Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mental Health Monday

(Okay, I know it isn't Monday anymore, but I had originally planned on writing this for Monday, and then that stupid storm hit and preempted it. I liked the title though, so I decided to keep it.  Whatcha gonna do about it?  Oh, and be sure to scroll down to the bottom of this post even if you don't read the rest of it!  There is a cute video at the end!) 

All my life, I've battled depression, at times severe enough that I've secretly tried suicide and even was hospitalized for a few days on one occasion (which is why I hate the Facebook "game" of "You and I wake up in a psychiatric ward together.  Using just 4 words, what would you say to me?"  Been there, done that--how's that for four words?).  So now when I hit a slump, it is compounded by worries that it isn't just the blues or a minor downer day, but the start of something severe.

Since my release from the hospital and the follow-up out-patient program, I have developed some pretty effective ways to manage my depression.  Sometimes some work better than others and some days they don't really seem to work at all, but after a few days of pushing forward, I make it work, so here they are, hopefully to help someone else:
  •  Do something with the kids.  They are naturally happy people and a lot of times, as long as they are behaving, their smiles and giggles can be absolutely contagious.  This one usually isn't enough to make enough of a difference on it's own, but combined with the other things, it can help.  It brings a smile to my face, even if it doesn't always reach the sadness in my heart.  There is something to be said for "faking it until you make it" though.
  • Take care of myself physically.  Little to no junk food, since things like sugar can make you feel sluggish and icky, as can too much bad fat (yes, there are good fats, but deep fried crap doesn't contain them!).  Aspartame and MSG have been shown by a number of studies (that I don't feel like looking up right now, but I'm sure you can google it pretty easily, if you really want to know more) to contribute significantly to depression, so avoiding them is very helpful...if only I wasn't so addicted to diet cola!  By contrast, all natural, clean food (by clean I mean chemical free, not soap-and-water clean) makes you feel good.  Getting off your butt and exercising helps too, but I can't generally make myself exercise just to exercise when I'm feeling depressed.  Oftentimes, I can....
  • Make myself do something productive that I can feel about.  A couple days ago, I had been feeling pretty low for a few days and, rather than hiding in my bed under the covers permanently like I was wanting to do, I got off my rear, went outside and got some things done.  About a week ago, that thing was pruning the lilac bush (also helped me deal with some anger I had going on that day!).  Two days ago, that was finishing getting the garden in (for May, more to do in June!) and building a brick border to keep the lawn maintenance guys that take care of the empty lot next to us from mowing or weed whacking my plants.  Yes, it was hard work.  Yes, I felt like crap doing it.  But, once I got it done, I started to feel a bit better.  And now every time I look at these accomplishments, it makes me smile a little more and I feel myself being lifted up out of that slump a little further.
  • Talk to someone supportive.  I have a real trouble with this one, but it does help, when I can find someone I feel I can talk to.
  • Take time for myself.  This especially works well as a preventative measure, but it can help bring me back too (although by that time, I usually feel guilty about doing something that isn't productive since I always have so many fricking things that need to get done!).  When I start to slip from doing this, that's when I start noticing problems starting to creep in. 
No, these won't work for everyone.  No, that's not all there is that can be done.  This is what works for me.  Depression is not something that you can "just snap out of" like so many people seem to think it is.  Medications can be effective for a lot of people, but I don't like how they make me feel (disconnected is probably a pretty accurate word for it).  There are some great natural supplements that can help too, but I don't remember to take them.  So this is what works for me.  It is hard work at times, but if it helps keep my family together with me in it, it's worth the work.

To make you leave this post with a smile on your face, and hopefully in your heart, here is a small demonstration of the contagious power of my baby's giggle.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Joys of Trailer Park Life

The worst part of living in a trailer park is not the assumptions people make about you for living in "that kind" of place or nosy/irritating park managers.  Nope, the worst part is severe weather, especially tornado warnings.  What do you do when you have no place to go?  Again, my family was faced with this yesterday, as tornado warnings were issued for both of the counties we sit on the border of.

My husband is of the mind that, since we can't really do anything about it, we shouldn't even monitor the current weather because whatever will happen will happen, regardless of whether we are paying attention.  I just can't do that, though.  This time, even if I wanted to, I couldn't do it, since I was still outside putting things away from the kids' playing and my accomplishing a lot (pictures to come later in the week of what all I did today!) of things in the garden when the emergency broadcast system went off on a neighbor's radio and the 6 year old, who knows what that meant, knew something was going on.  I herded the boys in the house and commandeered the television from my 11 year old to see what was happening.  When I saw the line of the storms headed for us, I ushered the kids into one of the bedrooms so they could make a "nest" in one of the closets.  Living in a trailer, it probably wouldn't help actually keep them safe if a tornado got close enough to do anything, but it at least makes them feel safer, so I guess that's something.

After seeing how bad the storms looked and that they were in fact heading right for us, but were still a ways away, I told the boys to keep the baby out of trouble and went to put more things, anything that wasn't too heavy or that would be damaged (like my plants) by being in the garage inside the garage.  Shortly after I got back in the house the storm hit.

And boy, did it hit!  It was bad enough from just the wind and rain that I was very nervous being in such a narrow building.  It felt like the whole thing wanted to blow away!  The lilac bush outside the front door was pounding on the house pretty hard and I'm pretty confident that if I hadn't trimmed it back away from the house the other day, those branches probably would have caused some serious damage!

Don't know how much rain we got because my rain gauge got knocked down

but I'm guessing it was a lot!  Don't worry, this all drained shortly after the storm.

As it was, we didn't get any damage...this time.  It is always very scary though.  And tornado season is just beginning.

Maple twirlies (where did those come from?) stuck to the side of the house don't count as damage.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Promote It And They Will Come--running a "Really, Really Free Market"

Yesterday was what I'm hoping will be the last Really, Really Free Market in Jackson, MI that I organize.  I hope it continues and will do what I can to promote it online, but I don't want to have to drive that far anymore!  I've been looking for someone to take it over since we moved in October, but hadn't found anyone until today.  I don't know why, but I suspect that it sounds like a lot of work to organize a RRFM.  It really isn't. 

Basically, if you promote it, they will come.

I've been at a severe disadvantage promoting the Jackson one, since I live about an hour's drive away now, so I couldn't flyer the town or anything, but I've been posting on the thing's Facebook page, Freecycle, and reallyreallyfree.org and people still show up in a quantity sufficient to make them worthwhile (as in, I get rid of most or all the stuff I don't want anymore and usually find some seriously cool stuff I want as well), but I know it hasn't been living up to the potential that exists. 

Beyond promoting the event itself, all that is required is picking a place where you're allowed to be (no worries about permits, since what do you need a permit for?), pick a date and time, and showing up, maybe with some "seed" stuff to give away or skills or talents or free food to share.  That's it.  Easy-peasy...and so worthwhile since you can meet some really cool people at them, learn some really cool stuff (I taught a lady about my homemade laundry detergent today), and have a lot of fun.  As a bonus, I've been scheduling them at parks near playgrounds so the kids can play while I give away!  It ends up being a really fun thing for the whole family!

Wait, you might be saying, what is a "Really, Really Free Market" anyway?  Glad you asked!  The site reallyreallyfree.org puts it better than I could, so here is their description:
A Really Really Free Market (RRFM) is like a community gathering where participants bring, and give away absolutely free, any usable items, skills, ideas, smiles, talents, friendship, excitement, discussions, games and many others things that we as a community can come together and share. An RRFM is a 100% free and non-commercial event, organized by participants just like you. It is a temporary autonomous zone instituting the gift economy as an alternative to the capitalist mode of resource distribution. An RRFM is not just a once a month party, it is an ethos and a way of being that transforms people through its experience and is then carried into other areas of life.

So now that you see how easy it is and how cool they are, think you'll start one in your area if one doesn't already exist?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Gardening Mystery

The only thing that is supposed to be growing in this bucket is one, single Brandywine tomato plant.  I was quite surprised to find this when checking on my plants yesterday morning!  I have no idea where those plants on the left came from.  Some seeds must have wandered in at some point, but how and when and what are they?  They look too much like a squash or melon plant for me to pull them, so I guess I'll transplant them to another part of the garden and see what happens!  Any guesses on what they are?

Friday, May 27, 2011

I Need a Vacation--or some chocolate

It just figures that the only day this week with decent weather for working outside in the garden was the day that we spent all day driving.  It has been raining non-stop since then and it is driving me crazy!  It doesn't help that the kids are getting serious cabin fever too, so they are purposely doing things to drive me, and each other, more crazy.

Not only has the flood incessant downpour been my undoing, but I've been not so happy with the result in some of my other attempts of things.  Like last night, I was trying to save some skim milk going bad (before the sell-by date!  Grrrr!) by making it into yogurt, but the evil demon monkeys kids wouldn't stop fighting and distracted me to the point that I completely forgot I had milk on the stovetop and it boiled over, making a huge mess, and burning it badly enough that I couldn't think of any possible way to make it into anything edible.  Fortunately, not all of the milk had fit in the pot, so there was about a quart that could be done over, but I haven't tried it yet to see if it worked or if the milk was too far gone.  In retrospect, maybe I would have been better off trying to make some ricotta.

Anyway, it has largely been one of those weeks were all the little things make it feel like the world is tumbling down.  I need a vacation...or some chocolate.  We don't usually have marshmallows in the house, because I don't allow the kids to have artificial colors and even the white ones usually have Blue 1 in them, but I found some marshmallows at a dollar store the other day that didn't, so they've been my salvation.  I've been making microwave s'mores--one of only two things microwaves are good for in my opinion (the other defrosting when you forget to get something out to thaw properly).  They are quick, easy, and cheap at about $.22 each (based on my most recent purchase of the ingredients at the store on the corner of the trailer park, which I'm sure is way overpriced!).

Microwave S'mores

1 graham cracker
1 tiny piece of chocolate (a regular candy bar has 12)
1 marshmallow

Put half the graham cracker on a microwave safe plate.  Break the chocolate piece into 4 smaller pieces and arrange on the plate.  Place marshmallow on top.  Microwave until the marshmallow starts puffing up, about 5 seconds.  Watch carefully, since if you let it go too long, it will explode and that will be no fun at all!  Remove from microwave and top with other half of the graham cracker.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Great Die-off and Resurrection--a Trailer Park Homestead update

I was going to call this post "The Great Die-Off" when I was originally going to do it a couple of days ago, because so many of my plants (mostly vining things.  Maybe they didn't like being transplanted?) died recently.  But then it rained like crazy yesterday and a lot of things that were only partially dead perked back up, so I guess there is a resurrection going on here right now as well.  I'm sure I'll know more and have more stuff growing to make up for it by next week and I'll share that with you as well, but for now, here's what's going on at the Trailer Park Homestead.

The peas are getting big enough I'm having to start to train them to grow where they're supposed to.
I transplanted some broccoli to the front bed because A) technically they are flowers and I found that funny and B) they  are marking where I have basil, lavender, and spinach planted.  I'll be adding some marigolds and rutabaga up here in June and then it will be "done"...until more space opens up.
The blue jade corn is starting to come up all over the place!
One of the Three Sisters is up!  This is blue hubbard squash and the other bed's pumpkins are also up.
The sunflowers are starting to look like something planted there intentionally, not just a random weed, and the vining things are starting to thrive or die.  Either way, their lot has been cast.
The potatoes finally sprouted in the potato condo.  Time to start piling on the poop!
Oops.  Kind of spilled lettuce seeds when I planted this planter.  Looks like I'll definitely need to thin this one out!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I'm Baaaaack--a follow-up on yesterday's travels

Well, we survived yesterday's many, many hours in the car.   Barely.  I thought I probably should share what worked and what didn't, especially since I was so surprised by a lot of it!

The kids were super excited about the different packs.  I asked them to wait until we were on the freeway before breaking into the first one, but they couldn't stop themselves (and since I was driving, I couldn't stop them) from getting into them before we were even out of the trailer park.

One of the first things they were to play with was the giant play money, in my son's pack.  I didn't know what they were going to do with it when I put it in there, but my son really wanted it, and somehow it kept them happy for about 20 minutes without any other toys involved!

Shortly after they had moved on, my daughter threw up all over herself.  I think it was just a combination of too much excitement, motion of the car, and a cream filled doughnut she ate for breakfast.  It was a real mess...and I didn't bring an extra outfit for her.  Oops.  That definitely goes in the what didn't work category!  I should have brought extra outfits for everyone, not just the baby, just in case.  My mom saved the day and washed out her clothes at a rest area we stopped at for a quick potty break, partially dried them under the hand dryer, then set them on the dashboard to finish drying in the sun.  By the time we reached our mid-point break, the shirt (which was long enough to cover her bottom) and tights were dry enough to wear and the skirt was dry enough by the time we reached our destination.

Having multiple packs for different parts of the trip worked great.  I think that kept things fresh and kept them from getting bored more of the trip.  There was an extra sense of anticipation as well and gave them something to look forward to sooner than the end destination.

For much of the trip, workbooks ruled, with the kids wanting to work in them enough that I had to remind them that the mid-point break was for playing and they needed to run around some, since we still had a lot of traveling to do.  This was also true for the return trip--I quickly learned the glow sticks were not the good idea I thought they would be after dark, since they just ended up hitting each other with them and fighting over them.  Instead, the workbooks for the little ones and the logic problem book I brought along for my 11 year old continued to be a success.  They did end up needing the dome light on to work on them, but there was enough external light that it wasn't really a distraction.

The real winner the entire trip was bubbles.  My son really loved the Grab-a-bubbles (linked to Amazon for illustrative purposes only.  They are charging way too much on there!) and went through three tubes on the trip.  My daughter thought they were "slimy" and preferred more conventional bubbles stuff, which I actually purchased for this trip (3 small containers for a dollar) partially for the convenient packaging and partially for the novelty.  During the play break, the giant bubbles (which weren't very giant by my standards, but the kids liked them) were a huge hit as well.  One of the great things about the bubbles as well is that, in addition to entertaining the kid(s) blowing them, they entertained the baby!
Bubbles everywhere, even the dashboard and my hair and covering the baby.....
Even though everyone was (mostly) happy and (mostly)well behaved during the car ride, the in between part at dinner and my son's 6th grade graduation was another matter.  Oh, well.  No trip is perfect I guess.  Maybe I'll be able to figure out something to do that next long trip with small children!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Final Adventure?

Today, I'm embarking on an adventure that I'm not sure I'll survive.  My mother and I, along with the three younger children, aged 22 months, 4 years, and 6 years, are driving to Cincinnati to attend my oldest son's sixth grade graduation and to bring him back to Michigan for the summer.  Mapquest says it should take 4 hours and 49 minutes to reach our destination.  That's more than 9 1/2 hours round trip!  Three little children in the car for more than 9 1/2 hours in. One. Day!

See why I'm doubting whether I'll still be here tomorrow? 

Sure, we probably could have flown.  Or we could have split the trip up by driving down one day, getting a hotel room for the night (as busy butts as these kids are, there is no way we could have gone camping without a whole flock of adults to keep them out of trouble!), but both of those options would have cost a lot more, so it ain't happenin'!

Instead, I have a different plan.  Each child has packs to entertain them.  Not just one bag or backpack, because I know how that one goes: 

Start time:  Everyone gets in the car.  The children immediately get everything out of their bag.
2 minutes later:  about half the bag's contents are strewn around the van, but they are still amused for the.moment
1 hour later:  "MOM, WE'RE BORED" or they are beating each other up or fighting or screaming about something.

Nuh uh!  Not going to happen this trip!

I had the 6 year old and 4 year old each select toys and books to put in not one, but two bags each.  Then, I took the bags into my room, locked the door, and put more stuff in them.  Stuff that the kids picked out at Bargain Books and the dollar store a couple weeks ago and were immediately hid away so they don't remember what exactly they are getting.  This should prevent them from coveting whatever is in the bag they don't currently have.  I had the kids put together a bag of toys and books for the "baby" too (not pictured because I forgot to take a picture before sticking in the van, but it is mostly smallish toys like cars, dinosaurs, and Fisher Price Little People, along with a few board books), but I figure one ought to last him, since a good chunk of the trip is going to fall in his regular sleep time, so that is kind of like a second bag.
My daughter (age 4) chose a number of toys she already had and I added a magnetic dress up book, workbook, fishing game, bubbles, crayons, coloring pages, stickers, a "bug watch", and play necklaces

My son (age 6) only chose books for his bags.  I added play money, "bug watch", bubbles, crayons, mechanical pencils, and a number of coloring/activity/workbooks.  A lot of his stuff is actually his "school" work for the week, but I won't tell him if you don't!
My plan is to have them each have one bag next to them in the seat to start off.  I'm hoping that will keep them more or less entertained for about half the trip down.  Then, we'll break somewhere in there for potty, diaper change, and play.  There is another pack that they don't know about in the back of the van that has fun things to do during our play stop, including a large ball for them to run around with and ginormous bubble blowers.  After the break, they'll be able to get their second bag, which I hope will keep them entertained for the rest of the trip down. 

We're meeting my son and dad (and I think his dad's girlfriend) for dinner before the graduation, so between that, the graduation, and loading my eldest's stuff in the van, it will be close to 9pm before we start back, so I figure that whatever they still like from the trip down will keep them entertained until it gets dark. 

Once it is dark, there is yet another bag in the back of the van that includes nocturnal things, like a flashlight or two, field guides on constellations, and some glow sticks.  Between that stuff, snacking, and hopefully some sleeping, that should get us home again.  Hopefully. 
A cooler full of snacks (kept where we can reach it from the front seat, but the littles can't get into it unsupervised) should help keep people happy for the whole trip.
I'm hoping to get tomorrow's post done on the road (yay, netbook!), so a post from me tomorrow won't necessarily mean I made it back.  Keep your fingers crossed (and be sure to check back here) for a post on Thursday so you know we made it. 

Wish us luck!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Netbook Niceties

My husband had been talking about getting me a new computer for quite a while now.  He bought me a laptop several years ago to support and add my (then non-existent) writing career, but it didn't take long for my toddler to pop too many keys off it to allow it to function well and then somehow the screen started falling off so it wouldn't work right more than half the time.  Since then, I was back to using the family's desktop.

He'd been dropping hints like would I prefer a laptop or a desktop model, if I had the choice for a few months.  When he got his latest tuition reimbursement check from his workplace, he wanted to head down to Best Buy and pick up something for me.  Boy am I glad I was with him!  I shudder to think how much he would have spend on something that was far beyond what I needed.

Basically, I need a keyboard and an internet connection.  That's it.  Some basic word processing capabilities is good too, but not strictly needed, since I can always type something up on an online format and transfer it to the hard drive of the family computer some other time.  Going into the store knowing this, when he started to head over to the laptops, I redirected him to the much smaller and cheaper netbooks.  At the time, I didn't even know word processing could be done on them, but I saw that keyboard and knew it could connect to the rest of the world, so I was more or less sold...especially when I saw how much cheaper they were!

I think the sales guy thought I was weird, because while my husband was asking tech related questions, I was picking at the keys of the various models they had on display to see which ones would be the most likely destroyed and leaning on the screens to see which seemed the most vulnerable to attack.  At one point, I actually explained to the guy about the death of my last computer, so he would be happy I was trying to destroy the netbooks on display, since I was basically asking buying questions with my hands.  The Toshiba NB505 is what looked the least destructable, so that's what I decided on.  It also happened to be the second cheapest one they had, but this is an example where sometimes (not so much in this case) it is more thrifty to spend more on the onset, to save money on the long run, kind of like how I only buy one pair of shoes every 2-4 years, but they tend to be far more expensive than most people I know's shoes.  The shoes last 2-4 years of hard, nearly continuous use and I hope this netbook lasts even longer, so it is worth the initial outlay of funds.  Not only that but, when I am done with this device, I probably will be able to sell it to cash4laptops.com like I did my broken laptop, which I got $50 for even in its seriously dilapidated state!

Today, I started playing with it to see what other ways it could save me money.  I quickly remembered that software for reading Kindle books (relevant since a number of my favorite authors have been being evil lately and publishing short stories and novellas about characters I like strictly in ebook and sometimes strictly in Kindle format!) can be downloaded on such a device, so I looked into that and was thrilled to discover that my nice, lightweight netbook makes a decent ereader!  I wouldn't have been interested in using a desktop or traditional laptop for such a thing, since they aren't as portable (this fits in my purse!) and too big and bulky to pull out for a quick read, but this machine weighs less than a lot of hardcovers, so it works for me!  I probably will end up using this for a variety of ereader thingies, since it looks like ebooks from the library, which I still haven't figured out how to access, but I will when I find one I want I'm sure, come in a variety of formats.
Referring to my blog for a recipe while making dinner

The fun didn't stop there.  I realized that this could easily be my new "brain" and my new cookbook, since I can take it with me wherever I go, whether that be out and about with the kids or in the kitchen to try a new recipe (or even one of my own recipes that I can't quite remember and have blogged about).  This netbook will probably offer a significant savings in paper that I won't print out or the ink to print on it over time.  Yes, it still takes electricity, but I'm sure it takes less than the family computer, which now will be off a lot more, since I won't be tempted to pop on and off it all day like has long been my habit (Hey, some people take smoke breaks, I take Facebook breaks!).  Tonight when I was making dinner, I even pulled up my favorite radio station and listened to it online, so now I don't need a radio in the kitchen like I'd been thinking of getting.  I'm sure as I have it longer, I'll discover many more uses for it that will save even more money!

And to think that all of this is accomplished by getting a device that costs hundreds of dollars less than what my husband originally wanted for me, which wouldn't even do as much...or be as easy to keep away from the kids!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Yard Sale Fail

So the much anticipated, by me anyway, community-wide yard sale was yesterday.  I had spend a fair amount of time gathering up things we didn't need any more to get rid of at this event, since when possible, I'd rather make a little cash getting rid of my stuff than giving it away, although most things I have no problem doing that as well.  I had way too much crap to get rid of, and not the useful, compostable kind, but rather the kind that piles up in the house and garage and gets in your way of trying to get anything done and completely bogs down your life.  I went to bed (a little) early (2:30am) and got up about 4 hours earlier than I usually do (so 7am instead of 11am-ish) in order to set up.  Despite the early hour and lack of sleep, hope for the day's event and the gorgeous weather kept my spirits bright.

It didn't take long to realize that things weren't going to go well.  I quickly discovered that everyone that came by my sale lived in the trailer park.  I started to wonder if it was really advertised in the papers like we were told it would be.  My husband called en route to work and said there was something going on at the nearby fairgrounds and suggested that maybe people would come from there after the festivities were done there, so I kept my hopes up that that's where everyone was and things would improve later.  By 2 o'clock, I could barely keep my eyes open and the baby was down for a nap, so I was very tempted to take a nap, but I was too afraid that I'd miss prospective customers.  Finally, I gave up and decided to rest my eyes for a bit, but kept my ears open for movement outside or cars pulling up.  I rested for about 45 minutes and heard nothing.  When I looked back outside, nothing had been touched, so I highly doubt I missed anyone.

Meanwhile, I was itching to go to see what others had out to sell.  Finally, about a half hour before the sale was scheduled to end, I decided to go for it.  I left an envelope outside with a note on it for people to pay what they felt things were worth, popped the now awake toddler in the wagon, and took off.  Talking to the other people having sales, they all questioned whether it was in the paper, one lady even going as far as saying her friend checked the paper and didn't see it!  Well, no wonder business sucked!  I did find some treasures though--2 boxes of wide-mouth canning lids and rings (most of my canning jars are wide mouth) for $1.50, a couple wooden puzzles for $.25, a plastic Tonka truck for $1.00, and a couple Fisher Price Little People doll houses for a total of $3.00.

When I got back to my own sale, there was nothing in the envelope, but I could tell the roaming band of neighborhood kids I'd passed earlier had been there since some of the toys had been played with.  I wasn't surprised by either of these things.  By this time, it was "officially" (in quotes because this is what we were told would be in the paper, but apparently nothing was in the paper) quitting time, but I decided to leave things up for a while longer in the hopes that someone would miraculously come by and buy tons of stuff that I would then not have to put away.  It also occurred to me that I could post that I had yard sale leftovers on Freecycle and get rid of it that way.  I wouldn't make money that way, but it wouldn't be cluttering up our lives either, so I considered that a fair trade.
The leftovers

Just as I was about to go inside to post the leftovers as an offer, I noticed dark clouds threatening in the distance.  Rather than pulling up my email, I checked the weather--and groaned.  Sure enough, there was rain coming.  I had about an hour to get everything under cover before it hit.  So much for getting rid of it!  I started piling it in the garage as fast as I could.  I had just covered the love seat that I'd need my husband's help to move (he was still at work) with a tarp and put away the last of the things I could move myself when the first rain drops hit.  So now my garage is piled up with stuff I don't want or need anymore. 

The sale wasn't a complete wash.  I did get to meet a lot of people from the trailer park, something I hadn't really had opportunity to do before beyond my immediate neighbors and my kids' friends' parents.  Once you subtract the $5.75 I spent at other sales and the I-don't-want-to-think-how-much-it-was for ice cream from the ice cream truck (I like to get the kids ice cream from the ice cream truck a couple times a year, because I'm pretty sure by the time they are adults, ice cream trucks will be a thing of the past and I'd like them to have memories of them to share with their kids.  "When I was a kid..." kind of memories), I still ended up with about $10 that I didn't have at the beginning of the day, which, while not much, is still $10 that I didn't have at the beginning of the day.  All-in-all though, I'd say this sale was a fail.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

It's The End Of The World As We Know It (or not)

Since the Rapture is rumored to happen today and the CDC was warning against the coming zombie apocalypse earlier this week, this seems to be a good time to share some of my ideas about being ready for an emergency.

A lot of people seem to dismiss people into preparedness or survivalism as a bunch of paranoid kooks, but, if you think about it, doesn't it make sense to be ready for anything?  Realistically, it probably isn't going to be Armageddon, but it could be an injury that leaves you or another major bread-earner in the house (or maybe even the sole bread-earner) unable to work.  Or you could get laid off at work.  Or there could be a natural disaster like a hurricane, tornado, mud slide, or flood, depending on where you live.  Money in the bank is great, if you have money and the disaster in question doesn't mess up bank access, but as survivors of Katrina discovered a few years ago, that isn't always the case.  You need to have supplies on hand to take care of yourself until help comes...or if help comes.

At the very least, I implore you to keep a couple months' supply of everything you could need, whether it be food, water, medicine, or gerbil food on hand.  That is the bare minimum.  Really, I like the LDS recommendations of having a year or more of things on hand.  That should be long enough to deal with a personal crisis, like an illness or loss of job, in addition to a natural disaster or zombie invasion (since doesn't it seem that zombies always attack at the worst possible time?).  I'll admit that I'm not there yet myself.  Including my frozen foods, which depending on the type of emergency may not be helpful at all, I probably only have about 3 months supply on hand.  I'm working on it though.  It can be a challenge, especially when money is super tight, but here are some of the things I am doing to make things stretch to get that supply going:

Making the Best of Basics Family Preparedness Handbook
  • Store what you eat and eat what you store.  It doesn't make any sense to follow some random list out there of what foods and things to stock up on if they are things that your family won't eat.  One of my favorite guides to prepare for emergencies, Making the Best of Basics Family Preparedness Handbook, is one of my favorites because it doesn't say you "must" have x pounds of some food my family won't eat like a lot of the lists I've seen.  What it does have is a list of recommendations of a type of food with a caption of "select x pounds assorted from this category", which is a lot nicer for figuring out how much my family needs.  When storing anything, make sure you are rotating your supply so it doesn't go bad on you.  All this means is put the newest/freshest stuff in the back (and check the actual dates on the package, since sometimes stores don't do this even though they are supposed to, or if you shop at different stores, they may sell things at a different rate), so when you go to grab it, you grab the oldest stuff from the front.  Also, you'll want to periodically review what you're storing to make sure they are still things you'll want to be eating for a while, since people's tastes do change.
  • Buy extra when you can.  If you find a great deal on something you'll use and you have the funds to get it, do it.  I emphasis the "something you'll use" part since it doesn't do you any good to get a "great deal" on something you won't. That's not a great deal--that's a waste of money!
  • Do it in bits and pieces if you need to.  The world isn't going to end today.  Well, it might, but you'd be screwed anyway if that happened, so we'll pretend that it isn't going to.  You have time to prepare.  Don't let yourself be overwhelmed.  I find the site Food Storage Made Easy, with its email lists and Facebook posts to be very helpful in doing a bit at a time.
  • Have a "bug out bag" ready to go at all times and keep it handy.  You know how you hear about people (I hope you just hear about this and haven't had to deal with it personally anyway!) having to be evacuated for a gas leak, toxic train wreck, flash flood, etc. and they have literally seconds to grab what they need and get out of dodge?  It's a lot easier to do when everything you need is right ready to do.  Might even increase your chances of grabbing some non-essentials that you treasure anyway, since you wouldn't have to worry about the basics.
  • Don't have money to stock up on stuff?  Stock up on knowledge instead.  Yes, learning and collecting would be the ideal, but if you can't afford to buy anything, learn to do things instead.  Gardening, cooking, herbal medicines, woodworking, and any number of other things could, in theory, be the difference between life and death at some point, but in the meantime, they can also be fun and save you a ton of money now, so learn what you can.  The internet, the library, and (if I may be so bold) my blog are all places to get started learning.  Then, take what you've learned about and start doing, since that's when the real learning takes place.
I know that's a lot to think about, especially if it isn't something you've thought about before, so to leave you on a bit of a lighter note, here's a great song to listen to:

Friday, May 20, 2011

Controlling the Clothing Chaos

May is the exact wrong time of year to have a yard sale!  Between getting the garden in, end of school year things, sports schedules, and everything else going on, it just is too much to try to get ready for a yard sale too.  This trailer park's community wide yard sale is this Saturday (9-4, stop on by if you're local!).  *sigh* 

I don't remember if individual yard sales are allowed in this park according to the lease, but, even if they were, it is better to participate in a community wide one since they take care of the advertising and promotion, plus the fact that it is community wide draws more people, so I guess I need to suck it up and get ready for this Saturday's sale.  *sigh*

Last night, as part of my preparations for the sale, I pulled out all the children's "too big" clothes and organized them by size.  Whoa!  I had far too much piled up!  The crazy thing is that I didn't buy any of it!  It was all hand-me-downs from my older kids and from well-meaning friends passing on their families' hand-me-downs.  The thing that boggled my mind was the bags from other people.  (Friends and family, I'm not even sure which bags were from who, so I'm not picking on anyone in particular here, if you feel picked on.  And thank you for your generous gift of clothes, but please no more for the boys!)  In one bag, so I know it was from one person, I found more than 20 pairs of 2T shorts!  In another, I found more than 20 short sleeve shirts of the same size!  What on earth does such a small person, or anyone for that matter, need with so many clothes?
The size 2T-3T clothes I went through.  There were similar amounts of 4T-5 clothes, then it dropped off since most of the larger clothes are in use or stored somewhere else.
Maybe I'm strange, but I really don't see the point of someone having that many clothes, unless maybe someone doesn't have a washer and dryer in their house and can only make it to a Laundromat every couple of weeks.  But every family I know that has masses of clothes for their kids, and themselves for that matter, does have laundry facilities in the home.  I've been shocked many, many times when going to other people's homes and seeing all the clothes.  In many families, one member of the family has more than my entire family of six!

Having too many clothes is expensive.  Not just acquiring the clothes, since, like I do, many families get them from Freecycle or friends or relatives.  Even if you get these masses of clothes second-hand from a thrift store or on clearance at Wal-mart (as a number of tags on the hand-me-downs never even worn state), it adds up!  Once you have the clothes, you have to have a place to store them.  That's probably part of why my family does fine in a single-wide trailer when most families of our size seem to think they "need" something that is near palatial by my standards--they have to have a place to keep their stuff.  A lot of families seem to think they "need" storage containers and space bags or the like to hold all their off season clothes because their drawers and closets are overflowing with the current season's stuff. 

But how much of that stuff is actually ever worn?  If you look at what kids chose to wear, they probably gravitate to the same few clothing items every time they are clean, or even if they aren't clean.  Many clothes, like the ones from Wal-mart I mentioned earlier, never even get worn.  So why spend the time and effort to maintain them?  Even clothes that rarely or never get worn steal away your time and energy if your kids are like mine.  It seems like they don't know how to get dressed without throwing everything they don't want to wear on the floor.  A lot of those clothes, even though they were never worn, end up having to be washed, folded, and put away again.  I try not to keep more than 5-6 of each thing available to the kids because of this.  They don't need more than that, really they only need about 3 of each since I do laundry daily, and it keeps the chaos down to a minimum.  With three kids 6 and under, "a minimum" chaos is still plenty!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Three Sisters, Trailer Park Style

Like most things I've learned about gardening, I heard about the Native American "Three Sisters" of corn, beans, and squash, thought it was cool, did a little half-assed research, and went for it...probably totally wrong!

Actually, in this case, I'm almost positive that I totally screwed it up, since I got things all planted, stepped back, took a look at it, and said to myself, "Now why the heck did I do it like that?  That make no sense!"

I get ahead of myself though.  So let's look at what I did.

First off, only two of the 6 beds I'd prepared in the back of the lot will actually be Three Sisters, because I think planting more than that of beans would give me way too freaking many beans.  Plus I ran out of beans.  Okay, I have a few beans still laying around, but I want to save them in case I need to replant or in case I really, really screwed up this year and need to save them for next year.

You might ask, "Why don't you go buy more beans?" which for most people would be a perfectly normal and rational answer, except, like I said, that would be way too freaking many beans and these aren't beans you can buy at the store.  These beans are special.  I got these from a Facebook friend last year (okay, these beans' daddies and mamas.  I saved these beans from last year's harvest) who said that her grandparents brought them from Italy like a hundred years ago (not these exact beans.  The beans' great-, great-, great-....grandparents) and they've grown them in her family ever since.  They look a lot like dragon's tongue beans, but they are a pole bean that gets crazy long rather than a bush bean.

Anyhoo, here are the beds, as planted yesterday:

The first picture has corn on the outside, beans planted just inside the corn, and blue hubbard squash in the middle.  The second one has corn on the outside, beans planted just inside the corn, and pumpkins in the middle.  Oh, and that isn't "normal" corn.  That's Oaxacan green dent corn.  I don't even know how to say that, that's how cool that corn is!! 

I remembered from my half-assed "research" that there was a lot of weeding involved in the early steps of this mound building, so I cheated and used landscape cloth to keep weeds from going nuts while the squash is getting big enough to act as a natural mulch.  I think the beans and the corn will grow just fine where I put them, but now I'm worried that the corn, especially with those crazy beans growing on them, will shade the squash too much and not let it thrive!  Oops.  The bricks are just there to weigh down the landscape cloth, since I didn't have anything to stake it down really well and don't have any actual mulch handy to just kind of bury it with.  The directions said it could be covered with rocks.  Bricks, rocks, same diff, right?

I think my thought process had more to do with conserving landscape cloth (bought on sale for another project and just kind of wandered into this project) and chicken poop than the welfare of the plants.  Further proof that I'm a bad, bad gardener.  *sigh*  Hopefully it will turn out okay!  Tomorrow is another day, and I'll probably plant my remaining beds of corn and vining things with a little more thought to how the plants will like their new homes!

I also remembered that there was supposed to be a kind of staggered planting, that the corn was supposed to be planted first, then the others later, once the corn was a bit established.  That I did consciously and blatantly ignore.  I figured with this plant configuration that the beans could be laid out on the cloth until the corn got big enough to wind the beans around and that the squash was far enough away not to worry about suffocating the other plants, since by the time the squash got that far, the corn and beans would be holding their own.  So I guess I did have plant welfare in mind a little bit, even though I went a completely different direction than the pile-up-dirt-and-throw-three-different-kinds-of-seeds-in-it direction that I first thought of when I heard of Three Sisters mounds.  Maybe there is hope for me as a gardener after all!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Another Exhausting Week on the Trailer Park Homestead

I am chronically pooped out these days it seems.  In addition to all the usual "fun" of having three littles around the house and the work that entails, including but not limited to the cooking, cleaning, and continuous refereeing, I've been busting my butt trying to get this Trailer Park Homestead set up.  A normal, sane person would probably spread this enormous of a project over a couple years, but I'm determined to basically have it "done" this year...although, is a homestead of any sort actually ever done?

I'm almost "done" for now though.  All the garden beds are dug out, compost has been obtained to put in all of them, and all the seedlings I started indoors have been transplanted out into their beds and buckets.  Now, I just need to finish spreading the compost around the yard and plant my direct sow seeds. Then, it will be just a matter of sitting back and watching things grow.  Well, except for the weeding and watering and watching for pests and harvesting (which actually will start very soon for some things!) and putting up for the winter.... Yup, the fun never ends.  It's worth it though, when I know that my family will eat well, no matter what happens to the economy or our bank account or far off places.

I just heard on the news last night that the prices of corn and wheat are expected to skyrocket because of the flooding along the Mississippi and, while I feel bad for everyone that affects, directly or indirectly, I also am pretty darn proud how little that should impact me!  I'll be growing my own corn this year, for eating fresh, freezing, and making corn meal.  As for the wheat, I'm a little concerned, since I don't really have the space to grow a lot of wheat, but I'm thinking about looking into the possibility of a winter wheat crop in my garden beds to act as a cover crop, let me rotate crops without rearranging where things go next year and maybe even give me some homegrown wheat to take the edge off the price of flour going up.  In the meantime, I'll stock up, just like I always try to do!

I get ahead of myself though.  Fall and winter are still a far way off and there are a lot of exciting things going on in the here and now on the Trailer Park Homestead.  Here's what's going on this week:

My wonderful husband got me more blueberry bushes, stepping stones, a couple strawberry plants (not shown), and a netbook (also not shown, but I'm using it to write this right now...which is why he got it for me!) for our anniversary last week!  World's.  Best.  Husband!!!!  I also acquired a garlic chive plant over the weekend, since it didn't sell at the church auction and the person that donated it didn't want it back, so it was kind of foisted on me.  It is on the other side of this collection of planters.

The view from the road.  I think I may have been being a little passive-aggressive with the layout of the plants in the stone-lined garden bed--since the park manager mentioned "they" would prefer the raised bed would be toward the back of the lot if I was going to plant flowers in it, I'm kind of concealing the box, which contains broccoli (actually a flower), carrots, spinach, green peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes, by planting tomato plants in the garden bed in front of it, plus cucumbers in the hanging basket above the tomatoes.  I think that should be visually interesting to say the least, although, I don't really know that the basket is large enough to support two cucumber plants!  Other than the tomato plants, there is also a green pepper plant in that bed and some violets.  I need to plant a lot more stuff in there.  I'll probably put some actual flowers in there too.
The front door area.  Snap peas are growing right outside the door, with strawberries on the stairs.  The buckets on the left of the picture contain tomatoes (two varieties), with a planter for lettuce (not planted yet) in front of them.  The buckets on the right of the picture, right up against the trailer's edging contain ground cherries.
The view out the back door.  All the beds are (finally) dug!  The one closest in the picture is shaped like that to provide a clear path from the door to the garage on the back of the lot.  It currently contains cucumber plants and I plan on having some corn join the cucumbers soon.
This is part of the border between our lot and the one next to us, taken from the side that is not our lot.  Here I have blue jade corn (a kind of sweet corn), sunflowers for privacy, and a variety of vining plants, including squash, pumpkins, and cantaloupes to weave around their bases to limit how much weeding I'll have to do and maximize the space.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My Quest for Crap--Seeking sources of free (or at least cheap!) compost

When I was imagining how the transformation from a typical trailer park lot to gorgeous garden would go, I was dreaming of lush, dark soil under the grass and weeds found in our lot that would grow beautiful veggies without any amendments at all.  "Dreaming" is the operative word, all right!  What I dug up was worm rich, so probably not completely devoid of nutrients, but it was extremely sandy in some areas and clay-y in others.  So much for not adding anything to the soil!

I don't actually know a lot about gardening, since most of what I learn is by bumbling through and a little half-assed internet research and a book or two thrown in, so I might be totally wrong, but I figured adding some compost would cure whatever ailed my soil, so I began questing for some.  Sure, I could go buy some, either from a home improvement store in little bags of about 40 lbs each or from a landscape company that would probably deliver it in some giant truck that would freak out my neighbors and perhaps bring more of an eye to what I'm up to than I'm ready for at this point.  Buying things is always my option of a last resort, though.

I've been keeping my eye on Freecycle for free compost and/or manure as well.  I responded to such a post a couple years ago, a shovel your own kind of deal, for horse manure, but when I got there, the lady who offered it wouldn't let me shovel it myself, since I was very visibly pregnant at the time.  She shoveled it into the bags I brought for me!  Bonus!  This year, I wasn't able to get any of the offers I saw on Freecycle, so I was starting to lose hope.

At the church auction a few days ago, I was extremely excited to see "horse manure, delivered" on the list of items to be auctioned off.  I excitedly bid on it, and won it for $30, which wouldn't have even covered the gas if I went to pick it up, since I'd have to take multiple trips fairly far away in my mini-van to get it.  However, the next day at church, I was crushed to discover that there had been a miscommunication and it couldn't be delivered.  Fortunately, they didn't still hold me to paying the $30, since that price was supposed to include delivery.  Unfortunately, that meant my quest for compost continued.
A "crapload" of composted chicken poop

I had another plan though.  My source for free eggs offered me the opportunity to clean out a corn crib they had used to keep naughty roosters away from the hens, a rooster prison, if you will.  It was quite a while ago that it had been used for this purpose, so the chicken poo was well composted and beautiful.  With the help of my mom and far, far too much "help" from my kids, we got it bagged up and brought home in my van yesterday.

Yay!  Quest complete...I think.  I'll be spreading it around my garden areas this afternoon and making sure I have enough.  If not, the quest continues!

Monday, May 16, 2011

There Must Be A Easier Way...

This is tiring work, building up a mini-homestead from a trailer park lot and trying to get it basically done in one season!  A lot of days, I'm starting to wonder if this is all worth it.  Surely, there must be an easier way!

Well, I suppose some people could and would just go to the store and buy all their food, but considering the severe limitations on my budget and near snobbishness about what my family eats, demanding a high quality, all natural product at nearly no cost, that's just not going to happen for me.

I suppose "normal" people with my food budget (about $30 a week for a family of 5-6, if you are just joining me) would probably go to a food bank or two on a pretty regular basis.  Again, I don't see that as an option for us, in part because of the requirement that my family be fed good food...and because I don't know where there are any food banks around here. 

There is one other option that I know about.  No, not stealing, since that has the potential to be extremely costly in other ways, like the risk of getting caught, not to mention any karmic retribution.  I'm talking about wild harvesting or foraging.  I actually did turn to that way years ago, before I had the space and knowledge to garden in limited space.  When my oldest son was about 2 years old, I tried to live with his dad for a while and things were extremely tight then too.  We got absolutely no government help (probably only because I didn't know how to apply for it, since I'm sure we would have qualified!), not even WIC and only had about $5 a month to spend on food for the three of us.  That's right--$5 a month!  At the time, my parents' house was too far away to get help from them in the way of garden produce, so that wasn't even an option for help.  We were on our own.  Every now and then, my son's idiot dad would bring home some fancy-schmancy meat-alternative thing, since were leaning toward vegetarianism at the time, but he was not shopping savvy at all, so sometimes that was the only grocery for the week beyond the $5 I had access to.  And that $5 went toward buying milk for our toddler.  I'd sometimes snag a little for cooking too though--which helped a lot for making the weeds I'd scrounge up more palatable.

I'm sure I did a lot of things wrong on my foraging expeditions.  I had access to field guides from the library, but that didn't always tell me what I needed to know, like how to find the weeds that didn't taste like, well, weeds!  I think I have found such a book for future expeditions though.* Pocket Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants by Kathryn Higgins is a clear, concise guide to wild edibles.  Unlike a lot of the books I used at the time, this "pocket guide" will actually fit in a pocket (yes, I tested this with my jeans' pocket!) and it's spiral binding makes it easy to manipulate and use in the field.  If you are looking for a particular plant, for example, it would be very easy to leave it open to the page with the beautiful photo of that plant to make identification very easy.  Each entry also gives a brief, easy to understand and use description of the plant itself, as well as edible, medicinal, and other uses, so you can see at a glance if that is something worth picking when you find it!

Some other features I love about this book is that it gives clear warnings for a lot of plants that need them, like ones you don't want to use if pregnant or ones that may have a similar looking poisonous plant.  Another thing I love is that it has listings of further resources in the back, including to more field guides (mostly for the western US and Rocky Mountain areas), more books on medicinal uses of plants, as well as cookbooks for wild edibles and books on making medicines from the wild plants.  I especially could have used those further resources years ago!  I had to guess on a lot of things...and I'm sure I guessed wrong more often than not!  The book also has gathering guidelines in the back to make foraging trips more successful and some wonderful blank pages in the back--brilliant for keeping track of where you found things for previous years, or making notes of what worked or didn't for recipes or medicines.

Even though this book was probably written for and about more the western US and/or Rocky Mountains, there were still a lot of plants I recognized as being in Michigan as well.  This is a case where I can clearly see that the price of buying this book would well be worth it, since by using the information in it to feed your family and gather plants to make homemade medicines, it could easily save someone thousands of dollars over a lifetime!

As for me, I probably will use this book quite a bit, once I get the garden going.  However, for now, as I pull the many weeds already growing in my garden, it was also a source of frustration, as I realized that most, if not all the "weeds" I had been pulling out and tossing aside, were also food.  On some level, foraging can be easier than gardening, but I like the assurance and insurance of having fruits and vegetables I know my family likes growing right in my Trailer Park Homestead.
Find the food:  I was just trying to grow spinach here (lower right hand corner), but, if I'm not mistaken every single plant here is just as edible!

*   Disclaimer:  Pocket Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants was sent to me as a freebie to review.  I told the representative of Motherlove Herbal Company, who published the book, that I would only be interesting on doing any reviews if I was completely honest about any products I reviewed.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Baked Chicken on Rice (or how to make 1 chicken breast feed a whole family)

During my last freezer cleaning expedition, I found a couple of frozen chicken breast halves.  They weren't even big ones.  Just tiny little ones.  But, using my powers of thriftiness (and invoking some of my homemade cream of mushroom soup), I managed to feed the whole family with them in a super tasty way.

I thought about posting this recipe the other day, on my anniversary, because it was supposed to be served at my wedding reception, but because of electrical problems (my mother-in-law didn't make it ahead of time like she was supposed to and shorted something out at the old farmhouse that we had the wedding and reception at, so it didn't cook right), it didn't end up being served, so I decided to hold the recipe for another day.  Appropriate, since we had the failed leftovers from our wedding for many, many other days!

Baked Chicken on Rice

2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup uncooked white rice
1 cup fresh mushrooms

Cut the chicken into chunks.  Mix all ingredients in a casserole dish.  Cover tightly and bake at 350 (don't need to preheat the oven) for 1 hour.  Remove the cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.  Let cool 10 minutes before serving.

This pairs well with green beans and/or peaches.

*if using canned cream of mushroom soup, you can adjust the amount of soup to use it up rather than letting it go to waste.  Just reduce the amount of milk to maintain the same amount of liquid. You can also reduce the amount of cream of mushroom soup if your homemade stuff is a stronger flavor than you'd like in this.  Just add more milk to compensate.