Monday, July 20, 2009

Independence Day Challenge 2009: Week 12

I just finished reading two books - back-to-back. Both were very fast reads, and while the topics were very different, there was a common thread in both books.

The first book was Good-bye to the Mermaids: A Childhood Lost in Hitler's Berlin. I borrowed it from the library, and it was fascinating. Told from the point-of-view of a young German girl growing up under Nazi influence, it was the other side of the story - the one we never see, because we want to believe that all non-Jewish Germans were horrible, horrible people. And yes, there is no denying that what happened to six million people under Nazi rule was horrific, but what the Nazis did to the people they purported uplift and protect wasn't so great either. Living in a war zone is always difficult, and most of Europe qualifies as a war zone from, roughly, 1939 to 1945. If we don't take a good hard look at the events that led up to World War II, and the ease with which the Nazi party was able to gain control of Germany, we could find ourselves in a similar situation. In fact, from what I understand of life in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, it's not so very different from Nazi Germany.

The second book was The Glass Castle: A Memoir, which I found on It is the story of a young girl who grows up in a kind of forced (upon her by her parent's choices) impoverishment in the US during the 60's and 70's. It was a fascinating story.

Two very differnt stories, indeed, but the one thing that stands out in both is the way the different individuals deal with their poverty - and that's the angle that I'm looking for these days when I read. My, current, favorite genre is memoir/biography and autobiographical fiction, specifically stories that deal with people who live in very basic conditions - lacking things as trivial as soap and water for bathing and as essential as nutritious food.

So, what's this have to do with Independence Day? I've lived a rather privileged life. No, I didn't grow up in a mansion with my very own pony in the backyard and a livery of servants at my beck and call, but I have lived the average middle class life with a few financial hiccups along the way. I've been "poor" - when compared to my neighbors - and I've had trouble paying the bills AND buying food for myself and my children, but I've never gone hungry, I've never had to wear completely thread-bare clothes, and I've always ALWAYS had soap and water (not always warm) with which to take a shower - every day. In short, I've always had enough ... usually more than enough.

I think most of us fall into that category - having more than enough, I mean -, but if some of the more famous "doomers" are to be believed, that will surely not be the case in the near future.

I was impressed this weekend when Deus Ex Machina fixed the rabbit cage. A couple of years ago, when we first got rabbits, we didn't have a lot of cash, and so he brought home a bunch of wooden pallets from work, which he used to build a cage. It's been around since then, and has gone through a few different metamorphoses. It has come full circle and is now a rabbit cage again. But it's rotting in a few places, and so the door needed to be rebuilt. Using some pieces of wood I'd saved from the burn pile for potential future projects just like this one, he built a new door.

Ingenuity and the ability to make something from nothing using some very basic tools and supplies always impresses me. Perhaps that's why the television program Junkyard Wars appealed to me, a decidedly non-engineer type. The participants accomplished some incredible engineering feats using only what they could find lying around in this junkyard.

That's what I mean by "more than enough." We can, in most cases, find a solution to most of our nanofarm needs using things we've collected over the years. And make no mistake, we don't have a "junkyard" - although there are some things stacked up here and there. We also don't have a basement, garage, outside storage shed or easily accesible attic. As such, we don't "collect" things like other people might. But we almost always have something that can be repurposed to fit the new need (like the old church pew that became garden trellis).

In the book, Good-bye to the Mermaids: A Childhood Lost in Hitler's Berlin the author states that all of the "modern" conveniences they had in their apartments in Berlin (washing machines, electric heaters, refrigerators) were useless, because during the war, electric service was unpredictable and unreliable, and often only occurred when most people wouldn't want it anyway - like at 3:00 in the morning. She said that the most useful items they found were, ironically, in the poorer sections of Berlin ... where the people lived without all of the modern conveniences, and were, therefore, better equipped to handle life without them.

Sharon posted a quote today from Paulson, who states that the Bush Administration knew there was a likelihood of complete economic collapse, and what that might mean (and the fact that the government chose NOT to reveal their findings and concerns to the American people because we might be too scared - kind of like the movie rating system - to protect us from too much anxiety, because we're all children, and can't handle it ... or something).

I read another article recently, I don't recall where. The argument was that simplifying our lives won't result in a turn-around of our economy - that individual changes won't make a difference in the greater scheme of things. I don't disagree, although I do believe that small ripples turn into ocean waves, and so, maybe in some ways, I do disagree. But I think it goes much deeper than the author's rather curt argument. No, my decision to line-dry my clothes won't make BofA soluble or strengthen the American dollar, but it will insulate my family in the event that our country's economy goes belly-up.

And, all indications are that this is going to be the case.

I've been thinking, and reading, a lot about poverty recently, and I have no desire to be down and dirty and destitute. I don't want to be dependent on money, because I know that it's unreliable. What I want for myself, and what I want to teach my children, is independence and living large on very little.

That's where the Independence Day Challenge has brought meaning to my life. It's helped me focus on what I can do "now", while I have the money and the resources to make some little ripples, and I probably won't save the world, but I can make my little corner of it more comfortable.

Plant Something:

Nothing in this category this week. I reseeded broccoli and spinach and peas, but the chickens got into the broccoli and spinach ... again ;). No, I probably won't ever learn :).

Harvest Something:

Oh, my, and how! Saturday morning Big Little Sister harvested as many black raspberries as she could reach, about one and a half pint-sized containers full. I went out a few hours later and harvested about a quart-sized container full. We ate a lot of them, but I snuck about a pint into the freezer.

Today? More berries are ripe and ready to come off the bramble. It's like, overnight they ripen, every night. Amazing!

I also harvested a pound of lettuce (yes, I weighed it, this time ;), and about two pounds of beets and greens.

We're harvesting green onions, too, and peas, which are consumed almost as soon as they come off the vines.

Preserve Something:

The only thing I've preserved this week is the raspberries. I need to harvest herbs to dry, but I keep doing the whole Scarlet O'Hara, "I'll think about that tomorrow" kind of thing.

Reduce Waste:

Deus Ex Machina's ingenuity reduced some of the wood lying in the yard - not waste, exactly, but clutter, of sorts.

Otherwise, I guess it's just been the usual recycling that we always do, that has reduced our household garbage to about 25% of the average American.

Building Community Food Systems:

The usual - Farmer's Market, farm stand, to the "farm" to get milk.

Eat the Food:

Again, more of the usual. We've eaten lots of black raspberries. For dinner, we've had things like roasted root vegetables (potatoes and carrots from the Farmer's Market with beets and onions from my garden).

I'm trying to use up all of the beef from the cow we bought in December - to make room in the freezer for the broilers we're raising. We have one pound of hamburg and several packages of liver left. We had liver for dinner last night, and the dogs had liver for breakfast this morning :). If anyone has a recipe that makes liver not taste so much like liver, I'd appreciate seeing it. I'm not a fan of liver, and my girls tried it and didn't like it, but it's one of those things that we have and need to eat.

I made bread pudding this morning for breakfast from leftover bread made this weekend.

I need to step up my efforts in the Prep and Storage category, but with trying to reduce our overall grocery expenditures, I'm not spending as much money at the grocery, which means not stocking up as much. And as for "prep", right now, the things we could do in "preparation" are fairly costly, or at least, are not expenditures I could justify. It's a balance, and I haven't quite found the middle. I'm tilting too far on the side of miser these days. In a few weeks, it'll probably tip the other way ;).


  1. Great post, Wendy! I feel very similar to what you talk about here. You tied the two books in wonderfully (and I plan to seek them as I love this genre as well).

    I need to get out and start picking the raspberries. The ones we find go right in the mouth, LOL!

  2. Crap, you mean when I hang up my jeans and towels to dry, a Bank CEO doesn't get his wings? Darn it!

  3. The vibe in some of the media I read on line is that another leg down in the economy is expected. Hop. I hope it can wait until we get where we are going.

    In the meantime, I harvest, plant, preserve, eat the food....

  4. I'm going to see if the library has these books. I'm not good at the making due and could use some help there.