Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Getting Healthy: Week 4 Update

I hope everyone had a great two weeks working on Getting Healthy! Time now for the moment of truth - I am pleased to let you know that I lost an additional 3.5 pounds in the two weeks prior to 9/25/2010 - for a grand total in the last four weeks of 7.0 pounds! I'm very excited about the progress I've made so far. I'm at the point now where I can really tell that I have lost some weight - clothes are fitting more loosely, my face doesn't look as "puffy" as I always felt it did, and the ease with which I am staying the course is almost scary! Jason says he can definitely tell I'm losing weight (and that's without my prompting!). The following are a few observations from the previous two weeks:
  • On 9/15 I had something of a set-back. I walked 3 miles at 7pm (CST) on 9/14, and again at 7am on 9/15. The last 1/4 mile of that morning walk I knew I had pushed it too much. My old, beaten up exercise shoes - you know, the ones that no longer have any lining on the inside and plastic just grinds into your heels? Well, they did a number on mine. I got the two biggest blood blisters I've ever had in my life (1" each - one just above each heel). I was only able to wear flip flops for the next 6 days. Since walking is my go-to exercise, it forced me to come up with other ways of getting my heart rate up. I ended up doing things like pushups, situps, lifting with 8lb. weights, and pilates-inspired leg exercises. I was so worried I 'd relapse to my old ways (it's just my habit), but I continued to eat responsibly and kept up with the calisthenics until my heels healed enough for me to walk for exercise again.
  • On 9/19 I had my first "food incident" since starting my healthier lifestyle on 9/01. I finished a sensible dinner around 7pm, but just two hours later I was craving more (& really bad!) food with a vengeance. I was feeling extremely sorry for myself, literally pouting on the couch for 30 minutes because I wanted to eat so bad but knew I didn't truly need it. In my old life I would have hopped up and thought to myself, "I had a tough day, I deserve to make a plate of greasy ice cream sunday...(insert any horrendous-for-you-but-yummy food here)." But I stayed glued to the couch. Eventually I just got bored and began to think of some things I should be doing instead. Jason and I ended up spending about an hour cleaning off/out our desk (yes, it's a big desk!). The desire to mindlessly pig-out passed, and I didn't ruin any of the progress I'd made.
  • As I was getting dressed the morning of 9/21, I realized my standard two pairs of size 14 jeans were both dirty. I looked in the closet and half-heartedly pulled out a pair of size 12s I haven't been able to wear in the last 9 months. And guess what? Not only did they fit, but they fit perfectly! Not tight at all. Just one month ago I couldn't even breathe with them buttoned - I had to stuff myself in them like meat into a sausage skin! Now I can even feel the slightest amount of space between my leg and the material. It is a great feeling!
So, how about you? Did you have any setbacks these last few weeks? Any accomplishments? Let me know - I'd love to hear from you! - Carrie

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Four Minutes of Sleep

I have long said that our "more efficient" society isn't as efficient as we would like to believe.

Here's a four minute clip from TED that talks about ancient sleep habits and how we live today. -Jason

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hard Headed v. Hard Helmeted

Kenny here. It is said that there are two kinds of cyclists. Those who have crashed, and those who are going to crash. As I mentioned in my last entry, riding a bicycle can be dangerous. As you may recall, I am not so proud to belong to the “have crashed” category. Your accident does not have to be as traumatic as mine, and I hope to impart some helpful safety tips to prolong your time in the “has not crashed yet” category.

Here we go:
1. Wear a helmet. Of course we look goofy wearing it, but at least the mush stays inside the skull as a result of the goofiness. I know that we never wore one as children and we turned out just fine, but why tempt fate?
2. Maintain a keen awareness of your surroundings. I fully believe that I could have avoided my brush with death had I not been listening to my I-Pod. I could have heard the vehicle behind me and taken evasive action. Don’t talk on the phone or text while riding either. Duh!
3. Wear bright clothes. There is a term for cyclists that wear dark colors and have no reflectors or blinking lights. Ninja. Ninjas are undetectable. Until they get hit by a car or truck that is.
4. Learn the motor vehicle laws. While riding your bike on public roadways, it is your responsibility to be familiar with the laws of the road. A bicycle is considered a vehicle and is afforded the same laws as any other vehicle. In Dallas, it is against the law to ride on the sidewalk. I know this seems counter-intuitive, but I was hit by a Mini-Van because I entered the intersection from the sidewalk, practically invisible to the motorist.
5. Ride during daylight hours. Remember the term Ninja? If you are going to ride at night, have a headlight system and an extremely bright red blinky on the back. This is a must and is the law in most municipalities. I also have a reflective orange triangle that I sewed to my backpack.
6. Stop at Stop Signs. This seems like a no brainer, but you could not imagine how many cyclists feel as though the aforementioned motor vehicle laws don’t apply to them. I must admit that I spent an afternoon getting a ticket dismissed for this one. Never said I was perfect….But now I know. And knowing is half the battle.

I hope that you are taking this seriously, there will be a quiz soon. -Kenny

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Another Nest Box Giveaway!

Well folks, they're at it again! Less than two months after the last giveaway, Life on a Southern Farm is giving away yet another chicken nest box - except this time it's a 3-holer! Good for 9-12 chickens. Probably come early spring we will be getting a few more chickens (those eggs are addictive!), so a box this size would come in handy. Head over to their site and get your name in the pot! The contest ends at midnight (EST) on September 17th. Good Luck! -Carrie

Ask and Ask Again

The other day I was at a big box store which I try not to routinely visit, but my particular need for this item didn’t allow for second hand shopping. During this trip, I found that the item I was in need of, but also found that it wasn’t in stock. It was the cheapest of the brands with no bells or whistles. I quickly grabbed the next associate who looked like she belonged in that department and asked if I could purchase the shelf model or get a break on the next most expensive item. “We don’t do that….” she said with a disgusted look on her face and quickly walked away.

Hmm… I’m more persistent than that. Next stop, assistant manager. Very next stop, cash register with the next most expensive brand at the cheaper price. Persistence pays.

Incidentally, that's how I won my wife. Ironically, I found her in a store too. -Jason

Monday, September 13, 2010

Getting Healthy: Week 2 Update

Sorry, everyone, I meant to get this out on Saturday but we had a busy weekend. Just wanted to give an update on how Mission Getting Healthy is going. And the answer is - awesome! I wish I could explain it, but it seems for me, this time, things are just clicking. I'm no longer stuffing my piehole the second the going gets tough/rough. And believe me, it's fairly stressful around here as all 5 of us started school - and we're all at different schools! I ended up losing 3.5 pounds in the 10 days from September 1st to the morning of the 11th. Like I explained in my original post, I'm counting on the following weeks to have a smaller loss per week. But I feel great and determined to push on.

Some observations:
  • While taking my daughter to soccer practice I no longer just sit there and read a book - I walk at least two miles around the scenic track.
  • Instead of relegating pushing my youngest on the swing to my older two children, I actually get off my tush and do it myself. I even climbed up inside the three story "rocket ship" at the park - something I haven't done in the more than two years it's been installed.
  • I've found I would much rather get some exercise outside than sit in front of the TV and do a video.
  • Eating an apple after lunch (usually a big salad or a homemade whole wheat tortilla with beans and veggies) seems to really help keep my hunger at bay until much closer to dinner.
  • Historically, when I eat too much (and don't get enough exercise) I get really frustrated and beat myself up about it. Though it's not right, I sometimes take it out on the kids. I truly believe there was much less yelling at the children than there usually is - and no, I don't think they just happened to become angels right at the time I started eating better!
I'm going to post these updates every other Saturday morning, unless there is a vocal opposition from the peanut gallery to do it on a different day (or more than once every two weeks). So let me know what you think. How did you do this past week? I'd love hear from you. I wish you well during the next two weeks. I'll be with you in spirit! And remember, what you put into your mouth - just like what you add to a landfill or how long a shower you choose to take - is a conscious decision. Just being aware of that fact has somehow helped me this time. I don't have to mindlessly eat yet another cookie - I can reach for (and eat!) a juicy nectarine instead. You can too! -Carrie

Friday, September 10, 2010

Homemade...Fruit Leather

A few days ago strawberries went on sale at our local grocer for $1/pound. I bought 3 pounds. I decided to make some fruit leather (i.e. fruit roll-ups) in the dehydrator. It is so easy and you don't have to follow any type of recipe. They always turn out great - with none of the unnecessary "extras" in the commercial varieties. And amazingly enough the kids still love them. I used two pounds for this purpose and made 4 trays worth of leather. Yum!

Blueberry/Strawberry before dehydrating

After dehydrating for 9 hours

Not quite the same consistency as the store-bought stuff, but definitely healthier!

All I did was put a variety of fruit in the food processor and puree until smooth. For this batch I used:
  • 1 pound strawberries, tops removed
  • 1/2-1 cup blueberries
  • about 1/2 cup crushed pineapple I had left over from another meal
  • 1 apple
  • 1 pear
  • For a bit of extra sweetness I added 1 teaspoon of honey.
You need to be sure you use the special fruit leather insert to add to your trays, or the pureed fruit will just fall through the cracks (I believe most dehydrators come with at least one or two of these - ours came with two but we definitely will buy a few more soon). They also recommend greasing your fruit tray with a trace of vegetable oil first, because this allows it to come off easier when finished. As for the time it takes to dehydrate, it all depends on how thick you get the fruit on the tray. Our first batch took 9 hours but the second took a bit less because I didn't include the blueberries, so there was less fruit. It's also a good idea to separate the leather from the tray about 2/3-3/4 of the way through if possible. This just helps it to dry out a bit more evenly and faster.

Picture of completed leather cut & put in canning jar for storage.

Fruit leather is a great snack to have around the house. Or even better keep some in a purse or backpack to keep yourself (& the kids!) satisfied for those times when you're out and about, dinner isn't for a few hours, and your stomach starts yelling "Feed Me!" -Carrie

Thursday, September 9, 2010

She loves those birds

Hurricane Hermine came through Dallas today with little more than lots of heavy rain. Because we live on a major street, 2 years ago our front lawn was taken out and we installed a lot of decomposed granite to drive and park on. The material, for those who are not familiar, is easy to manipulate by raking and shaping. The top layer we put on a couple of weeks ago left puddles in my front yard, and since the conditions were right, I decided to go out in the rain to adjust the grade of the front parking.

30 minutes later, task done. Time to go in. Wait. We haven't paid much attention to the chickens since they are on the far side of the lawn and it's been raining for two days straight. "Hon, can you give me a couple of apples to toss to the chickens before I come in?"

"Should I cut them?"

"Sure, why not." What's another 20 seconds when you're already soaked.

Two minutes later... nothing.

Four minutes later... What's taking her so long? It's wet out here.

Another minute or two passes... "I'll have it right out."

Taking a peek inside, she's slicing and dicing, seasoning, sauteing, mixing, and fixing a meal fit for the queens... while I wait in the rain. Nothing's too good for our little egg layers. She loves those birds. -Jason

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Addicted to Oil: Petrophilla and the Like

Hi, my name is Jason.
Reader: Hi Jason.
I have an addiction, several actually. I didn’t really feel like it was a problem at first, but as soon as I became aware of my habits, I couldn’t stop myself. I looked on the internet for the proper names of my addictions, and since I can’t find them, I’m going to have to make their names up.
We’ll start first with my admission that I’m a McDonaphile. This one I hate to admit the most. I’m not a heavy user, and if it’s any consolation, when I do use, I keep to the dollar menu. But if I find myself on a hot day and the conditions are right, I’ve been known to pay three and a half bucks for a cold coffee. This condition is usually the result of my desire to get something quick and easy to eat with the absence of a competitor who serves veggie burgers on their dollar menu. It sits right there with Tacabellaphile. Old habits die hard, and I’ve had this habit since I was 17 when I ate there five or six times a week. I might exasperate these conditions once in a while with my love for a sweet soda. Anyone know what the name for that one is? I’d love to say colaphile, but I think the root name would be highfructosecornsyrupaphile. Say that three times fast.
After I satisfy my hunger for food, or sometimes in the process of satisfying it, I’ll drive off to wherever I was going in the first place which brings me to my next obsession. Autophilia is the love of the automobile. This isn’t quite the sin though, since actually loving the car doesn’t pollute the environment, but my love of cars begets my love of petroleum which leads to my next condition… petrolphilia?
I’m currently typing on a keyboard made of plastic, (ever heard of a computer with wooden keys?), using a mouse with the same material, and currently own about a bazillion things in my house which are made of this petroleum based material. So, and I’ve done some research on this, this may make me a polymerphile, vinylophile, polyvinylchloridiphile, polystyrenaphile or nylonaphile (to name just a few) which all depends on what I’m “jonesing” for at that particular moment.
I’m happy to say that I’ve dropped some of my previous loves which I won’t go into at this particular moment. Be it safe to say, I’m nowhere near where I want to be with my addictions, but knowing that you have a problem is half the battle.
My name is Jason, and I’ve been clean for the past nano-second. –Jason

Monday, September 6, 2010

How to Build Raised Beds (and Keep the Chickens Out of Them!)

Pictured above is the sight that used to greet me every time I walked out my back door and looked left. Not pretty. Realizing that this spot gets the most sun in our entire backyard (if only for a few hours a day), in early August I set about cleaning it up just in time to make some beds and plant fall (part sun) vegetables like spinach, lettuces, peas, and swiss chard.

I went back and forth regarding what type of wood to use. I really wanted to use cedar, but I priced it at numerous places, and the cost was almost four times as much as the white wood. If we were going to be in this house for the next ten years then I probably would have gone with the cedar. But I doubt it will be half that, and since price for us right now is a huge consideration, we had to go with the unfinished white wood. We (i.e. mainly Jason) made three 4'x8'x12" beds using 8'x6"x2" boards. There were hardly any cuts to make - most of his time was spent screwing the boards together. Below is a picture of the finished product. We ended up spending just over $15/bed. You can see that I already cleared the ground of all excess vegetation (though there wasn't much to begin with).

I really wanted to keep expenses down as much as possible, so I set about trying to fill the beds at least part way with free materials before having to buy the bulk soil/compost. To begin I put down a layer of unwaxed plain brown cardboard (not pictured) that we got for free from a local irrigation company that had used it in packaging. This was then given a good soaking, and I added a layer of finely shredded hardwood mulch that we also received free from a local tree trimming company - and they delivered it to our house! Sometimes they charge a minimal fee for this delivery, but we got lucky because we have done business with them in the past. On top of the mulch I added some Alfalfa Hay. The bale cost $8 and I have more than half left. So up until this point it only cost $4.00 total (plus our time) to fill all three beds about 1/3 of the way. Not bad!

Little did I know that the chickens would take to these beds like Jason takes to Ranch Dressing! More on this in a minute...(the chickens, not the Ranch).

On top of the hay I placed another very thin layer of the hardwood mulch. Then I cleaned out the chickens' pen of half-decomposed hay, leaves, shredded paper, and of course, manure, and put this on top of mulch layer #2. These layers were then given another good soaking. This is pictured below.

Below is the cleaned out area with the beds in place and partially filled. I'd say this is a major improvement over what the area looked like before!

We finished filling the beds with bulk "Specialty Planting Mix" from Living Earth Technology. It is recommended for raised beds by the General Manager of North Haven Gardens (in Dallas, TX) on her personal blog Grow Lively. Below is a picture of the finished beds.
  • The wooden trellises in the far back bed are ones we had from last year. The peas planted at the base of these are just now coming up. I planted 'Oregon Sugar' Snow Peas and 'Sugar Sprint' Snap Peas. The rest of the bed will have 'Bordeaux' and 'Tyee' Spinach.
  • The white trellis in the middle bed was found on the side of the road a few months ago (score!). It's probably a long shot but I'm going to try to get some cucumbers to grow on it. I had some 'Straight Eight' and 'Sumter' seed leftover and thought "What the heck?" To the right of the white trellis, just now coming up (from left to right), we have Organic Swiss Chard 'Rhubarb', Organic Green Oakleaf Lettuce 'Salad Bowl', Organic Red Grand Rapids Lettuce 'Red Sails', and Red Oakleaf Lettuce 'Malawi'.
  • I just planted the right 2/3s of the front bed with 'Bull's Blood' and 'Golden' Beets. In a few more weeks I will plant the left 1/3 with garlic, though I haven't decided what type yet.
  • To the left of all of the beds I have some large 30 gallon containers that will hold a variety of onions, leeks, strawberries, and some herbs.

And as for the chickens? Well, their unsupervised free range of 100% of the backyard days are over. They seem to be taking it in stride though. Jason set up a temporary run enclosure for them using an old tarp and a rope, and it's working just about perfectly. It's not ideal, but will work in the short term while we hunt for a more permanent and visually pleasing (and hopefully still free or close to it) solution. -Carrie

Friday, September 3, 2010

Self-Sustaining, Green, Crunchy, Locavore, and….Obese?

The Problem
This is a hard post for me to write but one that I can’t put off any longer. As our family continues this journey towards a more sustainable way of life, the one aspect of our lives that sticks out like a sore thumb is – me! I never guessed that I would be one of “those women” who "let themselves go" after getting married. But I've become a textbook case! I've gained almost 40 pounds in the five years of our marriage (20 in the first 1.5 years & 15-20 since having my son in 2007). My BMI (
Body Mass Index) today stands at 31.9 - for me, 11 pounds into the obese category! Me - obese! The word makes me cringe. And while I don't think of myself as obese, I am certainly overweight. It's time to take action.

I've always enjoyed food. However, in my younger, unmarried (and no kids!) years I was usually able to exercise when I wanted, for as long as I wanted. This helped to keep my weight down to a more acceptable range. It doesn't help that I'm a stress eater. My cousin, on the other hand, is a stress non-eater. Under stress she gets sick enough to her stomach that the mere thought of food makes her queasy, whereas under stress I get sick enough to my stomach that I eat to make it feel better, which then makes me queasy! It's a vicious cycle.

Upon our marriage I became an instant full time mom (with a full time job) to two children under 6 and within a few months we were crazy enough to both quit our jobs and start a new business. A year after our marriage I became pregnant with our youngest. Needless to say I was stressed. New marriage stress, business stress, money stress, and kid stress. So I ate.

The Ramifications
About three weeks ago I woke around 2:00AM with fairly intense pain & tingling running down my left arm. I never got back to sleep and it had only slightly lessened by daybreak. To say this freaked me out would be an understatement. I went to a walk-in clinic a few hours later and my blood pressure was completely fine. Thankfully, no heart attack (which of course I figured but I didn't know if anything else unsavory was going on). I did request a basic panel of labs drawn since I hadn't had any in over three years. Fortunately the results came back with fairly flying colors. No more blaming my weight on a possible thyroid problem or diabetes (both issues in my family). Even my cholesterol was 198, the lowest it's been over the last 15 years (again, my family has a tendency towards high cholesterol).

But there are other reasons to lose the weight that have nothing to do with the medical side of things. For instance, I don't really like to go out in public. I think I probably hide it well, but I could think of a million other things I'd rather do than be seen in this body. I've become much less outgoing than I used to be. I don't usually strike up conversations with people I don't know because I don't want to draw attention to myself. I'm so sick of wearing the same two pairs of jeans (even to church!) and 3 or 4 shirts because I haven't fit into my "cute" clothes that I've had in a box in the closet for the last 4 years. My self esteem can be low at times and this effects our marriage. Then there's the cost of purchasing more food than I need. Another thing that has really been on my heart recently is the fact that here we have this "healthy living, sustainable lifestyle" blog, and while we live and breathe everything we write about, I can't get a handle on my eating. It's hypocritical and embarrassing and I don't want to be that person any longer.

The Plan
I need to lose about 50 pounds. I truly can't remember the last time I weighed 50 pounds less than I do today. Even on my wedding day I was only 35 pounds under what I am now. Losing 50 pounds would still put me at a BMI of 23.0, in the higher range of normal. However, I have never been a bean pole and I don't expect to ever be one. Now, just how quickly can I lose 50 pounds? When I “did” Weight Watchers a few years ago (twice, actually) I almost always lost exactly 1.2 pounds per week after the initial higher weight loss of the first few weeks. Dividing 50 pounds by 1.2 pounds/week, that means it will take me approximately 42 weeks to lose that much weight. 42 weeks – to the end of June, 2011 - almost 10 months! Ugh. That sounds like a really long time. It’s hard in this culture of instant gratification to accept the fact that it may indeed take that many months to lose this much weight. But it took me a while to put it on, so it should take me a while to take it off. Plus I do not want this to be a diet. It is a lifestyle (both mental & physical) change that I must sustain for the rest of my life. And I’m OK with that. I want to see my kids grow up, and I want to be able to retire with my husband. And consuming more food than I biologically need in theory takes away from those who are truly hungry.

What I Will Do to Keep Myself Accountable

  • Write down what I eat for each meal and snack, every day. I find that I am so much more "present" with my eating when I follow this simple rule.
  • Weigh myself once a week.
  • Exercise at least 5 days a week. I've been having trouble with plantar fasciitis since about April, but on the days that my foot hurts too much to walk, I will do a Pilates video or the like here at home.
  • Do a quick blog update once every two weeks so you guys & gals can follow along with me.
If you want to join me you are more than welcome! Feel free to post something here even if you have less or more weight to lose. I know I'm not the only person going through this right now. We can encourage each other - celebrate the milestones and perhaps give ideas to work through the setbacks. Losing the weight will be better for our health, our family, and the environment. Are you in? -Carrie

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Green Ingenuity: Bicycle Wheel Windmill

On the heels of Kenny's bike post, I thought this information would be appropriate. While searching the internet on another topic, I recently came across a great idea to use an old bicycle wheel as a windmill. We've never seen this before, and figured many of you haven't either, so I thought I would share.

The Basics...

The initial item I came across shows a very basic way to make this type of windmill, but doesn't include any information on how to harness the energy produced (or even talk about how it may be possible). Still informative and it's cool to see how well it does its "windmill thing" with such rudimentary ingredients.

A Bit More In-depth...

Doing a bit more research for this post I came across another example on Instructables. This one gives more information on how to harness the energy produced.

The inventor devised these to be easily reproduced using fairly easily available items in third world countries. Some of them can be made for only $80. Check it out! Ted Baer's Bicycle Wheel Windmill -Carrie