Monday, November 30, 2009

Spare Change

FerFAL has a very interesting post with a forty-five minute video.

Early in the video he makes an important point ... a very important distinction for those of us in the United States (because despite what reports are telling us, we really aren't in recovery). He says that the economic collapse in Argentina was not the end of the world, but it was the end of the life most Argentines had known up to that point.

When I talk about TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it), I'm making the same distinction. I have never thought that the events we are experiencing are a herald to the end of the Earth and the end of the human race. I don't think the world is going to blow up, and we're all going to die.

I do think that things are changing, and for those people who aspired for Robin Leach's champagne wishes and cavier dreams, the changes aren't going to be welcome.

I think we're all going to be poorer, and there will no longer be this hero worshipping of the people featured on the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

The days of recreational shopping when we all needed at least one (fill in the blank with the name of some useless piece of cheaply made crap - probably manufactured in China) are over.

Things are changing, and slowly enough for most of us to react, but if we insist on holding onto the past, we'll end up clutching dust, and little else.

My family and I are prepping ... but not really.

What we're doing is simplifying. We're trying to learn to live with less money by paying off bills and by learning to do without a lot of stuff. In the future, money may become worthless, and, therefore, the less we need, the better off we'll be.

What we're doing is skill-building. In the future, replacing broken stuff with something shiny and new may not be an option, and so being able to make our own or repair what we have will be imperative.

What we're doing is following the advice: Do what you can with what you have where you are.

That's what we're doing.

How about you?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Music Alone Shall Live

Back when I was a Girl Scout, we used to sing ... a lot. Singing in rounds was very popular and one of the songs we used to sing went:

All things shall perish
From under the sky.
Music alone shall live.
Music alone shall live.
Music alone shall live.
Never to die.

I was going to quip something along the lines of if a tree falls in the woods, but no one hears it ..., but I don't think that hearing and responding to music is a uniquely human thing.

My friend, SnitchMom, was over the other day, and we were having a philosophical conversation about eating choices. The gist was, plants are living beings, too, just like animals and to insist that it's inhumane to eat animals, while one consumes plants without thought or reverence for the life taken to provide nourishment seems a little ... well, hypocritical. I was a vegetarian for a lot of years, and I chose not to eat meat, because I felt like if I couldn't kill it, I shouldn't eat it. I've never had a problem with ripping a carrot from the ground and hacking it up to make a meal.

But I respect the fact that the carrot does have a life force, and when I pluck it from the ground and shove it into my mouth, I consume that life force. To me, it's not a great deal different from taking the life force that was one of our rabbits to nurture my body. Both things must die so that I can live.

Of course, there's the argument that plants don't have a consciousness, but studies have shown that plants actually respond to sound. When exposed to different types of music, plants grow better, or not, depending on the music. Disjointed music, like a lot of rock music, had a less positive affect that softer melodies, like music of the spheres wind chimes.

Music is a big part of my family's life. We listen to music all of the time. Each of the girls has an iPod, which she has loaded with her favorite tunes. In addition, all three of my little girls (and my granddaughter :) are dancers, which is heavily dependent on music and rhythms. Little Fire Faery has been studying the violin for the past year or so. Mama-Daughter played the clarinet, just like her mama (me :). Prodigal Son was in the high school marching band and played the bass drum. Deus Ex Machina played the saxophone, and for his college sufficiency project he composed and recorded a song (to which his daughters choreographed and performed a dance as a gift for him last holiday season).

It's that time of year, again, and while I love the season - I love the weather, I love the slowing down of things, I love the tucking in and settling down next to the fire with a book or some simple project - I don't love feeling pressured to find that perfect gift for everyone. Don't get me wrong. I love gifting. That's my favorite part of the holiday. I just wish it wasn't something that was expected of me, and that rather than waiting with open hands, we, as a society, expected not to get any gifts at all, so that whatever we received would be a pleasant surprise.

I wish we were all like Eeyore, Thanks for thinking of me, instead of the Chipmunks, Me, I want a hula hoop. It would certainly take some of the pressure off of trying to find that perfect gift, if I knew that no matter what I was able to give, the recipient would enjoy receiving it.

This year, I think my gifts will be music. I'm not sure in what form, however. A music of the spheres wind chime might not be terribly appreciated by my daughters, although every time the wind blows (which is a lot where I live), they would be reminded of their gift.

They have instruments. Little Fire Faery has a violin. Precious has a ukelele. Big Little Sister has half-sized acoustic guitar. We also have a keyboard, a clarinet, a saxophone, several recorders, and a whole orchestra's worth of percussion instruments. I have a full-sized acoustic guitar I've been teaching myself to play for about eight years. I don't have a very good teacher, unfortunately, and so I haven't made much progress.

While we strongly believe in the unschooling philosophy, and we encourage our girls to be self-learners, for some subjects, having a teacher is just better. Music is one of those (foreign language is another). We've considered the gift of music lessons, and that will likely be something they get.

Of course that's a hard gift to wrap, and so, maybe, I'll have to reconsider the music of the spheres wind chimes so they'll have something under the tree. I'm not sure our music teacher would be happy stuffed in a box with a bow :).

Friday, November 27, 2009

Local Thanksgiving

I ended up cooking a lot more and a lot longer than I had intended. Basically, it started when I got out of bed and ended about 4:00 - when we sat down to dinner.

It felt like I had done a lot, but when I started counting up all of the things I'd made, it didn't seem like quite so much.

I started by deciding that today would be a good day to process those apples that have been sitting in the kitchen for a little longer than they should have. We had about a bushel, which filled four quart jars with applesauce ...
... with enough left over to have applesauce for dinner, and there were enough apples for a beautiful pie (which I didn't get a picture of, as it was gone almost as soon as it came out of the oven).

At the end of the day I'd cooked a total of four pies, two loaves of tomato-herb braided bread, roasted potatoes, smoked rabbit, and three lobsters, and I baked a jar of the creamed corn I canned a couple of months ago (which ended up tasting like buttered popcorn).

Everything was homemade, from scratch, and stuff just takes a long time to cook. I have to give it to those pioneer women, for whom today's sort of meal preparation was an everyday affair. It's not even like I made a lot. It's just that everything took so darned long. Of course, I probably could have cut about three hours off the process if I hadn't decided to make applesauce today.

Precious and Little Fire Faery thanked the lobsters before we put them in the pot. They named them, too, which didn't deter Precious from eating them. She knew that they were for dinner, and it was okay.

Talk about being in touch with one's food.

The smoked rabbit was just exactly what I'd hoped for - delicious and juicy and perfectly seasoned.

It was a good meal, and everything was really tasty. I'm not embarrassed to toot my own horn ;).

Mama-Daughter was supposed to come over with her husband and my granddaughter, but her husband wasn't feeling well, and so after we ate, I took a share over to them.

While I was in the kitchen, Deus Ex Machina was in the backyard wrestling with the numerous hides that are in different stages of the tanning process. The neighbor's son came across the street to chat, telling Deus Ex Machina that he'd witnessed a deer get hit. The police tagged the deer, and then gave the carcass to our neighbor's son. He asked Deus Ex Machina if he'd help him butcher it.

So, there will, likely, be another hide to tan.

We have a lot to be thankful for this year. We're definitely well-fed - and almost entirely from our local foodshed.

Without looking for elaborate recipes, and without making special trips out to buy food, and without working very hard at all, we had a Local Thanksgiving dinner*.

I received a note from the farm where I had a CSA membership. They're opening their farm store for the winter.

If I was ever concerned about our food security, this year has taught me that if we just look for it, the food is there.

We have a lot to be thankful for.

*Non-local ingredients were the sugar and spice(s).

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I Am Thankful

After my rather strongly worded anti-turkey post, I thought I should follow-up with something a little more humble, because I do have a great deal to be thankful for.

I am thankful for Deus Ex Machina. He has changed my life in so many incredible ways. He has made it possible for me to explore lifestyle choices from the safety of my home, and if I misjudge and threaten to capsize us, he's right there to provide the balance. Without him, without his support (both emotional and financial), I would never have been able to embark on my homesteading adventure. I might not be able to be the local-foods snob that I am. It's only because we have so much that I can turn my nose up to foods that don't meet my rigid standards. I know that if we were hungry, I'd take whatever we could get - even a McDonald's hamburger ... or a $20 factory-farm raised turkey from the grocery store. I'm thankful that we don't have to.

I'm thankful that I have such an easy life - one that allows me to be a stay-at-home mom, a writer, a poet, and a farmer. I can be whatever I want to be. I don't have to struggle just to exist every day, and if I can give anything to my children, it would be that.

I am thankful that I can read, and that I live in a world and a place where my gender didn't prevent me from getting an education.

I am thankful that I have healthy children. I am thankful that I have a healthy body. I am thankful that I live in a healthy house on a healthy piece of land.

I am thankful, daily, for the enormous blessings in my life.

And today, on this day when thanks is what we're giving, I am thankful that I have been given this venue in which I can express my thoughts and opinions ... and that there's someone out there who actually wants to read them ;).

Today, I am thankful for you.

My wish for you is that you have as much to be thankful for as I do.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Climate Change a Hoax?

I was sojourning through the blogosphere this morning, and I happened upon this blog I read occasionally. The author is a very anti-everything, especially government, and has been particularly rabid since the election and inauguration. I don't read the blog as often as I used to, especially since the post which poked fun at the pumpkin shortage (which is, really, a big deal, and something we should all be concerned about).


Today's topic was climate change, or rather the fraud that the blog author says has been perpetuated against the people of the world. She cites an article that exposes some email messages unearthed by Russian hackers, which prove the whole thing is just nonsense. All of the climate change scientists, according to the article, are snake-oil salesmen who've been bought off by the elite who wish to oppress the world's people with "Orwellian State Policies."

Being a bit of a cynic, I've never been fully on board the climate change wagon. There may be something to the claims that our world is getting warmer which will result in catastrophic changes in our ecosphere, or it may be, as this author claims, an elaborate hoax orchestrated with the intent of levying more taxes and forced austerity on the entire human race. I mean both scenarios are equally plausible, right?

Or the changes that are being recorded (and are very real, despite the blog author's claims of fraud) could be part of the natural planetary cycles, over which we have no control, and to which we must simply adapt.

The thing is, it doesn't really matter, does it?

The fact is that we are destroying the earth, and regardless of whether we believe in climate change or not, the constant destruction of natural habitats is wreaking havoc with our biosphere. In essence, even if we haven't sullied our air with excess carbon emissions, we have been, essentially, shitting in our beds for the past two centuries of industrialized society, and now we're wallowing in our own wastes. Quite literally.

The only way to clean it all up is for us to use less. As long as we continue to consume more and more and more, we'll continue to generate more and more and more waste.

The author of the blog states that consumers have been "compelled to ... bring their own bags to supermarkets to carry home the groceries", and I wonder what's wrong with that?

What's wrong with using cloth instead of plastic? With being willing to reuse a coth bag for something as stupid as carrying groceries, rather than continuing the idiotic and incredibly wasteful practice of the one-use and throw-it-away plastic t-shirt bags? Why is it bad to want to conserve the resources needed to make those bags by using cloth instead?

Like I said, I've been skeptical of the whole global warming argument, but that hasn't stopped me from doing most of the things the climate change advocates suggest doing to become more eco-friendly.

Yes, I've been trying to reduce my carbon footprint, but ultimately, it has a lot more to do with trying to save money, trying to use less to save what little natural habitat is left out there, and trying not to take more than is fair, than it has been about saving the world.

If we're at the tipping point, as has been suggested, there's very little I can, personally, do to reverse the trend, but I can save us some cash, and make our lives more simple ... and meaningful.

So, I will continue to use cloth napkins and cloth bags, and wrap gifts in reused paper or gift bags or cloth wrappings, and shop at the farmer's market, and heat with wood rather than oil, and recycle rather than throw away, and line-dry my clothes, and raise some of my own food.

But it's not because I've been suckered into believing lies about global warming and climate change, but rather because it feels like the right thing to do.

And, even if the governments of the world unite (yeah, um ... not thinking that's going to be an easy task to accomplish) and start to levy International regulatory control via the UN (oh, please!), I won't fight for my right to choose between paper or plastic, because, ultimately, plastic doesn't biodegrade in the garden ... but paper does.

Being Thankful for My Food

I'm not gearing up for a big Thanksgiving dinner. I won't be staying up late to bake that last pie or getting up early to start the slow-roast of an enormous bird with an abnormally-large breast.

On Monday, with only three days to go until the holiday, I called the farm where I had ordered a turkey, but I found out that the poults had succumbed to blackhead disease. We won't be getting a turkey.

But the more I think about it, the more I think that it doesn't make sense to have a turkey. I mean, the whole idea of raising an animal for the sole purpose of celebrating, what really is, a rather meaningless holiday seems a little ... wasteful.

For most of Americans, Thanksgiving is about eating ... and watching football. It's not about celebrating a successful harvest. It's not about celebrating anything, really. In fact, how many of us really have any idea of the true history of this day?

Other than the food (and the Macy's Day parade) what is it that we're doing, that we're celebrating, that we're honoring? Certainly not the turkey. When we can buy a full-grown turkey for $20 at the grocery store, we're not thinking much about the life that was sacrificed so that we could gorge ourselves.

It's not even, really, about being thankful. Oh, we may offer some token, "I'm thankful for ...", but at the end of the day, it's all about stuffing ourselves so full that we have to pop the top button of our pants and take a nap on the couch.

In the end, it's all about the food, with the sacrificial turkey front and center.

Don't get me wrong. I don't have a problem with eating, I don't have a problem with eating animals, and I don't have a problem with raising animals for meat. In fact, we raise rabbits, which we eat, and we raise chickens, which feed us for half the year. We bought a quarter of a pig that was raised by a local farmer, and we've ordered a quarter of a cow (raised by a different local farmer). We've even got some moose and some deer in the freezer.

The difference is that these animals did not give their lives under the pretense of some great and sacred celebratory feast. These animals' lives were taken to sustain mine, and I am thankful to them for their ultimate sacrifice.

We won't be having turkey this Thanksgiving.

Instead, we are going to have a true harvest dinner celebration, and we will have a feast, but it will consist, entirely (with the exception of some spices and things like flour and sugar), of foods we harvested or that were harvested in Maine by local farmers or fishermen.

I'm (finally!) going to have my smoked rabbit, and I'm so looking forward to it.

We're also going to have lobster, which is "in-season" right now (with Maine shrimp season right around the corner :).

Potatoes will definitely be on the menu, but I may deviate from the traditional mashed with gravy and have roasted potatoes instead, because my family really likes them roasted.

We all like cranberry sauce, which I've made with local cranberries, and it's delicious.

I haven't thought of what else we might have, but we have apples, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, squash, cabbage, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and pickles - all locally harvested, and certainly something will be made using some or most of those items. And, believe it or not, my unprotected lettuce bed is still producing. So, salad may be on the menu, too.

If this day is truly about being thankful for the food, and thankful for the bountiful harvest, then I will celebrate it by giving thanks for the farmers and fishermen in my local area who work so hard, who sacrifice and (often) struggle just to make a living wage so that my family can eat. These guys aren't corporate conglomerates with CEOs who drive lamborghinis. If they're lucky, they have an old farm truck, that probably needs repairs.

None of them will be millionaires ... ever. They might earn enough money to send their kids to college, but more likely than not, their kids will grow up, and inherit the farm.

But every day, rain or shine, they're out there in the muck and mud, making sure I can eat.

Tomorrow, I will give thanks for my local farmers and fishermen, and the Earth that has been so generous to my family in this past year.

Oh, the Earth is good to me,
and so I thank the Earth
for giving me the things I need,
the sun,
and the rain,
and the appleseed.
The Earth is good to me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


It's still warm here.

I know.

There are a lot of people who would disagree with that first statement, and argue that it's never truly warm in Maine. Things like temperature really are subjective, but for Maine in November, 50° is warm, and that's what the day-time temperatures have been.

While I make progress every year with living with the seasons, sometimes I defer to what I think it should be rather than what it is. Like right now, we're having 50° days, but it's November, and my brain tells me that being as it is November, it's cold out. So, instead of enjoying any of the warm(ish) sunny days we've had this month, I'm holed up inside in my wool socks and fleece pants and sweatshirts.

Of course, the flipside is that since it hasn't been terribly cold, I've been lax about getting everything buttoned down for winter. Since the weather hasn't really turned, I've been putting off a lot of the outside chores, like building the new duck house. I just keep thinking we still have time, while at the same time, knowing that time really is running out for us to get that project completed. The ducks need a winter shelter. The chicken coop is big enough for all of them, but ducks like it really wet, and wet isn't good for the chickens.

But instead of taking time to build the duck house, or being outside during this extended time of crisp, cool fall days and enjoying some outdoor cooking on something like a fire magic grill, I'm inside huddled next to the woodstove, which is only just hot enough to keep the chill out of the air and barely heats water for tea.

Deus Ex Machina has been better about making use of this extra time we've been given to be outside than I have, but mostly, he's been working on his hides. The problem is that it's still warm, and warm weather means rain, not snow.

Rain makes things wet.

He has the hide all stretched, but without a shed or a garage or a basement or a carport or even a large overhanging roof, there's no place to put the hide to keep it out of the rain.

Last night, we had to go to one of those big box home improvement centers, because we needed some stuff to build a shelter for the hide he's working on right now. We fashioned a rudimentary shelter out of 2x4's, sawhorse brackets and 4mil plastic sheeting. It works, and in the spring, we can use something similar as a greenhouse to get an early start on some of the vegetables we'll want.

While we were at the home store, I couldn't help but fondle the fire magic grills. They are so shiny and pretty and ridiculously low priced this time of year.

In the backyard, the plastic covered hide shelter is set up next to our brick fire pit. It'll be a good place for Deus Ex Machina to work the hides. There isn't a lot of room inside his little tent, but at least it will get him out of the rain, and with a fire in the fire pit, he can be a little more comfortable, too, while he's out there.

We have time off from work and other time-sucking responsibilities Thursday. It is supposed to be cloudy, but it doesn't look like rain is in the forecast. Maybe I'll brave the wind and chill and get outside long enough to smoke the rabbit ... or maybe I'll just fire up our sad imitation of a fire magic grill, put the woodchips and the rabbit on the shelf, and go back inside, venturing out only to check it from time-to-time ;).

Deus Ex Machina will be home. It will be a quiet, slow day of doing not much. He'll probably spend most of his time off in the backyard working the hides.

It will be a lovely day, regardless of the weather, and one in which we're reminded that every hide tanned, every rabbit smoked, every improvement to our homestead gets us that much closer to a time when we won't have to waste time doing things that don't enrich our lives.

And that will be a nice way to show our appreciation for the time we do have.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Big Pay-Off

I've been touting the Possum living way of life for so long that most of the people who know me just kind of tune me out after a while. Since I first became acquainted with Dolly Freed's philosophy, it has been my goal to pay off my house.

A year or two ago, I was having a conversation with a dear friend about such things. We talked about the benefits of investments versus owning one's home, and at the time, the thought was that it was better to carry a mortgage and put extra cash into a 401K or other investment savings account (a lot of people still feel this way). My friend admitted knowing some older folks who'd lost HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of dollars when the stock market slumped a few months prior (this was more than a year before the talk of the recession began,and before the stock market crashed in September 2008).

At the time, I insisted that a better use of one's money would be to invest it in one's home. I said installing things like low-cost/no-cost heating systems, self-sufficient energy sources, gardening tools, seeds, food storage facilities (cold closets, root cellars) were a better use of the funds than carrying a mortgage and having a stock portfolio. My thought was that if we're self-sufficient, if we don't have a mortgage, if we can produce our own electricity and grow a bit of our own food, then we don't need a huge income.

In addition, I argued that owning the house with its self-sufficient systems makes one more secure, because one wouldn't be subject to the fluctuations of a fickle marketplace.

This morning I read this story, which is about a woman who is living my ideal. She's in her sixties and is self-sufficient, living without the help of government programs. She's eligible for a social security stipend (widow's benefits), but has opted to wait a few years when the payments will be larger.

She owns her home, and she has a small income from some creative enterprises (including a rented apartment over her garage). The author of the piece is her nephew, and as he says, she's living better than those of us working 40 hours per week - because she was frugal and thoughtful with her finances ... and because she chose to "own" her home rather than play the stockmarket.

I don't disagree with having a "nest egg", just in case, especially if one has a mortgage, because having that cash in the bank provides a nice feeling of security. In an emergency, we know we can pay for the next meal.

But having the mortgage (or a rent payment) locks us into the money economy, and we have no choice, but to work - often at jobs we hate. If I had, in savings, the amount of money I owe on my mortgage, I would pay the mortgage. I don't care that I would be "losing" money over the long-term. If something happens to the banks (and it has in the past, without warning!), or if my money is invested in stocks, and something happens to the stock market, I lose that money. It's gone, like so much smoke up the chimney.

My house, though. My house is a tangible thing that I'm sitting in right now. It's a piece of land that I can dig into and grow things out of, so that we can eat, even if we can't afford to go to the grocery store. It's a roof that can have solar panels so that I can have electricity even if I can't afford to pay the bill. It's walls that keep the wind and rain and snow from soaking my clothes. Properly managed, this little land with this little house can satisfy all of my basic needs.

Sure, I can think of lots of instances where the house and the land were lost, but right now, more people are losing their homes due to money issues than are losing their homes due to natural or manmade disasters. Despite all the senstaional news reports about floods and mudslides and wildfires, statistically, my money is more secure invested in my land and house than it is as a bunch of numbers on someone's computer screen.

Which is why, *I* would rather have no mortgage and no savings, because if I own my house with a small piece of land and a few chickens in the yard, I can feed myself and my family, and potentially, earn a small income to pay for the other things (we think) we need to be comfortable.

If we had no mortgage, Deus Ex Machina could quit his soul-sucking job and stay home to tan those hides in the backyard, or go hunting, or whatever else he wanted to do. The point is that his time would be his own, and he'd be free to chose the activity rather than having the activity dictated to him.

What it all boils down to is freedom.

The lady in the article has it, and it's what we all say we want. But some time ago we all bought into the notion that money would give us that freedom, not realizing that we'd sold our freedom to the highest bidder, and he's been collecting ever since.

Yes, in our world, some money is essential, but instead of investing to make more money, in my opinion (and in the real-life examples of the lady in the article and my hero, Dolly Freed), it makes better sense to make our lives as low-cost as possible, which means not investing, but paying off.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tuppence a Bag

I'm 75% of the way through Farm City by Novella Carpenter.

It really is a great book - highly recommended.

Before I went to see her and before I got the book, Deus Ex Machina and I were talking about her writing style, and I said, in effect, that she was more "accessible" than some of the other writers on the topic of urban farming.

She has a very matter-of-fact tone to her writing, like she's having a conversation with us, and she's not preachy, like "this is the way it's done, and any other way is just wrong", and even though she's obviously a very intelligent person, her word choice is everyday, street jargon, and she doesn't lose her point in verbose rhetoric.

The other thing I like is that she admits she doesn't know it all - but not in the I-don't-know-it-all-but-let-me-tell-you-what-I-do-know attitude. She is not on a pedestal. She went into her urban farming adventure with very little in the way of experience. She had raised a few bees and kept a few chickens and raised a garden, but when she landed in Oakland, and decided that urban farming was what she was doing, she went whole hog with it - even to the point that she raised a whole hog ... or two. Well, maybe they were actually pigs.

The point is, like many of us thrivalists, she started out not knowing a great deal about what she was getting herself into, but she's very candid about her mistakes and the limitations of her experiment. Unlike the starry-eyed back-to-the-landers, of which her parents were participants, she knew full well how dependent we all are on this modern society, and rather than simply throw off all of the accoutrements of the world as we know it, she has tried to take the best of what her parents taught her and the best of what her world has to offer and marry the two.

I'm not finished with the book, and so I don't know if she feels her experiment is a success, but I do know, having met her, that she does not feel it is complete. She's still there, still doing her thing day-in and day-out. It's a lifestyle. One she has embraced, and one she shares through her book and her blog.

The one thing that has most impressed me, though, is not her desire to be self-sufficient on a piece of urban land, but her desire to breath life back into a community that had died. Her urban garden doesn't just represent food security for her and Bill (her boyfriend). It's open to the public, to anyone who wants to harvest a handful of carrots ... or the only heritage breed watermelon on the vine.

It goes beyond her personal needs and extends out into a community that doesn't have a lot to hope for. She lives in a neighborhood peopled by those folks most of us never see, even when they're right in front of us, because we've trained ourselves not to see the homeless, the addict, the protitute, the destitute.

She sees them. And she feeds them. And she hopes that her garden will give them some sense of purpose, of hope, of will.

And speaking of food security, there have been a lot of disturbing stories in the news over the past few weeks. This summer the late blight hit the northeast hard and decimated the tomato and potato crops. Potatoes are a staple in my family's local diet. I usually buy potatoes in 50 lbs bags. Not this year, though. No one was offering bags of potatoes that large, and I'm buying them in 20 lbs increments.

I was hoping that we'd have pumpkin as a back-up, but the cool, wet summer affected the pumpkin crop, and it wasn't so good either. I read a story the other day about Libby brand canned pumpkin and the fact that the pumpkin crop out west was pretty bad this year. There will be a lot of folks looking for canned pumpkin and not finding it. There is a pumpkin shortage, and while there may be enough to go around for Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, and we might even have a can or two left over for Christmas pie, our options are really narrowing.

The least concerning, but most disturbing news on the food shortage front was the Eggo waffle shortage. I could care less about frozen waffles, but the fact that it's a major news story, up there with the potato blight and the pumpkin shortage, is quite disturbing. One person interviewed talked about rationing her Eggos so that they would last longer.

I wish I were making this stuff up.

And there actually was a sign on the freezer case at the grocery store today that mentioned the shortage.

There was no sign over the potatoes, though ... or on the canned pumpkin display, but it was One Pie pumpkin and not Libby's.

I wonder if people will be surprised when the potatoes are gone, and there just aren't anymore until July when the new potatoes are harvested?

In this land of plenty most of us aren't worried, yet, about the crop failures. For those of us still plugged into the industrial food machine, there's still plenty of food - most of which comes from corn, and while the corn yields this year seem to be mostly good, the weird weather we had this year did do some damage. My favorite answer to the question I feed my own corn. What steps should I take? was dry and sell the moldy corn quickly.

I wonder to whom this moldy corn is being sold, and what sort of product will be made from it.

Don't you?

The fact is that food shortages are a reality this year, and it's concerning, especially given the number of people who are living mouthful to mouthful. Most of the people in this country don't fall into that category, but there are plenty of people worldwide who do.

There's not much I, alone, can do about feeding the world. They won't want my canned goods, and even if I bought extra each time I went to the store, there's little chance that the One Pie brand canned pumpkin I donated would end up in the stomachs of the starving masses.

There's a website, though, that's interesting and educational. On one can answer questions, and for each right answer, grains of rice are donated. Since its inception three years ago, the website has generated enough correct answers to feed over 3000 people each day.

As a family, we've decided to try to feed one person for at least one day. It will take 19,200 grains of rice to accomplish this task, and it will probably take us an entire month to do it.

If you're interested in joining us, let me know. We're going to keep a daily total of rice donated on the side bar, and we'd be happy to add your daily totals to ours. Who knows, maybe if enough of us join in, we'll be able to feed a whole family one really good meal.

It's not much, but it's a start.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I'm Going to Smoke Again

The other day, before Precious' birthday, Deus Ex Machina went out shopping. Shopping is not something either of us really enjoy. He likes it even less than I do, and usually it's a chore we do together - shopping for the girls' gifts - which makes it not quite so awful - you know, misery loves company and all.

But my friend was coming over with her kids for a playdate before they headed south for the holidays, and there was just no other chance for us to get out together. So, he went alone.

There were a couple of very specific things Precious wanted. One was a union suit that she'd seen at the Army Barracks, which is both one of our favorite places to shop (I mean, for a thrivalist it doesn't get much better for finding all kinds of cool gadgets and sturdy cheap clothing) and a regional store.

Even though we knew we could find the union suit at the Army Barracks, they only had one, a red one, and we weren't sure it would fit her. We thought we would have a larger selection at one of the Big Box camping stores. Surely, a place like that would have long underwear.

And they did. The two-piece sets. For about four times (at $20 per piece!) what the union suit from the Army Barracks cost.

He called home so that we could discuss what to do. We decided he should go over to the Army Barracks. Then, he told me that he found something for me at the camp store, but he didn't tell me what. I just couldn't imagine what it might be. An LED lantern. A nifty knife. A solar shower. A composting commode. That .22 I've been eye-balling in the catalogs. The possibilities were mind-boggling.

When he got home, he handed me two bags of woodchips for smoking meat on our barbeque grill.

The man doth know and love me well ;).

During the summer, I bought woodchips from a vendor at the Farmer's Market ... just to try them out. It was one of those impulse buys, and I thought it might be itneresting to make smoked chicken.

I seasoned the chicken per usual, and then, we put it on its perch (a can filled with seasonings and inserted into the cavity so that the chicken is in an upright position while it cooks), and both the chicken and a pan of woodchips were placed on the barbeque grill

Oh, my ... taste buds singing the hallelujah chorus!

It was the best chicken I have ever had.


And we all know I eat a lot of chicken, because ... well, I raise it, right?

It was like bacon, only not so salty ... or greasy. It was nothing at all like bacon. It was better. Crispy where it should be crispy, and juicy and tender where it should be juicy and tender. I craved it for weeks afterward.

When we harvested the rabbits, I decided that the best way to cook the meat would be to smoke it on the barbeque grill, the way we'd done the chicken.

Unfortunately, I'd only purchased one small bag of woodchips from the lady at the Farmer's Market, as a trial, and after the success of the first smoked chicken, the plan was to get a few more bags - maybe some different types of wood (I'd purchased applewood for my trial run).

When I went back to the Farmer's Market a couple of weeks later, with the intention of getting another bag, school had started back, and half the vendors who were there during the summer, were no longer selling their wares, including the woodchip lady. I was bummed.

I tried chipping my own log ... with a hatchet. It didn't work very well. Grilled rabbit is okay, but it's definitely not the ode-inspiring palate pleaser the chicken was.

Two of the rabbits Deus Ex Machina harvested are in the freezer, and now, we have the woodchips Deus Ex Machina found at the camping store.

Thanksgiving is next week, and really, if one realizes that Thanksgiving is not about turkey and television, but about celebrating the bounty of the harvest and the generosity of the Earth during the past growing season, then one understands that this day, above all others in the year, is a locavore's ideal.

Several years ago, we were featured in the local newspaper for the all local Thanksgiving dinner we'd planned, which mostly consisted of the typical Thanksgiving Day fare.

I remember, at the time, there was a discussion in the locavore circles about they types of food we typically serve this time of year. If Thanksgiving really is about celebrating the bounty of the Earth, then the question is, if one lives in a place where cranberries don't grow, does it make sense to have cranberries at one's Thanksgiving Harvest feast?

And it really, kind of, doesn't.

I do happen to live where cranberries grow and so they will be featured in our celebratory dinner, but if the ideal is to celebrate nature's gifts from what we were able to grow, then we should have a few things that aren't typically on the menu.

Like smoked rabbit.

And we should also feature some of the things that nature grows without our help.

Like lobster.

This year, I'd love to ignore the hundred years of silly tradition and serve foods that really are representative of the Earth's gifts to those of us who happen to live in the coastal northeast.

If I could, I'd serve smoked rabbit, fresh greens salad, pickled beets, and potatoes - all grown on our quarter acre ...

... and lobster, creamed corn, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and baked apples (simmered in our own maple syrup) - all grown within 10 miles of where I live. It would be a true Thanksgiving feast - the shear volume and diversity of local foods where I live is incredible - and it would truly illustrate how much we have to be thankful for.

Especially Precious, who got that union suit she really wanted, and she hasn't taken it off since her birthday.

Does that make it her "birthday suit?"

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Trend Setting

Apparently, line drying clothes is still controversial in parts of the United States. Here in Maine, though, it's a non-issue, and according to the article, we're one of only a few states that will not allow local municipalities to pass laws restricting the use of a clothesline.

Maybe they figure if they outlaw clotheslines, they'll have to do something about all of the blue tarps, and, well, there just isn't enough manpower for that :).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Don't you just love those old Westerns where there's a triangle dinner bell attached to the porch eaves, and someone comes out of the house and clangs the bell when dinner is ready?

Yeah, I don't have one of those. My kids prefer the Ma Kettle approach, which is me, yelling, "Come and get it!"

I don't do that either ... most of the time ;).

I do have a garden bell, though.

For many years, at the family holiday get-together of Deus Ex Machina's family, we've participated in a Yankee Swap. For the first few years, I tried really hard to buy a nice gift for the swap, something I thought people would appreciate. Often is was something I already had, which I really liked, and thought, maybe to share the joy, and so I'd buy one to put in the swap.

Each year I was reminded of how my view of things vastly differs from so many of the people in my life (I have more to say on that, but not today), and almost invariably, I ended up coming home with the gift I'd added to the swap. Eventually, I figured out that the best thing for me to do was to buy something I wanted, but didn't have.

A couple of years ago, my contribution to the Yankee Swap was a really nice chime, and I did bring it home.

It has a beautiful tone. In the summer, when the windows are open, I listen to its song, but even when the windows are closed, on particularly windy days, I can hear it singing outside in the breezes.

It stays outside all year long, but during the winter, on the worst of the worst days, when the wind is, quite literally, howling outside, the garden bell, like the garden, is silent, locked in winter's icy grip.

I miss her voice during the winter, but I know it's time for sugaring when she starts singing again.

Who knew something as simple could mark the seasons in such a profound way?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Starry-eyed Book Geek That I Am

I'll admit it. I have a bit of a groupy mentality, but not for the garden-variety celebrities.

I tend to enjoy songs, but not bands, and I like movies, but not stars. Afterall, I live in Maine, where John Travolta and Kelly Preston own property on an island and Demi Moore owns a mansion on Sebago Lake, Loretta Swit runs for town offices, Patrick Dempsey builds a hospital wing and runs a marathon to raise money for it, and the Bush family lives in Kennebunkport (I've driven by their house).

When it comes to books, though, it's different. I do like certain books, but I also tend to follow certain authors.

A few years ago, when Barbara Kingsolver wrote Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life , I knew, without even a pause, that I would be buying her book. The topic was one about which I am incredibly passionate (simplfying and localizing our food), and she is one of my favorite authors. I loved, LOVED The Poisonwood Bible

I just have a little more respect for authors, because, in my opinion, it takes a little more ... something ... to sit down and write a book, and then get someone to actually publish it. I think they deserve recognition for their accomplishments.

Saturday, I had the opportunity to meet an author, whom I have followed for some time via her blog, which I thoroughly enjoy, as she has such an incredibly endearing wit, and she is extremely knowledgable (although I'm pretty sure that she wouldn't necessarily agree with that). What I completely love about her blog, and after meeting her, her personality, is that she is just fearless. She seems to be the kind of person who just jumps right in, no hesitation, full-body immersion, eyes wide open. Fearless.

It was a perfect day with good Maine weather - a raw chill with a steady drizzle. As luck would have it, I had to park three blocks away from the store and walk, because parking in Portland just totally sucks. But the walk was good, because it gave me the chance to calm my nerves.

Still, I have to admit that when I walked into the bookstore, and there stood Novella Carpeneter, in the flesh, I was a little flustered. I didn't quite know what to do, and I'm pretty sure that I came across as a complete ninny.

She was completely professional and very gracious and allowed me to babble for a few minutes, until she excused herself to visit the little girls' room before the talk began. Yeah, uh ... well, no, actually, it didn't hurt my feelings. Seriously. It had to have been hard to stand in the glow of my adoration ;). I'm such a wannabe.

Anyway ...

She read a couple of passages from her book, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, (a copy of which I now own :), and then, allowed a Q&A, during which she made some very interesting points.

She said that the recession is actually very good for urban farmers, because development has slowed (or in some places, stopped altogether), which means that the owners of vacant urban lots are more likely to allow some cultivation to take place.

In answer to a question, she said that one of the best communities for urban gardening with regard to city planning is Detroit, for a couple of reasons. First, the planning board in Detroit has actually mapped out areas for urban gardening, which is very cool. Apparently, they've been doing it for a while, and it's not a new-since-the-recession thing for them. In addition, right now, especially, land is incredibly cheap up there, and one could buy adjacent properties for about the cost of a cup of coffee, live in one house and turn the other one into a barn.

She was joking (I think) about the barn, although she admitted that she'd love to have a barn. Me, too, and I keep eyeballing the cabins my neighbor has next door ....

Some comments from the audience prompted her to admit that urban farmers actually hope for the apocalypse, because we want to be able to ride our mules (the ones we'll be allowed to own on our urban/suburban lots only after everything has collapsed) to town.

I am thankful to Deus Ex Machina for taking over ferrying duties today for me so that I could go and hear Novella's talk. When I got home, he asked, "Was it everything you hoped it would be?"

And, yes, with the exception of walking back to the car in the pouring rain, it was wonderful ... and even with having to ride home in soaking wet clothes, I do it all again.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Alternative Fuel

I'm up with solar power. In fact, we're planning on getting a 60W solar DIY-installation kit to power some things, like the igniter for our waterheater. I mean, I'm a thrivalist and all (with credit going to Kate for coining the term ;), but there are some things I would just rather not do without. A hot shower is one.

But I still don't think that solar power is the best answer to our energy issues.

First, it's not accessible to everyone. It's still pretty expensive (the cheapest small battery for charging something like a cellphone is more than $40, and for some people, that's just not affordable).

Second, it's not sustainable. Making the solar panels is pretty energy intensive and requires materials that aren't cheap or readily available. In a lower energy future, the cheap energy needed to manufacture our high-tech solutions just won't be there.

I've talked before about methane digesters, and in my opinion, it's the best solution to our energy woes. Biogas can produced using just about any kind of organic waste, from kitchen scraps to ... well, crap. Talk about recycling, eh?

The best part about methane digesters, though, is that they are accessible to everyone, and I've found half a dozen videos on YouTube where people have built them out of something as simple as a couple of those five gallon water bottles (you know, the ones that go into the water coolers).

The process of creating methane isn't much different than the process of making sauerkraut ... or beer. It's all based on fermentation.

There are a few companies right now, most of which are located in places like India, that are manufacturing methane digesters for home use. They usually run off of kitchen scraps (which was a serious health issue in some more urban areas in India), but they can be made to run off other stuff, and they can be big enough to power whole cities, like this one in the Netherlands.

Biogas has a lot of applications from heating to cooking. In fact, the methane could be used to produce electricity. Methane can be used anywhere natural gas is currently used.

I've been looking into methane digesters for a while, and I'm (still) pretty convinced that Deus Ex Machina and I could develop a methane digester that would operate off of our ... er..., septic tank deposits. The biogas we produced could be used for powering a tankless, natural-gas hot waterheater and for cooking.

Those really cool grills I was at looking yesterday can be fueled with either liquid propane or natural gas.

And, suddenly, that fancy suburbanite accessory doesn't seem so frivolous.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

More on Outdoor Cooking

Several days ago, my son-in-law went hunting, and he shot a deer. It was an eight-point buck. Deus Ex Machina is tanning the hide. I helped build a frame to stretch it on.

Other than the hide, the nice thing about having hunters in the family, especially my daughter’s husband, is that we always get a share of the kill – which is fair, because we always share our domestic meat with them. This evening, they took home a package of bacon, and they’ve already taken a couple of chickens.

So, for dinner last night I made deer burgers. Yes, it’s November, and yes, to do the burgers justice, I grilled them outside on the gas grill. I mean, you can’t just fry deer burgers. A good burger is grilled over a low flame to seal in the juices.

We have this crappy little grill. I mean, it works, but only just. Because it sits outside, rain, snow or the occasional sunny and dry day, all year long with no cover, we’ve had to replace a few pieces that rusted … and then there was the time that I left it on the “ignite” setting for a wee-bit too long, and it caught fire. The front still bears the scorch scars.

But it works.

And it serves many functions. Last winter, during the power outage, we used it as cold storage.

The winter before that (before we had our new and improved woodstove), when we lost power, we used our grill to cook all of our meals. We even baked muffins and cooked eggs in the shell on the grill outside, in the bitter cold.

Our grill is an oft-used appliance. In fact, we’d probably use it more than we do if the igniter weren’t broken (I think I may have melted it). Lighting the gas grill with a match is kind of scary. As such, during the summer, whenever we end up at one of those home improvement stores, I always gravitate toward the grills. I like the ones that look like the Viking grills. They’re sleek and sturdy. I think it’s probably that stainless steel veneer.

Our grill is just a grill, and when we lost power and had to depend on it for most of our cooking needs, we realized how limited it was. Yes, we did cook muffins and eggs, but the muffin bottoms were a little singed, and because our grill is pretty small, we could only cook so many things at a time. It’s barely big enough to fit one of our home-grown chickens. Some of the Viking gas grills are huge and have some incredible features, like ovens and warming trays. Heck, they’re even fancier than the stove I have in my house.

We’re hoping to build an outdoor kitchen area somewhere on our property (and we haven’t decided if it would be better to put it in the front, where there are no gardens or farm animals, or in the back where there’s a bit more privacy). Our neighbors gave us a sink. I’d love to be able to get a Viking grill, or something like it, for a lot of reasons.

The most practical reason is that a gas grill would be much easier to use than an open fire during sugaring season, as cooking with gas provides a more consistent heat. Our current grill is just too small to do the job. One year we borrowed a turkey fryer from a friend, which worked pretty well, but we really needed a larger surface area. We’ve found that a more shallow pan with a larger bottom works better than a deep pan, like used in a turkey fryer. Unfortunately, our little gas grill is just too small for the size of pan we’d need to most efficiently boil the sap.

The most impractical reason is that they look cool, and even with my wanting to make us poor, there’s still a little bit of that suburbanite lingering.

We’ll keep looking for the best solutions, though, and maybe next summer, we’ll get started on that outdoor kitchen … after we build the new duck coop, and the wood shed, and the ….

Friday, November 13, 2009

Oh, Poor Little Old Me

You know, I like it ... thrivalist. I think Kate may be onto something, because, truly, that's what we're trying to do, right?

I've spent the last several years trying to simplify our lives. The goal has been to make us poor. I know that having such a stated goal is counter to everything we college educated individuals who came to adulthood in the 80s and 90s were taught (our legacy will be one of blind obedience to the consumer gods), but the point is that I want to live simply and fully ... and just be free. Those things can not be done while we are wage-slaves.

So, I've been trying to make us poor.

The first step was to stop our crazy spending habits, and I cut up my credit card almost four years ago. At first, it was tough, because I'd grown accustomed to having it as a buffer. It was a good just in case back-up, but mostly, I didn't use it just-in-case. I used it for books, for eating out, for toys, for clothes, for any number of non-essentials and clutter-producing items with the occasional tank of gasoline thrown in.

The hardest part, in the beginning, was planning for emergencies. Like I'd be out, and I had no cash, and it was not during banking hours, and I needed gasoline (I have no ATM card and I don't carry my checkbook with me unless I know I'm going to be using it). Oops! I haven't, yet, run out of gas, but I've been too close for comfort on too many occasions.

The next step was to reduce our consumption, and the first, major, step I took was to line-dry our laundry. If there's one symbol that screams, "We're too poor to care" here in America, it's the laundry on the line.

After that, it was changing how we heat our house, and we went from using our oil furnace as our primary heat source to the woodstove. I don't know what the stacks of cordwood all over the yard say about us, but I'm pretty certain the blue tarp covering the woodpile last year didn't have too many positive connotations associated with it. At least it wasn't on the roof, right?

Next was to reduce our driving, and while we're still doing all of the things we did before, trips in the car are consolidated. We never go just one place. I always combine trips out so that if I have an errand, I do it when I'm going to be out anyway. Otherwise I stay home. In addition, whenever we can take the more gas-efficient Honda instead of the big, family-sized, less gas-efficient Suzuki XL-7 SUV, we do. We've saved a few dollars this way, but we certainly draw some interested stares when we unload the clown car.

I'll admit it. I was a bit of a suburban snob when we first started this adventure, and when I heard that a family member had a discount to Goodwill, I thought she was teasing me. I've since learned the error of my ways, and I've become quite the second-hand store aficionado. If I can get it second-hand, I will. Buying new has definitely lost its luster for me, and rather than being dazzled by all of the pretty colors and trinkets at the Big Box stores, I find that my skin starts to crawl and I feel a bit nauseous. So, I avoid discount department stores (all of them).

Over the years, we've localized our diet, we grow or raise part of what we eat, we buy in bulk and limit our trips to the grocery store.

We repair, make do or do without a lot of stuff we once thought we needed.

Deus Ex Machina has taken on a lot more DIY projects, especially with respect to our transportation (cars and bicycles).

We started making these changes well before the rest of the country fell into the recession, and so, when our income was decreased by 2/3rds earlier this year, it was no big deal. We'd been living pretty frugally anyway, and we didn't, really, miss the money we'd lost. We still lived pretty much as we had been living, we didn't touch our savings, and we didn't increase our debt.

What we learned was that we can, actually, live quite comfortably on less money than we were making, and as a result, for the first time, Deus Ex Machina is considering a career change that will come with a significant reduction in his salary, but the bonus will be the work will be infinitely more fulfilling.

Ultimately, my goal is for both of us to step just outside the money-economy and work for money at odd jobs we do from home. It's unrealistic to think that we can live in our society without any money at all, but I hope, someday, we can live as we are right now with very little of it.

So, I buy second-hand clothes, I use as little energy as possible while still doing the things we need to get done (and I'm always looking for ways to cut our usage even more), I buy groceries in bulk and/or from local vendors, I cook more at home, and we grow or raise part of our own food.

All in an attempt to thrive with a smaller income.

In the end, if the economy collapses, as is predicted, we'll have been living on less (money) for so long that we'll know how to thrive without it. If things go back to normal, we'll be able to retire debt-free (including our mortgage and automobiles) when we reach our 50s.

Either way, we're thrivalists - thriving on less.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Self-Sufficient ... ist

I've decided that I'm not a survivalist. I probably don't fit the definition of a prepper, either, although of the two, I identify more closely with the prepper mindset.

The thing that's markedly missing from my ideology is the notion that we should be stockpiling.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am a strong believer in storing - food, water (if one lives in a drought-prone or flood prone areas), tools, region/weather specific clothes, blankets, tea/coffee ... sugar! For some things, it just makes good sense to have extra.

Plus, I live in New England, where we have winter, which means we have only four to six months to grow all of the food we need for a year, which means, if we want to eat, we have to store food.

I do realize that I can go to the grocery store and get food, even oranges, which don't grow in Maine, but, while I'm not a survivalist or a prepper, I am a "doomer", which means I believe that life as we know it has come to an end. I believe there is going to be less in the very near future. I don't think the grocery store model is sustainable, and I think we'll all need to eat food that grows where we live, and we should start now, because as we slide further into a world where oranges don't arrive daily at my Hannaford distribution center on trucks that run on diesel fuel, we'll need to know that we can get Vitamin C from rose hips, from strawberries, and from tomatoes. We'll need to know where to get all of the vitamins and minerals that we've been getting from imported food.

As such, I believe that we need to learn food preservation techniques, we need to have tools, and we need to make ourselve ready for a future where we can't just head over to the convenience store when we need something. We'll either have it, we'll make it, or we'll do without it.

I don't think we can stockpile everything we'll ever need ... forever.

I do believe that we can manufacture most of the things that we will need in our daily lives. We just don't know how.

And that's where the real difference between my philosophy and a survivalist mentality comes into play. I think instead of stockpiling guns and ammo, we should be learning to repair the guns we have, and to, in a worst case scenario, make our own ammo.

Last year, I advocated getting magnesium firestarters, instead of stockpiling matches, and my rationalization was that without matches, we'd be stuck for fire-building. I was informed that matches were easy to make. I was told that salt peter, the incendiary component in matches, can be made with ordinary human urine.

I was intrigued.

And, then, I found this.

If the concern is marauding hordes and the desire is to have an arsenal befitting a small army, then knowing that one can make gunpowder with urine, charcoal (a wood-based product) and sulphur, probably isn't much use.

But if the desire is to have bullets for hunting or for personal protection from the one or two crazies that will inevitably end up in the yard, then the knowledge will be incredibly valuable.

In the end, my philosophy remains "knowledge is power", and rather than spending all of my extra cash on guns, ammo and wheat berries (at 50# stored per person), and spending my extra time building a bomb shelter, I'm spending extra cash on books that will teach me to find or build what I need, and I'm spending my extra time learning some new skills.

My long-term goal is that neither Deus Ex Machina nor I be forced to have a "job" - that we be self-sufficient, satisfying most of our needs with what we can make, grow, or produce ourselves, and that earning a livelihood becomes secondary to living our lives.

My goal is that someday, instead of answering "He makes money," when asked what Dad does at work, Big Little Sister will give the inquirer a blank stare, because Dad will "make" so many things that she won't know where to begin, but mostly because Dad won't have a "work" that's separate from our daily lives.

And that's what completes the definition. I'm not a survivalist, because I have no desire to survive. I want to live.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Outdoor Cooking

When we started powering down, one of the problems I had to solve was how we were going to cook without fossil fuels or electricity. During the winter, it’s easy. We cook inside on the woodstove. It proved invaluable during the power outage last December, but even when the electric stove is working, we still use the fire heated surface for cooking and heating water for tea. In fact, this evening, part of our dinner was prepared on the woodstove.

During the warmer months, however, when we don’t have a fire in the woodstove, the only option is to cook outside. I have read accounts of people using solar ovens this far north with some degree of success, and, of course, during the summer, when the sun is higher in the sky, the solar oven would be okay, but there are times (like the last couple of years when we’ve had rain every day for a solid month in the late spring/early summer) that the solar oven wouldn’t be much use.

As such, our only option for cooking outside is fire. We hope to build a rocket stove (plans for which can be found at a number of different sites online and can be as simple as a couple of cans or as complex at Kate’s masonry rocket stove), but for the moment, our choice is a fire pit.

On a whim a few years ago, I decided I wanted a brick patio, and so when someone on Freecycle was giving away bricks, we filled up the back of the SUV and hauled them all back to our house. I still don’t have the patio, but we did use several of the bricks to make a very nice fire pit.

In March, last year, Deus Ex Machina built a quickie outdoor fire pit in the back yard during the sugaring season (because you just can't cook that stuff inside). It takes a long time to boil sap down over an open fire, and it requires constant vigilance (i.e. standing outside feeding little sticks into the fire so that it stays blazing), but we ended up with two gallons of outstanding syrup, and so it can’t be called anything, but, a success. We'll do it again, next year, probably the same way.

In May, we used our fire pit on yard clean-up day. We ended up burning most of the assorted construction flotsam and jetsam that always seems to accumulate (there’s more back there, now, and so I guess our fire pit will be getting some more use next spring, too), and it really made a huge difference. We even celebrated by eating dinner outside at our “new” (found) picnic table.

An open fire pit isn’t the most efficient for heating or cooking (although with our cast iron camp stove we made a nice stew over the fire for our “Doomer Dinner Party”), but for now, it’s our best choice for moving our kitchen outside during the warmer months.

Our neighbors just gave us an old stainless steel sink they replaced in their workshop. Hopefully, in the spring, we’ll be able to build an honest-to-goodness outdoor kitchen, complete with a sink, a cob oven, and maybe even a (second-hand) granite countertop.

But I think we’ll keep the fire pit, too … if only for the ambience it provides – and it’s a good place to burn all of that scrap wood, too.

Veteran's Day

Today is Veteran's Day.

The following was originally posted on November 11, 2006.


I've been thinking about this topic for a while, and trying to reconcile how I feel. So, this is likely to be a very disjointed, stream-of-consciousness post. I apologize, in advance.

Those of you who know me, know I'm a veteran (yes, that's a picture of me, much younger ... and cuter ;). Deus Ex Machina is also a veteran. In fact, we met while we were both enlisted ... but that's another (really cool!) story.

My father is a veteran, too. He served twenty years, during the Vietnam Era from 1960 to 1981. He was seventeen when he enlisted, went to OCS in his early twenties and retired at the age of thirty-eight.

My father has eight brothers. All of them are veterans (five Army, two marines, and one Navy)

My grandpa was a WWII veteran.

By the mid-1800s, my ancestors had firmly settled in the Knox County, Kentucky area, and I had relatives fighting on both sides of the Civil War. In fact, a great uncle was interred in the infamous POW camp for captured Union soldiers - Andersonville Prison.

My family lineage can be traced back to pre-Revolutionary Days in the Virginia/North Carolina/Kentucky area. It's likely I had ancestors fighting in that war.

Military service has a long history in my family. In fact, when I applied for OCS during my enlistment, my "Why I Want to Be an Officer?" essay topic concentrated on the long history of military service in my family, and how it wasn't an "if", but almost a "when" for me regarding serving in the Armed Forces.

Today is Veteran's Day.

I'm a volunteer for the Books for Soldiers program. I don't know how I would have felt about the program when I was a service member, but as a civilian, I just really, really want to do something for our soldiers, and I know sending them books and care packages is such a trivial thing when they are being shot at - in some places on a daily basis (from their own words, and not from the media (mis)information) - and in some places living in squalor, having no reliable water source, and sometimes not enough to eat, but other than voting, which you all know I do, and writing to my representatives in Congress regularly, which I also do, there's not much else.

I guess I just wish that today's soldiers could enjoy the same support and sense that THEY aren't the bad guys that my grandfather did while he was in and when he returned from Europe. Those soldiers were revered rather than scorned, and quite frankly, with regard to the caliber of their character, World War II vets are no more valiant or honorable than average soldier of today.

I know.

I was a soldier, and I met a lot of really wonderful people.

I'd like to think I was one of them.

During the 1940's the whole country, the whole economy, everything, was affected by the war. Americans were cutting back, planting gardens, knitting caps, rationing sugar, tea and cigarettes ... all in support of our soldiers. We were all making sacrifices - just like our soldiers.

The other day, I received a note from another BFS volunteer that asked me to send condolences to this soldier and his unit for the loss of their buddy. It struck me as I was composing the letter and getting a care package together, that once I was finished packing the box and sending the letter, my life would go back to normal.

I'd do my work, visit my clients offices, take my girls to dance class, come home and cook dinner, watch some television and go to bed - in a real bed with real flannel sheets and a down comforter -, and in the morning, I'd carry on like we didn't have thousands of our citizens in hostile territory.

I mean, we're at WAR! and it's like nothing is different for most of us, except the occasional report of some battle or a soldier who has been killed or injured. Nothing's different. We go on, buying our cars, looking at new houses, going to the grocery store to buy our imported olive oil, worrying about cholesterol levels, vacationing on the beach, wintering in Florida.

Most of the time, we don't even acknowledge that WE'RE AT WAR! We're at war ... it doesn't have the same ring that it did back when that was a headline and FDR was President.

We're at WAR! And there are no Victory Gardens, there are no quilting parties to send blankets to our soldiers in Afghanistan (although they could use them in some places), there are no ration booklets, there is no Rosy the Riveter, there is very little support for our soldiers' families, there is very little support for our soldiers abroad and at home ....

We're at war ....

Happy Veteran's Day.

Monday, November 9, 2009

An Icon in Urban Farming - Coming to Maine

A couple of years ago, when I was full into my quest for other people who had successfully farmed a small piece (less than an acre) of land, I found Novella Carpenter. It was an interesting coincident that when I happened upon her blog I was knee-deep in the One Local Summer challenge, and she was challenging herself to eat just from what she had managed to grow on her land for an entire month. I had considered doing something similar (I still might ;).

I was hooked, and I've been a HUGE fan of hers ever since.

What I love about Novella is her matter-of-fact way of presenting her story. She makes no apologies for her lifestyle. She raises pigs, rabbits, turkeys, and chickens, which she eats, and she doesn't try to sugar-coat it so as not to offend the masses. She says, in essence, prey animals have eyes on the sides of their heads. Predators have eyes looking front. *We* are predators.

But at the same time, she's not trying to convert anyone. Her story is *her* story, and she does what she does because it's how *she* wants to live. She farms her property and raises her own animals, because she cares about them, about the environment (she also runs a biodiesel station), about the earth, and in her tiny corner, she is trying to make a difference by living more closely with her food. When Colin Beaven started his project, she commented that the year-long experiment he was attempting was her every day life. Of course, she says it with a lot more panache and humor than I can muster ;).

Of all of the urban/suburban homesteader blogger/authors out there, I have the most respect for her. And she's funny, too, which makes reading her writing so much more pleasurable ... and further, she knows her stuff, but she doesn't make me feel like a total moron, because I'm a novice.

As luck would have it, I'm going to get the chance to meet her. Novella Carpenter is coming to Maine for a book signing tour. I haven't read her book, yet. It has been on my wish-list for a while, but I haven't taken the opportunity to order it, and I won't, now, because I plan to pick up my copy at the Independent bookstore where she will be giving her talk in Portland, and then, I'll have her sign it while I prattle on and on about how great I think she is, and then she starts to wonder about the wisdom of her decision to come to Maine ;).

If you're in the area on Saturday, November 14 between 1:00 and 3:00, stop by Rabelais Bookstore at 86 Middle Street. I've read her blog, I've seen her interviews - if she's half as funny in person as she is in either of those places, you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Marewedge is What Bwings Us Togetha Today

Deus Ex Machina had a class today, and so it was just me and the girls on our own. We decided to go and see some of our friends perform in a play at our dance school.

On the way there, I'm kind of half listening to the radio while the girls are chattering in the back, like they do. This song comes on, and at that moment, the girls, suddenly become incredibly quiet (probably listening to their iPods, but not singing along, like they do), and so I was afforded the rare opportunity to actually listen to the lyrics.

In retrospect, I wish I hadn't.

Randy Travis was saying, On one hand I count the reasons I could stay with you ... lover's games I'd love to play with you ... blah, blah ... on the other hand, there's a golden band.

I thought, "What?"

The song continued, to remind me of someone who wouldn't understand.

I hate songs like that, and now I'm not only sucked into the lyrics, but I'm starting to actually feel sorry for the wife of this (insert profanity here - trying to keep it family friendly blog, afterall).

The singer tells this woman that she wakened his passion, that he found himself in her arms, that she made him feel alive ...

... but on the other hand.

And I'm thinking if I were the other hand, not only would I be incredibly hurt by his betrayal, but worse, I would be cut to the bone by his statements about how he felt passion he thought had died. Essentially, he's telling his mistress that he doesn't feel anything for his wife, except the weight of his obligation, as objectified by the golden band.


As the wife, I'd be telling him not to let the door hit him on the American English colloquialism for buttocks as he leaves - thanks, babe, but I don't need your pity or your obligatory loyalty. If you're not here 'cause ya wanna be with me, I'd rather be alone.

Now, of course, I can't stop thinking about it, and I wish that I could get the stupid song out of my head.

I guess what irritates me most, though, is the realization that this sort of behavior is so universally accepted. There are dozens of songs about cheating. It's in the movies, in books, in magazines. Everyone is doing it, right? And it's okay. Infidelity is ... really ... well ..., I mean ..., it was just a little mistake, like oopsy, I tumbled a glass of milk and made a bit of a mess of things.



It's not an oopsy!, and it's incredibly irritating to me that we are so apathetic toward people who don't honor their marital vows. It's like, "Oh, so-and-so had an affair, and they're getting a divorce." La, la, la. Life goes on. Not okay. Not!

Marriage is a legal contract, and when Deus Ex Machina and I laid out our promises to one another on the day we got married, we both promised faithfulness. If either of us were to break that promise, it's a breach of contract and should be treated like any other legally binding contract.

I voted last Tuesday. The question of the day was whether we wanted to support the recent law signed by our Governor to allow same-sex marriage or to overturn it with a "yes" vote.

I voted no.

See how easy it was? I just said no - like Nancy Reagan told us to when I was kid.


In fact, to men like Randy Travis, singer Taylor Swift advises, You should've said no."

Unfortunately, I was in the minority, and the law was repealed. Maine no longer allows same-sex marriage.

The opponents of the law took the position that "Maine’s existing marriage laws exist to strengthen society, encourage monogamous and loving marriages and to provide an environment to nurture the well being of children."

But then I read statistics like, "The proportion of the population made up by married couples with children decreased from 40% in 1970 to 24% in 2000."

So much for creating an "environment to nurture the well being of children."

Or, better, how about this statistic? "Every year over 7,000 Maine women are physically or sexually assaulted by an intimate partner and over half of them (57%) are injured as a result of the violence."

So much for encouraging "loving marriages."

The whole marriage-as-a-union-between-a-man-and-a-woman-protects-our-families argument is laughable.

And I wonder, when the man and the woman are standing before the judge on the day of their divorce, who is protesting the weakening of our society by allowing this travesty, this "breaking asunder what God has joined"? If Maine law was designed to strengthen society, encourage monogamous and loving marriages and ... provide an environment to nurture the well being of children, then why is it so easy to get married, why aren't people counseled about what marriage is (I was married in Maine - by a Notary Public - and was offered no pre-marriage counseling to be sure that I understood what Maine's marriage laws dictated), and why is divorce so widely accepted?

Why is it okay for a man and a woman to get divorced without a whisper from the pro-marriage people, but it's not okay to allow a man to marry a man or a woman to marry a woman in a legally binding marital relationship?

I was disappointed by the results of the vote.

Today, I'm calmly listening to my radio while trying not to swear (too loudly) at the (insert profanity here) in front of me who wants to drive 25 mph in the 45 mph speed zone and the (insert profanity here) behind me who wants to ride with his front bumper pressed against my back one (I mean, I know I have a cute tailpipe and all, but seriously, no touchy, no feely - and back off a bit, would ya?), and I'm subjected to Randy Travis talking about his freakin' adulterous hand.

Marriage encourages loving families, but allowing two men or two women who wish to be in a committed relationship and have their rights as a spouse protected by the State would destroy that institution.

And as for Randy Travis (and his crooning cronies who sing about "the other hand"), as long as he keeps denying the rumors, we'll just continue to accept his extra-marital heterosexual liaisons.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Kitchen Science

I really can get excited about the silliest things, really.

For example, I've been fermenting cabbage on my counter for a couple of weeks.

I knew, when I put the cabbage seeds into the ground in the spring, that I intended to make sauerkraut this year. I really like sauerkraut, and I've always wanted to make it. I tried last year, but what I ended up with was just incredibly salty cabbage, because I didn't let it ferment.

Last year, I salted the cabbage in pint-sized jars, added a bit of hot water, and canned it in a boiling water bath - all in the same day. The end result was not so good, and I ended up just tossing it all.

I harvested all of the cabbage in my garden about two weeks ago. It was a bunch of fairly compact, very small heads that I trimmed, cored and sliced into thin shreds.

Then, I put the shreds into a plastic container and every two inches or so of cabbage, I'd add about a tablespoon of salt. When I got to the top of the container, I pressed everything down real tight, and added enough hot water to cover the cabbage with about a half inch of liquid (when it was weighted). I covered the cabbage with a cheesecloth, and then, I put a lid on it and weighted it with ... well, a weight - you know, one of those hand weights that people use for strengthening exercises :).

And I left it ... mostly because I didn't know what to do next.

I tried it today.

It's sauerkraut - a little saltier than maybe some people who don't like salt would enjoy, but it definitely has that distinct sauerkraut tang ... and crispy! Not at all like the watery, stringy, limp stuff I've had from the store. It's seriously good stuff!

I'm planning to water-bath can part of it tonight, because we won't eat it all very fast, but I'll leave some in the refrigerator, where it will stay alive.

I purchased several more heads of cabbage at the Farmer's Market, and I'm going to make more sauerkraut. I'm thinking for one batch I'll add one of the chili peppers I grew and a couple of cloves of crushed garlic. That should give it an interesting flavor :). I also have a head of red cabbage, which will be just yummy as pink sauerkraut.

I'm so pleased with myself - to be truthful. A lot of the stuff we do, I'm learning by experimenting. Growing up, my family never ate things like sauerkraut. The first time I canned anything was just over twelve years ago. None of it is difficult (intimidating, yes, but difficult, not at all), and the sense of satisfaction at actually doing it is so incredible. When I succeed in something that I thought would be hard, I feel such a sense of empowerment.

See what I mean? I really can get excited about the silliest things, really.

Drum Roll, please ...

I entered the names of all of the participants of the Break the Chain Challenge into my incredibly complicated name picker aparatus.

With the help of a lovely assistant, a name was randomly selected.

And the winner is ...

Fleecenik Farm.

Karin, send me an email at office(at symbol)*first word in blog address*(dot)com with all of the pertinent information, including which book you'd like. The choices are: The Good Life, Depletion and Abundance and The Long Emergency.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Horror in Uniform

So sad.

This after I was reading an article in which the author stated ... with spending and debt already at record peacetime levels ....

Wait .... What? Peacetime levels?

Last time I looked (and granted, I haven't watched television in a long time) we were still at war.

Aren't we?

There was no cease fire ... no Treaty of Baghdad ... no pulling out of troops.

We're still fighting and still deploying troops and still losing soldiers, every day.

In fact, the tragedy at Ft Hood is because one soldier (and I use the term very loosely) didn't want to be deployed.

Nobody wants to be deployed, but those people who are responsible and have integrity understand that when they agree to serve, they are obligated to do the job.

Like cops ...

and firefighters ...

and septic tank pumpers.

I have no sympathy for him, and I'm not sure a firing squad is enough.

My heart goes out to the families and soldiers at Fort Hood. May we all find peace soon.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Some Thoughts on Shopping

I wanted to respond to Woolysheep's comment here, because some people don't read comments, and I think she asks some very important questions.

In response to my last post, she said,

You need not worry about WalMart going out of business. It isn't small to medium sized and they're sittin' pretty. It's the mom-n-pops and small regional chains and/or franchises. What happens if your local shops can't get the loan to buy the supplies and materials needed by your local craftsmen? What happens when some of those local craftsmen and farmers can't get the financing they need to create next seasons stock?

In today's world, without credit, your community could end up with ONLY WalMart at which to shop.

Her last sentence is exactly the reason I hosted the Break the Chain challenge. If we spend the money we might have spent at Wal*Mart, in a locally owned or regional shop, then those small businesses stand a better chance of surviving, even in today's world of credit.

But that's not all.

In response to the questions asked, my local shops don't have to be the only venue for local craftspeople to sell their wares. It is possible that I could commission a local knitter to make me a couple of sweaters and some socks. I give my money to the craftsperson, who takes the money and gives it to a local spinner, who takes the money to a local farmer, who has sheep. The farmer shears the sheep, the spinner cards and spins the wool into yarn, and the knitter makes the items I have commissioned. *I* am providing the financing for the products I will be buying.

The other question is what happens when local craftspeople and farmers can't get financing for next years' stock, and local farmers have already solved that problem. It's called CSA or Community Supported Agriculture.

The thing is, if *we*, the consumers, ask for it, someone will provide it.

Two years ago, the only place to buy fresh vegetables during the winter was at the large, regional chain grocery store. This year, because *we*, the customers at our local Farmer's Market, asked for it, the host farm (of the Farmer's Market) will be offering storage crops suring the winter. The farmer's market closed last weekend, but their farm store is open daily until Thanksgiving, and then, they're open two Saturdays in December and two Saturdays in January. This will be the first year that they've done this, and it's a trial. If it goes well, who knows what they'll offer next year.

But the point is that there were enough of us asking for it, and so they found a way to make it happen. It helps them, and it helps us.

In short, if *we*, the consumers, decide to start shopping local - more -, and stop giving - most of - our dollars to the large chain stores, just because that's the easiest thing to do, more small to medium sized businesses will thrive, even in these tough times, and the too-big-to-fail big box chains will be the ones shuttering up instead.

It really is up to us, and none of us need sit idly by while the big box stores take over our communities. *We* can make a difference, but we have to be willing to make the effort.