Friday, May 19, 2017


We finished our shopping today and even managed to sneak in some touristy activities! (Hint: if you're ever in Portland, go to the ice cream shop Salt and Straw, pronto. I never knew that a pear-blue-cheese ice cream could taste so good.) But now it's time to head out on the road trip portion of our journey, into the wilds of Montana and Wyoming, and I'm not sure when I'll be able to blog again. It may be a week or two or even three, but I'll be back with photos to share and stories to tell. Until then!


The Grand Gallivant: Arriving in Portland

(Before I get started, here’s a little preliminary info about our budget for the summer. Like my Epic Trip Out West in 2011, the basic budget for each day of travel is $10 per person. Unlike the ETOW, this budget is caused by necessity rather than choice— and as such, we’ll be willing to spend a bit more using “cheats” such as money from family and friends, old gift cards, and so on. I won’t be posting daily counts, although I hope to post a general budget at the end of the trip, seeing how our finances turned out, for those who are interested in such things. The main focus of the trip isn’t the budget, but maximizing our experiences with the resources we have.)

Our trip began with a delayed flight. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time to wade through the lines to check our bags, tossing our backpacking packs on the conveyor belt, along with two huge suitcases that we were checking on Christian’s behalf (he was flying standby, and arrived in Portland several hours before we even reached the airport). It felt weird to have so many bags! Even without Christian’s luggage, we were packing heavier than I’ve packed since I traveled solo for the first time. But our trip is going to encompass so many different kinds of activities— namely, camping and farmwork— that we ended up packing what feels like an obscene amount of stuff. But now it was all packed away, and it was time to sit in the airport and wait. And wait.

We dined like princes, budget-style: almond-and-m&m trail mix from home, quesadillas cobbled together from some of the last ingredients in our fridge, and Starbucks coffee thanks to an old gift card. 

The days leading up to our departure had been so harried that the excitement hadn’t hit me at all; I was lost in a flurry of details, just wishing that the packing and planning were over. And now at last, here they were.

Our first flight was an hour delayed, and by the time we arrived at our layover in Las Vegas (11:30pm central time), we were both exhausted. We soon realized that our second flight was delayed by an additional two hours.

And so I slept in an airport for the first time! I tied a bandana over my eyes, snuggled into Zach’s jacket (the air conditioning was blasting in there), and curled up on the carpet, tuning out the sounds of flight announcements and the rattle and bing-bang of slot machines. Turns out I was able to sleep for nearly an hour.

We arrived in Portland at 2:30am Pacific time (4:30 central), and Zach’s dad Gary woke up in the middle of the night to come pick us up. We crashed hard that night!

Yesterday, despite being kind of sleepy and out of it, we (Zach, Christian, and I) managed to pack in a lot! We hung out with Zach’s family, then took a hike up to Multnomah Falls. all the way to an outcropping of rock called Angel’s Rest, where we caught a great view of the Columbia Gorge. Christian sprained his ankle on the way down from there, but we met some nice women who gave Zach and me a hitch back to our vehicle so Christian wouldn’t have to walk the last three miles on the road. (He’s been icing his ankle ever since, and we have high hopes it’ll be back to normal in a couple days.) 

Today is our errand day, where we buy a month’s worth of shelf-stable food and some last-minute supplies, although we’re hoping to make some time to show Christian around Portland a little bit. Then tomorrow we head out for Yellowstone. I can hardly wait!

Hope you have a wonderful week, and I’ll write again when I can.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

How Can You Afford to Travel? (The Grand Gallivant, Day One)

Hey all!

Turns out that planning for a three-month trip is a lot of hassle. The past few days have been crammed full of logistics-working with house-sitters, yard work, packing, and a bazillion little details that need to be taken care of while prepping for a trip. Fortunately, the end is in sight! Zach and I leave for Portland this evening, and our trip out west— which I’m officially naming The Grand Gallivant— will begin. Right now I’m too distracted and detail-oriented to really be excited, but I know the excitement will kick in later.

In the meantime, here’s a post I meant to put up earlier this week, but forgot. Enjoy!


Yesterday, someone at Zach’s work asked him how he could afford to take three months off work to go gallivanting off on a trip. It’s a good question, and I figured some of my blog readers might be wondering as well. It’s no secret that Zach and I live on one-and-a-half Walmart incomes, but a variety of factors have made trips like this possible. 

This is not a how-to guide, since many of the circumstances can’t be replicated. But it might be helpful as an example of how two relatively low-income people are able to make a trip like this.

We’re traveling super-low budget. We’ve budgeted $20 a day for the two of us, which must include food, lodging, gas, entertainment, and incidentals. This means no hotels or hostels (at least when just we’re traveling together), and no eating out. Fortunately, I’m already pretty familiar with the whole super-budget trip thing. We’re going to be spending big chunks of time volunteering on farms (that provide lodging and most of your food), as well as camping and couchsurfing. We’re gonna buy bulk groceries in Portland and schlep them around so we’ll avoid (comparatively expensive) fast food. If you want more tips on budget travel, check out these blog posts.

We have chosen very few expenses. Some expenses are inevitable— medical bills, taxes, etc.— but most are negotiable. Some of the expenses we’ve avoided were due to huge life choices: for instance, neither of us has student debt because neither of us went to college, and our mortgage is very low because we chose to live in a low-income neighborhood in Missouri. Other expenses we’re whittling down for the summer— for instance, we cancelled my cell phone.

We’ve been saving money carefully. For the past several months we’ve scaled way back on eating out, cut back on specialty food (meat, nuts, alcohol), spent almost no money on hobbies, and taken advantage of every money-accruing benefit that Walmart offers (say what you want about Walmart, but if you know how to work their benefit program, they will give you a lot of free money!). We’re putting off home projects and anything that we want to buy until after the trip.

We are incredibly privileged. Although I’m proud of the way we’ve managed our money, I fully appreciate the privileges that we have. We’re both in good health. We haven’t had any huge repairs or crippling medical bills this year. Our car payment is $0 because my brother gave us his car. We have no children. Zach’s sister is lending us a car for the summer. We have family who lives in a neat place to visit. All these factors are not ones you can plan, but they’re working to our advantage. So we can’t think for a moment that we’re “self-made,” or that we’re able to travel simply by our own power. On the other hand, though, with planning, counter-cultural life choices, and careful saving, we’ve given ourselves good leverage to take advantage of those privileges. 

In the end, not everyone can take a trip like this— indeed, most people can’t. However, I  believe this kind of trip is within the reach of many more people than it would at first appear. 

At any rate, thanks for coming with me on the Grand Gallivant! Whether you’re here for vicarious experiences or ideas of how to make a trip like this yourself, I hope you enjoy the journey!


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Opportunity: Host a Foreign Exchange Student

Hey all! 

I wanted to give a quick shout-out to a non-profit organization that my cousin works for, Ayusa. They coordinate a program for foreign exchange students, and they’re actively seeking hosts right now for their out-of-country high schoolers. You don’t have to be a nuclear family to host: they accept all sorts of family structures and situations! 

Although I’ve never personally hosted a foreign exchange student, it sounds like a great opportunity for both the host and the student. If it’s something you’re interested in, please check out their site, or go straight to the FAQ page about hosting.


Friday, May 5, 2017


This photo— and most of the other photos— by Christian Barfield.
This reminds me of Spirited Away...
No kidding.

In the midst of this crazy flooding, I feel incredibly fortunate that St. Charles hasn’t been affected too much. Even though Zach and I live only a few blocks from the Missouri River, a levee stands in the way of us and the water, and so far our house has remained safe and dry. 

Some helpful links:

Praying for everyone who’s affected by the floodwaters! 


Friday, April 28, 2017

This Week (Family Time, Summer Plans, and a Spring Garden)

I love the clouds this time of year.
The Eco Park near my house has lovely flowers!

The past couple weeks have been full of hanging out with family, working on projects, and taking walks in the beautiful spring weather (between thunderstorms). I’ve gotten to see all my siblings a lot lately (thanks to an Easter visit from my brother and his family, and to my sister spending her down time in St. Louis between her shifts as a flight attendant), and it’s been fun to catch up on everyone and get a big dose of family togetherness before we head out for the summer.

Zach and I have also visited Johnson’s Shut-Ins and Elephant Rocks (I got a pretty epic scrape from slipping on some gravel while hiking), spent a day planting flowers for our neighborhood business district, and planned like mad for our upcoming trip (which is approaching much more quickly than I expected!). 

Showing off my bloodied leg.
Flowers we planted.
We just learned that Zach’s sister, who lives in Oregon, is going to lend us her car this summer, which means our options of what to do and where to go just exploded with possibility. Nothing’s confirmed yet, but we’re planning/hoping to hit up Portland, Yellowstone National Park, a cashmere goat farm in Montana, a nursery/bee garden farm in Idaho, and a small homestead with alpacas near Crater Lake. My head is buzzing with excitement at this new development, and I’m incredibly grateful for family who are willing to support our travel habit!

My spring garden is thriving, although so far I’ve only been able to harvest the greens— I’m crossing my fingers that the peas and carrots will come in before we leave town. The beds will be resting over the summer, but I’m super excited for the chance to visit some professional gardens this summer and absorb hands-on knowledge that I can bring back to our home here in St. Charles. The last time I did HelpXing and WWOOFing, I enjoyed the work but didn’t have any particular interest in growing vegetables. This time, I’m coming to take notes, to be inspired, and to learn as much as I can. 

I hope that April is treating you all well! Cheers!


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

You Don't Have To

You don’t have to be cranky before morning coffee.

You don’t have to replace a pair of jeans when they rip.

You don’t have to wear make-up.

You don’t have to show your anger when you feel it.

You don’t have to own a set of matching dishes.

You don’t have to post everything on social media.

You don’t have to be available to your friends 24/7.

You don’t have to let other people’s opinions affect you.

You don’t have to buy that thing you’ve been wanting to buy for ages.

You don’t have to feel bad about things you did that are forgiven.

You don’t have to say yes to commitments.

You don’t have to have a great phone.

You don’t have to follow traditions.

You don’t have to be responsible for other people’s feelings.

You don’t have to binge on Netflix.

You don’t have to keep accumulating possessions.

You don’t have to be ambitious.

You don’t have to compare yourself to others.

You don’t have to be busy.

You don’t have to have to brag about how sleep-deprived you are.

You don’t have to do something just because “everyone does it.”

You don’t have to do or feel anything that is pushed onto you by culture, by other people, and most of all by yourself. If you want to, that’s fine. But don’t fool yourself into believing you have to do something if you really don’t.

I tell this to myself every day.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

How to Make Ricotta Cheese

Whey and curds!

Last week, I tried making whole-milk ricotta for the first time, after several times of glancing over articles that raved about how easy it was. Was it really that easy? Yes it was. 

I followed these instructions from The Kitchn, using bottled lemon juice. The cheese tasted lemony, which isn’t a bad thing, but you if you want a more neutral taste, using vinegar or citric acid would probably be a better choice.

I won’t plagiarize The Kitchn’s excellent instructions, but here are some photos from my adventure:

Heating the milk took some time, but I just washed dishes while I was waiting.

I didn't have cheesecloth, so I just used a cloth napkin. Worked like a charm.

Spooning the curds into the napkin to drain the whey through the colander into the bowl.

Although the instructions didn't call for it, I hung the curds to drain. They turned out pretty dry, so if I had wanted a moister cheese, I should've let the curds gently drain for 10 minutes rather than 20.

Again, these curds could've been less dry, but I wanted a firmer cheese.

The finished cheese.

I added ricotta and spinach from my garden to make a chunky tomato sauce. Yummy!

This is probably the easiest kind of cheese to make (after kefir cheese, of course), and doesn’t require any special equipment or weird ingredients. The texture was nice, and it was fun to make pure homemade ricotta without any additives.

Now all I need to figure out is what to do with the quart of leftover whey! Any suggestions?


Thursday, April 20, 2017

What I've Been Reading: A Round-Up (Part Two)

(Read Part One here.)

In the past few months, I’ve been devouring any book on permaculture that I can find (I’m working my way through The Permaculture Handbook right now— review to follow when I finish the tome). Here are some of the gems I’ve discovered.

You guys already know that I’m a Toby Hemenway fangirl, and this book just strengthened that conviction. I expected a book about urban gardening, but what I got was that and so much more: it’s essentially a field guide to leveraging our place in the city to create ecological sustainability. Unlike many back-to-nature types, Hemenway loved cities and saw their incredible potential for creativity and cooperation. 

The book discusses both nuts-and-bolts logistics, such as growing in contaminated soil or harvesting greywater, and permaculture theory, explaining what makes city dwellers uniquely suited to caring for the earth. He begins by discussing permaculture’s tenets in detail, then shows how these principles apply to food, water, energy, livelihood, community empowerment, and resilience.

The book is a lot to absorb, and builds considerably on Gaia’s Garden, which I would recommend reading first. I’m certain I’ll return in a year or two and read through The Permaculture City again, hoping to internalize more of the concepts and work through how to put them into practice. In the meantime, this book is thought-provoking and empowering, encouraging me to embrace my place in the city and see the patterns, edges, and opportunities all around me.

I loved this book! Toensmeier, who helped pioneer the permaculture idea of a “food forest,” talks about his and his friend’s experience growing one in their suburban yard. From choosing plants to designing guilds to dealing with legal regulations, the authors walk us through their process of putting their concepts into practice.

As someone who wants to create my own version of a food forest, this book was wonderfully helpful. I enjoyed seeing the permaculture concepts in action: Toensmeier is honest about his failures as well as his successes, and talks about their techniques in a down-to-earth way. The writing might be a bit technical for someone who is just dipping their toe into the permaculture world, but this is an excellent follow-up to Gaia’s Garden. I like having a clear picture in my head of what abstract theories look like in practice, and this book was exactly what I was looking for.

This is more of a memoir than a how-to book (although it contains some how-to sections) about Ableman’s work with the nonprofit urban farm, Sole Food, in Vancouver, BC. He describes their journey through a maze of government regulations, site contamination, unstable drug-addicted workers, theft, and a host of other problems, without attempting to sanitize the process or make us think that the farm is a solution to the myriad problems that plague the inner city. I appreciate his honesty as he shows both the joys and burdens of his journey.

The book is arranged oddly, categorizing some pieces of the story by sequence and some by topic. In the end it felt more like a series of vignettes than a cohesive story, and eventually these somewhat unconnected pieces began to drag. I still read the whole book because of my desire to see models of urban agriculture, and for anyone with an interest in social justice, it’s still definitely worth a read. However, if someone is looking to understand the nuts and bolts of growing food in a small space, Paradise Lot is a better bet.

What have you been reading? 


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What I've Been Reading: A Round-Up (Part One)

In looking back through my “What I’ve Been Reading” posts, I realized that there are several books that got left out. I’m a naturally fast reader, and have also made an effort to blade through more books in the past year, so I’ve kept my library account busy! Here’s a sampling of the books that I’ve read over the past several months but forgot to mention.

This is a sort of sequel or epilogue to The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a manifesto about basic, commonsense rules for healthy eating: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I almost felt like I had already read the book, since so many whole-foods bloggers recite his rules with religious fervor. I appreciate his premise: that Americans are obsessed with nutrients and care little about actual food, thinking that “healthy” food is disgusting and the only way to be healthy is to deprive yourself. This book encourages helpful attitudes about eating, such as enjoying meals, avoiding mindless snacking, sharing food with other people, and taking time to make things from scratch.

I’ve read some pretty scathing rebuttals to this book which point out that Pollan has a starry-eyed view of growing food/cooking and that one of the triumphs of the modern world is having the luxury not to cook. While I agree with that on some level, I think Pollan, as a journalist, is simply sharing his passion for gardening and cooking, and arguing that Americans could devote the energy they spend on counting calories in their fast-food meal to making simple homemade food instead. And I can definitely get behind that. 

In the end, this is a good quick read, but The Omnivore’s Dilemma is much better.

This memoir, about the author’s long journey from cattle ranching to bison ranching, is a captivating read. O’Brien loves South Dakota, and makes you love it too as you read the story, which he narrates in a spellbinding way. It’s part autobiography, part history, part travelogue, and part agricultural commentary. Highly recommended!

I’ve written about this book before, and I just reread it. The concepts she presents were so new to me the first time I read this, so it’s nice to come back with a little more experience and think about how plastic ties to other areas of ecology and social responsibility. As before, this book is encouraging and practical, motivating me to continue my journey toward a life of less plastic and more sustainability.

Tomorrow... Part Two!