Posted in Homesteading, Thoughts

Is Zero Waste Attainable?

Hey all,

Happy Earth Day! This big, beautiful planet of ours has a lot to offer us. Mainly, it provides us a home where we do minor things like breathe and eat and survive. No big deal. Except it kind of is a big deal when I stop and think about humanity’s stewardship of this planet’s resources. I’d say we as a collective group don’t seem too concerned with trashing this home of ours.

I happen to live in an urban neighborhood where I come face to face with a shocking amount of litter. What bothers me most about the litter on my streets is that the majority of it is cans and bottles that are 100% recyclable. So, I have a dirty little habit of it up as I walk around my hood. It’s gone so far as this: carrying reuseable bags on my person for the sole purpose of collecting trash off the street as I walk to and from the bus. I’ve started heckling coworkers who absent-mindedly throw their drink containers in the trash cans at work. And yes, I’ve dug in trash containers to retrieve recyclables, and frequently have bags full of cans and bottles in my trunk. I’ll admit, I have a “problem”. I might be a litter magnet. I literally feel like I have litter radar going 24/7.

There’s a little local coffee shop within walking distance of my home that is a zero waste business. Serendipity Spot does not have disposable cups. You have to bring your own mug or drink things in store. At first, I thought this mindset would not be a sustainable business habit. How on earth could a coffee shop garner enough profit to counteract the lost business from customers who’d prefer disposable cups? But I’m so encouraged Serendipity Spot finds that risk worth taking. The owner, Kelley, would rather make less money than contribute to the litter in my neighborhood and trash in our local landfills. That is awesome.

Zero Waste. Could it really be a thing?

I saw this Buzz Feed video and got really excited about the idea: check it out here. Who else wants to make a worm compost after watching that??? Most impactful to me was her little Mason jar of trash after a MONTH. I wanna do that! According to that video, the average person generates 4+ pounds of trash PER DAY. What!?!?!?! That is craziness!

I don’t know what it would look like for the Minnesota Brookes household to transition to a zero waste household. But I know that I want to take steps towards that. I know acquiring less stuff in general is a giant leap towards a more sustainable life. And it really annoys me that most food packaging isn’t recyclable. I guess on this Earth Day, I wanted to say…I’m less cool with forgetting my choices affect the one planet we have. And I want to make choices that are better for the extended life of this beautiful home we all share.

Are you moving towards a zero-waste home? Tell me what you do to reduce, reuse and recycle by commenting below!


Posted in Crafty madness!, Culinary adventures, Homesteading

Hard-boiled joy

Easter is upon us: a time to reflect & remember that the God I worship literally died so I’d be free. Yet while all that heart-heavy stuff is marinating, windows are opening, the sun is shining and Spring is upon us. It’s as if the world is asking us to shake off our heaviness and come play a little. “Weeping may last the night but joy comes with the morning.” –Psalm 30:5

And over here at the Brookes’ homestead, we’ve been boiling our own joy: naturally dyed Easter eggs! This tradition dates back thousands of years, and I’ve long wanted to experiment for myself. With some help from Mama (who’s in town for a visit), we boiled eggs and made dye baths. Science is fun!

So, without further ado, here are the results:

Top photo: Dye baths -top row: curry, spinach, red cabbage, beets -bottom row: onion skin, green tea, beets. Bottom left photo: turmeric with string. Bottom right photo: red cabbage with string. Loved this process! Definitely repeating!
My favorite dye bath was the onion skin. Super cool (and really cheap!!!)
Dye bath processing. Next time, I’ll double the vinegar.
This year, we did canned beets and a mix of canned and fresh spinach. Fresh is for SURE the way to go. Now I know for next year. Beets are supposed to dye eggs brilliant pink.
Super appreciate my local Co-op making these great reference sheets available! Definitely will try the red cabbage and onion skins again. Stunning color!
Posted in Culinary adventures, Homesteading


It could be the direct result of where I’m employed, but it seems like there’s a lot of talk about turning vegetables into noodles. Our cooking section at Half Price Books has a few books specifically focused on spiralizing: hand-making noodles from veg. As a person who has flirted with the Paleo diet and whose gut responds well to little or no grain, the idea intrigues me. However, Nayt & I have had serious momentum into minimalism, so accumulating another kitchen gadget to experiment with was not my ideal. Enter my friend Karyn!

Friends let friends play with their cool toys. And it turns out, when you’re a grown-up, those toys might be weird kitchen gadgets.  🙂

So, last night, I played around with turning zucchini into noodles.  Olive oil, garlic, roasted onions, dried parsley, salt & pepper, and Herb de Provence* coated my freshly spiralized zucchini. It was tasty and satisfying. I was surprised at how the texture was so similar to noodles. I will say this, don’t try to trick your veg-reluctant spouse or kids by substituting zucchini for pasta. It is obviously veg when you bite into it, both in flavor and texture. BUT very tasty, and a totally ingenious way to mindfully increase your vegetable intake.

Now that I’ve played with it, I don’t know if I’d ever use it enough to justify owning one. Still was super fun! Thanks for sharing your toys, Karyn!





*I’ve never cooked with Herb de Provence before. A 9yr old sealed jar of it was staring at me from the spice rack. Have you cooked with this dried herb? It smells really delicious, but I don’t think I used enough (granted, it’s pretty old). I had a hard time identifying it amidst the garlic and olive oil flavors. If you’ve cooked with it, what dishes have you used it in?

Posted in Homesteading

Winter is trouncing us…

Well, here in the tundra, we’ve been experiencing some of Winter’s opening act. She started off mild and then flipped her switch into Canadian. Here at the Brookes homestead, we are excited to report the 6+” of snow from Sunday’s storm are sticking around real nice. This could be why…

Uhhh, I think I’ll stay in Saturday…

With temps hovering in the single digits all day, our snow should be around for a good while. Minnesota tends to accumulate snow in December that has no chance of melting til the Spring. Usually, the snow trumps my whining about the bitter cold. But this year, all I want to do is this…


And I’ve got extra reasons to hibernate, as I am now experiencing two different types of cold…

Cepacol and Throat Coat vs. Winter.

I still think the snow is beautiful…


But maybe I’ll just enjoy it from inside buildings and cars, cause…


Posted in Homesteading, Kitten dramas

Squirrels gone wild…

Squirrels are going nuts over here on the old Minnesota Brookes’ homestead. We’ve got 4 cheeky buggers running all over the front banister and flower boxes hunting for treats. Naturally, the felines are intrigued…




But what had me rushing to get the camera wasn’t the insane squirrels who seriously looked like they were staring into the house at times…it was to document the proximity between Tobycat and the kitten.

Lookit that closeness! They are, like, TOUCHING.

I’m callin’ it. They are now (drumroll please)…


Thanks, you nutty squirrels, you brought my furries together!

Posted in Homesteading

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Over here in Minnesota-land, we’ve had our first few “sticking snows” and are entering December, the month where we accumulate the majority of the snow that won’t evaporate until March. But today it is raining (BOO! We want more snow!) and feels like October. So, in light of the fact that we are now officially in the holiday season, I would like to share some holly jolly from the Brookes home.

Yesterday, I spent some time making the treats that secure me happy little helper elves: Traci Brookes spritz cookies!


Last year, when I asked Nayt to help me put up Christmas decorations, his response was, “I don’t see any spritz cookies!” Apparently, he was bribed into jolliness by his mom’s baking. I don’t blame him, these cookies are ridiculously good. And for the first time, the entire batch turned out great. Huzzah!


Abdullah and Nayt put up the Christmas tree with me and even helped put ornaments on it! Spritz cookie magic!


Rudi kitten promptly got up in the tree to play. His two favorite ornaments are pictured above: 1) the pink baby ball is from my childhood and he likes to paw it until it falls out of the tree 2) he grabs Totoro with his teeth and runs off with him! I had to relocate poor Totoro higher into the tree…


I got a new tiny wooden nativity at work, and am happy with all the different ways we acknowledge the real reason for the season.


Some remaining decor, including: Nayt’s old Snoopy decorating his doghouse collection that comes out each year, a happy gnome my Aunt Greer gave me that is so adorable and a handmade Noel sign from old Christmas cards. 🙂

Merry Merry, everyone! Now, excuse me while I upload my extensive Christmas playlist to my iPhone so I can be jolly on my lunch break at work today…


Posted in Homesteading

Little Free Library open!

Our little plot of land here in North Minneapolis just gained a long-awaited feature. We are now the stewards of a Little Free Library! Unfamiliar with the concept? Neighbors all over the country are supplying little library boxes in private and public spaces that contain free reading material for all ages, in the hopes that you will “take a book, leave a book” with no strings attached.

I have loved the idea since spying my first box and for my birthday this year, Nayt built me one with our friend Mike! It will be easy to keep stocked as I work at a bookstore and can peruse the clearance section weekly. And I’m hoping to meet neighbors while gifting our hood stories. Just a little way to make everything a bit nicer. Here in North Minneapolis, we have a few but nothing in the 3 block radius around our house. It’s a Little Free Library desert over here, y’all. (well, not anymore!) 🙂

Sadly, in the Twin Cities some people have been clearing out Little Free Libraries to resell the books for cash. I suppose free invites all kinds, but the idea of being taken advantage of, especially when stewards personally buy what goes in library boxes makes my justice rage alarms go off. Some recommended ways to combat this have been to mark each book as part of the Little Free Library system and to not have it stocked to the brim. So, today I marked spines and stamped interiors and hope this first batch will go to people interested in reading, not selling. 🙂

Without further ado, North Minneapolis, TADA another Little Free Library!

Posted in Homesteading

Autumn: the season of furries

Fall is in the air here in Minnesota. We have highs in the 40s and 50s, and the trees are undressing in style. I’ve been brewing lots of tea and making endless pots of popcorn. Ahh, autumn. My favorite season.

And in my neighborhood, autumn is the season of stray cats. As the weather gets chilly, they start hiding nearer to humans’ warm houses. And last week, a stray black kitten decided our back deck was the perfect place. (“my back deck brings all the cats to the yard…”) Kitty greeted us with rumbly purrs, leg rubs and even tried to come inside! Unsure of kitty’s gender, I called all the no-kill shelters I could to try and find a home for it, but it’s the season of strays and everyone seems full o’ cats. So, begrudgingly and after more than one sob session, I took the little purry to Minneapolis Animal Control, confident that they could find it a home. Upon arriving home, its littermate showed up! So, like I ended up taking TWO cats to the shelter on the same day. (It was a rough day.)

Following kitteh’s progress online, we discovered that they were both boys. Much to my surprise, Nayt agreed to let us keep one!!! So…drumroll please…

Meet Rudi!

Oh hai, I is Rudi. Me purr ‘n’ rub face on yous.

Rudi is a 10 month old sweetheart of a stray who purrs while he eats. 🙂 He is quarantined to the craft room while he gets over some kitty sniffles and because Toby is a grump and we need to take introductions slowly. It’s been 5 years since we’ve had a kitten, and I forgot:

  1. how sharp their little needle claws are! YOW!
  2. how tiny they are! Toby has never looked fatter!
  3. how much ENERGY they have!

Kitten is doing well, and after my vet met him, she decided she wants to adopt his littermate. 🙂 That’s right, this cat is awesome enough to sway the heart of a lady who’s job is squeezing cats all day. 🙂

I know you all want the juicy gossip on how Toby is reacting to the intrusion in his home. So far, he is distracted with food and tolerating the dissolvement of his “only cat” status as well as can be expected. I honestly don’t think he’s as mad at the smell of new cat as he is mad that we periodically go in the craft room, shut the door and leave Toby out. Also probably doesn’t help that we then emerge smelling like traitors. 🙂 We’re giving it time at the recommendation of all the kitty sages.

Do you live in Minnesota? There are tons of sweet cats at the MACC that you could take home! Check it out! Also, HIGHLY recommend Feline Rescue, who helped me get Rudi since he was sick and therefore “unadoptable”. (I beg to differ! We wants him!) They are a no-kill shelter that fosters cats until they can be adopted. If you don’t have the ability to make a long term kitty commitment but want to save the furries from the shelters locally that euthanize, consider partnering with them!

Now, how about some more kitten pics!? *kitten is wiggly and moves a lot, I still don’t have a great shot of him, but these will suffice!

I is tiny ‘n’ real cute.
I bump the hooman’s face wiz my face.
If I fits, I sits!
Warm hooman! Me likes!
Lookit how pretty I is!
Posted in Culinary adventures, Homesteading

Fry bread ambrosia

Holy fry bread, y’all. I don’t know what tribe is responsible for this delectable treat but they are wonderful people and fry bread is insanely good. Imagine a savory dense cake donut. Yeah. Now you feel me.

So, last weekend I was fortunate to attend the Wild Rice Festival at the Harriet Alexander Nature Center in Roseville. Half Price Books donates to this awesome park and animal restoration center, so we get a booth at this event. I was dressed as the Bookworm mascot and got to hug and high five children all afternoon.

But while I wasn’t swallowed by the neon green sleeping bag that is my employer’s mascot, I was eating Native American food. The Wild Rice Festival boasts authentic fare that blows my mind with its savory comforty awesomeness. I had a roasted ear of corn on the cob that was probably the best corn experience of my LIFE. I dunno what seasoning they put on it but MAN, it was goooooooood.

I really love supporting the native groups that are still harvesting wild rice by hand in the traditional manner. So, this year I bought a pound of wild rice, some cream of wild rice soup mix and a fry bread mix. And tonight, we feasted on fry bread, rice soup and chicken made with vegetables that were farmed in the American soil hundreds of years before Europeans settled here.

I’m full and happy. (Who wouldn’t be after eating DONUTS for dinner?) But seriously, it’s super fun to try new ethnic foods. And while I barely scratched the surface here with Native American, I am delighted with what we’ve tried so far!

Go eat adventurously!


Posted in Homesteading


Over the past month, all things green have been shooting up and sprouting. It’s like Christmas in July out in my yard. Things we started from tiny seeds under LEDs in our basement are growing some fierce-looking cukes and a plethora of peppers. There is SUCH joy in seeing something you have tended grow. It is a simple pleasure, but it is real.

We have been eating homegrown greens all summer: cabbage, kale, lettuce (SO MUCH LETTUCE), snap peas, zucchini, green peppers, jalapenos, chilis, cucumbers. Not to mention that ridiculous crop of sage I planted when we first moved in. We are now growing close to a square foot of that herb alone.* Our tomatoes are still green but I suspect they are loving our super unseasonably warm summer.

One of my personal favorites are snap peas. And last year, we trellised one of our garden boxes to grow a big ole slew of them. They did well and I was in utter bliss to munch on “nature’s fast food” throughout the harvest time. This year, I thought I’d expand and do TWO trellised boxes of peas. And I learned something: each of our garden boxes has a slightly different sunlight exposure. Box 1 (which fostered last year’s pea harvest) produced tall, strong vines again this year. Box 2? Not so much. The vines are thin and paltry in comparison. At first, I was puzzled. But one morning, while watering, I realized that the first box gets direct morning light a full hour or two before the 2nd, due to the shade of an evergreen. Eureka! Box 1 produces fat, dark green pea pods full of super sweet round peas. Box 2 produces a smattering of wrinkled pea pods that mean the insides are not sweet or juicy. (Not that I’m gonna let them go to waste!)

All this hobby gardening has been fun, but I can’t imagine doing it as my only source of food. As I water and weed and harvest, I think about the women who planted Victory Gardens in the 1940s, and the Depression in the 20s and all the thousands of years agriculture was the only means for obtaining our daily bread. There would be so many what ifs. What if the soil is bad? What if bugs come? (Or squirrels!) What if it doesn’t rain enough? What if it rains too much? To garden is to invest and potentially lose it all. And when more is riding on it than just your pleasure, that is a scary thing.

And right now, in our country, in your city and mine (maybe even next door!) are people who are hungry. Literally hungry. And for whatever complex mix of circumstances, their crops aren’t producing, if you follow my metaphor. There are mouths to feed and no money, or no job, or no food nearby. What if that were you? What would you do?

And if you were staring at your plentiful harvest, while your neighbors had nothing…what would you do?

I know what I would feel pressed upon to do: share. Because maybe all the time I spent watering and planting and watching and waiting and weeding wasn’t solely for my benefit. And just maybe, my harvest is not for me alone.

Is yours?




*Anyone want some sage? Smells AMAZING. Seriously good on chicken. Also repels mosquitoes when dried and burned. Comment below!