29 May 2012

Garden Shazaam!

Last week - well, the Canadian May Long Weekend (Victoria Day), Manthing and I put in the garden. I should say gardens because we have more than one now. Most of the weekend was beautiful, and Manthing loves the garden so he happily played outside while I worked on laundry and the kitchen, and and and all the things that need to get done in a house.

When it was finally time for me to come out and help with the planting, it started to rain. Manthing beat a hasty retreat (so much for 'snakes and snails and puppy dog tails', he thought he was made of sugar and was going to melt). I, on the other hand, figured if I didn't do it now, in the rain, it wasn't happening, so out I went in the miserable weather, and planted my medicine gutters.

Then I planted the annuals in the front - we decided on annuals up there because I want to build a deck around the front of the house, and so didn't want to spend the money on perennials just to tear them out later this summer or early next spring.

The rain let up on Monday evening just long enough for Manthing to dig out the new kidney shaped garden in the front. Or at least most of it, anyhow. There's a stump that is home to a colony of ants that needs removing, so next time he is home we're going to tear that out and finish up that little bed - maybe raise it too.

Anyhow, here's some shots from The May Long.
My herbs are all in pots this year. I am theorizing this will allow me to maximize their sun.
This will eventually be kidney shaped. Also, that hideous cable box may be on my property and not the city easement, in which case I will give them 2 weeks to move it before I hack it to bits with an axe. Okay, maybe I won't do that, but I will remove it if it is on my property.
Tomatoes in the back, strawberries in the front. That centre aisle will be carrots.
Gardening is dirty work. And I don't really like shoes in the summer.
Doesn't look like much now, but it's going to be ah-mah-zing!

24 May 2012

Time Flies

We've had a bad run of gastro the last couple of weeks at our house. First it was Girlchild, then it was me. Then it was Girlchild, again, and then me again. So recovery has been slow.

To top it all off, today I inadvertently gave myself food poisoning. I've been making refrigerator oatmeal for breakfast for the last couple of months, and on Sunday I made my weekly batch up. So delicious.

Anyhow, yesterday Girlchild asked me for a glass of milk. I opened the jug and PEEE-YOOO! It was off. I didn't think about it again, and out it went (well, down the sink it went). This morning I was yumming down my oatmeal and on the last bite I recalled the nasty milk from yesterday. The same milk that had made my oatmeal. I immediately felt my gag reflex kick in, but for whatever reason, I swallowed the last bite (probably thinking 'well, I'm screwed anyhow').

I was fine until shortly after lunch. My stomach was churny, but not really angry. After lunch? Not so much. I know that's probably oversharing, but I am a nurse, and well, bodily functions are just biology after all.

Anyhow, I had an ice cream date with a friend, so I soldiered on because other than the occasional cramping, I was really okay. The ice cream was magic. It's like it went in, and took the bad milk and gave it a talking to. Now I'm back to just plain churny, but also starving hungry.

Did I mention I need to drive 600km tomorrow? After work? Yay?

Anyhow, it's been a bit unfortunate that we've been waylaid by intestinal indiscretions so early in the blog. I will make up for it next week, when I am back from the coast.

16 May 2012

Crunchy loot and a stomach bug

This past weekend, we (the whole family!) partook in a medieval recreation event here in town. This is how Manthing and I met, and while Manthing's activity has, by necessity, dropped off, mine has stayed high. We love it. Girlchild loves it. My cup is refilled at events, and I get to spend time with people I've personally chosen to include in my family. It's all around good for the soul.

Unfortunately, what is good for the soul is not always good for the vessel. Somehow we managed to catch a nasty gastro this weekend. I know it was at the event purely through process of elimination. Girlchild started barfing on Monday night. I was sick by Tuesday, and so was Manthing when I called to wish him happy birthday yesterday. Additionally, 2 of our friends who were at the event also got sick. So yeah, the last few days have been horribly unpleasant. Last night I had a fever of 38.8 degrees that didn't budge with the liberal application of tylenol, so I bundled up and prayed that I wouldn't die overnight. When I finally woke this morning, I was back to normal 37.0, with a crashing caffeine withdrawal headache. Yay. Then my stomach lurched, my celebration stopped, and I called me and the kid in sick.

The exciting news was that because I was home, my order from Mountain Rose Herbs got to be delivered into my hot little hands, rather than heading back to the post office.

It included 3 packages of seeds, some herbs, butters, oil and containers. Squee. It's also the first thing I've bought online since I paid off my credit cards in March, so it was a big production. Manthing and I got on the phone and talked about each thing I chose, and I actually changed my order quite significantly while we talked. And a good thing too, because the herbs were a helluva lot lighter than I'd expected.

That giant bag of calendula there? That's only 4 ounces!! The midsized bag of arnica? 1 ounce!! The gargantuan bag of plantain is 8 ounces. Had I only known!! So here's a lesson, fellow apprentice-crunchies - buy small. It saves shipping, and apparently everything you want is super light. Or something. Last time I ordered from Mountain Rose Herbs, I was not as astonished by the size of everything, so maybe it was just the stuff I got this time.
From top left, clockwise: Calendula, Arnica, Plantain, Oregon Grape Root, St. John's Wort.

I also got some butters for adding into body creams. I love shea butter for my face, and these unrefined butters have very little gunkus in them, so I thought I'd try them on for size. They both smell divine. The cocoa butter smells edible, it's so cocoa-y.

So now I need to make some plants. I'm going to cold infuse the arnica and calendula for a bruise/sore muscle rub and see if it is more or less effective than with the essential oils. And I've got a jones to make another lavender salve - one of my friends has asked to buy some from me, and I might toss a little shea into that to make it even more decadent.

First I've got to stop barfing though.

13 May 2012

The backyard plans

One of the ways that our family is already fairly sustainable is that we've been growing a vegetable garden for the last few years.

Let me back up a little. 3 years ago - No... I need to go further back.

My husband, by trade, is an electrician. He was working for a company that had him working away a lot, and while our daughter was really wee, sometimes it was everything I could do to manage to vacuum the lawn (for whatever reason, that's what my husband and I have taken to calling mowing. Sue us, but it makes us laugh and it's always accidental). As Girlchild got older, I started to want to grow things. However, I have a determined and decidedly black thumb. Manthing, on the other hand? Green hands, his thumbs are so green.

So 3 years ago, when the economy took enough of a nosedive that Big Oil even started slowing down, and he was laid off, we decided that we could save a lot of money if we grew our own vegetable garden. Because it was June before we had this brainwave, our initial outlay was fairly significant, but we both worked hard at it (him more than me, refer back to black thumb comment), and we had fresh vegetables and strawberries by late August.

The gardening bug hit Manthing hard, and we started planning early for the following year. Manthing expanded the garden, and we decided to try for squash. We also adopted some flowers for the front from a friend who was pulling them out of her garden. We chucked them into a rubbermaid tote and brought the whole thing home from Kelowna, where she and her husband live, and then transplanted them into our front garden. We also added a lavender to the front, and a gooseberry, although the gooseberry has never given us any yield. Our veg garden in the back though! Peas! Carrots! Lettuce, rhubarb, strawberries, herbs, tomatoes, potatoes.

We learned loads that second year - like why not to plant tomatoes and potatoes beside each other.

The significance of the arrows is that they point to potato fruit, which are potentially fatal if ingested.
Last year, Manthing revamped the garden again. We hadn't really had any success with our squash, which is crazy because even our zucchini didn't grow, and zucchini get as big as minivans around here. He did some research, and I started our seeds (see? we were evolving and thinking), and I decided this was the year my black thumb turned green.

Most of our forced seeds died because my thumb is truly that black. I have some other fairly significant excuses that I think allow for me to think there is rehabilitation available for my thumb, but last year was a bit of a wash.

Girlchild got into the swing of things last year too. She chose Pea Knights and Cucumber Dragons to seed, and we actually got cukes from her plants. And we had more peas and carrots than we knew what to do with, although the carrots were all terribly small last year. We had horrible weather, so our already abbreviated growing season was even shorter than usual (we can't plant outside any earlier than the May long weekend. For the non-Canucks reading, that's the 3rd weekend of May). We got 4 teeny pumpkins, another bumper crop of strawberries, rhubarb, beans, peas, carrots...I know there was more, but I got angry at my camera and didn't document it all.

You may have noticed there were no tomatoes in last years crop, and I've never once mentioned onion. There's a reason. I was bothered by the loss of my tomato crop to the deadly potato fruit the previous year, and didn't want to put it in all the work again. That makes me sound bitter and stupid, and maybe that's true. But I'm also allergic to tomatoes, so while they grow really well here, there's a lot of work that goes into processing them to a point that I can actually eat them (they need to be cooked to death). And we don't grow onions for the same reason. Allergies. Except that my onion allergy is significantly worse - there's no way for me to eat them, so why bother growing them?

This year I would like to put garlic in though. Because NOM.

I digress. Today, we went to the botanical society plant sale, and learned a valuable lesson. Be there a half hour before it opens because WOW. We got there a half hour after it opened, and they were stripped almost bare. So we continued on to a local nursery and picked up some plants there. I also ordered plants from Girlchild's spring school fundraiser (tomatoes, strawberries and herbs).

The latest addition though, which I'm most excited about, is a gutter garden. I first saw the idea on Pintrest, and I've been thinking about it ever since. Last year I tried to plant a medicine garden, and it just. didn't. happen. Partly because the weather was crap and partly because it was poorly planned, tended and arranged. So when I saw the gutter garden idea, I knew it was the answer to my prayers. This morning we went out and bought 3 ten foot lengths of gutter, and Manthing mounted them on the shed, which gets good sunlight all summer. Next weekend, we'll fill them with dirt, and plant my medicine plants! WOO! I have all kinds of exciting things to put in there, I can't wait!

I'm really looking forward to the garden this summer. With Manthing out of town for work, I know I'll be putting a lot of work into it, but with my new regular schedule, I think a half hour in the garden after work every day while Girlchild plays on her fort is totally within the realm of doing. So hopefully there will be a huge harvest and excellent bounty this year.

10 May 2012

Stuff (as in, the stuff you need)

So, let's say you want to make some fun natural balms/salves/creams/whatever.

Do not eff up your good kitchen stuff, okay?

Here's a quick and dirty list of what you need to acquire for your remedy-making-pile. Acquire it however you would like, I don't care. I prefer to acquire my stuff either through repurposing something in my kitchen that never gets used (I'm looking at you, mix-measure-and-pour gadget), or by hunting down things in a thrift store.

First and foremost, a pot. You only need one, if you know how to clean it. I know what you're thinking. A 5 year old knows how to wash a pot. Well, 2 things. First: No, a 5 year old doesn't. Mine knows how to use a dishwasher. And I'm not putting something waxy in a dishwasher to eff up all my good stuff. Second: Wax is a bitch to get out of a pot.

I would recommend purchasing either an enamel pot or a glass pot. They won't leech metal schtuffs into your goods, and they're marginally easier to clean (not really). Both these types of item seem to be available in abundance at thrift stores, but here's the kicker: if you buy glass you MUST double boiler pretty much everything you make. When I was younger, and still disillusioned into thinking I loved other people's children enough to want to be a teacher, I lead Girl Guides. And we were making firestarters as a craft one day. And we were melting wax on a low heat in a glass pot. All of a sudden KABOOM, glass and wax everywhere, and the stove ignited, and someone threw water on it which made the fire spread and then suddenly we had to actually use the fire extinguisher. MOTHER EFF, it is hard to scrape chemical-y wax off a stove. My point is, double boiler of some sort if you plan on buying glass. So really, just buy a damn enamel pot. They were super popular in the 70s and every thrift store on the earth has them.

Eff Yeah! If you ever find a pot like this, you are now morally obligated to buy it for me. Mine is black with white speckles.

Well, that's item number one....

• You'll also want mixing implements of some sort. I prefer silicone spatulas because they clean well and don't absorb anything. Also, I have about 6000 of them, so I could repurpose some. I don't like wooden spoons because you can't get into corners with them, and they're kind of a one-shot deal because otherwise cross contamination becomes an issue. And sure, it's all natural, but you don't want lip gloss that tastes like eucalyptus.

• A pouring container - it's hard to pour stuff out of a pot without spilling everywhere, so a dedicated vessel with a wide enough mouth that you can transfer pot contents into it, and still pour with some precision is nice. I use a pampered chef mix-measure-and-pour. I don't like salad dressing, so the damn thing had been gathering dust in my cupboard for ages. If you don't want to repurpose your $12 kitchen gadget, that's okay. Pick up a pyrex measuring cup at the thrift store while you're buying your pot. Oh, here's a lesson learned moment. Don't buy one of those squirty bottles from the kitchen section of the dollar store (it looks like an old timey ketchup bottle from a diner, but is white) - your liquids cool and congeal way to fast in those, and you'll lose a lot of precious remedy to them. And they're impossible to clean. So, it's a waste of a buck, and it's going straight to the bin once you're finished because you can't clean it. Eff that.

• A cheese grater. But not your good one. You'll need to grate your wax, unless you are independently wealthy enough to buy wax pastilles. You're never getting the wax rubs off that grater though, so again with the dedicated tool (I used to date a guy who was a dedicated tool. Huh.) Find yourself a sturdy one too - you don't want it to cave in while you grate. I don't like knuckle in my lavender salve, and neither does anyone else.

• I now give you permission to buy something at the dollar store - silicone ice cube molds. They're great for lotion bars, so scope them out.
So effing cute!

• a mortar and pestle that you can clean easily is nice to have, but if you don't have one, it's not the end of the world.
Purty. And yes, that is a Star Wars lightsabre lip gloss in the background. So what?

I got mine from a medical supply place for dirt cheap, and I use it enough to warrant the purchase. At the same time, I'm also a nurse, and I have a child, so I can use it to crush pills too. Because it's glass, it washes up like a dream, and I don't worry about contamination at all.

• a scale is a must. This scale is the best gift I've ever received.
Electric-y goodness, coming to you in ounces, grams, and something else.

My husband, bless him, is a total man. He is terrible at buying gifts, and consquently, he gets a mile long list at Hexmas that says 'Any of these would be lovely, but if you buy them all I will kick you in the eye'. That way he has some ideas, but there's also some surprise for me. I never thought to put an electronic scale on my wish list. I had a kitchen scale already. I hated it, and it was huge and took up half of my kitchen and it was horribly inaccurate, but I had one. But because he knew I hated it, even though it wasn't on my Hexmas list, he bought it for me. Everyone was horrified because they thought it was a 'hey Fattie, lose some weight' present. I love it because it meant he'd noticed I'd been losing weight, and recognized the corrolation between me weighing my food and losing weight. And he noticed that our scale sucked and through deductive reasoning, was able to buy me a gift. AND I can use it in the creation of awesome things too. So yeah. Electronic scale if you've got one, but you'll need a scale of some sort anyhow.


• Measuring cups and spoons. DEDICATED, because they'll get covered in stuff that while lovely and natural maybe shouldn't be directly ingestion. Like clove oil.

• Something to annoy your cat and distract you while you wait for things to set, infuse, magically turn into medicine, etc.
So dreamy. And yes, my cat is fat. What are you saying?

This is my boyfriend Thor. He's a god. He's brilliantly sexy and hot and while Chris Hemsworth is pretty, he's not what I'd always envisioned Thor to be when I was a little girl dreaming about Thor. I thought he would be broader, and a bit rougher. I like a bit of rough in a man. Anyhow, Thor doesn't have a 'whoops-there's-my-aussie-coming-out' accent, and so while I certainly wouldn't kick Chris Hemsworth out of bed for eating crackers, I save the good stuff for really-Thor. If he ever shows up. Did you hear that Thor?

Anyhow, I digress.

Actually, that's kind of everything I can think of right now. I think I'll go play with Thor some more.

09 May 2012


I've had a love affair with lavender for a long long time. Which is funny because I am exceptionally sensitive to strong smells, and lavender is quite strong. But it is also a soothing scent, so maybe that's why I'm not immediately beset by sneezes when I smell it.

As a medicinal herb, lavender is like a swiss army knife. It is antiseptic, analgesic, and may even be antiviral(!). It is commonly used to settle and soothe agitated babies, and is gaining popularity in dementia care for the same purpose. It has clinically noted effect on anxiety and depression. It also can soothe migraine pain and insomnia. It is brilliant on dry skin and clinical disorders of the skin (excema, psoriasis, acne and fungal infections). And it grows like a weed here.

Anything hardy enough to grow like stink and reseed in our short short growing season is a winner in my book. Let's just say, if I could marry lavender, I would. I like to think the human version of lavender would look like one of these men:

Swedish Lavender

Western Canada Lavender

Hardy Northern Alberta Lavender
See? I love lavender. It's that simple.

And now.. Uh... I'm lost. *swoon*

Right! Lavender.

Because lavender is so versatile, it makes it a perfect plant for a Closet Crunchy's apothecary. And really, up until a couple of years ago, I was very much in the closet about my crunchy ways. I always kept lavender on hand. I had a jar of it beside my bed to help me sleep until a very helpful and handsy 5-year-old dumped it (on me. While I was sleeping. Because it would help me to sleep.) I just didn't tell anyone about my lavender lovethang.

When I started working more frequently in dementia care, we started seeing more and more prescriptions for lavender cream for agitation, and I really noticed how fake and stanky most lavender creams were. So I decided it was time to make my own. I had the means. I had the experience, from making salves from medieval recipes (note: lard does actually go rancid, and lard based ointments have a very limited shelf life). I pulled out my trusty medicine pot and went to work.

The end result was a beautiful hard salve. I had to do a heat infusion for the oil, but it is so lovely. I think if I'd had fresh lavender I would have worked harder to ensure a cold infusion, but I was working with dry materials, so in the back of my mind, I didn't really think it mattered.

No, actually, I can't spell lavender. Sue me.

See that big tin? It's sitting on my desk at work, and every morning, I rub a schmear onto my hands and rub the tin all over my elbows. I smell divine, my skin is happy, and the scent makes the lingering morning blah just melt away.

The basic recipe:
For every cup of oil, add 1 heaping tablespoon of beeswax. More for a harder salve, less for a softer one. If it's not hard enough, you can remelt it, and add more beeswax. If it's too hard, remelt it and add some extra oil. Add 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of vitamin E oil as a preservative, and your salve will last longer. Yay!

To infuse oil:

Heat infusion: heat on low for 20 minutes. Allow to cool, strain through cheesecloth and really wring out the oil. I had a picture of me doing this, but I can't find it. Weird. I was making the world's most awesome 'wringing face' too.

Cold Infusion: put herbs into a jar, and cover with oil. Place in the window (or somewhere that gets natural light) for 2-3 weeks, shaking every few days. Strain through cheesecloth and wring out the oil.

Have fun!

07 May 2012

It started so innocently

A few years ago, I got bitten by the research bug. I wanted to learn about medieval medicine, so I began reading, making notes and learning everything I could about the way ailment and illness was treated in the Middle Ages, focusing mostly on the 10-12th centuries. I was amazed and astonished at the wealth of knowledge that was available to healers then, nearly 1000 years ago. Dioscorides' De Materia Medica holds information that he collected on literally thousands of plants and their medicinal uses. The more common ex herbis feminis gave healers an abridged collection of common northern European plants from which to make their remedies.
The amazing think that I learned while I researched was that there is common bond between modern medicine and these medieval recipes. As a nurse, I learned in training that willow is the base for aspirin, and foxglove is what digoxin is formulated from. So that knowledge is somewhat easy to get at, but there are other treatments that have been common for all these years that, while considered 'alternative' therapies now, are tried and tested for hundreds of years. Like horehound for colds.
Armed with my wee bit of knowledge, I took to making some remedies. As I live in a 'northern' climate, I endure 6 months of winter, and the 6 months of coughs and colds that accompany that kind of weather. I decided my first project would be horehound lozenges and cough syrup.
What fun I had!

How awful was that stuff? Yuck!

But it flipped a switch in my brain, and I've been fomenting some rather big changes in our life ever since.

We've had some harsh lessons over the past couple of years. Due to the downturn in the economy, we were living far beyond our means, and everything came to a head for us just before Christmas. I looked at our sad bank balance and knew there would be no more 'borrowing' from our retirement fund to get us through a few months. I'd been eating healthier, and I wanted to continue to do so, and eating healthy in a northern climate is not cheap. Etcetera, etcetera.

We kicked 2011 out and welcomed the potential of 2012 being so much better. And so far, it has been. My husband changed careers, and now is just finishing up his final training. I have changed careers, which allowed me to land a full-time position at the local college. This marks the first time in 6 years we've both had full-time work. I'm healthier, due to weightloss and positive thinking, and am finally able to tackle the hellhole that my house had become over that dark 2 years. And we, as a family, are finally able to plan for our future, rather than borrowing from it.

So now the focus is sustainable living. Not because we're greasy hippies, but because stepping away from prepackaged everything will allow us to be healthier in body and mind. We want to minimize our home's footprint because we like to travel. We want to minimize our home expenses for the same reason. But we also want to learn to support ourselves, and break free from the clutches of our consumer driven society. We want to eat natural foods, use natural products and minimize the toxins in our lives.

So this blog is to document our journey from a consumer-culture driven family to a more earth friendly, frugal, sustainable lifestyle. I suspect there will be pitfalls, and I suspect there will be times when I rage against this decision. But I'm also committed. We might not every truly be Crunchy Granolas, but we'll try to get as Crunchy as we can.