Sunday, June 28, 2009

Independence Day Challenge 2009: Week 9

I've been distracted. The month started out with the dance recital and all of the whirlwind of activity associated with it.

The media hasn't helped, either. One article is about how we're going through an economic recovery, and the very next article is about how bad it still is, and getting worse. It's hard to know what to believe any more.

Of course, recently, there hasn't been any news about the economy at all. It's all been about things that have nothing to do with anything that we should be reading about for days and days. A simple line in the Obit column would've been as much as was deserved in my opinion.

Or worse, the articles about the reality show couple who are headed to see Judge Lynn Toler. I don't read the articles, but it's enough that the headlines of such things dominate, and so I stop reading the news, and quickly lose touch.

So, when I read the article entitled, "Bank Failure List Tops Forty-five", I was surprised. I'd forgotten, for a moment, that the economy was in the toilet, that we're facing some really big changes in our lives.

The whole summer has been like that, though. A forgetting. July 4 is in a week. One week. It's hard to believe, as it feels like the summer has just barely started.

It's summer, but looking outside, it certainly doesn't seem like it. We've had so many days of rain, sometimes we wonder if we'll have any sun this year. While it doesn't directly affect my family, it does affect my seasonal community. A poor summer season will certainly affect town revenues. It will be interesting to see the budget meetings this coming year. I wonder about road maintenance. I wonder about our taxes, which are already going up to pay for the consolidated school budget. I wonder what things the town will chose to cut first, and I'm sure it will be the one thing or two things that my family uses - like the library or the curbside recycling program.

Maybe it's the rain that's getting me down.

But even as down as the mood seems, I still managed to get a few things accomplished.

Plant something:

Well, nothing in this category :), but I certainly have some plans for mid-summer seed planting for a fall crop.

Harvest something:

Lettuce. Peas. Beet greens. Garlic scapes. Various edible "weeds" for the rabbits and chickens. And, of course, eggs, which appear on a lot of other people's lists, but which I have neglected to include in mine :).

Preserve something:

Twelve pints of strawberry jam and three quarts of strawberries frozen.

I cooked up a pot of baked beans - half of which we ate, and the other half was canned using my pressure cooker.

So far, we have strawberry jam and frozen strawberries, canned baked beans and chicken soup preserved for winter use.

Reduce Waste:

We reused our quart containers at the strawberry fields.

Build Community Food Systems:

Little Fire Faery delivered eggs to the neighbors this week. It's not that we have an excess of eggs. With only five laying hens, and a couple of them not laying regularly, we don't have more than we can use. We keep delivering eggs to the neighbors for this - building community food systems. We've ordered two more pullets for July 10 delivery, and hopefully, our four ducks will be laying soon.

We missed the Farmer's Market - for the past two weekends in a row -, but we made it to the strawberry fields. They've had it pretty hard, what with all the rain and not very summer-like temperatures (today it's more rain and in the 60's). We picked nineteen quarts, and picking's were terribly slim. One of my favorite fields opened on Saturday, and we didn't get over there, but we'll have to go this week - Tuesday, if it's not raining ... or even maybe if it is. If the other fields are any indicaion, they won't be open for long, and we don't even have half what we'll need to do us until next June.

Eat the Food:

Ah! Roast chicken, twice, because one chicken is big enough for two meals. We've been eating salad from our garden.

Preparation and Storage:

More canning lids.

We visited this store this weekend. I had a coupon in the Sunrise Guide I purchased in a fundraiser last year. We bought a wind-up/solar powered iPod speaker/charger. It also has an AM/FM and weatherband radio. My thinking was that last time we had a power outage, we would have liked to have been able to listen to our audiobook, but couldn't. Next time, we'll be able to :).

What was funny was that when we walked into the store, and the owner found out what we wanted, he quipped that he'd been selling a lot of them this time of year, because people wanted to take them to the beach.

I'd never considered the speaker for that particular use.

Guess I really am out of touch.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

My Favorite Alternative Energy

I came across this article today ...

Man Modifies Pick-up to Run on Wood ...

KILLINGLY, Conn. -- From the first time he saw Emmett "Doc" Brown fire up the Mr. Fusion home energy reactor in the "Back to the Future" movies, Dave Nichols has always wanted to make a vehicle run on garbage.

Two decades after the trilogy, the 42-year-old home builder and auto shop owner from eastern Connecticut isn't traveling through time in a DeLorean, yet. But he's modified his 1989 Ford F150 pickup truck to run on wood, leaves, cardboard and other "biomass" with a fuel system that he says expels virtually no pollution. Read more ...

You can also visit his Mr. Nichols' website here.

While I disagree with Mr. Nichols' assertion that biomass gassification is the panacea to our country's energy problems, I do believe that in some parts of the country, it is the best answer for heating and providing electricity - on a small scale. And don't get me wrong - I think large-scale anything has met its end, and that we should be prepared to live a lot more locally - including from whence our power comes.

I don't think biomass gassification is the answer in, say, Texas or New Mexico. I don't think there is one answer that will fit every location. For the southwest, I think solar power or wind power would be a better choice. But here in the heavily forested northeast, biomass gassification is one thing we should be exploring more.

** To Anna M. The snake is an Eastern garter snake. He's lived around our house for a number of years, and over the years, we've seen him eating a toad and shedding his skin. I still have the skin :). We don't see him often, but every now and then, we startle him ... and he promptly returns the favor :) - and if Deus Ex Machina is outside when it happens, the snake is caught ... for just a couple of minutes so that we can say hi, and then he's released.

As Seen in the Backyard

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

There's Never Enough Time or Money

I eluded to a "project" I was working on with a deadline of July 4, and many guessed correctly that I was writing. What else is a blogger to do, eh? ;).

Today on the Portland Permaculture Meet-up group, the list moderator posted an article with the headline It's Official - the Era of Cheap Oil is Over and a link to this article.

I responded that I thought the admission from a "reputable" organization was a good thing, except that some people will read the headline and think, "Oh, well, time to trade in the SUV for the hybrid." Sure, that's great, BUT ....

And I thought about the fact that most of us really just have no clue as to the impact that a lower energy world will have on our lives. Even me, and I have a little more of an understanding than many of the people I know, because I've been imagining it for a long time and trying to make changes to mitigate the negative affects on my family.

I have a clue, but only a vague one.

Luckily, for me, I also have a sort of veiled glimpse, which I share in my book. Here's the excerpt:

Economic collapse does seem inevitable, despite the news stories. In fact, even the upbeat news stories support the decline of economy.

In 2006, I met a homeschooling mother from Zimbabwe, and I had the unique opportunity to witness, through sporadic email contact, the collapse of their economy. When we first met, life there was difficult, but bearable. She lived on a farm, and so they had plenty of food. But as the economic and political turmoil worsened, little necessities became harder to find. First, there were shortages of things like toothbrushes and school supplies, and she asked me to help her set-up a home school resource center for others who might wish to home school in her country by sending used books, pens, pencils, markers, crayons – anything. They weren’t picky, as their choices were very limited there. I sent her some clothes my children had outgrown, when she told me that clothes and shoes were hard to find, and charitable donations from countries like the US ended up being sold rather than given to the needy.

Their money was all, but, worthless, and an average weekly grocery bill could cost in the millions of dollars. She started sending me links to web sites that told of food shortages and rioting and political upheaval. Electrical service became sporadic, and weeks would pass and I wouldn’t hear from her. When I did, it was all bad news. They were likely to be evicted from their farm, and her husband was jailed. When I last heard from her, she was looking to emigrate.

The point is that it took a long time to go from a peaceful, happy life as home schoolers living on a productive farm to refugees. It did not happen overnight, or even over the span of a few weeks or months, and while historians may look back and pinpoint one significant event that seemed to be the catalyst to the whole collapse, it was actually a series of events, many of which will be overlooked by people who will later study it.

As the price of oil per barrel increases, there will be less mobility, which means that the all of these things we take for granted as just being there, won't be. Like the mom in Zimbabwe, finding simple items, like a toothbrush, will become more difficult.

I don't point this out to scare anyone, or even to encourage people to purchase a case of toothbrushes, but it is really to our advantage to consider that we use oil for a lot more than just getting to work and heating our homes. Our lives are saturated with the stuff.

I'm happy to see people are starting to take it seriously.

But I'm also a little sanguine. While it's nice to be heard (finally), it's also one of those things I would rather have been wrong about. I may, still, be proven wrong, but more and more legitimate organizations, like the Energy Information Administration, are picking up the torch, too, and people who, at first, dismissed my commentaries out of hand (and had pet names for me, like Fundy Wendy ;), are starting to say and do things in support of my crazy rantings. It's a little disconcerting.

It's raining in sheets here today, for the fourth day in a row. Maybe the weather is getting me down a little.

In 1987, George Michael sang, Hanging on to hope ... when there is no hope to speak of.

I think there is still hope, but maybe we all should be praying for time. We still have a little, but not much.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Stuff I See When I'm Supposed to be Working

From my desk, while I'm working, I can look out the window and see the irises. They're purple - my favorite color.

They're often visited, usually by bumblebees, and today, when I looked out I saw a visitor. I was just about to say, "That is the biggest bumblebee I have ever seen," when I realized it wasn't a bumblebee, at all. It was a hummingbird.

That was a fun thing to see.

I also noticed that the garlic scapes are growing, which is a very good sign that my garlic is forming cloves underground.

Now, if the potatoes would just flower ....

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Independence Day Challenge 2009: Week 8

Plant something:

Nothing new this week. I'd like to plant more comfrey, because my animals like to eat it, but I haven't taken the time to find any, yet.

Harvest something:

We had a great week in this category. Peas, spinach, lettuce and beet greens.

I heard today that one of our favorite strawberry fields has already been picking and they are almost done! Oh, no!

But I've been calling one of the others, and they aren't picking, yet. So, phew! The difference is location. The one that's picking is further south and further inland. The other one is northeast of us and on the coast, where it's a wee bit cooler this time of year. They plan to open this week, and I plan to be there!

Preserve something:

The above mentioned spinach was dehydrated.

In addition with one of our broilers, I made one quart of chicken broth, four quarts of chicken soup with nothing but chicken (we can add potatoes or pasta later), and three quarts of chicken and rice soup. Right now, the jars are cooling in the pressure canner :).

Reduce Waste:

Nothing new.

Build Community Food Systems:

We gave the four chickens we'd raised for family members to them today.

Eat the Food:

See *harvested* for some of the things we've been eating from our garden.

Preparation and Storage:

Each week there is one category where a lot seems to have been done. I don't consciously set out to be super productive in any one category, and really, my goal is to do a little in each category each week. Mostly I'm successful, but this week, for whatever reason, I feel like most of my progress was in this category.

Okay, so while I'm in the kitchen making chicken soup, Deus Ex Machina was working with his bow-drill from which he managed to make a fire. He's a pretty incredible guy ;).

We went to a family picnic this afternoon, and while we were there, Aunt Tammy came over and sat next to me. Next thing I know, she's pulling things out of a plastic bag and handing them to me. It took me a minute to figure out what was happening (sometimes I'm slow), but she had found all of these great things for us. One of the things was this book, Where There Is No Doctor: Village Healthcare Handbook. She said she saw the book and thought of me (*grin*). The most incredible part was that it was one of the books on my wish list - she didn't know that, though. She just figured I'd be interested :).

First, thank you, Aunt Tammy - what a wonderful, unexpected surprise! I so appreciate it, and second ... thanks for thinking of me :). I was reading through it this evening, and there really is a lot of fantastic information in it.

I also found this book at the grocery store for $5.99.

SnitchMom has the book, and we used their recipe for our dill pickles last year, which my girls couldn't get enough of. It has a lot of other really great recipes, too, and in fact, I used the directions for chicken soup that were in the book for the batch that's on my stovetop right now.

If you're not participating, but you're interested, feel free to jump in. It's not one of those things where you have to start from the beginning. The real goal is that everyone start where he/she is, and that we just all move in the same direction. We don't even have to go the same speed. The challenge is Sharon's baby, and I've found it to be incredibly helpful in keeping me organized.

Oh, and it's a lot of fun, too ;).

Updated: Per Ingrid's suggestion I changed the link to the Hesperian Publisher's site. Personally, if I can buy the book from the publisher or the author rather than a "chain" store, I will. I like to cut out as many middle men as possible so that those who actually do the work get the most out of the sale. Which is why I prefer the Farmer's Market to buying the same product at Hannaford.

I did want to add, though, about the book, that in reading a little more of it, I've found it is even better than I had thought it great before! I love the section about the importance of water. As the book says, just rest and lots of fluids can be more curative than the most expensive drugs available. The book also emphasizes the direct link between good food and good health. So, true!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Preparing for Life Without Oil ... on

I wrote an article last night for this web site. The topic was "Preparing for Life Without Oil", and I wrote my article, because after reading the other articles, I felt a different perspective was needed.

This morning, my article is the top article (1 out of 5 ... but I'll take it ;), and I received an email response from someone who read my article who said, "Well written and good read. I have heard it said that a 100 square mile solar farm in Arizona or Nevada would supply entire US demand for electricity, also supposedly we are only ten years from usable fusion plants. Keep the faith."

First off, it was very cool to get a response. As I said in Phelan's comment section, *the* reason I continue to blog is the comments I get. It's how I know that someone is reading my drivel ... er, commentary :), and really, blogging is kind of like having a conversation. Without comments, I'm just talking to myself ... which I don't mind, so much, but sometimes it's good to hear another voice, too. You know?

I loved getting the feedback, but at the same time, I feel like I need to address what he said ... and I don't know how to send it directly to him. So, dear readers of Home Is, you'll have to suffer through it ;).

I would love nothing more than to be comforted by the knowledge that a 64,000 acre solar farm had been constructed in the southwest that would allow me to continue living my happy, fully-powered life. There are just a few problems with believing in this possibility.

First is the cost. If a solar array to power my home costs $20,000 (and that's using an average of 19 kWh per day - slightly less than the average US household), how much more would a system that is four times the land area of Maine's largest city cost? The US is, essentially, bankrupt, and if we're not bankrupt, we do owe so much money that it has become difficult for us to find places that will lend money to us, and the citzenry is tapped out. We, the People, don't have any more to give to our government for spending. So, the question is, who would pay to have this magnificent example of modern technological innovation built way out there in the desert?

The second problem has to do with delivery. From Flagstaff, Arizona to where I live in *southern* Maine is almost 3000 miles. Currently, my power comes from a number of different sources, including a nuclear power plant, a hydro power plant and MERC, which is a garbage incineration plant - all of which are located in Maine. Frankly, if we lose fossil fuels, Maine will still have *some* power, with or without the system proposed in the southwest, because we generate a small portion of our own power, BUT (... and there's always a "but", isn't there?), the issue is, how will they maintain all of those thousands and thousands of power lines? We already lose power, on average, once a year for an extended period (more than twenty-four hours) during winter storms. With more severe weather predicted as our global climate changes, the likelihood of weather-related power outages increases, especially when the power delivery system has to travel over such a great distance.

The third problem has to do with maintaining the power plant, itself, and without cheap oil to make the panels and manufacture the batteries, I just don't see how something that enormous can be maintained. It would be 64000 ACRES, or 100 SQUARE MILES. Without our "modern" way of getting from one end of the farm to the next quickly, it could take days ... or even weeks, to fix a problem.

The final issue has to do with vulnerability. If the US is wholly powered with a single system of shiny solar panels (like a beacon in the desert, perhaps?), how likely is it that we'd end up in the dark sooner rather than later? Without going into a paranoid diatribe about "terrorists", the reality is that it is possible. The old adage about putting all of the eggs in one basket comes to mind.

Based on a lot of years of reading about alternatives, the best and only option I've found is to *use less* so that we don't need *as much*, which means that we will need to do a lot more stuff by hand than we've become accustomed to doing.

Frankly, that doesn't sound so bad to me.

And I wonder why so many other people have a death-grip on their appliances.

In case you're interested, here's the article:

Better, more informed writers than I have tackled the issue of Peak Oil preparedness. In fact, volumes have been written on the topic, and whole web sites devoted to helping others understand the myriad of changes that will occur as oil becomes more scarce and more expensive.

Having spent the better part of three years reading these sorts of materials, one fact has remained constant, and that is that there are no alternative energy sources that can take the place of cheap oil, and further, I have come to fully understand that technology will not save us.

The fact is that we are headed for a life in which we do not have access to as much energy as we have become accustomed to having. While it would be nice to think that I could still have my computer on all day, and use my electric stove, and enjoy my electric washing machine, and be able to plug my electric car into the outlet outside so that I can drive my children to their dance recitals, the fact is that all of the current technologies we have to generate electricity are heavily dependent on oil, and further, they are not as efficient or as cheap as oil.

When I first heard about peak oil and energy depletion, I figured we could just throw a couple of solar panels up on the roof and continuing living our charmed lives that is, until I did some research.

The first hurdle was the cost. To completely replace grid power, I would have to generate 18 to 20 kWh per day, and to be clear, my family uses about half the US average for electricity. A system that size would cost about $20,000. I could (have) financed it, but it would have cost more than I am currently paying for electricity.

The second hurdle is the longevity of a solar system. Or rather the lack, thereof. The life-expectancy of a PV system is about ten years. Our $20,000 system would not even be paid off when it needed to be replaced.

The third hurdle is the dependability of the system (or, again, lack thereof). Without a storage system, i.e. batteries, there would be a lot of times during the year when I just didn't have any power. Not to mention that batteries need to be maintained and replaced, as well, and also, the manufacture of batteries is highly dependent on - you guessed it - cheap oil.

We have these technologies now, because until 2008, oil was still relatively cheap in the United States (although in Germany in 1995, gasoline cost over $1 per litre, which works out to about $3 per gallon), but most of them are
still too costly for the average American to afford, and without cheap oil to manufacture these alternatives, in the face of energy depletion, there's little hope that all of us will be able to maintain what James Kunstler affectionately refers to as our "happy motoring lifestyle."

In the end, I decided that my best option was to take my chances with the grid, and in the meantime, instead of spending all of my money trying to maintain my unsustainable lifestyle, my dollars would be better spent in trying to reduce my own, personal, dependence on oil.

Admittedly, however, coming up with alternatives for all of the things for which we use electricity is quite daunting, but with very few exceptions, anything we use power for has a low-energy alternative.

The hardest appliance to consider alternatives for was our refrigerator. A good root cellar can do as good (if not better) a job of preserving most things. In fact, a lot of what we believe needs to be refrigerated, doesn't. Many of the things we keep in the freezer (like meat) are better preserved in another way. Dried meat certainly has an important place in the history of man, and canning is an art that definitely needs to make a comeback.

Other appliances, like the clothes washer and dishwasher can be replaced with a little bit of time and elbow grease, and it just doesn't make any sense to waste electricity drying clothes when a clothesline is both cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

The problem is that we, as a country, have invested billions of dollars in building an infrastructure that can not be sustained without cheap energy, but there is no comparable replacement for oil. It is very likely that in the very near future we will find ourselves with much less - much less of everything that is currently part of our oil-driven society - and it is in our best interest to start thinking of ways we can personally reduce the impact. As one peak oil author says, the lower our energy needs, the shorter a distance we will fall when the crash comes. If we're accustomed to using very little energy, when we have none, it won't be such a hardship, but if everything we do every day is saturated in oil, when that resource becomes scarce, we'll be in a world of hurt.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Memory Lane? Or History Repeating ...

During the Great Depression, farmers sold their livestock to the government for cents per pound. The government, then, took the animals out to field and shot them. The meat was left to rot.

I ran across this article today about desparate dairy farmers in California. Milk prices have plummeted over the past year or so. Or, maybe it's not so much that milk prices have fallen, but that feed costs have increased.

When we got our chickens in 2006, a bag of feed cost about $5. Today, it's $10 - for the same stuff. A year ago, it was $12. Rabbit feed has gone up, too. I imagine all feeds have increased.

We get our milk from a small, family-owned farm. We've met the family. There are three generations living there and taking care of the milk cows. The grandparents, who bought the farm back in the 1940s are, essentially, retired, but still do a share of the work. The son, who is now "in charge", has outside employment, because he doesn't make enough as a dairy farmer to make ends meet. His wife works full-time outside of the home, too.

I don't understand how someone who plays sports professionally or pretends to be someone or something else for a few months while the cameras roll or who sings a song or two can make millions of dollars, but the folks who feed us can barely make a living. It doesn't make sense to me.

The farmers in California are suffering and have reached that proverbial last straw. Some of them are contemplating dumping their milk. As one farmer said, he might as well, as he isn't making any money off it anyway.

Can you imagine a world without ice cream and cheese?

Or does a world without "A-Rod" and Gray's Anatomy seem more desolate?

At present, I buy all of our dairy products from local farmers, except the dry milk I keep just in case. I pay $3 per gallon for raw milk, and during the summer, I buy flavored milk from the Farmer's Market for $1.95 per quart, but I'm not like everyone else.

A gallon of milk already costs more than a gallon of gasoline, and I wonder, if we're forced to make the choice, which one will we choose to buy? How many of us will feel empowered enough to be making the conscious choice between one or the other? Or will our "choice" be dictated by other factors over which we feel we have no control (the need to eat vs the need to get to work)?

I can think of a few people who will choose not to have milk, or cheese, or butter or cream or yogurt.

It really is very much like the game my girls are playing over on the table right now. Stacking dominoes and watching them fall. The cost of producing milk is more than the price for selling it, and so the milk is dumped, which causes a spike in prices as supply can't keep up with demand, which lowers demand, which makes the price of milk fall again, which means that the people who produce the milk can't earn a living ... one domino falling causes the whole, fragile system to collapse.

And I think about the farm where we get our milk, and I wonder, how they are being affected, and how much longer they'll feel that providing us milk one little gallon at a time is worth it to them.

Then, I wonder if it's time to go to my neighbors and ask them if they would like to purchase a dairy cow share. They provide the grazing land, space for a paddock for the cow, purchase the feed, and pay for the annual "AI" (to keep the milk flowing), and I would tend the cow, milk the cow, and make cheese, butter and yogurt for us all.

Or maybe it's time to get those two goats I've been wanting ....

Monday, June 15, 2009

Independence Day Challenge 2009: Week 7

Dance season is officially over. My girls had their dance recital this weekend. It was amazing ... my girls are amazing! In one part of the show, they performed what basically amounted to an abriged version of the musical Annie and of the six numbers that were performed, Big Little Sister was in five and had to change her shoes twice - both times with only seconds to make the transition. Run off stage, swap shoes and run back on. I was so impressed - and even more that she managed to remember all of the different dances. My favorite was watching her perform the tap routine to Easy Street.

And, of course, I cried ... as usual :). I'm such a sap, but I love watching them. They are so talented, and either it's just something in their blood, or we have been lucky to find an incredible teacher ... it could be a combination, too.

The whole show was amazing - full of some wonderfully talented dancers, great music, and fantastic choreography. It was more a production than a recital, and I'm just as proud as I can be that my three little girls played a part in all of it.

I can't find enough superlatives to describe it, in fact.

So, the last two weeks have been chock full of rehearsals and recital pictures, culminating in this big weekend of dance, dance, dance, but some how, I managed to actually get some stuff done ;).

Plant something:

I bartered some plants for some stuff I had in the freezer, and I planted a couple of tomato plants (a plum variety - good for canning) and three chile pepper plants.

My chickens killed the broccoli seedlings, and I'll either be reseeding the bed with broccoli (again!) or putting something else in that bed. I'll have to see what's the fastest growing seeds I have on hand ... not more lettuce, though :).

With as cool as it's been, I'm thinking I didn't have a half bad plan when I decided to stick with mostly cool-loving plants. It should improve my crop while making the best use of my small space.

We also (finally) planted two hazelnut bushes. They are on the periphery of my "forest" garden. It looks very cool. As soon as they leaf out a bit more, and I get some perennial flowers in there, I'll take a picture. It may be time to head over to the garden center for our annual visit :).

Harvest something:

It's still early in the season. We've been harvesting fresh greens for salads, mostly. I did cook up a mess of beet greens for lunch to the other day, and they were awesome. I don't know why I never had greens as a kid, but now that I'm a big person, I love them. We've also been harvesting a few peas, which we've eaten raw in salads.

Preserve something:

I didn't do anything in this category this week. Now that we're done with our outside commitments, it's time to buckle down and get prepping. We should have strawberries soon, but in the meantime, I have some freezing and drying to do ;). Hopefully, there will be more to say on this next week :).

Reduce Waste:

I did some freecycling this week. I had to replace my transcriber, because while it would still play the tapes, it wouldn't rewind or fast forward, which made doing my job more difficult that it had to be. So, I found a replacement (at a substantial savings) on eBay, and I freecycled my old one. The woman who picked it up would like to "try" transcription as a potential work-at-home career, and so it worked out for both of us - she got a (fairly expensive when bought new) office machine for free, and I didn't have to throw away something that worked.

We set-up our rain barrels several weeks ago and have been using them to provide water to our animals and to water the gardens, when it's not raining ... which isn't very often, recently. Both barrels are full to the top and overflowing.

Build Community Food Systems:

*See "plant something" above.

The hazelnut bushes I planted were purchased at a local nursery. I've been wanting them for a while, but the place I thought I could get them, didn't have them, and so I was looking at ordering them online and had asked Deus Ex Machina if he would place the order. He didn't get to it right away, which turned out to be a good thing, as the other day, my friend, SnitchMom, found out that a nursery just north of Portland was having a HUGE plant sale, and as luck (or fate) would have it, hazelnut was one of the things they had to sell. She drove up there to buy herself a few things, and while she was there, she picked up a couple of bushes for me, too. I just thought that was the nicest thing ;).

Before we headed out the Farmer's Market on Saturday, we chatted with our neighbors next door. Mrs. B said when she's feeling better she might like to go to the Farmer's Market. I said to let me know, and I'd be happy to take her with me :).

When we got to the Farmer's Market on Saturday, we ran into a friend of ours from years ago - one we haven't seen in a long time. We stood, chatting, for a very long time. She was at the Farmer's Market to kill time, waiting for her son to finish his karate class, and had planned to just buy a few plants, but while we were talking, my girls were running around to our favorite vendors, picking up some baked goods from Grammy, and milk and butter from Harris Farm, and doggie biscuits from the Growling Gourmet. After seeing all the goodies my girls brought back, she decided to make a few purchases of her own :).

She asked about fruit, and I said, "Oh, not this time of year, yet. Except rhubarb, but there'll be strawberries in about two weeks."

Maybe I'll call and see what she's doing around strawberry PYO time ;).

Eat the Food:

You know, it crossed my mind that my girls might have a hard time when it came to eating Tree-ah, but they didn't. She made a nice pot of chicken-noodles, one of my family's favorite dishes, and they ate it all.

*See "harvest something" for more about what we've eaten from our own garden.

And every morning I make a fresh loaf of bread and a bread pudding from the previous day's bread to which I've been adding some of the frozen blueberries from last summer. It's Big Little Sister's favorite breakfast ... and everyone loves homemade bread for lunch :).

Preparation and Storage:

Freecycle is such a wonderful community. I've had my ups and downs with it, but this week was definitely an up. Not only was I able to keep a useful thing out of a landfill, and clear out some clutter from my house, but I was also able to score a really cool item. I couldn't believe it when I saw an 'OFFER' for a wonder washer. I responded, thinking there wasn't a snowball's chance in Hades that I'd get it, and wonder of wonders, I did! We picked it up after the Farmer's Market.

And, for a wonder, Deus Ex Machina didn't roll his eyes at me when he saw that I'd requested it ;) ... and that I expected him to get directions to the house AND drive me there. He's so awesome!

Oh, and on Friday, the feed store owner called me. I'd originally ordered two Khaki Campbell ducks. Unfortunately, one of them didn't survive the trip from the breeder, and, for whatever reason, they're having a hard time with Khaki duck fertility this year and so are having a hard time keeping up with demand. As such, they warned me that I wouldn't be getting a "replacement."

So, when I picked up my one little duckling, I bought a second duckling of a different breed (you can't just have one baby bird, ever) and we raised those two together. They're very good friends now -, but I told the guy at the feedstore that if they got anymore in, I wanted them.

On Friday, they called. They had two Khaki's if I still wanted them. Wait. Let me think ... yes.

Deus Ex Machina went to the feedstore and picked them up for me, because I had to be at dress rehearsals with the girls to help with costume changes.

And he didn't even roll his eyes at me - not once - when I told him I had two more ducks that I needed to pick up, but I wasn't sure how I was going to manage to do it all.

He's so awesome!

The ducks like nesting on the fluffy dog. The dog likes duck ... but not on her head. She'd prefer it wok-fried and served with a brown sauce.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Walking Memory Lane, Two

The following is another post from October 2007. Apparently, I participated in NaBloWriMo (National Blog Writers Month) that year, and judging from the posts, I had a good time ;).

Without further ado:

Learning the Why's of What We Do

My children don't enjoy working.

I guess, no one enjoys working, but there is some sense of satisfaction with a job completed and done well. The process of doing the job may not be enjoyable, but the outcome usually is.

It's hard impressing that knowledge on a six year old, and nigh impossible on a four year old, but my ten year old gets it ... mostly.

Most of the "work" we do around the house is a family thing. Everyone pitches in to the degree she/he is able. Like with the wood. When the load is delivered, it's dumped in the driveway. Deus Ex Machina, as the only one who has the power to heft the maul, splits all of the wood. I stack it. The girls are tasked with piling the split pieces into the wagon and dragging them back to me and dumping them so that I can stack them on the pile.

At first everyone was excited and eager to help, but after about, oh, three minutes times number of years in age, the project grew old. Starting with the youngest, who lasted about twelve minutes and then needed to do something else, starting with her first changing of the clothes.

Then, Fire Faery, who needed a drink and was sent inside to get refreshments for everyone, ultimately ended up taking the clothes off the line and folding them.

But just before the youngest two bailed on us, they started complaining. Fire Faery asked why we needed all of that wood, and I said something about wanting to be warm during the winter, to which she replied how little she liked the cold.

Big Little Sister, who was still in full-help mode, started listing off the perks of winter: skiing, snowmen, snowfort building.

Fire Faery was not sold.

I said, "How about maple syrup? Without cold, there would be no maple syrup. Sugar maples don't grow in Florida."

Big Little Sister was intrigued. "There are no sugar maples in Florida?" She asked.

"Not ones that make syrup. They need to cold weather, like we have here."

"Do we have sugar maples?" She asked.

I pointed up to the trees, already starting to change color. "See all of those trees with the red leaves?" She nodded. "Those are sugar maples. We have a few."

They were intrigued with that idea, that without snow and cold we wouldn't have maple syrup, which is a favorite addition to oatmeal and plain yogurt.

They picked up their pace for a couple more minutes, spurred by the idea of staying warm and our sugar maples giving us lots of yummy sap for gallons and gallons of syrup in the spring.

Sometimes I just need them to do a task, because it has to be done, there's no why, and the answer to that question is "because ...."

But sometimes it's also fun to know why it's important. Staying warm is good, and while living in someplace that has a temperature range closer to the top would be fun for a while, I think they would miss the lush green summers, the vibrantly colorful fall, the snowy winter, and Maple Syrup Sunday in the spring.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Walking Memory Lane

The following post originally appeared on my blog on October 16, 2007.

Ironically, not much has changed ... except maybe we're all a wee bit closer to being improverished ourselves.

But as I said back then, poverty isn't a "disease", and the way to help those without money is, really, not to give them more money, but to give them something they can call their own - like a little land on which to build a house and have a garden.

Without further ado:

The Right to Food

Today is World Food Day. Way back in September or something like that, the eat local yahoo group I'm on sent out a note asking people to blog about the Right To Food, which is this years' theme.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations defines the Right to Food as:

"... the right of every person to have regular access to sufficient, nutritionally adequate and culturally acceptable food for an active, healthy life. It is the right to feed oneself in dignity, rather than the right to be fed...".

Maybe it was my subconscious ponderings that led to the unanswered question, but it is a little ironic that today is World Food Day with the theme of "Right to Food", and yesterday I was pondering that very same thing with the conclusion that the solution was to ensure that everyone have a little piece of land to cultivate a garden and/or raise an animal for food.

To further compound the seemingly unconnected, but connected train of events that led to this post was a piece of mail I received yesterday. It was a solicitation from Heifer International for their Kids for Kids campaign. The goal is to provide goat kids to impoverished children around the world.

According to the literature, in many cultures, children take care of the herds. It's their job. So, the Kids for Kids program is building on this cultural practice by providing these children goats that will grow up and provide milk and cheese, and eventually more goats. Goats can be bred two to three times per year, and can be milked for up to nine months following a kidding, which means two goats can, potentially, provide milk and cheese for a family all year long. One dairy goat can give a gallon of milk every day.

After a couple of years, the children who have been gifted goats will have a large enough herd that they can sell extra milk and cheese to buy things their families need.

I don't think this program is a whole shade different from my proposal of giving a small piece of land for a garden. One 4'x4' garden bed can give one adult two vegetables per day for the entire growing season. I have a quarter acre. I have six 4'x4' garden beds on my front lawn.

There is room for at least three more in the space adjacent those beds. That would be nine total, which means I could feed nine adults two vegetables per day from July to October, and I'm not even using HALF of my one-quarter acre of land. The place where my garden beds are located is only a tiny portion of my entire yard. I also have several odd-sized beds in the back.

Theorectically, I could feed my family two vegetables per day, assuming I grow storage vegetables and have a place to store them (because of the climate in which I live) with just the garden space I currently have for half the year - six months. We have chickens, too, and if I someday get a goat, we could just about live on what I can grow.

We wouldn't be eating a lot, and we would have a very limited diet, but it would be very high in fruits and vegetables, and we wouldn't want for protein, even without meat, because we'd be drinking lots of fresh, raw, milk from grass-fed, organically raised goats and eating fresh eggs from our organically raised chickens.

Did I mention that we also have maple trees and fruit trees, berry bushes, a very small strawberry patch and a grape vine? Next year, I hope to add a couple of hazelnut bushes and a Kiwi vine.

I didn't grow up poor. But in 1981, when my father retired from the Army, he moved us from the suburbs in Alabama to Harlan County, Kentucky, where he grew up and where his family still lived.

Of the 100 poorest counties in the United States (per median household income), twenty-nine of them are located in Kentucky. Harlan County is number seventeen. The people who lived across the street from my grandma didn't have an indoor toilet or hot running water in their house. They lived, quite literally, in a tar paper shack. Seriously. They didn't have any siding, and the walls were covered with tarpaper to keep the rain out. The floors inside were linoleum or bare wood planks. They heated their home with a coal burning stove. The coal they picked up off the side of the road, and it was plentiful, as the coal trucks that ran up and down the hollows never had covers and little coal pellets would fly out in transit.

They had a television, though, and their children were fed and clothed - at least as well as I was.

But they were poor.

I knew them. I knew them very well. I even stayed the night at their house once or twice (but ran back over to my Grandma's to use the bathroom and to take a shower the next morning ;).

The thing that made them different from poor people who are destitute was that they HAD a house. They had a tiny piece of land, and they had a small garden. They were never going to starve, not only because they had their own garden, but also because they had a gaggle of wild, mean geese running around, that likely provided them with eggs.

I know poor. I've lived with it. I've held its hand. I saw it every day for four years, and in the end, I ran, not walked, to college, because that's the only way I knew to escape what would, likely, have been my fate, as well.

So, I've thought a lot about poverty for the last couple of days, and I guess the real issue is not what action I could take, but what I could do ... what everyone could do, and that is to stop treating poor people as if their financial situation were a disease.

Poverty is not a disease, like cancer or halitosis, and the people whose income falls into what is considered "poverty level" don't need some do-gooder like me feeling sorry for them. Often, they don't feel sorry for themselves, and they may not even think about their "condition" until someone points it out to them. Like the wart that's growing on my daughter's nose. She wouldn't even pay attention to it, if people didn't point it out.

As for how to help poor people, I still think the land idea is the best one - that and what Heifer International does.

Poor people don't want some middle-class, suburban white woman to come on down and "feed" them. If that's the option, they'd rather I just send my $25 check and stay at home feeling good about how much I've "helped."

What they do want is the opportunity to take care of themselves in a dignified manner without feeling as if their own solutions to their problems are substandard compared to what the monied people would do for them.

My friend, Mary, grew up impoverished without hot, running water or an indoor toilet. She ran around barefooted all summer long. She was the stereotypical hillbilly down to the threadbare dresses and the poor dental hygiene, but her family didn't have a disease, and if I had ever, in our relationship, pointed out to her how poor she was and then tried to help her, I would have insulted her so deeply that she would never have spoken to me again.

She didn't want a handout from me. She didn't want my pity, my tears or even my "cake."

Really, all she wanted from me was a friend, and that's all I was.

If our government can do anything to help people in this country who still live in poverty and don't have enough to eat, it would be to develop more programs like the land granting programs of the 1930's and fewer handout programs like AFDC and Food Stamp program.

And instead of social workers, hire master gardeners and visionaries, like Eliot Coleman, to teach the people who are granted land in Alaska how to cultivate that land - all year long with just a cold frame.

The way to end poverty? "Teach a Man to Fish." We've been saying it for years. Isn't it time we acted?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Real Reason I Gave Up Television Was the Stupid Theme Songs Still Stuck in My Brain

Some days I get up in the morning, and I look around and I think how very, very lucky I am. The actual thought is "I love." That's all. It's not a fill in the blank. I can't narrow it any further than that, because it's everything and everywhere I look.

I love.

I feel filled with it, almost to the point that I want to cry, but it's so amazing ... whatever it is.

I love.

I have an amazing life, a wonderful husband, beautiful children. The garden is bursting with life. We have the bunnies and the ducks and the chickens, and everyone is happy and doing their little thing.

I love.

Most of the time I do work that I enjoy - or at least that I feel has meaning beyond just giving me a paycheck.

I love.

We have the same concerns that everyone else has. The proverbial hammer may be ready to fall, and Deus Ex Machina may not have a job next month. He's been working at 2/3rds pay for the past two months, which means we've been living right at our means - spending nearly every penny that we make ... and maybe even a little extra. There won't be one more month of mortgage payments without having to dip into our savings. We discussed it last night, and at first calculation, if he lost his job, at our current rate of spending, we could make it to November.

But on doing the numbers again, we realized we'd have a little longer - not much, but a little ... at our current rate of spending.

He said, we might have to put our house on the market and find something cheaper, if it came to that, and I said, if it comes to that we won't be in any position to buy another house. The time to have done something that drastic was last year, when the job situation was more secure. The key factor in securing approval for a mortgage is being able to prove the ability to repay that loan - if he doesn't have a job, we can't show that ;).

Of course, last year housing prices were still pretty high, and it would have been foolish for us to sell this house and try to buy something cheaper. Cheaper would have been smaller than the 1500 sq ft we have right now, which might not have been a bad thing, but it would also have been less land than the quarter acre we have, probably in the middle of town where we couldn't have our chickens, and likely an "as is handyman special", which would be okay, because Deus Ex Machina is very handy ... but not okay, because *I'm* not very handy, and he is very busy - too busy to be rehabbing our house.

Or it would have been more land, less house, handyman special way out in the middle of nowhere, and we wouldn't be able to consider riding bikes. We would have been tied to our cars.

I've probably put too much thought into it, but that's where I've been for a long time. My mantra has been keep the house at all costs. In fact, the project I've been working on for the past few months really centers on that premise - on the supposition that in the hardest of times, those who fared the best were those who had a secure place to live with a little land on which to grow food.

Every peice of literature, every article, every book that discusses surviving economic collapse supports my belief. In fact, if we're being completely honest, my belief comes from having read all of that material, and the list of literature I've read with a theme of poverty is long.

I've thought about it a lot - some might say I've been obsessive ... I know, me, obsess - bah! (*grin*) ..., but because I've spent so much time considering it, I've come to the realization that we have a low cost or no cost alternative to every thing we spend money on right now, except the house, and if we were to switch to our low cost/no cost alternatives for everything else, we'd only need to earn enough money to pay the mortgage with just a bit extra for things like feed for our animals during the winter.

But the only reason I can be so confident is because we have this house, with this quarter acre and our animals, and I live in this amazing part of the country where there is *enough* of everything out there free for the taking - enough water, enough forageable food, enough wild game ... enough.

I wake up each morning with the realization that if we have enough *money* for the mortgage, we will always have enough of everything else to have a pretty damned good life.

And I look around me at all that I can claim as mine, and ...

I love.

P.S. I thought I should explain the title of the post. It is so named, because while I was writing it, the theme to the 1970s show, The Love Boat, kept going through my mind. Like I said, stupid theme songs ;).

And, thanks to everyone who has expressed concern, but like many of you also said, we will be fine. The post was just to say that I have an amazing life - even with what might not be the best circumstances, my life is incredible, and I'm so very lucky ... so very blessed ;).

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Independence Day Challenge 2009: Week 6

Plant Something:

Deus Ex Machina's mother gave him Shiitake plugs for his birthday. Working with Precious and Little Fire Faery, he innoculated the oak logs we got from a friend.

The logs were stacked back behind the fence in a cool shady area of our yard, but we wanted to hurry up the growing process on one of the logs, and soaked it in cold water overnight. If things go right, we'll have Shiitake soon.

I (finally) direct sowed the popcorn for the three sister's garden. I don't remember exactly when I did it, but the shoots are about an inch tall. When they get four inches, I'll plant the beans and pumpkin.

And speaking of beans, Big Little Sister was helping water the front gardens today using water from our rain barrel, and she asked me what the "tall plants" in the edible flower bed were. I had to take a look, because I couldn't remember. They're scarlet runner beans, and they're getting huge! I can hardly wait until they're big enough to start training them on the trellis.

Harvest something:

This last week was sunny and beautiful. Every day, the weather on said "today" would be partly cloudy and "tomorrow" it would rain. It didn't ... rain, that is. And I looked outside to see that EVERYTHING is getting huge and beautiful.

Precious decided she wanted to harvest a salad, and so she did. For people who grew up on a farm or with "fresh" food in the yard, this is probably not very remarkable, and given that this is what I wished for my children and have tried to give them, I should probably not think it's so spectacular, either, but I do. She grabbed the kitchen shears and a little container and went out into the yard, snipping a little lettuce, some spinach, a few beet greens and some herbs. The salad smells amazing and with a light drizzle of oil and vinegar and some feta (from the Farmer's Market) it will be amazing ... but only slightly when compared to the person who mixed it :).

Our first batch of broilers were taken to the butcher on Monday along with one of our old laying hens. I picked them up on Tuesday. Total weight for all nine birds was 38 lbs (including the old laying hen). At eight weeks, the broilers weighed an average of 4.5 lbs.

Preserve something:

Nine chickens are in the freezer.

Reduce Waste:

Nothing out of the ordinary this week. Kitchen scraps go to the chickens. Animal wastes go in the composter or straight to the gardens (rabbit only). So, there's no waste, but it's also not something new.

I have been putting the water from the duck's pool into the garden beds, and as a result my potatoes are HUGE. I hope that I'm not creating lovely large plants with diminuitive roots, though. I mean, ordinarily large plants are a good thing, but with potatoes, one kind of wants a large root :).

Build Community Food Systems:

Nothing new. We're regulars at the Farmer's Market, and a couple of the vendors I frequent have started giving me a slight discount ;). I'm hoping that, maybe, I can work out a deal with a couple of them so that I can visit their farms during the winter months. We just don't have the right kind of space for many storage vegetables, and it's not such a huge deal to take a ride out to the farm to pick up a 25 lb or 50 lb bag of storage potatoes or 10 lbs of carrots, rather than trying to get any of those things from the grocery. One of the vendors has already given me his card so that we can talk about potatoes, but I need to talk to the goat cheese people, too.

Eat the Food:

Lots of yummy stuff from the Farmer's Market and fresh salad from our garden. With all of the fresh local stuff, we have been successful in limiting our grocery store visits, which is awesome.

Preparation and Storage:

Deus Ex Machina split another third of a cord of wood today, and we stacked it so that it can dry. We're hoping for about eight cords to start the winter. We have a lot of pine, though, and we're hoping we can "acquire" without buying, some hardwood. We've been keeping an eye out on freecycle.

The next item, I'm listing under this category, because, while it may not seem to fit, I believe getting ourselves ready, physically and mentally, will be just as important as making sure we have the right tools and supplies.

I was so excited today, because we didn't have any commitments. I was looking forward to a quiet day at home, just puttering around, working in the garden ... maybe getting caught up on some of my work.

The sun came out and the sky was clear, and we had no commitments, and someone said, "Can we go on a bike ride?"

The *bike ride* turned into a cross country day trip. We rode from our house to where Deus Ex Machina works, and then through the Industrial Park to Tractor Supply, where the girls bought some animal figurines (their current favorite toy) with their own money, and came back home. It was twelve miles, round trip. One of the kids' bikes (which, admittedly, we don't take very good care of) ended up with a seriously flat tire (it needs a new inner tube, and probably a new tire). We ended up leaving the bike at the building where Deus Ex Machina works, and Precious rode back home sitting on the "luggage rack" on my bike and hanging onto the straps of my back-pack, and when I would need a breather, she rode on Deus Ex Machina's back.

We must have been quite a sight.

But the girls made it. Twelve miles. Without a full grumble between them. There were one or two mumbles of "my butt hurts" and the similar comments (but I said them very quietly, and I don't think anyone heard me ;), but mostly it was just pedaling, and chatting (Precious told me all about some nature show she'd watched once about snakes, and needed confirmation that no poisonous snakes lived in Maine :).

It was exhausting, and while we were on our trek, the blue sky turned an ominous gray, and there were a couple of raindrops.

But it was also exhilerating. Twelve miles!

Deus Ex Machina said, "We should go a little further each time," and we both agreed that it should be something we do more regularly.

He just wants to get into shape, lose a little weight, and feel better.

I want to be in better shape, in case we end up having to ride bikes to get where we need to go. The twelve mile round trip kicked my butt. My knees hurt, my tushy hurts, and my shoulders are aching. I can't imagine trying to bring groceries back from the store or ride all the way to the Farmer's Market, if I can't make it across the salt marsh without my body complaining.

So, once again, we're in complete agreement for very different reasons. I guess, though, as long as it happens, it doesn't matter what motivates us, right?

The girls are happy to go on the rides, too, because the mid point usually has some treat. Today it was the toys. Usually it's ice cream :). Whatever the reason, we're all getting something we want, and that's what makes it worth doing.

Now, if I can just convince my poor knees that it was a good trip ;).

Friday, June 5, 2009

Giving It Up

I think people are ridiculous sometimes. I'm ridiculous.

I just called to have our cable service disconnected. The whole kit and kaboodle. Unlike most things that I *quit* (usually, I just go "cold turkey" - decide to do it and do it), we weaned ourselves gradually, over a very long time . First, we cut back to what they call "lifeline" - which is just the network stations, PBS, and a couple of shopping channels.

Since there wasn't much to watch, though, no one has really watched television for a while now ... except Precious, who likes her morning PBS, but who can also get her visual fix just as easily from any one of the hundreds of videos and DVDs we have.

So, we've been paying $20 for this service that no one in my family really uses, and as we also have the aforementioned personal video library, a wonderful selection of movies at our local library, a family member who works at a video rental place, AND a subscription to Netflix, where we get not only movies in the mail but also access to their huge selection of instantly downloadable movies and other programs, it seemed wasteful to be spending that $20 for cable ... and a little redundant.

I mean, we're paying for an Internet connection, too, and many of the programs we might have watched on the television with our limited viewing options are available for free on the Internet - along with a lot of other really fun programs we don't see on any of the stations that were available to us.

Still, it's a little weird, almost like cutting one of the lines holding my boat to the dock with a storm brewing on the horizon ... but not like that at all.

It was really like letting go of something I've held onto for years and years and years, because ... because it was familiar and comfortable - like a worn-out pair of shoes I can't even wear anymore, but can't seem to get rid of.

A couple of weeks ago, I freecycled the extra television and VCR/DVD player we had in a bedroom. I kept saying I was going to do it. Kept saying and kept saying and kept not doing for a very long time. When I finally did, it was not a wash of relief, but a stab of fear and a little bit of melancholy. A What did I just do? followed by What's done is done.

It's just funny to me, how we hang on to these things that really add nothing of value to our lives.

I've been saying for a very long time that I was going to disconnect the cable, but I didn't, because Deus Ex Machina and our girls said they didn't want me to. The other day, Deus Ex Machina visited the PBS website and discovered that most of the programs our girls enjoy are on the Internet, and he said, "So, why do we have cable, too?"

And I quipped, "Wow! I believe a very wise woman has been asking that same question for a couple of years now."

He said we should disconnect it, and that should have been my greenlight, and I should have nearly twisted an ankle trying to get to the phone to call the cable company.

But for some reason, I hesitated.

And the envelope sat on my desk for a couple of days.

I looked at it today. There's a picture of some people in an exercise class, and the caption underneath says, When doing the things you love keeps you from your favorite shows, DVR it!"

I picked up the phone and called them, immediately.

When did the television become such an important part of our lives that we will give up things we might really enjoy doing, because it interferes with our favorite shows?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Road

I think a lot about what the future might be like. In fact, during the 2008 NaNoWriMo, my novel was about a life in the post-cheap energy world. There are no longer "town amenities." There are towns, and there are people, but traveling hither and yon along that ribbon of a highway is just a song and no longer a reality. The characters live simply, stay home most of the time, and just do.

The characters in my book live the way many of us in the "doomer" community say we wish to live. They've developed low energy ways to deal with most daily tasks, but they've also been able to salvage some "techie" solutions so that tiny vestiges of "modern" conveniences are retained. There is no longer grid power, at least where the charachters live, but small-scale alternative energy systems provide a small amount of electricity for personal, residential use.

Over the past few years, I've seen many visions of our future - most are hopeful, in that mankind survives, just with less energy with which to make big messes of things.

Some are not so hopeful, though, and Cormac McCarthy's The Road is one of the more pessimistic accounts I've read.

The book is just sad ... and hopeless, and for the few days I spent reading it, I didn't sleep well. Books have that affect on me, though, especially books that depict a particularly bleak future.

I kept talking about how troubling it was, and Deus Ex Machina kept telling me to stop reading it, but I couldn't. It was like a particularly horrible train wreck. We can't not look.

But I kept thinking while I was reading it, if that's what we have to look forward to, there really isn't much point. All of my plans and preparations, my garden .... There wouldn't be a garden, there wouldn't be a homestead, and I couldn't possibly store enough food to last the rest of our lives, because that's what it would take. And if I did store enough food for the five of us to survive for the next seventy years, McCarthy points out that even that wouldn't be enough, because more likely than not, someone would come along and try to take it.

And even if there was enough food and supplies for my family of five, and we were able to fend of the maurading hordes ... what then? What of community? I mean, I love my life here with my husband and our three girls, and I could happily not speak to another person for days, but at some point they will need someone other than the two of us, they will need something we can not give them, a companionship the parent/child relationship can not satisfy, and if we trust no one and simply fight to keep what's ours ours and live in fear of losing, what's the point of living? What are we living for?

And that's the question. What are we living for?

McCarthy doesn't answer that question, exactly, but even as bleak and hopeless as the novel is throughout, I was left at the end with a strong sense of hope, which was a little disconcerting.

But now that I've finished reading it, I hope that I can sleep tonight. McCarthy's book has been made into a movie, and I'm thinking I don't really want to see it. The book was probably enough.

This book is not recommended for light summer reading at the beach ... or for a quick bedtime story.

In fact, if you do choose to read it, do so in the light of day, and after the sun goes down, reach for the Kunstler novel instead. It's infinitely more cheerful.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Food Update

As I mentioned in my IDC Week Three update, I've revised my "food spreadsheet" in an effort to track what we spend on food. My goal is to get our monthly costs - all things included - to below the food stamp allotment of $698 per month.

We didn't do so well in the month of May. I'd like to blame it on the the fact that in just our nuclear family, we have three birthdays and an anniversary in those last two weeks and if you add our extended family there's an additional anniversary and four more birthdays. Essentially, from May 17 until May 31, every other day is a day to celebrate ;).

But that's not what did it, because we didn't follow our usual Modus Operandi of taking everyone out to eat to celebrate and spending hundreds of dollars.

Part of it was going back to the Farmer's Market after a very long winter. Part of it was a crazy-busy schedule which encouraged us to rush out of the hosue unprepared with snacks or beverages. Part of it was just succumbing to the convenience of calling the Portland Pie Company to make our dinner.

But, overall, for the entire month of May (although I may have missed a couple of take-out meals in the first week or so) for the five of us, including eating out and what we purchased at the Farmer's Market, we spent

... drum roll, please ...

a grand total of $873.04.

That includes going to 7-11 and getting orange juice and tea when the girls are at dance class, and frankly, that's the first thing I decided we needed to stop for this month. When you figure each visit costs about $8 (three single-serve bottles of OJ and a large hot tea) and we're there twice a week, it adds up to almost $70 per month - just for beverages we could bring from home with just a tiny bit of effort.

So, Deus Ex Machina gifted me with a really awesome ceramic travel mug for my birthday, and I can bring a tea bag and some sugar to the dance school and make my own tea in their microwave.

And, for the girls, we used the L.L. Bean gift certificate we've had for almost a year and bought metal drink bottles.

If everything is the same, except going to 7-11, we'll spend just over $800 next month, which is still over $100 more than my goal of $698 per month, but we're getting closer.

In Septebmer 2006, we spent $1255 for food - half of which was eating out with most of that fastfood.

I believe we're certainly making progress in the right direction :).

Farm Animals

One of my favorite games years ago was Scattergories. In case you're not familiar with it, the game consists of an alphabet die, a timer, and a pad (one per player) with a list of categories down the side. One player rolls the die and sets the timer, and then everyone writes words for each category that start with the chosen letter. One of the categories was "farm animals."

Some of them are easy. Letter B - farm animal "bird." Letter H - farm animal horse.

Extra points are given for alliteration. Such as, Letter B - farm animal "baby bunny" is worth two points.

If someone else uses the same answer, it doesn't count. The person with the most points wins. The crazier the answer, the more likely no one will have it, but crazier answers require justification, and so if your farm animal beginning with R is a "rhinoceros" you should be prepared to explain where you've seen a rhinoceros on the farm ;).

I didn't have as much experience with farm animals back then, as I do now. Today, if I were to play and the Letter was R for category farm animal, my R would be a Rhode Island Red Rooster worth three points!

My Letter C for farm animal would be Cornish Cross Chickens for three points ...

... or 36 lbs of chicken meat in the freezer, because that's what I picked up from the butcher today.

Deus Ex Machina took the first batch of broilers to see "Ken" yesterday, and I picked them up today.

We have ten more in the brooder in the house, who'll be going out to the tractor next week when we pick up the last twelve for the year.

Deus Ex Machina figured out that raising our own costs us about $1.86 per pound, which I say is a good price - for a comparable product.

But really, what is comparable to chicken raised in my house and then in the backyard, and then, humanely dispatched in a facility that butchers only a few birds in a day's time?

I've seen chicken for a little as 30 cents/lb at the grocery store, but frankly, I think a chicken's life is worth a lot more than that, and having raised chickens myself, I can't imagine what kind of place those chickens must have lived in that the "farmer" can afford to sell them so cheaply. Feed, alone, costs more than that.

So, even if it cost us more than what we pay to raise our own, I'd still do it, and if we really were raising our own chickens to save money, we could cut out the expense of butchering them by doing it ourselves (which is what makes them cost so much, really).

But that's not the only reason we raise chickens.

It goes a lot deeper than just saving money. Every little thing we do to feed ourselves makes us that much more secure.

Besides, I needed the experience of having a farm so that I would have a fighting chance at winning Scattergories against Deus Ex Machina. Who knew his high school Latin courses would give him such a keen edge against an English major :)? But no amount of E Pluribus Unum will give him a farm animal that begins with the letter K ....

As for me ... I'm ready: Farm Animal, Letter K, Khaki Campbell duck ... and her name is Emily, and she lives in the backyard with PaddaMay, the call duck ;).