Monday, May 24, 2010

The Modified Compact

I've been reading a lot about The Compact. Which sounds like a new John Grisham novel. But it's not.

The Compact began in California as a challenge between ten friends looking to cut down on their material consumption by purchasing nothing new (with a few exceptions) for a year. The goals were to counteract the American consumer culture, to cut down on their own personal waste and clutter, and to live more simply. Thousands of people have since joined the Compact, many extending it long past that first year. Members range from the casual to Freegans, who try to pay for nothing through means like dumpster diving behind restaurants for their food.

Many blogs document various Compact participants and their personal journeys in their Compact lifestyles; my favorite so far is the Nonconsumer Advocate. I can relate to the author's commitment to the Compact, as well as her drawing the line at used undergarments.

In the wake of the ongoing BP underwater oil gush, it's been shocking to read about the amount of oil that is used to create and transport goods. I feel convicted that I need to be more responsible and to go beyond just bringing my own tote bags to the store. I need to be mindful about even going to the store.

Yesterday I was canning jam with my friend Martha. If you're curious, we made strawberry, strawberry-jalapeno, and strawberry chutney -- notice a theme? Anyhoo, we've been friends for 20 years, and we were post-college poor singles at the same time, and share a love of the bargain. I told her I was thinking about doing a modified Compact, and she said, "Um... isn't that kind of what you already do?" I looked down and saw what she meant. My shirt, tank, and earrings were all from garage sales. My shoes were new, but they are Dansko's and built for life. She reminded me that most of Phil and my barware is vintage 60s. We've been eating off vintage Fiesta (and likely now glow from the lead paint) for about 15 years. Sylvia and Tommy were there with me, and both were wearing garage-sale duds.

"Why do you need to do anything formal?" she asked. I took another sip of wine and agreed.

But the more I thought of it, the more I thought that my garage-sale earrings weren't the whole story, and there's a lot I buy new that is unnecessary or completely wasteful. We're entering the most expensive time of year with Max out of school and requiring another $400 a month over the summer for day camp. And yes, for those of you not living in the Midwest, I realize how insanely cheap that is. But still.

So with the motivation of an extra $400 going out the door, and really wanting to be more mindful about what we bring into our house and the virgin materials necessary, I've made my own Compact in force for the next 10 weeks, starting tomorrow. Meaning I have an hour and 17 minutes to go crazy on Here are my guidelines:
  • This compact is mine. Phil is on his own, and I won't cluck my tongue if he has a bender at Luna Music. That's his business. Maybe he'll even buy me something during his bender. Just saying...
  • Undergarments can be purchased new. I'm unbending on this point.
  • E-products can be purchased new. I am in the book business and staunchly support the purchase of information and entertainment. So books that are sent to my Kindle and don't require sacrificing trees or transportation costs are just fine.
  • Items needed to finish up craft projects are okay. So if I'm about to make a dress for Sylvie out of stash fabric, but need some medium-weight interfacing, I can go to town. $3-a-yard clearances on Amy Butler fabric at don't count as "items needed to finish up craft projects." No matter how hard I'll try to convince myself otherwise.
  • Likewise, items truly needed for the summer gardening season are at my discretion. I know I'm low on canning jars, so will try to get some through If that doesn't work, however, and I'm about to lose a crop of tomatoes that need to be preserved, I'm getting new jars. This doesn't extend to the rose structure I'm coveting.
So really not too bad for 10 weeks. And really not too different from the way we already live. I'm excited and curious to see if putting stricter parameters around what I can and can't purchase will make me realize how much money I've been wasting and how much more ecologically responsible I could be.

One hour and eight minutes and counting....

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

When the Front Walk Hands You Too Much Lemon Verbena...

make Lemon Verbena Jelly. Which is what I did this morning.

(Yes, it's been so long since I've posted that I nearly forgot my password.)

This spring I read a thought-provoking book called Radical Homemakers. I'd first seen it referred to in a New York Times article, and since have seen it popping up everywhere. The book, written by radical homemaker Shannon Hayes, looks at the history of homemaking, something shared equally by men and women historically, and how it devolved from making a home to making enough money to buy things we're convinced we need for our home. I have been very taken by the idea of our little household becoming more of a productive than consumptive unit.

Reading this book has dovetailed nicely with my current reading of Gone with the Wind, a mammoth tome my book club inexplicably chose this month. (Thank God for the Kindle, which weighs only 10 ounces, as the print book weighs more than Tommy.) I'm at the point where the South is going down and Scarlet is back at Tara and trying to feed her family. Without what the Yankees left in the garden -- and Scarlet blowing the head off of and robbing a soldier, but we'll forget that part for now -- the family would have starved. It gets a gal thinking.

So, taking baby steps, I've been looking for more ways for us to be self-sustaining and more wisely use what we have.

When I recently read a post from my favorite blogger about making violet jam from the violets peppering her lawn, I started eyeing our little yard. I'd spent a couple weekends earlier pulling up two wheelbarrows full of violet, intent on destroying them, not eating them. Again, gets you thinking.

Several years ago I got a tiny lemon verbena twig. Someone with a house on the way to the CVS we walk to twice a week used to have a perennial exchange; you'd leave little cups of perennials and pick up a couple. Since I picked up the innocent looking styrofoam cup of lemon verbena, it has become a near-nuisance, taking over any time I have my back turned. So last night Sylvie and I went out and picked a bunch, which didn't make a dent in the plants, and this morning I made lemon verbena jam.

I was worried the color might be a little blah, but my disorganized shopping took care of that. I ran out of white sugar and had to include a cup of sucanat sugar, which made the jelly a lovely honey color. Next time, I'll just plan to use a cup of sucanat.

The recipe I used came from Gifts from Your Kitchen. Here's all you do:

Lemon Verbena Jelly

2 packed cups chopped lemon verbena leaves
Large pieces of zest from 1 lemon (I just used a peeler to scrape off big pieces)
2-1/4 cups water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 cups sugar (3 white, 1 sucanat)
3 ounces liquid pectin (Certo)

Combine the lemon verbena, lemon zest and water. Bring to a boil, then cover and lower to a simmer for 15 minutes. Take off the heat and let this sit for several hours; I let it sit overnight because I got sleepy about an hour into it.

Strain the mixture (I did it through a coffee filter) into a big pot. Be sure to squeeze all the liquid from the leaves and zest. Add the sugar and lemon juice, bring to a boil. Add the pectin and bring to another boil; boil for two minutes. Now take off the heat, skim any foam, put in canning jars, and seal. (This link tells how.) If the idea of actually canning makes you woozy, you can just freeze the jars. I don't, since my freezer is full of beef and popsicles, and I love that *THINK* sound the jars make when the lids seal.

This made about five 8-ounce jars.

The taste is really pretty and subtle; I'm thinking scones and chicken glazes.

Lavender bushes that are taking over and I haven't had the heart to cut back, don't think I don't see you...

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