Thursday, January 24, 2013

Absinthia Returns, Part 8

19th-century cabin in Indiana

This is part of a continuing series of email letters exchanged with my Swedish friend, Absinthia. To see the whole series, start with  Living a Simple Life.

Things to Make at Home: Bedroom, Living Room

Here's what Absinthia makes for her own living room and bedroom areas and the book she loves for self-sufficient living.

Hello :-)

I really recommend The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency by John Seymour. He wrote a wonderful book with hands-on instructions on how to build your own stove and how to heat water with a home made solar panel system--in short, all you need to live what he calls “the good life.” You can find it in most libraries! :-D

(Note from Amanda: if you are a vegetarian, be forewarned that there are sections on meat preparation.  When I can get my own copy of the book, I'm considering taking those pages out, or re-binding the whole thing in a loose leaf notebook, with those pages left out or tucked in an envelope.  Don't want to even think about those topics.)

Here are my make-it-yourself money-saving ways in two more rooms of the house:

- handkerchiefs: sewn
- blankets: crochet and knit
- rugs: woven and crochet
- curtains: sewn and crochet
- laundry baskets: crochet with tarn
- baskets: crochet
- bags: crochet
- slippers: crochet and knit
- doilies: crochet
- pictures: embroidery, painted
Living Room
- rugs: woven and crochet
- blankets: knit and crochet
- pillows: mostly crochet, but some sewn
- seat covers for sofa and chairs: crochet
- doilys and runners: crochet
- curtains: sewn
- flower pots: made from buckets for which I crochet fitted holders--nice for hanging baskets, too. :-)
- Absinthia

The conversation is continued here:

19th-century cabin in Tennessee, photo by Thomas R. Machnitzki

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Absinthia Returns, Part 7

18th-century-style Swedish kitchen

This is part of a continuing series of email letters exchanged with my Swedish friend, Absinthia. To see the whole series, start with  Living a Simple Life.

Things to Make at Home: Kitchen Items

Here's what Absinthia has to say about saving money in the kitchen.

Hello again!
Time is the only thing we have, always. Money comes and goes, sun and rain also, but time is always there, right by your side.
Here’s how we save money in the kitchen by making things ourselves, re-using, etc.
I save whatever cartons and buckets that come when buying things like food. They are handy when freezing, and to use as pots for plants.
- margarine: I make my own margarine by whipping butter and rapeseed oil together.
- birdfood: made from leftover bread crumbs and fat from cooking
- sourdough bread: I feed the sourdough with leftover stale bread, noodles, rice etc.
- freezer containers:  cartons and buckets that come when buying foods
- dish-scrubbies (also called tawashis): crochet, plarn (yarn made from plastic bags)
- dishbrush: tie spring birchtwigs together according to old local traditions
- dishrags: knit and crochet cotton, linen, or hemp
- towels: knit cotton, linen, or hemp.  I knit them in some nice stitch, like “feather and fan” or moss stitch.
- soaptrays: crochet using plarn
- placemats and coasters: crochet  cotton, linen, hemp, or spun tarn
- napkins: sewn
- tablerunners/doilies, etc.: crochet
- cup cozies and jar cozies: crochet cotton, linen, or hemp
- flower pot covers: crochet cotton, linen, hemp, or spun tarn. I make them to go over small plastic buckets, tin cans and jars.
- curtains: crochet
- baskets: crochet
- seat covers for kitchen sofa and chairs: crochet
- stool covers: we save every little inch of yarn leftovers, spin it together, and use it to make colorful stoolcovers, chair pads etc.
- chair leg covers (saves the floor from ugly marks): crochet cotton or linen
- mats and rugs: woven and crochet tarn or spun tarn
- hotpads: crochet wool
- potholders and oven mitts: crochet wool
- dusters, crochet acrylic.  I can make them static so they “suck up the dust.” :-)
- seat covers and back covers for kitchen chairs: crochet tarn. Very cute actually ;-)
More to come: living room and bedroom.
- Absinthia
The conversation is continued here:
Absinthia Returns, Part 8

Monday, January 21, 2013

Absinthia Returns, Part 6

18th-century American colonial flax-spinning demonstration

This is part of a continuing series of email letters exchanged with my Swedish friend, Absinthia. To see the whole series, start with  Living a Simple Life.

Things to Make at Home: Clothes

Dear Absinthia,
It seems like a constant battle to have enough time to cook from scratch, keep the house clean using natural materials, and still get all my money-making work done. I wish life in America wasn’t so expensive, but we’ve got to bring in enough money to pay for the required things where we live… like taxes, wind and flood insurance at the coast, health insurance, and more. It’s like running around in an endless circle.
What do you make for yourself that other people buy--foods, clothing, home items, skin care products, cleaning products, etc.?
- amanda

Oh boy, this took some time for me to think about. Since we seriously consciously started making our own stuff, we have lowered our costs for living quite considerably!
Ok, let´s start with clothes that I make for us (mostly knitted and crocheted).
- socks: both thin socks to wear in regular shoes, and heavier socks to wear in winter boots.
- skirts: I knit and crochet skirts, and sew some. Knit skirts in flax for the warm part of the year, and ankle-length wool skirts for the winter. Warm and cozy :-) By the way, the old traditional underskirts in wool were crocheted with lovely colorful tapestry crochet borders.
- t-shirts: mostly knit in flax yarn.
When I knit or crochet with flax yarn, I often use handspun flax yarn in approx. fingering weight, and I knit with needles in between 1.5 to 2.5 mm. When I crochet I go up some in size, to maybe 3.0 mm.
- sweaters
- shawls, big and small
- hats
- vests
- dresses
- mitts and mittens
- legwarmers and armwarmers
- cowls
- slippers
- felted boots: knit wool.  Yes, they are actually felted wooly boots. We only use them when there is cold snowy weather. I knit them kind of like the old ugg boots, and then I sew on a number of layers of felted wool soles. If I feel really ambitious I make the outmost sole a crocheted one in rope. But mostly I just make it like the traditional regional “Ludda,” a low-cuffed winter boot in felted wool. When a sole wears out, I remove it and sew on one or two new ones. If you put on a nice warm wool sock, and maybe an extra felted inner sole, it is the perfect footwear for walking around the garden during cold winters. They form so nicely to your feet.  The ugg boots originate from Australia--they use this kind of boot in the desert. Wool protects very well from heat, so well that it is used as protective inner layer in firemen's gloves!
- felted soles to wear in boots
- longjohns
- yarn: we make it ourselves--flax and wool yarn. We buy wool from the local sheep farmers, comb it, wash it, spin it, and dye it with herbal dye or with food colors.  We spin flax too. It is quite a lot of work to make flax into yarn. You have to let it rot in a controllable way to soften the fibers, then crunch it, and then comb it. It is hard work, but worth it! :-)
- jewelry: I have been trained in gold- and silversmithery, so I make what I need myself.
That’s all for now, there’s more of the list to come!
- Absinthia
The conversation is continued here:
Absinthia Returns, Part 7

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Absinthia Returns, Part 5

Compost in UK, photo by John Winfield

This is part of a continuing series of email letters exchanged with my Swedish friend, Absinthia. To see the whole series, start with  Living a Simple Life.
Dear Absinthia,
Composting seems like a great way to manage our garbage and get it into a form that benefits the Earth.  But I always run into problems with unwanted visitors taking up residence in the pile, bin, or whatever.  Last year I set up a worm farm in a plastic box in the house. It was great for composting food scraps and even paper. But it produced so many little fruit flies, that I had to get rid of it.
- amanda

I had a friend who kept a worm farm. She kept it under the zink during the winters, but as soon as the spring started, she put it out on her balcony.
Small tip to get rid of fruit flies: take garlic, just a piece or two, punch it with a fork so it gets some holes in it. Place it where the flies are gathering. Works like a charm ;-)
To handle regular flies, make a bouquet of silver absinthum, and hang it in the window. No more flies ;-)   If you prefer not to have poisonous flowers in the home, grow lavender in a pot or in the garden. When it’s in bloom, cut some and make small bouquets of fresh lavender and hang in the windows to protect against flies, hang in the closets to protect against moths. They will look and smell just as lovely when dried. And don´t forget to put dried lavender in the drawers for a nice smell and protection against all sorts of bugs :-)
We compost anything that is biological in our house. And we very seldom throw away any food. We eat our food, and we don´t make more than we need. We use the clothes until they are too worn out, then we make tarn (yarn made from strips of fabric) of whatever is still usable and compost the rest.
We grow a lot of leafy greens for food, as potted plants indoors. Outdoors, we harvest a lot of what others consider as weeds. We dry them, or put them in the freezer and eat them as greens.  We also grow berries, fruits, and greens in our garden. We have raised beds for that.
- Absinthia

Dear Absinthia,
We are also very careful to eat all of our food, but some of it is so damaged by the time it gets to the store, that the outer parts often have to be disposed of or composted.
- amanda
The conversation is continued here:
Absinthia Returns, Part 6

Friday, January 18, 2013

Absinthia Returns, Part 4

A home rainwater cistern in Mississippi  (photo by Jeffrey Reed)

This is part of a continuing series of email letters exchanged with my Swedish friend, Absinthia. To see the whole series, start with  Living a Simple Life.

Dear Absinthia,
I am very interested in how to provide our own water. Many people here have wells--some for watering the yard only, and some with reverse-osmosis filters for drinking. Deep wells here at the coast have a lot of salt in the water.  The ocean affects everything, including our groundwater.
Where do you get your water? From a community water system, a well, or collected rainwater? Do you do anything special with your wastewater?
- amanda

Hello again :-)
We do have our own well on the back of the house. Before this village was joined to the regional water supply, the previous owner took all his water from that drilled well. Nowadays and for the last 30-35 years or so, this village has been connected to the regional water and sewerage. We have been thinking about reopening our own well, but before we start drinking from it, we have to order proper testing of the water so it is all ok. We are very close to the Gulf of Bothnia, and there have been some rather scary reports about the level of toxins in the fish out here. So, first some testing: “better safe than sorry” is my motto on such matters.
We save rainwater for watering plants.
As for wastewater, our water from washing dishes, washing clothes, toilet, and shower all goes into the regional sewer system. When we dye yarn, we pour the waste (barch, onion skin, and such) into our compost pile. We don´t use any toxins when we dye.  That is a strong rule in our house.
Composting toilets are quite common here, out in the summer houses mostly. The summer houses often are out in the countryside far away from the regular electricity and sewage systems, so you have to find ways to handle things like this. To have a regular old “outhouse” you have to get lots of approvals, but it is much easier to get a composting toilet approved. However, if you want to add the toilet compost to your regular compost, then you have to get it approved. Otherwise you just add it to your kitchenkompost-bag, which goes into the regional garbage handling system.
A Swedish lady recently got an award for a very smart invention. You take whatever water you have, well water or rainwater, and pour it in the bottle and put it in the sun. There is a solar panel cleaning system inside. The water gets heated, and as soon as it’s clean and drinkable, a sign shows up.  This little portable water purification system is called Solvatten  :-)
- Absinthia

Dear Absinthia,
With the oil spill that happened in the Gulf of Mexico a few years ago, I wouldn’t dream of eating or drinking anything out of the ocean here. The chemicals that were applied were probably worse than the oil, which was a tragedy in itself. 
Rainwater collection is probably a better way for us to get water. It’s very trendy in some parts of the US, like Austin, but setting up a rainwater system for drinking water is very expensive. There must be a home-made way to do it.

- amanda
The conversation is continued here:
Absinthia Returns, Part 5

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Absinthia Returns, Part 3

This is part of a continuing series of email letters exchanged with my Swedish friend, Absinthia. To see the whole series, start with  Living a Simple Life.

Dear Absinthia,

Lately I have been thinking about how to minimize the amount of electricity that we use.  How do you heat your house? Wood stove, fireplace, electric heat, gas? We have electric, and it’s costing us a fortune, plus adding to global warming.

- amanda

Hello :-)

Here in Sweden we have lots of sun during the summer, but during the winter… not so much. Now in December we have hardly more than 4 hours of daylight. Yet, we have enough sunshine to support solar power panels! We can heat our own water, and even sometimes get enough electricity made to sell back to the local electric company. There are some companies out there that sell “starter packs” so you can set up your own solar power panels for a small sum, as long as you have a screwdriver and a drill and know how to handle them ;-)

We heat the house with a firestove in the kitchen and an extra stove in the sitting room. This works great for us.  The firestove in the kitchen is the regular heat source, but during December and January we have to light the extra stove sometimes to get a reasonable temperature. In these months we often get the “Russian cold” when the Siberian winds pass over us.  Then we can get temperatures as low as -35 degress Celsius. It is so cold the skin hurts if you get it exposed to the air.
Yep, I have good use for all my wooly knits :-) Those legwarmers from your pattern are a great help during these very cold periods.
The firestove in our kitchen is a really old one, probably from when the house was built, a hundred years ago. We cook all our food on it, we bake all our bread in it. We heat water on it, dye yarn, and by hanging a wooden stick between two hooks in the ceiling, we can dry clothes and yarn there when the weather doesn´t allow us to dry it outside. This firestove is a great money and climate saver, even if you consider the price of firewood. To heat this house with electricity, you would probably have to pay at least double, maybe triple what we pay the local lumberjack for our yearly load of firewood.
Maybe it sounds just horrible, cooking with a firestove in the summer. I haven´t really thought about it that way. I am probably too used to this way of living. It is after all the way I grew up at my granny’s and grandfather’s place. In the summer you light a quick little “coffee-fire” early in the morning or late at night for some speedy summer-cooking, before the day’s heat, or after the worst heat of the day. Summer cooking is different from winter cooking. You only make speedy simple meals--no long-cooking stews and such--just simple things like yoghurt, wraps with some stir-fried meats, simple things that take very little time and very little cooking. The smoke helps to keep the mosquitos away, so that is nice too :-)
´til next time,
- Absinthia

Dear Absinthia,
Ah, electricity. I wish we could live without it. But how would you and I communicate, then?  I'd love to set up a small windmill here, to produce the electricity we need. It would be wonderful to have an electric car that’s powered by our own wind-generated electricity. That’s probably far off in the future for us, though.

- amanda
The conversation is continued here:
Absinthia Returns, Part 4

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Absinthia Returns, Part 2

Fair Trade products (photo by Andie Gilmour)

This is part of a continuing series of email letters exchanged with my Swedish friend, Absinthia. To see the whole series, start with Living a Simple Life.

Dear Absinthia,
Last night my husband and I were discussing the “throw-away” mindset that our culture has regarding many things that we purchase, including clothes. They are so cheap at the big box stores, that many people buy a few outfits, wear them for a season, and then get rid of them and buy more. What a waste! But I suppose it keeps millions of poor factory workers from starving.
- amanda

Hello :-)
This “buy-wear-throw” away culture… I heard a politician on the radio once defending it with “but we support the poor countries if we buy things.”  But, sad to say, that is not true. The only ones we support if we buy in the big brand stores, are the western multi-millionaires that sit comfortably on their big moneybags. The poor seamstresses make less than half a dollar a day. They have to borrow money from the black market money lenders to be able to buy food and pay the rent. The poor young girls that put the iphones together, they have such bad work-situations (too long days, no rests, too stressful etc.), that the factory owners have had to block the doors out to the roofs to stop them from commiting suicide.
I look for this kind of information in the newspapers. It never hits the headlines, but one finds it if one looks for it. And I do, because I refuse to live a good life on the back of my brother, and I refuse to eat from my sister’s plate.
Some years ago, more than ten years ago now I guess, a young boy child finally was able to run away from the debt slavery that his parents had sold him into. He started fighting the money lenders that organize this kind of thing, and he started fighting against the system that allows child labour.  I had the chance to hear him speak on these issues, and he said, “The only way to end this, is to not support them in any way. It is so easy. Just don´t support them. Don´t send your money in their direction.”  He was so dangerous for the factory owners, that he was murdered after just a few years. 
So, I don´t give them my money. I don´t buy any product made with child labour, or under other kinds of unfair conditions. I make the things I need myself, or I get it from a local producer (the local seamstress, the local fire wood seller, etc.), or from someone with a “clear” source, such as Fair Trade, from whom I buy cocoa and vanilla.
By not letting people fare ill, at the same time I’m not letting the earth fare ill. By not letting greedy people enslave others, I don´t support the polluting transports. So Fair Trade is both fair for people and for the planet’s eco-system. All of us must stick together, earth and people are one. It is very easy, if one lets it be easy :-)
- Absinthia
The conversation is continued here:
Absinthia Returns, Part 3

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Absinthia Returns, Part 1

Shopping mall in Toronto, 2008  (photo by Benson Kua)

Living a Simple Life

My Swedish friend, Absinthia, has kindly agreed to have another conversation with me for this blog.  In 2011, we posted an 8-part series of emails, starting here.  The current series is about living a simple life, and I think you'll enjoy her perspective.

Dear Absinthia,

I have been thinking about you a lot, lately, and I hope we can have another conversation--this time about simple, basic living. As humans, we must start making the transition. Global warming is happening faster than we expected, and we’ve just got to take swift, major steps to correct the way we are living on this Earth.

- amanda


I wanted to think if I have something to say and share about simple living, and I think I do :-) We have been living a small simple life for some years now so I have learned quite a lot, remembered lessons my granny and grandfather taught me, read some, heard some, realised some and thought some too ;-)
I am now a teacher fiber crafts, and I also do commission work.  It may sound strange, but I am much happier and feel physically much better now, even though we have approximately a third as much money as we did before.

I hear and read that many people think that Christmas is a very stressful time. I think that may be because they are focused on the material stuff “Buying, buying, buying!!!” instead of making an experience “let´s have a lovely holiday together: read, tumble around in the snow, and drink hot cocoa!”
And this is the core of the climate-disaster in the making, don´t you think? If we stop the “buying, buying, buying,” then the big businesses cannot enslave the poor countries into child labour, and then the international traders will no longer get rich from all those poisonous mass-producing industries that contaminate the water and the earth, and all the cheap stuff will no longer be transported hence and forth, bought by us and then hardly get any use before we exchange it with some new cheap bad-quality stuff, and then get thrown away at the junk heaps everywhere.
We have completely stopped buying Christmas gifts. We buy trees in an agroforestry-project and send their gift-cards as Christmas cards :-) It saves the earth and gives the growers and their families a way to support themselves. I am happy to have found such a nice project to support. We have supported them for more than 10 years now :-D
- Absinthia
The conversation is continued here:

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Got Salad?

This is the stuff of life.  Every day we have at least one meal with a big salad as the main dish.  Thanks to Joel Fuhrman (Eat to Live), our diet has taken a quantum leap in the right direction.  Probably the most important part of it is to eat salad, and LOTS of it.  The key is to eat as much leafy-green and fresh-veggie food as you can.  Every day.

serves 1

Romaine lettuce
fresh veggie pieces
cottage cheese or avocado

Fill a 1 to 2 qt. bowl about halfway up with bite-sized pieces of Romaine lettuce.  Top with halved cherry tomatoes, or whatever you like.  Add a dollop of cottage cheese or a cut-up avocado half, drizzle about 1 Tbsp. of balsamic vinaigrette on top.  Add 1 Tbsp. of pumpkin, sunflower, or freshly ground flax seeds.

Fruit Variation:
Spinach leaves
Orange segments cut in bite-sized pieces
Jack cheese cubes
Pecan or walnut halves

Marinated Variation:
Romaine lettuce
Carrot pieces marinated in vinaigrette
Sweet pickles, cut into 1/2" pieces
Gouda or cheddar cheese cubes
Pine nuts

If you have some whole-grain crackers, they're nice with this type of salad, but don't fill up on them.  We like to add a little fruit dessert to this meal, like warmed peaches or berries from the freezer, topped with a touch of cinnamon, brown sugar, or even sour cream.  In the summer, we make "ice cream" made with fruit, rice milk, and honey.

Use your imagination, but don't go crazy with the fats.  We eat this kind of salad pretty much every other day.  On the in-between days, we have denser salads like pea salad, corn salad, avocado salad--all on a bed of lettuce.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Time to Get Serious...

There's definitely something powerful in having comrades-in-arms, and my blogger friend, A Polish Granddaughter, has inspired me to get serious about improving my health habits this year.  Last year, Hubbie and I dramatically improved our diet, but this year I need to stop playing around with it and finish the job.  That means more salads and less chocolate.

It also means getting seriously regular with yoga, walking, and weights.  I am now too old to be haphazard about it.  Anything like the flu or a trip, and I'm back to weakling status.  Must do better!

So this year, expect more healthy vegetarian recipes here on the blog.  Everyone needs to work out their own exercise habits, and mine are pretty mundane... when I do them.  Nothing blog-worthy there. But I am working on a new conversation with my Swedish friend, Absinthia, about the basics of living--green, clean, and who needs money, anyway?