Archive for April, 2010

Cheri’s List

Posted on April 29th, 2010 by Tonia 11 Comments

I received a really nice letter from a friend and reader, Cheri.  She shared with me some of the things her family does to decrease their daily impact on the environment.

All of the items on her list are easy to implement into our lives– there’s really no reason not to.  But because I know, from experience, that unless green lifestyle changes are easy as pie to implement, we ain’t gonna follow through with them, folks!

So, I have decided to not only share her list of great ideas, but to also do the things on the list.  Check back soon for a video series of me demonstrating the items on Cheri’s list, so that you can see how it’s all done, and hopefully also try it yourself.  I will begin to post the videos next week!



  • I don’t use the hair dryer until my hair is mostly dry – then use it just for a minute for a final style.
  • I make my own laundry detergent
  • Dry our clothes on our drying rack
  • Make my own salad dressing {reduces plastic bottles coming into the house}
  • Recycle plastics, glass, tin, paper {reduced our outgoing garbage to a bag a month}
  • Grow our own veggies, and batch cook – for example I’ll cook a big batch of rice/beans and freeze separate portions for later meals….and cook from scratch as much as possible.


  • Take my stainless steel mug with me – if I need to stop and get a cup of something I’ll have them put it in my mug
  • Mend clothes – I’ve even gone so far as to turn frayed collars on my husband’s shirts
  • My dad only uses recycled paper in his printer – he gave me his schedule the other day printed on the back of an old bill – made me smile
  • After I bring the water to a boil for pasta, I put the lid on the pot, shut off the heat and let the pasta cook – it only takes a minute or so longer.  If I am cooking something for a longer length of time (stew or soup) I put another lid on top of the lid that matches the pot.  The extra insulation conserves energy.
  • After I boil the water for my morning tea {I don’t like to microwave water – I know – weird}, I  pour the remaining boiling water over my oatmeal and set it back on the burner {which has been turned off, but is still warm}.  In ten minutes my oatmeal is cooked.
  • We use shopping bags I made for grocery shopping.  I plan to make some lunch bags too, out of fabric for those times we take a picnic lunch somewhere or travel.
  • I wash and re-wash baggies.  Haven’t bought any in years.
  • We are a one car family
  • Instead of buying cleaning products {even Seventh Generation} – baking soda and vinegar will clean just about anything.
  • I use a shampoo bar made by a friend of mine instead of commercial shampoo {which has tons of chemicals in it and comes in those pesky plastic bottles}
  • And…{I’m inordinately proud of this one….} I use the dashboard of my car as a food dehydrator.  I bought a bushel of apples for $6 from a neighbor down the road and after I got tired of saucing and pie-ing them – I sliced them, dipped them in diluted lemon juice and put them on baking racks and spread them across the dash.  We get plenty of full sun here and they were dry in a little over a day.


Thank you so much for the inspiration, Cheri! {Check out Cheri’s encouraging and refreshing blog…she writes about gardening, simple living, family, and faith.}

Itty Bits: To Carpool is Cool

Posted on April 16th, 2010 by Tonia 10 Comments

My car is a ’96 Subaru station wagon with over 200,000 miles on it.  It’s not a glamorous car, but I paid cash for it so I’ve never had any payments, my insurance is super affordable, and it has never needed any major repairs {until now…doh!}.  I’ve owned it since I was a senior in high school and I’m going to keep on owning it until its dying day. 

That car has stuck by my side through many adventures.  We’re like old friends.  And although my human friends like to call it rude names sometimes {“grocery getter” being one of the nicer ones}, I don’t care what they think.  I still drive the Subie with pride in my heart.  Sadly, this week, Subie has started making some unusual noises.  It appears that I am going to have to bring the old girl in for some repairs.  I won’t have time to deal with this until the weekend, so in the meantime I have ‘er parked, and I had to explore other options for transportation to and from the office.

My first instinct was to ride my bike, which is what I normally do in the summer months.  But it’s only April.  The weather here in MN hasn’t quite warmed up enough for early morning bike rides.  And I really like drinking coffee on my way to work.  I also thought of taking the bus.  Our house is right on the bus route…but the bus takes an hour and a half to get downtown, which means I would have to get up at about 5 am instead of my normal 7 am.  I’m not a morning person.

Then it hit me…one of my coworkers lives nearby…maybe he would consider carpooling with me.  I have no idea why I never thought of this before {maybe I just enjoy my solitary drives to work…my mug of coffee, my fave radio stations, my embarrassingly-manly-morning-voice when I try to sing along.}  But when my coworker happily agreed to pick me up on his way, I thought “this could be the start of something.”

We’ve been riding together all week now, and I quite like it.  We’re saving fossil fuels, and we’re more awake and cheerful when we get to the office because we’ve been enjoying pleasant conversation for 20 minutes already.  I feel silly that we never even considered doing this before, but perhaps the timing just wasn’t right until now {I have only been working at this place for a year, so maybe I just wasn’t comfortable enough to bring up the idea before.}

Sometimes green lifestyle changes are born from necessity, and I like it when that happens.  I had a problem, and the solution hit me over the head like “duh!”  So, without further ado, this week’s Itty Bits Challenge is to get yourself to work at least one day a week by means of either bycicle, bus, or carpool.  Don’t do it for me….do it for Earth Day.  :)


Itty Bird icon Bits of inspiration from around the web:

It’s time to start your garden, folks! Gossip in the Garden talks about some of their fave gardening products.

We Live Simply gets inspired by John December to take stock of their possessions in preparation for spring cleaning.

A homemade eco-friendly air-freshener.

Easy organic lawncare.

Painting with natural materials.

How much food are you wasting at each meal?

Beth’s baby chicks hatched!  Warning: cute and fluffy!

Making Maple Syrup IV: Canning

Posted on April 9th, 2010 by Tonia 6 Comments

Maple Moon Sugarbush is starting to wrap up its 2010 sugaring season this week.  My family and I will be pulling the taps out of the trees and washing up all the equipment soon.  We made about 25 gallons this year, which means we have plenty for our Sunday pancakes and to replenish our friends and familys’ supplies. 

It has been fun for me to share this long-standing tradition with you all.  Please let me know if you have any questions about the various steps in the process {tapping, collecting, boiling, canning}.canning

Since boiling can take all day, we’re usually canning late at night.  We’re all exhausted at this point, but knowing we’ll be waking up the next day to pancakes and fresh maple syrup helps us push onward.

We use mason jars for our syrup because they’re reusable, and the syrup looks so beautiful in them.  The lids are boiled in water, and kept hot until they’re screwed on.  As they cool, the jar seals.  The syrup doesn’t need to be refrigerated until it has been opened for the first time.


The first taste of syrup blows your mind.  It is silky, buttery, hot, and tooth-achingly sweet.  If you grew up eating Aunt Jemima or Log Cabin syrup, you need to run out right now and find yourself some real maple syrup to try. 

One of my favorite traditions growing up was to heat up a small sauce pan of syrup, and then drizzle it over snow.  The syrup hardens on the snow and makes maple-taffy.  It changes your life, that’s how delicious it is.tasting

Maple syrup is a golden gift the trees give us every spring…a true miracle of nature.  The most amazing things in life are this way, it seems…you can’t quite wrap your mind around them.  And even after you learn the science of how it works, you’re no less awed by it…on the contrary, it seems more like a miracle than ever.

Making Maple Syrup III: Boiling

Posted on April 7th, 2010 by Tonia 4 Comments

Boiling is my favorite part of the syrup making process.  It is also the most tedious of all the steps.  My dad is the boiling master, but Mike has been slowly aquiring the skills from him over the past couple seasons {we plan to carry on the tradition someday with our own kids.}  The first step is to measure the sugar content of the sap.  This number gives you the approximate time you will need to boil before achieving syrup.  The lower the sugar, the more water you will need to boil off.measure1

The sap is pumped up to the “sap house” {the building that houses the evaporator and all the wood that is needed to fire it} from the underground tank, and is held in a large metal bin.  We slowly pump it from the bin to the evaporator, where it begins to heat up. 

As the sap cooks, it is pushed through the separate compartments of the pan, so that the sap that has been boiling longer doesn’t mix with the new sap that has just entered.  New sap constantly pumps in as the older sap boils down.

The depth of the sap in the evaporator pan is crucial…if it dips too low, the syrup will burn.  My dad uses a stick with notches cut into it to constantly monitor the depth of the sap in the pan.boiling1

The job of the “firer” is to keep the evaporated stoked with wood and at a consistent level of hotness.  It is a coveted job, glorified by our dad so that from the moment we were old enough to swing an axe over our shoulders {at about eight years old, to the horror of our mother} we begged to be chosen as the firer.

{I suspect we were tricked into doing many chores as children by this same method…make the chore into a task of honor and importance, and suddenly you have two little people fighting over who will get to do it.}

We chopped wood into small enough pieces to be fed to the evaporator, and heaved the pieces into the roaring fire.  The heat was delicious against the chilly spring air, which helped us forget the splinters we were inflicting on our little hands.  The maple steam billows from the pan and fills the entire sap house, leaving your face moist and warm.  It’s so thick and delicious smelling, you try to eat it, but it disappears.


The final step of the boiling process is to finish the cooking in the “finishing pan”- a small pan over a little gas stove, where the temperature can be more easily controlled.  The risk of over-cooking the syrup is high at this point, and constant monitoring is needed. 

As soon as it is done, the syrup is poured off into a tall cylinder and then filtered through lambs-cloth, which catches any impurities that rose up during the boiling.


The first taste of syrup is so close at this point…everyone knows it, and starts to hover around. {Stay tuned for the final step in the process: canning & tasting!}