Tuesday, April 22, 2008

our cargo bike

Remember my post about our "new" (old) Craigslist bike? Back in November, when oil was $96 a barrel? Ha ha!

Well, autumn changed into winter, winter changed into spring (ahh, nice). Many a pretty day has come and gone but I kept forgetting to take a picture. So here you go:

Consider it my contribution to Earth Day (although if you want some real perspective, read what my mom has to say).

As you can see, I did install the wire pannier baskets, with the help of the great folks at our local bike co-op. In this picture, I've got my grocery bags in there, ready to go. The woven front basket came from a friend.

We have both really loved riding this bike so far. We're fortunate in that we're about the same height, so we can share.

What you can't see is that there are two glass milk bottles in that green bag. It's taken a little improvisation to figure what to do with fragile groceries, but I've found that making a "bumper" out of something softer (a bag of rice, maybe) to go in between the bottles works well. Eggs are a challenge, too, but not as much if I remember to bring along a dish towel in which to wrap the carton, and pack it in a secure position. So far we haven't had any bike-related mishaps (knock on wood).

Now that the weather is getting warmer, I might try riding longer distances. The less I have to get in that car, the better.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

curds and whey

For the last few weeks, I've been making the household's weekly quart o' yogurt. Praise is due to Mama Monster, although our yogurt technique is more low-tech. Just follow these simple directions and you too can change a quart of milk (plus a couple spoonfuls of yogurt) into a quart (plus a few spoonfuls) of yogurt! All you need is two pots, a kitchen thermometer, a towel, and some heat.

At least for the milk and yogurt we get, it's actually much cheaper to just buy the milk and turn it into yogurt ourselves ($2.25 for a quart of milk vs $4.00 for a quart of yogurt).

Every beginner's bound to slip up sometime, though. Witness today, when I left the improvised double-boiler to heat up about a hundred degrees above 110°F. The water boiled, the bacteria got crazy and died, the milk curdled and separated, and I got disappointed. Considering I had made a double batch this time to bring some for a work colleague, I pouted and kvetched to Maria all evening long.

But Maria saved the evening with an inspirational turn of phrase:

"When life gives you schlimazel, make cheese!"

And thus, dear readers, was born Schlimazel Cheese. Or maybe Schlimazel Quark.

The full array: bowl, strainer, spoon, cheesecloth, salt. That's all it takes, folks, for reals.


Friday, April 18, 2008

current events

[In the car. Khymi and I have just heard the subject of today's Talk of the Nation Science Friday. I explain that the people on the radio are talking about the President's (losership) plan for what we should do about global warming]...

Khymi: Well, why doesn't he want them to stop polluting?
Maria: He has to care about a lot of different problems as President. And I think maybe he worries more about these companies making enough money than about--
Khymi: Snow???

[more talk of what the next President might do differently, the elections]

[Khymi ponders]

"...I wish I were a grown-up. ...No, I wish I were a fairy."

Grown-ups' powers are finite. It's a sad fact.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

the buy nothing challenge and i

Buy Nothing Challenge - April 2008

This month I'm participating in Crunchy Chicken's Buy Nothing Challenge. It's gone pretty well so far. Of course, it's easy not to buy stuff when you really can't afford to, although it seems like folks manage to do that, too. My problem was, I actually had some stuff I had planned to buy this month. But a couple of loopholes in the challenge rules made it possible: it's okay to buy supplies for growing your own food (ha-ha) and it's okay to buy stuff used.

Here is what I've allowed myself to spend money on since the beginning of the month:
  • gas (ugh)
  • groceries
  • car maintenance
  • a haircut (nothing more)
  • gardening tools (a start-up investment and hopefully a one-time purchase)
  • a couple of serendipitous trips to the thrift store (where I actually did find a pair of roller skates that fits Khymi, miraculously; ten 24-ounce mason jars, and an old one of these for 69 cents)
  • a literary magazine and a ticket to a play at the Baltimore '68 conference
  • reasonably-priced dinner with a friend
I think that's all. And I think most of it (arguably) falls under stuff that's allowed, since most of it isn't actually stuff, and almost none of what is stuff is newly-manufactured.

What's been nice about the challenge so far is that I've also felt inspired to get rid of some stuff--since I'm a little bit of a thrift store addict (shopping there isn't what I would consider a sacrifice), I made a rule for myself that I have to take something to donate any time I want to buy something. As a result, I've also had to think more about buying stuff that will last for a long time--stuff I won't just want to get rid of in a couple of years. I've also had to think about what I can just make myself instead of buying (most of this falls under the food category anyway, though...more on that later).

Maybe, come May, I'll be up for the Extreme Eco Throwdown.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

FYI: King Corn on PBS tonight

Tonight we'll be watching the new documentary about our country's corn industry, King Corn, for free on PBS's Independent Lens. (Follow the link to check your local listings--for folks in our area, it'll be on WETA Channel 26 at 10 PM).

Hope you get to see it, too!


little farmers

We were happy to have Khymi here for a few days last week. It seemed like she wanted to spend every spare moment in the garden, getting friends and neighbors in on the action whenever possible. Even just in the last year, I feel like she's gone from being this little kid who constantly needs help (or thinks she does) to being capable of just about anything. Sometimes she still needs a step stool, though.


Sunday, April 6, 2008

treat yourself to some greenergy

A few months ago, my nearby aunt and uncle told us that our local energy provider, Pepco, offers 100% wind power. A little investigation revealed that Pepco does indeed have a private subsidiary, Pepco Energy Services, that offers residential power generation/transmission from either (1) 100% wind sources or (2) a mix of wind, solar, hydro, and biomass.

Great, think the skeptics, but only chi-chi yuppies can afford the whole "green" racket, right?

Sorry, dear skeptics, but the price tag for either source turns out to be only TWO CENTS more per kWh than your nasty (NOT the least bit "clean") coal or nuclear power. Last month, this amounted to a difference of SEVEN DOLLARS.

(We opted for wind because we were uneasy about some of the ecological dangers of hydroelectric dams and biomass. And because windmills are just doggone cool, notwithstanding the NIMBY naysayers.)

Honestly, coal and nuclear just aren't as pretty.

To recap:
For seven dollars a month, you can
(a) save part of the world's oldest mountains, North America's largest contiguous forest, and lots of poor folks' lives, homes, schools, drinking water, roads, and health, all of which are destroyed by destructive mountaintop removal mining,
(b) save tons of carbon emissions at the other end of the coal power process, thereby helping stop global warming,
(c) save tons of other pollutant emissions from coal-fired power plants, and
(c) reduce the dangers for humans and other life from nuclear waste, nuclear energy production, and nuclear catastrophe (not that nuclear production offers much for efficient carbon reduction, either).

How about that, folks?

Now, of course, that cost difference (i.e., our $7) varies with power consumption. But cutting down on power use is easily within a household's grasp: the key is just to unplug or shut off ("standby" doesn't count!) things you're not using anyway, such as phone chargers, coffee makers, stereos, TVs, microwaves, computers, and so forth. They're not doing anything but costing you money!

Aha, pipe up the skeptics, this is all well and good for you Marylanders with your Pepco, but who's to say we could get a similar deal in Minnesota, Wyoming, Maine, etc.?

Oho, quoth we in the Small Red House, who's to say you can't?


welcome little M

Our friends at nurtureblog have a new daughter! Congrats to mother, father and big brother N :)


Friday, April 4, 2008

live from baltimore '68

Well, not really. I don't have a laptop, so I'm in a computer lab. But anyway, this weekend at the University of Baltimore, we're looking back forty years.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed on April 4, 1968 in Memphis. Here in Baltimore, and in cities across the country, the proverbial camel's back broke as people looted, burned and destroyed their own neighborhoods out of anger and exasperation. Some of Baltimore's neighborhoods are just beginning to recover; some never recovered.

What does this have to do with me, someone who wasn't even a glimmer in anyone's eye in 1968 (in fact, the year my parents met)? For the last year, I have been helping out as an intern with Baltimore '68: Riots and Rebirth, UB's project studying the riots and their aftermath. My job as a student oral historian has been to interview Baltimoreans who lived through the riots about their experiences, and to transcribe and edit the interviews so they can be archived as oral histories for future researchers.

(continue reading by clicking "full post")

I initially took the internship because I was looking for part-time work, and because I have a tolerance (a preference, even) for tedious, time-consuming, single-task activity like transcribing and editing. I didn't really expect that I'd be hearing such incredible stories from such a diverse scope of interviewees, younger and older, black and white.

What I also didn't expect was what more I'd learn about Martin Luther King, whose name has become as ubiquitous as Thomas Jefferson's but whose deeds and philosophies are just as vaguely perceived. If you'd asked me what I knew about King last year, I'd probably say the same thing most people of my generation would say: something involving preacher and civil rights leader, Montgomery bus boycott, nonviolent protest, "I Have a Dream", assassinated at a young age. That guy.

One of the interviewees (PDF of the transcript here; it's worth a read if you've got the time) gave me a better sense of what it was like to be a young person at the time, pointing out that at the time of King's death he was just as much an anti-war activist as he was a civil rights activist. Before this interview, I had heard the song "Abraham, Martin & John" on the oldies station but I'd never given it a passing thought. Cheesy as it may sound to some, when I've listened to it since I think of how desperate it must have felt to have the great young leaders of one's time disappear within a decade. And on top of that, to be living with a terrible war (sadly, an experience I do know now), but with the added threat of the draft, plus the lingering uneasiness from the Cuban Missile Crisis...one factor on top of the next.

I don't learn history too well from books. Dates and facts tend to kind of blur together on the page. But to hear someone say, "Yes, I remember, the prom was that weekend," or "I was walking home from the bus stop when I ran into the National Guard," or "My father had the finest pharmacy in East Baltimore; he could never go back," makes it less text and more story. In German the words for "story" and "history" are the same: Geschichte, from the root word Schicht, "layer". Somehow I like this image better than "story", like the stories of a building. It has been through many layers of memory that history has begun to offer me some meaning.

Anyway, back to Martin Luther King. One book I did find useful was actually assigned reading for a class that had nothing to do with the riots project. It combined various writings by King with ways to apply his philosophies to leadership. It was interesting to me that King often referred to his nonviolent methods simply as "love". Not affectionate or romantic love, but what he considered pure Christian love, based in part in his own religious upbringing and in part on Gandhi's teachings of satyagraha, love-force or truth-force. This kind of love simply means sincere respect for each person's worth regardless of who he or she is (UU folks: 1st principle, anyone?). Not obligatory or lipservice respect, but respect that comes from a deeper, greater regard and love for humanity and life on Earth (what King might have referred to as God's Creation).

King believed that it was through this love that change was possible. He was clear in explaining that it did not mean allowing one's self to be walked over, or deferring to something one believes is wrong; it did mean approaching what is wrong and unjust with love and justice. He shared experiences wherein those who opposed him would write verbally abusive letters, saying things like, "People like you have no place doing what you're doing; you have no idea what you're talking about. You're completely messing up our country. It's despicable and disgusting and you will pay in the end." (I'm just making this up as an example, because I don't have the book with me, but it was usually something like this, with a lot of what we would now call "'you' statements" and nasty adjectives).

King could have very well responded in the exact same way; in some ways it seems only natural. But he always engaged with his opponents respectfully, politely, sympathetically and with a healthy inquisitiveness. He made it clear that he understood why they felt the way they did, and then patiently and articulately explained and defended his position. King writes that no one will listen unless they feel as though they are being listened to; no one will seek to understand unless they know that they are understood.

This concept of satyagraha or love had a particular resonance for me. It put into words what I have always felt is so universal and yet so seemingly elusive in our time: a pure and exuberant love for others. A love that goes deeper than golden rule, beyond a mindset that uses Number One as the point of reference for all of our interactions.

I especially admired this idea coming from a Christian leader like King. Not once did I read any mention of salvation as a motivator; never did I detect a tone of sanctimoniousness. For King this was not all about Christian virtuousness and piety; it was about love for love's sake alone, a value he also considered essential to his Christian identity. It holds just as much value for non-Christians like me.

Back to the riots...it is both fascinating and perplexing that the untimely death of such a person could send the country into the tailspin it did. In some ways it was the ultimate betrayal; many people felt somehow that God had betrayed them by allowing Martin Luther King to be killed, so what was the use? What was the use in not getting angry? What difference did it make anymore?

If you'd like, I encourage you to read the oral histories we have online (we're still working on a long backup of interview audio). I would love to hear any personal reflections you have if you remember April 4, 1968 and the days that followed--in Baltimore or elsewhere. We still have so much to learn.

Has anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people, but it seems the good, they die young
I just looked around and he's gone.


Thursday, April 3, 2008

cheapskate pizza

Making pizza at home is becoming more popular, as are an arsenal of specialized home-pizza-making supplies. You could use a regular baking sheet for your homemade pie, but some folks will tell you that to get that perfect crispy crust, you need a pizza stone to simulate the stone floor of an old-fashioned wood-burning pizza oven. Better hightail it to your favorite kitchen gadget retailer and pick one up for $35 or more, right?

Wrong. No. No. Step away from the overpriced yuppie merchandise. There is a better way, and you don't have to go any further than your local building supply.

We got this brilliant idea from my next husband Food Network television personality Alton Brown, back when we had cable: Those fancy pizza stones? They're nothing but ceramic tiles. The same thing you can get at Home Depot, Lowe's, or preferably, a surplus building supply place like our beloved Community Forklift.

You can buy an unglazed ceramic tile or quarry tile in the dimensions of your preference for around a dollar. (Do not make the mistake of buying flagstone--it's too lightweight and it will crack at high temperatures.) Take it home, give it a good scrubbing, and voilĂ ! Perfectly crispy homemade pizza, without the gourmet price tag. Mmmm.


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

spring has sprung!

You can't see, but there are little lettuce sprouts in the cold frame. I built it myself! It was mostly easy and fun. All you need are:

-An old window (from a junk yard or building surplus)
-Some scrap 2 x 6s or whatever other size lumber you prefer (cut to fit the window and build a box higher in the top than the back, which means you'll have to have two triangle-shaped pieces to create an incline)
-Nails or screws
-A saw
-A tape measure
-Some scrap 2 x 2s or thereabouts for corner posts
-A hasp or latch of some kind (optional)
-Weather stripping (also optional)

The only thing that I couldn't do myself was cut the one piece on the diagonal to make two triangles. I had to have my dad help me because he has a band saw. But if you have and are handy with a rip saw (I do not, and I am not), that is an option, too. I also didn't use carpenter's glue, but that might have been helpful.

I would write more detailed directions, but I didn't have any. I had to figure it out for myself, and I imagine that someone with better visual sense would make fewer mistakes than I did if they just took the time to make a diagram. I just made mistakes anyway, and then took it apart and put it back together again. It worked out in the end.