Lettuce feast

The cool, wet weather has forced me to hold off on planting tomatoes, but it has also extended our lettuce harvest..

Lettuce leaves love this weather. They are, after all, 94.9 percent water. And while many of us are eager to put on shorts, when the temperature goes above 75 lettuce reaches for the sky (or “bolts”) and develops a bitter taste. The 65-degree high temperature forecast for Monday and Tuesday will be ideal.

What are we going to do with all this lettuce? Unlike most vegetables, you can’t freeze it, can it, dry it or store it for more than a week. We have recipes for Lettuce Pie, Lettuce Soup and Lettuce Custard, but they just seem weird.

So we’re having large salads every night and giving away lettuce to friends. We’ll put some in a cooler and take it with us when we go on a trip next week, to give as hostess presents.

IMG_20170531_142702071Betsy is the lettuce mistress in our household. In March, she planted lots of seeds (Fedco winter lettuce mix) and put them under fluorescent lights near a south-facing window. She transplanted them in mid-April into our fenced garden (sorry, rabbits).

In addition, lots of lettuce that she planted in early fall survived the winter, protected under cut-in-half overturned milk jugs and inside plastic-covered hoop houses.

In most years, our lettuce has been attacked by slugs, but I’ve seen none so far. Last winter, I turned over the soil in the garden just before every cold snap, hoping to expose and freeze out insect pests. Maybe this technique reduced the slug population.

Lettuce has an ancient and racy history. It was first cultivated by the Egyptians, who saw it as a symbol of sexual prowess, with women believing it promoted love and childbearing. Ancient Romans believed it increased sexual potency, but 19th-century British women believed it caused infertility.

In folk medicine, it has been prescribed for ailments such as rheumatism, tension, coughing and insanity, though there is no scientific proof that it works. It is known to be an excellent source of Vitamins K and A. Lettuce has mild narcotic properties, though these are more present in wild varieties than in cultivated ones.

It’s in the nature of gardening that some years you get a feast of a particular crop, and in others a famine. Last year’s drought was great for tomatoes, but the previous one the crop was decimated by late blight. This year, lettuce is our garden star so far.

For new readers of this blog, here’s a quick outline of 170 past posts, in categories such as frugality, gardening, living without and climate change. Or hover on “Index” above to read all the posts in a particular category.


Homemade haircuts

I have not been to a barber in 40 years.Every five months, Betsy gets out her sharpest scissors and I put a towel around my neck, and she starts snipping away.

This started as another exercise in radical frugality, a concept I wrote about here. Although homemade haircuts don’t save that much money (less than $50 a year) I hate spending money when I don’t have to.

And homemade haircuts, for me,  have a history. When I was a boy, I hated going to the barber because I didn’t like being fussed over. So my mother started cutting my hair at home. Then, in the long-hair era of the late 1960s and ’70s, I almost completely stopped getting my hair cut. Must have been a tough time for the barbering profession.

img_20170202_075125135We enjoy the experience of cutting my hair. There’s a certain, uh, intimacy of Betsy wielding sharp objects close to my flesh. And for her, cutting my hair is sensual  and aesthetic, a form of creativity. She’s a very handy person, and this is the ultimate hands-on task.

When we’re done, it’s my job to clean up the hair that has spilled on the floor. I  put it in the compost bucket to be turned into garden fertilizer.

I do go to the barber shop — for other people’s hair. I read that critters that prey on our vegetable garden are deterred by the human scent that lingers in hair. So every year I collect lots of it from a friendly barber and put it near critter-sensitive plants that are outside our garden fence.

When I’ve gone more than four months without cutting my hair, I have to wash it often or it looks unkempt and greasy (as in the photo above). So now that my hair is short, I don’t have to worry so much about it.

Betsy has developed a system with her own hair of getting it cut once a year, in the fall. Then she lets it grow until, by the time the hot weather arrives, her hair is long enough that she can pin it up off her neck to keep cool. She sees this as another way to economize on hair cutting, by just not doing very much of it!

What are some of the DIY habits you have developed that save money and lead the way out of the mainstream culture and into The Good Life?

New readers of this blog can get a quick summary of more than 150 past posts on frugality, simple living, gardening, climate change, life lessons and living without. Or hover on “Index” above to read all the posts in a given category.






Climate forum draws hundreds

Could the average American household cut its energy use in half? This reduction might seem drastic, but it would put us on a par with Europe and Japan, and still leave us way above the world’s average.

climate-change-in-time-of-crisis-posterThis message was delivered to hundreds of people at a forum called “Climate Action in a Time of Crisis” Saturday in Northampton. Anxiety over the new President may have contributed to the overflow crowd at the massive First Churches sanctuary.

solomon-goldstein-roseSolomon Goldstein-Rose, Amherst’s new 23-year-old state representative, was one of the speakers. With the federal government going backwards on climate change, “Massachusetts has to solve the problem on our own,” he said.

The only solution is to develop clean energy that is cheaper than fossil fuels, he said. That means the development of better storage capacity and batteries. Clean energy can be “safer, cheaper, cleaner and healthier,” he said.

nathanael__fortune_cropNat Fortune, a professor at Smith College, said, “Our children’s children’s survival is not assured.” A physicist, Fortune explained that even if we stop burning carbon now, the planet will continue warming for at least 100 years — and possibly 1,000 years.

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has jumped to 400 parts per million. If it continues to 500, “Beacon Hill could become an island,” Fortune said. At 550, Arctic ice sheets would melt, creating an irreversible feedback loop that could endanger all human life.

marty-nathanMarty Nathan, a physician and activist, compared the threat to nuclear weapons. Lifestyle changes alone won’t address the problem, and she urged everyone to take to the streets to “break the stranglehold the fossil-fuel industry has on Congress” and start organizing for the elections of 2018.

“This is the fight of our lives, folks,” she said. Meanwhile, Massachusetts’ development of clean energy could become a model for the country and the world, she said.

stan-rosenberg-photoState Sen. Stan Rosenberg of Amherst said the state is already first in the nation in solar energy. He predicted that the largest offshore wind farm could be in operation off the state’s coast in three to five years.

Rosenberg, who filed the first bills on the “greenhouse effect” 30 years ago, said that “everything else is moot unless we tame the carbon beast.” The status quo is a “path to failure,” and if we continue on the same path for the next 10 years, the warming will be irreversible, he said.

The forum got me thinking about what else we can do to cut our energy consumption. We own one car, a Prius that we drive only 8,000 miles a year, and I use a bicycle to get around town. We don’t use airplanes and get heat from a wood stove and passive solar. We buy local food, grow vegetables, and use LED lighting. Betsy’s been making  and installing “winserts” to insulate our windows. Still, our carbon footprint is way above the world average.

Maybe the next thing to do is to lobby for a statewide carbon tax. I believe that it must not increase the total tax burden if it’s going to be acceptable to most voters. Despite all the warnings about our children’s children’s lives, maybe the only way to influence most people’s behaviors is through their pocketbooks.

New readers of this blog can click here for a quick summary of over 150 past posts, divided into categories such as frugality, simple living, gardening and living without. To read all the past posts on climate change, hover on “Index” above and click on “climate change.”

Respectful disagreement

When Gabor Lukacs and I gave each other big hugs after the public meeting ended, the 20 people in the room may have been surprised. After all, we had just expressed opposite opinions on a controversial subject.

As a member of a commission considering reforms to our town’s government, I favor a major change, while Gabor supports minor tweaks. We also disagree on our town’s biggest issue this month: whether to accept $34 million in state money to build two new elementary schools.

But Gabor and I are friends. We both ride bicycles and grow vegetables, and we are among our town’s lowest carbon emitters. I have written blog posts about his urban homestead and why he lives the simple life.

IMG_20141220_152701164_HDRWhen Gabor and I embraced each other after the meeting, I hadn’t seen him since we started an email dialogue three weeks earlier. It has now grown to 23 lengthy emails, and we joke that it will come out in book form next year.

We haven’t held back. I’ve been completely open about the problems I see with our town’s governmental system, and he’s told me what he’s afraid of if we change it. Both of us have thought carefully about what the other has written, and I feel he has broadened my perspective.

We need more civil conversation about the challenges we face, both local and national. Too often, we communicate only with people we agree with. We tend to emphasize our differences with political opponents rather than seeking common ground. This narrow thinking can lead to a belief that our problems are simple when they are actually complex.

Gabor and I compliment each other. “I really appreciate that you did your homework and considered both sides of the argument,” I wrote to him. “I want to appreciate you for putting all this energy into trying to make our town government better,” he wrote to me.

There is give and take between us, as in “I give that to you if you’ll also agree…” We have found numerous points on which we see things the same way.

I also appreciate that Gabor, whose first language was not English, is unafraid of verbal jousting with someone who made his living with words. I understand that because Gabor grew up in Hungary during Soviet domination, he has good reason to feel a fierce love of participating in our 240-member Town Meeting.

His wish to be directly involved in the decision-making process has led me to think about ways this could continue within a new government structure. I wouldn’t want to lose his voice, even when I disagree with his positions. And Gabor has agreed with me that Town Meeting would work better if it was much smaller.

We’ve confronted fundamental questions. What does democracy mean? How can you build trust in government? How can elected officials listen to dissenters in a way that makes them feel heard?

As we prepare to inaugurate a new President who casually puts down those who disagree with him, we need more of the kind of respectful dialogue that Gabor and I have maintained.

For new readers of this blog, here’s a quick summary of more than 150 past posts on simple living, radical frugality, living without, gardening, cooking and climate change. Or hover on “Index” above to read all the posts in a particular category.

Home-grown Christmas tree

Our Christmas tree this year did not come from a farm or a department store. We found it in our own yard.

It’s a white pine that was shading some of our plants and dying back at the top due to a disease. Betsy had been eying it for several years as a potential Christmas tree.

img_20161222_211904330So a week before Christmas, we tromped through the snow, saw in hand, to harvest it. We cut the 12-foot-high tree three feet from the bottom, a technique called “coppicing.” We hope the tree will  grow back. Maybe it will provide another Christmas tree in 15 years.

We’ve seen Christmas trees that are so perfectly tapered I’ve felt and smelled them to make sure they are real. No one would mistake our tree for one you’d buy at Wal-Mart.

We had to cut its top off so it would fit in our eight-foot-high living room, and its limbs jut out haphazardly. Its top is a stump that’s lower than many of the branches. We think it’s beautiful.

The joy of real Christmas trees is partly bringing something from nature inside the house. In the presence of our homely tree, we imagine we are actually in the forest.

And this Christmas tree fits in well with the frugal lifestyle we describe in this blog. Part of that lifestyle is making do with what’s available, and seeing it not as deprivation but as an opportunity for creativity.

If our tree is imperfect, that seems to fit in with the Christmas story of a baby being born in a stable and laid in a manger.

And it fits in with a quotation that’s on our refrigerator: “To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury; and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable; and wealthy, not rich…to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common…” (William Henry Channing, American transcendentalist)

 For new readers of this blog, here’s a quick summary of more than 150 past posts, divided into categories such as frugality, simple living, cooking, living without, gardening and climate change.