This is the latest from one of my other blogs, RealWorldHomesteading.com. It’s kind of an intro piece of what the blog focus is about and how we ended up being “into all this stuff”. By that, I mean all of the hands-on skills that in our modern era we have all but forgotten – unless we are under duress of some kind. I am a firm believer in not waiting until you have to fend for yourself and or need to be buckled into survival mode. So many of us take for granted the things we can do every day – or we become complacent through all of the conveniences that living in a modern world provides for us. No matter where you are, no matter what your situation, you can do something to empower yourself.
Category Archives: sustainability
These past few weeks have been rather insane for me. In the final bits of getting the house refinanced, had loggers come in and harvest the trees that we had arranged for early this past spring. I have cleaned like a fiend for the appraiser, had 2.5 times the amount of new client articles dumped on me than I had before, hours at the store, and done a great deal of moving things around for renovation. I still have not managed to get on the roof and clean the chimney, get firewood split and moved in, etc.
In spite of all the hard work, this is one of the things I treasure about living out here. It’s a magical and safe space, just as the place that any person calls home should be. Every time that I venture into the city, I am anxious to leave it as soon as possible. I know how to shield myself from the bombardment of other people’s behaviours and cluelessness about how to act in public. During the holiday season, it would seem that these sorts of bad behaviours escalate in ways that are the antithesis of what the holidays are supposed to be about. When I venture back toward home, as soon as the blacktop that is Iowa Street turns into the unpaved portion that becomes Buffalo Road, I breathe a sigh of relief. In that moment when my tires hit the gravel, when the Buffalo Creek becomes visible on the left, and the limestone cliffs and rolling forested land that belongs to the state rises up on the right, a feeling of security and safety comes over me.
The boundary is a clear one, both physically and in an unseen sense. The Spirits of the Land are tangible things. The last time I traveled that road, an enormous female bald eagle that was sitting on a tree that extends over Buffalo Creek looked at me squarely as if to ask, “Why did you even bother to leave? What is out there that you cannot get here?”
I confess, I had no good answer to give.
For 20 years I have lived here. For ten of those years, I called it by the name Iunen Sekhmet (Sekhmet’s Sanctuary). It has been that for me, for my spouse and for my son and the animals that live with us. I hope to stay here another 20 years and more and to pass it to my son. He understands the legacy of what it is to be in a place that is alive with nature and with history, and how the modern world continues to encroach on it with every passing year. I wonder, as I look at the property of neighbors who pass to the Beautiful West and their heirs parcel up and sell of bits and pieces of the land that their parents lived and died for if they understand what it is?
A few of the people around me get it. They understand what stewardship is about. They go along the roads and pick up trash that is thrown from vehicles or stop would-be dumpers with ferocity. This is our land. We look after this small bit of primeval forest with the understanding that as it gives to us, we must give back to it. We are constantly digging our way out of the every day concerns in order to get back there.
It’s safe space. It’s what we call home.
I am grateful for the incredible life I have lived, but I do not think will never come to truly embrace the American holiday of Thanksgiving. Growing up of mixed heritage, Cherokee and European decent, it is easy to feel torn. Like every grade school kid, I got that bullshit story about the Puritans being shown by the Indians how to plant corn and save themselves for the bad winter. The idyllic poses of bowed Pilgrim heads and those of Indians in feathers gathered around a plank table near a log cabin, the surrounding forest, a riot of colour as if to say, that yes indee, God approved of the feast and all of the harmony and love spoken of in the Christian bible could be attained in this vast land of plenty.
Then I grew up watching the civil rights of the seventies, of Wounded Knee II, the occupation of Alcatraz Island, and the incident at the Jumping Bull Farm where two FBI agents were dead and three men, all of them Indians, were tried for their killing. Two were acquitted. Leonard Peltier got to serve out two life sentences for a crime supposedly committed where the bullets don’t match the gun.
ames like Dennis Banks, John Trudell, Russell Means, Anna Mae, and words like COINTELPRO and AIM came up regularly. It didn’t take long to listen to my brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles from the part of the family that had been separated from our branch and realize that the majority of folks eat lots of food, watch football holiday and thought little of a day in the past that had more behind it. Even as a small child, something about Thanksgiving always felt “off” to me. When I found out about the over 700 men, women and children that were slaughtered on that day, it made my heart sick. My Seneca ‘brother’ Fred jokingly referred to the holiday as “Pilgrim Welfare Day” and it stuck for me. It was a stab back at the dominant culture that made a great noise about giving thanks to God for all that they had, and yet never acknowledging how ill-gotten those gains had been achieved through the blood of ancestors.
I often get chastised and chided that I should let the past of that event die and stop trying to foist guilt upon those who obviously had nothing to do with any of it. They claim that it wasn’t their fault and pontificate that we are a nation that is grateful for all we have and choosing to have collective amnesia about many of history’s finer points. I have personally found that When the story of the true first Thanksgiving is recounted, the listener, should they be non-Indigenous, tends to get extremely uncomfortable. The accusation of just trying to be politically correct is flung out and protests ensue. Such a discussion, to their minds, is misguided and they think that your anger at how your ancestors were treated is somehow aimed at them. “Oh, no!” they cry, “My ancestors never did ANYTHING to yours! You can’t include me in all of that!” The sins of the fathers cannot now be visited on the children this far down the line. It no longer applies now. “Besides,” comes the last indignant remark, “you should be thankful we brought your murdering savage ancestors law and civilization!”
The inclusion of those who feel that they are above what happened by whatever reason,does, by the way touch on some of my own non-Indigenous ancestors as well. This inclusion is by culpability. We all are collectively responsible for how we are as a Nation. It is a Nation that has now become one that does not think of what or how consumes. We as a people tend to live in the moment. We more often buy what we want when we fancy it, choosing to put it on credit. And how we pay for these things is that we owe our existence more and more to corporate entities. Those entities which care only for their bottom line and the profit margins of the investors on Wall Street. Barely a second thought is given to environmental concerns or the Walmart worker who does not make a decent living wage and is forced to go on public assistance. The high paid executives of these same corporations grumble that they cannot provide things like healthcare benefits for them, even as consumers will elbow past fellow shoppers, squabbling over that last wide-screen television set for $198 that is only available from 11PM-12AM on the night of Thanksgiving: The L-Triptophan and starch haze from too much turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pie having barely lifted its fog from their senses.
When I outwardly shudder at those who think participating in the Black Friday shopping frenzy is the highlight of the year, they think something is wrong with me. When I bemoan that the Cedar Rapids Gazette, now three inches thick and ts cover price having been tripled is all made of ads and only ten pages of “news”, I am just embittered. Of course, who can blame the Gazette, that Fisher-Price of newspapers? That they, too, should be able to take advantage of the selfish shopping habits of Americans who MUST spend their way through the holidays, shouldn’t they? Never mind that another paper will be out a mere three days later for $2.00 with many of the same glossy advertisements just overflowing with materialistic temptations for our nation of consumers. Watching all of these people salivate for Black Friday deals is like watching the modern-day equivalent of Pavlov’s Dog. It’s all conditioned behaviour, and yet if you confront these people they have no idea that they are being maneuvered and managed by the corporations to consume on command. The greatest irony of all, I think, is the fact the day most know as Black Friday, was recognized and signed into law by President George W. Bush in November of 2008 as National Native American Heritage Day.
All of us are all grateful, even in these hard economic times, particularly if we still have jobs, or we are able to keep a roof overhead, or feed ourselves without public assistance or even if we do get assistance, grateful to be alive, to have our health or that of our families. There but by the Grace of the Creator, would any of us go. And yet there is this underlying spirit of mean-spiritedness and greed that permeates even the airwaves. Mocking those on food stamps or EBT, looking down its nose on those who must take advantage of Pell Grants or student loans just to be viable in the job market. The new buzz word on Capitol Hill is “Entitlements”, as if people have a sense of entitlement to these things that they invested in via their paychecks and now the richest 2% don’t want to pay, because it just takes away from their own bottom line.
But even with all of these things that I hate about this holiday called Thanksgiving, I have witnessed first hand some wonderful testaments of the ultimate good in people. One of my regular customers at the store where I work spent over 14 hours of the previous night helping to prepare Thanksgiving at his church for a couple of hundred people who would otherwise have no Thanksgiving dinner at all. This same man brought a plate of food for those employees who were working. The bosses, a wonderful couple, would have loved to have closed the store, but their biggest consideration and worry was for their customers being able to get that last minute gallon of milk or gas to get to Grandma’s. Then there was the retired Sheriff who came in with a large plate of banana bread he had baked himself as well. So many others of my acquaintance opened their homes as well and shared what they had with those who had none.
To my mind, that is the biggest part of what our Indigenous ancestors meant when celebrating Thanksgiving. It was being thankful that we had plenty, and that those whom we love were once again near and we could share in that moment once more. I wish that I saw more press and air time given to that sort of celebration of Thanksgiving rather than to the consumerist’s stampede that inevitably comes after.
In today’s world, there is an increased focus toward more natural ways of both eating and healing. This is especially true of using more natural herbs, spices and other natural ingredients for cooking and as supplements for wellness. Often cooks and herbalists are asked about not only how to use these natural ingredients, but also the best way in which to store them and their shelf life. Like the plants before they are dried, they can suffer from too much dryness or damp or even an infestation by pests such as insects or other animals.
The three keys toward maintaining freshness of herbs and spices are air, light and heat. Ideally, herbs and spices are best stored in glass, air tight containers kept in a cool, dark place. This does not mean that they should necessarily be kept in a refrigerator. However, keeping them in places that keep these three factors in mind is ideal. It’s best if the herbs and spices are stored in a place that is kept below 70°F. It is also best to store them in a space that is away from the furnace or areas that tend toward dampness such as a basement where there is no dehumidifier to remove excess moisture from the air. Excess moisture will initially cause the herb’s taste to deteriorate and eventually this can also cause mold. Light will cause fading. When possible store your herbs and spices in dark amber or cobalt blue glass. If this is not possible, storing them in a cupboard or a drawer that is dark most of the time is fine. If you have nothing but sunlight penetrating every bit of space in your home, you can reduce light penetrating and damaging the herb by hanging up a curtain over your spice rack or cabinet.
The first thing to remember in purchasing any herb or spice is to check for freshness. Check the date that indicates when it was packaged or when is the optimal time for it to be used by. Is it well within the freshness date? You certainly do not want to buy something that will go out of date quickly. If you can, check the aroma of it sharp and fresh, or does it seem a bit mute? Is the colour of the herb faded or is it the colour it should be? Also, be on the lookout for webs, eggs, dirt or damage to the herb that might indicate an infestation of insects.
If you buy your spices and herbs in bulk at the natural food cooperative for example, and once you get them home, be sure to store them in clean airtight containers. Don’t use plastic containers to store your herbs in if at all possible. The reason for this is that plastic is porous and will allow the volatile and essential oils which are in the plant, even after it is dried, to lodge themselves within the plastic, While it might be nice to have a plastic container that smells of herbs and spices, not that it can be nearly impossible to remove. Make sure that the size of the container fits the amount of herb or spice that you have. Too much air left in a container will cause deterioration to colour, aroma and most importantly, flavour and efficacy.
The shelf life of an herb or spice is different for each type of herb, spice, tea or even for coffee. Most of the flavour of any of these plant materials comes from the volatile or essential oils that are contained within the plant matter. Volatile oils do have a tendency to oxidize or evaporate over time or when exposed to factors such as heat and light. When this happens, they lose their flavour than when they are in their whole form. When an herb is ground, the surface area of the herb or spice has been increased and therefore the chances of the volatile oils evaporating much quicker are increased. If you do find that an herb or spice has deteriorated in any of these areas, be sure to compost the old herb material and purchase fresher herb to replace it. The benefits to your cooking and enjoyment that you experience will be worth the cost.
Below is a guide for the estimated shelf life of various herbs, spices and teas.
Whole Spices and Herbs 1 year
Roots 3+ years
Seeds and Barks 2+ years
Ground Spices or Herbs
Leaves 6 months
Seeds and Barks 6 months
Roots 1 year
Black & Green 1 year
Herbal 6 – 9 months
Coffee 3 months
Ground (not vacuum sealed) 2 weeks
As you can see with coffee, pre-grinding it at the store is probably not a good idea unless you go through a great deal of coffee very quickly. Storing it in a freezer may slow some of the deterioration on taste, however, only grinding what you need as you use it insures the best taste.
When you use your herbs and spices, make certain to always use clean, dry measuring utensils in order to avoid introducing any moisture or contaminants into your spices. Use them to taste and enjoy your herbs, spices and teas often.
*(Note: This article has appeared before on Ezine articles under one of my other names)