Last night, Amie woke up around 2 am, with a scream. She had had a nightmare and, as usual when that happens, she demanded the nightlight be turned on, then proceeded to lie awake, eyes wide open, for two hours. Mama knows because Mama too was awake that entire time – oh the pleasures of co-sleeping

This evening at dinner we discussed the nightmare and for once she remembered it. She explained:

– I dreamed about Mudge eating the blue snow glory and in my dream his mouth was a big triangle and he gobbled Wall-E up in one gulp!

Wall-E is from Wall-E. Mudge is the dog from Cynthia Rylant’s Henry and Mudge stories, which we’ve been reading non-stop. He is a big dog, but the sweetest, gentlest creature ever to be put down in a children’s book. Still, his size and him eating a blue flower in one of the books was enough to earn him a trip to Amie’s nightmare land.


– So no more Henry and Mudge as bedtime storied? I asked. I was saddened, because I love reading them to her: they’re so funny and sweet, I love the mother and father, and Henry is, like Amie, an only child.

– No, said Amie, better not, because Mudge is just too scary.

As Henry would say, Aw, Mudge!

What We Do button (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Okay, I’m warning you. This one’s (perhaps) on the edge for this blog, but it was inevitable. It’s about our toilet flushing habits. So if you’re here to read about Amie’s drawings or how the carrots are doing (badly), proceed at your own risk.

This is the one aspect of our homestead that I don’t discuss with visitors to our home, even family and good friends.  The garden and the rain barrels always go over really well, the Freeze Your Buns and short showers are at the next level (where “different” creeps in). But this one… Even on the Riot Group the idea of toilet cloth drew some comments.

At some point I plan to put forward our homestead as an example of suburban sustainable living and low energy consumption. I foresee the awkward moment when it becomes clear to what lengths one has to go to get an 80-90% reduction of the US national average

So it’s nothing short of a coming-out issue. Here goes.

Given its daily and frequent use, toilet flushing consumes the most water in a household. Drinking water.

Here at our place we’ve been struggling with ways to minimize this waste. At first we didn’t flush after little job, but that left mineral stains in the toilet bowl, which necessitated more cleaning (albeit with all-natural products). Sometimes it smelled. Also, it wasn’t practical when we had guests or visitors. I found myself thinking each time the doorbell rang: “Did we flush?”

Then we hit upon the idea of “collecting nitrogen,” a euphemism for peeing in a container, the contents of which go on the compost heap. To deal with the toilet paper problem (we don’t want it in the compost), we decided to use toilet cloth (after little job), which takes up very little volume in the laundry. That minimizes the use of yet another disposable. The compost heaps and bins get daily bursts of fire.

{Update, in response to comment} The toilet cloths are saved with table napkins, hand and kitchen towels and underwear to be washed in hot water with a minimum of chlorine bleach – I wash everything else in cold water with bar soap, washing soda and borax, and I line-dry everything, of course.

But for big job we were still flushing all that drinking water down the drain.


Then we installed our rain barrels. One of them is not within reach of the garden – it overflows into one that is –  but it is close to the back door. So every morning Amie and I go there to fill two 25 gallon buckets, which we put in a corner in our bathroom (lids on). We use that exclusively to flush the toilet.

Easy peasy: no smells, no yellow water and wads of toilet paper in the bowl, no wasting drinking water.

Several weeks ago a neighbor gave us an old rain barrel he was going to toss. It’s a large metal barrel that he painted green, and some of the paint on the inside bottom is peeling. I asked him if the paint contains lead and he couldn’t remember what kind it was, so we didn’t install it along with our food-grade rain barrels. Instead  we will put it on the last available gutter pipe, also conveniently close to the back door, and will use that water for flushing. At some point we might even figure out how to hook that barrel directly to the toilet water tank.

I asked DH if I could post this, and he said “I don’t get it,” as in, what’s so risque about it? I’m not so sure: this still seems to me as one of the things we do that sets us quite apart from anyone I know personally and the culture at large. Unless we’ve we all been hiding our toilet-flushing habits – which would only prove the point. Your thoughts?


So behind, it’s shameful. Forge ahead, anyway!

Plant: Fall garden of spinach, kale, broccoli, purslane, various lettuce, chard, mizuna, mustard greens, all as seedlings, and in the ground peas, more green beans, chard and carrots.

Harvest: chard, kale, cucumber, potatoes, various tomatoes, beans both green and dry.

Preserve: apple* sauce, peaches* in syrup, tomato-apple* chutney, blueberry* jam, fig jam (figs on sale at grocery store), freezing dry beans. (* from Farmers Market)

Reduce waste: We’re still in our Riot for Austerity mode, so we never produce much waste. Our renovation project required a small dumpster, which came out at under 2 tonnes: lots of the wood was salvaged. We replaced the 50-year-old old yellowed porch roof, which we’re reusing as roofs for our wood piles.

Prepare and store: had our wood burning stove installed; got more mason jars from the landfill; bought large bags of sugar; large bottles of vinegar and big bags of baking soda for home-made cleaning products; am collecting glass bottles for water storage (once I have a bunch I’ll wash them en masse and fill them up). Installed rain water barrels and investigating the Berkey filter system. Purchased and began studying Kathy Harisson’s Just in Case.

Build community food systems: chatted with farmers at the Farmers Market (got a nice deal too), and someone from the Food Project about their Build-a-Garden program. Contacted a local beekeeper. Still plotting Transition.

Eat the food: ate most of all that we harvested and even some (already) of what I preserved.

We were so keen on currants and gooseberries, all along the chain link fence that borders our backyard. But it seems they are still banned in the state of Massachusetts – because Ribes plants could be hosts to the fungus spores that causes White Pine Blister Rust. The ban used to be on the entire US but has been lifted in most States except some New England States, like Mass.

Never mind that there are now currants and gooseberry strains that are resistant to it. There is one grower, in Western Mass., who produces what looks like fantastic berry bushes that are just right for our situation. But they’re not allowed to sell them to customers in Mass.

I spoke with someone from the State’s Ag. Dept. and he said I could apply for a license, but the variances (distances from the closest white pine stand)  are so tight it’s almost impossible to qualify. The “bush guy” at my Garden Center said forget it; he knows of someone local who tried and all he got was the bureaucratic runaround.

Our shade is quite deep: the places where we can grow berries are on the chainlink fences in the constant shade of pines, oaks and beeches.  What food to grow there?

Ah, so this is what it was all about! Finally the garden is giving up that abundance that was promised: beans of all kinds, potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes and tomatoes, and our first eggplant (apple green). There’s enough to eat and put by.


This is one day’s harvest. The tomatoes that weren’t eaten straight away were canned in a tomato-apple chutney:


In the back are peaches (like the apple, also farmers market) in syrup. Yes, that’s my fifties kitchen cabinetry: I love it!

And Amie loves to shell the red kidney and cannellini beans. We harvest the pods when they’re dry, light brown and leathery, and when you shake them the beans rattle inside. I don’t think I’ll have enough for eating (even one big meal), but there will be enough as seed for a much bigger planting next year. I don’t trust my drying methods – no barn or garage for drying the plants – so I freeze them. I hope they stay viable that way.


Tomorrow morning I’m going to harvest and process most of the basil plants. I think I might just chop them up in the food processor and freeze them in cubes, like the Omelays. I’m also going to do a backlog of laundry, as the rest of the day will be sunny. But this afternoon I still hope to put the Fall planting seedlings in.


I am reading Jerry Mander’s In the Absence of the Sacred. The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations. Many points are too loosely argued for my taste – as in, I doubt it would convince my DH, who is a total techno-optimist. As a confirmation for what I believe, it reads pleasurably.

But these lines grabbed me:

With each new generation of technology, and with each stage of technological expansion into pristine environments, human beings have fewer alternatives and become more deeply immersed within technological consciousness. We have a harder time seeing our way out. Living constantly inside an environment of our own invention, reacting solely to things we ourselves have created, we are essentially living inside our own minds. Where evolution was once an interactive process between human beings and a natural, unmediated world, evolution is now an interaction between human beings and our own artifacts. (p. 32)

I have read in many environmental books that we are destroying nature, that great Other. McKibben, in his seminal End to Nature, hangs nearly his entire argument on the despair of there being just us.  I never realized what it meant until I read Mander’s words.

Don’t say that this is not true, that there is no other, that it’s just us. In many parts of our world this is already true:  in mega cities, malls, schools, work places. Look around you: what do you see that will take you out of your own mind? What do you see that is not you? Sorry, the potted palm does not count. Nor does the lawn. The creatures visiting your lawn, yes, but how often do you see them, look for them? And it is getting worse second by second.

Then you may ask: so what?

A few weeks ago I was on my way to fill up the buckets with rain water  when I came upon this creature amongst the weeds.


A garter or garden snake, about as dangerous as a field mouse (to us, not to the field mouse). But it’s a snake, and my biological instinct was: hark! And it felt good, that jolt of surprise and rapt attention, that lurch out of the of the ordinary.

I was, for a few seconds, out of my mind.

If we eliminate what is other, then we are without surprise, without instinct, without perspective, and without the possibility of ever being truly free.




Tea Party



“Mama, when you see it IN your eyes, but not outside your eyes, it’s a dream, right?”


“That’s why when you open your eyes it’s no longer there.”

“Mama, Peter Pan [movie] is made up of pieces.”

“Yes, like Kipper: episodes.”

“No, Kipper episodes are stories by themselves. Peter Pan episodes are all part of one big story!”

We do a lot of outdoors stuff too, when it’s not too hot – especially gardening, and taking walks around the block. I forget my camera though.



Yesterday, on my birthday, I cooked and canned 4 quart (1 liter) and two half pint (500 ml) jars of applesauce with my new canner – I still used the hot water bath method, no high pressurizing as yet, it was simply the only pot that would hold all those jars.

It gave me even more appreciation for the materials and effort that go into processed food. I cored the 12 pounds of apples that I bought last week at the Farmers Market (that the orchardist grew, harvested, and brought to market), peeled them, quartered them, cooked them, pureed them in batches, processed them in the canner, and after hours of slaving away in my progressively steamier kitchen (no airco),  this is all I ended up with:


That’s it?! But it’s local and organic, and I know exactly what went into these jars, and believe it or not it turned out cheaper than or as expensive as store-bought organic applesauce (*), and they were another great learning experience.

Today at the Farmers Market I  bought 10 more pints of blueberries (2 of those have already been eaten), 6 lbs of peaches and another 12 pounds of apples (different varieties this time). They’re waiting in the coolest part of the house. On my kitchen counter I am “saving up” on our very own tomatoes (Ida Gold and Glacier), which are coming in about 2 lbs a day now. Tomorrow is promising to be not so hot. Time to tackle some more blueberry jam, some chutney, some salsa?

(*) apples $12 / sugar $.50 / lemon juice $1 / electricity $?


A friend lent me the Toolbox for Sustainable City Living, which has a recipe for compost tea.  He also dropped off all the necessary equipment for making it.

  • 1 nylon stocking’s leg full of my best homemade compost (= the inoculant)
  • 5 gallons of (non-chlorinated) rain water
  • 1/4 cup of molasses (food)
  • oxygen thanks to an aquarium pump and an airstone or bubbler


You suspend the stocking with the compost (or worm castings) in the water, squeeze it, let it bubble for an hour, then give it the molasses (or fish hydrolase, or humic acid). Then you let it bubble away for 24-36 hours. After that dilute with 5 to 10 parts of water, and apply it to the soil within 4 hours, preferably either after a good soaking by a rain storm or at dusk, so the beneficial microbes (that I hope are in my compost) can survive in their new home – my garden.

We had friends over till 9:30, for our birthday party/parties: Amie’s and mine (Amie was born on my birthday), and then I put Amie to bed. So I only just now had the opportunity to apply my 30-hour-old tea. It was a rich brown, frothy, and had no odor, and I was the one in pijamas, with the flashlight and the swarm of mosquitoes.

Amie knows why bees are good.

– Mama, excuse me, Mama? Bees are good because if there is a flower on the plant then they go into the flower to get the nectar and make honey out of it and they also do something good to the flower.

Pollinate, yes.

Despite the lack of pollinator-attracting flowers in our garden and neighborhood, the bees have done their job.


Growing cuke (Boothby’s) and eggplant (Apple Green): will they make it?


Ripening tomatoes (Ida Gold): nuggets of taste.


Fatso fava bean and harvest of shelled red kidney, fava and cannelini. My drying experiment – put them out in the full sun on a white sheet – ruined the favas, but the others are drying well.

Amie sees me taking pictures of the garden and our harvests and wants to do so as well. Here she is photographing the beans: