Have a Coke and a Smile

I think I was in high school–or not long after–when Coca-Cola came out with that slogan: Have a Coke and a Smile. Considering all the sugar in it, the high fructose corn syrup, it’s a wonder anyone drinking it has a healthy tooth in their head with which to smile. I wasn’t as health-conscious back in high school; a glass of Coca-Cola was a treat from time to time. Today, with the Irritable Bowel Syndrome, any soft drink puts me in a world of hurt. But today, I bought a single-serve bottle of Coke.

Just not to drink.

Reducing my carbon footprint has been an ongoing goal of mine ever since I worked in Corporate America. The two hour commute weighed heavily on me. I wanted to work closer to home so that I could walk. Or pedal push. And yet, four years’ ago, when I started working at a local car dealership that is less than two miles’ away (yeah, there’s an oxymoron for you…), I continued to drive. It wasn’t until circumstances forced me to start hoofing it that I actually got up the gumption to start doing it. Granted, I work evenings so safety is a bit of an issue. It’s the whole single-female-walking-alone-in-the-dark-past-fields-of-corn thing. No, I don’t expect children bearing scythes and other sharp, servering objects to come popping out at me, but it does take a bit of nerve…or it did until we set the clocks ahead and now the sun stays up long enough for me to reach home again. There is also a safety issue in that there are no sidewalks beyond the local super Walmart so at least a mile of that walk is spent in the breakdown lane. Not the most operative choice, if I do say so myself.

Pedal-pushing would be much better. But, underemployment, as that evening job at the dealership is part-time, is making that adult-sized tricycle a bit out of reach at the moment. I’m opting for the trike because it is also a cargo bike. There is a big basket that sits between the two back wheels for hauling groceries and pet feed and such home. This would certainly beat lugging heavy bags home by hand. And Walmart will also assemble it for me when I walk down to pick it up. So, a future goal. For now, I make do with what is.

I won a bicycle many years’ ago. Granted, it’s not a cargo bike. It’s not even a tricycle. It’s a simple, two-wheeler…a vintage-style Schwinn, single “gear”, with the brake down by the pedal rather than the hand brakes that usually grace modern bicycle handlebars (picture the bike Margaret Hamilton rode in “The Wizard of Oz”…before she graduated to a broomstick).

I won it…and it has sat collecting dust and rust in the soon-to-be new barn ever since. Oh, I’ve pulled it out a time or two, pumped up the softened tires as needed and given it a whirl here or there. I simply don’t have a lot of confidence in my balancing ability (I’m a bit of a klutz) and I’ve allowed it to intimidate me–especially the prospect of riding it on Interstate 6! But necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, so this morning I pulled it out of its enforced retirement and gave the chain a good drink of WD-40. Then I pumped up the front tire that had gone flat and am now waiting to see if it holds the air or if the inner-tube needs replacing. Sadly, the handlebars had rusted quite a bit in storage. What to do?

My very first bicycle was a hand-me-down from my maternal grandfather. It had belonged to one of my aunts who had since graduated to a 10-speed. Like this vintage-Schwinn, her old bicycle had sat in the basement for some time and had rusted. My grandfather took some Coca-Cola, and a bit of aluminum foil, and took the rust off with it. I wondered if it would work for this bicycle, too. We didn’t have aluminum foil. And I wasn’t about to buy a roll of it just to see if I could remove some rust. I also wasn’t buying a whole 2-liter bottle of Coke. A single-serve size would do…along with a piece of steel wool we had under the sink for cleaning the pots and pans.

It only took seconds to see that, yes, the Coca-Cola was taking that rust right off of those handlebars. In less than 15 minutes I had removed every inch of rust from those handlebars, rinsed it with water, and polished it up with a soft cloth. It looks like a new bike. The Coke worked like a charm…and I only used a small portion of what was in the bottle.

As Mom sipped the remainder of it, I wondered what does it do to our insides?

May God bless you & keep you!

Rainy Days

“In bygone days He permitted the nations to go their own ways, but He never left Himself without a witness; there were always His reminders–the kind things He did such as sending you rain and good crops and giving you food and gladness” Acts 14: 16-17

I’m of two minds when it rains. There is that laze-around-in-my-pj’s-curled-up-with-a-good-book mindset. And woe the temptations of the flesh because that is often the mindset I follow under angry, black clouds. Today it’s the good-day-to-putter-around-the-house-and-get-things-done mentality. I hit the yoga mat early this morning, waking before the alarm–despite the dreary skies–and then added a few pages to my book. Max was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs to go out when I finished up. The rain was only threatening at 7:30 a.m. but the warmer temperatures we’ve had over the weekend has left a muddy mess of the barnyard as snow from Blizzard Stella melted away. Max, being a dog, did what dogs do best…he stayed out in the mud a little longer than usual and tracked wet, muddy prints throughout the house when he came back in. I tugged on my rubber boots, threw a coat over my pj’s (standard morning chore attire) and began schlepping water and feed out to the goats, chickens and ducks. The usual cacophony of barnyard greetings met me as I opened first the hen house and then the goat barn. I’d like to think they’re happy to just see me but I suspect it’s only the canisters of feed I’m bearing as gifts that bring about this reaction to me…

The rain started in earnest shortly after their breakfast.

Mom calls these heavy rains we’re having today “season breakers”. And she’s probably right except she will call every hint of snow or rain, from now until the trees finally bud and the thermometer hits and stays steady above 50 degrees for more than a week, a “season breaker”. It’s all good. And she bears the occasional razzing from me with grace.

Actually, I hope she’s right. There’s much to do this spring on the homestead and I am eager to get started. Despite Mom’s predictions, the weather in New England is too unpredictable this time of year so it will be a few more weeks before I can start planting and there’s a bit of landscaping to finish up from last fall before that planting can be done. Again, I’m looking forward to it. The last couple of years I’ve been in such a slump that I’ve neglected my gardens. I’ve got itchy fingers now, looking to plunge into that soil and cultivate some life-giving sustenance from it.

The goats, chickens and ducks are also getting new living quarters. The old shed that I converted back in 2010 has seen its better days. I can throw a few old pallets down on the rotting floors and continue to use it for storing firewood and/or hay but it has seen its last winter as a barn. This will take some doing; I’m definitely not a contractor or construction worker but I don’t think this will be too difficult. The “new” structure is already here in the form of a double bay garage. The previous owners of the property had removed the garage doors, built a wall, and added a door to the outside (albeit, it faces into the garden so it will not be seeing much use…). The floor is still concrete, which will be much easier to clean than wood. No oil stains or anything that might prove hazardous to the animals. There’s even a propane space heater mounted towards the ceiling, well out of reach of curious goats, but available if needed. The only real work to do is the construction of a few stalls inside, the removal of the back window that faces the barnyard, and building a ramp for the animals to get in and out. And, of course, said window will have to be replaced with some sort of door to keep them in at night…and the predators out. The biggest part of the job will be cleaning it out as it has become the depository of any unwanted “junk” and out of season “stuff”. And that about sums it up.

(Yes, I do still have some minimalist chores to attend to, too…)

In another 15 minutes or so, it will be time to head to work–the paid position in town. But, for now, I’m compromising with this rain, writing and working and puttering around in my pj’s, as it washes away the last of the snow and reveals just how much clean-up is still to do in the gardens. And about the homestead.

May God bless you & keep you!

Walking the Walk–Literally

I have long been extolling the virtues of choosing to walk or ride a bicycle rather than driving everywhere. When the Lenten season started, one of the vows I made was, as soon as we turned the clocks ahead and it was light enough out after work, I would start walking to and from the dealership. This probably doesn’t do much for auto sales but I have always walked to the beat of my own drum–no pun intended. And it’s all for a good cause.

However, I have not lived up to this vow…until I got pulled over by a policeman coming from the local grocery store. Now I had just pulled away from the traffic light so there was no way I could’ve gotten up to “speeding” and I did not peel out. Lights are working. Turn signal was on. I admit I was stymied.

The car was unregistered. (What?) It seems I have been driving around in Mom’s uninsured and unregistered vehicle for over a year now. (How the heck did I dodge that bullet for so long???) Though we had a current registration and insurance card sitting in the glove box, the DMV had dropped the registration after Nationwide dropped our policy for lack of payment. Mom was also mystified. She’s been making payments. What happened? Sadly, Mom was a recent victim of ID theft. Payments, of roughly the same amount, have been going to a cellphone company for someone in California. Mom saw the payment coming out but did not notice the name of the organization pulling the payment. And Nationwide did not send her notification that she was falling behind. A trip to the DMV revealed we cannot renew the registration in Mom’s name because she can no longer drive with her cataracts and does not have a valid license anymore. So I’ve been “grounded” so to speak…until we can find a way to get this thing valid again. And, as if that wasn’t enough, the car will not start. We suspect the battery. So we have a few obstacles to overcome. But it has also been a good turning point for me in this campaign to reduce my carbon footprint.

We live in rural CT so the roughly uniform city block is not a part of our immediate world. However, as The Herbal Hare Homestead sits just on the edge of the business district of the town, we are close enough to my work, the feed store, the post office, the library, town hall, church, and even the local Walmart so that this walking thing isn’t really so bad. The toughest part is the huge hill that leads from my neighbor’s farm down into that commercial area. It’s mostly downhill on the way into town but I am finding myself woefully out of shape traversing that uphill climb on the way home.

But I’m not complaining. When all is said and done, I should have lost this extra 30 lbs. I’ve been lamenting, improved my circulation greatly, saved money on gasoline and wear and tear of the car–because I don’t intend to start driving locally even after this glitch is resolved–and, yes, reduced my carbon footprint on the world.

The good Lord works in mysterious ways. I’ll admit to a bit of an “Oh, Lord, why me?” reaction after this citation (and, yes, the nice officer did cite me but, coming from a family of police officers, it’s all good; he’s just doing his job and it’s good to see). Now I am seeing some of the benefits of it. Even Mom asked me last night, “Isn’t walking or riding a bike part of homesteading?” Who-hoo! Yes, it is.

May God bless you & keep you!

Spring Fever

It’s a little early. It’s only February. But this week the temps have been in the mid-50’s up to lower-60’s and it feels great after the snowstorm a couple of weeks ago that dumped 18 inches on us. Just walking out to the barn has been a challenge and, as soon as the rest of it melts, I’ll have a few minor repairs to attend to as the bottom board of the chicken coop came off. Actually, there may be a bigger repair in the form of cutting out the rotting wooden floor (ducks play in the water no matter the temps outdoors, leaving the floor around the waterer perpetually wet…) and pouring cement instead. This is murky territory for me; I haven’t done this sort of thing before but, homesteading equals a lot of DIY (do-it-yourself), especially on a very limited budget.

But before I go into “overwhelm”, this caress of warmth on my skin has me planning out this year’s garden and getting itchy fingers to finish landscaping the front and side yards for more raised beds. I do everything “no-dig”, which puts more traditional gardeners off, but this year I “discovered” a man named Charles Dowding in the UK who has landscaped 4 acres using this method. He gets a significant yield; fewer weeds; good, rich soil, and he has a plethora of videos on his YouTube channel. I’ve been obsessed with watching them.

What is “no-dig” gardening?

Exactly as it suggests: no digging, no rototilling. Instead of digging up, or rototilling, the sod–something that seriously disturbs weed seeds in the earth and causes more of them to grow in your garden (i.e. more work to do), you lay a piece of cardboard down (or several sheets of newspaper if no cardboard is available) and start layering compost (or you can layer kitchen scraps, leaves, etc.; things that would normally go in your compost bin), vermiculite, potting soil, etc. on top of it. Another name for this type of gardening technique is lasagna gardening. The cardboard acts as a weed barrier but, as it is biodegradable, it also feeds the soil. You simply plant your seeds, or a plug if you’ve started seeds indoors, directly into the layers of compost and soil. Charles Dowding uses straight compost; I don’t have quite as much of that as I will need to finish this landscaping project. However, each spring, these beds will need a new dressing. And, with several rabbits, some goats and a flock of chickens and ducks, that situation is rapidly being remedied.

I scored yesterday. When I went in to work, there was an enormous box being readied for the trash compactor out back of the automotive department. I claimed it immediately and am grateful, indeed, for the help of a fellow co-worker for taking it home for me. This box housed the liner for the bed of a pick-up and was too big for transporting in the backseat. I am envisioning the healthy vegetables and herbs I can grow atop of this box.

And that only gets the fingers itching even more. I am ready for spring. How ’bout you?

May God bless you & keep you!

The Minimalist Challenge – Update

I posted about this back in December after reading about The Minimalist Challenge on Treehugger.com. For those who missed the post, The Minimalist Challenge is taking a month and on the 1st of the month, you donate/recycle, etc. one item you no longer have a use for. On the 2nd day, you donate/recycle two items. And so on and so forth. By the end of a month you should have donated, recycled, or as a last resort, properly disposed of 465 to 496 unwanted items (depending on whether your month has 30 or 31 days in it; less if you’re doing the challenge in February and its 28/29 days).

I started mine in December. There’s probably a reason why everyone on Treehugger was doing theirs in November; December is fraught with all those last minute holly-jolly Christmas details. And, I confess, it was not easy to navigate around bags of clothes slated for goodwill while also navigating around various homemade Christmas gift projects and such. But it is a worthy investment of my time. So I carried on. We’re almost into March and I’m still not done.

No, I haven’t completely emptied the house. Far from it. In truth, halfway through December, I stopped counting the number of items vs. the date because, once I got into this early spring cleaning mode, well, it has been more important simply to clean, organize and, yes, minimalize. I have a long way to go. Instead of opening my closet and taking out 2 shirts for the 2nd of December, I’ve simply gone through the closet and taken out everything I haven’t worn in over a year. It has started a fever. And, because my daily schedule is so all over the place, it is being done in small chunks. It is actually proving to be the better way because I’m not feeling as overwhelmed as I would if I did it all at once.

Of course, I’m not 100% sure I’m doing this all correctly. The frugal fanatic over here has found herself re-purposing a lot of things. Old T-shirts have been folded into a laundry basket to be reworked into throw pillows. The collars may be frayed but a throw pillow proudly proclaiming: “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” (one of my favorite shows of all-time), or commemorating the “RISPCA” dog walk I almost participated in years ago (long story involving 2 new St. Bernards with minimal leash training and a line of horses walking across our path…and the tree Bear almost pulled me into in his quest to investigate these larger-than-he-was animals…). In short, I am finding that, while I may not wear some of these items anymore, there’s a sentiment, a memory attached that has me re-purposing rather than donating or disposing. The same is true for some old canning jars, bits of yarn, buttons, etc. that might be used as part of a craft. However, re-purposing is along the lines of recycling so maybe it’s all good after all. What I do keep/re-purpose can be organized so that it ceases to be “clutter”.

Either way, I’m having the time of my life. It is actually liberating. And, as I come to the end of another term with SNHU, and await the next one starting on March 6th, I am looking forward to finally finishing this minimalist challenge with the few days I have between terms. This has been a wonderful experience. Maybe I’ll start another one in the fall…or hang a shingle up as a “professional organizer”; it might be the perfect line of work for someone with OCD.

May God bless you & keep you!

Another Benefit

Adding onto yesterday’s “Public Office” posting, I’m definitely seeing another merit to using a public facility to write/study. Here in this booth, I am in my own little world and yet, life is swirling all around me. It’s rather comfortable.

More importantly, I am also being forced to be a little more pro-active in completing my homework assignments well ahead of their due date. As long as we’re boycotting Charter’s high prices, I cannot procrastinate and then “cram” Sunday night when everything is due. Everything closes down fairly early in Northeast Connecticut on Sunday evenings. The public library, my first choice for working in public, isn’t even open on Sundays. And the hours are pretty limited during the week: M/W 2-7 (I work 3:30-7:30), T/S 11-5 and Th/F 2-5. I didn’t make the 2 p.m. time slot this afternoon so I’m back at the coffee shop with another cup of tea. As it is Friday, two days’ before my assignments’ due dates, and I have already turned them in, I am feeling pretty good.

So far, the only drawback I can see is, as it is a public venue, video viewing, which is part of my education, may be limited. I may lower the volume but it also eats a lot of battery juice so will have to seek out booths and tables with an outlet under them…just in case. Otherwise, this isn’t a bad deal at all.

It also gets me out of the house. I really am the hermit in the woods, tending to be a homebody these last few years. And, because I am taking up public space, and trying to be respectful about it, I’m also focusing on the essentials…rather than the multiple newsletters and free webinars I lamented about a couple of posts’ back. Come springtime, and my investment in an adult-sized tricycle (they come with handy little hauling baskets between the back wheels…I also have balance issues, despite the yoga), I can add 1/2 hour each way of exercise to my routine…and a reduction of my carbon footprint. Not a bad deal at all for a $1.79 cup of tea…or a free book rental from the local library to curl up with when my work day is done.

May God bless you & keep you!

Public Office

No, I’m not running for any election or government position. I’d be a terrible politician. And probably get myself bumped off due to my tree hugging, Bible thumping, no kitty left behind, tightwaddery views. Every petroleum based industry would be wanting to stick my head on the proverbial platter. So, no, not looking for a career in government any time soon.

“Public Office” is literal. I am currently sitting in a public coffee shop typing this up. The reasons are two-fold. The first is Charter Communications keeps jacking their prices up to where it has become too expensive to keep Wi-fi/Internet/cable TV etc. at home on a part-time income. Mom and I do not watch the boob-tube enough to justify the expense (though Mom is sure to miss her HGTV from time to time…), and I can’t remember the last time I saw a good, quality TV show. Though there is still the expense of a cup of tea at the local coffee shop, when doing the math, it is much less than Charter’s bill. (And before all the aunties start coming out of the woodwork with pitchforks after me, the decision to remove cable and internet from the house was Mom’s decision; she approached me with it). I know all about licensing expenses and insurance and keeping folks on the payroll, as Charter must do, but sometimes you have to take a stand and we’re doing it by withdrawing our business.

The second reason is part of the first because it has forced me to take the advice of other work/study-from-home friends who say they are way more productive sitting in a public place away from home distractions. And I certainly have them. While I’m a pro at ignoring the telephone, knocks on the door–whether the outside door or my home office door from Mom–cannot be ignored without appearing rude and/or anti-social. Here, I have one responsibility: to write. Whether it is schoolwork, blogging, or work on one of the three novels I have “in the works”, this is all I have to do. And, though it is only my first day in this “public office”, I’m finding my focus is much stronger. And that’s worth the $2 and change for a cup of delicious Chai tea…albeit it may knock the 30 lb. weight loss plan out of the ballpark.

May God bless you & keep you!