Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tea for Two?

I just wanted to provide a short update. I have decided to wean myself from green tea, and it's as much because I don't want to be dependent on something I can not grow in Maine, as it is the caffiene content and its effects on my body.

I'm still drinking green tea, and I will continue, because I have, something like, seven boxes of green tea in my cabinet (stocking up, you know?), and I won't waste it. So, I've been having a few cups in the morning, and in the afternoon, I'm switching to Roiboos tea, but red tea is grown, almost exclusively, in Africa, and so it won't be a long-term substitute.

I did, however, develop my own interesting blend this evening. I used chamomile, sage, one clove, a dash of cinnamon and a dash of cardamom. I realize that none of those spices grow in Maine, either, and I will continue looking for some spicy, earthy herbs to make my tea (maybe some tarragon ...??), but my feeling is that I could substitute green tea with my personal tea blend for a fraction of the cost of the green tea (assuming I grow my own chamomile and sage), even if I buy the spices, and I'm not positive, but pretty sure that the spices aren't as addictive as caffiene. So, if I can no longer access them, at least I will have already gone through the withdrawals ;).

One other benefit to my tea blend is that I drink it with honey rather than sugar, but I prefer green tea with sugar. When we start harvesting honey and start eliminating sugar, I'll want to have made the transition away from sugar, too. Sugar is also addictive, and something I will want to eventually wean myself off ;).

Thank you everyone who offered suggestions and encouragement.

And if anyone knows of a great, spicy herb that likes cold weather, let me know ;).

The Three R's: Featuring "Recycle"

The other day Big Little Sister asked me if I had any guitar picks. She only had one and couldn't find it. I didn't, because I've never really learned to use a pick. In fact, I haven't, quite, learned to pluck the strings, and I just strum with my thumb. So, I don't use a pick.

She needs one, though.

But instead of demanding (pleading, cajoling) that we go out to the music store and get a pick, she jumped right outside of the box and found her own solution. Using an old, plastic gift card, she made her own.

Today, we made these out of an old Best Buy Rewards Program card. There's even a hole in these so that we can attach them to our guitar cases ... or key chains ;).

Sorry about the blurry picture. The camera doesn't do well with small items close up ... or I'm just a lousy photographer ;).

The "recyled card pick" works pretty well, too.


Update on my "Reuse" post: Big Little Sister did a little more decorating on her guitar case. She even has a system of documenting her progress and practice schedule using stars and hearts drawn on the strips and squares. She's so creative ;).

Now, Precious wants to tape up her perfectly good ukulele case, because Big Little Sister's guitar case looks so cool ;).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Glutton For Punishment

I must just be a glutton for punishment ... or something.

In 1996, I quit a twelve year smoking habit - cold turkey. It was just like that. What made it not great timing was that two weeks after I decided it was time to quit, my unit went to the field, which is Army talk for we packed up our crap and spent a week doing our Army job while living in tents, not showering, and eating from our mess kits.

Yeah. It was a long week, during which I ended up with a salt rash in my mouth from eating so many sunflower seeds and made myself sick with peppermints (which is funny, because peppermint is supposed to cure nausea ;).

I haven't smoked since - indeed haven't wanted to ... and I still like peppermints, which I do not associate with deprivation :).

A few years later, I was a totally addicted soda drinker. I realized that I was drinking the equivalent of two liters of soda, per day, by myself, and that was some LOT of calories, and so I switched to diet soda, but after some research discovered that the stuff in soda is just nasty, and not really something any of us should be drinking, especially two LITERS of it per day.

So, I switched to coffee, which I had always enjoyed, but without soda, my coffee consumption increased. My favorite coffee beverage was Dunkin' Donuts iced caramel lattes, large with extra sugar and whipped cream. Yum! Yum!

One day, I realized they cost $4 each. I just hadn't thought about it enough, and when I did start to think about it, I realized that I couldn't really afford to spend $4 once or twice a day for an iced coffee.

Just regular coffee at home would have to do.

But it didn't ... do, that is. I decided that I needed to give up coffee, and I switched to Chai, which was the perfect, creamy and hot substitute for coffee.

Then, I read an article about the health benefits of green tea, and I switched again.

I have become quite the green tea addict. I am probably the most hydrated person in the world and will easily consume ten cups of tea on any given day - more if I have company and we're sitting around drinking tea - I always offer my guests a cup of tea, and I drink tea all day long, all year long, and little else, except an occasional glass of water (... or beer :). I drink tea both hot and cold, all year long, and while I used to drink hot tea with milk or cream and sugar, I now like it with just sugar. Green tea steeped in boiling water with two teaspoons of sugar. My whole family knows how I like it and can make my tea for me. Today, Little Fire Faery told me that she likes making my tea for me. What a sweetheart!

The problem is that green tea has caffeine, and I've been having quite a bit of trouble getting to sleep lately. It could be the mess the world is in, or it could be that I drink too much caffeine laden green tea.

I can't fix the world, but I can stop drinking green tea.

And if I stop drinking so much green tea, then I will also stop using so much sugar, which will be a significant savings at the grocery store, but also, it's something I've been thinking I needed to do anyway, because, despite my best efforts, the camellia sinesis plant, which is the "tea" plant- as in the herb most of us call "tea", won't grow in Maine. It's simply too cold.

I think it's better that I kick the habit now, when my life is very comfortable and I have plenty of all of the other things I want and need, and finding alternatives can be a pleasure of discovery rather than a scrambling out of necessity. If tea becomes scarce, I'd hate to be tempted to trade something I really need so that I can satisfy a caffeine fix ... or worse, to feel rundown and headachy from caffeine withdrawals when I need my wits about me.

I'm giving up tea ... and with it, my addiction to sugar.

I'm starting to feel a little like Thoreau.

Quiet Riot

Every now and then, I like to evaluate how we're doing with regard to "greening" our lives, and of course, the only real measure I have is to compare us to what other Americans are doing.

I ran our numbers today using this calculator, and after some really careful calculations of our food numbers, I have to admit that I am really embarrassed, but moreover, disappointed with us.

According to grocery store receipts, our diet breaks down as follows:

45% local
23% dry/bulk goods
32% non-local/other

I was surprised that our local numbers weren't a higher percentage of our diet. I tried to include meat (at about a cost of about $2 per person per day), which is all local, but isn't on any grocery lists, and I added the local milk, but what I was unable to accurately calculate is the produce we bought or grew last summer. There is no produce on our grocery receipts.

So, I started thinking about what we normally eat. For lunch yesterday we had leftover Borscht, boiled eggs and biscuits. The borscht was all local (except the vinegar). The biscuit recipe I use calls for butter (local), cream (local), salt, baking powder, sugar, and flour - all non-local.

If the soup is almost 100% local and the eggs are local (from my chickens and ducks), and some of the ingredients in the biscuits are local, what percentage of local is that meal?

For dinner we had porkchops, oven-fried potatoes, and cranberry jelly. Porkchops from the 1/4 pig we purchased in the fall (seasoned with non-local salt, pepper, cumin, onion powder and garlic powder, and local sage). The potatoes are local. The cranberry jelly is local cranberries and non-local sugar.

So, what portion of that meal is local versus non-local?

Lunch today is dried pasta (does dried pasta go in the "dry/bulk goods" category or the "prepared foods" category?) with a tomato/basil meat sauce comprised of local hamburg, homemade/frozen basil (all local except the nuts and salt), and home-canned tomato sauce.

What's obvious to me is that I need to keep better records of what we buy, especially at the Farmer's Market, farm stands and stores, bulk meat purchases, and PYO places. I also need to keep better track of what we get from the home garden. I was, for a while, but lost the spreadsheet when my computer crashed a few months ago.

I think our "local" numbers are better than is reflected, but I can't prove it, and so I'll go with what I can prove.

For the other areas, we're doing really well, except in one area, and that's consumer spending, which also surprised me. My girls tried to console me by saying stuff like the $450 beehive purchase isn't something usual, but I reminded them that there always seems to be something else that isn't usual to take its place ... like my new computer purchase a few months ago. There's always something, and so I let that number stand, too, with the resolution to do better.

As of January 27, 2010, our numbers are:

Transportation: We use 22% of the US average (about 10 gal of gasoline per person per month)

Electricity: We use about 45% of the US average, but 40% of our electricity is from hydro power, per the CMP report we are given annually. So, our actual *usage* is probably close to normal. We use about 583kWh per month, total.

Heating: We use 29% of the US average, but that's not just for heating our house. The number also includes what we use for heating water. Since we burn culled wood, all of which was free, our actual "heating" is probably 0% ;).

Garbage: We throw away only about 6% of what the average American does. That's one bag of garbage per week for our entire household. I didn't actually weigh our garbage, and I didn't calculate any costs of things discarded when we're out, but since we don't eat "out" much (although we do often 'carry out', but any waste there ends up in our one bag of garbage per week), I think those numbers are negligible and wouldn't change this number much ... although as with the food calcuations above, I might be unpleasantly surprised :).

Water: Our water bill says we use *24 units*. We're not, exactly, sure what kind of unit the number 24 constitutes, but water bills are usually calculated based on cubic feet or cubic yards. One cubic yard is 202 gallons of water. Based on that calculation, we use abou 54 gallons of water per day, which seems about right, based on our best guess (i.e. 20 gallons of water for showers, 10 gallons of water for flushing, 10 gallons of water for dishes, 10 gallons for "other"). Our water usage is about 11% of what the average American uses.

Consumer Goods: And here is where we really do match almost equally with the average American. I was disappointed to note that we spend about 87% of what the average American spends, and these are probably pre-Recession numbers. Our percentage may be higher in today's economic times. Of course, it's for things like a beehive and a computer, because mine crashed, and I used a computer for my job. I don't think a new beehive is a typical American purchase, although it may become one ;).

I didn't and don't make New Year's resolution, but I do resolve to better track our food purchases, especially as we start getting closer to spring and summer, when we spend the bulk of our food budget on stocking up, and I also resolve to better track our "consumer spending" and get it back under control. It's not a bad thing to buy a beehive or replace a computer, but there have been a few consumer choices we've made in the past six months that we could have done better on.

I'm not thrilled with our numbers. I'd love to be at 10% in everything, because I do believe we are the "average" American family, and nothing we're doing is so outrageous or difficult. It only requires mindfulness, and in these times, we should remember that being mindful is the key to preparedness ... and survival.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Three R's : Featuring "REPAIR"

My lovely young daughters make me so proud.

They are such amazing little girls, and despite hitting a bump or two when we started traveling high speed down this road to less, they've really taken up the torch - as it were - on their own. I'm so impressed with, not only their willingness to really embrace living with less (at Christmas they, voluntarily and without any coaxing, made all of the gifts they gave - including some really lovely knitted items and gorgeous paintings - what good girls!), but also their ability to really make the best of things.

I guess the thing is that they have everything they need and a good deal of what they want, and all of the other stuff is just ... stuff, which isn't all that important in the greater scheme of things.

But knowing what the world is today and how most people react, especially to repairing rather than replacing, and having been raised deeply entrenched in the consumerist culture, I'm always amazed at how un-consumerist my little girls are.

Big Little Sister has just started guitar lessons. She's had her guitar for a while now. It was a Christmas gift about three years ago (Little Fire Faery was given a violin and Precious was given a ukulele the same year, and they are both taking lessons, too ... from the same person - who is promising a "family" ensemble lesson in the future :). The guitar came with a very cheap, soft-sided vinyl case, and while the guitar has survived unscathed, the case ... not so much. It had several holes in it, and initially, my intention was to replace it.

But it takes so much energy to go out to the store.

So, I grabbed the roll of duct tape.

I expected Big Little Sister to grumble a little. She didn't. In fact, she positively bubbled about how cool her guitar case looked.

Um .... Yeah ....

And not only did the duct taped bag not bother her - at all - but she also decided that adding some embellishments with colored electrical tape would be neat.

The finished product looks pretty ghetto ...

... but like a good book and most people, it's not what's on the outside that matters. It's what's on the inside that counts :).

Best of all, she practices every day, and when she practices, so do her sisters. I expect she'll be doing the Linda Perry thing in the not-too-distant future.

How to Make Survival Food ...

Or, Learning to Can From a DVD


I wish I had thought to make this video.

But like so many of the products that are available these days, it never occurred to me that someone might actually need/want to purchase a DVD on this particular topic, especially when the information is available from so many sources ... for free.

Of course, the whole website and the video are just great examples of marketing prowess, because they call it "survival food", and really, it's just basic canning information ... what you could get from the Ball book, available for $5 from the grocery store (as opposed to the $39.35 for the DVDs :).

All I can say is - Damn. I wish I'd thought of it!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I Say No to GMOs

The only way to ensure that your food supply is completely safe from human-centric genetic tampering is to buy from local, organic farmers, or to grow it yourself.

I do both.

I say NO to GMOs!


For the record, though, I was unaware of exactly what GMO meant. The idea of human beings trying to manipulate animal or plant genes didn't really bother me so much, because the fact is that human beings have been tampering with genes since before we even knew, exactly, what genes were.

All animal breeds and plant hybrids are the result of human intervention.

The difference is that an AKC registered beagle puppy has all dog genes, or at least all canine genes. A Maine coon cat is all feline.

A genetically modified tomato, by contrast, is not all tomato. In fact, it's not even all plant. Some of it is animal genes, which are added in a laboratory.

And something like that, no matter how many times we tried different pollinating techniques, would never ... NEVER ... occur naturally. There's just no way to force a fish and a tomato plant to produce offspring, which is the way dog breeds and plant hybrids were produced ... before we got so damned crafty in the laboratory.

The problem is that we can not possibly know what it might do to us ... or our future generations through our genes. It may do nothing, but it might do a lot of something really awful. We know what eating real food (whole foods like fresh fruits and vegetables and wild and domesticated animals) will do to us, because we have millions of years of evidence.

For the last hundred years, especially for people in this country, the bulk of our diet has been processed foods, and we've never been in worse condition health-wise. We already know what happens to our bodies when we primarily consume foods that are so highly processed that they don't even remotely resemble anything that grows. If those are bad for us, how worse the food that looks natural, but isn't?

Why take the chance?

I didn't know exactly what GMOs were, but I did try to stay away from them. Now that I know a bit more, I will stop trying to stay away from them, and just do it ... for me and for my family.

The good news is that it will save us thousands of dollars per year, because if we've resolved to avoid GMOs, and we can't guarantee that the restaurant we're patronizing doesn't use GMO crops in their food, then we can't eat out, right?

Saving money should make Deus Ex Machina happy ... even if it does mean no more Chinese take-out :).

**I owe thanks to Phelan for posting the video on her blog ;).

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What is Security?

Once again the "experts" are telling us that homeownership is a bad investment, and maybe if I saw my house in the way that they mean, as an asset that can be bought or sold, I might agree.

But my home is not an "asset" - at least, not now.

There was a time when we used the house as our personal ATM through a HELoC (Home Equity Line of Credit), but with the exception of a very costly, major and necessary repair (replacing the out-dated and failed septic system), most of the charges on our HELoC account were made during the four months at the beginning of 2006 when Deus Ex Machina's employer looked like they might be going bankrupt and didn't pay him a full paycheck for four months straight.

It was during that financial crisis that I realized how important our home is to us and resolved to hang onto our house - at all costs.

My house isn't an investment, at least not the kind of investment that has anything to do with me reaping some monetary return ... but that's not entirely true, either.

My house, my home, my yard, my garden, the bees, the chickens, the ducks, the rabbits, the mushrooms, my home-based business, our homeschool, the heating with wood, the stocking our pantry ... all of it is an investment in our future. I will very likely never see any significant monetary gain from any of it ... including my home business which pays me just enough money that I can continue to work part-time from home, but not much else.

For me, our house is not about earning cash dividends. Our house is about giving us security.

The article states that the notion buying a home is a ticket to financial security is a "scam" perpetrated on the American people by corporations seeking to keep us in debt, less mobile and with the storage to purchase all sorts of needless consumer goods.

And I couldn't disagree more, except that *we*, as citizens and not consumers, have to change our definition of financial freedom. If our definition includes anything about being able to buy all the things that we want, then the article is completely correct. We shouldn't be investing in a house. We should be renting, and putting our earnings into more liquid assets so that we can spend it more easily on the things we want.

If our definition, however, involves anything to do with physical comfort and well-being, then buying a house is probably the best place we can put our money.

It's all about what we mean by financial freedom. For me, it means that if I am, for whatever reason, unable to continue earning the same amount of money that I am earning today, my life will not be significantly negatively impacted. That is, if I lose my job or my employer decides not to pay me for four months, I won't be evicted and end up starving on the streets.

Renting will never give me that sort of freedom, but homeownership, eventually, will. Once my mortgage is paid off, my monthly house-related expenses will be negligible compared to paying rent.

In addition, because I have a house that is on a small piece of land, I am able to use that land to feed my family. I have a septic system (no cost for sewage fees), and I can dig a well (no charge for water). I could use our gas-powered generator to keep the freezer cold, and pay only a few dollars per day for electricity, or build/install other power generation equipment and pay nothing for the electricity we'd like to use. We already heat our house with wood that was free, and so we don't pay for heat.

The more steps we take to lower our cost of living, the more financial freedom we will enjoy, and while we may not retire with millions of dollars, we won't be hungry and we won't be cold.

There are other benefits, too. The article says that our homes make us less mobile, and I submit that that is not a bad thing. Moving is expensive. There are all sorts of hidden costs associated with transitioning to a new apartment or house. Things like utility deposits and rent deposits, moving trucks, boxes, and/or moving companies, gasoline for traveling, eating out because there's no kitchen in which to cook and/or the dishes and food are all packed up. My mother, who survived eight moves in eight years when I was very young, advised that each time a person moves, it takes about six months to get back on one's feet financially speaking.

If I don't ever move, because I own my home, then I won't need to pay for those moving-related expenses, and it's more likely that my living costs will remain even.

The article also says that having a house gives one the storage to purchase all sorts of needless consumer goods, and with that, I have to completely disagree. In every apartment in which I have ever lived the amount of storage space far exceeds the amount of storage space I currently have in my home. Heck, I don't even have drawers in my kitchen, but I have never rented an apartment that lacked that feature.

That said, however, my house is an anomaly, and many homeowners do have a great deal of storage, which, despite the assertions of the article, is not a bad thing. There's a lot to be said for having a place to put things like 50lbs of flour, 25lbs of raw almonds, a seed starting shelf, tools for home improvement projects, maple sugaring equipment, canning jars and other supplies, bicycles, gardening equipment .... Buying in bulk and DIY saves hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars per year.

The point is that all of the things the article points to as being negatives are actually positives, if one's focus is on thriving rather than just on money.

Depending on whose report you're reading, we're either in a recovery or sinking deeper into economic chaos, the dollar is getting stronger or weaker, unemployment is set to stall or is continuing to creep upwards. We may find in our very near future that despite all of our wise investments, we have no money, or the money that we have is all-but worthless.

But, chances are really good, I'll still have my house, and it may not be worth much on paper, but I'll still be warm in the winter, and we'll have something to eat, and we'll have clean water to drink and bathe - even if all of our cash goes to pay the mortgage bill.

The bottom line is that if one purchases a house in the hopes that, someday, it will be worth a lot of money, then it probably is a wiser choice to give someone else those dollars in rent, but if real security is the goal, (i.e. knowing that dollars invested today will increase one's chances of survival in an uncertain future), then investing in a house is a very wise move.

True financial security is not about accumulating monetary wealth. It's about finding a lifestyle in which money is a nice benefit, but not a necessity.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

And Today in the Northeast

What cool girls from Maine do for fun ...

... hit snowballs with sticks.

And please note the very stylish fashion statement of Precious, my youngest, who is sporting her short-sleeved pink camouflage shirt under her pink snowpants, and of course, the requisite gloves.

It's cold outside, afterall ;).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Life Can Be a Musical

Look how happy those people are.

Wouldn't it just be amazing if we could stop being so uptight and serious and just ... sing ;).

Life should be a musical.

Let's squish our fruits together ... as long as they're local ... of course ;)!

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Cutest Boy I Ever Saw Was Sipping Cider Through A Straw

I'm feeling a little warm ... and fuzzy ... right now, and so if this post ends up being a little less coherent than usual, there's a reason :).

Today Deus Ex Machina bottled the cider he started fermenting a few months ago ;).

When he was gathering all of the bottles he estimated he would need to hold all of the cider in the carboy, he found a full bottle of cider from one of our earlier batches. We have no idea which one, but when we opened the bottle, it was sweet and sparkly and just yummy, yummy cider.

We drank it all up, which is why I'm a little warm and fuzzy right now :). It was probably the 14% batch, because I only had the one glass ;). It would be accurate to say that it has a little kick, but it wasn't harsh ... at all. In fact, it was only a little less fruity than the sparkling non-alcoholic cider we use to toast the New Year with our girls. It's probably a good thing there was only one bottle of it, because alcohol that doesn't taste exactly like alcohol gets folks in trouble.

There are a lot of things I really enjoy about the lifestyle toward which we're moving. Saving money is probably one of my favorites and making our own cider and beer saves a ton of money ... not that we drink that often. Because we make it ourselves and understand how precious each individual bottle is - based on the time and energy to produce - we are not likely to go on a drinking binge. One glass or 12 oz bottle at a time is more than adequate, because at this point in my life, I really am drinking it for the taste, and compared to cost of my favorite beer, which is Guinness, or any bottle of comparable wine (our cider is very much like a good medium white wine), the cost per bottle for our homemade brew is negligible.

One liter of our cider costs about $1.50. One liter of our own beer made using a beer kit costs us about $2.

We do have all of the fancy bottling equipment - buckets, airlocks, the carboy ... and for the beer, we use the True Brew Bavarian Hefeweizen Beer Kit. Buying all of the equipment set us back a little, but now that we have it, we have it forever.

And in six months, when the current batch of cider is ready to sample, I'll be feeling all warm and fuzzy again.

I can wait ... :).

Beneath the Snowy Mantle

The January thaw is over, and we're buckling down for the rest of winter.

The snowbirds across the road are thinking, "Damn! We should've packed up and headed south sooner." ;)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Bugging Out ... and I Don't Mean Your Eyes in Surprise

I think the hardest part about prepping is that we really have no idea what we're prepping for, and as such, most people just don't know what to do, where to begin.

I'm reading The Zookeeper's Wife right now. It's a story set in Warsaw, Poland during WWII just before, during and after the Nazi occupation.

While I'm reading, it makes me think.

No one expects war.

How does one prepare for such a thing?

I have thought about it - probably too much. I'm too much of a war movie afficionado to not have considered how I would have responded, what I would do, if I found myself in a situation like the residents of Atlanta in 1864, or most of Europe in 1939, or Bosnia in the 1990s, or almost any one of the countries on the African continent on any given day.

I've talked with Deus Ex Machina about it. In the fall of 2008, when Venezuela (whose leaders aren't terribly happy with ours right now) allowed Russian bombers to land on their soil, I had unpleasant memories of the 80's flick, Red Dawn.

At that time, I was saying to Deus Ex Machina that as things get worse with regard to climate change and desert encroachment in China, we might want to be a little more careful about our borders. He scoffed.

Lately, I've been thinking that our debt to China might end badly for us, when they realize that we have something in great abundance, that they don't have so much of any more - land, lots of land (and the starry skies above) ... and water, lots of clean, drinkable, uncontaminated water ... and girls. This evening, Deus Ex Machina and I were chatting about China, and I was saying some disparaging remark about how China wasn't all that strong (trying to make myself feel better, right?).

He says, "China has the largest standing Army in the world" and added that it's not the best trained or most technical, but the largest, and my brain picked up the conversation from there and just went crazy thinking about the fact that they have 6 BILLION people and we have ... oh, 300 million.

Yeah .... There are probably things that are better left unsaid around people like me (*grin*).

Because it's possible that the boats will start landing on the west coast, just like I said two years ago or that the bombers will start doing more than training exercises.

But maybe I'm just being paranoid ... probably, I'm being paranoid.

Of course, invasion is one possibility, but not, necessarily the likeliest.

Maine sits on a fault line, and as we've seen in California, and recently, Haiti, fault lines do some funky things sometimes, especially when they decide to shift suddenly. It certainly makes a big mess. I found some FEMA seismic activity maps, which showed that Maine has a "moderate" risk. The categories were "none", "minor", "moderate", and "major." So, I'm thinking that "moderate" in this instance is pretty high.

In addition, I live two miles from the coastline. We don't get many hurricanes, and certainly nothing like what happens too often these days in the Gulf states, but nothing's impossible. Right, Yentl?

As part of my preparedness measures, I know that I should be preparing to leave my house, but I find the idea of leaving to be the hardest part. I've made mental lists of things I'd want to pack in my car, in the event that we need to bug-out:

sleeping bags, the tent, mess kits, food, water ....

But where do I go? If things are bad here, where I am, getting to anywhere where they'd be better is ... well, I live at the top of I-95, and if it's bad here, my guess is trying to go south on I-95, especially once we hit Boston, and further south New York City, would look something like trying to get out of New Orleans on HWY 190 going across Lake Pontchartrain in the wake of Hurricane Rita. My option is Canada, and I don't know anyone in Canada.

So, I don't have a B.O.B. I don't have a plan.

After years of reading about the end of life as we know it and working very hard to adapt my lifestyle and my home to what I believe we will need to survive a lower energy future, the thought that I might, actually, not be able to depend on this as my shelter is more frightening than almost any scenario I can conjure, and believe me, with all of the reading I do, I can get some pretty awful images playing havoc in my brain.

What's funny is that as I'm thinking I might have to leave here, I have people I know who think here is their bug-out destination. I think that's funny, in a sad sort of way, because if they're coming here, what are they doing where they are?

If I don't feel completely prepared with as much as I've done over the past four years, how impotent do those who've done nothing feel? How horrible has this economic disaster been for them?

Matt over at Kentucky Prepper warns that no one is coming to help us in the event of a disaster, and he's right. We should be as prepared as we can get, and I actually do know where I'd go if I had to leave. I just don't know how long I'd be able to stay there, considering it's public land ... and tent living in Maine in the winter is probably not the ideal.

On the bright side, it would give us an opportunity to really practice all of these survival skills we've been learning.

Now, I just have to remember to pack all of the survival books ...

... and the magenesium firestarters ...

... and the solar flashlights and radio ...

... and some cooking utensils ...

... and our Mora Knives

... and the hide scraping tools ...

... the the quart jar of chocolate chips.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

What? You're cold??

Deus Ex Machina had the day off yesterday, and so he spent a good part of the day doing some chores around the house - both inside and outside.

All I can say is that he's a native Mainer ;).

What a stud!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Chain Worth Latching Onto

I've been a long-time shopper at the Hannaford supermarkets here in Maine, and even though they are a chain store (and currently owned by the same company that owns the more southern Food Lion), as a long-time customer, I have been witness to many of the changes they've made over the past few years, from increasing their Nature's Place/organic foods section (they are currently the largest organic foods retailer in the state) to their support of the Local Foods movement.

In fact, in the produce section they have a poster of the State of Maine and on it they list all of the different foods they offer from the different vendors around the state: basil from Olivia's Garden in New Gloucester, apples and apple cider from Randall's Orchard in Standish Maine, sweet corn (in season) from Anderson Farm in Dayton (the same people who operate the farm stand in my town, in fact ;).

But they don't stop there. In the bulk section, they have Grandy Oats granola and in the Nature's Place section they offer Maine Root sodas. In the specialty cheese section, they offer Pineland and State of Maine cheeses. All of the organic beef is from Wolfe's Neck (formerly a Maine company out of Freeport). In the dairy section, they have Smiling Hill Farm milk and Kate's butter, and Oakhurst buys all of the milk it sells from small, local dairy farmers.

Produce, ground beef, dairy, dried beans, BBQ sauce, maple syrup, honey, Whoopie pies, and artisan bread, just to name a few of the things I can remember seeing there.

One would have to be half blind to not find some local food alternative to their favorite food at the Hannaford stores ... and more and more I'm seeing the same "local" products showing up in all of the different Hannaford stores in my area, which means I can get Smiling Hill Farm milk in Portland, Gorham, and Scarborough.

Since I started on this road toward a local diet back in 2006, my first stop was (and my favorite stop ever since) Hannaford.

So, when I read this article today about Hannaford's efforts to save our local dairy farms, I felt a little like a proud Mama.

Hannaford stores are huge, energy sucking beasts and like all grocery stores will not be sustainable in the long-term, but because they do make such an effort to source local and regional food items, I have a feeling they may be a little more resilient than retail food stores whose focus has been on other things.

If our future is going to be more local, Hannaford has a huge headstart on some of the other grocers and retailers in the area, and as a locavore, I appreciate all they do.**

**That said, whenever possible, I will buy straight from the farmer - and with Snell opening its winter store this year, I'm finding it that much more possible to maintain our local diet AND directly support our local farmers ;).

Monday, January 11, 2010

One Step Forward ...

... and two steps back.

I'm lucky that I live in a place where hanging my laundry on a line outside my house doesn't even cause a second glance.

Not so for this woman in Massachusetts.

There are six states that prohibit the passing of local ordinances against line-drying clothes. Maine is one of them.

It's nice to live in a place that's so ... progressive ;).


I know the normal phrase is "Spring Cleaning", but in the spring, I find that I'm drawn outside, and whatever is inside is ... well, inside.

For me, winter is the time to purge, the time to rid my living space of all of those things that seem to accumulate. I'm spending almost all of my time indoors, and it's the time of year when I need the space to be more clear, because I can't escape it, and I'm one of those people who has a hard time functioning in a cluttered space.

Every so often, I get the urge to purge.

That's what we did yesterday.

We emptied the two bookshelves in my daughters' room and then sorted the books into two piles: keep and donate.

The donate pile had around 160 books.

And when we put the "keep" books back on the shelf, we only needed one of the small bookcases.

We're expecting to increase the number of warm bodies living in our house in the early spring, and so we need to get rid of as much stuff as we can before it happens.

Little bursts at a time makes it all more palatable, though. I am so proud of my girls in their ability to let go of those books. Like me, they tend to hoard, even those things that bring no meaning or joy to their lives, and I was so pleased with how easy they found it to simply let go.

One hundred ... and sixty ... books.

And that's not even half.

When the power goes down and we're snowed in, we'll probably have plenty to do inside.

Friday, January 8, 2010

If I Could Build the Perfect House, the Bathroom Would ...

From a sustainability point of view, I don't live in a perfect house (who does, right?). First, in the interest of being energy efficient, the whole house would need to be more compact with less space wasted on things like open flooring. All of the external walls would be built-in bookshelves (which would significantly improve our heat loss problems), and there wouldn't be any carpets, anywhere ... well, maybe a strategically placed throw rug or two.

But the one room (other than the kitchen), where I feel like we're the most inefficient is the bathroom, and if I could, I'd make some huge changes there.

First, the toilet would have to go. I'd have, either an outhouse (least ideal in a suburban setting) or we'd have a separate space with a composting toilet or just plain buckets - one for liquids and one for solids. I'd use the saw dust method for odor control, and we'd be switching from toilet paper to cloth wipes. The solids bucket would be emptied directly into the septic tank outsie, and the liquids bucket would be diluted with water and used to water the espaliered fruit trees.

The bathroom would be an actual BATHroom, in the model of The Japanese Bath.

First, the whole room would be cedar, because I like the look and feel of wood. It's warmer than tile, and in the Japanese bath style, having a warm room can be a big deal.

It would have to be a fairly large room, because the tub would be enormous. Picture a hot tub. In fact, that's what the tub would be - a wood-fired hot tub, but indoors. The only problem I have with the whole idea is that I keep thinking about the boiling frog story and it freaks me out a little, but I think once the water was at a comfortable temperature, we'd put out the fire and get into the tub :).

So, we'd have this cedar room, which would look a bit like a sauna with a big, old hot tub. When we got ready to bathe, at the end of the day, we'd fill up the tub and light the fire. When the tub was up to temperature, we'd go into the room, which would now be heated with steam from the water and the wood fire.

First stop would be the wash station, which is basically a bucket, where we wash and rinse our bodies. Then, once we're clean, we get into the bath and soak in the hot water. Everyone would use the same bath water, which wouldn't be dirty, because we'd all wash BEFORE we got into the tub.

After we're finished bathing, the water would be drained into the washing machine and used to wash the clothes ... or if I couldn't manage to convince the family that the bucket-toilet was a better solution, the bath water would drain into the toilet tanks (in a different room, but nearby) and be used to flush the toilets.

I can picture this perfect bathroom so clearly. It seems like such a better solution to what we have in most American homes, and a much better use of our limited resources.

One of the selling points of my house when we bought it was the jacuzzi tub, and it has been a wonderful asset. My youngest was born in the tub. The Japanese bath I'm picturing in my mind would work especially well in my house, because our current tub is near our bedroom, and putting a woodfired tub there would solve any problems we have with heating that portion of our house - which would solve the concerns we have about freezing pipes.

I've talked often about how much I value my hot showers, but I'd give up the showers for the type of bath I'm describing, because it's not the shower that is so wonderful. It is the opportunity to fully immerse my body in hot, steamy water, and with the Japanese bath model, that would be possible.

When we start talking about prepping and self-sufficiency and sustainable living, I think we can't forget how important it is for us to remain "human." Having lived in situations where I was "roughing it" for several days at a time (including time I spent in the military serving in "the field"), I can't stress enough how good the simple act of cleansing feels. In fact, a Sarajevo war survivor said, "The feeling that you're human can fade pretty fast. I can't tell you how many people I knew who would have traded a much needed meal for just a little bit of toothpaste, rouge, soap or cologne. Not much point in fighting if you have to lose your humanity.

We still have that raccoon fat we rendered in the fall, which will, hopefully, be made into a usable soap in the very near future, and if I had my way, we'd be renovating our bathroom into a Japanese-style bath with a cast-iron, wood-heated tub.

I read a lot of articles that talk about food storage and bug-out-bags and weapons stockpiling, but if we cease being human beings, what's the point of survival?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Prepper Podcast

I'd like to welcome any visitors who've come to check out Surviving the Suburbs from my recent appearance on the Prepper Podcast ...

... and I owe thanks to Matt, who invited me to chat about my suburban homestead on his show ;). It was a blast, and who would have thought that I had so much to say ...

... oh, yeah ... anyone who reads my blog. Right? *grin*

In the podcast I mentioned that I had plans to grow some apple trees against my house using a technique called espalier, which is, essentially, making the tree grow flat. It's a great small space technique for growing fruit trees. Check out the link for more information.

I also mentioned wild foragaing, because I happen to know that there is a veritable smorgasbord out there, free for the taking, if we just know what to look for, and I think it's a travesty of our times that we all think the only things we can eat are things that come from the grocery store or grow in our gardens.

The best way to learn about wild edibles is to have someone who knows show you. Unfortunately, there aren't very many people who do.

So, the next best option is to buy a book, and we have several including: The Forager's Harvest (which is probably the best all-around foraging book there is), Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide (which is a good resource, because it is divided by season), Foraging New England (which is good because it is specific to my area), and Wild Food (which I bought because it includes a section on Roadkill, the idea of which isn't necessarily appealing, but the fact that someone actually thought to write a chapter on it for a wild foraging book amused me ;).

When I first started really working toward self-sufficiency on our quarter acre, and I was planning the garden and where things would go, I was easily overwhelmed with the enormity of the project of feeding us. It's a big task to choose plants that will grow well in my area and produce enough for my entire family for the whole year.

Deus Ex Machina kept telling me that we didn't have to grow everything, but at the time, all I heard was him telling me that what I was trying to do was impossible. In fact, that's not what he was saying at all. Whether or not it is possible to grow enough food to satisfy the caloric needs of five people on a quarter acre wasn't really the issue for him.

But he just kept telling me that *I* don't have to grow *everything* we're going to want to eat.

Finally, I understood. I don't have to *grow* everything, because nature provides.

Within walking distance of my house, we have an incredible diversity of habitats from deep woods to saltmarsh, and the bounty is amazing, including blueberries, which I have tried, unsuccessfully, to cultivate on numerous occasions. There are whole fields of low bush blueberries growing wild all over this area. I don't need to waste my space trying (and failing) to grow them.

We've spent the last few years just trying to identify different plants and learn how to use/prepare them. This spring, our goal will be to actually incorporate some of these wild edibles into our regular diet.

This year, our wild foods focus will be Japanese knotweed (which is an invasive species) and fiddleheads for spring eating, and we will try, once again, to collect and preserve the acorns in the fall. We got as far as collecting them this year, and then, a squirrel decided to help himself to them while they were outside drying.

Come to think of it, though, if I don't have to grow all of the fruits and vegetables we eat, I shouldn't have to raise all of the meat, either ...

I guess, Mr. Squirrel, should be watching his back.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

My Daughter Calls It a "Power-Out"

I've mentioned a couple of times that losing power here happens with enough regularity that we decided we needed to be prepared, but I never mentioned some of the reasons the power goes out.

Most of the time our power outages are due to severe weather. Twice in the twelve years I've lived here, we've lost power due to ice storms, which always happen in the dead of winter when it's pretty cold and indoor heat is desired. What happens is that the temperatures warm up significantly (slightly above freezing), and then, we have a day or two of what the weather guys dub a "wintry mix" (snow, rain, freezing rain). Invariably it ends up with ice encasing everything. Not only is it much more dangerous than the usual snow, but it's also heavier.

All of our power lines are above ground on poles paralleling our roads. It's not surprising to me that the power goes out in these conditions, when the ice encrusted lines get too heavy and break. I think the average joe doesn't realize how fragile wires really are, but anyone who has kids and any kind of headphones knows. If the headphone wires are pulled or twisted or bent, the headphones will cease to work, because the little wires inside the plastic casing break. Power lines are significantly more resilient than skinny headphone wires, but the principle is the same, and they can only handle so much.

In January 1998, the northeast experienced a similar ice storm to the one we had in December 2008. That event affected so many people that I remember seeing t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "I Survived the Ice Storm of 1998" (No, I did not get a t-shirt). Many of the more rural areas near where I live lost power, not for days, but for weeks, and I heard reports from Montreal about some real tragedies due to the prolonged power outage up there. Line crews had to be brought up here from as far away as South Carolina and Georgia to help get the power back on. If I remember correctly, Angus King, who was our Governor at the time, declared a State of Emergency, and people were awarded FEMA relief money.

We lost power that time, but it was only for a day or so. It was my first winter in Maine, less than a month after we bought our house, and I was thanking the fates that seemed to insist we buy this house with the woodstove, although it was, quite literally, our last choice. It was one of the first houses we drove by at the beginning of what turned out to be a five month search, but we kept passing it up to look at what we thought were more desirable properties. It took us four months before we finally agreed to walk through it, and once we saw the inside, we knew we'd found our home ;) - proof of the saying, "Don't judge a book ...."

Life marched on and the electricity meter outside kept making its hourly rounds, until the summer. I live in a resort town, and during the summer our population triples. Our infrastructure has a hard time keeping up with the increased demands, and most utilities are affected. Our roads are all-but impossible to navigate due to the increase in traffic (in some parts of town it's faster to walk than to drive, and I avoid those areas during the summer), the water pressure goes down, the toilets in town flush a little slower, and we have regular "brown outs" throughout the summer, often on clear, sunny, calm days. It's normal, and we just deal with it, making sure that all of our sensitive electronic equipment is plugged into a UPS to prevent burn-outs due to power surges.

We expect such things in the summer, but one day in the late spring, the power winked out for no reason. It was a clear, bright day with no rain or snow or ice and no praticularly aggressive wind. The transformer that regulates the part of the grid that supplies my power sits up the road about a mile or so from my house. Some fellow driving a pick-up truck, not particularly well, ran off the road and hit the transformer. The result was that everyone on that part of the grid lost power. Line crews fixed the problem pretty quickly, and we were back up and running, but it reminded me of how fragile the system is.

Sometime later, on a lovely, clear incredibly windy and cold February day, we and about 40,000 other residents of our county inexplicably lost power. We later learned it was due to high winds.

There's a central power line that runs down the main road. I live off on a little side road, and the power line stretches from the central line and across the main road to a pole that runs down our road. Each of the houses on my road has a line that runs from the poles to the house. The problem, this time, was somewhere at the beginning of the connection that feeds our road, but the central line on the main road was fine.

As such, our road was without power for several days, but we could see lights on in the houses across the street from us. It took line crews several days to restore our power, because we were only ONE road with only seven houses, and our small outage cluster wasn't the biggest priority during this particular outage. It took three or four days for the line crews to get to us.

During the 2008 outage, we actually had a tree fall on the lines on our road, and we couldn't have our power restored until line crews removed the tree and repaired the line. It took four days for them to get to us.

Ice, wind, bad drivers and too many tourist all wreak havoc with our electric grid up here.

I like having electricity. It makes some things in my life so much easier, like food storage. Throwing leftovers in the fridge is infinitely easier than trying to find a low-energy way of preserving them and is significantly better than the alternative of wasting them. Knowing that I can just put them in the refrigerator makes meal prep much easier, since I don't have to worry about making too much. And having the refrigerator makes canning easier, too, because I can put some things, like pickles, in bigger jars, because I know that when we open them, even if we don't eat the whole jar, we can just refrigerate what's left in the jar. Having the refrigerator means I don't ever have to worry about portion control.

The freezer is great, too. It enables us to raise a years' worth of chickens in the spring and summer and keep them all through the winter. It allows us to buy two hundred pounds worth of beef and a quarter of a pig from local farmers.

Because I have my freezer, eating locally is significantly less complicated. Many of the fruits and vegetables we buy during the summer at the Farmer's Market and farm stands can be stored in the freezer until we eat them, or until I'm ready to can or otherwise preserve them. Knowing that we have that option means I can buy larger quantities, when stuff is in season, and we can have local strawberries in February. Without the freezer our only option for local strawberries in February would be in the form of whatever jam I made in June, and my June canning sessions would be a lot more time-consuming.

I also depend on electricity for my job. I work from home as a Virtual Assistant (which is, esssentially, an off-site secretary), and I need my computer. Even if I had a manual typewriter (which I can't actually use with any degree of success, because my skill at typing actually sucks, and it's only because I have that backspace key that I'm any good as a typist), I'd still need electricity to power the transcriber machine (which is basically a tape player that has a foot controller which allows me to stop and start the tape - pretty cool little device, actually ;).

In a lower energy world, I probably won't be a Virtual Assistant, although I may have to practice up on my manual typewriter skills ... or maybe I'll learn to write really neatly and become a scribe.

But at the moment, that is what I do, and in order for me to do the job I get paid to do, I need electricity ... at my house.

We can live without electricity, and have for extended periods of time on many occasions.

But ...

... we miss the television and the Internet, and I much prefer the electric lights to candles or an oil lamp light. I like my electric washing machine, and I'm pretty sure that if we didn't have a dishwasher Deus Ex Machina would be less inclined to do the dishes.

I think in our not-too-distant future electricity will become either very scarce or very expensive. Oil is already hovering near $80/barrel (again - remember 2008?), and maybe in an unrelated story, cable providers will be increasing their prices soon, and the formerly free networks may start charging for their programming, as well. Maybe it's unrelated, but maybe it's all interconnected and related to the overall downward spiral our economy is in right now.

Regardless of the reason, I think in the longer term, we will either have to find alternatives to electricity, or be able to generate our own independent of the grid.

I'm going for door number two - independence - which means that we will still need to give up many of the luxuries we enjoy so that we can keep the few things that are actually necessities.

Both Deus Ex Machina and I will have to learn to do our machine-assisted cleaning chores by hand.

I'm not sure who's getting the shorter end of the stick, though - me with the laundry or him with the dishes ;).

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

More on Low Power Living

In my last post, Darcy commented on being a renter and not wanting to make any low energy improvements to the house where she was living, and I completely agree. I offered some suggestions for heating without power, which may or may not work for a given situation, but if the idea is to get our imaginations working, you might find some nugget of inspiration there.

The gist is that if you can't heat the whole house during a power outage, you can still heat a small space. In much of Japan, where their winters aren't terribly warmer than mine, they do not heat the whole house. What they do is heat is a single room, and their only heating units are often little tables called kotatsu, which is, bascially, a table with an electric heater in the middle, but traditionally, the kotatsu used a brazier built into the floor.

I won't repeat all of what I said in my comment, but you can read it, if you're interested :).

And Chile has more information on kotatsu, too.

Edifice Rex also asked how I baked bread on the woodstove.

I have this woodstove. It's a regular old woodstove, not a cookstove, and there is no oven.

Many years ago, I found myself in a situation where I needed to be creative in cooking so that I could feed my family, and I learned to bake cornbread using a charcoal fire and a cardboard box. I just applied the same principles to my bread baking during power outages.

Basically, I invert a deep dish pizza pan and put my bread pan on top of it. This is to keep the bottom of the bread pan off the hot cook top so that the bottom of the bread doesn't burn. Then, I take a large kettle and invert it over the bread, which creates an oven. It takes a little longer for the bread to bake, and it doesn't really get that lovely browned top like it does in my electric oven, but it works, and it cooks through, and it tastes yummy.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Repost from December 2008

For the first weekend of 2010, Chile and her Sweetie decided to do a power down experiment, in which they cut (almost) all of their utilities as an experiment to see how prepared they were to live a lower energy life.

I commented to her that losing power happens with enough frequency up here that we are pretty well prepared for when it does, and she asked that I share more about our experience. I did have a post, dated December 15, 2008, the day our power came back on, but when I archived and deleted my blog in March 2009, that post went to the archive.

In response to Chile's great experiment, I'm bringing it back.

So, here it is. From 4:00 am on December 12 to 1:00 pm on December 15, we had no electricity in my house, and here's what happened:


Ice, Ice, Baby

Yes, we were one of the over 400,000 people in the northeast to be without power following the ice storm on Thursday, December 11.

The electricity went out around 4:00 am on Friday and came back on about 1:00 pm today (Monday, December 15, 2008).

After spending two days without power, a relative, who knew that we had stayed at home, asked me what we did all day without any electricity, and I had to think about it.

So, what did I do?

I baked bread.

I did laundry.

I finished reading The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan (highly recommended!), worked on one of the handmade gifts that didn't require the sewing machine, did dishes, swept the floors, tended the fire, cleaned out the refrigerator and defrosted the freezer.

The girls worked in their workbooks by oil lamplight in the early evening (the camera flash makes it look much brighter in the room than it actually is).

Or wrestled with Deus Ex Machina, who had a very much-needed break from work on Friday.

My answer to "what do you do without electricity?" was "Basically the same things we do with it."

I often cook on the woodstove. While I don't, typically, hand wash the laundry, I do always air dry (on the wooden drying rack set out by the fire) or outside on the line.

I often read in the evening, or we listen to the audiobook of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series (which we did, using what power was left in the UPS to supply juice to the transmitter, which sent the audio from the iPod into our solar powered radio - living with an electrical engineer definitely has its perks ... and Jordan's epic story is a really fantastic tale, by the way ;).

I've been spending quite a lot of time making gifts this season.

A few months ago, over at Seeking Simplicity, Sasha talked about voluntarily going without electricity for a few days or a week - it was a kind of "participate if you want" challenge. I so wanted to participate, but I knew that Deus Ex Machina would scowl at me at the very suggestion.

What's cool about this past storm is that I got my trial without the scowl, and the result was exactly what I figured it would be: we survived ... we more than survived, we lived our lives with barely a change to our normal, everyday activities.

Not much about our lives changed.

Except that Precious discovered her favorite way to take a bath:

It's water heated on the woodstove and poured into the wash tub, but the water is always too hot, and so we add cold water from the shower head.

She calls it the "shower-bath-thingy", because it's a bath, but it's in the shower.

I call it the "Farm Girl" bath.

And it's how I bathed for the three days with no power.

We had heat. We had water. We had food. We had fun ... and we stayed clean.

What else is there?

Oh, the Internet ...


I missed that :).


Chile's experiment is very useful. It's important for us to know where we have significant holes in our preparedness, and there isn't really a better way to know unless one does without.

Personally, I'd rather do it voluntarily, as practice, because in a pinch isn't a good time to find out that you should have more batteries, or that you don't have enough lamp oil, or that your lamp wicks need to be replenished. Try finding those things when the rest of your community wants them, too. Most of the time, those who don't have those preparedness items before the emergency, don't have them during the emergency, either.

Preparedness isn't about getting ready for TEOTWAWKI (... well, it is, but ... ;). It's really about being prepared for life's little surprises - like an involuntary four-day vacation from the grid.

So, if you woke up tomorrow and the power was out, what would you do? Would you go on with a slightly modified version of your everyday life, or would it feel like the end of the world as you knew it?

Big Little Sister tells me that she'd snuggle in bed and read her book ...

... oh, wait, that's what she did today.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Still No Fat Lady Singing

Almost two years ago, after watching the documentary The End of Suburbia, I wrote and published a series of blog posts (which were later republished at in which I argued that the suburbs would not only NOT become future slums, but would become thriving, self-sufficient walkable communities - the very thing Kunstler says again and again that we need to build, only without the French-esque sidewalk cafes with their wrought tables and canvas awnings.

It's not so much that I wish the suburbs to continue to exist, but rather that since they are here, we should begin adapting them to fit into what will be our future. Kunstler says that the suburbs are the worst misallocation of resources in the history of mankind, and I won't disagree with him, except that, now that we have them here, I think abandoning them and building something new would be a worse sin than what we've already done in our rape and destruction of the landscape. If we abandon the suburbs, than all of the damage we have done will be for naught, and that would be a much greater tragedy, in my opinion.

That's the argument that I made two years ago, and the one that I still maintain two years later. We *can* and *should* modify our suburban landscapes to include microfarms and small businesses, and our suburban McMasions with our quarter-acre lots are perfect places for both.

I have a 1500 sq foot house, and I have a "nano"farm, complete with chickens, ducks and rabbits. I also have a home-based business. I'm a Virtual Assistant and a Notary Public. My house isn't large, but I do have a dedicated home office space.

In a low-energy future, my career as a VA will likely end (without a computer I can't do my job), but I can still serve my community as a Notary, and here in Maine, not only can I witness signatures, but I can also perform wedding ceremonies. In addition, I've always wanted to own a bookstore, and if I didn't need my "office" space for my computer set-up, it could be transformed into a bookstore. It even has it's very own door to the outside. Most suburban homes are larger than my house and have plenty of "extra" space that could be turned into any number of different businesses. We are only limited by our imaginations.

What's funny is that two years ago, I got a lot of flak in my comments section (when the posts were on this blog) about my vision. Many of the people who commented said, in essence, that my vision sounded lovely, but was impractical, and likely impossible with current zoning restrictions, to which I didn't disagree, entirely. The operative word here is current, and in our future, those zoning restrictions will be changed, or they will simply be ignored. We simply will not have the luxury of living apart from our work, like we do now.

In fact, the unemployment rate is between 10% and 20%, depending on the figures one believes, and the total number of cars on the road in 2009 was even lower than 2008 (remember that year with the $4 per gallon gasoline prices?). People just aren't driving anymore, some because they no longer commute due to being unemployed, others because they've had their cars repossessed when they spent the car payment money on things like food and housing, and others because, well, there's just no where to go these days with shopping as a hobby no longer an option. More folks are just staying home.

Home for approximately one-third of the US population is the suburbs.

So, here we are in 2010, and I said in 2008 that we should be staying in the suburbs and transforming them to fit our needs.

Apparently, I'm no longer the sole voice for saving the suburbs. There was a whole contest devoted to the redesigning of our suburbs, and the second place winner designed the type of suburb I described in my vision of our future suburbs.

I still think this is what we'll see in the future (without the night club or high end boutiques ... at least where I live, where we will, likely, opt for more practical businesses, like consignment shops, small grocers, repair shops, etc.), and while entrepreneurbia isn't my idea, I think it's very cool that the things I suggested we would see in our future have been fleshed out by someone else.

And to those people who nay-sayed against me ... well, the fat lady still isn't singing, although in my future, she may be the one hired to sing at the weddings I perform for my neighbors ;).

Friday, January 1, 2010

We Wish You ... a Happy New Year!

We spent the evening entertaining the good people of (insert town name here) as part of a community building project in which my girls' dance school has participated for the past couple of years.

Deus Ex Machina, all three girls, and I performed a Reader's Theatre piece based on the book Piggie Pie!. It was wicked fun, and the girls were amazing ... of course (*grin*)!

This morning we went down to the beach ...

It was snowing, and the waves were breaking hard against the beach. The weather bureau had issued a coastal flood warning.

But a bunch of crazy people had volunteered to participate in the 22nd Annual Lobster Dip to raise money for a worthy organization by jumping into the 38° ocean. This video is from the 2009 Lobster Dip. It was colder last year, but this year it was snowing, and the ocean was much wilder (and more dangerous).

My lovely daughter, MamaDaughter, was one of the crazy people who jumped into the ocean.

I'm so proud of her.

I asked her how it was.

She said it was cold ;).

I said, "Yeah, I know!"

But all I got wet was my feet, because in my attempts to get a picture of her in the waves, I underestimated how close I was to the water and a particularly aggressive wave washed right over my feet ...

... and into my boots ...

... soaking me nearly to the knees, and filling my boots with frigid, ocean water.

And I didn't even get a t-shirt.

I hope everyone had a safe evening and a great day.

As we start into a brand new year, and a new decade ... may you find abundance in your life and may you laugh!

Edited to add the video from the 2010 Lobster Dip: