Big City Pioneers Are: Walkers, Riders, and Bikers.

At the beginning of the summer, when I had officially left my horrendous, cross-lake commute behind, I made a goal of  reducing my car trips. I decided to walk anywhere within 1 mile of my house, and bus when it was appropriate. All summer, I was pretty good about accomplishing this goal. I walked about six blocks to catch a bus to work. I walked to the grocery store, only cheating when I needed to buy things like cat litter (that stuff is heavy!).

Now that fall weather is arriving, I’m not finding it too hard to stick with these habits. I bus to my new job, and walk to the grocery store – making sure my raincoat is stashed in my backpack. Fall weather here in the Pacific Northwest is notoriously rainy, but as long as you’re prepared, it’s not that bad. I will most likely be buying some rain pants to wear during those longer walks, but other than that – a little rain never hurt anyone (except the Wicked Witch, I suppose.)

What’s the benefit of this pledge I’ve taken?

Monetary – I spend about $5 for round-trip bus fare. More if I ride during “peak” hours. Taking the bus 5 days a week adds up to $100 a month. When I was driving to work every day, I spent at least $120 a month on gas. I’m not paying for parking, which could save me a bundle, but I’ve luckily never had to pay for parking. That’s a savings of $20 a month. If I totally got rid of my car, I could cut out my car payment and car insurance, which would drastically reduce my monthly expenses. I’m not there yet, though.

Health – Walking is good for you. This may sound obvious, but I thought I should mention it. Walking is gentle on your joints, reduces your risk of a vast assortment of diseases, and just feels good. I’ve lost weight and feel great.

Carbon reduction – According to, my old commute of approximately 640 miles per month created between 2-4 tons of carbon annually. To “offset” that carbon output, I would have to plant a tree a month. Instead, I walk and ride the bus.

Community – I’ve met neighbors, discovered parks, and gotten to explore my neighborhood by walking. I’ve also seen some excellent urban gardens in front yards and parking strips.Walking allows you to really see your surroundings, instead of being focused on the road ahead.

I challenge you to try it – take a walk tomorrow. Can you walk to the store? Try it out. Maybe you’ll discover something new.


Big City Pioneers Are: Employed!

Welcome to my new weekly feature! Every week I will attempt to explain what being a Big City Pioneer means to me.

This week, though is special, because finally, this Big City Pioneer is employed! I feel totally blessed because I was only unemployed for a month, and I know there are many people out there who have been looking for work for much longer than that. I also feel blessed because I am working at one of my all-time favorite stores – Half Price Books. Not to go all advertisement on you, but have you ever been to Half Price Books? It’s amazing. I now work at a store who’s motto is: “Waste Not, Read A Lot.” Really, that might as well be my personal motto.

That brings me to the real “Big City Pioneers Are:” Part of the post. Here it is. You ready?

Big City Pioneers Are: Used Stuff Purchasers

Big City Pioneers try to reduce their waste. Can you imagine how much paper is used yearly to print new books? I looked it up and couldn’t find a statistic, but I can tell you this – it’s a lot. According to The EPA, more than 2 billion books and 350 million magazines are published each year. The “greenest” way to read is definitely the library – but the second most sustainable way to read is to buy and sell used books.

This philosophy of buying used extends into many other aspects of your life. The Boyfriend and I rarely buy new clothes. Instead we shop at places like Buffalo Exchange, The Goodwill, and other used clothing stores. Buying used clothes can be fun and exciting, like being on your own personal treasure hunt. Brooklyn-based designer Jessi Arrington gave a TED talk on this great idea – check it out:

I also buy most of my housewares, furniture, and kitchen supplies used – again, at The Goodwill, and a few other local thrift stores. Last fall I bought a TV stand from Ikea and my friend joked that it was the first piece of new furniture I had ever bought – except once I thought about it, I realized she was right, and it wasn’t a joke. Every other piece of furniture I own was given to me by a friend or family member, found on freecycle, or bought secondhand.

In addition to reducing the amount of waste we create, buying used items saves us a lot of money. If you, like me and The Boyfriend, are affected by the current economic recession, or if you just want to save money, buying used is the way to go. Ma Ingalls would agree.

Tomato season

So, I’ve been MIA from the blog world lately. I’ve been really busy, being unemployed.

Well, only for the last week. Before that, I have no excuse. Sorry. I’ll try to do better. There’s a rhythm to this blogging thing that I haven’t quite gotten down yet. Which is dumb, considering how much time I spend on the internet.

So yes, unemployment. I will be the first to admit that I am not good at having vast amounts of “downtime.” A weekend to relax, read, and ignore the real world is great, but start expanding that beyond two days at a time and I get itchy. I’m the kind of person who takes hikes for vacation. Sitting still makes me nervous.

First day of unemployment – I rearranged the furniture in The Little Apartment in the Big City. Second day, I went to our Wednesday Farmer’s Market and bought 25 pounds of tomatoes.

That's a lot of tomatoes.

It being one of the hottest days of the summer, I decided to do some canning. Because the tomatoes were “seconds” – meaning there were some splits and spots to remove, I decided that making canned crushed tomatoes would be my best bet. It’s a pretty simple process, but because of the sheer quantity, it takes a lot of time.

First, you have to remove the skins from the tomatoes.

Immerse the tomatoes in boiling water for 30-60 seconds

A quick dip in an ice bath

Remove the loosened peels, and you have naked tomatoes!

After cutting the tomatoes into smaller pieces, they have to be boiled.  I mashed about 2 cups of the tomatoes with a potato masher, and let the heat and acid “crush” the rest.


Then, more boiling water! Put the tomatoes in the jars and process.

My directions said to process the jars for 30 minutes. I had to do several batches, so this is definitely the most time-consuming part of the process.

This is a good time to have lunch. Remember lunch? You’re supposed to eat it.

Most of my jars I just put salt and lemon juice in, but I added some spices (basil and oregano) to a few jars. I’m not sure how much difference it will make when I use the tomatoes, but it might be nice to have a head start on marinara sauce.

The finished product: 17 pints of crushed tomatoes, and a kitchen that looked like I murdered Chef Boy-ar-dee. Now, to find a place to put them…

Ta-Da! 17 pints of tomatoes

Big City Pioneers Tomato Top Three Canning Tips:

1: Give yourself enough time. It’s really not that much work, but it does take a lot of time. You don’t want to feel rushed.

2: Stay hydrated. It’s hot work. You are spending the day standing over pots of boiling water, and it always feels like it’s the hottest day of the year.

3: Relax! It’s fun. There are a few important rules to follow, but for the most part it’s simple, easy work. Put on some music and enjoy yourself.

I used the recipe for crushed tomatoes from my trusty copy of The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, but there are lots of other great canning resources out there. Just make sure to follow the processing directions exactly, because you want to make sure your food is safe. Another great resource for canning information is the National Center for Food Preservation.

Apologies, apologies.

You may have noticed I haven’t posted an entry in a while. This is what happens during a job search – things that aren’t job-search related get set aside til “later” and then don’t get done. I feel like I’ve written about seven hundred cover letters, and nothing else. I tell you, I’m tired of writing about my work experience, and looking forward to getting back to writing about my Big City Pioneer lifestyle.
Though I still haven’t found a new job, I hope to have a new entry up this week! Plus a new weekly feature coming Monday – Stay Tuned!

Farmer’s Market Bounty

It’s possible I went a little overboard at the Ballard Farmer’s Market today… But look at all that gorgeous fruit!

Now the serious canning starts. This is the first attempt at making “traditional” jam without pectin. Wish me luck!

Tomato season!

This morning I harvested (and quickly ate) my first home-grown tomato of the season. A tiny cherry tomato, off of my “Sweet 100” plant.

The first of the season - delicious and beautiful

I hope that you have had the chance in your life to eat a tomato, freshly picked. There is nothing in the world quite like it. Sweet, tangy, and with a taste that can only be described as “summer.” Those tomatoes that you buy at the grocery store? Even the “local” organic tomatoes don’t come anywhere close to the flavor of a truly fresh tomato.

Tomatoes are beginning to show up at the farmers market, and I plan on buying a lot of them. Many I will eat right away, to supplement the supply from my three tomato plants. Many I will can, as whole tomatoes, as tomato sauce, and maybe even as marinara, if I’m feeling adventurous.

This year I also want to try oven drying/roasting and freezing grape tomatoes, like this beautiful batch over at Food In Jars (one of my new favorite blogs). I think I’m going to spend a lot of time in the kitchen the next few weeks. I’m excited.

Going Veggie – one day a week

There’s been a big push lately for “Meatless Mondays” – the idea being, if people eat vegetarian one day a week, we can curb obesity, fight diabetes and cancer, and prevent heart disease – as well as reducing our water usage, reliance on fossil fuel, and reduce our carbon footprint. Here in the Little Apartment, we don’t eat a lot of meat. It’s expensive, for one – we mostly get our protein from quinoa, lentils, and beans. Meat has traditionally been more of a once-a-week thing vs 6-times a week. However, now that the Boyfriend has moved in, there is definitely a lot more animal protein in the house. So we Big City Pioneers are trying to pay attention to what kinds of protein we eat.

The Environmental Working Group recently released a “Meat-Eaters Guide to Climate Change and Health,” outlining what people who aren’t willing (or able) to go completely meat-free can do to help prevent climate change. And hey – there’s a lot. The fact presented by EWG are pretty interesting – they rank 20 common foods on their environmental impact. The best? Lentils – no real surprise there. Lentils are loaded with protein and fiber, and require little in the way of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Buy organic, and you even eliminate that. The worst foods, like lamb and beef, can be made much “better” (as far as the environment goes) by buying grass-fed, locally raised meat. This Big City Pioneer was pretty horrified to discover that cheese ranks worse than pork in the carbon footprint ranking. How to solve that problem? Again, locally raised, organically made cheese cuts the environmental impact by a whole lot.

Here’s some more interesting data presented by the Environmental Working Group:

If everyone in the US went meat- AND cheese-less one day a week, – so, Meatless Mondays and Cheese-less Wednesdays? – it would be “like taking 7.6 million cars off the road.”

“Uneaten meat products account for more than 20% of meat’s greenhouse gas emissions” – so don’t buy more than you will eat!

Check out EWG’s Guide Here. Are you surprised by any of their findings?

Read more about Meatless Mondays Here. Can you commit to not eating meat AND cheese one (or more) days a week?

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