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Without a Map, With a Mortgage

26 Jan

When I started writing at Without a Map, my purpose was different than it is now. I was single, fairly new to my area, and afraid of surrendering to my introversion. I was sure I would just stay inside reading and watching Netflix until I crumpled up and died. Blogging was a way for me to force myself to do fun things “for the blog”.

I started that over six years ago.

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Cole shortly after I adopted him

Okay, to be fair I haven’t blogged much in the last year or two, but I’ve been feeling the itch again. And not only the writing itch, but the need to blog for a purpose again. In the last two years I’ve gone from footloose and fancy free (ha!) to married lady with a house and a kid on the way. I’ve gone from not having or wanting a map, to having a pretty clear idea of where the next six years will take me, theoretically. I like where I’m at in my life right now. I love my job and my husband and my house and my new puppy and, sometimes, my cat. I love having friends over for a fire and painting my walls bright orange. I’m excited (and super nervous) about becoming a mom and all the excitement that will bring.

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Cole exploring the first day in our new house.

I don’t think my life has become stagnant by any means, but even with a lot of goals, it’s easy to miss things that are important to you. I want to get back into the blog to connect to those things. I don’t expect to blog a ton, as usual, but I do want to go back into this with an awareness of my new perspective.

I’ve also been getting the itch to write things that aren’t about our usual fare. I just realized I buy this little corner of the internet where I can write whatever I want and put it up. I don’t want to get too far from our core of crafts, the environment, and nature, but I have some other ideas. And I’m going to share them. You’re free to skip those.

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Cole adjusting to life with a new puppy. Just you wait, cat…

I recently signed up for a craft swap again for the first time in many years. I had strayed away from them because I thought they were taking up too much of the time I could be using to craft for myself, friends, and family. Turns out they make me inspired and I’ve been crafting way more both for my swap partner and myself since I started. So I hope to share some of those projects soon, too.

Oh, yeah, and I’ll probably post some mom stuff. This isn’t going to become a mommy blog by any means (cue Robin sighing in relief), but, hey… That’s where my map is leading and the point is to share my journey.

Thanks for traveling with us.

~ April

#DroughtLiving

1 Sep

I’ve been thinking a LOT about the drought lately.  It’s hard not to when you live in an area that’s marked by a red so dark it borders on black on all the drought maps.  It’s as if they ran out of shades of red with which to convey the seriousness of the situation.

Then, I went here.

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And hallelujah, if I wasn’t already thinking about water issues I was now.  There’s nothing like going somewhere where your scarce resources are abundant to put things in perspective.  It’s like when my mom comes to California and discovers that avocados are two for a dollar.  It’s guacamole time all the time.  I could regale you with tales of what it’s like to have so many avocados that you worry they might go bad, but instead I’m going in a little more sobering direction.

This is what it’s like to live in a drought.

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There’s so much blame. Have you seen the #droughtshaming hashtag?  A quick Twitter search will give you pictures of runoff from faulty sprinklers, well-manicured golf courses, and more watered sidewalks than you can count.  It’s like environmental McCarthyism.  I may be guilty of overusing the term, but I tend to do it in conversation and not on the internet.  Whether that’s better or just makes me so fun to hang out with?  You be the judge.

Even the cities are getting in on it.  Most cities have hotlines that you can use to turn in your neighbors.  I haven’t done so, but I may have been tempted by the neighbors watering down their plastic chairs int he middle of a light rain.

Drought shaming is a nice vehicle for righteous anger, but doesn’t really solve anything.  Luckily Californians are looking for more positive ways to address water waste.  In fact, if you look at the #droughtshaming hashtag, at least a third of the tweets offer other solutions.  That’s not something you normally find on social media.

You can find resources. It seems like everyone in our community is offering programs to learn more about how you can conserve.  Our library recently offered a Water Wise Gardening program, but I was surprised when I saw similar programs offered several times a month through different organizations.  There are rain barrel classes at the nature center, landscape seminars at the universities, and drought-tolerant workshops at the garden centers.

Water districts, which really had no need for flashy graphics before, are now among the top destinations on government websites. Residents who would like to get a rain barrell, tear out their lawn or replace their faucets can find rebates and classes from their city or water district almost anywhere in California.  Unfortunately most of these rebates don’t apply to California’s many renters.

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The rules are a constant source of frustration. Conversations on water usage come up all the time.  I spoke with a coworker who was concerned that her city’s prohibition against planting new plants that aren’t drought-tolerant meant she had to forgo her garden.  I leaned toward the growing your own food uses less resources than purchasing shipped food side of the equation, but the answers aren’t always clear.  Different cities have different rules.  Even neighbors might have different days that they are allowed to water on.  Certain rules, like that you can’t water within 48 hours of significant rainfall, come into play so rarely that it’s not a surprise people forget they exist.  Then there’s the distinction between restrictions (mandatory) and conservation measures (recommended)… If you haven’t already been immersed in water education, it’s easy to get a little lost.

It’s working (kind of). Many cities are meeting or exceeding the conservation thresholds Governor Brown has mandated and the savings have been improving drastically throughout the year.  You can have tons of fun with the State Water Resources Board’s conservation reports to see the statistics.  My city went from a 5% decrease in February (over 2013 statistics) to a 22% decrease by May.  That’s higher than our mandated benchmark of 20%.  Some places (yay! Merced at 43%!) are doing much better and some (boo! El Monte at -10%) are doing worse, but the good far outweighs the bad.

Remember all those rebates I mentioned?  Our water district has already run out of funds for turf removal and that’s pretty common throughout the state.  Other rebates are taking months to get to processed there are so many of them.  On one hand it’s frustrating, but on the other it means people are making changes and making them rather quickly.  That’s exciting!

Water conservation is a topic that seems to cross political boundaries, too.  I could have a half hour conversation with someone about water usage and still have no idea where they stand politically, despite water conservation being tied into government regulations.  Anytime people come together to make the world a better place,  it’s a positive step for our state.

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Now, I hate to be a downer, but even with all these positive steps, it’s unlikely that our drought problem will be solved.  The state even has a website that allows us to watch our water supplies dwindle.  California supports too much agriculture, too many people, and has too little precipitation.  Unless that changes, these are only delaying tactics.  I think that’s what really captures the reality of living in a drought. Even when we know we’re fighting a losing battle, we still band together to resist.  And talk about how, hopefully, El Niño will be strong this year.

~April

A California Christmas

24 Dec

This will be my first year spending Christmas in California.  Since I’ve moved here, I had a job that allowed me to travel home for two weeks every year at Christmas.  I recently got a new job (which I love) so now I only get Christmas Day off and I decided not to try asking for more time off after only three months.  I guess because I’m spending the actual holiday here, I’ve been noticing the more distinct ways Californians celebrate the season.

1. Rain is an acceptably dangerous meteorological condition for staying off the roads.  Fog counts, too.

2. You can go kayaking to look at Christmas lights.  And decide that the jacket you wore might be a bit too warm.

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3. There’s a minor earthquake and people talk about it for about five minutes before forgetting it ever happened.

4. You insist on wearing a jacket, scarf, and hat while sipping a peppermint mocha even though it’s pushing 75.

5. When you say you’ll miss having a white Christmas, someone suggests going to the mountains.

6. All the amusement parks are open and decorated for the holiday.

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7. You don’t have to juggle your giant winter coat while ice skating across a frozen parking lot to do your last minute shopping.

8. Every house has a fire in their fireplace.  Seriously, most people I know in Ohio don’t even have a fireplace.  My apartment here has a fireplace.

9. Tamales are a common Christmas dinner.

10. People decorate their boats.  And parade them past people who can’t afford boats.  It’s very jolly.

11. Every now and then shopping centers will erupt in fake snow.

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Wherever you are this Christmas, have a happy one.  I’ll leave you with a kind of melancholy Christmas song that Robin shared with me this week.

~ April

Earth Day: The Carbon Diaries

30 Apr

Earth Day Banner

I started reading The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd as part of a work project but I was totally fascinated by the concept. The story is set in London in 2015 where, following a catastrophic hurricane, the government has started carbon rationing. In her diary sixteen-year-old Laura Brown writes about how her family and friends cope with this new way of life, against a back drop of climate related natural catastrophes and social upheaval.

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The thing that really hooked me in this book was seeing how the reduction in carbon emissions impacted Laura and her family’s day to day lives. I started to wonder what it would look like if I had to cut my carbon emissions down to 40% of the national average. How dramatically would my life change?

To help me answer this question I turned to a few carbon footprint calculators:

Carbon Footprint Calculator

Cool Climate Calculator

EPA Household Carbon Footprint Calculator

Nature Conservancy Carbon Footprint Calculator

As I learned last year when I looked at water footprint calculators, none of these calculators are perfect. They all use slightly different methods and questions to assess and calculate carbon emissions, and some may work better for your situation than others. I try to compensate for this by averaging my results from several different calculators. I also found that the carbon footprint calculators were a little bit more data heavy than the water footprint calculators. I had some difficulty using them because I didn’t have information about my utilities, and milage for every car in my household handy. And none of the calculators I looked at could really account for the fact that I carpool pretty regularly, or that my house has solar panels and solar heating.

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Even though my carbon emissions are already lower than average, a 60% cut would still have a pretty big impact on me. It would mean that trips to visit my family in Ohio would be a thing of the past. I would need to rely on public transportation more often than driving or carpooling to work. I even wonder if this blog would continue to exist in this world. Thinking about it this way puts into perspective how truly tough it is for the characters in the book, and why they act so put-upon by the whole rationing system.

Although a sudden 60% cut in carbon emissions doesn’t seem very likely, there are parts of this book that feel eerily realistic. Tradable Energy Quotas, Cap and Trade, and Carbon Taxes are all real world specimens similar to the book’s carbon ration system. It’s not hard to imagine the protests and riots that erupt in Laura’s world, or the droughts, snowstorms, and Katrina scale floods. And while I wasn’t captivated by Laura’s love life, there was something very real about the way she carries on obsessing over the boy next door as the world is falling apart around her.

I’m still plotting to get my hands on a copy of The Carbon Diaries 2017. In the meantime I’m wondering: What do you think your life would be like with carbon rations?

~Robin

Christmas Gifts: Canning

4 Jan

2010 canning

Every year I seem to get a little bit better at giving handmade.  I think it’s because my repertoire of handmade gifts is slowly expanding.  It began with knitting.  Last year I gave some sewn gifts and this year I added canning to the mix.  Who knows? I might be building people houses by next year.

Each month I want to share a roundup of crafty things I’ve been working on.   Whenever I come up with amazingawesomeincrediblefantastic original projects, I’ll post them up here on their own, but anything I’ve pulled from a pattern or recipe will just have to share their posts.

To start that tradition out, I’m sharing some of the Christmas craftiness I indulged in this year.  Since Christmas is such a crafty time, I’m going to split this installment into two posts, starting with my canned goods.

This was my first year canning.  The picture at the top of the post shares the fruits of my year’s worth of labor.  Obviously there were a lot of failures.  A whole day’s worth of canning one weekend left me with one jar of berry jam and a pot full of exploded zucchini salsa.  The one jar I did save didn’t even taste all that great.  I didn’t discover the awesomeness of half-pint sized jars until about 2 weeks before Christmas so a lot of my ventures ended with one large jar of jam.  Now that I’ve discovered the increased gift-giving (and jam-keeping) potential of the smaller jars I think this pile will triple for next year’s presents.

There are a ton of beautiful jam labels out there, but I decided to go the cheapo route.  I didn’t want to buy a new color cartridge for my computer (well, I did, but I didn’t want to spend the money on it) so I just cut out circles of my sadly neglected scrapbooking paper and slapped it on the jar with double-sided tape.

Here are the different types of goodies and links to recipes:
Lemon ginger 2
Actually Easy Lemon Ginger Marmalade

Anytime someone tells you marmalade is easy I suggest you laugh heartily in their face. While the actual cooking of the marmalade is easy (and this recipe turned out much more marmaladey than my other attempt), the prep is unavoidably cumbersome. The finished product was yummy though despite my suspicions that it didn’t cook long enough to make the peel soft and my fear that the ginger might be too clumpy.

Chocolate pear
Pear and Chocolate Jam

I made a ton of this stuff because… who doesn’t love chocolate (besides my coworker who’s allergic – how sad!)? The recipe was super quick and simple, if not detailed.

Cole mugging

My cat decided he couldn’t have me taking pictures without climbing up on the shelves and getting involved.

Orange carrot marmalade
Carrot and Orange Marmalade (from Preserving the Harvest)

This recipe turned out a little watery and took way more time than the Ginger, but for one of my first attempts at canning it was a success.

Spicy pickled carrots
Spicy Pickled Carrots

I haven’t had a chance to try these yet, but I cannot wait. A few weeks a go I had a vegetarian bahn mi sandwich from the Nom Nom Truck. I sliced them pretty thin so these carrots would go great on a sandwich like that. I’m also hoping to put them on tacos and just eating them straight from the jar. Only another week or two…

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Heavenly Chocolate Hazelnut Almond Spread

I think this may have been the most successful gift (in my mind anyway). It was super easy, came out perfectly and allowed me to use my new food processor. I used grapeseed oil in my first batch rather than canola and liked that better. Maybe just because I prefer grapeseed oil. It wasn’t technically canned, but according to the giftees it wouldn’t have lasted long in the cupboard anyway. Some people used it on popcorn and I dipped homemade soft pretzels into it so it’s versatile, too!

Next up from me: the rest of my Christmas crafting.

~ April

Happy New Year!

1 Jan

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This is the day…  Dump the leftovers, head to the gym, start browsing the community college catalogs… This is the day we start our resolutions.

This is also the official birthday of Without A Map.  1.1.11.  Write it down for posterity because you’re going to want to tell your grandchildren: You were there.

It’s kind of crazy where you can end up when you’re not planning too hard. When I started blogging about a year ago over at Simply Sunshine, I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. I really just wanted an outlet for sharing some of my craftiness and other projects, but when we made the switch to focusing more on our own projects in December, I decided I had more to share. And I knew some pretty great people who I wanted to hear more from.

Here’s where I come back to resolutions.  Whenever I’ve made a change in my life, I’ve discovered that it is a million times easier to change when you know why you’re changing.  You need to have a purpose that you really believe in.  So while my blogging buddies and I know basically what we want to write about (living creatively, being in touch with nature and exploring our world), the more important issue is to know why we are writing.

I’m writing because it makes me happy.  It gives me a sense of accomplishment to share things that inspire me with the world.  I like being a part of an online community (especially you crafty types!).  In the last year, I’ve taken up more hobbies than I normally would have because I thought it might make a good blog entry.   I think blogging makes me a better person.

As for the other bloggers here, they have their own reasons.  I’ll let them share those with you in their own introductions this month.

I’m looking forward to spending the year (and beyond) with you.  You can expect recipes, stories, craft projects, inspiration, and all sorts of tips to brighten your day.

Happy New Year and welcome to Without a Map!

~april

We’re Not Dressed Yet!

9 Dec

What are you doing here?!  It’s practically Christmas.  You should be spending time with your family and making cookies or something.

We’ll be up and running sometime in the beginning of January so don’t forget about coming back.  Make it your New Year’s Resolution.  I bet you can keep that one.

~april