We’re going to South America!!

So I’ve been keeping a secret for the past little while but now that I’ve finally put in my notice at work I have some exciting news! We’re going to South America!!

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Mount Fitzroy, Patagonia. One of the hikes we have planned for while we are there. They say Patagonia is a real life Narnia. I can’t wait to see it in person! Photo credit: http://www.tcktcktck.org

Like the hippies at heart we are we both quit our jobs and are going backpacking again! This time with a proper backpack instead of a giant suitcase on my part.. As you can tell I am extremely excited! I’m also super excited about what we’re going to learn down there. We first heard of the wwoof organization (Willing Workers On Organic Farms or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) while in Australia 3 years ago. We actually just stumbled upon a membership book on the free bookshelf at our hostel and thought it was the coolest thing ever. We contacted a couple farms nearby and heard back from one with a kangaroo petting farm and eco-tourism style venue where they held parties and weddings and hummer tours through the rainforest. I know a hummer is not the most eco-friendly vehicle but it was pretty cool nonetheless. We had planned on wwoofing again while we were there but sudden flooding in the area forced our plans to change as the farms we contacted were now housing their neighbours.. It also cut off our route south so we stayed put at another farm planting watermelons and pruning mango trees.

Anyways before I get too side-tracked reminiscing.. This time around we knew we wanted to learn as much as possible about sustainable living and what better way than get some hands on experience in a place we can’t wait to visit.  Many of the organic farms are almost completely self-sufficient with water collection units, solar panels, woodstoves, and yes even composting toilets. Not only do they grow all their own food including animal husbandry for meat or wool they try to use their own water, heat, and energy sources. I’m hoping that after spending a few months living like that we will pick up on enough tips and tricks to put it in action back home.

If you haven’t heard of WWOOF I suggest checking them out. It’s an international organization with branches in many countries and probably has some farms enrolled close by to learn from if you don’t feel like traveling. Another awesome thing about the organization is that the only fee is your membership unlike some eco-tourism trips where you end up paying thousands of dollars just to go volunteer with them. In exchange for a few hours work a day (normally 4 or 5 with a day or two off a week depending on the farm) you get free accommodation and food. It’s really a perfect way to travel the world, learn about their culture, and for us hopefully learn some Spanish as well! We’re landing in Patagonia and will be working our way up Chile, then hopefully heading over to Argentina, Brazil and back through Bolivia and ending our trip in Peru or back in northern Chile. We’re hoping to do lots of hiking while we’re there as well. So far we’ve planned two hikes in Patagonia. The Torres del Paine “W” circuit in Chile and another 4-5 day one to Mount Fitzroy, Argentina. Maybe a little ambitious after only ever completing a 3-day hike lol.

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Stunning photo from the Torres del Paine hike in Patagonia! Photo credit: http://www.wikipedia.org

I’ll try to blog as often as possible while we’re there and share what I’m learning and probably a million pictures of cute animals since we’re both big animal lovers. Anyways that’s all for now! Hope any of you in the US are having a wonderful thanksgiving!

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From an article on wwoofing in Chile. Photo credit: http://www.oneearth.org

Eco-Friendly Friday (Sunday..) – Energy use in winter.

ECO-FRIENDLY FRIDAY: Reducing energy use in the winter.

With all the snow we’ve been having here lately and the temperature continuing to drop I thought a post about regulating the temperature in your house would be appropriate for Eco-Friendly Friday… Errr Sunday… Also I really wanted to share this TED talk! It brings up some really great points and I love the idea of using behavioural science to find more and better ways to motivate people to reduce their energy use.

The best way to lower your energy use in the winter is to have a strong insulative barrier for your house. This includes windows and doors. At our current rental property this is a huge issue. We lose so much heat to the windows and doors. I can actually feel the cold air when I get close to them. Last year we tried to put plastic sheeting over all our windows. The kind you tape on then use a hair dryer to shrink to trap in the heat. It didn’t work out too well. What plastic didn’t fall off on its own got shredded by our cat.. So now I have heavy fabric curtains in front of the windows and keep them drawn 90% of the time. It makes for a gloomy living room but at least it’s semi warm. We also keep an abundance of cozy blankets in there at all times.  Plus we kinda got used to wearing sweaters, long johns, and wool socks most of the time (not that it’s freezing in our house but I like being warm).

I also recently set our thermostat to lower during the day while we’re at work hopefully that will make a difference in our energy bill as well.  A programable thermostat is a must for energy savings! As the days get shorter we also tend to use more energy lighting our homes. One way we try to reduce this is by both being in the same room. This is easy since our house is so small that our living room is also our computer room/office. By both hanging out in the same area we only need one light on in the house instead of two or three. It also means we spend almost all our time together when we’re home even if we’re doing different things. Although this doesn’t work when I’m in the kitchen cooking or sewing/crafting in the basement.

It’s been snowing like crazy all weekend and it’s making me wish I were in the mountains right now. A weekend trip is in order stat! For now, I’ll just go play in the snow outside. Snow fort!!

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Our yard last winter. So pretty!

Happy Remembrance Day Everyone :)

Eco-Friendly Friday! – COFFEE

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Coffee time with my awesome Grumpy Cat mug :)

This is the first of a weekly series where every Friday I’ll share a tip for being eco-friendly or some environmental news. Whether it’s a DIY project or something you can do in your home I’m hoping these posts will help in simplifying and greening up your life.

Today’s eco-friendly tip:

Swap out your coffee maker to a non-electric appliance. I’m a huge fan of the French press! Most of us leave coffee makers plugged in and turned on all the time. Especially when they have a clock on them or a timer so that it makes coffee for you on schedule. I agree it does sound totally amaaaazing to wake up to fresh brewed coffee everyday but this can waste a lot of electricity. Electricity that’s not going into heating the water for your coffee. If you want to keep your old machine you could unplug it after every use. It would be better but traditional coffee makers also use paper filters and most have a heating pad underneath to keep coffee warm (another energy waster). Swapping it out completely, I think, is the most environmentally friendly choice.

Some people think that the single serving coffee makers are better since they only heat up enough for one cup but most models on the market are meant to be left on and do keep the water warm at all times. Plus don’t get me started on those disposable cups.. Worst invention ever. I recently read an article on Treehuger.com that showed that even when those little cups are recyclable (which most aren’t) most recycling centers aren’t equipped to keep them from going to the trash (due to their small size). As well as another more in depth article called Waste: The Dark Side of the New Coffee Craze. If you do opt for the single serving machines or already own one there are reusable cups available made out of wire mesh and if you always remember to turn off and unplug the machine it may be better than a regular coffee machine. 

Now onto my pick. The French Press. With a French Press the only energy required is to heat up the water, which can be done in a kettle or on the stove. It has a mesh wire strainer that separates the grinds from the coffee, no paper filters required. Plus they look so fancy! The only issue I’ve had with my French Press is due to the fact that I usually buy whole beans which means I grind them at home with my magic bullet.. A technique which is far from perfect at getting a consistent grind. I normally end up with sediment in my coffee due to some of the beans having a more fine powder-like grind than others. Once I run out of the coffee beans I have on stock I want to try grinding it at the store to see if that makes a difference.  

Tip: Only heat up the amount of water you need instead of wasting energy heating the full kettle.    

I own the Bodum Chambord. I bought it last year and it’s still going strong even after being knocked over a couple times.

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My French Press. You can see me and Shadoe in the reflection lol

There are also other options like this beautiful Chemex:

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photo from Chemexcoffeemaker.com

Also when selecting coffee beans try to buy as local as possible, even if that just means locally roasted and fair trade!  I love Kicking Horse coffee. They use fair-trade, organic, shade-grown and bird friendly (insert many other environmentally friendly sounding terms, just kidding..) sources for their beans. It’s roasted here in canada and they support the Nature Conservatory of Canada. Yay. Plus it’s delicious.

 

Hope you all have a wonderful Friday and pre-Halloween weekend!  

Reducing stress and one year anniversary.

So I’ve been pretty stressed out about work lately. The can’t relax but exhausted, can’t shut your brain off kind of stress that is ridiculously unhealthy. In my home life stress is never really an issue. Shadoe and I are both very go with the flow people. We don’t fight about little things around the house or worry about money. In fact I love being home, it’s probably the most stress-free environment possible. Except for when I can’t seem to leave work problems at work. I used to be able to come home and completely switch off my brain from anything work related and just be at home. I really need to get back to that. I was having bad headaches for over a month and finally went to the doctor. I left with a prescription for massages and a diagnosis of stress headaches. The massage therapist I went to confirmed that I was way, way too tense and gave me some tips for relaxing. I knew it was really getting to be a problem when I had to call in sick twice in two weeks, spent my days off exhausted and feeling terrible, was becoming less and less productive at work, and started abandoning yoga videos after 10 minutes cause I just couldn’t get past this overwhelming feeling of stress. The more I got stressed out the less I wanted to do anything to alleviate that stress. Not to mention I noticed myself making bad food choices and not wanting to cook.

I finally decided that I just can’t do it anymore. So stating today project de-stress is commencing. I guess downsizing went along with that as well since I always get a sense of freedom from getting rid of stuff. I recently read “Finding Ultra” by Rich Roll and then watched “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” last night on Netflix. They both had one thing in common. Diet changes leading to an increase of energy, which lead to an increase in exercise, which relieves stress and tension. So this morning I got up earlier than usual and instead of lazing about for the first hour or so I made a green smoothie and went for a run. Then I did a quick yoga class on yogaglo. Finally I felt that sense of calm returning, slowly, not quite 100% but it’s a start. Next I cooked some chickpeas and made hummus for a healthier lunch at work. Then I snuggled up in some comfy blankets and had a nap before getting ready for my nightshift. Before heading to work I made sure to eat a healthy “breakfast” of oatmeal. For the first time in a long time I actually felt okay heading to work instead of the usual “ugh I do not want to be here” feeling I’ve had lately. Maybe I can turn things around just by changing my thought process and making better food choices. I guess we’ll see!

Also today is the one year anniversary of my blog!  It looks a lot different than it did one year ago!

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My happy place. I want to go back!

Do you have any tips or ideas for dealing with stress?

Chickens are smarter than you think. A reblogged article from Treehugger.com

I just had to share this article from Treehugger.com this is one of the reasons I refuse to eat chicken or eggs not from my own birds.  

“Chickens out-perform toddlers in math tests

The most recent outbreak of salmonella has got people talking a lot about poultry. With chicken still being shipped out of Foster Farms, the contaminated factory in California, and put onto supermarket shelves, it’s clearer than ever that consumers need to take responsibility for the quality and safety of the meat they consume (if they choose to eat meat at all). The industry only cares about itself. As Mark Bittman wrote last week in the New York Times, ‘This is not a shutdown issue, but a “We care more about industry than we do about consumers” issue.’

The reasons to buy high quality, ethically raised chicken go beyond the risk of salmonella. In an article titled “Are Chicks Brighter Than Babies?” Nicholas Kristof challenges the inhumane way in which most poultry is raised. Perhaps it’s harder to feel sympathy for a clucking, pecking hen than it is for a brown-eyed calf, but chickens and geese are truly fascinating creatures. While reading the following list, you’d think I’m talking about monkeys, not hens and geese.

 

  • Geese mate for life, share family duties, and even try to comfort each other when approaching the chopping block.
  • Hens can count at least to six. Even chicks can do basic arithmetic, so if you shuffle five items in a game, they mentally keep track of additions and subtractions and choose the area with the higher number of items. They do better than toddlers in these tests.
  • Hens can delay gratification. Researchers gave hens the choice of two keys, one that waited two seconds and gave the hen 3 seconds of food, and the other that waited six seconds but offered 22 seconds of food. Soon 93 percent of hens opted for the longer delay with more food.
  • Hens can multitask, using one eye to forage for food and the other looking out for predators.
  • Hens are social animals and recover more quickly from stress when in the company of others.
  • Hens have a “Machiavellian tendency” to adjust what they’re saying according to who’s listening. They can share precise information about the location of food and presence of predators using specific sounds and calls.
  • Hens have an intriguing ability to understand that an object, when taken away and hidden, continues to exist.
  • Hens can also recognize a whole object even when it is partly hidden. It was thought only humans could do this.

 

I’m not tackling the basic question of whether or not to eat meat, but I’m sure we can all agree that animals should not be hurt unnecessarily. These are not “birdbrains” that we’re dealing with, but intelligent creatures who do not deserve to spend their lives “jammed into tiny cages in stinking, fetid barns.” If our consumer habits are creating horrible environments for animals in captivity, then those habits need to change.”

© Katherine Martinko

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My old chickens enjoying a treat of Saskatoon berries.

Homemade vegan cheese and downsizing

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My vegan cheese making book “Artisan Vegan Cheese” By Miyoko Schinner came in the mail a couple weeks ago and I couldn’t wait to try out the recipes. Some are very complicated and require weeks from start to finished product while others are instant cheeses or cheese sauces for everyday use. There are quite a few strange ingredients that I had to pick up before my cheese experimentation could commence. I’ve located most of them so far. I found Agar powder, nutritional yeast, xanatham gum and tapioca flour in the local health food store but I have yet to find carrageenan, vital wheat gluten and a couple other ingredients I’ll need to be able to make any recipe in the book.

I decided to start with the most basic recipe which was cashew cheese. It’s the base for a lot of the other cheeses in the book as well. To make the cashew cheese you first have to make rejuvelac, a probiotic liquid made from fermenting sprouted grains, which will serve as a culturing agent for the cheese. Once that’s done (it takes a few days) you just soak some cashews, add salt, blend it all together and let it sit on the counter for a couple days to culture. I think I may have left my cheese out on the counter for a little too long.. I kind of forgot about it for about 3-4 days so it developed a very strong flavor. At first taste I thought wow this is really cheesy. Although the flavor wasn’t like any cheese I’ve ever had before it tasted tangy and creamy like an exotic cheese. I had it on a sandwich and it was pretty good, not fantastic, but still added a cream cheese like taste and texture. I wanted to add in a bunch of herbs and spices to make the boursin cheese. It uses the basic cashew cheese as a base but reading the recipe it afterwards it said not to let the cheese culture for too long so I want to wait to try another batch which hopefully wont taste as strong. Over time I hope I can hone my cheese making skills by using various grains to make the rejuvelac (I’m guessing each would produce a slightly different flavor) and find a vegan cheese that’s a knockout. I’m excited to try some of the instant cheese recipes as well!

On a different note we just spent the past week trying to downsize. I had always prided myself in only owning enough stuff to fit in my car but over the past few years that we’ve been living together Shadoe and I have started to accumulate quite a bit of stuff.. We decided to nip it in the butt and take action before the winter sets in. A majority of the furniture we have was picked up in a hurry from thrift stores and yard sales and selected more for purpose than anything else. That means a lot of it is not exactly what I want for our home. This weekend the town we live near was hosting a “reuse it or lose it” event where everyone from the county can bring in all their unwanted stuff and other people can come take what they need. At the end of the weekend the town will drop off all the unwanted items at local charities, thrift stores or take it to the dump depending on the items and their condition. We decided to take advantage of the event and get rid of all the furniture and stuff we don’t want and let someone else use it. That way we can either replace the items we weren’t completely happy with or realize that we didn’t really need all those things after all. This will also help us out when we have to move in the future. We loaded up the trailer and within 5 minutes of arriving at the drop off our trailer had been emptied by people in need of those items. It was amazing to see and a win win for everyone.

We’ve also been slowly going through all of our stuff and getting rid of things we don’t use often enough. Last month I finally separated with clothes that I had been hanging on to for over 6 years mostly due to sentimental reasons. I was sad to see some items go but now that they’re gone I honestly haven’t thought about it. There really is no use keeping old clothes you no longer wear just for the memories. Next we moved onto books, cds, and other stuff we’ve collected. It’s taking a long time to sort through everything but every time we do we end up with less and less in the keep piles and more to give away. Already our tiny house is looking less cluttered and it feels really good. Now to clean up and reorganize after a weekend of tearing the house apart.. Good thing I still have another day off from work!

Preserving adventures Pt 2 – Salsa

I’m not quite sure how many parts there are going to be to my preserving adventures saga.. I feel like I’m getting hooked! There are just so many things that you can preserve. Yet even though having a pantry full of homemade pickled goods, sauces and jams sounds amazing I’m trying to stick to things that we eat on a regular basis. Last year I pickled some string beans but since I’d only ever eat them in a Caesar (a Canadian drink similar to a bloody mary not the salad) they just sat there all year until I finally just got rid of them so I could reuse the jars. To be honest they didn’t turn out very well either, kind of mushy, so I’m trying to be a little more cautious when canning this time around. I also made a bunch of raspberry jam last summer and although I gave a lot away the jars I kept sat there for a long time. We did finally use it all up but now I know that in my household we just do not consume a lot of jam.

Tomato sauce, pickles and salsa on the other hand.. It’s hard to keep those things in stock! Which brings me to my next canning adventure.. Salsa! The process was similar to making the tomato sauce but a lot less work. I still had to blanch and peel the tomatoes but once that was done you just dice them and throw them into a large pot with all the other ingredients and let it boil for 15 mins. That’s it. For my salsa I looked at a few different recipes but eventually ended up creating my own. I like salsa to be chunky and taste super fresh with not too much seasoning. This is what I came up with:

Sara’s Fresh Chunky Salsa

  • 35-40 Roma Tomatoes
  • 5 Assorted Peppers (I used green, yellow and orange)
  • 3 med sized onions
  • 5-7 Jalapenos depending on size and how spicy you want it.
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, minced
  •  ½ C apple cider vinegar
  • ½ C lemon juice
  • 1 can tomato paste 156ml or 5.5oz
  • 1 TBs salt
  • 1 TBs fresh ground pepper
  1. Blanch and peel tomatoes then dice and add to large pot
  2. Chop and add the rest of the ingredients. I used a food processor for the jalapenos to get them super finely chopped.
  3. Bring to a boil over med heat and let cook for 15 mins.

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I had a little salsa leftover that didn’t fit into the jars and so far it got good reviews. Hmm what to can next…  My vegan cheese came out pretty good too. I’ll post an update on that later this week :)

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Nuri enjoying the fall weather!