Changing things up a bit

I’ve blogged for years. Literally years – more than a decade, less than a quarter of a century. And while I love blogging, I haven’t been great at self-promotion; it isn’t a strength of mine. I have no problem with promoting others and therein is my epiphany moment.

I have explored a variety of platforms and have decided to publish a bi-weekly newsletter about sustainability for every day life. And I will be scouring the internet to find people who are doing interesting things in sustainability – recycling, upcycling, reusing, growing, foraging, teaching, sharing – whatever it is that is being done to creatively find ways to live responsibly; because I love interviewing people and I love sharing their stories.

If you know someone or ARE a person who is doing something good for the planet CONTACT ME – I would love to talk with you, interview you, share your good works with the world.

Email me at: Natalia@serroc.com and use “Changing things up a bit” in the subject line. Let me know what you are doing, what part of the world (time zone) you are in and whether you prefer a phone call or Zoom or an email list of questions for your interview…and I will answer you to schedule an interview about what you are doing and how it benefits the world. And it will go in my newsletter, and get promoted and shared. Helps you, helps me, and inspires others to do what they can, to make the world a better place (hopefully).

2021 – Is this YOUR year?

Every January is met with hopes and resolutions to be better, more prosperous, happier… after watching the world scramble during a pandemic (and spending a lot of time reading about previous pandemics) my “zen of living smaller” approach to this new year is just this: “Waste Less“.

I will count this new year as successful if I can just do that one thing – to waste less.

What will I waste less of?

  • Time – mostly the time spent worrying about things I have no control over;
  • Food – I will challenge myself to be more creative with what I have in the pantry;
  • Trash and Garbage – (if you are wondering what the difference is – in my mind trash is anything that cannot be composted) make sure that I compost what I can when I can and diligently separate recyclables from the regular trash;
  • Opportunity – I will take the plunge when opportunities arise after reasonable risk assessment, instead of sitting in analysis paralysis.

If I can accomplish even a little of “Waste Less” – I will count this year successful. I have a long To Do list for 2021 – things I want to write, things I want to paint, a new business I want to establish and grow (curious? go see it at http://www.shadowgirlcoffee.com ) and another round of decluttering and reorganizing plus I think I want to paint the interior of our home and I need to get this year’s garden started.

In the meantime, I vow to write more here…and to bake more bread (a comfort food in our home). Hope your 2021 is filled with what you need and some of what you want.

Bread is love!

Peace out.

Do you like greek yogurt?

Did you know that you can “make” greek style yogurt by simply buying regular unflavored yogurt (usually under $5 for a huge 32 ounce container) and draining the whey from it.

How?

I use cheese cloth and a strainer in a bowl, putting the regular unflavored yogurt in the cheese cloth in the strainer and in the bowl, and let it sit overnight in the fridge. I save the whey (the liquid) to use in baking.

The remaining yogurt is rich and thick (like the Greek Yogurt you buy in individual containers!) and ready for your jams, or toppings or fresh fruit or whatever toppings you like.

If you leave the yogurt to drain a little longer, you wind up with a sort of farmer’s cheese (like cream cheese but with a tang to it). I will do this when I want a cheesy spread for crackers of toasted bread.

You can add a variety of flavorings, like roasted garlic or chopped chives – if you like savory; or cinnamon if you like sweet.

I use the whey when I make no-knead bread or when I am making waffles or pancakes.

Save your money, put in a teeny bit of effort and still enjoy healthy yogurt (in all its forms).

Shelter in place

If you are sheltering in place or just trying to maintain social distance, now is a good time to review your emergency plans.

What? You don’t have an emergency plan?

Whether you live on a fault line, in a blizzard prone area or flood zone, or in an area that gets hurricanes and/or tornadoes – in otherwords wherever you live – you should have an emergency plan.

That means:

  1. Figuring out where you will go, should the order to evacuate be issued. You should identify at least two alternatives: one that you know how to get to if you have to walk; and your first choice if your transportation is usable.
  2. Figuring out how you will get there (what if you cannot use your car? no buses?)
  3. Figuring out what to bring. This will depend on what you (and your family and pets) can carry. At the very least you should have your identification in something that is waterproof. If you can have a “bug out” back pack ready to go, all the better – make sure you put copies of all your important documents and prescriptions in a waterproof container in the bag.

For example, I have a foldable wagon that I will use if I have to walk with my pets to evacuate. I have a carrier for the cat, and the dog has a back pack that he will wear to carry some stuff too. I’ll have my backpack and then additional water and food in the wagon with the cat in her carrier.

If we need to evacuate and can use the car, all of that except the cat and dog, will go in the trunk. Dog in the back seat, cat up front with me. Hubby in his car filled with his stuff and our extra food/water. We know where we will meet up and caravan out to our safe spot.

When figuring out what to bring with you, make sure you roll any of your clothes into a plastic sealable bag in your backpack – you’ll use those plastic bags for a variety of things should you have to go to a shelter. The added benefit is that if it is raining, you will have dry clothes at the end of the trip. 🙂


Also now is a good time to review your other emergency plans. If you have a family, have a few fire drills… so everyone remembers what to do. And has some practice.

Double check the smoke alarms and the carbon dioxide alarm. Take this time to also unplug unused appliances and check the water taps for leaks.

Be safe and be ready!

Could you live only on what you foraged or grew, for an entire year?

On November 11th, 2019,  Rob Greenfield will have successfully lived an entire year on foods he either grew himself or foraged himself.  100 % of what went into his mouth had to have been grown by him or personally harvested/foraged by him.  No gifts of food, no bin diving, and no food purchases of any kind except seeds or seedlings.

Think about that a moment.

That includes small things we take for granted like salt, pepper, and oil. For all the details on his self-imposed definitions of foraging and growing his own foods read his Food Freedom Rules.

He took a year to prepare for this venture, including moving to Orlando, Florida where he could grow food year round, living in a tiny home parked in a friend’s yard.   And setting up three hives of rescued bees (for more  information on where he got the rescued bees click on this link to see a video about Dennis, the Bee Guy).

He will, of course, have a book out next year sharing the details of his experiences over the year of being completely responsible for his food production.

In an article on Mother Nature Network written by Lindsey Reynolds, Greenfield is quoted as saying:

“When I went into this project, there was no failing,” says Greenfield. “I wanted to see if it was possible to step away from our globalized, industrialized food system today, to step away from restaurants and grocery stores. I’ve never met anyone who has done it in a modern society, so I didn’t know if it was possible because we are so far removed from our most basic resources.”

Mr. Greenfield is no stranger to sustainability experiments. As the self-proclaimed “adventurer, environmental activist, humanitarian, and dude making a difference (…) dedicated to leading the way to a more sustainable and just world.” Some of you reading this may remember him from “The Food Waste Fiasco” campaign – or his TED talk about that.

 

Personally, I have been interested in this topic of self-sufficiency with regards to food for a long time and for a number of reasons. 

Some were purely selfish, I live in an earthquake prone area (I lived in Northern California during the Loma Prieta quake in 1989) and I go hiking a lot (which means I could potentially get lost one of these days) so I pay attention to plants that grow wild and are edible in my area, just in case. 

Some of my reasons are more global – sustainable practices benefit the world at large, the climate, and help to manage limited resources. In many places in the world, this approach to living is the only approach there is; to live on what you yourself have grown or foraged.

And, we, in the United States have grown very far removed from the source of all of the products we consume, whether they are edibles or other product types. I think this distance from the source of our foods is a part of the reason that there has been such an interest in Prepping; Homesteading and Off Grid living. We have a subculture of self-sufficiency. 

And so, I challenge you to a short exercise, consider it a thought experiment. I won’t make this an apocalyptic scenario, just a series of questions. 

Ready?

  1. If you had to find a source of water within walking distance of where you live (even if it might require purification), could you?
  2. If you had to forage for food (plants, fruits, berries, leaves), do you know what is edible in your neighborhood and when it is in season?
  3. If you had to find a source of naturally occurring salt or a source of salt that you could personally process in order to use, could you?

In consideration of our easy access to these things normally, imagine what would happen if suddenly we could not turn on the faucet and have clean water; go to the grocery store and purchase fruits and vegetables or buy a container of salt. 

Not everyone lives with access to a yard, but you may have access to a community garden (or you might organize one). You might have a balcony or a roof top where you can grow some of your own foods. You probably have a Farmer’s Market, where you can purchase foods grown locally. 

We don’t need to make as drastic a change as Rob Greenfield, but we can make small changes to our consumption. And maybe if enough of us make small changes, it will amount to a big change in our collective use of resources.  

For more information on foraging edible plants in North America check out these books:

Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods by Thomas Elias and Peter Dykeman  

Incredible Wild Edibles by Samuel Thayer

Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by  Samuel Thayer

Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons

The paradox of the fixed income (aka: Should I get a roommate?)

Living smaller is a choice. And being on a fixed income, such as for older people on Social Security with little retirement/savings – it is a necessity.

Many older people are now considering the option of having roommates or homesharing. Our culture has, for decades, encouraged individuals to be independent until starting their own families…so this is a difficult shift for many people and may feel like “going backward”. Especially as they have become used to their solitude, privacy, and routines.

Yet the financial reality is, that if you are in a big home with many bedrooms, it is a burden to care for and pay for. Even if you are lucky enough to have paid off your mortgage – utilities and taxes continue to climb, while your income is fixed.

And if you do not own property, rents continue to rise, as well as healthcare costs. While your income stays the same.

It is a “no-brainer” to look for roommates in your age group when finances are fixed. And there are some applications out there such as Silver Nest at www.silvernest.com  and Senior Home Shares at www.seniorhomeshares.com. But they are not yet well-known.

And of course, sharing a place is not for everyone – there are many considerations – such as:

  • Do you have pets?
  • Does the home-owner or apartment renter have pets?
  • What happens when you want to have visitors?
  • What about family?
  • What happens if there is a medical emergency?
  • What happens if the person you are renting from – dies?
  • What happens in the event of a natural catastrophe (earthquake, fire, etc)?
  • What happens if there is a burglary?

Plus is it truly a “roommate” arrangement with shared responsibilities or are you simply renting a room?

While you answer those questions for yourself, there are upsides to shared living for seniors:  Companionship and Safety.

You may not think you need to have someone to say “good morning” to, but it is good for your health to interact amiably with another human being; and if you have a roommate, and you have a medical emergency – there is someone there who can call for help. And surprisingly for some, having a roommate, ensures a few more years of independence.

So if you are on a fixed income, and thinking of living smaller to help make your dollars stretch a little further, consider a roommate.

 

 

Freecycle.org

Once every couple of years I do an article on Freecycle.org (established in 2003)- like this one I did on Narrative.org : https://www.narrative.org/post/the-freecycle-network-tm – and while I know that not everyone who tries to use this service has had a stellar experience, those bad experiences are the result of other users, not the service itself.

Their mission: “Freecycle aims to keep items out of landfills by providing an internet listings service to help people give unwanted items to someone else for free in their own community. Keeping stuff out of landfills helps build a sustainable future, is good for the environment and builds local and world communities.”

Since researching it again for my Narrative article, I noticed that the City I recently moved to had a post saying they were looking for moderators. I am currently a moderator-in-training for the Moreno Valley group.  If you browse the groups available, you will find that there are groups all over the United States and all over the world from Albania to Zimbabwe.

When you join one (or more) of the groups, the Moderator will send you a welcome email with all the rules and how-to’s. Very simple, and easy to use – if you have something you no longer need that is clean and safe – you can post it as an “Offer” if you need something – you can post it as a “Wanted”.

The rules specify the no-nos and they make perfect sense for safety and liability reasons. And the Moderators job is to make sure that those simple rules are adhered to, and to help publicize the service.

I support anything that keeps usable items out of the trash – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – and this is one of the ways we can all do that, while helping others.

A quick suggestion to you, gentle reader: If you know of a non-profit that looks for donations of goods (for example: old towels for animal rescues) – share Freecycle.org with them. It is one more way for them to get their message out and ask for the items they need. 

 

Circle Pond Tiny Home Community

Recently an article in the Tiny House newsletter caught my eye. It was about “A real tiny house community in Florida (not a vacation place)” located in Ruskin, Florida.

When I clicked on the article, I was immediately inspired to find out more about the woman – Debbie Caneen, who created this tiny community and how she did it. I also wanted to find out more about how someone with a tiny home should go about contacting her in order to join her community.

I reached out to Debbie and she immediately got back to me and agreed to let me interview her. We traded a couple more emails – I sent her my questions ahead of the scheduled phone call and we spoke on Saturday morning (June 15, 2019).

The moment you hear her voice you know that this cheerful woman juggles multiple projects and priorities with good grace. She seems to be the epitome of “The more you do, the more you get done”! We wasted no time getting into the nitty gritty of how her tiny home community came to be a reality.

Part 1.

Giving me some background on the area, Debbie told me that three miles east from her property is Sun City Center’s retirement community where it includes about 22,000 retirees; and the particular residential facility that she works for has 400 under one roof on any given day. In addition, in her role as President of the South Shore Coalition for Mental Health and Aging, she sees the growing requirement for services to and for the retiree demographic. The needed services for them, such as: food preparation, housekeeping, general living assistance, and more – are typically lower wage jobs, which presents a problem. Where will these support service people come from if there is no affordable housing available locally?

While pondering that question, serendipity arrived in the guise of a local realtor who made an announcement at a meeting she was attending, about a local investment property – a mobile home park. It sounded like something she should look in to.

The four and a half acre “park” had been on the market for over 3 years, and had six ancient and decrepit, yet occupied, mobile homes on the property. The pond at the center had been fenced in and overgrown – so much so that it was nearly impossible to see the water due to the algae grown covering it. The local offices of the county routinely cited the park for code violations. In short, it took a great deal of imagination to see this land for what it could be, and not walk away from what it was.

But Debbie is no stranger to hard work, or to tiny living. Having worked on 40 acres, farming earlier in life, and an avid lifetime sailor – she knew that the land could sustain determined people and she knew that tiny homes were livable and efficient. In her mind’s eye, she saw a community of tiny homes, with edible landscaping, and a community garden.  A place that would be affordable, and sustainable; a place where people could afford to live. Her vision was strong, and she began the process of due diligence and upon purchasing the property, rolled up her sleeves and dug in.

Part 2.

The hard work turned out to be the easy part. What caused her much soul-searching and many sleepless nights, was what to do about the six families currently living in the dilapidated park. These old structures were not only in disrepair, the costs for electricity to keep them cool in the Florida heat was more than most of these families could afford. Often they paid their utility bills and had nothing left for the rent. If Debbie had been a “run of the mill” developer, she might have simply hired a lawyer to evict these people and sent them on their way. Instead she worked out a way to help them move, speaking with each family and assisting them with their move to a new locale.

Once they were all moved away, then the process of clearing the land, breaking down and removing the old homes and trash, removing the fence around the pond, and cleaning the pond could begin.

The surrounding neighborhood loved seeing the evolution of the area from tired and a bit trash covered to a tidy oasis. With a community college close by, gas station, shopping, the Amazon Fulfillment Center and restaurants also within a couple of blocks, the Circle Pond Tiny Home Community is not only improved greatly, it gives other residents nearby a nice boost of intrinsic and real value.

Part 3.

I asked Debbie what advice she would give to others who might want to do what she has done; what did she wish she had known, or what would she have done differently. After a thoughtful pause to reflect, her answer was that since this whole project was pretty much new – to the county and to the city, she learned a lot just by trying to get things done. “You discover what you need to do as you need to do it.” If there was any one thing she would advise it would be to “Be Proactive! Imagine the worst case scenario and plan for that.” For example, while it isn’t a requirement for RV’s (how tiny homes are viewed on site) to be strapped down for hurricanes, she asks that the tenants strap down their homes for safety. That attention to details translates to a safer community.

She also went on to say, that whenever she hit a problem or a snag, she would let it alone for a while and go do something productive (like planting another fruit tree on the property) and often the answer or inspiration leading to the answer, would come to her. From her list of the fruiting trees that she has planted on the property, including (but not limited to) peaches, plums, avocados, pomegranates, jack fruit – and she named off lots more, I am guessing she had her fair share of obstacles and challenges. She happily mentioned that her belief is that if you are trying to help others, the answers will come. I have to agree, and the proof is there in her accomplishment!

What she has created on her four and a half acres, includes: 12 spaces for tiny homes, edible landscaping in the form of many fruit trees, a stocked pond and a community garden; with plans for 12 more spaces once the local city services pull in water lines and sewage – which should happen soon, since there is a town home development being built nearby.

The current resident’s average age is 34 and they are a true community of people who are helpful to each other and enjoy tiny living and organic gardening.

Each lot is 30 feet by 30 feet leveled crushed gravel, and the space rent is $450 a month which includes the utilities including electricity (except for wifi). You will have to bring your own tiny home, but you can situate it as you please in your space. There is parking for each space, and the community is dog friendly. A fenced dog park area is planned in the near future.

If you are interested in renting a space and joining her tiny community, or just would like to tour it in person, please contact her through her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TinyHomeOnWheels/ or email her at Info@circlepondtinycommunity.com to make an appointment to visit or have a phone call.

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If you have a “Living Smaller” story, or know of one – let me know. I’d love to interview you and share your story with the world.  Contact me Natalia Corres, at: Info@idea-storm.com 

 

 

Power Outages and You

No matter where you live, or what size house or apartment you live in, you should be prepared in case the power goes out.  Especially if you live in an area prone to extreme weather!

Preparation is the name of the game and can contribute greatly to your survival!

So before the big snowstorm, or the hurricane season, or the tornadoes hit – here are some things to get ready, if you can.

Take into consideration the amount of space you have for storing some of these items, many of them can fit in a large backpack, or plastic storage tub, which would fit into a closet easily enough (and also make it easier to grab and take with you, if you need to evacuate) – so let’s look at the stuff you can pack ahead of time, first:

Non-perishables:

  • a roll of duct tape
  • pocket knife
  • waterproof matches in a waterproof container and some candles
  • paper and pencil
  • small fire extinguisher
  • two signal flares
  • photocopies of: your pets vaccination and license records; any prescriptions for your family and/or pets; your ids (drivers license, passport)
  • a bit of cash (you decide how much you can set aside – just know if no power, no atm or ability to run a debit/credit machine.
  • a list of shelters/hotels that accept pets
  • emergency phone numbers (if your phone battery dies…)
  • toilet paper, tissues, sanitary napkins or tampons, diapers, if needed. a roll of poop bags for the doggydoo
  • extra leash and collar (if you have dogs)
  • manual can opener
  • utensils
  • flashlight and extra batteries
  • 3 or 4 pair of clean socks (they can be used as mittens, in the cold. Or as potholders, in a pinch – if you are heating something up on a camping stove).
  • first-aid kit and antibiotic cream
  • if possible, a radio with batteries or hand-crank for power (something like this – click here)

If you have cats, keep your cat carriers with your emergency kit in same place. That way you can grab everything you need and go.

If you are a regular camper, keep your camping stove and camping gear stored with your emergency kit.

Also – if you are staying at your home, having these emergency supplies in one place makes it easier on you and your family.

Now the perishable items:

  • Try to keep a 3 day supply of water  available. That would be 1 gallon of drinkable water, per person or pet, per day. So 2 adults, 2 children and 1 dog = 5 gallons of water per day, times 3 days = 15 gallons of water. You can buy bottled water, or save plastic gallon containers (washed out of course) and fill when you a preparing for a storm that you know is coming. Another trick to consider is filling those gallon jugs, and setting them outside to freeze (in winter) then using them in your coolers to keep your food cold, if the power is out.
  • Check your pantries to be sure you have at least 3 days of non-salty non-perishable foods.  You can stock up on canned goods, granola and granola bars, dried fruits, protein bars, nuts and also remember things like peanut butter and crackers.  Don’t forget to stock up on baby formula for your baby, and pet food for your pets.
  • Make sure that if any of your family has a special dietary requirements, you have enough food to accommodate that.
  • When ever you have warning of a weather event on its way, double check your family’s prescriptions to see if they need to be refilled, and do so, that way you won’t be stuck without critical medications!

If the power goes out in winter, designate one room for everyone to “hang out in” and “camp out” there. closing the doors and blocking drafts, put blankets on windows, to conserve the heat in the room. You can leave a south facing window unblocked to get natural light and some warmth of the sun from there, but block it after dark.

If you can afford it, and you live somewhere that the power goes out frequently – you might invest in a generator. There are several small ones that recharge through a regular outlet or car battery or a solar panel (usually special for that generator), but on the plus side there is no gasoline required or loud noise or fumes. You can see a sample of one of these generators here, and its associated solar panel is here.

I know that you all cannot always afford to have all of these items ready and sitting in your closet, but this list can give you a head start on gathering what you DO already have into a single “kit” (plastic storage box or backpack) so you have something ready in an emergency.