Friday, December 31, 2010


Making changes isn't so very difficult. Once one decides that one is going to do a thing, the doing of it is rather easy. Even if that thing goes against the grain of what is considered normal, once the decision has been made to do a thing, doing it is easy. Like the old Nike commercial used to say just do it.

Which is the irony of our current situation.

The other day, we spent the whole day rearranging furniture. What was the "living room" is now an "office" for Deus Ex Machina and me. What was "my office" is now our living room, and we moved his desk away from the front door and out of the dining room (putting the former television armoire - which will have a new life as a closet for coats - where his desk had been).

It made more sense to do it that way, because the woodstove is in the (new) living room/dining room area, and we all spent our time in there anyway, which is good, but difficult when I'm trying to work (I work as a medical transcriptionist). The worse part was that, since our desks were in common areas, they were often not treated as the personal spaces that they should have been. Being next to the door, Deus Ex Machina's desk would often end up as a catch-all for whatever was brought into the house and needed to be put somewhere. With my desk where it was, my office chair would often been a convenient place to sit, and I'd find people sitting at my desk, which is not a good thing. There is a lot of personal and sensitive information on my desk.

Both desks have needed to be moved for a very long time.

Now, we have a nice, comfy couch to sit on in the living room, and our desks are out of the way of our common areas.

The other part of the makeover entailed getting rid of the television. Not just cutting cable, this time, but actually, physically, moving the box out of the house. We gave our old television set to MamaDaughter and Mr. Field-and-Stream.

I didn't think much about it at the time, but then it struck me ... we have no television. I mean, there's no television in our house. Not one set. I haven't lived in a house without a television (or two) for a very long time. In fact, since I reached adulthood the only time I haven't had owned a television was for a very few months just after I arrived in Germany.

What struck me was how insidious the television is, how much a part of our culture it is. Like my quoting a Nike commercial. Television is such a huge part of what and who we think we are. It's almost impossible to have a conversation with someone without the inevitable question Did you see [fill in blank of television show name]? For the past year or so, Deus Ex Machina and I have answered no, and added that we don't watch television.

But we still had a television, and so we weren't, like, weird or anything.

Now, we don't even have a television, and for a minute, when I realized what we'd done, it felt weird. But only for just a minute.

And then, it was like ahh! More storage space! Mr. Field-and-Stream asked if I was going to fill the television cabinet with books. No, I'm not, but would it be such a bad thing to get rid of the television and put books where it had been?

I like the new arrangement, and even though he really didn't want to help me (there was a lot of non-verbal grumbling and a few words, like, "badgering" were used to describe my behavior), I am so thankful that Deus Ex Machina was home this week to help me. I could not have done it by myself.

Of course, I'm convinced that once we get things sorted and put away that our house will be a bit more organized (if not a great deal neater), and since we don't have a television to watch, getting organized shouldn't take too long ;).

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dreams Deferred

The other day, I decided to do a quick google search for myself. There's a very practical reason why, but it's a rather long and convoluted story (and we all know how much I like to be concise ;), best kept for another day.

Anyway ...

So I'm skimming down through the choices, and sixth one down was a listing on New Society Publishers.

"Wait," I thought. "That's my publisher." And so I clicked on the link, and whaddaya know! There it is.

My book! New Society Publishers has put up their spring catalog, and I'm in it ;).

So, then, I went back to the google search page, scrolling back through the options, and ...


Number two listing, after the YouTube videos (none of which are related to me, by the way), is an AMAZON-freakin'-dot-COM listing of *MY* book!

Holy cow!

What a day!

So, for all of my friends and family members who have been wondering how I spent the last year, wondering why I wasn't returning phone calls or email messages or sending Christmas cards - here's my excuse :). I was writing a book :).

And for those of you who have always wondered if I wasn't, perhaps, just a bit crazy, now you know. I've written a book on "surviving the apocalypse."
The answer is clearly *yes* ;).

It has been an amazing and exciting and wonderful ... and oh, so humbling experience ;).

Langston Hughes ponders the question of "what happens to a dream deferred", and if this dream of mine (of becoming a published author) that has (finally) come true can be said to have been "deferred" for these past thirty-plus years, then I can say, with complete assurance, that a dream deferred doesn't dry up or turn rotten and stink or sag or explode.

For me, it was more like a caterpillar in a cocoon. It wrapped itself up, and hibernated, until the time was ripe to hatch, and now, it's wriggled its way out of its silk wrapping and is flapping its dazzling, colorful wings.

There's sure to be a book giveaway ... or something ... where I give away not just my book, but *my* book, and I can honestly say that this will be one book that I will be thrilled to share ;).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Survival Gear

I don't know where it came from, but it's become a holiday tradition, for me, to gift handmade items ... and my family has come to expect it, actually. This year, when I came home from the fabric store, they pawed through the bag trying to determine which fabric was for whom. They, correctly, guessed that the blue flannel printed with the word love and little monkeys was for Deus Ex Machina's annual PJ pants. I couldn't resist giving him "monkey love" - and yes, the woman at the fabric store who cut my yardage shared a good (bawdy) laugh with me about my fabric choice ;).

I went a step beyond pants this year. I decided to make the girls each a poncho, too.

The original plan was for a flannel-lined wool poncho for each girl. I wanted wool, because it is both warm and naturally water resistant. It's one of the best fabrics for the type of weather we have where I live.

Wool is very expensive.

Fleece is also (relatively) water resistant, and it was on sale ;). The plan changed to a flannel-lined fleece poncho for each girl with flannel pants to match their poncho lining.

But, I underestimated the amount of flannel I would need, and then, the WHOLE plan changed.

And ... I was pressed for time. Ah, the holiday rush, right? *grin*

I'd intended for each poncho to have a hood and a pocket, which didn't happen. It will. I will put a hood on each poncho and give them all a pocket. Big Little Sister ended up with a fleece poncho with no lining, because I didn't have enough of the flannel I purchased, but again to the stash, and I showed her an old flannel bedsheet, and asked if she'd be okay with that being her lining. She is ;). What a trooper! ;). The lining for Little Fire Faery's poncho isn't flannel. Instead I was finally able to use this gorgeous pink fabric from my stash that I've been saving for a special project. I think this qualifies as a "special project."

The impetus behind the ponchos is more than just wanting to make my girls something, though. There's a more pratical and survival-oriented reason.

Many years ago I read John Ransom's Andersonville Diary. It is the story of a Union soldier who'd been a prisoner in the infamous Andersonville prison. He survived. Most did not. He credits his survival to the quilt he had with him. In the winter, he had a blanket to help keep him warm - many did not. In the summer, he had a cover from the blazing Georgia sun. Many Union prisoners had nothing and suffered immeasurably from exposure to the elements.

In an extreme survival situation, shelter is the top priority.

Their ponchos can be used as a coat, and it can be used as a blanket.

I like the idea so much, and I had so much fun making them, and I'm so pleased with how they turned out, I'm pretty sure there's a poncho in my future, too.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Too Hard for DIY??

There are some things that I have just always assumed should be left to the "experts." Like I always assumed that pudding mix was something they had to make.

I learned differently.

With the holidays here and our desire to be cheap thrifty, I've learned to make some things that are even more in the they have to make them category.

I made incense cones ...

and lip balm.

Neither was particularly difficult. Since I ground the patcholi leaf into a powder, making the incense was a bit time consuming, but if I had just used the patchouli powder that came with the kit, making the incense would have been a very short project, too.

In short, that thing about old dogs and new tricks is so totally *not* true.

What I found kind of funny, though, is that I had all of the ingredients* (except fo the Vitamin E, which I decided to omit) for the lip balm already in my cabinets.

Is that weird?

*The beeswax was a parting gift from our bees. So far, we've used it to make lip balm and Tiger balm. I hope we're doing them honor in our choices for how to use their gift.

Edited to add: The Tiger Balm recipe we used was on It's the simple recipe found on this page.

Basically, the recipe is beeswax, olive oil, and essential oils. It smells really nice, but probably isn't as "strong" as commercial tiger balm, but that's okay with us ;).

*For the tiger balm, the only ingredient we didn't have on hand was the eucalyptus oil ;).

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Pajamaed children, early to bed,
"Or Santa won't come," they always said.
Excitement mingled with a dash of fear,
Would he visit with his eight reindeer?

Young eyes soon close to sugar plum dreams,
But open too soon in the streetlight beams.
Quietly creeping down the endless hall,
On cushioned carpet her footsteps fall.

Peek around the corner at regal tree,
Reveals a visitor. Is it he?
Streetlights illume a glowing, white beard.
Heart races, rabbit's square dance, in her fear

Small feet scurry back to bed.
Warm, down quilt over young head.
Morning, at last, "Rise and Shine!"
Runs to the tree. What does she find?

A giant, stuffed monkey (sibling's gift)
Perched under the tree, shiny, white midriff.
Was it this all along? A trick of the light?
Or did Santa sleep in her home last night?

- Wendy, 1990

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dvision of Labor

Our neighbor took down a couple of trees recently and offered the wood to us in exchange for us cleaning up the downed trees from her yard. We never pass up free firewood, and as a result, we've actually heated our house for free for the past two winters.

The wood from our neighbors trees won't be dry enough to burn until next year, at the earliest (the oak might even need to sit for another winter before we try to burn it), and so, we (and I say "we", but I mean "Deus Ex Machina") have been splitting the logs only small enough so that we can lift them and move them to our house. The plan is to split the logs small enough for the woodstove after they've seasoned a bit more - like next summer ;).

So, the other day we were getting the last of the trees out of her yard, and Deus Ex Machina had split a couple of logs, but this one stubborn log didn't split all the way in two. The bark was still intact holding the big log together. I could lift it, but carrying it with half of it split was awkward. So, he tells me to plop it up on the stump and split it the rest of the way, and then, he turns around to grab a couple more logs and load them into the back of our SUV.

I moved the log onto the stump and grabbed the maul. Then, I heft it over my head, like I've seem him do so many times, and I drop it onto the top of the log. Nothing. So, I try again, and again, and then Deus Ex Machina says to me, as I'm hefting the maul for a fourth time, "I'm going to call you lightning."

I smile, kind of sheepishly thinking this is some great compliment, like "Lightning McQueen" (from Cars - although I can't quite figure out the similarities to that one ;), or maybe something along the lines of his liking the way I'm handling this "man's job", even though the top of the log now has several little dings - all in different places - but the log is no closer to being two.

"Why?" I inquire waiting for the gush of admiration and adoration.

"Because you never strike the same place twice."

He's so witty.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Solstice, everyone!

May you find peace, abundance, and joy in the returning light!

Monday, December 20, 2010


I received this phone call the other day. Caller ID said it was "out of area" and there was no number. I should know better, but occasionally, it's a person (usually it's a recording, and I usually just hang up), and occasionally, it's a person to whom we really wish to speak.

The caller told me his name was Sean Anderson - in his very thick, very obviously Indian (as in from India) accent, and I almost ... almost ... laughed ... out loud ..., but that would have been rude. Maybe his name really was Sean Anderson, but my guess is that it's not.


He proceeds to tell me that he is going to offer me this great deal with lots of savings on my shopping trips, and he has these $25 gift cards to all of these different stores, which he rattles off, but I don't understand most of the ones he mentions, because he's saying them so fast and his accent is so thick, and he keeps rattling on with me catching about every five words, and he drops all of these really large dollar sums (I think he said something about saving $4000, but I'm not sure). I'm just getting poised to tell him "no, thanks" and hang up the phone when he asks me a question:

"Do you shop at Wal-Mart, Ma'am?"

Yes, that thump was me falling onto the floor so that I could roll around laughing my ass off (for the second time in as many weeks - if this keeps up I'm going to need a belt to hold up my jeans :). Obviously, he doesn't read my blog, because if he did, he'd have never asked that question.

I said, rather emphatically, "No, I do not shop at Wal-Mart."

So, he asked, "Is there no Wal-Mart near you, Ma'am?"

To which I replied, "There are Wal-Marts all over the place. I just don't shop there."

I think I stumped him. I mean, if half your sales pitch is to tell the potential dupe ... er ... customer how much money off of the already low, low prices they can save with your program, what do you say to a woman who says she doesn't shop at Wal-Mart?

I started to ask him if he had a discount card that could be used at Goodwill, but I decided to just be honest, because even if he did offer some great discount at Goodwill, I still wouldn't sign up for his program. What's that saying: if it sounds too good to be true, chances are, it is. And most of these money-saving offers end up costing a great deal.

So, I very nicely explained that I wasn't really a shopper, and that he had just, unfortunately, been given a bad number, and perhaps he should try calling someone else, because I wasn't really interested.

Oh, and have a nice day ... goodbye.

I wonder how many sales calls Sean makes each day in which he is told, emphatically, "I choose not to shop at Wal-Mart, even though they are available to me."

My guess is not many.

Friday, December 17, 2010

{this moment} x 2

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment to pause, savor and remember.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Mother of Invention

What do you do when you want hot-air popped corn, but you don't have a microwave or an electric hot air popper?

Popped corn is not something new. Our native american ancestors introduced the delicacy to the European colonists.

So, it makes sense that electricity is not a crucial component to making it.

The more I look, the more I find that electricity is a nice luxury, but with it's not a necessity :).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More Than "Just" a Gift

I have such amazing children.

They love this time of year.

They love it, because they love to make and give gifts.

What I love most, though, is that they don't stress over what to give. They simply plan out their list of recipients, and then, go to work making whatever thing it is that they feel confident in their ability to make. It's often pieces of yarn of varying lengths with knots tied in various places - necklaces or bracelets. This year, Big Little Sister is knitting everyone on her list something - scarves, ear warmers, slippers.

I think they're incredible, and their desire to create things with their own hands, rather than stressing over the whole consumerist aspect of the season, is refreshing.

They went into full "elf" mode recently, and after some discussion, Precious decided to make a coloring book for her neice. She drew some pictures, and I helped her bind them and create a cover.

We talked about buying a box of crayons to go with the coloring book, but then, decided that it would be more fun (and way cooler) to make some crayons. So, Precious, Little Fire Faery, and I found some old, broken crayons, took the paper off, put them in an old muffin tin and melted them in the oven set at around 250° (we were going to melt them on the woodstove, but since it's been so warm, the woodstove wasn't hot enough). Then, we poured the melted crayons into some old candy mold trays we had lying around. We were having so much fun, Big Little Sister decided to help us :).

Please ignore the messy counter

While Precious and Big Little Sister were making crayons, Little Fire Faery decided it would be a good time to make a rattle for her baby niece (Did I mention somewhere that I have a second granddaughter? *grin*). She learned how to use the sewing machine today.

She's pictured above with the finished product. I think she did a great job, and I'm betting her niece will love it ;).

We don't even have a tree, yet, but the gifts from this terrific trio are starting to pile up.

They are pretty remarkable girls. I think I could learn a thing or two from them :).

And with their magic elfish ways, I might just have found the motivation I need to start creating some holiday cheer myself.

Oh, are those jingle bells I hear?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

External Validation


Oh, uh ... ugh! umpf!

Sorry about that. I was rolling-on-the-floor-laughing-my-ass-off.

What has me all giddy at the moment is the ruling by a Virginia judge regarding the recent Health Care Reform Act that was passed by Congress. He says, and I quote: "Neither the Supreme Court nor any federal circuit court of appeals has extended Commerce Clause powers to compel an individual to involuntarily enter the stream of commerce by purchasing a commodity in the private market."


Someone with some damned sense!

And it's what I said from the very beginning, that the government does not have the right to force us to pay for private health insurance.

External validation is a good thing.

But what's galling is that it's taken so damned long for someone in a position of authority to come forward and state the obvious.

I can't wait to see where this goes.

World Cleaned by Hand

A few years ago, the great dishwasher debate rolled through the blogosphere. The question was which is more eco-friendly, using the dishwasher or handwashing dishes. The focus was on water usage, and in the end, the findings were that, on water-saving setting, assuming no pre-rinse of the dishes, there was really no significant difference in water usage between using a dishwasher and handwashing the dishes.

And that's where the debate ended. Dishwashers were deemed just as eco-friendly as handwashing, and I never thought more about it, and we continued to use our dishwasher.

I should disclose that we don't have a "regular" dishwasher. Ours is a 3/4 size portable dishwasher, which means that when we want to use it, we have to roll it over to the sink and hook it up to the faucet. When we bought our house, there was no dishwasher, and because of the way our kitchen is set-up, we couldn't have a built-in, and because our kitchen is so small, we only had space for the little three-quarter size machine. So, our dishwasher actually uses less than a regular dishwasher anyway.

Then, one day, not so long ago, I became obsessed with lowering our electric bill. Nothing is safe and nothing is sacred, and I've turned this desire to reduce, reduce, reduce into some kind of maniacal witch hunt. Anything and everything that has a power switch or a plug is closely evaluated to determine if it's something we really need. I even bought a wind-up alarm clock, because it doesn't use batteries or plug into the wall.

My obsession has earned me more than a few sideways looks, much rolling of the eyes, and even the occasional scowl ... mumble ... grumble.

Incidentally, don't mention the television, the VCR, the DVD player or the stereo to Deus Ex Machina. I think he might still be a little sensitive. Sometimes it's hard to let go :).

A month without those things, though, and there was a marked reduction in our electric bill. Heartened by my success, I decided to see what else I could (easily) eliminate ... and I spied the unsuspeting dishwasher sitting innocently next to the refrigerator (which shouldn't get too smug or too comfortable, either).

In the comments section of a recnt post, Bellen asked how we calculated the energy usage of our dishwasher, and so I asked the man who knows all things electric, and Deus Ex Machina said that it should be marked somewhere on the machine. Every appliance has the usage listed somewhere as part of the UL requirements. So, we looked and found the little metal plate attached just inside the door frame. It says that our dishwasher requires 120v (current) and draws 8.5 amps.

To calculate the power draw, the formula is current x amps = watts. So, our dishwasher uses 1020 watts or 1.020 kilowatts. If we run our dishwasher for one hour, that's 1 kWh, which means if we run the dishwasher every day, and it takes one hour to go through the cycle (which it does), operating the dishwasher would take 30 kWh per month ... for a dishwasher.

And suddenly our sweet, little, three-fourths-sized dishwasher that's more eco-friendly than a full-sized machine doesn't seem so eco-friendly at all.

We've been researching alternative energy systems, and the more I look at any system the uses renewable resources, the more I realize that if we really want to be successful at generating own our power, we have to trim off every single sliver of the fat. The alternative energy systems just don't provide the enormous quantity of power available through the grid.

For instance, with a bicycle powered generator, the average rider can produce between 125 and 300 watts, which wouldn't even be enough power to get the dishwasher to kick on, much less run it for a full cycle. Maybe if the rider were Lance Armstrong I'd have clean dishes from a machine powered by a bicycle.

And that's what really put it into perspective for me.

In the end, I've decided that doing the dishes by hand isn't so difficult, and with me doing the dishes instead of him, Deus Ex Machina will have more time to concentrate on building that bicycle generator, because even if I can't pedal hard enough to get the electric dishwasher to work, I'm pretty sure I could pedal hard enough to charge up a battery so that we could plug in the laptop and snuggle on the couch to watch a DVD :).

I'd probably shower first, though ;).

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Season of Lights

It's warm. Today's highs are supposed to be in the 50s. Yesterday with the woodstove going all day, but the warm temperatures outside, it was so hot in my house, I had to open a door. I'm wearing a pair of shorts and a short-sleeved t-shirt. I'll probably let the fire die out today, and perhaps we'll relight it tonight ... if it gets colder. It was so hot last night, I couldn't sleep - even in the coldest room in the house, and I came out to the couch, where I dozed, fitfully, without any covers ... because it was too hot.

Isn't there something very wrong about talking about it being too hot ... in Maine ... in December?

And the grass is still green, too, which makes the fact that this is December and *the* HOLIDAY season a bit difficult for me. My girls are counting down the days (there are twelve, they tell me). Apparently, they aren't having the same difficulty with getting into the spirit that I am. In fact, last night, we pulled out the decorations and strung some fake holly and lights in the front window.

Which is kind of funny, I think. We put a string of electric lights in the front window, and all the while, I've been turning off the electric lights each evening and lighting the wall sconce oil lamps. It's nice sitting in the amber glow of the oil lamplight and knitting (squares for the annual charity blanket project), but now, we've put lights in the window. Lights that require electricity. Sure, we could just not plug them in (and to be sure, I will be VERY selective of when those lights go on ;).

Deus Ex Machina and I have been looking at our numbers. The Riot4Austerity website is gone now, but Deus Ex Machina did some sleuthing and found averages for usage in the categories covered by the Riot's calculator. Our biggest downfall is still consumer spending, and we're still over the 50% mark in that one. Even with our second-hand shopping (and we're very excited about the New2U shop that's going in next door to the dance school :), our numbers are pretty high (I blame it on my job - self-employed, working from home - and our homeschooling ... and for the purposes of calculating our footprint, we've never tried to separate out the work/school stuff from our personal usage :).

That said, we're using less than 1/3 of what the average American uses in every category (even accounting for driving 24 miles to and from the dance school a couple of times per week), except garbage and in that category we're well below 10%.

Of course, now with the holidays and those lights in the window, we may see an increase in our electric usage.

So, to off-set our carbon footprint, this month, it's oil lamplight in the evening and retiring the automatic dishwasher ... and since we can't have the real twinkling lights of the moon reflecting off the snow, maybe the dimly twinkling lights in the window will put me in the mood.

I wonder how long I'd have to ride the bike generator to keep those lights glowing?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Let's Do the Time Warp Again

I was looking through some old pictures.

Here's what I found from August 2001:

And from July 2009:

Like ... wow!

I know what changes have been made, because, mostly, *I* made them. In picture two, I set, filled and planted those raised garden beds (I had a lot of help building them). I put up the clothesline. I planted the apple tree.

But I'd never seen the before and after pictures side-by-side. It's kind of fun to see the huge difference.

If I had to pick one thing from the pictures of which I am most proud, I would choose the fact that the little window AC unit we had in 2001 was only here for that season, and it's been gone ... with a long before it for eight years, and from the second picture, I'm most proud of my lovely clothesline.

It's not your imagination, either, and it's also not the poorer quality of the camera used to take the 2001 picture. The house actually is brighter. In 1998 we used a transparent stain on the untreated wood siding. It gave the house that orangish color, and the guy at the paint store insisted the house would look like a pumpkin. Fast forward seven years, and we're restaining the house, but we can't use the transparent stain, because it's not covering like it should, and so we went with an opaque stain. Ha! And the paint guy thought it looked like a pumpkin before! He should see it now, eh?

And the grass really is greener these days, too, especially right in front of the house behind the clothesline, because that's where the (new in 2004) septic tank is ;).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Global ... 'Weirding'?

It seems, lately, every time we cross the saltmarsh, it's high tide. It must be high tide, because the marsh channels are tidal, and the water level rises and falls with the tides, but it seems like every time I'm going across the marsh, lately, the channels are full and the water is all but lapping against the road.

I've been looking at it a lot lately asking my fellow travelers: is the marsh more full? Have sea levels been rising? Or am I just hypersensitive to the issue because of my involvement with the whole doomer crowd (with carbon footprint and global climate change being one of the banners the crowd is waving)?

I asked Deus Ex Machina those questions the other day as we were crossing, and I was looking at how close the water was to the road. I remarked that if the sea levels rose by just a foot - a mere twelve inches - during spring tides (twice a month) and storm surges, the road on which we were traveling would be closed due to flooding. Another foot rise (just twenty-four inches), and we'd be cut-off twice a day, every day, during high tide.

There's a scene in the movie I am Legend in which the character played by Will Smith checks the sunrise and sunset times to be sure that he's not out after dark. That would be us, checking the tidal charts every day before we left the house to be sure that we could get back home.

In 2007 the coast of Maine was hit by a massive Nor'easter which was dubbed The Patriot's Day storm. It caused significant damage along the coast including huge waves that dragged cars and houses into the surf. High tide was higher than normal, and all of the roads heading north from where I live were closed due to water. All of them. Can you imagine? The flooded roads only lasted a few hours, and as the tide went out, so did most of the water, but during that time we were pretty much stuck on whatever side of the Scarborough salt marsh that we happened to be on. Deus Ex Machina was at work ... on one side of the marsh. We were at home ... on the other side.

Some people fared worse than others. Much of southern Maine is made up of marshy areas, and many of these marshes have been developed. Dirt fill is brought in to bring the level of the solid ground above what would be the natural water level and then roads and buildings with parking lots (all impermeable surfaces) are built. The marshes act like a natural sponge to absorb the water, and so, while the marsh area will be wet and mucky, there are often higher areas that will remain dry - even in the worst storms and/or wettest years. With these natural sponges covered up and built upon, the water has no where to go, and we fight a losing battle against the very forces we thought to control.

The consequences are sometimes humorous ... from a bystander's point-of-view, but I'll bet a Hubbard squash that this guy wasn't laughing.

Yes, that is, indeed, a road under all that water, and that last car didn't make it quite all the way through as the water flooded across the road.

There's been a very interesting discussion happening on the Portland Permaculture Meet-up group regarding Global Warming, and I've seen a couple of articles about glacial melt and sea levels rising. People who aren't personally affected by either of these things will declare that global warming is a farce perpetrated on us by the world's governments in an attempt at fear-mongering and resource control. Denial is a very powerful emotion. During last year's winter storms that dumped feet of snow on areas of the country where they usually get only inches, the naysayers often quipped, "How's this global warming?"

But whether we call it "climate change" or "global warming" or "global weirding" (as some have suggested) it's very clear that *something* most definitely is happening.

There are a lot of anecdotal accounts of the changes in the weather - with both the hottest year on record and the wettest year on record having occurred in the last decade. We're still having an unseasonably warm year (although 1998 here in Maine was pretty warm, too, as I recall). In fact, I'm still cutting kale from the garden, and I *just* planted my spring crop of garlic last week.

At this point, whether it's human caused or a some natural warming/cooling cycle of the Earth is really moot. At this point, we can't stop what's happening. It's happening. The glaciers in Siberia are melting and leaving methane seeping lakes in their wake (which, by all accounts, will only exacerbate the climate changes). The ocean levels are rising and are drowning whole nations.

Continuing to point fingers and blame this one or that one is no longer a useful or productive exercise. Neither is having conference after conference with all of the verbal wrangling and no action. If our leaders won't do anything, we must, because as a species, *we* are at risk, and we can't count on any political entity to "save" us.

All we can do, now, is to get ready to learn to live with the consequences, which means, maybe, we have to check the tidal charts every day before we travel anywhere to be sure that we can get back home if the roads end up flooded. It means that we may not have access to things we've always had, because getting them to us will be too difficult, and we'll need to find substitutes or just learn to do without. It means that, maybe, people from the coast start moving inland, and those who live inland need to figure out where those coasties will live.

It defintely means we need to stop building along the coasts, we need to stop filling in our natural sponges, and perhaps we need to start deconstructing those condos that were built on marshy areas and let nature return the balance.

Monday, December 6, 2010


When Deus Ex Machina and I were in the grocery store this past weekend, I overheard a customer talking to the kid in the produce section.

Customer: Where are the strawberries?
Produce Kid (with an embarrassed lilt to his voice): We don't have any right now. The ones that we received were no good.
Customer (as he walked away): Grumble, grumble. Mumble, mumble ....

Strawberries are a summer crop. Here in the US, in December, it's not "summer" anywhere, and if strawberries are being grown, it is more likely than not under unsustainable and energy intensive conditions.

The price per barrel for oil has been hovering around $89 for the past couple of days. The price per gallon for gasoline is between $2.99 and $3.09 here in southern Maine.

How many more times will our local grocery store buy strawberries that are not suitable for selling before they stop stocking strawberries in December? And if my grocery store stops buying strawberries, how long before those growers stop expending the energy to grow them? And if the price of oil continues to rise, how much longer before we stop having the smorgasbord of grocery store products that we have today - never mind the produce section offerings of out-of-season fruits and vegetables, but how about things we take for granted like ice cream and Eggo waffles?

Is this a sign of things to come?

Deus Ex Machina and I were looking at bike generators last night. The average adult can produce a sustained 80 to 150 watts of power. A vigorous half hour ride could charge a deep-cycle battery that would provide enough power to operate my tankless water heater for about ten 5-minute showers per week.

Generating all of the electricity we would like to use from our own muscles would not be ideal - at least for us (maybe when our girls get a bit older and can help with the pedaling :), but as we continue to lower our overall usage, powering some parts of our house with a bicycle generator starts to look like a real possibility.

And, really, having spent the last decade working as a "virtual assistant", I'm starting to notice that secretary spread, which is very annoying and rather concerning. The problem is that I've never been an exercise-for-the-sake-of-exercise kind of person.

I have no aversion to hard work.

Over the holiday weekend, in fact, Deus Ex Machina and I moved a half-cord of wood from our neighbor's yard, and we'll move another half-cord the next time we have a free weekend.

I'll turn over, dig out and build raised garden beds (and plant strawberries :).

I'll shovel snow.

I'll walk two miles to the library.

And while all of those things could be considered "exercise", they're activities that need to be done and have the added benefit of also using and toning my muscles.

Unfortunately, there just aren't enough of those types of activities to really keep me in the shape I want to be in.

Having a bike generator to power our water heater so that I can take a hot shower would be so satisfying on so many levels.

We've talked for years about installing some sort of system, and we've hemmed and hawed about what would be best for our particular situation. All things considered - cost, reliability, maintenance and upkeep, ease of use - the bicycle generator seems a very good choice. I'm not considering a whole-house human-powered system (which would be cost prohibitive and would require more time and energy than either Deus Ex Machina or I could supply), neither could we afford a whole-house solar or wind system (which is why our goal has been to reduce our usage).

There is no one-size-fits-all system that would be completely ideal 100% of the time, and the best solution would be for each of us to explore the different options and choose a couple that would work for our, individual, situation.

For me and Deus Ex Machina, we would be limited in the amount of energy we could produce with a bike-powered generator (especially initially ... as we build those bike-riding muscles :), but pound-for-pound, the bike generator is less expensive than solar and wind generation equipment (mostly because of the huge DIY potential and the fact that it uses readily available materials) and would be (potentially) more reliable.

If we're making our own power (even if it's only enough for hot water), we're not (as) dependent on conditions over which we have absolutely no control - like the price of oil per barrel or the weather. A bike-generator would be the ultimate in empowering us to make our own power, dependent only on my willingness to jump on the bike and give it a whirl.

Friday, December 3, 2010

{this moment}

You want an explanation ... but you don't get one. That's the rule ;).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Turkey Story

A couple of weeks ago, Sharon suggested a new challenge. She based it on her friend's (Pat Meadows) Theory of Anyway, which states, basically, that if we hope to survive the changing world in which we live, we will need to revise how we do things, and adopt a lifestyle that models the way we should be living "anyway."

I loved the idea, and really, we all know I'm a jump on the challenge wagon kind of person. I find these challenges to be very helpful, because I respond well to deadlines and to having to answer to other people. It keeps me on track, and even though, we're already living, pretty much, the Anyway life, I wanted to sign-up. So, I told Deus Ex Machina about the challenge and ask, "Do you want to join?", and he said, without hesitation, "No."

Deus Ex Machina has this particular way of saying "no" to certain propositions that I just think is hilarious, and sometimes I'll ask him a question, which I know will elicit that particular "no" response just so I can hear in his voice and see in his face the "no" punctuated by his expression with an unspoken "obviously".

Anyone who studies body language would find Deus Ex Machina fascinating, as he can say volumes with a simple gesture or facial expression.

Ahh! I love that man.

So, *we* decided not to "officially" joined the challenge, but when I was reading over the suggested inclusions for each category, I realized that I had a great story for the household economy section.


Once upon a time there was this highly consumeristic couple who lived in the suburbs of southern Maine. They were always looking for the best way to do a thing, and usually, their idea of the best way entailed buying something that had been designed specifically for that task.

For years, they were happy with their compost pile that was in the corner of the yard against the fence, but the woman often lamented that it wasn't pretty, and she was all about making things look pretty. Give her a break, okay? She was a suburban housewife. But for all her wanting to make things pretty, she was more practical than skilled, and often things were utilitarian, and not terribly attractive, much to her chagrin.

After a few failed attempts at repurposing things like pallets to make the compost pile look, if not pretty, at least neat (and to her credit she never, once, considered doing away with the compost pile), the couple finally broke down and bought a very expensive, super-duper, fancy-smancy tumble composter.

Unfortunately, it never worked very well for them, and after a couple of seasons, they realized that it was actually more trouble than it was worth ... and really, it wasn't all that pretty either.

Fast forward a couple of years. Their lives are changing and they're moving away from a highly consumer mind-set to one of simplicity. They start clearing their house and yard of the too many "toys" they'd accumulated over the years (except for books, and there's always room for more books!), and they decided that the composter was just taking up space. They decided to give it away.

A friend of the family ended up being the happy recipient of the piece of equipment. He came over one day and hauled it away, and everyone was happy.

Then, he called, and told them, "Hey, I want to give you something for that composter", and the couple replied, "Not necessary. We were going to give it away anyway." But he insisted, telling them that he was raising turkeys and would like to give them one ... for Thanksgiving.

Oh, they thought. Sounds like a good deal. "Okay," they told him. "We'd love a turkey."

Through the growing season, they heard sporadic reports of the turkey's growth. They were told the turkeys were getting pretty big.

On the day of the harvest, the friend calls and states that the butcher was asking if it was okay to cut the turkey in half. It was too big to fit in a regular residential oven, they were told.

A few hours later, the friend drops off the freshly butchered turkey halves. One half of the turkey weighed 18 lbs. The other half weighed 20 ... pounds. All total the couple ended up with a 38 lb turkey ... for a composter they were giving away.

In the end, everyone was very happy.

And the couple has turkey ... for turkey pie, turkey stew, turkey stir-fry, turkey jerky, smoked turkey, turkey hash, turkey broth ....


If we were participating in the Anyway Project (which we're not *wink* *wink*), the goals for December would be:

Household Economy - home made gifts for everyone on the list.

Resource Consumption - reduce the electric bill by another 40 kWh (and find a new home for all of that video viewing equipment that is collecting dust).

Cottage Industry/Subsistence - patch the several pairs of Deus Ex Machina's jeans that are torn and no longer suitable for work, but with a patch or two would be great for working in the yard ... and darn all of those wool socks I have that just need a repair or two to be wearable (of course if I manage the first goal, I may not have time to concentrate on this one ;).

In the area of Family/Community for November, my adult daughter and I have reconciled, I have a new granddaughter, who is beautiful, and Deus Ex Machina, Precious and I have all been cast in a Christmas play at our local, community theatre.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Energy Efficiency

Everyone knows that a full freezer is more efficient than an empty one, which has nothing to hold the cold. An efficient freezer not only prolongs the life of the compressor and the fridge itself – but also saves energy.

Right now our freezer is very full. We still have half the chickens we raised this summer (which is good, because the winter is only half over, and we raised enough chicken to, hopefully, do us a whole year :) and a good amount of the quarter of a pig we bought from a local farmer. Plus, there's half of a 38 lbs turkey (I think Deus Ex Machina might be planning to discuss that one ;). We're expecting our dairy farmer friend to call us about the quarter cow we're planning to buy any time now.

So, there's plenty in there, and we're not worried about our freezer not being full enough to be a huge energy draw.

But we do worry - a great deal - about the amount of electricity we use. I've written about our eletricity usage many times over the past few years, and because it is something on which we place a great deal of emphasis, we have managed to take our numbers down, down, down over the past few years.

Back in June of this year, our average usage was over 500 kWh per month. the last two months, it's been under 400 kWh. In fact, for the month of November, we used 368 kWh, but the reduction in our usage during the month of November was a direct result of a conscious effort on our part to control the amount of electricity we consume.

At the end of October, I challenged Deus Ex Machina and the girls to keep the television, DVD player and VCR all turned off for one month (and they were *mostly* kept off for the month), and instead, if they wanted to watch movies, they were to do so on one of our computers (we have more than one laptop ;). In addition, I purchased a 21" LED computer monitor that uses about 4W of power (or something ridiculously small like that :). Then, I moved around some furniture so that we could watch movies as a family using the bigger LED screen hooked up to one of the laptop computers.

I said, if it didn't lower our electric bill for the month of no television/DVD/VCR, then I would stop talking about getting rid of the television.

Guess what? I'm still talking about getting rid of the television, as our usage went from 390 kWh in October to 368 kWh in November, and the only change we made was to keep the television (mostly) off for the month.

Personally, I think that's significant. The television, DVD player and VCR were using 40 kWh of electricity per month with very limited use (maybe two hours per day, because we don't have any television reception and when the television is on, it's being used in conjunction with one of the video players). That's over 1000 watts per day. Per day just so that we could watch television (!).

I mean, if it were doing something like keeping our food cold so that it would be safe to eat for longer periods of time, then, perhaps, I wouldn't have been pushing so hard to get it out the door, but it's just a television, and really, with all of the computers on which we can watch movies (DVDs and Netflix) and live streamed coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, of what value is the television, really? Certainly, it isn't worth the money it cost us to purchase the electricity to keep it running.

Now that we've seen how much of an energy suck the television is, I'm hoping that it's time occupying space in my house has come to an end, because I'm fairly certain that I can find another, much more useful and aesthetically pleasing, way to use the gorgeous armoire in which we have been hiding ... storing ... our television.

Back to the freezer, though. Ours is currently full, but when it wasn't full of meat or other wonderful (locally purchased, in season and then frozen) foods, I still kept it full. When I didn't have food to keep it full, I filled the freezer with gallon jugs of water. I found that it served two purposes:

1. Kept the freezer full so that it was more energy efficient;
2. Gave me a place to store the gallons of water everyone should have just in case.

Only, now, the freezer is full of meat, and I have no where to put all of those gallons of water.

I'll bet they would look nice hidden stored inside the armoire.

***I just discovered that the Riot4Austerity site is no longer in service, which means the calculator I used to use to compare my family's energy consumption to what the "average" American uses is also gone. In June 2010, when my usage was over 500 kWh per month, we were using 45% of the electricity used by the average American (with almost half of that being from renewable energy sources, like hydro). With our usage down by 25%, I guess we're using about a third of what the average American uses.

I'm still not convinced we've gone as low as we can get before we start to feel uncomfortable, and frankly, I haven't (and neither has my family, really) begun to feel any deprivation, whatsoever, in the reductions we've made. We haven't even begun to get to the point where we're rationing electricity, and we still use as much electricity as we feel we need. With only a few modifications in our lifestyle, we've gone from, an average, of 700 kWh per month to 368 kWh per month.

I think there are some other things we could do to bring our numbers down even more, and actually that's the goal, because with every kWh that we don't use, we get closer to being able to afford a system to generate all of our own power.

A $60 electric bill is pretty damned nice, but wouldn't having no electric bill be pretty grand?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Taking "Reuse" Too Far?

I hate buying things that I know are going to break. I just hate spending the money. It seems like such a waste to always be replacing things. It's especially difficult for me, feeling like I do, that our cushy, soft lives are going to become much harder in the not-too-distant future, and that we will need to be a lot more creative and learn to make-do, or do-without - neither of which are very popular choices for most "entitled" Americans.

It wasn't always this way, though. Americans didn't always have this sense of entitlement that seems so disappointingly prevalent these days.

I'm reading Margaret Mitchell's masterpiece Gone With the Wind, and while I loved the movie (still do), I believe that movie-makers often do books a great disservice, because there are things that just can not be portrayed on the screen with the same degree of intensity as can be shown in words. When I first started reading the book, Deus Ex Machina commented, "You're reading a romance?" I think a lot of people feel this book is about Scarlet O'Hara and Rhett Butler, which is what turns them off of reading it (because they have Vivien Lee and Clark Gable in their heads), but it is so much more than just a story about an empty headed cupie doll and a dashing, but dangerous, rogue.

As Ashley Wilkes tells his wife, it's about the end of the world as all Southerns knew it. And we could learn some lessons.

What's most interesting to me, where I am in the book, is the descriptions of scarcity to the extreme. During the Civil War, the North's superior Navy effectively cut the South off from the rest of the "civilized" world. Southern ships could not leave southern ports en route to Europe for trade without being attacked, and so the South, which had cotton, but no textile mills, found they had no cloth. They had no cattle, and thus, no beef or leather for shoes. They had no wheat fields, and thus no flour for bread, cake, or pie ;). Everything was scarce, including things as simple as buttons and hair pins, because the South didn't have any manufacturing infrastructure.

This is where we should start getting a little concerned about our own survival. Like the South, the US no longer has a manufacturing infrastructure. What happens when ...?

What's cool, though, is reading about how innovative the southerners were when it came to solving the problems of meeting their daily needs. No buttons? They made them out of acorn caps wrapped in cloth. No leather for shoes? They made them out of old pieces of carpeting attached to wooden soles.

It's this type of creativity and innovation that we should be striving to immulate.

We could learn a lot from war survivors. Indeed, this same sort of adaptibility is what got the Europeans through two horrific and devastating, back-to-back wars, and I've often posted a link to this list of 100 Items to Disappear First, as an example of things we will either have to stock up on or learn to do without (and eventually, depending on the circumstrances, if it's a consummable, regardless of how much we stock up, we'll more likely than not end up having to do without at some point). As bad as the recent wars have been for our military personnel, I think we, Americans, have no idea how bad war can be, and how much is lost and sacrificed ... and not just lives.

So, today, when one of the (cheap, plastic, made-to-be-replaced) rabbit water bottles broke, and we were thinking about how we'd have to buy another one, but I wasn't in a position to run off to the store this morning, but we couldn't leave the rabbit out there with no water all morning until Deus Ex Machina came home for lunch, I improvised a solution.

What you see here is a bottle that originally held lemon juice and was in the recycling. It has been repurposed to hold water for our rabbit. The opening was the perfect size for the drip spout.

We may, yet, decide to replace his broken water bottle, or when the other bottles break, we may just continue repurpose other plastic bottles as long as we can find a bottle that the drip spout fits.

So, if I were to add a bit of sugar to the rabbit's water, would this be an example of making lemonade when given lemons (juice)?

Friday, November 19, 2010

{this moment}

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment to pause, savor and remember.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bucket Garden

I was so disappointed with my very sad corn crop this year. I attributed it to the weird weather ... or to the fact that I grew the crop in buckets, and perhaps the corn just didn't like the buckets.

When I chose seeds for my space, I intentionally picked a seed that would bear several, smaller ears per stalk, and I intentionally picked a seed that would produce "field" corn as opposed to "sweet" corn. Sweet corn is that stuff with which we are all familiar that's so yummy on the cob dripping with butter. Field corn, by contrast, is not meant to be eaten on the cob, but rather is grown to be processed into corn meal or popped, like popcorn.

The problem is that I've never seen "field" corn, and so when I harvested my tiny ears of blue corn, I just figured it was another bust year. The kernels were minuscule, and I figured, not properly formed. I harvested them, but I didn't have any idea what I was going to do with them.

This weekend, Gar came over and we were chatting about the birds in her yard. She was telling us how the blue jays love the corn she sets out, and so I thought that I would shuck the corn I harvested and that's been sitting in a 1/2 bushel basket drying since mid-October, and then, I would put it outside for the birds. After I took off the dried shucks, I thought, why not see if I can get the kernels off.

Oh, wow! The tiny dried kernels looked just like popcorn!

And so I did ... pop it!

And if you've never had fresh - like really, REALLY FRESH - popcorn, it's so totally worth finding some. It's WAY better than movie popcorn, and cooked in oil with just a little added salt, it didn't even need butter.

So, now I know, and next year, we'll continue the three-sisters experiment ... more blue corn, more blue squash, and ... does anyone know of a blue pole bean?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Green in the Winter

Deus Ex Machina and I were walking through the woods the other day. I've been on a quest for the elusive, but amazing Chaga mushroom, which, when it forms on the birch trees, contains some curative properties (I'm all about "natural medicine").

Peeking out of the leaf cover was this sweet, tiny green plant, and I asked Deus Ex Machina what it was. He didn't know.

Through all of the observations and lessons that we've learned on plant identification, I know that plants that hold their color through winter are often used by wild life (and in days of yore, humans) as a winter food source.

I said, "I'll bet it some sort of winter green."

To which Deus Ex Machina replied, "Wintergreen? You think?", and he bent over and plucked one of the little leaves.

And I clarified, "Not wintergreen, but a plant that is edible and eaten as a green during the winter."

He broke the leaf in half and sniffed it, and then, held it under my nose, asking, "What do you think now?"

Sure, enough, it is wintergreen. We harvested a bunch, brought it home, and enjoyed some wintergreen tea. Yum!

It was such an incredible experience ... at a moment when I really needed a good thing to happen!

I love positively indentifying a plant ... accidentally :).

The next day Deus Ex Machina went for a short walk back through the woods near our house. He says he found a HUGE patch of wintergreen back there.!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Staying Warm in a Modern Home

The other day at our outdoor skills class, we were talking about the issue of power outages. Several of the families had been affected by the recent storms here in Maine that knocked out power to a not insignificant number of homes. Our hostess, Mama Bear, mentioned the Ice Storm of '98.

Back when it happened, Deus Ex Machina and I had been in Maine for less than a year, and we'd only just moved into our house the month before. We were woefully unprepared for living without electricity, but a woodstove had been on our wishlist for whatever house we ended up buying, and this house had one. So, even though we had only candles for light, we still had heat.

It was a pretty severe storm. We lost power for about eighteen hours, all total, but there were a lot of people in the western part of the state who were without electricty for weeks. Some people died from hypothermia, because they didn't know how to stay warm without their electricity, and more than one person succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning from operating things like generators and kerosene heaters inside their homes without adequate ventilation.

Because I live in a cold climate, heat is a real concern, and so I started looking into some ideas for off-grid heating. The woodstove, of course, is my favorite solution, and I was thrilled a couple of weeks ago when I noticed that my neighbors have a chimney now, and they've (finally) installed the woodstove they've been talking about getting for two years, now. They are already very pleased with their choice, and I'm just tickled pink for them. Did I mention that I love my woodstove?

Unfortunately, installing a woodstove isn't an option for everyone, and if you happen to be one of those people who live in a cold climate, but don't have a back-up heat source in the event of power outage, there are some things that can be done.

The first bit of advice is to get smaller. That is, move your living area into a much smaller space.

In our outdoor skills class, we spend a lot of time talking about the importance of adequate shelter. Fatal hypothermia can happen incredibly quickly, and after only a couple of hours of being too cold, one's thoughts become erratic, the ability to think soundly and logically is lost, and even as simple a task as lighting a match becomes next to impossible. When we learned about building debris huts, we were told that they needed to be small (about the size of the person who will be occupying the structure), because a properly built debris hut can be warmed with just one's body heat.

If we reduce our goal from one of heating our entire house, to one of heating only one or two rooms, it becomes a lot easier to find solutions. If I didn't have a woodstove, therefore, the first thing I would do is to move everyone into my bedroom. It's on the south-facing side of my house so that we could take advantage of what little solar-passive heating we would get.

Next, I would take thick blankets (or even the mattresses, perhaps, depending on if I were planning for this to be a long-term or short-term solution) and hang them against the walls as an extra insulative layer. I happen to know that this room is not very well insulated. I'd also hang a blanket over the doorway, as an extra insulative layer, and after the sun when down, I'd put quilts over the windows.

Then, I'd devise a non-electric heater.

My favorite small-space heater is the Japanese kotatsu. Basically, it's a low table (kind of like a coffee table) with a heater in the middle. A blanket is draped over the top, and on top of the blanket is a glass or wooden table top on which food can be placed. The family sits around the table with their feet under the blanket and in that way stay warm.

Modern kotatsu uses an electric heater, but if we're looking at heating alternatives during power outages, we need something else.

My solution would be a large coffee can filled with hot rocks, and I'd get the hot rocks by firing up my grill outside and making the rocks hot by placing them in the grill fire. *Note: I would not bring smoldering charcoal embers into the house for this use because of concerns regarding carbon monoxide, and the space would not be well-ventilated.

And while the grill was hot, I'd grill some hamburgers for dinner and heat up a pot of water for tea, and then, we could all go inside the "warm" room, sit around the kotatsu, listen to the next installment in the The Wheel of Time series on our wind-up iPod speaker/charger, and have a nice dinner ... and the tea would stay warm on the top of our kotatsu.

Later, when we were ready for bed, we'd transfer the hot rocks to the bed warmer, and everyone could sleep nice and cozy in her own bed.

Not having electricity does not have to be a tragedy. I mean, heck, our ancestors did it for millions of years ... and some of them lived in very large, very drafty old castles. Surely we, with our well-insulated, modern homes can do, at least, as well.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Did You Know ...?

I'm fascinated by history. It's not so much that I think we can learn from history and avoid the same mistakes, but that it's fascinating to kind of step outside of the picture and start noticing the trends.

I've been doing the twenty-first equivalent of clipping news articles for the past two years (i.e. printing articles from online news sources and keeping them in a notebook), and the similarities to the 1920s and 1930s are stark. Worse, though, is the repetitive nature of the headlines. One month we're coming out of the Recession and the next there are massive job losses. In 2008 the headlines were "Oil over $80 per barrel!", which promised to devastate an already teetering economy, and, yet, today the price per barrel is $86, but no one seems worried.

The problem is that we seem to have such short memories, and we're so easily distracted. Sunday evening, due to a very intense storm, thousands of Mainers were without electricity. Some may still be. I was speaking with another homeschooling parent yesterday, who had lost power during the storm, and saying that we had oil lamps and "stuff" so that when the power goes out, for us, it's no big deal. And, I didn't say, in so many words, but the reason we have all of these things is because the power grid is unreliable. Her response was just about what I've come to expect, and basically it was something like knowing that she and her family should do some preparing, but .... This time the power was out for a few hours. A few years ago, we lost power for a few days. In 1998 there were a lot of Mainers who lost power for a couple of weeks.

I'm not making this stuff up just to scare you. (Sh)It happens, and the question is, do we learn from our mistakes, or do we keep reinforcing Einstein's definition of insanity.

In 1945 President Roosevelt warned that we had become a nation dependent on oil. It was he who pioneered our foreign policy based on oil, and he who first began negotiating with the Princes of the House of Saud of the Arabian peninsula (in the Islamic country we know as Saudi Arabia).

He was the first to warn us that we were growing too dependent on oil.

And we didn't listen in 1945, because we were too distracted and in a state of ecstasy after having just "won" World War II.

He hasn't been the last to express concern.

Nixon warned us in his 1974 State of the Union Address that we were in the midst of an energy crisis.

We didn't listen.

His successor, Gerald Ford, told us that we needed to achieve "energy independence."

And a few years later, the much maligned James Earl "Jimmy" Carter warned us that we were heading down a slippery slope with regard to our dependence on oil, and because he was the first US President to tell us, without mincing words, that we needed to wake up and smell the gas fumes, because they might not be around much longer, his whole Presidency was deemed a dismal failure. He told us what we didn't want, but very much needed, to hear. He even went so far as to install a solar hot water system on the White House, in an attempt to be a leader and show us what is possible, to lead the way down the path of energy dependence by, not just speaking the words, but doing the deeds.

And, even Reagan, who failed to take the same leadership stance as Carter (and actually removed the solar hot water system Carter had had installed - boo!), spoke the need to gain independence from our addiction to foreign oil.

Both of the Bush oil Barons and Clinton, whose Presidency they bookended, reiterated the message of the need to decrease our dependence on foreign oil. And, like Carter, Bush the Second (sort of) led by example in building his off-the-grid ranch in Crawford, Texas (although it wasn't terribly well-publicized, and he, apparently, didn't do it as an example to the rest of America, but in response to what he knew was happening and in hopes that he could mitigate the ill-effects of resource depletion for himself and his family).

And, now, once again, we're being told by our current President that we need to stop depending on foreign oil.

I had a very interesting conversation with a family member a few days ago. He asked about my book, which is about ways to lower one's energy dependence based on the supposition that we have twenty-one days to prepare for a single TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) event that will destroy the "grid", and our conversation took some interesting twists and turns as we discussed current events and possible solutions.

I, of course, don't believe there is a single magic bullet that will solve all of our problems, and what I mean is that I don't believe that any one of the proposed energy-generating solutions will take the place of oil and allow us to continue living the way we are living.

For me, the key is that we can not continue living the way we are living, and if we hope to retain some modicum of our modern lives, we will need to voluntarily change how we live, because voluntarily making those changes is so much easier and so much more rewarding than having those changes forced on us by a world with finite resources that are quickly being gobbled up by our PacMan mentality. We can make changes to how we live now and learn to really appreciate how fortunate we are, or we can wait until the sh*t truly hits the fan and get caught up in the whirlwind of resource grabbing that will inevitably ensue. At that point, it will be a scramble to see who can live the longest, and a lot of people are going to lose.

For the past four decades every single President has warned us that we needed to stop our dependence on foreign oil.

And we have, yet, to listen.

In his show this past summer, Jon Stewart provided us a short history lesson. As Jon quips, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me eight times ...."


Monday, November 8, 2010

Unschooling Leads to Unjobs

I was working on a post last night with a storm raging outside. The sustained gusts of wind were so intense at times that the house rattled. Around 2330 with the wind raging, the rain blowing, and nary a car moving on the road, the power blipped off - everything, inside and out, including the streetlights, went dark. Usually, there's a squeal from a UPS or a squeak from a smoke alarm, but this time, nothing. One minute there was the constant, underlying hum of electrical equipment, and the next minute the only noise was the storm outside, and I was plunged into darkness.

I sat for a moment with my hand on the mouse, trying to figure out what happened - one very brief and slightly bizarre moment when all of my worst fantasies converged and I found myself contemplating what my next step would be if, indeed, this were the beginning of the Apocalypse about which I often write in such a cavalier fashion.

Like a cat who has finally succeeded in killing its toy, I let go the computer mouse, lying lifeless and dark under my hand. I stood up and found some matches, and lit the oil lamp wall sconce.

It's bright (comparatively) light flooded the room, and I found myself enjoying the soft amber glow of a non-electric light. It wasn't nearly as bright as its hardwired counterpart, but it was adequate for doing things like darning socks or piecing a quilt or knitting ... or playing a quick game of Scrabble on the laptop. It is enough light to beat back the darkness.

I went to bed shortly after the electricity went out, and as I drifted off to sleep, I pondered how my day would develop if I didn't start it with a morning tea, email and the Internet.

Alas, the power came back on (for us) around 0500.

It's a bit of a disappointment.

It would have been nice if Deus Ex Machina could have had an unexpected day off ... like a snow day. It would have been nice if we could have had a day when things just slowed down and anything on the calendar had to be postponed or canceled. It would have been nice to have had a taste of what life could be (will be??) if we were really living the "un" life.

The post I was working on when the lights went out was about unjobbing. I had been reading an article on Yahoo! Finance entitled 6 Careers You Can Do From Home. Most people know that I work from home. My job title is "Virtual Assistant" (number five in the article), but I also do some web design (number four), and as a certified teacher, I serve as a resource teacher/tutor (number six) for the homeschool community.

I loved the last paragraph of the article which asserts these six careers are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to at-home careers, and it's true - absolutely. In fact, back in its heyday (the late 90s just before the DotCom bust), the home-based business was the fastest growing industry in the US. Books about working from home and being a home-based entrepreneur (in particular a Work-From-Home Mom, or WAHM) flooded the bookstore shelves.

Today, those of us who opt to work from home aren't anything as glamorous-sounding as yesterday's WAHMs, and in fact, there are likely many more work-from-home Dads (WAHDs?) and work-from-home single people (WAHSPs?) than there are WAHMs. Today the term is "unjobbers", and the folks who are creating these sorts of unjobs are the people who grew up when working moms were having their epiphanies and coming home to work and be with their children, too (having and eating the proverbial cake ... which explains why our butts are so big). These are the people who grew up knowing that the traditional 9-to-5 work life does not offer the types of freedoms (in particular financial) that the previous generations had been promised.

Further, with the economy shedding jobs for the past two years like my chow-chow losing her winter coat, people (in particular the fresh-out-of-college generation and the over 45 crowd who've lost jobs, but still need to work) have been looking for other options.

What interests me most, though is the knowledge that unjobbing is probably the perfect solution for those of us in the suburbs - designing and creating our own jobs, which will allow us to live and work where we are, rather than needing to commute. In short, unjobbing helps us get more local, which will be the only way we can continue to thrive in a lower energy world.

In an article about unjobbing, the author states that unjobbing is a natural extension of unschooling. I thought that was pretty interesting, and the fact is that Deus Ex Machina and I don't just "unschool" our girls. We are also "unschooling" ourselves ... and in what we hope will be the very near future, both of us will (finally) be unjobbing, as well.

In the meantime, I'll just have to keep hoping for a power outage so that Deus Ex Machina can get a free day off.

Several years ago, I began collecting books about working from home (many of which I found at Book These are some that I found particularly useful. Some of them are out-of-print, but copies might still be found at your local library, on Paperbackswap, at a locally owned bookstore, or even at Goodwill.

**Finding Your Perfect Work: The New Career Guide to Making a Living, Creating a Life

**The Entrepreneurial Parent: How to Earn Your Living and Still Enjoy Your Family, Your Work and Your Life

**The Work-At-Home Mom's Guide to Home Business: Stay at Home and Make Money With

**Mompreneurs: A Mother's Practical Step by Step Guide to Work at Home Success

There are dozens of others, but these are ones that I actually had and read.

Friday, November 5, 2010

{this moment}

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment to pause, savor and remember.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

And the Winner Is ...

Survival Mom

Congratulations! You've won your very own copy of Jenna Woginrich's Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life

Please leave a comment with your address. Comments are moderated, and I will not publish it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Changing the Corporate Mindset

Central Maine Power company, the corporation that owns the power lines all across Maine (i.e. they own the equipment that delivers electricity to my house, but they do not generate any electricity themselves), has decided that they are going to streamline their operation.

I recently discovered (through my homeschool e-list, no less - those homeschoolers are so smart and connected :) that CMP has decided to change all of our meters to SmartMeters.

For the person who posted the news to the homeschooling list, the issue centers around the SmartMeters' potential health risks. Apparently, the meters emit some amount of radiation, and the suggestion is that it's in excess of what similar electronic equipment emits and potentially hazardous to the health of those within a close proximity to the meters, especially children.

CMP argues that things like cell-phones, WiFis, televisions, laptop computers, and microwave ovens also emit radiation, but the opponents suggest that the amount emitted by the SmartMeters exceeds what these other, commonly used, devices emit.

The other concern is with regard to information security. The SmartMeters are kind of like little computers that send information back to CMP through radio transmitters (and are a bit like wireless Internets in this case), and that our personal information can be, therefore, compromised by someone who has the knowledge to hack into the system. An additional consideration with regard to the way the meters work is that with not a lot of effort, a hacker can disable the entire system.

Personally, I'm more concerned about the security issue than I am about the health issue, especially since Identity Theft seems so prolific these days and can take years to repair the damage done from one thief with a single credit card. As for the health concerns that have been raised, the fact is that we are pretty much surrounded by radiation emitting equipment on a daily basis whether *we* personally use them or not. I don’t have a cellphone, but nearly every one every where I go does, and so, it’s likely that I’m being negatively affected by those other people’s decision to have one. The same is true of wireless Internet connections. Even if I didn’t have one in my house, my neighbors do, and nearly everywhere we go these days, there is a WiFi.

Still, I can limit my exposure by being careful about where I go, and at the moment, I still have the freedom to pick and choose the establishments I patronize. It’s kind of like second-hand smoke, and until we outlaw all radiation emitting electronic devices from public places, we’ll be exposed to some lesser or greater degree. And as for identity theft, there are small ways we can protect ourselves there, too. We can choose not to use credit cards or electronic banking (although that's still no guarantee of our financial safety), and we can be sure that credit card offers we receive in the mail are shredded or burned. We can carefully guard our social security numbers, and we can refuse to give sensitive information over the phone, and we can make sure we have spyware and antivirus software on our computers, and we can not shop online and pay cash for other purchases. Simple things, like that.

But really, it's not the health issue or the security issue that gets my hackles up. What really prickles me is the whole changing of the customer/service provider relationship, and what seems to be CMP's belief that the service they provide is essential to my life and well-being, and that they can, therefore, do whatever they wish without regard to how I feel about it.

What bothers me most about this case is that *we* have not been given a choice. In fact, until someone posted it on my homeschool e-list, I didn’t even know that, as far as CMP is concerned, it’s a done deal. They've already purchased SmartMeters to replace all of the meters in their service area.

... And they are replacing the meters for every one of their customers, without ever having given us a choice as to whether or not we wanted to accept the change.

So, in essence, they are telling me that they have the right to come onto my property and alter my house without my permission or consent (my electric meter is permanently affixed to the side of my house).

At very least, there should have been a work-order sent out to all CMP customers that needed to be signed by the homeowners to give permission for CMP to come onto the property and make changes. I neither saw nor signed any such order. In short, I shouldn’t have to “opt-out”; instead, we should have been given the opportunity of “opting-in.”

CMP has grossly overstepped its bounds, and they have changed the nature of our relationship from one of me, the customer who is paying the bills, and therefore is in “charge”, to one of them taking charge and telling me what they will provide and how they will provide it. In short, they seem to feel as if the service they are providing is one that I need, and that without my life will be significantly and negatively impacted. It's like I'm a crack-addict and CMP is my supplier, and without their product, I might curl up in a ball and just waste away.

The irony is that because their service has been fairly shoddy and not very reliable, they’ve made me realize that I can live, quite comfortably, without the electricity they supply – or at very least with a great deal less than they think I need. To be very clear, I like having electricity in my house, but I don't need it.

What's more is that the whole impetus behind this change has been to save money, and I think we, the customers, the ones who are supporting these corporations, should be fighting back, as this seems like another case of corporate greed to me. We should be letting CMP know that they don’t own us, and that we aren’t desperately in need of what they’re giving and willing, at all costs, to keep paying, regardless of what they do.

CMP has chosen to replace the meters to *save money* on man hours, which means that guy who drives around in the orange truck to read our meters each month will likely be unemployed once the meters are installed. How many of those guys are there here in Maine? In this economy, can we afford to support companies who are working so diligently to cut jobs just to save a few bucks (so that their bottom line is bigger)? Don’t think for one second that by saving money CMP wuold lower our electricity rates (which are some of the highest in the country!). Nope. It’s all about their bottom line, and as the mayor in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs says, All I heard was "Blah, Blah, science, science, BIGGER!" and bigger means better! The bigger their bottom line, the better, no matter the ultimate cost to us, the customers, to their employees, or to the state in which they operate.

We have a choice, and it doesn't have to just be to accept the SmartMeter or not, because ultimately, CMP is going to install all of these meters in which they have invested all of this money. It's not a matter of *if*, but when. Like our government, corporations have come to see us as so many pawns whom they can move around the chessboard, as they wish, and sacrifice in order to protect their kings (i.e. the CEOs, upper management, Board members, and stockholders ... i.e. the guys with the money).

We have a choice - be pawns or opt out of the game.

I'm really tired of being manipulated. Off-grid living is looking pretty good.