Stuffed Butternut Squash for a Cold Day

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The season is upon us.  The farmers are piling the squashes up in their baskets at the farmer’s market, and the harvest looks glorious and full of all those Autumn colors that give me the warm fuzzies.  Perhaps it’s why I have food on the brain.   Oh no, I remember why: I just love food.

I love this food, and after the first bite, so did Mr. Savvy.  This is one of those dishes that is easily made with leftovers and odds and ends that you have lying around.  It can be gluten free or vegetarian or very easily, but probably isn’t a good candidate for a vegan or dairy-free meal — the cheese plays an integral role.  Go ahead and skim through the ingredients, and then hop to the notes at the bottom of the recipe if you want to make some changes.

Stuffed Butternut Squash

  • 1 whole butternut squash, at least 1.5 lbs.
  • 1 onion
  • a few tablespoons of oil
  • ground turkey
  • fresh radish greens or spinach
  • salt and pepper
  • cayenne pepper
  • nutritional yeast (optional)
  • mozzarella cheese (or other cheese of choice)

Wash your butternut squash and slice in half, lengthwise.  Scoop out the seeds and pulpy innards.  Place the squash cut side up on a baking pan, drizzle with a little oil, and pop into the oven for 30-40 minutes at 350°F until the squash is cooked mostly through but not browned.  This can be prepared ahead, even to the night before, so that your squash is ready to go the next day.

Once the squash is done cooking, heat the oil in a skillet on the stove.  Chop your onion into small dice (1/4″ pieces if you can manage it) and cook it in the oil until the onion is soft and translucent.  Add your meat and break it up while cooking until there is no pink left and your meat is in small crumbles.  Give your greens a rough chop and add them in to the mixture.  Add salt and pepper, cayenne, and nutritional yeast to taste and remove the mixture from the heat.

At this point, scoop some flesh out of your butternut squash and add it to the meat mixture, stirring until the squash is well incorporated.  The point here is to make some room in your squash for the stuffing mixture, because once you’re done mixing your meat mixture, scoop it into the squash and place slices of mozzarella cheese over the top.  Put the whole thing in the oven for another 10-20 minutes at 350°F until the cheese is browned and bubbling, and the squash is cooked through.  Serve hot.

Notes: I have some pretty serious food limitations, so I had to use ground meat as my stuffing mixture, but you’re welcome to switch it out for rice, quinoa, couscous, TVP, seitan, or some other choice stuffing base.  If you want to increase the recipe, go ahead and add cooked rice in directly to your ground meat, toss in a few more vegetables like asparagus and carrots and mushrooms — whatever you have lying around.  The recipe is very forgiving.

What makes this recipe work is the contrast of the sweet butternut squash with the peppery stuffing, and then the salt of the mozzarella cheese.  As long as you have those three factors, this recipe should work out for you.  It’s fairly time-consuming because you have to pre-cook the butternut squash, but I mentioned that that could be prepared ahead and refrigerated, which should make things a little easier.

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©2010 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where I can tell I’m turning into my Memere because whenever I write these recipes, I want to say things like, “cook it until it’s done.”  Memere used to say that all the time.

The Best We Can Do

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There’s a rumor going around that people who drive hybrid cars are more likely to commit eco sins.  They’re more likely to litter, from what I hear, or drive faster, or more annoyingly.  Hybrid drivers are just plain annoying.  That’s what I hear.

When I first heard that rumor, I thought that it was a load of bunk.  People have a tendency to be mean to those who aren’t in the majority, and I figured this was their way of looking down at “snooty environmentalists.”

Then I started to wonder if there wasn’t a grain of truth in it — that perhaps hybrid drivers gave themselves a pass on certain things because they figured that driving a hybrid canceled out any other damage. Or perhaps they thought they knew what was best for the environment and stopped learning new things and questioning old methods.

I’ll tell you right now, Reader, it’s that last idea.  I don’t have a hybrid, but this week I stopped questioning.  Mr. Savvy and I were taking the trash out when he noticed me putting a broken camp chair into a trash bag.

“What is that?” he wanted to know.

“That broken camp chair that’s no good to sit in,” I said, “I was going to get a bulky item tag for it, but it fits into a town trash bag, and I figured it was  time to throw it away.”  It had been sitting on our porch for months, unrepairable but waiting to be tossed — another one of those planned obsolescence items we had purchased before adopting a greener lifestyle.

Mr. Savvy picked up the trash can.  “Oh,” he said over his shoulder as he walked down to the curb, “is that the best we can do?”

What a simple question: Is that the best we can do?  I thought it was.  I thought about it all evening before I went to bed, and how even though the chair wasn’t any good, there were still good parts on it.  In the morning before the garbage truck arrived, I crept down to the curb, retrieved the camp chair, and did a little surgery.  I cut off the camp chair fabric and stuffed it into the existing garbage bag, thereby saving the new one I had used solely for the chair.   I can recycle the chair frame, since it’s mostly metal, and as soon as I haul out the sewing machine, the bag cover will become a reusable grocery bag that can fit into a purse (similar to these Envirosax bags).   That, my friend, is the best I can do.

Except for the part where next time, I’ll try to remember to ask myself, “Is that the best we can do?” BEFORE garbage day.  I should have that tattooed somewhere.

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©2010 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where Mr. Savvy and I keep each other in check er… I mean moving forward.  Image courtesy of J. McPherson.

Breaking Up with Mr. Monopoly

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I’ve had a bad relationship with this guy.  He’s the man from the board game Monopoly — otherwise known as the man who teaches kids to hoard money and screw their friends out of everything they own.  He’s the one who pushes everyone to buy buy buy.  He’s consumerism and greed.  I’m sure I’m not too far off when I say every one of us raised in today’s capitalist society has met this man.

Luckily, I was able to break it off with Mr. Monopoly fairly early.  I still remember the exact moment when I knew I was out  of his clutches.  It was eleventh grade, and my English teacher had me on the verge of tears.  He told me I was too abrasive, that I interrupted people, and I would never be rich and successful because of who I was and how I behaved.  He saw that I was getting upset, and his idea of comforting me was to say (rather nastily, I might add), “I’m teaching you how to be rich.  Don’t you want to grow up to have lots of money?”

“No,” I said, “I’d rather be happy.”

My teacher replied, “Oh — you’re one of those.”

And that, my friends, is how Mr. Monopoly and I broke up.  I was upset at the time.  Everything in my life was telling me that my teacher was right: I should want only money, and I should adjust my personality so that money could find me later.  I was wrong for focusing on something besides money, and I was going to be an outcast because of it.

But here’s the thing.  It’s been eight years since that conversation, and I’m not an outcast.  I’m happy.  I like not focusing on money.  Just as it’s unhealthy to focus solely on one person in a relationship, it’s unhealthy to make money the end-all, be-all in your life.  If you spend all your time devoted to money, there’s no time for anything else, like reading all of Jane Austen’s novels in one summer, or cooking meals from scratch, or learning a new hobby or daydreaming or walking your dog to the downtown pet store every day.  These are things I have time for because I don’t have to make it work as much with Mr. Monopoly.

I still have to talk to Mr. Monopoly on a regular basis.  But he’s not my first priority anymore.  Is he yours?  There are a few ways to tell if you’re focusing too much on acquiring money, and then a few more steps to take the sort them out.

You know you love Mr. Monopoly if…

  • You are standing in line to buy the new iPhone as soon as it comes out — and you already have last year’s iPhone in your pocket.
  • Every conversation with your friends revolves around how much money a new idea/gadget/car/problem is costing you.
  • You hate your job, but you go to work anyway because you really want a new pair of designer jeans/shoes/purse/sunglasses/watch to match the ones already in your closet.
  • You feel out of balance with your work life, but don’t want to change it because you couldn’t afford the Stuff you’re planning on buying.
  • You have thousands of dollars in credit card debt, and still keep using your cards.
  • You feel a pang of regret when you think about the environment, but don’t change any of your consumer habits because you deserve the Stuff you’re buying.

The list could go on and on.  In fact, it tends to, because actively practicing these behaviors leads to the next ones.  It’s horrible loop to be in, and often it feels like there’s no way out of this one-sided relationship.  But there is.  You have to break up with Mr. Monopoly.

You can break up with Mr. Monopoly by…

  • Readjusting your idea of comfort.  Do you really need three bedrooms if there are just two people in one house?  Use the outdoors as your third bedroom, or use your community’s resources like the library and wi-fi in coffee shops.  Get out.  Be with people.  How about your cell phone?  Do you take pictures with your camera phone often enough to warrant buying a new phone for the built-in flash?  Think smaller in terms of space, less in terms of Stuff.
  • Identifying the money-mongerers in your house — and then removing them.  This includes things like the television, where both commercials and TV shows try to sell you a “standard American lifestyle” that involves lots of new clothes, big houses, and angst over very attractive people; magazines, where advertisements and articles tell you about the next hottest life cures (here’s a hint: they’re not really cures); junk mail; even friends who care too much about money and not enough about spending quality time with you without a TV on in the background.  It’s hard to remove friends from you life, and they may turn out to be your biggest support system if you try to include them in your changes.  I suggest gently steering the conversation away from money (“do you mind if we don’t talk about what kind of car you’re planning on buying next?  I read a really great book last week, and I’m excited to know what you think.”), or asking if you can hang out without playing video games or watching a movie one night.  Let your friends know what topic is acceptable, instead of what is unacceptable.  Positivity goes a long way.  That, and finding a community of people who share your interests.
  • Giving yourself permission to move on, by saying, “I need money to survive, but it’s not the most important part of my life.”  Then going out there and try new things to figure out what is the most important part.  I promise you, by the time you actually get to getting out there and figuring yourself out, you’ll be in a much better place than when you were with Mr. Monopoly.

These steps sound easy enough, and there’s a good chance that you’re reading this thinking, “yeah, that sounds all right.  Maybe later.”  That’s cool.  File this away, until the day when you’re feeling dissatisfied with your role as a consumer in today’s society instead of an actual breathing person — when you know Mr. Monopoly doesn’t care about your feelings, and you’re tired of feeling that way.  Then come back, roll up your sleeves, and get ready for some hard work.  It’s worth it.

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©2010 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where I had a few awesome teachers who taught me how to get away from Mr. Monopoly.  Maybe I’ll tell you about them some time.  Image courtesy of rutty.

The Scoop on Recycling Propane

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[Editor's Note: I have managed to strategically mislocate my camera.  No, that's not the same thing as losing it.  Sheesh!  When I unmislocate the camera, I will be sure to post a picture of our itty bitty grill.  Apologies for the inconvenience.]

We splurged this weekend and picked up a small propane travel grill.  Very small — the type meant for camping so that we can take it with us wherever we go.  It uses the little one pound propane tanks, little disposable, nonrefillable one pound tanks.

Ugh.

I hate things that are disposable.  You should have seen the deliberation process for this one after we found that out.  We talked to the salesperson, looked at a larger propane grill that uses a refillable tank, looked at this one again, went home, researched propane recycling options, called three different recycling places, hemmed and hawed, and finally purchased it two hours later.  Yeah, it was a process.

It’s all because of propane, that more-than-slightly harmless flammable liquid that is heavier than air  – the one that causes things to combust and explode.  Go propane!  It’s for this reason that propane tanks are categorized as household hazardous waste, and cannot be disposed of in the trash, although many places won’t take them in for recycling.

Thankfully, if you have a big enough grill, you can refill the tank and feel good about minimizing your environmental footprint.  There’s a catch, though: only propane tanks with a safety valve can be refilled.  This excludes small propane tanks like the ones we use for our new grill.  Depending on where you live, you can use the small tank until it’s empty and then chuck it in the trash.  And away it goes!

Only not really.  You and I both know these things don’t go “away” and disappear.  Someone has to deal with them after you’ve tossed them out.  In our case, I called our transfer station to see where they went.  The woman who answered the phone was surprised; apparently she doesn’t get this type of phone call very often.

“You can bring those small ones here and we’ll recycle them,” she said.

“Oh, really?” I asked, surprised.  This was good news.  “How?”

“A company comes and takes them away,” she said.  “I’m not sure what they do with them.”  A pause, then, “Do you want me to find out?”

I smiled.  “Yes, I do want you to find out, please. That would be great,” I said to her.

After a few minutes on hold, the woman came back.  “The company is the Northeast Resource Recovery Association, and they come by and pick up all the tanks we have here, bring them to their facility and drain them of propane.”  She was very helpful.

“Oh, that’s excellent,” I said, frantically jotting down the information.  “And what does this company do with the tanks after they’re empty?”

The woman paused again.  What can I say?  I’m persistent about these things.

“I mean, do they recycle the small tanks or is there some way to refill them and they do that?” I pressed.

The woman didn’t know.  However, she gave me their name again so I could find out for myself.  I called the Northeast Resource Recovery Association and repeated my query.  The woman who answered the phone was confused.

“Yes, we drain the cylinders,” she said.

“And what do you do with the empty tanks afterwards?” I asked.

“Um… why do you want to know?” the woman asked.

I laughed.  I hope she didn’t think I was laughing at her.  It just makes me a little punchy once I realize that not many people care about these things, so the questions come off as strange.  “I’m looking to buy a propane grill that uses the small one pound tanks, and I want to make sure they don’t end up in a landfill somewhere.  I’d like to know if you all refill the small tanks or if you break them down for recycling.”

“Oh, right!” the woman sounded relieved.

One transfer, a conversation about a coffee shop, and five minutes later, I found out that this particular company drains the propane from the tanks (presumably for refilling the larger tanks — I forgot to ask) and cuts down the small propane tanks to melt down the steel.  It’s high-quality stuff, this steel.  I’m glad to see they’re not letting it go to waste.

So these are your options when buying a propane gas grill: get a tank that can be refilled, because most hardware stores have a refilling station right there, OR get a small propane grill that uses small tanks and call around to your transfer station and every other place you know trying to see how this whole process works.  It’s not a perfect process (recycling the small steel tanks uses more resources than just refilling them), but it’s a better option than tossing them in the trash, or even better than buying a charcoal grill.

What’s your preferred method for summer grilling?

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©2010 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where our little barbecue was accompanied by a poetry reading in our very own backyard.  I love June.

Interview with The Clean Bin Project

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I just know you’ve been hankering for an interview to read.  Luckily, Jen CleanBin at The Clean Bin Project obliged.  If you haven’t heard about Jen, Grant, and Rhyannon’s quest to live without producing waste for an entire year, then you are missing out!  I’ve been following along with them for most of the project, and now that they’ve finished up their year without waste, I’m looking forward to the documentary they’re making.  What I especially love is that the whole thing snowballed after starting with the idea that they didn’t need to buy any more Stuff.  Now with that teaser in mind, here’s Jen on the subject of living simply:

1.  What is your definition of simple living?

Hmmm, that term always makes me think of living in a streamlined, clutter-free apartment (which is the opposite of where I live).  In truth, I think it’s about being happy without the encumbrance of excessive material possessions.

2.  How do you and Grant practice simple living while simultaneously creating as little waste as possible?  Was this more or less challenging during the year the project took place?

I would not describe my lifestyle as simple living – we always seem to have a ton of things going on, a bunch of ‘to do’ lists piling up, and a basement full of “stuff” – but our project did teach us to find satisfaction from things beyond material goods.  Striving for zero waste surprisingly did make our lives simpler.   We simply didn’t buy any “stuff.”  It didn’t reduce our quality of life, and I’d even say that having specific rules made it easier.  I didn’t have to think about whether a shirt was fair trade, organic, locally made, etc – I just couldn’t buy it, period.

3.  Have you seen an impact on your local community, the places you frequent, and the people you see regularly because they know you don’t like trash?

Definitely.  Lots of our friends have been inspired to change their habits and are now doing things like using reusable lunch containers or bags.  I often have people approach me wanting to share stories about how they are reducing their waste.  On the other hand, sometimes I feel that a wave of guilt goes through the room when we show up at someone else’s house.  We’ve had numerous friends apologize out of the blue for the waste they’re creating as if we’re the “garbage judges”- that’s not our intent at all.

4.  Can you tell us a little about your upcoming documentary and what you hope to achieve when it comes out?

I’m really excited that I can finally say our documentary is almost done!  We will be having our first showing at the end of May in Vancouver.  Then we’ll be cycling across Canada, showing it in different communities and hopefully sparking engaged discussion about garbage and consumption. In the States, we’ll eventually be entering film festivals and hosting community screenings.  Our film is a semi-comedic look at living zero waste.  We don’t want people to feel hopeless and paralyzed thinking about large scale environmental issues; we want them to feel inspired to take personal action. If our film inspired just one person to reduce their waste, I’d consider it a success.

5.  The Clean Bin Project looks intimidating!  What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out on trying to produce less garbage?

Just pick one thing and be really dedicated to it.  Maybe it’s saying no to plastic bags or giving up take out coffee cups.  It doesn’t have to be big.  Once it becomes habit, you can move on to the next thing.

6.  What books and/or blogs would you recommend to Simple Savvy readers?

A lot of people think our project was too easy because we don’t have kids.  I like to read My Zero Waste because they show that it is possible with children. Beth at Fake Plastic Fish and Taina at Plastic Manners are the best resources on how to how to live without plastic.  Books that changed the way I think include Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Barbara Kingsolver); The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Michael Pollen); and Made to Stick (Chip and Dan Heath).  I’m also a sucker for realistic fiction, but that’s another story.

Thanks, Jen!  What great answers — I love that even though you’re not purposely trying to live a simple life, it worked out that way in the end for you two.  Readers, if you’re interested in more about the project, be sure to check out The Clean Bin Project Blog, the documentary, and facebook page!

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©2010 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where The Clean Bin Project is one of the blogs that helped me get started on this venture.  Images courtesy of The Clean Bin Project Facebook Page.

A Bike Shop Story

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It’s snowing here.  I’ve been dreaming of sunny days and dry streets — all the better to bike on, my dears.  And I’ve been meaning to write an article about my bike shopping experience.  I haven’t written it yet because I’m just a poor kid who hasn’t biked much since the age of 13.  I don’t know much of anything about derailleurs, struts, frames, forks, spokes or titanium alloys of any kind, and so I felt I couldn’t advise you properly.  But in response to this article (courtesy of Rowdy Kittens), about women’s bike shopping experiences, I decided it didn’t matter that I don’t know technical terms and biking language.  So here we go:

I walked into a bike shop with the intent of buying a bike.  I vaguely knew what I wanted: something lightweight, something simple, something where I didn’t feel like I was going to pitch headfirst over the bars.  I did a little research into what types of bikes were available, and came up with a price range and the word “hybrid.”  That was all I had to go on.

At my local bike shop, I was greeted by one of the owners.  I explained to him what I wanted, thinking I was doing pretty well.  I told him I hadn’t been on a bike in a while, that I was just going to ride around town, that the last bike I had was a road bike, and I didn’t like it.  I wanted wider tires, fewer speeds, and I didn’t want to feel like I was sitting too high or too forward.  No, I didn’t care that I wouldn’t go too fast.

“Let me show you this hybrid here,” he said, and lifted down a bike that looked like a road bike.  It was skinny, the seat was high, it was lightweight.  “Hands down, this is the most popular bike we sell.  You could ride across the country on this bike.  One of my regular customers rode it to Florida this summer.”

He let me try it out in the parking lot.  At once, I knew it wasn’t right; it felt exactly like a road bike.  It was rigid and, to my way of thinking, unyielding.  It was wobbly (or maybe that was me).  I didn’t like my posture on it, I didn’t like that I could barely lift my leg over the top bar.  It had twenty-three speeds.  Essentially, it was a road bike, but with mountain bike handlebars.  It was also out of my price range.

We looked at another bike, this one also a hybrid, but leaning way over into the “comfort bike” category.  The owner was skeptical, but I tried it out — and loved it.  There were shocks under the seat and over the front wheel.  It was slow and wide, a little sluggish, and I felt like  kid again, seated upright, barely leaning over at all.  I wished I had a bell.

The owner laughed.  “I never would have pegged you for that bike,” he said, glancing back at the first one I tried out.  The fast one.  I figured he was judging me by my looks, and possibly by the way I carried myself with confidence into the store.  I guess he hadn’t listened to what I had to say after that — like the fact that he tried to sell me a bike that was just about everything I didn’t want.

I tried out a third bike.  This one was slightly faster than the last, less expensive, more lightweight.  It had shocks under the seat, but none over the front wheel.  It had seven speeds, something that I stressed I was looking for three times.  I loved it.  I knew I wanted it.

To be safe, I tried out another bike, and then went to two more bike shops.  Nothing compared to the beautiful simplicity of that bike, that simple, lovely, not fast bike.  I went back and bought it, and since then, I’ve loved it.

The moral of the story?  Anyone can buy a bike.  Heck, I bought a bike.  I used to be the most sedentary person known to man, and now I have a bike and a bike shop where they know me by name.  So!  Do your research; now’s an excellent time to get started.  That way, when warm weather comes, you’ll be prepared.  You’ll be confident.  Confidence is key.

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©2010 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where my bike looks forlorn on the porch, dusted with snow.  Image courtesy of sfbike.

Genetically Modified and Monsanto

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I have some good news, and I have some bad news.  And while I’m not sure how much more bad news we can take in a week like this (with the Haiti earthquake, I mean), I felt this was too important to wait the weekend and post about on Monday.

I’ll give it to you straight: The good news is that Monsanto finally released their studies that showed whether or not genetically modified (GM) crops are harmful to human health.  Greenpeace has been suing Monsanto for some time now for this data, and finally got the results they wanted.  This is fantastic — Monsanto refused to release this data ten years ago when GM foods were new to the U.S., but they claimed that there was absolutely no harm in eating genetically modifed crops.

For those of you who don’t know, among the GM crops is GM corn, also called “Roundup Ready” corn.  It was featured in the movie Food, Inc., and is the corn that scientists modified so that it has a built-in resistance to the weed killing spray Roundup (also produced by Monsanto).  This way, farmers can grow corn and spray Roundup directly on the corn, kill all the weeds growing around the corn, but the corn isn’t affected.

Monsanto patented the gene for this corn and has been employing some very nasty practices to farmers who grow non-GM corn next to farmers who grow GM corn (and other GM crops) — mainly because you can’t prevent cross pollination from the wind in corn, so the next generation of non-GM corn ends up with a few of GM corn’s genes.  And since the GM corn is patented, Monsanto wants to make sure they get every penny that’s coming to them.

If all that isn’t bad enough, there’s still some bad news.  Are you ready?  An outside company called CRIIGEN reanalyzed the studies that Monsanto released, then performed their own studies, and came up with some grim results — the first of which is that Monsanto has no idea how to perform a scientific study.  Seriously.  They didn’t follow the scientific method, they didn’t do enough long-term studies to test to see if GM food is dangerous, and they didn’t report on all of the results they received.

CRIIGEN mimicked the Monsanto studies, but actually followed due process in their animal tests.  When CRIIGEN performed their own studies, they found that there’s no proof of toxicity — meaning that over the 90 day observation period, they didn’t find any proof that GM corn causes the adverse health effects they found in rats.  However, CRIIGEN did find signs of toxicity — that the rats they tested developed certain unnatural kidney and liver functions, most likely due to eating GM crops, but more study is needed. Their report says, essentially, that you can’t figure anything out in a 90 day trial period, let alone whether or not GM food causes long term damage — but all signs point to yes, yes it does.

Phew.

Aren’t you glad we have a governing body that protects the people from foods that may be dangerous to our health? And that they’re doing an excellent job policing companies like Monsanto?  And that they follow up on all the information (or lack thereof) they’re given?

Sarcasm aside, it’s about time we learned about this stuff.  The blog post at Shakesville about this data (to whom I give a MASSIVE hat tip) puts together some conclusions about this information that I’d like to share with you:

Seriously, though, this is an unbelievable mess. You don’t have to stop eating because these are all chronic effects, and it’s not likely to make a big difference if one consumes GMOs for a few more years until we know for sure whether there’s a problem or not. But that’s all the “good” news there is. Regulators in the US bamboozled us and then the rest of the world into not so much as labelling for genetic modification. Now it’s everywhere, and crops are dependent on it. If further research shows chronic toxicity and the RoundUp resistant and Bt products have to be pulled, crop failures will make prices shoot skyward. In the rich countries, that’s an annoyance. In the poor countries, that can mean famine. We are, in short, screwed. For Monsanto’s chance to make a few billion, we’re going to be paying hundreds of billions. (I just saw that line somewhere else before ….)

If you’re interested, I encourage you to read the whole post at Shakesville because the author, Quixote, is pursuing a doctorate in biology and knows how to draw conclusions from the data available.

My final comment for this post is that some time in the future, when another food company is doing all they can to prevent putting labels on food products, I hope we look back at Monsanto in particular and say, “Have we learned nothing from history?  Remember when we didn’t label the genetically modified foods?  Let’s not repeat that mistake again.”

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©2010 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where I still say you should all watch Food, Inc., if you haven’t already, or read The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  First image courtesy of MarS.  Second image courtesy of deymosD.  Third image courtesy  of jimmedia.

Interview with Making This Home

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As promised, here is an interview with Katie of Making This Home.  Her blog is one of the first blogs I started reading on this simple living venture over a year ago.  She writes on a regular basis about living small, living green, and living in Germany.  She also recently earned her pilot’s license (something that only 0.025% of all women ever achieve)!  If you’ve been a Simple Savvy reader for a while, you know that I link to Katie on a regular basis; I can’t help it, she’s amazing.  And so without further ado, here’s Katie’s take on simple living.

1.  What is your definition of simple living?

Simple living doesn’t mean living with less or making yourself miserable.  I think it’s all about questioning what we really need and feel passionate about in our lives versus our wants.

2.  How do you stick to your definition of simple living when things get hairy?  I’d love to hear about how you manage during big projects like your fantastic kitchen remodel, AND during yearly rituals like the holidays.

When things feel frustrating, it’s important to think about all of the things you do have.  Of course, the problem with trying to simplify is that sometimes you’re overwhelmed with all of the things you have.  To keep sane, I always make sure one area of our house is picked up and clean.  When you walk into our living room, the first thing you see is the kitchen.  So that’s the space I always pick up.  When we feel overwhelmed or crowded (like we have guests or we don’t see the sun in Europe for WEEKS), it’s refreshing to have a space that’s good to go.

Of course, our kitchen wasn’t always like this.  We built it entirely ourselves from sheets of wood… right in our 450 square foot house.  Anyone who has remodeled a home while living in it knows how hard things get.  It’s especially hard when your remodel takes up most of your teensy house.  Sometimes the best thing to do when you’re working on a big or easily overwhelming project is to walk out.  Go to an evening class or go on long walks every day.  You have to do something else that you enjoy.  Your whole world can’t be centered on one project.

Holidays don’t need to be overwhelming either.  The biggest question to ask yourself is, “Am I doing this because I feel like I am supposed to or because I want to?”  Are you going to the office gift exchange because you want to?  Are you making an enormous turkey because you want to?  I think if you’re confident in yourself and what you’re doing, people aren’t going to pressure you (cranky relative exempt if they compain about everything anyway!).  Many are surprised to find Thanksgiving is really enjoyable at our house despite being completely vegetarian.

3.  What led you and Martin toward simple living and eco-friendliness?  Has it become an ingrained habit for you both?

My husband comes from Germany.  Around here, people live in smaller spaces.  They constantly walk or bike instead of drive.  Gosh, they sort their trash into ten different piles!  I think greener living becomes a passion for most people here in Germany.

I grew up with a family of five in a 1,300 square foot house.  We shared one TV, one bathroom, and my sister and I shared a room.  Living a little smaller definitely became a habit early on.  I felt closer to my family.  Sure we literally were closer, but we had to learn to work together and share.  My dad also taught me a love of the outdoors.  We were in a little town in the Rocky Mountains – the most beautiful area I’ve ever been.

Unfortunately, my hometown also contains one of the country’s largest Superfund Sites (i.e. toxic waste dumps from past human behaviors like mining).   So you could look out one window of our house and see all these beautiful snow capped mountains.  You could look out the other side and see a mountainside so ripped up and chemical filled that – get this – that I’ve read the soles of a man’s work boots would dissolve if he tried to walk through the stuff.  You can probably guess which window I preferred to look out.  And it’s the view I fight for today.

4.  Good grief, where is all your Stuff?!  And how do you keep everything so uncluttered?

That’s a funny question, Christine.  The more I think of our belongings as “stuff,” the more I realize we don’t need them.  I’d rather have fewer things with more meaning.  My friend once said that when she dies, she doesn’t want to be remembered for the things she had.  So we purge.  But more importantly, we question just about everything that comes into our house.  I try to pick things that really, really matter or that would really add to our life.

That said, I had a huge advantage.  We moved to a foreign country.  Things become a lot less valuable to you when you have to pay gobs of money to bring them with you.  All of those things quickly become “stuff,” and I don’t want my 100 pounds of luggage to just be “stuff.”

Thanks for your answers, Katie — you always get me thinking.  Readers, if you’re interested in more of Katie’s work, you can check out her brand new holiday e-book that gives you tips and tutorials on having a green Christmas.  Find it at her etsy store, along with creative, custom journals that Katie makes herself.  And don’t forget to visit Making This Home!
UPDATE: Katie put up a post of frequently asked questions based on this interview!  I’m so honored to be a part of her writing process.  Check out the post for more questions and answers about Katie and her simpler living philosophies.

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©2010 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where I could look at pictures of Katie’s apartment all day.  Not to be creepy or anything.  Room images courtesy of Thomas White, via Making This Home.  Logo courtesy of Making This Home.

Talking to Kids About Climate Change

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Two weeks ago, a fourth grader and I sat down to read a book about the Tyrannosaurus Rex.  We got to the part of the book where the T-Rexes were dying out.

“They all died at once, right?” he said.

“No,” I said, pointing to the sentence we had just read.  “They died out over millions of years.”

“But how could that happen?” he said.

And so we talked about the idea of a population spreading so far out that individual dinosaurs couldn’t find enough mates, and therefore have babies.  It was an abstract concept for a fourth grader.  After all, he already knew what happened next for the dinosaurs.  So we talked about the same situation with humans instead — as in, what if some catastrophe happened and humans started dying out slowly, and couldn’t find another person to have a baby with?  Could he see then how a population could die out?

We paused.  I could practically see the wheels in the boy’s head turning.  He was processing the information that something as huge as a t-rex, a hundred t-rexes, could just die — just because, with no apparent reason.  He made that extraordinary leap that kids do sometimes, and applied it to humans.  He was envisioning all the humans dying out too.

I grew a little scared — mostly because I knew this was a possibility in the future, and I didn’t want to scare him.  But also because I didn’t know if it was in my purview to talk to him about global warming and dinosaurs and death. I waited to see what he would say.

And then, bless his beautiful, childlike heart, he said, “But who would take care of the Earth if humans weren’t around?  The dinosaurs took care of the Earth when they were alive, and then they died and now humans take care of it.”

Reader, I almost cried.  In the moment before I corrected this idea, I had a hundred thoughts: I wished this was true, that humans actually did take care of the Earth.  I thought about telling him that humans were, in fact, destroying the Earth with our boats and trucks and oil drilling and plastics.  I thought about telling him that Planet Earth would probably be much happier without humans mucking everything up.

I also envisioned explaining the truth to him, that we could do something to change all of this, and that it was going to be hard work but together we could do it.  And then, in one glorious instant, I realized that what I was teaching him at that very moment would probably shape his entire future.  That if he learned about global warming now, he could become a lifelong environmental activist.  I could teach him.

I told him, “If all the humans died too, the Earth would take care of itself.”

He said, “But the plants need things that are alive to take care of them.”

And I responded, “The plants take care of each other.  Plants are alive too — not in the way that humans are alive.  They don’t move, they don’t walk.  But they’re alive, and they support each other.”

He accepted that answer without further questions, and read on.

I’m not sure if I dodged a bullet there, or missed a golden opportunity.  What do you think?  Have you ever tried to talk to kids about global warming?

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©2009 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where I’m always surprised by the intelligence of children.  Image courtesy of Cuppojoe.

Local Meat and How to Find it

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When we first moved, one of my lovely readers asked me to talk about how I find food that fits into my ethics, and I responded with An Introduction to Finding Your Food, talking about the ways to source good, local vegetables.  With the holidays almost upon us, I thought I’d branch out from there and tell you a little how I’ve found the animal products that we eat on a regular basis. Because all regions are different, I’ll give you the low-down of what I did, and see if you can’t pick up a few pointers.

For starters, I looked in our local big box supermarket to see what kind of meats and cheeses they carried.  If anything claimed to be natural or organic in any way, I wrote the name down and looked it up on my computer.  I also kept an eye out for local foods, and stocked up on those in the mean time.

You can only get so far in supermarkets. Truth be told, fliers have been my greatest boon in the search for better foods.  I’m talking about those annoying fliers you get in the mail, the ones you hardly ever glance at before tossing in the recycling bin and saying to yourself, “How in the HECK did they get my address?”  Yeah, those.  I peruse them like nobody’s business, sending the Rite Aid and Shaw’s fliers off to be recycled, while searching through the remaining materials for coupons to local stores, announcements about special winter farmer’s markets, and news from local businesses about how their raw milk industry is booming.

Well, not so much that last one.

But you get the picture.  Where other people toss these things aside, I read through them for more information about the area I live in.  That’s how I found a Whole Foods-like store near us that caters to local farmers.  That’s how I found out about the winter farmer’s market that’s occurring this Saturday, and five other Saturdays throughout the season at a greenhouse not far away.

When I went to Not Whole Foods, I came across a free magazine called Taste of the Seacoast, which had tons and tons of ads from even more family farms in the area.  Online research about these farms led me to take another look at Local Harvest — which I’d given up on at some point.  If you haven’t heard, Local Harvest is a website that’s kind of like a phone book for local farmers.  Oh, you’re looking for CSAs in your area?  Here you go.  Trying to figure out when the next farmer’s market is?  No problem.  It’s handy, but sometimes a little overwhelming if you don’t know where to start.

I was searching for local meats, and that’s how I came across a raw milk dairy farm not two miles away, that also sells meats, breads and pies occasionally.  And when I went to visit them, there were fliers and business cards tacked up on their bulletin board, some of the advertising more local businesses.  Jackpot!

They key here, as in my previous post, is to pay attention.  Actively search for your local businesses, because they don’t have the advertising budget of bigger stores that knock you over the head with ads that say “Shop here!”  It takes a little more effort, but the payoff is huge.

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©2009 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where, in one of life’s beautiful coincidences, my friend Katie at Making This Home posted about something very similar today.  First image courtesy of Chiot’s Run.  Second image courtesy of parl.