Saturday, February 27, 2010

Jamie Oliver Talks About the American Diet

I just watched the video of Jamie Oliver's talk at TED. He makes some very important points about our nation's diet, about the fact that the top three leading causes of death in the United States are diet related. Imagine that. The top three things that kill most Americans are caused by the way we eat.

And we're not talking about food-borne illnesses, either. Five thousand people die from food-borne illnesses per year. By contrast, over a million people per year die from heart disease, cancer and stroke.

When there's a recall of contaminated food, it makes HUGE headlines and everyone is all in an uproar. Spinach, hamburg, and peanut butter are pulled from the shelves, tout de suite, to protect our health (Right? The food industry officials are very concerned with Americans' health).

And the government, too. Right? They're very concerned about our health, which is why it's illegal to sell, buy or distribute raw milk for human consumption in twenty-two states, because raw milk might be contaminated with bacteria.

And, yet, the food most of us eat on a regular basis, our regular, every day diet, is so full of stuff that our bodies can't process (like excessive amounts of sugar, which wreaks havoc with our pancreas) that we're killing ourselves, little by little, each day, and while we gather arms and cry foul when our peanut butter is contaminated with salmonella, the fact that Skippy peanut butter has sugar as one of its ingredients doesn't even phase us. Afterall, sugar isn't a contaminate, right?

Maybe we should ask our pancreas.

Clearly, we have our priorties skewed.

I bought tomatoes today. I know. They're out of season. I bought hothouse tomatoes grown in Maine. I know. Hothouses, in Maine, probably use as many resources to grow their (hydroponic) tomatoes as producers in California do to ship their field tomatoes to me.

But we've used up all of the tomato sauce I canned last summer. I know. I should just do without until summer.

In the past, I would have just bought some cans of tomato sauce at the grocery store to supplement until summer time, but I read an article the other day about how the cans in which most of our mass-produced canned foods are stored are lined with BPA. So, I looked up BPA, and I didn't like what I found.

According to the Wikipedia article, BPA has been suspected of being hazardous to humans since the 1930s. Seriously? And it wasn't until 2008 that it became an issue?

So, I bought some tomatoes, and I brought them home, where I chopped them up and cooked them for a while, before pureeing them, pouring them into some glass jars, and putting them in the freezer for when we want marinara sauce or chili or Yankee pot roast.

I love that Jamie Oliver is advocating working with food manufacturers, and while I would like to get in his corner and try to work with the system, they've been LYING to us and KILLING us for YEARS ... and YEARS ... and YEARS!

Why should they stop now? What incentive is there to change the cans?

And the government? Ha! There's no money in forcing labeling of food products, but there's a great deal of money in high fructose corn syrup.

Our options are to allow them to continue killing us, or stop buying their products.

I'm going to stop buying their products, which will, hopefully, make us more healthy, but also ...

Jamie Oliver made one other very good point in his talk. He said that people who know how to cook are "recession proof." I liked that he hit us in the pocketbook. If it's not enough for most people to think of their health (and that of their children) before they pick up the phone and dial 1-800-DELIVERY or drive-thru Mickey D's on the way home from the mall, maybe it will be enough to remind them that a 2lb bag of dried beans for $5 at the grocery store can feed five people two and a half meals with no additives (except the spices from their cabinets), no preservatives, and no sugar.

The Eat-In challenge ended on Friday. We didn't eat out today, either. We cooked on the grill, and now we have so much food in our house, it would be almost sinful to go out to eat. I don't know when the next time will be that we decide to let a "professional" cook for us.

Of course, knowing that what they serve might come from a can ... or have too much sugar ... or be from a factory farm ... maybe we're better off just cooking at home.

At least we know where most of that food comes from :).

The Bountiful Earth

Today was one of those days in which we were reminded of how bountiful the earth truly is.

It started Friday night, when Mama Daughter and Mr. Field&Stream saw a car hit a deer. The driver didn't want the deer, and so after it was tagged by the police, Mama Daughter and Mr. Field&Stream brought it over here. Deus Ex Machina spent the afternoon butchering it. We didn't weigh it, but there's probably a months' worth of meat ... if we ate deer meat every day for that month. It's a lot of meat.

We put part of it on the grill, where we cooked it over wood chips to give it a smoked flavor. It was very good.

And even though the weather has been rather wonky of late, the maples still gifted us with enough sap to boil another batch of syrup. It was slushing (kind of rain/snow very wet and messy precipitation), and so Deus Ex Machina put up a lean-to over the fire so that the stuff wouldn't fall in the sap.

We ended up with another 1/2 gallon of syrup. The total, so far, is about three-fourths of a gallon of syrup. We need another two and a half gallons to get us through the year. Hopefully, we get a lot more than that, but we'll see.

It was a lot of work processing all of the sap and meat today, but it was also a very good reminder of how much we have available to us, if we just know where to look.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Eating In - With A Twist

We had beans for dinner last night ... and Boston brown bread. I'd never made brown bread before. The recipe calls for cooking the bread in tin cans, but when the only tin cans one has in the house formerly held dog food .... I decided to make the bread using the "cans" most of our stored food comes in ... that is, pint-sized mason jars ;).

The batch made six pint-sized loaves of bread. We ate two of them yesterday - one for lunch and one for dinner, and a third we had for lunch today (with our beef stew, cooked on the woodstove, but more on that in a minute ... ah! Suspense :). The other three jars I sealed and have stored for later.

As we were finishing up our dinner of baked beans that slow-cooked in the crock-pot all day, the lights winked off.

The electricity came back on about 4:30 pm today (Friday), just under twenty hours after it went out. Deus Ex Machina was in the process of loaning our generator out to the neighbors, because we have everything we need and would have only used the generator for the freezer ... but not until we needed to, which wasn't, yet ;).

Both Deus Ex Machina and I have recently finished reading Alex Scarrow's Last Light. I made him read it, because I needed someone to talk to about the book. He's such a good guy ;).

He read it, and we talked about it, and as I suspected, most of our thoughts were pretty much the same. Whether naive or not, we both believe in the ultimate goodness of people, and we believe that most people, even in that situation (where the government has gone on national television to advise the masses that there is likely to be some scarcity for a few days), would not degenerate so quickly into the barbaric behavior that was described in the book.

What really surprised us both, though, was stuff like people drinking river water without first doing something to make it safer to drink. I guess I just have a really hard time believing people are so stupid and careless and ... short-sighted.

Even in the worst of our schools, the average person has had both basic biology and health class, and we ALL know enough about microbiology to understand where disease comes from. We all know that drinking, potentially, contaminated water is dangerous, and that to make water safe to drink, most of the time, simple boiling is enough. It was just hard for me to believe that, even in the worst case scenario, people would so fully lose their senses.

It was a very good book, though, and it got me thinking about what I would do, if I knew for certain, that *it* was all over, if the President came on the television and told us that all of the world's oil reserves were compromised, and we would need to start relying on the small reserves and oil fields on our own soil (which is not even enough to power our current transportation infrastructure for a day) and that as a precaution, rationing of all food, water and fuel would commence immediately.

If I knew, what would I rush out to buy?

I wouldn't go to the grocery store. We may not have enough food to do us for a year, but between what we're going to grow, what we currently have access to through nearby farmers, and what we can forage, we'd probably be okay in that respect.

So, what would I get?

Personally, I'd like to power down a little more slowly than what we experience when we have a power outage. It would be nice to have access to my computer, for my girls to be able to enjoy a DVD, for us to be able to keep our freezer running until we've had the chance to eat all of the food in there. So, I'd find some solar panels and battery chargers and set-up a small power-generation plant.

Then, I'd head over to a place where I could buy winter coats, snowpants, and good, quality shoes and make sure I had at least one set of winter gear, one-size-up for each family member. I'd probably go to one of the sporting goods stores for these items, and while I was there, I'd buy a few more pieces of castiron cookware and another camp latern ... and maybe one of those really cool Berkey water filters ;).

Then, I'd go and buy a couple hundred yards of fabric, needles, thread, patches, yarn, scissor sharpeners, and any other clothes making supplies I could think of.

Then, I'd head over the hardware store, and I'd buy several gallons of paint, a couple of really good snow shovels, another ax, another bow saw, several pounds of nails, a good file for sharpening things, and if I could find it, a manual drill.

Then, we'd probaby go to the grocery, and most of the food would be gone, but we wouldn't be there for food for ourselves. I'd buy all of the dogfood they had in stock, because those damn dogs aren't eating my chickens or rabbits ... or us ... or each other :). If they still had any sugar or nuts or chocolate or coffee or tea when we got there, I'd buy that too.

At home, we'd fill up every container in our house that has a lid with water from the tap. I'd also fill up the rainbarrels from the hose outside. I know that sounds silly, but if we didn't know for certain there would be rain within a few days, it would be good to have stored 150 gallons of water, plus all of the bottles and such.

Other stuff at home, we could do a little at a time, and as we would likely not be going anywhere, time (for once) would be on our side.

We might have the starving hoards coming to our door, and when they do, we'd give them one of the bottles of water we'd saved. When we ran out of bottles, we'd have the Berkey filter, which we could fill with water from the brook. If they could find something to hold the water, we'd give them some.

As for food, we'd take them back in the woods and show them what they could eat ... and maybe I'd be able to spare a loaf of bread or a couple of biscuits.

The thing about Scarrow's novel that most disturbed me was the self-centered attitudes of most of the characters. Yes, things were awful, and it was scary, and things got very bad, and then much worse. But it happened so quickly, and I have a very hard time believing that it would degenerate so far, so fast.

But the real thing is that we have to stick together, especially if things get that bad, that fast, and I know that I could never cower in my house while I listened to thugs beat and ... worse ... my neighbors. I'd be over there, even if it meant the thugs did the same to me, because the truth was that, in the book, eventually, the thugs did it to everyone, but if the people had banned together, from the beginning, maybe the thugs wouldn't have been successful. There is safety in numbers, and if we don't fight for each other, if we allow ourselves to lose our humanity so that we can live just one more day, as far as I'm concerned, there's not much to live for.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wednesday - Eat In

Deus Ex Machina had to be on the road earlier than usual today. He had to visit a customer site out-of-state. Ordinarily, this would have been an opportunity ripe for eating out ... and even though he never agreed to participate in the Eat In challenge, (and I didn't, really, ask him to, figuring I'm the one who cooks anyway, and so, the meal prep or lack there of is really in my control), he didn't drive-thru somewhere on his way south - even though he could have, if he'd wanted to.

He's so awesome!

So, before he headed out the door, he grabbed one of the travel mugs and filled it with coffee from home, and I, quickly, fried him an egg and put it on a toasted bagel with cheese. It's actually better than any of the fast-food breakfast sandwiches, in my opinion. I can attest to the fact that the eggs are MUCH fresher (in fact, I think his sandwich this morning was made with the duck egg he brought in when he fed the animals this morning ... laid today, cooked today - can't get much fresher than that!). I wrapped it in a napkin, to go ;).

On a regular day, Deus Ex Machina comes home for lunch, and we have a sit-down meal. Since he wasn't going to be home, I didn't plan on anything specific for lunch. In fact, lunch was Big Little Sister's idea. She decided she wanted to make muffins. First, she wanted chocolate chip muffins, but we only had a few chocolate chips, and so we decided on blueberry muffins, but we hit the snag of not having enough butter without using up all that we had in the fridge. Then, I remembered that I had some lard.

We used that in place of the butter. I eye-balled the 1/2 c measure it called for and put it in a tiny iron skillet I have to melt on the woodstove. After it was melted, I poured it into a measuring cup and was saying how very cool that I had measured it, by eye, almost perfectly (with just a little left so that I could grease the muffin pan). I was saying to Big Little Sister that I hoped the muffins tasted good with lard, because it would be good for us to learn to use it in more recipes, and she told me that she, especially needed to learn to cook with lard. I asked her why, and she said because she planned to live in a very rural area and raise pigs. She's a funny girl ;).

Lunch was blueberry muffins, a cup of tea, and a good book (a different sort of TEOTWAWKI novel - and a great read ... so far :).

The muffins were amazing! Super moist and fluffy on the inside. Big Little Sister had three! If you knew her, you'd be amazed that she could eat that much, being the skinny little thing she is ;).

Deus Ex Machina got home around his usual time, but he'd worked through lunch, and opted not to stop for a snack on his way home (did I mention how awesomely amazing he is ... and supportive ... and amazing? :). He ate the one muffin I managed to save for him, and then, I made him some quick nachos to munch while I was finishing up my work for the day.

For dinner, I made pizza.

I thought sure we'd end up eating out. I had my granddaughter all day, which means I didn't get as much of my work done as I should have/would have liked during the day, and ended up working later, and I figured we'd pick-up something and have a late dinner - but we didn't, pick something up, I mean. We did have a late dinner, though ;). Then, with Deus Ex Machina on the road all day, there was a better than average chance that food of some sort would be purchased ... but he didn't, and we didn't.

Tomorrow we have dance class until 7:30. We usually head across the street for pizza to bring home, but I have those beans I cooked yesterday, and some ham still in the refrigerator, and a crockpot ... and my family LOVES baked beans. Maybe I already know the answer to the question "what's for dinner?"

Now, I just need to figure out what's for lunch ....

How Do You Measure the Life of a Woman or Man?

I've been preoccupied with watching this video all day, and the story, Rent, has nothing to do with the theme of my life, except ... it does, doesn't it? It has everything to do with my life and with my hopes for the future, because it is about survival. Certainly, a different sort of survival than I usually discuss, but definitely about navigating the difficulties of an often less-than-ideal situation, and coming out in the end a victor, against the odds.

And the point is that without humanness, without, if you will, love, there isn't much point in all of the things we do. Is there?

In our TEOTWAWKI circles we're always talking about time, and how we're certain there isn't enough of it, but I wager that we have plenty of time to remind ourselves of why we even give a damn about surviving the worst. It's not for myself. I'm pretty sure that my, personal, survival instinct isn't that strong, but I do have a lot to live for, most of whom you've met through my blogging, and they deserve to experience all of the seasons of love that life can provide.

So, I'll be counting each of those five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes each day and remembering to be thankful at least half of them, because a year isn't that much time, and regardless of what happens in our futures, without love, there's not much point.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tuesday - Eat In

You know, not having a (second) vehicle makes this challenge much easier. I mean, if I don't have a car, then I'm not likely to be running a bunch of errands, and if I'm not running a bunch of errands, then, I'm more likely to be home doing things like making a HUGE pot of beans for dinner.

And that's what I did.

Lunch was a Mexican-esque meal with seasoned ground beef, cheese, salsa, and sour cream (actually it was plain yogurt, but the taste is similar, if the texture is quite different ;) over a bed of tortilla chips. I also opened a jar of the chili-spiced beans I canned a couple of months ago.

Dinner was my favorite cajun food - red beans and rice. I added ham (from the pig share last past fall) and some of the sausage we made (using ground beef from the cow-share at the end of last year) to make the dish more acceptable to Deus Ex Machina ;).

Again, there's a marked lack of fresh veggies, especially anything green, but most of that sort of thing doesn't store well long-term, and what we did have stored (like broccoli, peas and spinach in the freezer) is long-since eaten. I do have some sprouts growing on the counter, though, and I'll try thinking of something I can cook those in ... maybe a nice, hearty beef stew with carrots and potatoes and sprouts ;).

The planting season is getting close, though ... so close. I'm hoping that by the middle of April we'll have some of our own greens to harvest. The seeds are sitting in their box over there taunting me ... plant me ... plant me. I just keep saying, "yes, as soon as the ground dries up a bit, I will."

And if not our own, by then, there will certainly be some wild greens we could enjoy. When's dandelion season, anyway?

So far eating in this week has been wicked easy, which is to say, effortless. Knowing our schedule for the rest of the week, though, I think Thursday night and Friday will be the days that give me the most trouble ... and the most temptation.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Monday - Eat In

Today was easy. Monday's are almost never a take-out night.

We're still eating, mostly, from storage, and so with the exception of a few root vegetables, pumpkins, and the stuff I canned, there aren't a lot of vegetables in our diet this time of year. Today we had (leftover) Yankee pot roast with mashed potatoes and bread for lunch. Dinner was French toast (using up the rest of the bread from lunch), ham steaks, and potato-carrot pancakes with side of cranberry sauce (I wanted applesauce, but we ran out of that a month ago ;).

We don't really eat out that often, anyway, but when we do, it takes a big bite out of our weekly cash-on-hand budget, or worse, it goes on the credit card. And we don't go to fastfood restaurants. The restaurant is usually a locally owned place (our favorite is the pizza place across from the dance school ;), it's usually take-out (which means no beverages, which can increase the total bill by $10 or more), and it usually costs between $30 and $50 for the one meal (from which there are usually leftovers). I guess it wouldn't bother me so much, given that one $40 take-out dinner is actually two meals for us, except that we have SO MUCH food in our house. It's just silly to eat out ... ever.

And really, the food is not better, it's definitely not fresher (even in the winter when they're buying non-local produce, and I'm not :), and I'm fairly certain that no significant amount of the food they serve is local.

This is a good challenge for me to remind myself of what my goals are with regard to our diet. It's not that I want to be a food-Nazi or anything, but I just keep going back to my central theme, which is being secure in the knowledge that I can feed my family on what's in my cupboard from (mostly) local sources. If too significant a portion of our diet is take-out, then what will we do when take-out is no longer an option - either because we simply can no longer afford it, or because the world has become such that take-out is just no longer an option?

It is about saving money, and it's about being a conscious consumer, and all that, but it's also about feeling secure, and I hope, at the end of this week, I can look back and realize that it wasn't so tough to not take-out dinner, and we'll do the challenge for another week ... and so on ... and so on ....

And, then, maybe, I can talk Deus Ex Machina into putting all of the money we'll be saving toward some very cool alternative energy system so that I can keep running my computer, even if the lights go out ;).

But more likely, it will go toward the insurance deductible to fix my car ;).

Eating In

Following my two years of participating in local foods challenges (One Local Summer, Dark Days of Winter, etc), I haven't talked much about our eating habits. Occasionally, I'll talk about our foraging local foods (maple syrup!) and our gardening, what we're canning, our trips to the Farmer's Market ... or our all local Thanksgiving dinner.

But mostly, I don't do food challenges anymore, because ... well, been there, done that, got the 25 lb bag of local(ly milled) flour ;).

When I saw the Eat-In for a Week Challenge, I thought, "I can do that." In fact, I think this one will be much easier than the local foods challenges, because I'm not limited in the ingredients I choose for the meals. I can cook whatever I have available in the kitchen without having to report the local and non-local ingredients.

Cooking our food from ingredients in my kitchen is pretty much how we do it every day, anyway. Afterall, with the local food challenge, I was kind of forced to cook from scratch using whole ingredients, because, first, there aren't a lot of places, locally, that process food-stuff, and, second, I could never be sure that all of the ingredients in the locally processed foods were locally sourced. So, even if the bread is made locally, if the ingredients are from China, is it local bread? I mean, *I* can make a really tasty smoothie in my kitchen using mangoes from Brazil, pineapple from Paraguay, and bananas from Costa Rica ... add a little of our own maple syrup and some milk from our local dairy farm and call it "local", but it's not really local, is it?

Hopefully, I won't bore everyone with a week's worth of posting our daily menu and the crappy pictures I take of the food we eat (I think I need to get some prettier plates ... or something).

But I did want to second the assertion that even in a small kitchen, great things can happen. My kitchen is 96 sq feet total. The floor space is about 36 sq feet, and my one counter is, roughly, 2'x3'. Still, I manage to cook two meals per day (breakfast is whatever they scrounge ... some days it's ice cream ;) for my family, including most of the loaf bread we eat, can, ferment, and sprout all sorts of goodies ... and Deus Ex Machina is even able to brew beer.

I've even managed to prepare an all local dinner for eight kids and seven adults in my tiny kitchen (with the pièce de résistance being the in-season boiled shrimp ;).

When it comes to kitchens, I have to say that size really doesn't matter. It's what you do with what you got that counts. Like Teddy Roosevelt said, "Do what you can with what you have where you are.".

This week, we'll be doing just that!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Don't Prepare to Fail ... Prepare

It's always amusing me how entwined the various aspects of our lives really are - how all of these little, seemingly unconnected pieces, fit so nicely together to form the picture of our world.

I just finished reading the book Last Light a few days ago. It was, on many levels, incredibly terrifying, but since I already believe most of what Alex Scarrow describes - from the conspiracy theories about who is actually running our world to the descriptions of people's rather violent and short-sighted reaction to the last light - I wasn't frightened to the point of wanting to curl up in a fetal position, wishing it all away.

I had that moment years ago when I watched Zeitgeist - the implications of which, back in 2007, were truly frightening ... but also rather inspiring in a very spiritual way.

The thing that both have given me is a strong sense that I'm on the right path.

And then, today, I have a conversation with an otherwise very lovely gentleman who tells me, basically, that all of the work that Deus Ex Machina and I are doing to learn these skills we're learning is rather wasted. Instead, he believes, we should be developing a trust in a Higher Power. I didn't ask him what we should be doing instead. I guess the answer is nothing, because there's nothing we can do.

In our defense, I replied, rather impotently, that these skills will help us carry on a bit longer.

A few breaths later, he tells me that the US is (currently) the most corrupt nation on the planet, and that our time for destruction (based on certain scriptural writings) by this Higher Power is nigh, because, apparently, that's what happens to really bad countries - they just get wiped out. Rome, and Haiti, were the examples given (I didn't argue. I need time to process this information). According to the writings our destruction will come by fire, (you go, Robert Frost. You, Prophet, you) that will come from "the east, the west, the south and the north" (Et tu, Canada?).

In addition, during the course of our conversation, he tells me that things are going to get worse (I agree), but that he doesn't expect that we'll be dying anytime soon - which kind of flies in the face of the End of Days theories, because, I'm no expert on the Scriptures, but from what I understand, all of the believers will be taken away before TEOTWAWKI.

My favorite piece of shared information during the conversation, however, was the revelation that Russians had actually drilled all the way down to Hell. Yes, THE hell, and so when I came back inside, I just had to look it up.

The Internet is truly the most amazing invention, and if we lose it due to energy depletion, I think it would be a tragedy for human kind.

We should all be willing to give up our cars to keep the Internet, because the Dark Ages into which we are headed will be that much more so if the inability to quickly and easily debunk research fantastic claims such as that one are not available. If this fine, intelligent gentleman fully believes that the Hell was tapped into by Russian geologists, what other fantastic stories will surface in our future that allow other, seemingly more intelligent and more powerful figures to take advantage of the masses?

I'm not poking fun of this gentleman. In most ways, I have a great deal of respect for him. He is not scholarly, but is incredibly knowledgable, and he's seen and done things in his almost eight decades that I can not even imagine, and that I will never have the chance to do. He's a font of information, and I do love our little chats.

My concern is that there are people out there who do believe (*cough*George Bush*cough*) that we're headed into the scriptural End of Days (EofD), and that there is, really, nothing they can do. It's going to happen, and in fact, some sources indicate that some of these people (*cough*George Bush*cough*), actually believe it is their job to hasten the world's demise.

On the other hand, you have people who, while believing that this is EofD, also believe that our world is being controlled by a group of very high powered individuals, who formed some group (in the book, Last Light, they are called The Twelve) three hundred years ago and have been manipulating our world ever since.

Apparently, there is a finite number of people who can survive on this planet, and we're in overshoot of what the planet can sustain by about three billion. In short, we have twice the population that the Earth can sustain, and according to this lovely gentleman (and the book, Last Light), this powerful coalition is in the process of downsizing our population through some pretty unsavory tactics, like gulags all around the world, mostly on old, abandoned military bases (Hmm? Maybe we, Mainers, should be keeping an eye on the Brunswick Naval Air Station ...).

Of course, being who I am, I tend to question most of what I hear, especially the more outrageous conspiracy theories, and I wonder, if these gentleman are so damned powerful and in control, why did they let it get so bad?

Slow decline, fast decline, economic collapse, Peak Oil, climate change, a group of rich fat cats pulling our puppet strings ....

Pick your poison.

The fact is that a lot of people are out of work. There's a good chance that a lot more people will be out of work before the year's end. Energy isn't as cheap as it used to be. There do seem to be some weird weather patterns happening and weather-related catastrophies do seem to be increasing.

In the end, it doesn't really matter *why* things are happening as they are as much as it does how we react to it. Whether the events occuring today are a part of some Divine plan or the wicked doings of evil, money-grubbing men, my reaction will not be to drop to my knees and hope for something to change.

The best advice I've seen comes from Benjamin Franklin, who said, "By failing to prepare, we are preparing to fail."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Surgarers, Start Your Engines

We set-up ten taps last weekend. Today, we drilled the other five taps. I even got behind the drill for one of them, and as the drill reached the right depth, it was the coolest thing in the world to see the sap actually start running. As soon as we put in the tap and hung the bucket, it started filling up ... one drip at a time.

So, the trees are tapped, and the sap is flowing.

Today, Deus Ex Machina and the son-in-law (henceforth know as Mr. Field & Stream) spent the afternoon boiling sap out in the backyard.

Our set-up couldn't be much more primitive than this.

It's boiled outside until we're down to about a gallon (or until it's too dark out to see ;), and we bring it inside to finish it off.

Just shy of one and a half quarts from about eleven gallons of sap.

Very cool!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Using What God Gave Me

Since my car has no tail light, I can't drive it on the roads, and well, there's not a lot of opportunity for off-roading around here. So, it will sit in the driveway until it's towed to wherever it will be fixed ... or whatever happens to it.

One would think that would mean that we'd just stay home, and maybe if we were other people, we would have, but I had my work done, and it was a gorgeous day. I decided we were going to the library.

And we did.

Google says it's 1.9 miles from my house and takes seven minutes. Yeah. Um ... it took us a little longer than that ;).

My little troupers were all too happy to don warm clothes (it wasn't that cold out ... in the upper 30s - it was above freezing), shoulder their backpacks with their library books and bottles of water (because they never go for a long walk or car ride without bottled water - smart girls ;), pull on their boots and head off down the road.

It took us about forty-five minutes to walk down there, but it wasn't them. It was actually me. About ten minutes into the walk, I realized how much my boots really do suck for walking. My feet were screaming, but I kept walking, albeit a little more slowly. I had to tell Big Little Sister to slow down once ... or twice. She was seriously hauling some butt. I didn't think to ask her where's the fire?.

We hung out at the library for a half hour or so, and then had planned to check out the candy store in town, but while they were supposed to be open, a sticky on the door said, "Be right back. Thanks for waiting." We decided not to wait. Instead, we went over to little Mom&Pop IGA grocery a little ways up the road and bought ice cream.

Yes, my daughters ate ice cream on the walk home as the sun was setting the temperature was falling from the balmy 39° on our walk to the library to something much cooler.

Big Little Sister noted some tracks she's pretty sure were fox in one yard in town. We discovered there's an apple tree in front of the campground, and it's unlikely that anyone harvests it, because the apples were lying all over the ground. We noticed that there is a very generous oak tree just right down the road from our house right in front of the newest subdivision. Several waste management trucks passed us full of snow, and we figured they were probably coming from Portland.

We talked about how neat it was that we were walking instead of driving and that we were able to notice all of those things, to slow down a bit and pay attention to what's happening around us instead of just zooming along and missing life.

And really, my girls like to bike and walk, and if given the choice, they're just as likely to choose the people powered transportation over the fossil fuel one.

Sometimes we feel like we need to take the car, because time is an issue, and it would take a long time to get where we're headed if we had to walk or bike.

Sometimes, though, when we're not on the clock, we like to slow down and use what God gave us. At times like those, I'm thankful that we're all healthy, that we have all of our limbs, and that walking with my three girls is an absolute pleasure ... even when my boots suck and hurt my feet ;).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Making Choices

Life is full of choices. We make choices every day, and all of them have consequences - all of them. We make choices, which have consequences, and then, we have a choice on how to react to the consequences - if it's a bad thing that's happened as a consequence to a choice we made, we can either try to find the good in it, or we can wallow in a pool of our own self-pitying for the poor hand that life has dealt us.

Today, I broke my car.

My girls had dance practice (not class, because this week is February Break, which means the schools are all closed, which means that all of the extracurricular educational programming for kids are also closed - so no regular dance classes this week). The reason I mention that it was practice and not a class is to point out that today's practice was not a regular commitment.

There had been some spitting snow before we left and a flake or two on the drive out. For most of the two hours we were at the dance school, there was some spitting snow - but no accumulation. Just before we left the school to come home, the snow really started falling in those big, fat, heavy, wet flakes.

On the way home, it was really snowing. The roads were wet from the intermittent snow throughout the day, and the stuff coming down was the heavy wet stuff. The combination made the roads slippery. It's like when it rains down south and the oil on the roads mixes with the water - that kind of slick ... oil-slick slippery.

I was only a few miles from home, when all of a sudden, my wheels just lost traction, I spun 180°, ended up on the grassy shoulder on the opposite side of the road, heading straight for a utility pole. I was certain I was going to hit it head on, but I managed to turn the wheel and miss the pole with the front of the truck, but I clipped the pole with the rear-end. I got the truck back on the road and came home. I didn't stop to see if I'd done any damage. I don't have a cellphone, and I figured there was nothing I could do about it anyway, if there were damage.

When I got home, I discovered that I had knocked off the driver-side tail-light. The whole thing ... just gone. It looks like someone just stuck a crowbar in there and neatly popped the whole thing off. No broken glass or jagged edges. The lights and the housing were all gone, and the wire that attaches to electrical mechanism inside the housing that makes my lights work was hanging out. There's a small dent in the quarter panel and the bumper is cracked in one place.

It was all very exciting, and once I got my car back under control and was heading in the right direction again, I gave thanks ... immediately.

I said, "Thank you for keeping me from hitting the pole head on. Thank you for giving me a clear road and that I didn't hit any other cars. Thank you for keeping us uninjured."

It could have been very bad, but it wasn't, and I could have made it worse by freaking out. As it is, it's actually kind of funny, and the insurance company representative told me it wasn't an "accident", but rather an "incident."

We all have choices, and we have to accept the consequences of our choices.

I chose to go out to the dance school, even though I knew there was a snowstorm coming, because I was confident that we'd be okay. I've been driving without incident on these roads for more than a decade. I'm usually a very good driver. Today, I had an "incident," and I could blame it on any number of things and say I had no control over the situation, but that would not be true.

There are always choices.

We watched the movie The 11th Hour this evening. The movie is about climate change and the human role in the destruction of the Earth as a result of the last 150 years of industrialization and global use of fossil fuels.

Most of the ideas discussed in the film I already know and already believe ... except the last part, where they talked about switching from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources with the expressed belief that we could just switch over one-for-one, that wind and solar power could take the place of CHEAP fossil fuels.

But, seriously? If it were true that solar panels and wind mills could provide the same amount of energy that we get from a single carbon atom, then we'd already be doing it, now - despite the oil company lobbyist or whatever other conspiracy theory we believe is preventing the technology from being fully explored and expanded.

The fact is that we do have the technology to manufacture these systems, but the fact is also that we are currently using fossil fuels to MAKE the alternative energy systems, and that even if we had the infrastructure in place, we'd use more energy maintaining and expanding the system than we could generate - *if* we tried to do it on a large scale, like the makers of the movie would like us to believe is possible, and *if* we continue at the same level of consumption.

Peak Oil Hausfrau asked If anything could be GOOD about peak oil/energy/economy, what would it be?, and my answer is that it will force us to change the way we live. It will enable us to, hopefully, slowly and without a massive die-off, reduce our population to something closer to what the earth can sustain without fossil fuel inputs. It will force us to evolve into sustainable communities.

One of the experts on the movie said (and I wrote it down, because I wanted to remember it) It's easier to design in isolation and then superimpose the design over what exists. He pointed out that nature works in the exact opposite way, and instead, brings onto the palette all kingdoms of life and works symphonically to create an end result.

That's what I'm trying to do with my suburban homestead. I'm trying to work with what I have to create a balance, a harmony on this small space so that my family can survive, and hopefully, thrive, here, but so that we aren't causing more damage than we're creating.

There have been a couple of times in the recent past, when there was the possibility of us receiving a great financial windfall. Of course, the first thing I would do is to pay off my house, but then, I thought, "Would I?" Or would I sell my house, buy a piece of land in the country, and then build an eco-friendly house out there?

I've thought about it. A lot. And I've come to the conclusion that I would pay off my house, and I would stay here. I might make some modifications on my house (within the footprint, of course), like building up and tearing off a couple of the rooms so that my house would be more compact and more energy efficient, but to buy a piece of raw land, and then, build something new ... just goes against everything I've been saying for years, now.

We have a choice. We can work with what we have, even if it's not perfect. Or we can start building new stuff in places where we should just allow nature to do her magic.

Life is full of choices, all of which have consequences, and we are, right now, living with the consequences of a century and a half of irresponsible building and destruction. The question is, do we try to make better choices and fix what we have, or do we make the same choice, while believing that what we're doing is somehow different, because we believe our motives are more noble?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

The other day I was asked if I'd seen the movie A Crude Awakening. I thought I hadn't, but after watching it this evening, I realized that I had.

I don't recall what I thought of it back when I watched it the first time (it was made in 2006, and so I probably watched it two or three years ago), but I'm pretty sure that I felt pretty much the same way I do now with one exception - I'm a little more confident about my future than I was back then.

There are a lot of things said in the movie that are very concerning, but the interviewee who caused me the most pause was Matt Simmons.

Matt Simmons is a prominent oil industry insider. He served as an advisor to George W. Bush, who also has family ties to the oil industry.

In 2000, Bush began building the Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, Texas. Among it's features include a geothermal heating/cooling system, a 25,000 gallon cistern that collects rainwater, and a grey-water reclamation system that filters and purifies greywater and then deposits it back into the cistern to be reused.

His house is every doomer's dream off-grid retreat. Having a 4000 sq ft, ultra-modern, energy efficient, self-sustaining home on 1500 acres isn't such a bad way to ride out the coming storm. Many of us are working toward our own Prairie Chapel Ranch, albeit a little smaller, on much less land ... and probably sans the high-tech geothermal heating/cooling system ... oh, and the 25,000 gallon cistern (I do, however, have three 50 gal rain barrels ... yeah, not quite the same ;).

Compared to Bush, though, many of us are well behind the power curve. I only heard of Peak Oil and understood the implications of energy depletion four years ago in 2006, and while I've been working to change our lives so that energy depletion won't kill us, I don't have the ready capital to do something like what Mr. Bush did in building his ranch.

It's not jealousy, though. I'm not envious of his 4000 sq foot, off-grid house. It's not jealousy that I feel. It's actually ire. It makes me wonder ... what did he know back in 2000 that he didn't tell us? If he didn't know that we were on the down-side of Hubbert's Peak, why would he, the least conservation minded President since Ronald Reagan, even bother? It could be because he wanted to save money, but somehow, I seriously doubt it.

One of his advisors is a leading expert in the topic of peak oil ... and he, now, lives on a self-sufficient homestead in a small town in central Texas, just west of Waco.

One of the points made in the movie was that if our leaders would just tell us that we're in a shit-load of trouble and that to survive we have to conserve, the average American would step up and do the right thing. I agree. The problem is that no one is going to tell us that, and until we're told, we have no reason to change our habits.

Seventy percent of the oil that is being extracted is turned into transportation fuel. If every family would give up one car and bike or walk distances less than four miles - every time - we could make a significant change in when peak oil will cause significant harm, because make no mistake, this little hiccup that we're experiencing right now, is nothing compared to when the price per barrel of oil jumps back up to over $100.

And I did say when and not if, because it will happen, and likely sooner rather than later.

The price per barrel for oil was $74.13 on Friday, February 12, 2010. It's been bouncing between $70 and $85 per barrel since December 2009, and Morgan Stanley predicted that prices would exceed $95 per barrel by the end of 2010.

I'm not making any predictions, but I am making plans.

A 400-Watt Wind Generator is less than $500. A 650-Watt Solar Power Kit is just under $4000. For less than we (used to spend) eating out per month, we could have an alternative energy system that would give us 1000-Watts of electricity.

Whether we believe in Peak Oil and energy depletion is not the issue. What is the issue is that something is happening - our leaders know it, and they're all getting ready, but they aren't telling us why they're concerned. I'm a strong believer in actions speak louder than words, and if we wish to understand what's not being said, we need only look at what they're doing.

Bush has built an off-grid house. Michelle Obama is planting a garden.

The very least we can do is follow suit.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Building the Eco-Village

How do the kind of folks who would be interested in such a venture (e.g. the slaves that have been sucked dry by the centralized system) afford the land and resources to create such a community?

This question got me thinking this morning about the whole idea of "building communities", and I question the wisdom of buying a parcel of raw land and creating an "eco-community." I just don't think it's a good idea, especially when we're raping the landscape all over the world to build our communities, and half of those (like most of Detroit, Michigan) are now sitting feral, because we've decided to give up and start over.

It's easier, right? But it's also very irresponsible.

In keeping with my central theme of surviving the suburbs, I have a solution.

The above picture is the suburb where I spent a significant portion of my youth. It is in Alabama.

But there are suburban areas, just like that one, all over the United States, and there are even places where whole neighborhoods are little more than ghost towns as the former residents leave.

What if, those people interested in "building" these eco-villages, were to purchase property in these depressed areas and begin the process of building a system of interdependent urban/suburban homesteads?

A suburban house can be taken off-grid, and while it does take a bit of an investment to do so (and probably costs more than buying a piece of junk land out in the deserts of Nevada and Utah and parking an RV or building a shed to live in), it can save significant resources, because much of the infrastructure is already there.

In an extreme survival situation, shelter should be the first priority, followed by water and food.

In the suburbs, we have shelter and (for the moment) water. We have land, not a great deal of it, but working together with our neighbors and using permaculture and small space gardening techniques, we'd have enough (one 4x4 garden bed will feed an adult two vegetables per day for the duration of the season, and depending on where one lives, that could be quite a lot of food ;).

We're tapping our maple trees today.

When we're done, we'll have a total of fifteen taps. Last year, the eight taps (in six trees) gave us 165 gallons of sap over a period of three weeks (we believe that we waited too long to tap last year).

One mature oak can yield around 1000 pounds of acorns in one season, and acorns can be used for flour to make flat bread, as a substitute for coffee, and as a nut meat to add bulk to winter soups.

The linden tree, or basswood, has edible leaves that taste like lettuce.

One quarter acre suburban lot is large enough for several large trees (including maples, oaks, linden and a couple of fruit trees), plus, several garden beds for annual vegetables, perennial herbs, and small livestock, including chickens, ducks, rabbits, and bees.

We've been spoiled into believing that we need large parcels of land or that we need to start from scratch, and while I do recognize that remodeling is more difficult than building new, it is the only responsible option we have left.

Small space gardening and suburban homesteading is, actually, less labor intensive than trying to farm large tracts of land. It also requires fewer inputs, because, frankly, the best way to cultivate a quarter acre is with hand tools.

Transitioning from our consumerist lifestyles to a lower energy future can only happen if we use the resources we have available - including, and especially, our suburbs.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Glass Half Empty

There has been an amazing and lively discussion happening on one of the Meet-up forums of which I am a member. It started when one of the members posted an article about the recent snowstorms in the mid-Atlantic area, which focused on how ill-prepared the average person is for emergencies.

Today, one of the members, who has had the privilege of actually interviewing people like James Kunstler and Howard Zinn, wanted to point out that, while there are plenty of people who are being incredibly pessimistic about our future, there are also that many more of us who are trying to come at the issue from the more positive angle. He said, the key to transforming the world is starting from a mental place of abundance, not scarcity and adds that even though we seem to be surrounded by so much, with the consumeristic mindset, we're actually in a scarcity model, in which we work at meaningless tasks so that we can earn, essentially, worthless currency to buy more stuff that we probably don't really need.

How much is enough? And don't most of us already have as much as we need? I mean, even those people who believe themselves very poor, usually have enough to eat, enough clothing to wear.

I've lived with the poorest of the poor here in the United States, where some people don't have running water inside their homes, and, almost literally, can be called dirt farmers.

Even they had enough.

They hauled water into their house from a well outside, which they warmed on the electric stove for cleaning and such; the kitchen was full of the week's tomato harvest, which they were canning; they had plenty of clothes, none of which were threadbare and all of which were clean; and they even had a television. These were the poorest of the poor, living in an uninsulated, rickety-looking, tin-roofed shack with tar paper for siding to keep the rain out.

And they'd been living that way for decades and had raised a handful of kids, who were my classmates.

They had plenty.

One might even say, their lives were full of abundance.

I talk a lot about preparing for a low-energy future, as I believe it will be. I believe we will have less money and less stuff, but never have I believed we will not have enough, because even if all importing of manufactured goods were to just **stop** tomorrow, there is enough stuff still available, both new and used, to take us into the next decade.

The other day I was chatting with my local librarian about people's attitudes and she asked if I was a glass half full or a glass half empty kind of person. I told her I was a glass half empty ... but that meant that I still had half. I recognize the fact that half is gone, but I also see that half is still there.

I'm not an optimist (glass half full), but I'm not a pessimist, either (glass half empty). I said I was a pragmatist. She thought that was pretty cool.

My favorite part of the meet-up member's comment was this paragraph:

Rejecting the scarcity paradigm [is] a quiet revolution, but it is happening. Look at our shared interests in permaculture, working by hand, etc. These ideas make the frightened, mean spirited model of the Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin world look infantile and silly. Let them run around in the bushes with their machine guns and stockpiles of canned soup. When they're exhausted, they can join the rest of us, who will be outdoors, trading seeds, making love, and turning 20th Century trash into 21st Century treasures.


And I couldn't agree more. It really does look like a bright future, when one thinks of the glass as being half empty ... with the best half still there.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

To Stockpile or Not To Stockpile

I've been spending a lot of time recently exploring "survivalist" blogs, and it's fascinating. I consider myself a "doomer", but I am so not in the league of a lot of folks who've adopted the same label. On one blog, there was a very lively discussion about what to do when TSHTF (the shit hits the fan) with regard to neighbors, relatives or *others* who haven't prepped, but know that you have, and might want to "share" (or take, as is the real concern) what you have.

One woman received a lot of flak, beacuse she said, out right, that she would shoot her neighbors, because "they know too much", and when her freeloading, useless family arrives, she plans to shoot them, as well.

I'll admit that I've been concerned about this issue. It's kind of the grasshopper and the ant. I've done a lot of work to plant a garden, and preserve the harvest, and to raise our animals. And while most of it isn't hard physically, it is time-consuming. I've been spending time doing these things, and time learning skills and learning about living without as much energy and exploring options, when I could have been at the amusement parks or the beach all summer ...

... like some of the people I know who've told me, *if* TSHTF, they're coming to my house. Comments like that, especially from people who haven't even taken the tiniest steps, irritate me ... just a little, because they know something is happening, but they aren't even trying to change how they're living.

And maybe it will turn out like Y2K with a lot of build-up and an unremarkable finale.

Maybe it will turn out like the Great Depression, and we'll end up very poor and/or destitute, but recovery will be swift (and to be sure, those who lived through the depression didn't think ten years was "swift", but in the greater scheme of human life, ten years is less than a blink).

Or maybe, it will be as has been predicted, and there will simply be a slow descent down the decline slide, and the life of luxury we have enjoyed this past century is truly over.

My guess is door number three - the slow slide -, and I don't think we'll know *until* it happens, but more likely than not, we won't know it's happening, even then. Only in retrospect will we be able to say, "Ah, and when x happened ...." No one called it the "Great Depression" during the Great Depression, and my guess is that most people didn't know how truly bad things were until after the world was well on its way to recovery.

I think that's the point most of us preppers are missing. It is more likely that we will just be living through some very hard times that just don't get better. Instead, we'll just get used to life as it becomes.

I had an interesting discussion with a homeschooler last night. He was talking about computers (MAC vs. PC), but his point is applicable here. I said I didn't want to transition away from my PC, because it's what I was used to, and he said, that he had felt the same way before switching. His point was that people are incredibly resilient, and what seemed hard, at first, becomes habit after a while.

That's the way I believe descent will be. Life will continue with its ups and downs, with existence for those of us who are accustomed to a very luxurious lifestyle experiencing more downs than ups for a very long time.

Life will be hard, but people will carry on. We will adapt. There will be places where there is violence. There are always places where there is violence, even right here, right this minute in one of the safest countries in the world, but based on what we've seen of human behavior in the past, I believe we will see a lot more of people just trying to get by (and being willing to cooperate) than of people intent on hurting others to take what they have.

I don't think stockpiling is a bad idea. For short-term emergency situations (like a potential flu quarantine or a storm), it is a very good idea to have consumables stored, but for long-term prepping, it's going to be an exercise in futility. At some point, the supplies are going to run out, and then, those people who concentrated solely on stockpiling will be up the proverbial shit creek having lost their paddle and with no knowledge on how to make a new one.

I just think, if our goal is to secure our future, and not just to "survive" for a little longer, that for some things (like cases of frosted raspberry flavored Pop Tarts and cigarettes - if one doesn't smoke), stockpiling is not, necessarily, the most prudent use of one's resources. I think if one has $100 to spend, it might be a better use of the money to purchase a non-consumable resource (like a book on edible wild plants) or to pay for a class that will teach a skill, like basket weaving or moccasin making. Baskets for carrying things and shoes become much more valuable than money in the kind of world ours is becoming, and knowledge can't be stolen with a gun.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Getting Outside in Sub-Freezing Weather

Thursday we spent the day in the winter woods. We learned about how to test the ice (with the caution that it's better just to avoid it ... I agreed). We finished making our dream catchers (using hazelnut boughs for the frames and basswood cordage, which we made by winding pieces of basswood bark into rope - it's kind like spinning yarn, only it's not fur. It's from a plant, like hemp ... sort of ... only it's a tree. Are you sufficiently confused?). We decorated our dream catchers with feathers.

Precious with her Dream Catcher

Our lunch on that day was chicken leftover soup from Wednesday. We heated it back up in the morning and put it in our thermoses. It was really nice sitting on a hill in the sun and eating the hot soup. We also brought some Cabot cheese, some bread I made (not 100% local ingredients, because I can't, with any accuracy, know where the wheat was grown, but it's locally milled in Vermont), and some eggs pickled in the juice leftover after we ate all of the pickled beets. Eating a purple-pickled egg with a bright yellow yolk is actually pretty fun ;).

Today, we went for a walk. It was a perfect winter day with light winds, bright sun, and a clear, blue sky. Lately, we've had more of this sort of day than not, and I really should be taking advantage of them to replenish my Vitamin D store.

We decided to look for a geocache while we were going to be out anyway. When we got to the area where the geocache was located, I was thinking it was a lost cause and decided to just stand a little way up the hill, enjoying the feel of the winter sun on my face ...

I was glad we didn't have to cross the stream

... but Deus Ex Machina, being the bullheaded persistent sort, kept looking, and lo, and behold! He actually found it. It was cold, especially in the shade, but he kept looking. I am totally impressed, but not surprised. He's just like that ;).

Afterward, we walked a bit and looked at trees. We brought some pine boughs home for tea, and had a (mostly) local (except the pasta) late lunch/early supper (would that be considered "lupper"?).

The bright sun today actually motivated me to get my Johnny Seed order all filled out (finally!). I may be a little late, but I still have some seed (for early stuff, like peas and lettuce) from last year, and the other stuff will be okay if it isn't planted until May. I'll send out the order in the early part of next week.

I'm planning to use more of my space than I have in the past for gardening.

I'm planning an entire "bucket" garden where I'll grow corn, beans and pumpkins.

I'm hoping to raise all of the tomatoes, broccoli, salad greens, pumpkins, beans, peas, garlic and onions that we'll use.

I hope to grow a significant portion of our potatoes.

We'll grow all of our chicken and hopefully be able to get the laying hens and ducks to actually give us some eggs ;).

We also intend to forage and preserve a lot more wild foods this year ... starting today, with the hemlock tea.

I'm not even close to tired of the winter, yet. I'd still love to see a lot more snow, and I don't mind the cold so much ... as long as I have a warm fire to come home to.

The Ground Hog tells us that spring is still six weeks away ... but it's almost time for maple sugaring, and right on th tail of that is time to plant peas.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The 98% Food Challenge - Day Three

Today's local meal was dinner, and it was soup.

When we had our chickens butchered, we always get a bag of "parts." Not the innards, but, I guess, they're like the necks, but they're not long like turkey necks. Mostly, it's fat and skin, which makes a wonderful, rich and hardy broth.

I added some potatoes and carrots and a few (non-local) spices like salt and pepper. I also added a clove of garlic and some tarragon from my garden. Some Cabot cheddar cheese and Old Cape Cod oyster crackers played along the side.

I didn't get a picture, because we were hungry. It was good soup, and Precious even had two bowls. She's so funny.

Innovation and Thinking Outside the Box

Most people look at these and see croquet mallets.

Big Little Sister looks at these and sees a wheelchair. She even drew a sketch of how she could make it.


Big Little Sister says, "I didn't practice my guitar yesterday."

Knowing that she had, more likely than not, already decided a solution for herself, I simply quipped with a big I'm-joking-smile, "Well, I guess you'll have to practice twice today."

To which she replied, "I decided that I'm not playing Harry Potter (a computer game) today, because that's what I did yesterday, and why I didn't practice."

She made a bunch of signs. They say things like "guitar, read, blog", activities that she would like to accomplish today. She had her sisters hang them around the house, and so when she sees one of them, it will be a reminder for her to accomplish that activity. I guess, in her way, it's her "to do" list.

What a good idea!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The 98% Food Challenge - Day Two

Not pretty, but very tasty ;).

For our 98% lunch today, we had seasoned ground beef, sauerkraut and leftover-mashed potato pancakes with grated cheese. Spices were not local - everything else was.

And I think I get double points for using up the mashed potatoes leftover from yesterday's lunch ;).

Head of the German Teachers' Association Says Parents Can't Teach Their Children

In an article today about a German couple who have received, what equates to political asylum here in the US, because they've chosen to homeschool their children, an educator is quoted as saying, "No parental couple can offer a breadth of education and replace experienced teachers. Kids also lose contact with their peers."

Of course, being a homeschooler, I take umbrage with such a statement.

I won't go into the whole peer pressure, bullying, and cliqueish aspects of traditional schooling. I won't go into the whole controlling aspect of traditional schooling, whose stated goal is to "develop good citizens." I won't go into the sequestering aspect of traditional schooling in which children are forced into groups of same-aged peers with little or no opportunities during the school day to have contact with real-world situations. In short, this won't be an anti-schooling rant. We all know that our traditional school system and methods are deeply and irreparably flawed. We just don't know what to do about it (and putting more money into the system is NOT the answer).

Instead, I will stick with some facts about homeschooling.

He says no parental couple can offer a breadth of education and replace experienced teachers. I disagree. *I* was trained as and worked as a classroom teacher in a number of different settings from pre-school with developmentally delayed children to secondary public school to college-aged kids. I also worked as a peer advisor and tutor in college and I taught homeschool classes. I have literature, humanities, social studies, and history covered. Deus Ex Machina is an electrical engineer. He has the hard sciences and math. I think we can both pretty well tackle any biological studies, and we both have enough experience in French and German that we could teach our children to be, at least, tourist fluent, which is more than most high school language programs can do. As a parental couple, we can definitely offer a "breadth of education and replace experienced teachers."

That said, there are some subjects that I just don't have any experience in, and for those, I hire an expert, but most of those subjects are ones that are not taught as part of a school "curriculum", anyway, but are considered "extra curricular", like dance, music, and art.

Personally, I think all of the "stuff" they teach in school can be (and is in our house) learned better and more fully without a lot of teaching, and those things that we hire professionals to teach are the ones that should be "taught" in schools. Those subjects include not knowledge-based information, but rather skills, like playing an instrument or building something or cooking or fixing things. Those aren't taught in schools, but should be, and the other stuff ... knowing that William Faulkner is a 20th Century American author whose principle topic was the decline of the Southern aristocracy is not "knowledge." It's trivia.

Too much of what we consider education is just memorized trivial information - something that with today's technology is easily and quickly researched and doesn't need to be learned (and really, does most of it need to be learned ... ever?), but how to build a wigwam, or carve a spoon, or build a chicken coop, or play the fiddle, or darn socks, or knit a sweater, or spin yarn, or forage wild foods, or grow medicinal herbs, or preserve the harvest, or properly prepare guanciale - those are things that should be taught.

The worst part is that those skills are the ones that we have lost over time with our homogenized, compulsory education focusing on a trivia-based memorization rather than on skill-building. In the lower energy future into which we are heading (and faster than we might realize) we will definitely need skills rather than trivia, but our schools are ill-equipped to teach them.

The "teacher's" job is to introduce a concept and then allow the "student" the freedom to explore the idea or technique on his own. It's through experience that we learn, and not through rote exercises, which only require memorization. Memorization is NOT learning.

I tell my children that the mark of true intelligence is the ability to apply something previously learned to a seemingly unrelated, new situation.

How many of us can take the "lessons" we learned in school and apply them to our current lives?

Indeed, how many of the "lessons" we learned in school are even applicable?

My children are learning, because they are experiencing things. They learned to read, because they experienced books, and not because *I* taught them anything more than how our language looks on paper (i.e. the letter sounds, which are different in all languages). They're learning their multiplication tables, because there are times in their lives when they need to know what 3x3 equals, and not because they had to memorize their three-times table for a test. For reference, we keep a chart of the multiplication table up to twelve hanging on the bookshelf, but Big Little Sister doesn't need it, because while I memorized that 3x3=9, she knows that 3 and 3 and 3 are nine, and if she forgets, she knows that she can draw a grid and count dots. I never learned the concreteness of math, and therefore, had trouble with the concepts for many years. Memorizing those facts is faster - provided we remember -but knowing how to get the answer in every situation where you have a number times a number, that's forever ... like rollerskating or riding a bike ... or using a sewing machine. It's a learned skill, and not just a memorized fact.

As for the other argument against homeschooling in the above quote regarding losing contact with their peers, I can attest that the homeschoolers I know have very active social lives. My daughters spend eight hours a week at the dance school with about half of that time not in classes, and they're able to just hang out with their friends. We go to birthday parties (this past weekend, in fact, we were invited to a roller skating party ... and it's true that once you learn how, you never forget ;). We have regular monthly field trips and activities we attend with other homeschoolers. There are also opportunities for skiing, play dates at local parks, ice skating, swimming at the Y, cooking classes, art classes, homeschool bands and choirs, reading clubs, 4-H, hockey games ... and that's just what I can think of from posts to the homeschool e-groups in the past two days. When it comes to social opportunities, we have more to activities choose from than we have time.

I guess that's the thing that most people who speak against homeschooling don't understand, and it is the fact that, unlike a traditional school where they believe that all "learning" must take place within their four walls, we homeschoolers understand that real learning happens all of the time, and in the most unexpected places.

Some parents choose to send their children to school. Some parents choose to homeschool their children. I'm not going to argue in favor of one choice or the other. I've made my choice, and I'm happy with it, but to have others tell me that I am incapable of giving my children a comparable education, because I am just a parent is both insulting and untrue, and frankly, in my experience, even the parents who don't have my credentials do as good (most of the time better) a job of educating their children as the school system would have.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Welcome to the 21st Century!

With great thanks to Rambling Woolysheep, for giving me the link, I would like to welcome my favorite possum and role model, Dolly Freed to the blogosphere.

Her publisher talked her into starting a blog - bless them!

The 98% Food Challenge

Chile has decided to go all hardcore psycho (*grin*) and restrict her diet for the next week to 98% all local foods.

As she is in southern Arizona, she has a distinct advantage over those of us who live in the frozen north (and a good portion of the mid-west and even parts of the south - at least this year). Our deep-freeze is her growing season, and from the looks of things, she certainly has an abundance.

Still ....

When I saw her challenge, my first impulse was to say, "Hell yeah! I'm up for it!" But then, I recalled that ... it's winter, and while we have a pretty good store of food, a significant portion of our breakfast food consists of things like bagels (from the grocery store and not local) and peanut butter. My girls are already pretty slender without taking that protein source from them for a week, just because I could.

So, I didn't take the challenge.

But, then, I decided I would - but modified. So, for this week, we will eat one 98% LOCAL meal PER DAY.

Today, it was lunch.

We had steak (seasonings were not local) on the grill, whipped potatoes (all local, including the butter), applesauce (made with honey instead of sugar - so local ;), and I pulled out a jar of pickles, in case anyone wanted one.

But to make myself feel a little better for not going whole hog on the challenge, I decided to cook everything except the steak on the woodstove ... to save electricity ;).

Over the week, you will notice a distinct lack of "green" stuff on our plate, and that's because, with the exception of pickles, just about all of the frozen veggies I stored for the winter are long-since eaten ... although I do have some cabbage from the Snell's winter market, and I'm pretty certain that will make it into one of our meals ;). Bread/grains will also be missing, because while King Arthur flour is locally milled, I'm fairly certain that the wheat is not grown in New England. The only two grains that I know grow fairly well up here are oats and barley, neither of which I have a reliable local source.

So, meat and potatoes will, likely, be the usual fare ... Deus Ex Machina will be thrilled :).

Oh, and Chile - I think you can count your coffee as being "local" to you ;). Enjoy it, and have a cuppa for me ;).