Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Because I Need More of a Challenge ...

... Chile has graciously allowed me to join her 100 Days Challenge.

... which started seven days ago. So, I'm a bit late ... which is why I say graciously allowed.

For my part, I will challenge myself to exercise every day.

I'm not planning to make this something difficult, though, and I'm not planning to walk five miles or run a marathon, and I'm not joining a gym or committing to an hour a day of cycling or rowing or Yoga.

My goal is to simply do *something* every day, and my plan is to start with some simple calisthenics: the side-straddle hop (or a four-count jumping jack) and push-ups - every day starting with ten SSH and 5 push-ups and adding one every day or so.

It will be fun to see where I am in 100 ... *ahem* ninety-two ... days ;).

The challenge ends on New Year's Day.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I can ... can/You can ... can, too

Like most of the growing/harvesting season, the apples are late this year. We went to the apple orchard the other day and the only two varieties that are "ready" are Macs and Cortlands ... which is usual for our first day of picking, but we usually go picking closer to the beginning of September.

It still surprises me every time I realize that it's the END of September.

We only picked a 1/2 bushel - which is about twenty pounds of apples (our bag weighed 18.71 lbs), because I hadn't really planned to pick that day, and so I didn't have much cash with me.

Last night, I made my first batch of applesauce, and from the 18+ lbs, we have four quarts of thick, chunky, slightly-sweetened-with-real-cane-sugar applesauce.

And, unfortunately, no, I don't have a recipe. After twelve years of canning applesauce, I kind of just wing it.

But I do have some standard procedures I follow.

1. We always peel, core and chop all of the apples. We have a fancy-smancy apple peeler-corer thingy we bought YEARS ago, after several years of hand peeling two or three bushels of apples at a time. It saves some time. I still prefer to use a knife ;).

2. The apples are cooked down until they are all soft, and we add sugar and a dash of cinnamon - to taste. While the apples are cooking, we add a bit of water to help keep things from sticking, but there is no measured amount.

3. The fill-the-hot-jars-with-hot-applesauce-and-flip-upside-down-to-seal method does not work for me (which I discovered at the loss of half our stored sauce one year). Our sauce is way too thick and chunky. I don't add enough water or I don't cook it down enough, but we like it thick, and so I have to use the boiling water bath. But for safety's sake, my recommendation is to always use the boiling water bath. It's not that much extra work, and after all the work of making the sauce, saving a few minutes with the canner is not worth the loss of all of that food.

The one thing that I've learned over the years, however, that I don't think most canning novices realize is that it doesn't take a lot of special equipment to can things like jams, pickles, and applesauce. When we first started I bought a bunch of jars with two-piece lids. I didn't have a fancy canner or lifter thingies. I had a big, deep stainless steel kettle and a pair of tongs - and we bought a funnel to keep everything a bit cleaner. It wasn't until about two years ago that I finally got a pair of fancy lifting tongs when my neighbors decided their canning days were over and gave me their equipment.

My grandmother used a wash tub that she set over a big fire in the backyard. By comparison my equipment is ultra modern.

The key (at least for things that only need a boiling water bath) is that the pan needs to be deep enough that the water level is about an inch above the top of the jars. My big kettle works just fine.

The other thing I do that I didn't do before is that I'll fill the canner with jars. That is, my pan will hold seven jars, and if I only have five jars of food, I'll leave the other two jars in the canner, filled with water. This keeps the jars from moving around in the pan. And, yes, in my experience, they do move around, and clink against each other ... which makes me nervous. There's nothing I hate more than having one of my jars break in the water.

I've also learned to start getting the canner ready while I'm preparing the food that will go in the jars. So, I fill the pan with water, and then I take the clean jars and put them in the pan sans the lids, and I turn up the heat. This way, I'm sterilizing the jars while the food is cooking, and then I don't take the jars out of the water until I'm ready to fill them.

All of this may seem very elementary to people who learned to can early in life or who have been canning for a long time, but I was in my thirties before I started learning to preserve my own food. I talk about my grandma, the master canner, all of the time, but like a lot of people I know, my grandmother was busy in the kitchen canning tomato sauce while I was outside running the hills. I never learned, and it was never expected that I would need or want that skill.

Today, while I was drafting this post, I canned seven quarts of the cucumber dill pickles my girls really like (and I do use a recipe for those :). The store bought ones can't begin to compare, and the store bought applesauce is a watery, tasteless mess by comparison to mine.

When I was fifteen, I was too busy to think about making stuff in the kitchen, but now that I'm a bit older and wiser, it pleases me that I can ... can :).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Neglected Garden Produces

I was talking with my mother on the phone the other day. She was asking if it was raining here, and I had said that I hoped it would soon, because my garden needs water.

It struck me then, what I had said ... in late September. My garden needs water.

My comment didn't phase her. She's not in Maine. But if she had been, she might have wondered.

A local organic farm posted pictures on their blog of their plants following the killing frost a couple of nights ago. They are five miles from me - five ... miles.

And I'm reminded that I live in a micro-climate, where things aren't necessarily the same as they are for others ... even others who are very close to me. I'm reminded that because of my location in this little dip of land close to the ocean, I have about two weeks on either side of the frost line that usually kills other people's tender plants.

But here, my tomato plants are still green and leafy, the scarlet runner beans are still flowering, and the squash has the biggest, greenest leaves I've ever seen.

Two days ago, I harvested the volunteer potato plant. There was about a pound of potatoes ... from a plant that I didn't seed or tend. It just grew, and without any help from the "gardener" it produced ... a whole pound of wonderful potato.

My extended growing season and the proliferation of "volunteers" in my garden reminds me of the resilience of nature. It gives me hope for our future, but it also makes me thankful that in my naivete, I often just let nature take over in my garden.

I do it, because it usually pays off.

It has nothing to do with my being too lazy to weed ...

... at least that's what I keep telling myself :).

Monday, September 21, 2009

We Owe

I'm afraid my poor old desktop has truly shit the bed. I never liked the imagery of that saying that Deus Ex Machina likes so much. It's so ... base, but in this case, it seems to fit. After a couple of weeks of it acting weird, it's just gone. We tried a couple of repairs, but it looks like it's probably the mother board, and the eMachine's mother boards are pretty densely packed. Replacing it with a new mother board would be difficult - at best -, and if we didn't get the exact same one, we wouldn't be able to use the restore disk, which means we would have to purchase all of the software I use, that comes standard with a "new" computer.

Anyway, the gist is that we opted to purchase a new computer for me, and I have to say that I've come a long way. Three years ago, when I bought that computer, I was eager to get out there and get a new one when my "old" one (at that time) died. This time, I wanted to fix the old one. I didn't want a new one, but when it seemed like the old one wasn't going to get fixed, I didn't just rush out to replace it. I wanted to shop around, to get the best deal, to not settle for what I could walk out of the store with that day.

... what I really wanted was to not be forced to replace something that should still be functioning - after only THREE years! I wanted not to be a slave to planned obsolescence, and I'm kind of pissed off that I have been forced into it.

So, I didn't buy from a chain store, and instead ordered one from an Internet retailer, which means I have to wait.

I'm finding that I'm cultivating quite a lot of patience these days ... and I kind of like it.

I watched the movie I.O.USA the other day. It was disturbing. We, as a country, are seriously in debt. I'm not talking about our individual credit card debt, which is bad enough, but the debt our country owes to foreign creditors.

Our five major creditors are: China, "oil exporting" countries, Canada, Mexico ... and one other I can't remember. In "my lifetime" the INTEREST on the loans we owe will be so high that our federal government will not be able to pay for anything, except debt service. In "my lifetime" it is conceivable that we could end up with a 50% tax rate.

FIFTY PERCENT! HALF of everything we earn could be taken by the government. HALF! And just to pay off Canada, Mexico, China, the oil exporting countries ... and that other guy.

Isn't anyone else sick and damned tired of the government spending our money?

It feels like my identity has been stolen and some kid who wants to build a prom date has been spending *my* money. *I* didn't agree to half the shit the government has bought in the past twelve years, but my voice wasn't heard. The shitty part is that I am going to be held just as responsible for that debt as the slick-dick who took the dough and did something stupid with it.

It's beginning to look a lot like Nottingham, and I'm wondering who will be Robin Hood.

We're all getting much poorer, and those who didn't see the writing on the wall and start preparing years ago are going to have a really hard go of things in the very near future. There's no way that we won't see an increase in our taxes. It's not possible to fund these programs without money, and we simply can not borrow anymore from our neighbors. We just can't.

I'm feeling overwhelmed by it all, because it seems so simple to me. Stabilize the government's "income" by siplifying the tax code so that everyone is paying the same percentage of income, trim the fat and pay for nothing except the essentials, and then service the debt, aggressively.

In a perfect world, right?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

There was a whispery shudder and the screen went black ...

My computer died.

But I have a back-up ... a laptop. It's on my desk. I'm certain that any minute now, I'm going to pull out the keyboard for my desktop and wonder why it won't work when I type.

Unfortunately, being a back-up, it doesn't have all of the "stuff" I'm used to having, like bookmarked sites and such.

It's not fun to have to change one's habits.

If you think about it, though, my computer dying is almost a metaphor for what my life has become ... a changing of long entrenched habits. Of course, I've been afforded the opportunity to change my other habits slowly, if I wished. With losing my computer so suddenly (like it was working yesterday, and last night it just shut-off, and then, this morning rien), there was no gradual weaning myself - which has worked with some things I've stopped, like the coffee habit, the soda habit, and smoking - all of which I quit, cold turkey, like *that*.

But, as you see, I didn't quit the computer. I'm still here :). I just don't have all of my familiars.

And tomorrow, when I have to work, trying to transcribe on the laptop without my fancy ergonomic keyboard, is going to be interesting.

I'm pretty sure it's just the video card, though, and the new one should be here tomorrow and ready for installation by my head IT guy ... Deus Ex Machina ... this weekend :).

On a different note, I pressure canned creamed corn last night. This years' firsts for canning include the corn, potatoes and beans - lots of beans.

I need more shelf space :).

To Care

Here's a great story I read this morning. It made me cry ;).

With thanks to Rach:) for sending me there this morning.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sign Up For Challenge

I don't know if it's my computer, my connection, or Blogger being wonky, but sometimes I can see the comments on my challenge post and sometimes I can't.

Just to make things easier, if you're interested in joining, but haven't been able to comment, please leave a comment on this post :).

We'll start on October 1 and end October 31, and then we'll run out to the mall and shop 'til we drop.

No, just kidding ... because that would, kind of, be defeating the purpose of the exercise, wouldn't it?

On Sundays we'll do a confessional. Participants can either post their efforts in the comments here, or do a confessional on their blogs, and let us all know it's there in the comments so that we can provide supportive feedback :).

And don't forget the drawing ...

... I may have to offer some different books, though. Right, Kate? *grin*

Sunday, September 13, 2009

My Very First Challenge

I have some very strong opinions and feelings about certain topics, which I freely express whenever I get the opportunity. Most of the time, my opinions are based on a lot of reading that I've done, and sometimes, I'll admit that the information is very one-sided. I think we tend to look for information to support our views, and I strongly believe that, whether or not we intend it, we truly get what we ask for (hence the admonition: be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it ;).

So, I've been thinking a lot about Bezzie's comment that if I'm going to disdain that store, then I really must also take issue with all of Big Box corporate America ... and I can't say that I disagree.

In fact, after some thought on the subject, I realized that I completely agree with her, and not just in theory. For a long time, now, Deus Ex Machina and I have been hunting for local options for the things we need. It started with groceries, but we didn't stop there.

At least I didn't.

When I first started to really understand the implications of Peak Oil and the very fine line between our *way of life* and the availability of cheap energy, I realized that, if I wanted to be sure that my family continued to eat and have things like clothes and soap, I would probably need to know where I could get those things locally, because buying them "cheaply" might not be enough. The one thing I felt was absolutely true was that I couldn't count on big box retail stores, which are energy-sucking hogs and are unsustainable in a lower energy economy.

At that same time, I felt like I needed to understand what life would be like without abundance, and I started reading as much as I could about economically depressed times.

In the last year or so, I covered poverty in the 20th Century from the early 1900s in Brooklyn (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) to the 1930s (The Worst Hard Time, Ironweed, and Shoutin' into the Fog) to World War II in Germany (Goodbye to the Mermaids) to the 1950s through the early 80s (All Over But the Shoutin', The Kite Runner and Glass Castles). The thing about all of those books is that they are from all different regions, and a couple of different countries and cover the issue of poverty-level existence due to many different circumstances from war to hard times to simple choice.

Now, I'm reading The Lost German Slave Girl, and what's extraordinary about the book, other than it's just a fascinating topic, is some of the information about the financial times.

From page 84, ... There was an orgy of financial speculation in the United States ... banks built large gothic palaces, borrowed heavily from a compliant state government, and lent to anyone who had a scheme to foist on the market. Loans were secured by mortgages on swamps, or on crops yet to be grown, or on town lots alongside railway tracks yet to be laid. Ordinary people placed their money and their trust in companies that promised to double their investment every two years. (Bailey)

That paragraph could be from a newspaper article describing how we ended up where we are today in the 21st Century. It is describing the financial climate in Louisiana in the 1830s. No, it's not a typo. It's talking about the EIGHTEEN-thirties - the 19th Century.

And in response to Virginia Slims commercials from days gone by - actually, the answer is, "No, baby, we have not come a long way." At least with regard to the way we handle money as individuals and as a nation.

I knew about the Great Depression, but I didn't know that the economy is actually cyclical, and that what happened in the 1930s was just one more in a series of ups and downs. The current economic times may also just be one of the down turns in the cycle, but my question is, when does it stop?

In the Hindu tradition, there is no "hell." Hell is being "born" here on Earth, again, and people are "damned" to eternally rotate in the "circle" until they've learned the lessons they need to learn and reach Nirvana. Reincarnation is not a reward. It's a punishment. It's like handwriting a research paper for school that has to be letter-perfect and getting to the bottom of the page only to make a mistake on the page and have to start back at the beginning. Reincarnation is the "new page", and if we don't avoid making the same mistake, again, we'll end up back at the top of the page.

The history of the US economy looks a little like the Hindu wheel of life to me.

The question is, when will we learn? When will we get smart enough about growth and capitalism to finally stop this endless, awful cycle of destruction? This destroying useful things like natural resources to build useless things like more shopping centers and more houses (seriously, did we have to tear up the woods to build those three houses when there are three houses sitting empty not a half mile away?)?

Today Kunstler has a very good commentary. Lately, a lot of his posts have been just rants, but today he actually laid out a plan for "recovery" - but not something we're likely to see implemented by our government or willingly pursued by the moguls on Wallstreet and elsewhere, because it requires a paring down.

In my opinion, if any plan for "saving us" is to be successful, the lynchpin will be localizing our lives.

Which brings me to the title of today's post (about time, right? *grin*).

I am issuing my very first challenge, and I'm calling it:

I even made a really cool thingy for anyone who wants to participate to post on his/her own blogs.

The rules are simple:

For the entire month of October, you can buy whatever you want, but ...
1. No shopping at national chain stores.

2. Shopping at stores located in your area that have more than one location are permitted, but they can not have locations in more than one region of the country. For example, we have a building supply company here in Maine called Hancock Lumber. It's been owned and operated by the same family for more than a hundred years, and when we start our pergola project in the backyard, we'll be getting supplies from them, instead of from Louse Despot.

3. National "products" are allowed, if you can purchase them from a small, local retailer; however, preference goes to "locally" grown or made products. So, if you just really love King Arthur flour, feel free to continue using it.

4. Ordering products through the mail is acceptable, but they must come from the manufacturer of the product. So, if you want to buy King Arthur flour, but the only place in your area to get it is the local Hannaford (which is a "chain" store, and no longer Maine-owned, and so will not get my money for the month of October *darn it all*), you can still buy it direct from King Arthur, either online or through their catalog.

I realize #4 seems contrary to the whole concept of buying local (please see #3 above preference goes to locally grown or made products). I included #4, because I realize there are certain products that won't be locally available, but that we will wish to have - not just me, but everyone - and the point of this exercise is not to deprive us, but to encourage us to look at alternatives to that store and all stores like it.

To be clear, if you live in Florida, and the store where you wish to shop also has a store in Maine, it's a chain, and you can't shop there ... for this month ... if you decide to take my challenge.

To sweeten the pot a little bit, I am going to enter each participant into a drawing, and I'm going to give away one of my books. (And by "my book", I don't mean one that *I* wrote, but one that *I* own).

You have no idea how much it hurt to write the italicized statement.

But if you do understand how hard it is for a bibliophile to part with even one book, then, you know how much this challenge means to me.

The "winner" will have the choice of one of three books: The Long Emergency James Kunstler, Depletion and Abundance Sharon Astyk, or The Good Life Scott and Helen Nearing. None of the above books were purchased through a national chain store. I ordered them all through my local independent bookseller ... and I had to wait several days for all of them.

While exploring how to organize my very first challenge, I found this clip.

I thought it was very interesting, and I hope you enjoy it.

If you're interested in participating in the challenge, please leave a comment.

And, Happy Shopping!

Friday, September 11, 2009


There were two articles that I read yesterday that struck a cord with me. I've had to think on both of them, let them ferment, if you will, before being able to really put to words what my thoughts are.

The first was this article written last year by Dr. Clifford Wirth of Surviving Peak Oil - which is a really good source for great information.

I completely respect this blog author and the opinions he has developed based on his years of researching the Peak Oil phenomenon. Afterall, he is an expert in the field, and not some suburban housewife, like me, who's just read a couple of articles and formed an opinion based on what might actually be very one-sided information.

My concern comes from his description of the future, and how life here in the northeast may not be possible absent the inputs of cheap energy. He argues that "things wear out" and without cheap energy, there will be no replacement parts. Yes, it's true. All of it. All of the stuff he says about asphalt shingles and batteries and transportation needs. All true.

But what's also true is that asphalt shingles have an life expectancy of thirty years, which means I still have more than a quarter of a century to be thinking about what I'm going to do about my roof when the current materials wear too thin to be of use. And those people who might be building new structures twenty years from now might be encouraged to consider something other than asphalt.

What he says about how difficult it is to heat our homes in this part of the country and the fact that woodstoves wear out and how getting replacements might not be possible is all true.

But what's also true is that as people started moving from Europe to the "new world", the first places that were settled were areas in the northeast, and one of the major cities in the new world (and even four hundred years later) was Boston, Massachusetts, which is, in the northeast. If this part of the world were so inhospitable in a low energy world, I'm fairly certain that it wouldn't have been the seat of a new nation.

The second article was Jackie's Tips for Hardcore Homesteading, and like Dr. Wirth's article referenced above, I can not disagree with anything she says. For instance, I don't disagree that it is improbable that I could grow all of the food we'll need to eat on our quarter acre - even with "intensive gardening."

My concern with her article is not that I think she's misrepresenting anything, because I don't. My concern is that the average suburbanite will read that and think there is no hope, but to move out to an "acreage", and I don't believe that it is either possible or advisable to do that.

My concern is that the average suburbanite, having read that article, will just think, "Well, f*&k it then. If it can't be done, then why even try?"

And the answer is, because it doesn't have to be all or nothing. There are other options. I could probably grow all of the tomatoes my family will eat for an entire year. I could probably even grow enough to sell at the Farmer's Market.

But we will, probably, want more than just tomatoes to eat.

I can grow lots of tomatoes. My neighbor could grow lots of potatoes, and then, we could swap. That way, we both have all of the tomatoes and all of the potatoes we can use.

But I'd probably want more than just potatoes and tomatoes.

There's a neighbor across the way who has a nice, level lot. He could, easily, grow zuchinni. His neighbor could grow cabbage. Their neighbor could grow carrots ....

You get the picture. *I* don't have to do it all.

I can also walk four miles to the dairy farm for milk and beef, and while I'm there, I can visit the goat farm next door for cheese. I'm fairly certain there is something I could barter for those products, especially if I'm able to walk four miles (which I am).

Of course, my neighbors aren't growing potatoes right now, and it's unlikely that they will start in the very near future, which means, for the time being, I, kind of, do have to be self-sufficient, but I don't.

I have other options.

I live in a richly, diverse area, where we have a lot of food choices - wild food. The challenge is to be able to distinguish what I can eat, but what I'm discovering is that there are a lot more "can be eaten" things out there than there are "will kill you" things. So, while I'm waiting for my neighbors to start their potato field, I can grow a few potatoes, but I can also go out and gather acorns.

Both articles make some very important points, and the one piece of advice they both give that we all should heed is that there is a "too late to start" point, but there's never a "too early to begin."

Learning to grow something, anything, your family will eat is a good idea, right now, and doing the mental work necessary to consider lower energy alternatives should be a daily task, right now.

But most importantly, and what both articles seem to discount, or just fail to consider, is that few of us live alone on an island, and while my ultimate dream life would be to live completely self-sufficiently, I know that it's not going to happen - at least not in the foreseeable future. I've accepted that fact.

Jackie says that it's not possible to be a hardcore homesteader with less than an acre of land to cultivate. Dr. Wirth says that life in the northeast will become tenable in a low energy future.

I say, nothing's impossible. A hundred years ago flying from the east coast of the US to Europe wasn't possible, but, now, people do it every day.

I say that most of us aren't going to have the option of living someplace else, and that if we wish to survive in a world without abundance, it's never too early to start cultivating a skillset that will support a less energy-denpendent lifestyle.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


One of Deus Ex Machina's favorite games has always been Monopoly. I won't play with him, because I hate the game. I think it's boring, and I really hate that the goal is to bankrupt everyone else. I just think it's awful that we have a "game" that promotes the idea that we should be striving to be ultra rich and plunge the rest of the "population" into abject poverty. I realize it's just a game, unfortunately, this particular scenario is playing out in real life, as my most hated shopping venue has poised itself to crush the competition.

I'm not particularly insightful, most of the time, but I've read enough about this particular company to know that I don't like the way they do business. Sure, business is about making money, but I wonder why we can't just get along. I wonder why it has to be such an all or nothing attitude with this company, and I wonder why so many "consumers" continue to support this company that believes it can be all things to all people.

I used to like the convenience they offered, and then, I realized that I preferred niche stores. I liked going to a place where the employees knew the product they were selling, because their store offered a particular type of product rather than the whole gambit of every product under the sun. There's nothing more frustrating than needing a particular item and being faced with too many options, and not having the benefit of a knowledgable individual to help me make the choice.

Certainly, I do some research before I go, but I often lack the vocabulary necessary to convey what it is I'm looking for. I know what it is I need, but I can't express it in a way that a minimally knowledgable individual can understand.

It's like the time I went to the hardware store to get parts for my clothesline. The guy who was "helping" me didn't know from squat. I ended up buying a brass ceiling hook. Stop laughing. I wanted something that wouldn't rust.

Unfortunately, a brass ceiling hook isn't made to support the weight of a load of wet bluejeans and towels. But you knew that, which is why you're laughing. *I* didn't know that, and apparently, neither did he.

The thing is, in the case of that company, when its employees only get minimum wage, and those employees often move from one part of the store to another, and the store is attempting to provide one-stop shopping regardless of what it is the "consumer" seeks, there is little chance of developing any specialized knowledge.

Eventually the numbnuts, who advised the purchase of a brass ceiling hook for use with a clothesline, will learn that using a brass ceiling hook for attaching a clothesline is an inappropriate use for that particular hardware, and he'll suggest the appropriate type of hook.

Or he'll quit working at the hardware store and go to work for that company where he doesn't need to know anything.

It just bothers the hell out of me that some day, I may have no choice, but to shop there ... or to not shop ... which is what I will choose.

If you care at all about having options, please don't shop there, because if you do, then you are supporting a company whose owners and CEOs believe as Milton Bradley, that the only good competitor is a dead competitor, and frankly, that's not what our economy needs.

In the end we'll have that company and the government.

Won't that be a sad day?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

(Not) Back To School

Sharon made a really good point in her post today about homeschooling. She said that "any of us may find a reason to homeschool", and what she says may be more true than even she realizes - in the very near future.

This year, in response to the swine flu scare, schools in Argentina were closed, and parents were told they would need to homeschool. Now, to be very clear, what they meant by homeschooling was that students would be given their "regular" school assignments, which they would complete at home, rather than at school, and certainly, that's not the way my family homeschools.

But the point is not to dissect the different ways we all chose to homeschool, but rather to point out that *it* could happen, that we might have to homeschool, because there is no other option, and truly, there are places in this country where municipal budgets are being cut to the bone. How unrealistic is it to believe that as budgets get cut, so do schools get closed?

In addition, in the interest of sustainability, there is just no way that our modern schools can continue to operate. Even the most "green" school buildings are energy sucking hogs. Just getting the kids to the school, in many cases, uses too much energy, and then, to keep the lights on, the buildings warm, and the grounds maintained is incredibly wasteful.

Sharon shared a bit about her homeschool day, and I thought I'd like to do the same.

We don't *do* school here. We don't have a regular time each day set aside for school work. We don't even have regular school work that requires doing. We have some regularly scheduled activities, like dance classes, and classes on other topics that pique our interest.

This year Big Little Sister has requested that I help her develop a curriculum, and she decided to focus on Ancient Egypt. Usually, though, we just follow our interests, and somehow, my girls have managed to learn the basics ... plus a lot more stuff that I have no idea how they figured out.

We don't chop our year into "school" time and *not* "school" time, either. Our *year* is from September to August, and we don't ever really stop (or start) "school." The event that marks our passage from one year to the next is my completing our "portfolio" (which is really just a scrapbook of our year), and sending a letter to the State that says, "we're gonna homeschool our kids."

In fact, many of the activities that we do during the "school" year, we also do during that special time of year other kids call "summer vacation." We take dance classes during the summer, and this year, Little Fire Faery continued her violin lessons through the summer months.

This year, we spent part of the summer continuing our survival skills education, and we built a wigwam.

And today, while all of the other kids in our town were in school ...

We went "not" back to school and spent a few hours at the beach.

Yesterday, at this time of day (high tide) we wouldn't have been able to sit where we were sitting, because there would have been too many people.

During low tide, the water is almost all the way to the end of this pier.

We love Labor Day, because the day after is our time to enjoy our beach.

For us, the answer to the question, what's it like to homeschool? is, it's like a day at the beach ... but it's also so much more.

Getting Beyond the Doubt

One thing a lot of people don't know about me is that I was a cheerleader in high school. The way it happened was a total fluke, and in different circumstances, I would never have been able to claim that coveted title of "Varsity Cheerleader."

See, I wasn't terribly athletic. I didn't like to run or do much physical activity. I was never into sports. I was a "band" geek (and I still have the clarinet I played in the band for six years ... and I can still play pretty well, too ;), and I was one of the "smart" kids (my sophomore class schedule included Algebra II, French II, Advanced Biology, and Psychology/Sociology :).

But my best friend was this girl who liked to push the envelope, and at the beginning of our junior year, she decided she was going to try-out for the Boys' Varsity cheerleading squad. She had been a cheerleader before. She talked me into trying out, too. I had never been a cheerleader before. I even hated P.E. class.

Anyway ....

We went through the process of getting teacher recommendations and learning the cheer and coming up with our own cheer and learning the "dance" routine.

Then, a week or so before try-outs, she decides she's not gonna, but it was too late for me. I was never allowed to just quit. I always had to finish what I started.

So, I tried out, and I sucked. Seriously. I was not good ... not even a little bit.

And I didn't make the squad.

Oh, well. Life goes on, right? I tried. I failed.

But the next day ...

The cheerleading coach was one of the English teachers in the school, and she really wanted a squad with intelligent, young women. She wanted the cheerleaders to be taken more seriously as model students and athletes.

So, when she saw my grades and my teacher recommendations, she decided that the squad needed some alternates. I was one of two.

And then, even before the school year started, we had two girls leave the school ... and I was on the squad, not as an alternate, but as a cheerleader.

But I still sucked, in the beginning.

Over time, with a lot of practice, I improved, and by the end of the basketball season, I was a "cheerleader."

I didn't try-out the next year, because, while I liked being a cheerleader, and I was good at it, I wasn't cut out for the high school politics associated with being a school athlete.

I have a lot of stories like that in my life - where I stepped outside of my comfort zone and tried something I never thought I was cut out to do, and in the end, I realized that I could do it, and I could do an okay job of it.

Not perfect, but what is perfection, anyway? right?

I'm not perfect, but I'm always 100% sure when I start something. I'm not always 100% sure I'll succeed, but if I decide to commit myself to a task, I'm 100% positive that it's something I want to do. There's never any 99.9999∞% that it's what I want. Because to allow that little bit of doubt, that nth%, even in mock jest, would be to invite failure. Even a tiny trickle of water will, given enough time, wear away the most sturdy of boulders.

I was a cheerleader, and I was good at it, but when the year ended, it was time to move on. Sometimes there are parts of our lives that are like that. We know it's something we want, and we do it, and we do it well, but then, sometimes we have to just grab the tiger by the tail and admit that it's time to move on, especially if we're no longer 100% sure it's where we want to be. Sometimes, we just shouldn't suck it up and accept that this is our lot in life ... it's not a lot, but it's our life.

I was a cheerleader, and that experience taught me a lot about myself - a lot of good things. I came out of it stronger (both physically and mentally) and with a greater sense of who I was and what I was capable of doing.

But being a cheerleader was not the defining moment of my life, and I don't pine away wishing for my "glory days." I still have everything I had back then (although I'm not quite as cute as I was ;), plus a lot more.

Our past shapes who we are, but it doesn't dictate who we will be.

My garden and my homesteading efforts are like that, for me. I've made a lot of mistakes. In fact, my whole homesteading experience has been a series of missteps that taught me something, and even after twelve years of having a garden, I hesitate to even call myself a gardener for fear of insulting those people who really are "gardeners."

The most important thing I've learned with gardening, though, is that everything does have a season. When one season is over, we must move into the next season, and not try desparately to hold on to those last vestiges of what once was. We have to know when to pluck the green tomatoes off the vine, pull the plants and mulch the bed for winter.

Today, I've read a lot of blog posts relating "failed" gardening experiences this year. I would encourage, instead, considering them stepping stones, and if growing one's own food really is the goal, to plow under the weeds that ate summer's harvest and start planting for fall ... or winter ... or for next spring.

But don't let the trickle of doubt erode the boulder ... unless the boulder is in the way of what you really want.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Using Less Power

Seems that we, as a nation, are cutting back every where.

According to this article demand for electricity is down, which means that we should see a drop in our electric bills.

I won't complain.

But I'd still like to install that small solar array so that, when we lose power in the next winter storm, we can power our computers ... for work, yeah, not for blogging ;) ... and save the generator power for the more important stuff, like the freezer full of chicken (and the deer Deus Ex Machina is going to get this year ... but no pressure, babe ;).


Somebody please tell them to stop taking my money and doing things with it.

*IF* I choose to save for my "retirement", that should be MY business.

But *if* they are going to continue to take my money on the pretense of giving me a social security stipend when I turn sixty-five, then they better damned well be saving that money for me. I just wish they'd stop trying to make "employers" force employees to save and to carry insurance. Why should my relationship with my employer be so intimate?

Mostly I'm just sick and damned tired of the government trying to be my daddy. Guess what? I have a daddy, and I don't need another one. And guess what else? My daddy doesn't tell me how to spend my money. It's none of his damned business, since he doesn't give me the money.

The same is true of the government. "They" don't give *me* any money or any services that I haven't already paid for. So, "they" need to get their greedy little paws out of my pocketbook, and stop trying to make me buy things I neither need nor want.

In short, if I wanted an IRA, I'd have one.

That said, my "retirement fund" is sitting in my living room right now (which is also part of the "retirement"). My plan is to pay off my house, expand my nanofarm to be more self-sufficient, build a really strong, local community where we all help each other regardless of who has money, and, when I'm no longer able to support myself, have one of my (many) children live with me until I die.

With a winner of a plan like that, who needs money? Right?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

No Impact Trailer

I just watched the trailer for the No Impact Man Documentary. I saved my copy on Netflix. I can't wait to see the film. It looks awesomely funny ;).

If my family had done the No Impact experiment, I'd be Colin and Deus Ex Machina would be Michele. Colin started the project for a book, and in the trailer, Michele often refers to it as his project. She's described all over the 'net as the "reluctant wife."

Reminds me of my house back in 2006, when I started eating local, and buying baby chicks, and digging up the lawn, and turning the thermostat down - and dragging Deus Ex Machina through my eco-hell - sometimes metaphorically kicking and screaming. He's not totally on board, even now, and I have pulled back, a bit. And he's stopped kicking ... mostly. He never, actually, screamed, although he did scowl at a lot of my suggestions (including the chickens :).

But, I'd never get as far as Colin was able to go.

A few years ago I asked Deus Ex Machina if he'd give up toilet paper if I could get a book deal. He didn't even hesitate in saying ... in fact, I didn't even get the entire question out.


Oh, well. I hope Colin makes a fortune.

I know he's already made an "impact."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

On Being "Powerless" - Daily Bread

In December 2008, the northeast was hit with an ice storm that wreaked havoc on the power distribution system. On that early Friday morning, the lights all over southern Maine went out.

But life goes on, right? And we had to eat.

We stopped buying convenience food, and unless I cook it, there aren't very many "grab-and-go" kinds of food in the pantry. Luckily, before the power went out, I was baking sweet breads.

After we got out of bed that first day and stoked the fire and took care of the animals outside, the bellies started rumbling. I put the kettle on the woodstove, to heat the water.

We have a french press coffee maker, and so making coffee for Deus Ex Machina was just business-as-usual once the kettle started steaming. I'm a tea drinker, and so, for me, it was the same. Nothing out of the ordinary.

In fact, during the winter, especially, I drink hot tea all day long. To save money on electricity and not use the electric stove so often, we usually just leave the tea kettle on the woodstove during the day, and I always have hot water.

For breakfast, I sliced the pumpkin bread I'd made the day before, dropped a bit of butter into one of our iron skillets, and "toasted" the bread. Toast from a toaster is nothing like the toast from a frying pan, and I actually prefer the latter, because I like the butter cooked into the bread rather than spread on top to melt and make the bread all soft and gooey.

After breakfast, I put a big pan of water on the woodstove to heat. The water would be used for washing and would stay there, all day, being refilled and reheated as needed, until the power was restored, and we could use the tankless gas heater (that has an electric igniter).

Since it was December, and it was cold, we kept the woodstove burning hot all day, too, which means that we always had a cooking surface without any need to "start" a fire. In fact, with regard to starting a fire, Deus Ex Machina and I challenge ourselves all winter to see how few matches we can use. Every morning, the goal is to start the fire using only the coals in the stove. We're easily amused.

We do have a gas grill, and we could have cooked outside, but it was being used for another purpose ;).

So, thanks to the woodstove, we had heat. We're on municipal water, and in this case, we never lost water. We have a regular old telephone (not a digital phone), and so we still had contact with the outside world.

On Saturday, when the power had been out for twenty-four hours, we started calling family members and friends to make sure they were all okay. ToolMom was without power, too, only she doesn't have a woodstove. We invited her over for dinner, and to stay overnight, if she wanted.

Our impromptu "power-out" dinner consisted of one pot of chicken soup (to use the broth that was in the refrigerator ... outside on the grill :) and one pot of split pea soup (to use the ham bone we had left over from Thanksgiving).

I also made bread.

Yes, on top of the woodstove.

I placed a "deep dish" pizza pan upside down on the top of the woodstove (so that the bread pan wouldn't be right on the hot surface - any baking dish would suffice), and then, I inverted a stainless steel kettle over top of the bread, effectively creating a little oven. I'm sure I could have baked just about anything I wanted. The only problem with doing it that way is that the bread doesn't ever really achieve that golden brown hue one likes in bread. But it baked through, and it was a yummy accompaniment to our soup.

During the four days the power was out, we ate a lot of things like soup, and things that could be fried, like eggs.

We kept the refrigerator stuff outside. What didn't fit in the cooler ended up on the grill :).

And we did all of our cooking on the cook-top of our fabulous woodstove.

We could have ordered pizza, and we could have gone out to eat every meal ... except that the first day, Friday morning, no one else in the area, including most of the restaurants, had power either. If we hadn't had our wood stove and our food stores, we would have had a pretty hungry day - although we could have eaten up some of that yogurt :).

We have a wood stove, and so it was a no-brainer for us, but I like to imagine what I would have done if I didn't have the wood stove, as I know so many people do not.

In my, personal, situation, I could have built a fire in our fire pit, *if* I had wood.

We could have used the grill for cooking, and in years past, when we had power outages, we did, making every thing from muffins to hardboiled eggs - on the grill.

But there have been times in my life when I had neither a grill nor a fire pit, and I was too poor to eat out, but I still had to cook meals.

Once, I was renting a house, and I didn't have the money to turn on the gas so that I could cook. I stacked some bricks on the cement patio outside, and then, started a fire in the make-shift fire pit. I put the oven rack on the bricks above the fire, and cooked right there. I even made cornbread that way. I put the batter in an iron skillet, which I put on the oven rack over the fire, and then, inverted a regular cardboard box over the bread. It cooked pretty quickly, and the box never did catch fire.

There are other options, too. I've cooked on a "hobo stove." We used a big coffee can for the cook surface, and the heat source was a tuna-fish sized can with a piece of cardboard coiled into it and then covered with wax so that it would burn very slowly. We fried eggs and bacon and pancakes on the top of it. And let me just say, that was some good chow!

We also have a "dessert fondue" set that uses a little tealight to melt the chocolate (it was a gift). It would be great for heating up things like soup or beans.

Most of the options I mentioned should be used outside, but the dessert fondue, or a homemade version, could be used right in the house, with care, because it is an open flame.

I think, the bottom line is, to be creative, and remember that all one needs to cook is a heat source.