health problems. I need to find information that isn't propaganda!


Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner!

After more bathroom agony (mine from thinking so much, Shayne's from having to listen to all my ideas and deal with my flip-flopping), we've come to a decision. Finally. Here is the winning plan for the bathroom:

Ironically, it's the layout I came up with before we even moved into the house. But at least now I know I've examined any alternatives and it really is the best choice for us. I get my clawfoot tub, Shayne gets his shower, everyone is happy. And it looks absoloutely wonderful in Diane's bathroom, which is nearly identical to ours:

We have an appointment to go visit a clawfoot tub on Tuesday. It's a 5.5' one, so it's a little bigger than the one we saved from our rental hovel. Hopefully it will accomodate Shayne's 6'2" frame better than the 5' one. I'm not looking forward to the expensive faucet hardware, but it's still cheaper than a $1500 new tub.


Thanks Greg!

Thanks to Greg over at the Petch House, I might just have a solution to our bathroom dilemma. My main reason for wanting to have a bigger bathroom is to have a clawfoot tub. Shayne refuses to shower in one, since he says the curtain sucks in at you from all sides and makes it a very confining experience. Enter Greg's clawfoot shower. I read about this when he posted about laying his bathroom tile, then promptly forgot about it, since it didn't really apply to me at the time. Then I found a post on OldHouseWeb's bulletin boards about showering in a clawfoot tub. And bells started going off in my head.

Greg's shower curtain doesn't go around his tub, it just blocks the rest of the bathroom from the spray. There's a small drain under the tub to collect water that goes overboard, so there are no worries about flooding. This might be good for us since we plan on having kidlets, and kidlets tend to splash water around. This would also be good for us, since it would keep the curtain from sucking in at you.
This idea could be implemented by leaving the tub where it is, and adding the alcove for the sink. It would save us a TON of money. Hmmm...


Surprises in the walls

Today I tackled a project I had been dreading. As part of our office renovation, we're closing off the opening the PPOs made that leads into the hall closet. We're also re-opening the doorway of the original closet, which I found when I tore down some paneling. That was a good surprise, since I had been considering putting a closet there anyways. I couldn't have been happier when I found out that was how the house had been originally. Today was a bad surprise.

In order to make the "new"-original closet more functional, we wanted to expand the doorway so that it opens on the full width of the closet. The original opening was 24" wide. To use that closet with a 24" door, we'd either have to use it as a tiny walk-in closet with the rod hanging perpendicular to the doorway na dhave a 2.5' long rod, or hang it parallel and only be able to reach half of our clothes. Neither idea sounded very good, which is how the dreaded project came about.

The plan was to knock out 3' of the wall next to the closet doorway, allowing the full width of the closet to be accessed. We'd then hang some nice frame-and-panel bifolds or two 24" pine doors that match the house. Even though the ieda of knocking out the original plaster made me cringe, I comforted myself with the idea that we'd be making the house more functional, not screwing it up like the PPOs had.

I grabbed a crowbar and spent a few minutes looking at the wall to be demolished. In the entire office, this was one of the few areas of completely good plaster. No cracks, no nail holes, no real damage of any kind. I felt terribly guilty for whacking my crowbar into it, but that's exactly what I did. I hoped that as I went, I would be able to gleefully tear down the lath and bash my crowbar into the plaster. Isn't that how most folks feel? I see all these pictures on the internet of demolition parties, and I should have been happy to finally take out some of my stress on the house.

But no, not me. I cried as I pulled down the plaster and lath, bit by careful bit. I'm glad nobody was there to see me, as I must have looked absoloutely crazy. I felt like I was butchering my house. I was taking something created almost 100 years ago and wrecking it. This plaster could never be replaced. I could cover up the hole I was making with drywall, or even hire a plasterer to replaster, but the original wavy horsehair-lime-and-sand plaster would be gone forever. Ugh.

It took me about 45 minutes to remove 18 square feet of plaster and lath. I spent about half that time in tears. Seriously. I'm all sniffly again just thinking about it. I don't know how people can stand to gut their houses. Unless my plaster was ruined beyond all repair, it woud probably kill me. Thankfully, this is the only plaster in the house we have plans to remove.

After the first few pieces of lath were off, I noticed this at the floor:

"How cool," I thought. "They left the old knob and tube in the wall when they updated the electrical." The PPOs were kind of lazy, and they'd left the old sash weights in the windows, as well as unused ductwork and other oddities.

The work progressed to this:

And then this:

Oh, but do you notice something a little odd? Yep, right near the top, the old K & T is connected to a new wire that runs into the attic, servicing God-alone-knows-what.

Freaking awesome. The lazy PPOs had upgraded to a circuit breaker and a few GFCI outlets (probably not even actually grounded), but they'd obviously left at least some of the old wiring in the walls and spliced it to the new stuff. Who knows how much of this is hidden in the walls? I don't know much about electrical, but I know it's expensive, and I know that if I find something that's a code violation or safety hazard, I'm obligated to fix it. If for no other reason than if my house burns down, I want my insurance company to cover it.

Some folks find money in their walls. Other people find nifty little antiques. I find a swirling vortex of doom that magically sucks the money out of my bank account.


Closet vs bathroom

Planning for the bathroom remodel is giving me fits. I'm almost seriously considering taking over the hall closet just to be able to make the bathroom bigger. And then I think about the lost storage, and resale value of a home with only small-ish closets in the bedrooms, and how much I hate the PPOs for screwing up the house to begin with. And then there's the fact that someday (soon, hopefully!), we're going to have a baby. I know that closet space will come in handy So I go back to my home design software and try yet again to find a way to make the bathroom work.

The least expensive way would be to leave the fixtures pretty much where they are. Since the bathroom is so awkward as-is, I could borrow a little space from the closet to make an alcove for the sink. It would open up the floor plan quite a bit, but then the closet would be slightly awkward instead of the bathroom. Would it really matter if we had a weird closet? Would future owners hate me?

We could always make a deep toilet alcove, instead. That saves the closet from awkwardness, but involves moving more plumbing...

The original plan called for moving all the fixtures, which our plumber said he could do for less than $800. But then there's the issue of waterproofing the window. And finding a 5.5' tub that doesn't cost $1500.
Or, I could just leave well-enough alone. We're pretty used to the layout now, and it's probably how it was originally. It's only awkward when one of us wants to get past the other person in front of the sink, and that doen't happen too often. It would leave the hall closet intact, plus we'd still have room in the bathroom for storage.

Another option is to lay it out like SactoDiane over at the OldHouseWeb forums: we could just cram it all in there. Somehow it looks nice in her bathroom, but I worry that mine would be cramped.

And then I think again about taking over the closet. It would add 24 square feet to the 60 square foot bathroom. Since the PPO's messed up the closets, we're getting by without the extracloset space now. We could have a separate shower and bath. And, I could have a clawfoot tub, as long as it's a 6' model (did I mention there's one on craigslist for sale nearby??). Hubby refuses to take a shower in one, since he says the curtain gets sucked in and sticks to you, but he doesn't mind them for soaking. Homes with larger bathrooms (74 square feet is hardly large by modern standards, but still!) have higher resale values, too. We'll have more storage anyways when we expand the back "porch" across the entire length of the house. And there's always the basement. And what really needs to be stored up here besides the linens and our clothes? Maybe most importantly, to us, the bathroom would be our little oasis from the chaos of remodeling; the one luxurious space in our utilitarian, efficient little house.

Or perhaps like this one...

Am I nuts for considering this? Help!


South Bend Farmers Market

This morning I took a trip to the South Bend Farmers Market. This was not my first trip there; my mom and I have shopped there intermittently since we moved to the area 16 years ago. This was, however, my first trip where I was planning on buying everything I need for a week's worth of eating and cooking. I noticed quite a few things that I never did before, since my priorities have shifted a bit.

First, I never really realized the variety of food available. Just about everything that's available at the local Meijer could be found at the market, although possibly in a different form. Noodles for example. One booth had fresh noodles, but nowhere near the number of sizes and shapes that you can find in a grocery. You can also find bread, baked goods, and soaps.

I also noticed that not everything is local. There's one produce booth that offers fruits and veggies from all over the country. I avoided them, since I am trying to buy all local items. I think they have an actual store somewhere, but bring some of their inventory to sell on weekends.

One of the butchers at the market offers rabbit. I'll have to give that a try. This was the only booth that offered local meats. I didn't realize this and bought from the other butcher. That's something to remedy next week.

Vendors offer homemade sauces, salsas, dressings, and jams/jellies. I'd like to learn to make my own, but this is a guilt-free option until then.

Two booths offer homemade spices, and several others have fresh herbs. Potted plants are also available. One vendor even had a large pot growing salad greens. You just pick what you want, when you want for only $7.50. I'm thinking about buying one of those...

I can buy local eggs and butter. Free range, chemical free eggs are only $2 a dozen. Meijer wants $3.79. Butter was $4 for a "roll" which looked like about 2 lbs. Wow!

The market accepts WIC. Anyone who says local, fresh produce is unavailable for the lower classes is sadly misinformed. Tha market is located centrally, easily accesible from either Mishawaka or South Bend. It's also on the bus line, which is very inexpensive ($.75 for a regular fare, or $.35 for Medicare cardholders).

Another thing I loved is that you can buy just the quantity you want. I'm going to make a pasta dish this week that requires a small quantity of mushrooms. Instead of buying 12 oz and scrambling to find something to make with the remainder before they go bad, I just bought 6 little mushrooms that I selected myself. I was also able to buy a little basket of redskin potatoes for only $1. It's just enough for a meal for Shayne and I.

Maybe best of all, from an environmental standpoint, is that the food isn't packaged. I brought my own produce bags that I had aquired at the grocery store, and carried everything in my canvas tote. Aside from the paper wrapped around the meats, there was no waste.

I'm pretty excited by the whole experience. I bought a couple of cookbooks this morning to help me on my new quest to use more whole foods, and I'm sure the market will open up more possibilities once I know how to cook better. As for today, dinner is roasted chicken, carrots or broccoli (there were heads the size of my head!), and redskin mashed potatoes. Nothing fancy, but it's all homemade!


Good ol' Catholic guilt

I'm feeling a lot of guilt lately about food. Not that I eat too much of it, though I probably do, but about its nutritional content and the effect my choices have on the world.

I was talking to my mom this weekend, and I realized that there is more to the generational gap than I thought. My generation (I'm 25) grew up in a completely different world. I'm not just talking about technological innovation, though that's part of it; I'm talking (mostly)about food.

Today, in the age of Meijer, Super Walmart, Super Target, and Big K (not to mention the other superstores found around the country), foods are available in varieties and quantities that absoloutely amaze me. In any food store, there are aisles and aisles of food: cookies, crackers, soups, cakes, noodles, veggies, fruits, chips, bread, soda, and more. Low fat, no fat, low carb, no sugar added, all natural, organic. I tend to stick to my established favorites, otherwise the sheer number of options just staggers me.

I try to eat healthy foods. I buy organic when I can. For the rest of it, I stay away from high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated or artificial anything. Chemicals in my food scare me.

I thought I was doing pretty well with my choices. And then I read This Organic Life by Joan Dye Gussow. Talk about food for thought...

Joan talks about food as it relates to life. About raising food to eat, about connection with the natural world, about how life is influenced by the foods we eat. Joan reminded me of things I knew, but wasn't thinking about.

We as a culture are severely separated from nature. This was happening with my mom's generation, but more so with mine. Our food just appears in the store or at the market, and we have no connection with it whatsoever. I usually don't know where my food comes from. I don't know which part of a cow a sirloin steak is. I wouldn't recognize a potato plant if it was growing in my yard. And I know there are people worse than me! I've considered myself close to nature, since I camp and backpack (and not in a camper or campground!). I've been on the right track, but missing the bigger picture.

Connection with the natural world isn't just about recycling, or buying organic, or hiking on weekends. It's thinking long and hard about how every aspect of your life will impact the earth.

I thought I was doing a good thing by buying organic, but it's not enough. Even though there are no pesticides used, the food still has to be transported many, many miles to be brought to the store. Most of the organic produce at my local Meijer comes from California or even South America. All that fuel used and pollution produced in transportation really cancels out any gain from the lack of pesticides. It may even be worse overall for the environment. Go figure.

I tried to plant a garden this year. It was something of a half-assed attempt, since I really didn't know what I was doing, and I didn't take the time to research much. It turns out that my "garden" is in much too shady of an area, and the critters in the yard ate most of the seeds anyways. I'll definitely be trying again next year, with a new garden in the northern portion of the yard, which receives full sun. Until then, I'm going to buy in-season produce from my local farmer's market. I'm still going to try my great canning experiment in the fall and work harder towards using more whole foods.

It seems like every day it's pointed out to me again and again that the way we live is wrong. It's bad for us, it's bad for the environment. Our priorities are all screwed up. All of the progress we've made in technology has resulted in a "rich" country, but we've lost our basic survival skills. We've lost the simple pleasures. I feel like I've lost my bearings and that nothing is that it seems. In the sea of commercialism and consumerism, is it even possible to live a simple life?