Monthly Archives: October 2011

Organic on a shoestring. And is organic even worth it??

USDA Organic.  Its merits are debatable.

  • The program allows pesticides and herbicides that, perhaps, shouldn’t be allowed.
  • It also doesn’t — at all — solve the basic problem with farming monoculture.
  • And, since an alarmingly increasing number of the small organic farms of years past are getting bought out by huge farming corporations, buying organic is no guarantee of supporting a family farmer, or even a small, locally-owned farm.
  • Organic doesn’t mean “local”, either, of course, and folks debate if it’s better for the environment to buy local conventional produce or organic that has been shipped 2,000 miles.

The USDA Organic program definitely not perfect, and it solves few problems with the massive corporate farming system in the United States.  The only thing that really consistently solves all those problems is growing your own organic garden, or perhaps supporting your local organic farmer by purchasing a farm share through CSA subscription.  I participated in a CSA — it (sob!) just ended for the season last week — but even though I got raw dairy, organically-raised meat, free range eggs, and organically farmed produce, it still didn’t cover all my family’s needs.  I’m also growing an organic garden, but I simply don’t have enough room to grow everything we need to feed our family, and even if I had the room, my neighborhood’s HOA doesn’t even allow chickens, let alone a couple of sheep or a cow.  While growing your own organic crops and raising your own organic protein of choice is most ideal, that’s not realistic for most of us.  And because of those difficulties, I still think eating organic is a good compromise.  Not perfect, but good.

Not that I can afford to eat 100% organic;  I don’t think I could do that even if there were fewer than seven mouths to feed in our home.  So, by and large, we eat “clean” all the time*, and eat organic when possible, and I work towards making organic eating possible on a tight budget.  Eating clean and cheap is simple (though inconvenient):  Buy loads of fresh fruits and veggies, bulk brown rice and other whole grains, dry beans, some dairy and eggs, some meat, nothing prepared, very few frozen or boxed items, eating every meal from scratch… But eating organic and cheap is much harder.

However, I have found that there are some organic standbys that are consistently the same price — or even less expensive — than conventional.  You just have to keep your eyes open and be willing to shop at more than one store.  For instance, here in the Phoenix area, there is no reason NOT to eat organic carrots.  I know that my local natural foods market, Sprouts, ALWAYS carries five pound bags of organic carrots for $3.99.  That’s $0.80/lb.  Typically, one-pound bags of conventional carrots are around a dollar.  Of course, if you buy conventional in bulk, you may pay around the same price or perhaps a bit less as organic-bulk carrots;  five pound bags of conventional carrots are typically $3-4.  My point, though, is that you can often (not always) find organic deals, if you keep a sharp eye out.

And, every week, I seek to purchase organic products to stock my fridge and pantry, on a shoestring.  My own organic deals of this week:

  1. Two, ten ounce boxes of Erewhon Organic Crispy Brown Rice gluten-free cereal from Bashas’ (local, family-owned chain) on clearance for $0.99 each.  Better price than conventional.
  2. Sixteen cans of S&W organic canned diced tomatoes, 14.5 oz size, for a net of $0.48 each — purchased in two small 8-pack cases with a buy-one-get-one-free coupon at Costco.  Better price than conventional.
  3. Five pound bag of frozen super sweet white kernel corn by Watts Brothers Farms for $5.49.  That’s $1.10/lb.  Better price than conventional.  You can typically find frozen conventional corn in one pound packages for $1.25 – 1.50.  Costco typically carries a selection of 2-5 varieties of organic frozen produce, most hovering around $5 for 5 lbs.
  4. Half gallon of Horizon half-and-half at Costco, at its normal price of $3.99.  My husband and I lighten our coffee with half-and-half and regularly use up about a quart plus a cup every week, so this will last us more than a week.  The best price on conventional, all-natural, no-additive half-and-half is $1.87 per quart at Fry’s.  It’s $2.29/qt at Bashas’.  So, this deal is that you can purchase organic for roughly the same price as conventional.

Every week I have a similar story:  Organic items I’ve purchased for the same price or lower than conventional by always making my grocery list with the store’s food ads in front of me, checking the store’s clearance area, knowing which stores have the best deals on which items, using coupons when possible, comparison shopping, and keeping track of an item’s normal selling price.

No wonder my brain feels full.

I should start a regular series of my cheap-o organic finds.  Hmmm…


*Well, most of the time, say, 97-99% of the time.  I have virtually eliminated chemical additives of all kinds from our food and other non-healthy stuff like corn syrup and hydrogenated fats.  But, occasionally, a couple not-perfectly-healthy things slip in.  My least “clean” purchase this week was two boxes (for my older two, gluten-eating sons) of General Mills’ Honey Nut Cheerios.  $2.98 for two 12.25 oz boxes, on sale plus a coupon.  See ingredients and nutrition info below.  Not terrible, certainly, but not fabulous.

On poetry and crazy poets.

I don’t do a whole lot one-on-one with my homeschooled 9th grader, Ethan.  But, we do do poetry together.  We’re reading through an anthology which is part of his curriculum.  However, the anthology has zero information on the poets, only the poems themselves.  I find that the study of poets is most often at least as interesting as the work they produced, and sometimes even more so!  Knowing an author’s history adds so much to the understanding of their work.  In general, I find that many times, poets walk — often unsuccessfully — a thin line between inspired and crazy.  William Blake, John Clare, even Emily Dickinson or perhaps even Walt Whitman…  Very, very interesting folk.  And even mentally sound poets like Lewis Carroll and Elizabeth Bishop and Lord Byron had fascinating, unique lives, most often lived on the very fringes of society.  It is worthwhile to consider such things, I think.

So, for each poet we’re about to read (as the anthology goes in alphabetical order, by author’s name), I do a little Google search and print out a little biography, usually only a half page or so…  and Ethan and I have thoughtful discussions about the nature of creativity and society and how sometimes our great strengths are also our weaknesses, and vice versa, and how even an apparently unsuccessful person (as defined by society) can create powerful works that are worthwhile and long-remembered.

On a related topic, with the younger boys, I read Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” this morning.  It took a couple of days to muster up the courage to read it;  t never fails to make me cry, and for a while there, I just didn’t feel like crying.  I think there are few more visceral, powerful, moving, beautiful poems ever written.   And it compels me to adore Abraham Lincoln all the more, for the deep love he inspired, devoting his life to the most worthy cause, and doing it well.  What a man, and what an honor.

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
          But O heart! heart! heart!
          O the bleeding drops of red,
          Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                    Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
            Here Captain! dear father!
            This arm beneath your head;
            It is some dream that on the deck,
                   You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
           Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
           But I, with mournful tread,
           Walk the deck my Captain lies,
                 Fallen cold and dead.


Garden journal…

I’m so happy with my garden right now. What a difference a few months and 20 degrees make! The searing, endless 110+ days are over, which both I and my garden barely survived. Right now, in the Phoenix area, it is sadly, frustratingly, energy-sappingly hotter than it should be — by a good 15 – 20 degrees. Highs have been in the high 90s. But, I think it’s good for the garden, and at least it’s not 115. 🙂

I’m still composting in my two giant bins. I would have a batch ready to till into the soil, but my well-meaning husband dumped a bunch of yard trimmings into both bins (I had one bin “stewing” and was almost ready and the other bin for new material), so now, neither bin is ready. I’ll have to buy some composted manure to add to the garden when it’s time to pull out the crops which are just about done for the season.

  • Tomatillos (“Mt. Pima” variety): I have four giant bushes, a good 4+ feet tall each, supported by tomato cages. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of tomatillos on them, and they’re slowly ripening. However… those dumb things are marble-sized. I bought the seeds from Native Seeds/SEARCH, which is a fabulous organization, and I support them wholeheartedly. However, I need to ask better questions before I purchase seeds from them in the future. I wasn’t aware that I was getting the world’s smallest tomatillos; the seed/product description really didn’t mention their teeny-tiny size. I’m still looking forward to making some tomatillo salsa; it’ll just be like making jam, where you have to harvest and clean hundreds of berries for one small jar. The tomatillos are also so large that they’re shading the garden in a greatly unwelcome way. The days are getting shorter, and all the veggies need as much sunshine as they can get; the tomatillos are hogging the sun. I’m getting a bit impatient with the plants, and am considering yanking them out, just to give everything else more sun….
  • Tomatoes (“Punta Banda” variety): I have finally controlled the winged aphids that were sapping the life out of my tomato plants. I finely grate about 2 tsp Fels-Naptha soap, dissolve the shreds in water inside a 64 oz sprayer, and spray the tomato plants every 2-4 days. In the interim, I just pinch those nearly microscopic suckers. I now have a good 100+ tomatoes growing on my 11 main plants. Again, these were from Native Seeds/SEARCH, and the tomatoes are only about golfball sized. Still. I’m happy to have an abundance of tomatoes, even if they’re smaller than I prefer. None are ripe yet, but many of them will be in another week or two. I also have about eight other smaller plants, that have come up volunteer, very likely from not being fully composted. The largest of the volunteer tomatoes are just now starting to blossom; I’m excited to find out what kind they are!!
  • Green beans (“Yoeme Purple String” variety): These, too, are from Native Seeds/SEARCH. After not bearing any fruit and me barely able to keep them alive in the searing summer heat, they’re now growing wonderfully; I harvest about half a pound every three days from the four bamboo stake teepees I constructed. I think next time, I will choose a different variety; these become too fibrous too quickly… But, still, the beans are good for stewing in soups and Crockpot stuff, and eaten fresh & raw when very young. I’m happy with them.
  • Zucchini-ish whatever-it-is. I purchased some seeds touted as Mexican Grey Squash, which is by far my favorite summer squash — think 7-8″ chubby, light green-grey colored zucchini, firm and sweet with tender skin and NONE of zucchini’s bitterness. The plants were dying on the vine in the midst of summer; perhaps it was too hot for them, too. They’re now producing nicely in fairly compact plants. However, they’re NOT Mexican Grey Squash. I contacted the small seed supplier, and suggested that the seeds had been cross-pollinated before they were harvested, as the squash and the plants themselves are quite confused: darker green than MGS, with skinny necks like a crookneck squash.  The supplier got really, really, really defensive, bordering on nasty.  So, I’m not linking to them.  In spite of their questionable background, the squash is tasty. I can’t decide if I will plant these again or not. Unfortuntately, I burned the growth end (or whatever it’s called) of one of the plants with some natural, homemade (and completely ineffective) bug-killer, so only one of my plants are producing.
  • Hopi Pumpkin. This GIGANTIC, HUGE vine spread out a good 10′ x 10′ and produced a grand total of three squash. Only one of them are even full-sized. We’ve eaten one. Another, I accidentally harvested when trimming back the vine, and the third and largest remains on the vine. The vine is just about dead and I’m going to need to harvest it, too. I’m waiting as long as I can, because I have winter squash coming out my ears from the CSA I participated in. I’m definitely going to grow winter squash again, but not that variety. Butternut, most likely.
  • Chile Negro. These slow-growing plants are finally producing, too. I have about 15 chiles growing on my five plants, none ripe enough to harvest yet. I’m planning on picking these green, too. I think. After I sample them, I’ll decide if I’m going to grow them again.
  • Newer crops: I also have Red Chard growing, which is beautiful and tasty. It kind of got off to a slow and bug-eaten start, but they’re doing nicely now. We’re going to eat some tomorrow night. 🙂 The first harvest of carrots (“Dragon” variety) should be in mid-November. Green onion, bulb onions, and broccoli are also sprouting, but nowhere near ready yet.

Overall, I feel like I’m finally past the frustrating first stages of “I HAVE SO MUCH TO LEARN AND NOTHING IS GROWING RIGHT!!” and am now able to put to use what I’ve discovered about organic desert gardening, and I look forward to an ever more-fruitful garden.

Running and dreaming (but not TOO much)

This isn't me. Too skinny. But the background looks reeeeealllly similar to my route. Thanks to this blog post for the pic:

I haven’t hiked in months.  I have recently, though, started jogging around my neighborhood.  I love getting out in a natural setting, and my feet take less of a beating on dirt than on asphalt.  But, I had to drive to my hike-location-of-preference.  Now, my jog starts roughly fifteen minutes after I roll out of bed, no car needed.  Less travel time to get out means I can wake up a half-hour later, spend more time hoofing it, and get back home earlier.

Previously, I was mostly concerned with arriving back home before my hubby left for work.  However, we were having trouble with our littlest one, Fiala, getting out of bed early and wreaking havoc while my husband was getting ready for work and I was out hiking.

We live in a fairly hilly location, which is unusual for Phoenix;  most everywhere around here is flat.  So, even though it’s on asphalt, I can still go for a challenging, scenic run, with virtually no traffic, which is almost as good as hiking.  Well, actually, saying “run” is pushing it;  a slow trot, alternating with fast walking.  I hope to work up to a run.  Right now, I’m at about a 14 minute mile, which is lame, even though I can blame some of the slowness on the hills.  I can, right??

According to Map My Run (which is REALLY frustrating to get a handle on;  it took me more than an hour to create a map of my little route, and that’s after I viewed the tutorials), my route is 2.79 miles with an overall 3% grade.  It would have a greater grade percentage if I disincluded the flat part that starts and ends my run, but I guess that would be cheating.

I have to fight my dreams about this whole running thing, though.  Well, not really.  Sort of.  What I mean is that I’ve been out jogging a grand total of about seven times now, and I already have lofty visions of finally completing a marathon.  That’s not a BAD dream, certainly;  it’s one I’ve had for years.  But, I tend to count my chickens before I even have a henhouse, let alone eggs, if that makes sense.  I start thinking in my head about how amazing it would be if I completed  this project — any project — that I can actually start coasting on my dreams instead of actually DOING them.  And, I tend to get discouraged when things don’t turn out as rosily, as rapidly as I’m dreaming.

So, like virtually everything else in my life, this is a plot to strengthen my character, as well as my physical endurance, and hopefully to lose enough fat that I don’t have to pick out my outfit by how well it hides the various bits of chub surrounding my middle section.

Here’s hopin’.

Faith, redeeming my Pentecostalism, and “trusting birth”.

I am a recovering Protestant.

My pastor calls us “empowered evangelicals.”  I like that.  Yes, I’m evangelical — I want to tell others about the beauty and love of Jesus — but there’s the power of the Holy Spirit behind it.  Or, rather, the Holy Spirit is in all things I do (that’s the goal, anyway).  God is the focus, the motivation.  His love compels me.  In 20ish years of reflection, now, on my childhood church upbringing, I feel that there was too much “show”.  In other words, speaking in tongues was THE goal.  Prophecy was THE goal.  Exuberant worship was THE goal.  Faith was THE goal.  It very well could have been the immaturity of my perspective;  I was 18 when I left my childhood church, never to again return.  But, somewhere in the mix there of all the hyperactive religion, the Lord Jesus Himself was lost.  I somehow missed that the GOD OF ALL CREATION IS THE GOAL.  All that other stuff is a means to that end:  Jesus.

So, with that in mind, I have been challenged so far this year, and have felt the breath catch in my throat on more than one occasion in my small group.  As a worship leader, I’m assigned a weekly group.  I don’t necessarily get to go where my friends are, or get to choose the leader who I feel most speaks to where I’m at, and does so in a way that communicates clearly to me.  I go where I’m assigned.  So far, that’s been a really good thing.  And, only three weeks into the “season” of new small groups, it’s really too early for thorough assessment.  But, more than once, the leader has mentioned that faith is going to be a focus of his teaching.

Having grown up in said Pentecostal church, where the idea of “name it and claim it” was (for real) taught, I feel like I have had more than my fill of teaching on faith.  And any time someone says that they are going to focus on faith, little warning bells and red flags start chiming and waving in my mind.

“What are you doing, God?”  I wonder.  “Where is this going?  Is my leader really going Pentecostal on me?  Because I don’t think I could handle that for nine months.  Am I overreacting?  Am I here to balance out any ‘name it and claim it’ junk that might crop up?  Do you have me here to test me somehow?”  Round and round my thoughts have gone.  What I have come to, though, after three weeks of concern, prayer, and a wee bit of hyperventilating, is this:  God wants to redeem my concept of what faith is.  It’s time.  It’s time for me to no longer be afraid of the word “faith” and to be rid of the negative connotations it has for me.  It’s time for that history to be sifted, and for the good, solid, true, right aspects of it to remain in the sieve, and the chaff and dust to be shaken out and done away with.

Which brings me to, yet again, the idea that one of the best things about God, and one of the most uncomfortable things about Him is that He doesn’t allow me to just stay, if where I’m camped is harmful.  He doesn’t allow me to remain in patterns of sin or even thought patterns based on misunderstanding.  He, by no means, is a static God.  He’s active.  He’s methodical, but not in a plodding way;  He is purposeful.

So.  Anyway.

(The following kind of jumps around a bit;  I hope that, by the end, it’s tied together coherently.)

I’ve been reading the epistle of I John lately, and this morning thought, “You know, I’ll be happy when this book is done.  It’s so challenging and meaty, and I really just need some love and comfort, like from the Psalms or the late chapters of Isaiah.”  Hahaha!  Such maturity.  🙂  Although, the Holy Spirit spoke to me in that time, “Take note.  Your children can also only handle so much correction and instruction before they need a serious break filled with love and comfort.”  OK, God.  Point taken.

Then, I came to this:

For whatever is born of God overcomes the world;  and this is the victory that has overcome the world:  our faith.  I John 5:4

The first thought that came to me, upon reading that verse, was about the process of natural childbirth.  Among the natural childbirth community, especially for those espousing unassisted birth (that is, birth at home* with no attending physician, nurse, midwife, etc.) there’s a saying:  “Trust birth.”  When I read the verse above, I thought, “Rather, I should trust the GOD of birth.  Have faith in the God who created birth.  He has overcome all the junk in the world — sin and death and pain and crappy doctors (and nurses and even midwives and friends and family and whoever else) who are antagonistic towards the beautiful, arduous process of birth.  I must have faith that He’s a good God and that though the path is difficult, His purposes in it are right and true and good.”

I hope that makes sense.

What I’m saying — though it’s kind of tangential to the point of this post — and I realize that this may be a wee bit inflammatory, is that trusting birth is idolatrous.  It’s having faith in the creation, instead of the Creator.  My faith, and any woman who claims Jesus as Savior, needs to be in the One who originated the process, the God whose infinite mind conceived such an amazing process, and in His goodness and His right-ness in doing it in the way He did.

Those thoughts (faith, birth, Creator) led me, this morning, to progress to one of my favorite concepts EVER, found in Romans 1:20

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

In other words, as the songwriter Kevin Prosch coined it, “The natural things speak of the invisible.”  I ABSOLUTELY ADORE IT when I gain a better understanding of my God when He reveals more of His character, His heart, His nature, His abilities, His wisdom, et al, through something I can see, touch, or experience.

Birth, clearly, is an experience.  However, there are a lot of variables in the process.  There are a lot of emotions.  There are many unknowables.  With every birth, but especially with a first-time mother’s birth, it really is like diving into the unknown:  jumping off of a diving board into an empty pool with the hope that it’ll be filled by the time she hits the water.  There is a lot of FAITH that needs to be employed.

Backing up just a few verses, Romans 1:17 tells us, “…the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith…”  I pondered that for a few minutes.  I re-read it, “The right-ness of God is revealed from faith to faith.”  We as people, and especially we as Americans, don’t like that concept.  We want to try before we buy.  We want a test-drive.  We are wary of anything that can’t be sampled.  However, that’s just not the way of God.  He calls me to trust Him, to have faith in His right-ness, and as I do that — after I do that, perhaps even as a result of my faith — His ways are revealed as solid, good, true, and trustworthy.

Does that make sense?  I have to have the faith FIRST.  It’s only after I’ve gone through that exercise of applying faith, and applying faith, and applying faith, that His ways are revealed as right.

So, getting back to the natural speaking of the invisible…  As further pondered where God has me, I realized that as I study my God, and as I study the process of birth, I am ever more convinced that the process of birth is a microcosm of the nature of God.  Birth is the marriage of:

  • The concrete and the abstract.
  • Science and emotions.
  • The rational and the transrational**.
  • The absolute and faith.

After I recovered from my reverie this morning (well, I’m still not quite recovered;  I’m still in awe), I became filled with thankfulness.  My God knows that I struggle with the idea of faith.  Thankfully, I’ve been a Christian for long enough to see God move in amazing, powerful ways, and in truth, my day-to-day relationship doesn’t require much faith.  He is.  He is real to me, as real as anything I could hold in my hand and stare at.  But, He is also faithful to illustrate to me the value for something that I gaze at, with sidelong suspicion:  faith.  And He did so in a way that makes sense to me, utilizing something for which I already have value:  the process of birth.

God is so good
God is so good
You reign on high in majesty
And the widow’s heart You cause to sing
You hear the cry of the fatherless
And the depth of Your love who can comprehend

For the natural things
Speak of the invisible
Look around and see
Who could deny the wonders of His love
(From God is So Good by Kevin Prosch)


*Well, usually it’s at home.  I actually birthed my third child, Wesley, all ten pounds of him, unassisted, because the nurse didn’t believe he was coming, and wouldn’t return to the room when my friend Stephanie called her back, “I just checked her and she was at an 8.  I’ll come back in 20 minutes or so…” and when she came back, I’d already pushed Wesley into the world.  Unassisted hospital birth:  that’s gotta be rare.  😀

**My dictionary is telling me that this isn’t a word.  However, I love it as a word-concept, even if it’s not truly a word:  “Transrational” is that which is outside of my understanding.  It doesn’t mean that it’s irrational or untrue;  it’s just something that cannot be quantified by cold, hard facts.

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