Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I Know Why

It's always great when we wonder about something, and we look up the answer but can't find it, and then, the answer is given to us in a form we'd never have expected to find it.

Last month, we were gifted a whole deer, and one of the concerns when we were butchering it was that it hadn't been bled out. The question was, what does bleeding the animal out do.

We had no answer at the time.

The other day I found the answer in a book I was reading, and it is that meat from an animal that has not bled out spoils more quickly, which is not an issue when said meat is going to be frozen and refrigerated up until it is cooked (thoroughly).

In a lower energy future when we can no longer store meat in the freezer, we will have to be more careful about the way the meat is processed. For now, we're still incredibly thankful for all of the gifts the Universe has given us, and our lunch today of sweet and sour* stir-fried deer steak over rice was wonderful.

*The sweet and sour sauce was actually piccalilli I canned during the summer. It's delicious ;).

Window Farm?

Proof that it's possible to grow some food anywhere even in a small apartment in the middle of Brooklyn, NY.

Those of us with small spaces may never be wholly food self-sufficient, but every project like this gives us one more opportunity to free ourselves from the industrial agriculture machine and puts us one step closer to food security.

The Window Farms project website has a lot of information and plans on how-to get started in hydroponic window farming ... and the best part? Most of their "farms" repurpose stuff that would have ended up in the waste stream.

Every project like this gets us that much closer to the hundredth monkey ;).

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Blast from the Past - Deuxieme

The following is a post that originally appeared on my blog in February 2008 (and ended up in my offline archive with the rest of my blog in March 2009).

It was part of a series of posts I did arguing why we should consider staying in the suburbs rather than pining after that piece of rural heaven. It is one of my favorite posts in this series, and so, I'm reposting it.

It was orginally titled:

Pass the Scoop, I Likes Me Some Ice Cream with My Cake

I was supposed to be commenting on the Suburban Lawn of the Future, but I’m having trouble with that topic.

Ask me why.

Okay, I’ll tell you.

I live in Maine, and right now we’re under a foot-deep, concrete-hard blanket of ice and snow, which is not unusual for February in Maine, but it makes thinking about what my garden might look like in the spring a little difficult. Some of my favorite bloggers are starting seeds right now, and from my experience as a gardener in this part of the country, it’s still too early to even do that. The traditional planting date for Maine is Memorial Day – still three full months away (and I learned the hard way not to flout the wisdom of waiting until then).

Instead I hope I can talk convincingly about why, if you already live in the suburbs, keeping your house is a better option than running wildly into the woods, and I’ll be making the assumption that your house in the suburbs carries a mortgage AND that if you found a house in the country, you would also have a mortgage.

In a survival situation, experts stress that the first order of business is finding shelter. Most people freak out and rush around trying to get food.

Fact: The average person can survive without any food at all for three weeks.

Fact: One can die of exposure to the elements in as little as three hours.

I found a statistic that stated in the United States 700 people die of exposure every year. I couldn’t find one statistic regarding the number of people who die of starvation. Not one. I took that to mean that it happens so rarely here in the US that it isn’t very noteworthy.

I could probably stop right there, point made. Shelter is important. But it’s probably not enough to convince anyone to stay in the suburbs, especially if one lives in an HOA-controlled area.

A couple of years ago, I read this article, entitled Why Homeowners Get Rich and Renters Stay Poor. The author, David Bach, points to things like equity, tax breaks, and lower monthly payments (because most of the time a mortgage payment is less than rent for a comparable space). **

I would add one more thing, and that is security. There is a great deal of comfort in knowing that someone can’t just kick me out of my home on a whim. The house I’m living in had renters when we purchased it. We went under contract at the beginning of November and closed on December 19. The renters moved out the day we closed. It seemed like they had no idea what was going on. I mean, they even had a Christmas tree, and I know this, because the previous owners showed up on closing day with a U-Haul and helped their tenants relocate to an apartment in town. Among the things they couldn’t take was their Christmas tree, and the pool that was frozen to the ground in the backyard. They left both.

As a homeowner, as long as I’m paying my mortgage payment, there is little chance that I’m going to be kicked out of my house six days before Christmas. And once my mortgage debt is paid in full, as long as I continue to pay my taxes to my local municipality, I can live here until I die.

I’ve read a lot of fiction set in the 1930’s. It’s probably one of my favorite historical time periods. I think there is a lot we can learn from the survivors of the Great Depression, especially in these uncertain economic times.

The one thing I’ve learned from all of that reading is that only difference between being destitute and being poor was a home. Those people who had a place to live, regardless of their economic status, never had the problems of those who were transient – moving from one temporary shelter to another.

This is still true today, and if the economy gets as bad as is predicted due to Peak Oil, some of us might have to think about our housing situation.

In her book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America Barbara Ehrenriech talks about living wage earners, and the fact that many of them are forced to live in temporary housing, like motels. The problem, she observes, is that they can’t do things like buy food in bulk and cook and store large quantities of food, much less grow a garden, even in containers. Worse, the rates for such housing are twice what one would pay for a traditional apartment, or even a mortgage, but consider if all of the money is going to pay a weekly motel rate, how can one save enough for a deposit on an apartment or a down payment on a house? In most cases, it doesn’t happen.

The problems just compound until in the worst case scenarios, not only do those people who were living in motels no longer have a place to live, but now, they are also starving.

One of my favorite books set in the 1930’s is The Grapes of Wrath . Those poor Joads. In her book, Possum Living, Dolly Freed says that things would have been very different for the Joads, if they had owned their property. And that’s the point: the difference between being destitute and being poor is owning one’s property.

I know, you’re saying, “Well, we could own our house in the country, too.” And that may well be true. In that case, I would say, “Alright! When do we leave?”

Maybe it’s just my issue, but Deus Ex Machina and I don’t have the money in savings to go out and buy a house in the country without a mortgage. While it’s true we could probably find a house right now for very little, it’s also true that we’d still have a mortgage, and we’d still have to have a job. In most rural areas here in Maine, there aren’t very many jobs, and there aren’t any that pay what Deus Ex Machina is currently making. Houses are cheaper, but not by that much.

I suppose we could commute … but isn’t that kind of defeating the whole lowering our impact?

If we moved into the country, we could farm for a living, which is what I’d want to do.

It’s true that farming can be a very lucrative career, but growing stuff to sell takes time. It also takes capital to buy seeds or livestock, which means that we’d have to have money. We’d have to have money BEFORE we could make any money.

See the crazy circle?

Fact is that in this country we are heavily dependent on the money economy, and while we can take steps to minimize our need for the “root of all evil” (like participating in Riot4Austerity and taking the fantastic advice of people like Dolly Freed, the frugal zealot and the Economedes family), we still need some of it.

Living in the suburbs allows my family to reduce our dependence on an outside income in the following ways:

1. We live “close” and so we wouldn’t need (as much) gasoline to get around, and living in the suburbs puts us in between the country (where we can get food) and the city (where we can get supplies).

2. We have enough land to supplement our diet with things we can grow or raise, and so we can save money on food. We could even supplement our income by selling some of our organic vegetables and eggs to neighbors, and we actually do have enough space that we could raise small livestock, like rabbits, for meat and/or fiber. Additionally, rabbits and chickens (which we already have) create a lot … ahem, fertilizer. Rabbit manure can go straight from the rabbit into the garden without composting first. It doesn’t burn plants like other manures can do. We could also sell that … er, by product to area gardeners. And, we wouldn’t have to waste a carbon element on transportation, as it could all be done with a wagon and a good pair of shoes. If one lives in the country, one’s neighbors are more likely to already have garden vegetables, eggs and manure a plenty. Transporting goods to markets would require some fuel, at least until horse and wagon become acceptable forms of transportation again.

3. Most suburban homes have some extra space that could be used for money-making endeavors, like a home business, that city-folks don’t often have. I have a home business, and there is a room in my house that is my “office.” It’s not a bedroom. It’s an “extra room.” I earn just enough to cover our monthly mortgage payment as a Virtual Assistant. My biggest client is a medical office, and I transcribe dictation for them. I also work over the Internet for clients in other parts of the country. I could do the work I do and live anywhere in the world, thanks to my highspeed Internet connection, but until recently a highspeed Internet connection wasn’t even available in some parts of the state. In addition, utilities aren’t always available, and when they do go down, it takes longer to get them back up in more rural areas. In 1998, for example, most of the extreme northeast suffered a severe ice storm. Parts of Maine and into Canada were without power for weeks. We lost power for a total of 18 hours over two days. If things get as bad as predicted, no one without an alternative power source will have electricity, but chances are better that my power will stay on longer than my friends out near Sebago Lake.

The fact is that public utilities like electricity, phone service (including cellphones), natural gas lines, and the Internet are more readily available in more densely populated areas, and while I could live happily without them, in theory, at the moment, I need them to continue working in my chosen career.

4. Living in the suburbs means we have lots of neighbors. This may seem like a disadvantage, and I’ll talk more on it later, but as the Big Box stores have shown us, there is power in numbers.

A final consideration, which Deus Ex Machina just pointed out, is familiarity. Chances are that you know your surroundings already, at least to a degree, and you would be better able find things like food, water, wood for fuel, etc. Plus, you probably know your neighbors, at least a little, but more importantly, you’d know whether or not you could trust them, which wouldn’t be true if you went running into the country to escape Peak Oil.

Here in the ‘burbs, we have that proverbial cake, and not only do we get to eat it, but we’re licking the platter clean. We get the luxury of the city with a bit of that fresh, country air.

Now, pass the ice cream scoop. I want a big dollop of that French vanilla there … and maybe a smidgen of the strawberry, too, to go with this slab of German Chocolate cake I’m holding.

**Some of what Bach says in this article are no longer true in some areas after the 2008 housing bubble burst, but there are still areas of the country where housing prices have not done the Nestea plunge, and owning rather than renting is still a better option.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Blast from the Past

Originally published two years ago, today.

Still applicable?

*********It seems that I'm not the only "cock-eyed optimist" when it comes to believing that the suburbs are a viable option in a potentially oil-starved future.

Over at Groovy Green, Aaron Newton posted an article entitled Can We Stay in the Suburbs? His argument that we can is really good - probably better than anything I've written on the topic. Please follow the link to read his fantastic commentary.

The last sentence of his article is we might do best to just stay put.

And to that I say ...

... I completely agree! 100%. We would do best to stay put. Pay off our mortgages, before things get REALLY bad, and own our little partial acres on which we can grow a plethora of crops for personal consumption and potential resale (check out this potential "cash crop" or this one, and this book on backyard market gardening).

On my quarter acre suburban lot, we have several raised beds (most of which were filled entirely by compost we made right here), two perennial herb beds, asparagus, some border plants like rhubarb, raspberry and blackberry brambles, hazelnut bushes, a strawberry bed, several dwarf fruit trees, a grape vine, and several large maples that we tapped for maple syrup just this year. We also have chickens (and ducks as of 2009 :) for eggs and meat, and raise rabbits for meat and fertilizer. Someday, I hope to get a dairy goat.

And I'm not even using all of the space that is available to me to its greatest potential. Using a combination of companion planting, container planting, trellising, and hanging planters, I could, potentially, feed my family of five with just what we could grow ... or forage. In the suburbs where I live, there is a lot of "undeveloped" land on which are growing any number of edible "weeds".

Contrary to what one person who commented on the article asserts, we will not be starving here in the suburbs.

But it's not just food that makes the suburbs a better choice than densely populated urban centers. In an oil-starved future, the oil-dependent infrastructure that keeps these cities clean will no longer be operational. Where I live, we have a septic system, but it would be really easy to build an outhouse or install a composting toilet, and that compost would have a place in my landscaping. In addition, living in more spread-out housing means there is less likelihood of the rampant spread of infectious disease.

We can build self-sufficient communities in the suburbs, not unlike those walkable communities Kunstler is so enamored of.

In the suburbs, we all have a little bit of farmable land, and we all have space in our homes for some small entrepreneurial endeavor (i.e. home business). It would be a huge mistake to give up the suburbs to move into what will likely become the over-crowded, disease ridden cities that we were trying to escape when we built the suburbs in the first place ... or worse, to build new communities in what are currently undeveloped, natural habitats or good, arable farmland.

I say, we have done enough of trying to figure out how to create the perfect Utopian community (hint: there is no such thing), and it is now time to figure out how to make what we have fit what we need. *********

Two years later, and nothing's changed ... except that we're much closer to that collapse we've been hearing about, but not any closer to developing solutions. Sad, I think.

My challenge to you for today: If you live in the suburbs, go out today and meet one of your neighbors. Take cookies ... or homemade muffins. Even if they don't eat it, they'll appreciate the gesture.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

New Additions

Patches kindled on Wednesday.

We haven't checked the nest to see how many or if any didn't make it. We're trying to give her a few days. She's a good mama, and we're sure all the babies will be fine.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Doomer Fiction

I make no apologies or excuses for my book collection. In fact, I highly recommend building a library. In a lower energy world, without mind-numbing entertainment, like television, reading books, as a pastime, will enjoy a resurgence.

I enjoy reading all sorts of books, on all sorts of topics, but I've definitely had my favorite genres and favorite authors. For a very long time, anything by Stephen King was in the TBR. I read The Tommyknockers in a day.

It's probably no surprise, therefore, that the first doomer novel I read was The Stand. I was in high school, and I had some reasons for wishing that such a thing would happen ... and, of course, I'd be one of the survivors ;).

At the time, King's vision was completely fantastic. Certainly, the idea that a super-flu bug could wipe out the entire world was possible, but in that time, in my world, it just seemed incredibly unlikely. And, then, of course, there was that supernatural spin with Granny and the Randall Flagg. Oh, please!

Several months ago, I read Eternity Road, which was an amazing story, and which was probably, partially, respnonsible for some of the book culling we've done recently. Like Stephen King, Jack McDevitt envisions a post-epidemic world, but unlike King, McDevitt's world is centuries after the epidemic has killed off most of the population. The epidemic decimated the population, and in their attempts to simply survive, many parts of culture were lost, including the books, but there is the rumor of a library where the old volumes were preserved.

While I was reading the book, I thought, if I had to compile a collection of the best of the best, what books would I include ... which would I exclude? Which books would I want our future generations, people who will not have grown up as we have, to read to give them a sense of who we are? It's a fairly daunting exercise. There are a lot of things about our society and our culture of which I am not proud, but I think knowing about our ancestors, with all of their warts, is useful, if for nothing else than to show us how bad we can be in hopes that we'll strive to be better. It doesn't happen, usually ... but it's a useful theory, I think :).

Mass die off from disease seems to be a popular theme in doomer fiction. Despite his belief in the Long Emergency and the inevitable economic collapse leading to TEOTWAWKI, Kunstler's doomer novel World Made by Hand also speaks of a mass die-off due to disease (although it was preempted by some other catastrophy, and the die-off was exacerbated by a lack of modern medical treatments). What I don't like about his novel is that he also inserts a supernatural element. It's small and very minor to the story, but it's there. I'm actually looking forward to The Witch of Hebron: A World Made by Hand Novel to see where he takes it.

Some writers explore other end-of-the-world scenarios. In his novel, Last Light, Alex Scarrow explores the possibility that we are being manipulated by some group of very powerful, very wealthy individuals. He brings to full focus the conspiracy theories regarding who is really controlling our world economy and the irony is that in trying to manipulate population control, the "group" ends up destroying what they've worked so hard to build. The comeuppance aspect was actually pretty satisfying to me.

So far, Last Light is probably my favorite, except that I like to think that we wouldn't degenerate so quickly to mass chaos. I'd like to think that the average (adult) person is a little smarter than to drink untreated water. I like to think that, but I know it's probably not true. Many people tend not to think much in an emergency situation ... and then, there are, of course, the winners of such dubious honors as The Darwin Awards, who would do just as Scarrow predicts ... well, we can hope their stupidity will kill them before they can do any real harm to the rest of us.

Compared to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, those other novels are optimistic. To say that McCarthy's novel is not optimistic is a gross understatement of mass proportions. All life, with the exception of man, has been destroyed, and while McCarthy seems to want to end on a happy note, he's already set the precedent - there is no plant life, thus, there is no hope. The novel actually gave me nightmares.

Currently, I'm reading S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire. It's both optimistic and hopeful. If any of the novels prove to be true, I hope it's this one, and I hope I can find some horse wrangler who knows how to make swords out of old car parts ;).

The likeliest TEOTWAWKI scenario is one that we haven't even considered or planned for, and we can't plan for all possibilities, but we can explore our options for when the world becomes something we no longer recognize.

What's useful to me about these fictitious TEOTWAWKI scenarios is the thought exercise that is involved. I don't read for pure entertainment value (although some books certainly provide a lot of that, as well), but rather to push me to think about what I would do if ....

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Practicing Gratitude 2

It's a gorgeous rainy day ... good Maine weather ;).

We just had lunch ... I'll make stew for dinner with the road-crossing impaired deer (as Deus Ex Machina has taken to calling it, since I told him he needed to stop calling it roadkill :).

There's a small fire in the woodstove (just enough to keep the chill out).

And our chickens and ducks are gifting us half a dozen eggs per day.

Life is good ... indeed!

Monday, March 22, 2010

On Health Care

It's no secret that I'm against the Health Care Reform Act that passed through the House yesterday evening. I think the title Health Care Reform is a misnomer, because it does nothing to reform health care. Let me say this with as much clarity as words allow:

Our HEALTH CARE SYSTEM will not change. Only who pays for it. We'll still be getting the EXACT SAME health CARE that we receive now.

So, this bill should be called the Health Insurance Reform Act, because the basic premise is that it will open the doors for more Americans to have access to health INSURANCE.

Earlier this year, the company Deus Ex Machina works for went through a change in ownership. He is one of the key personnel in the company, and the old owners knew that if the new company was going to be a success, they needed to make sure that he was still there. So, he didn't get laid off with the rest of the company. Instead, his pay was reduced by two-thirds, and his benefits were cut entirely. No health insurance.

I was a little freaked out, at first, and so I started looking into private coverage for our family as a self-employed business owner. There are only two companies that offer private insurance in the state of Maine at a cost of between $700 and $1200 per month for catastrophic coverage. This was a bare-bones policy with no bells or whistles for five, relatively healthy, non-smokers with no pre-existing medical conditions that would cover us in the event that one of us developed some serious medical condition. The plan covered some basic routine care (with a 20% co-pay), like annual check-ups, but if we needed physical therapy or other alternative/preventative care, we would have had to pay for it out-of-pocket, while still paying insurance premiums and co-pays.

At the time, we decided to find a doctor who would accept cash payments, and we did. We found a medical co-operative with several different types of physicians, including a few who are trained and practice alternative healing techniques. They do not accept insurance. Pateints pay the bill and then have the option of submitting the bill to the insurance company.

In practicing this way, the co-operative is able to keep their costs down to something that is more affordable for the average person/family. In addition, they have a more holistic approach to medicine. Their pre-patient questionnaire is six pages long and covers everything from dietary habits to one's satisfaction with one's life. They understand that our body is a completely integrated system, and sometimes what might seem like a problem that's isolated to a shoulder, is actually caused by bad shoes. It's all interrelated, and once the doctor has done the initial evaluation, he/she will refer the patient to another person on staff, if it seems like he/she needs another consult.

Benjamin Franklin said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Our current medical model forgets that sage advice. We don't really engage in preventative medicine or care. Most of our medicine is based on catastrophic care. After the problem, which could have been prevented with some lifestyle changes, becomes a serious health issue, then, we treat it with medication and surgery and comprehensive care, but we do very little to keep it from happening in the first place. I don't believe this bill will change that.

According to what I read in the Health Care bill, the government will subsidize out-of-pocket expenses for medical care after the first $12000 per year. This amount is for expenses above what the insurance company pays, but does not include premiums or deductibles. So, from what I understand, if the bill passes through the Senate, and if my husband's company chooses not to provide us insurance (again), we will be forced to pay between $8400 and $14,400 per year just to have insurance coverage, and then, I have to pay the first $10,000 to $12,000 of medical expenses before the government will even kick in their two cents. That's almost $30,000 out of my pocket, before I even get any help from the government.

If I had $30,000 sitting around to pay my medical bills, I wouldn't need insurance. Right?

It could well be that I am misunderstanding what the bill will do. Perhaps the insurance companies will be compelled to offer me a lower premium per year. Perhaps this bill will force more insurance companies to offer private policies to Mainers, and with more competition, we'll have more choices.

The fact is that Mainers who do not have private insurance and fall below a certain income level already have government-sponsored insurance, which pays medical expenses at a better rate than the catastrophic insurance plan that people like Deus Ex Machina and I will be forced to carry.

The whole issue is very frustrating for me, because as I understand it, I'm going to be forced to pay for insurance premiums at a cost of more than my mortgage - and that bill will never be paid off. It will be a debt that will carry over month-after-month, year-after-year, and we will never be able to consider quitting our jobs and living self-sufficiently, because the cost of private health insurance would be prohibitive and to be eligible for employer-sponsored health insurance, one has to have a job.

The very bottom line for me is that Deus Ex Machina and I have been working and struggling for the past four years to reduce ... reduce our consumption with the ultimate goal of being able to reduce our income, and thus gaining financial freedom. We'd hoped to be able to pay off our mortgage, reduce our consumption of things like electricity to what we could produce ourselves, and earn money in the informal economy to pay for incidentals.

With this new legislation, we may not be given the opportunity to realize that goal. We may not have the choice of working or not, because we'll have to pay insurance premiums for the rest of our lives.

Thanks to this new Health Care Reform Act, we're good and stuck - wage slaves so that we could be in compliance with the law.

Or, we could engage in Civil Disobedience, and refuse to have health insurance ... which would carry a financial penalty, which if we refused to or were unable to pay could result in the loss of our property.

I feel very stiffled here between this rock and hard place.

Update: One of the big draws of the Health Care Reform for a lot of people was the assumption that access to insurance would equal access to quality care. This may not be the case, as a recent article in the Wall Street Journal points out: with thirty-two million new patients, getting in to see the doctor may become more difficult.

So, we're paying more money and getting less care than we were getting before. Where's the reform?

This calculator will show you what you might be paying for health care under the reform. For us, it's no better than what I found when we tried to purchase private health insurance last summer.

Friday, March 19, 2010

{this moment}

My friend, Amanda, sponsors a feature every Friday called {this moment} in which she posts just one picture that captures the essence of her week.

This is our {this moment}

Walking to the library on Tuesday ... what a beautiful day it was. Indeed.


Officials in Maine said work could begin this summer on a project to upgrade 30 miles of railroad between Portland and Brunswick. Read more ...

A lot of people in the Peak Oil and doomer circles talk about the need to upgrade/renovate/rebuild our rail system.

Stories like this make me believe it's possible.

Current Crazy Scheme

Having more people in the house means using more, which means I have to try even harder to cut corners where I can, which requires some serious Out of the Box style strategies.

My latest scheme deals with saving water.

Our water-saving goals don't have to do with scarcity, though. We live in a fairly wet area, where 50% of the year we're having some sort of precipitation. Flooding is more of an issue than drought. There's plenty of water.

The issue has to do with wastewater disposal, and when one lives with a septic system (which one has had replaced and wishes not to have to replace again) instead of a municipal sewage system, one is too keenly aware of the cost of getting used water out of the house.

I had my concerns when we had the system installed, and I researched every other option I could find, including composting toilets and gray water systems, but I'm pretty sure our code enforcement officer would not have approved of either of those choices, and in fact, a gray water system is not recommended for my climate (too cold).

My first concern was the size. The leach field encompasses our entire front yard, taking up a good portion of the sunniest part of our yard. I wanted that space for gardening, but I can't plant anything right on top of the leach field and raised beds would compromise the efficiency - or so I understand (container gardening, however, seems to be okay, and that's what I'll do this year - See? Thinking of possibilities instead of limitations :).

My second concern was with regard to the pumping station. Because the grade isn't steep enough for gravity to draw the water from the septic tank into the leach field, we had to have a pumping station with an electric pump, which means that the more water we use, the more water ends up in the septic tank and the more the electric pump will need to run.

The only option is to use less water, especially now that there are eight people living in a three bedroom house with a septic system that was designed for the average American family of five.

We already "let it mellow", and our guests have been apprised of that situation and are trying to comply. We understand, however, that it's a tough transition to cancel out years of training and habit.

There are more dishes, and so more water used there.

There are more showers, too.

And that's where I found my most recent solution. I decided that a bath would be more efficient than a shower. Deus Ex Machina suggested that our shower head, which is low flow, might actually be more efficient than our bathtub, however, and so I measured it. The bath faucet fills a gallon jug in about half a minute, which is a flowrate of 2 gallons per minutes. I think that's actually on the low end of things, but I may be wrong.

Regardless, however, I feel like I'm better able to control the amount of water I use when bathing, because I can turn on the water faucet and set the timer, and after five minutes, I know there's ten gallons of water, and after ten minutes I have twenty gallons of water, which is plenty enough.

We have a huge tub. Twenty gallons of water is about two inches, which is plenty of water for bathing (too much, probably). The thing that makes it good is the way that our house is organized.

The clothes washing machine is in the same room as the huge tub.

So, my current crazy idea is that I scoop the water from the tub and put it into the washing machine after I've bathed and use it to wash the clothes. I use the fill the washer with water and let soak, and then wash on the shortest cycle possible method to wash clothes. From some of the things I've read, soaking clothes followed by some agitation, followed by a good rinse is the best way to clean clothes.

The other thing about this particular method is that I don't use extra soap in the washer. I use Dr. Bronner Peppermint 18-in-1 Pure-Castile Soap for my personal bathing. After I've washed in the tub, the water left has soap in it, and so I don't add extra soap to the laundry wash (although I do add a mixture of Arm&Hammer washing powder and Borax).

I'll try this out for a while, and if our clothes don't seem clean, I'll make my own laundry soap, and go back to the old way of doing things, but if this works, I'll save water (about twenty gallons per laundry load), I'll save time, and I'll save money.

Ultimately, however, I'll save our septic system ... and in a sustainable lifestyle, the goal is to preserve what we have for as long as we can.

My current crazy scheme seems to fall within that goal.

Practicing Gratitude Exercise of the Day: I am thankful that Deus Ex Machina works so close and that, one day a week, we get to have a "date" when I take lunch to him while the girls are in classes. Today lunch was Yankee Pot Roast (made with road crossing impaired deer) and baked hubbard squash (from the Farmer's Market last fall ;) with chopped nuts and maple syrup - oh, yum! The pot roast was so tender it just flaked with a fork, and the squash ...! Deus Ex Machina is not a big fan of squash, but he like it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Practicing Gratitude

There are times in our lives when stuff happens taking our minds off the course we have set for ourselves ... times when we allow ourselves to become preoccupied with very mundane details that take our focus off the bigger picture.

We've been working for years toward a more sustainable life, and in an instant that changed with the addition of three new people to our house, two of whom are adults who have their very own ideas of proper living, which, unfortunately clash with ours. All that we've worked toward is compromised.

I find, at times like these, that I need to work extra hard at remembering the Gift of Thanks, and that only in practicing gratitude am I able to really appreciate how amazing life is.

I also find that I can not write, coherently and thoughtfully, about our journey, which seems to have been prematurely aborted. I'm too distracted. There's just too much noise, both inside my head and outside of it, and there's too much commotion.

There's no peace, and part of it has to do with the shear number of people here, but part of it has to do with failed expectations and the need to just let go of my own needs and desires, for a while, and acknowledgement that my today is not my forever.

One day at a time is the wisdom of ages.

With that in mind, my goal, until I'm struck with a topic more fitting this blog space, is to practice gratitude.

And today, I am thankful for the abundant sunshine, the clothes on the line, and the view of the pea trellis I erected yesterday above the peas that I put into the not-quite-all-the-way-thawed raised bed ;).

Peas, lettuce and carrots have been direct sowed.

Garlic was planted last fall and is waiting for warmer days.

The irises and rhubarb are starting to poke through the ground.

And yesterday, Deus Ex Machina and I shared a pot of hemlock tea.

Life is what you make it ... for good or bad, and the Practice of Gratitude really does make a difference.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Breaking It Down

In the never-ending quest to reduce, I spent the better part of the morning using this website to calculate where our money is going. I say it that way, because it's useful for me to understand that every time I power up my computer (and leave it idle) or turn on a light (and forget to turn it off) or watch a DVD on the television (and then leave the room while the movie still runs with no one watching it), I'm spending dollars.

It's not just wasting energy (squandering our dwindling resources).

It's also wasting money.

From the calculations, one-third to one-half (depending on the month) of our electricity is spent on operating our computers. The monthly total is 211 kwh, half of which goes to operate the one desk top computer (with LCD monitor) that stays on, roughly, twenty-four hours per day, seven days a week, whether or not (which is more often) it is being used. It costs us $17.92 per month to keep that computer powered up.

The second biggest energy sucker is the oven, which uses 124 kwh for two hours worth of use at 350°. I usually run it at a higher temperature, but not quite for that long.

The refrigerator didn't use as much as I thought (although my calculations may be off) at 40 kwh per month, and the calculator didn't provide any information about operating a deep freeze.

The television doesn't use as much energy as I thought, either, but that's mostly due to the fact that we don't turn it on very often. On a side note: I was surprised to discover that operating our old CRT television doesn't use as much energy as powering one of the newer, sleek, very expensive plasma and LCD models. Makes me happy that I have my crappy attitude toward television, in general, which means I would NEVER have spent that kind of money on something I deem less than worthless ... and as a result of saving money, I saved money ;).

According to the website's calculations, we use 502.8 kWh/month. Our actual usage is a bit higher - between 500 and 600 kWh/month, but there were a few things that I couldn't account for, because the calculator didn't have that option and I just have no idea. Things like the septic pump, my printer, the computer router, and our upright deep freezer. I figure with those things excluded, the my estimates are pretty accurate.

So, what to do ...? Because we can't go off-grid and expect to be able to afford a system that generates 502.8 kilowatt hours per month. I've looked into those systems, and they are definitely too much money. What we will be able to afford will more likely be something in the 400 watt range.

The answer will be to replace inefficient appliances and electronic devices, and to conserve.

The no-cost solution to the oven usage is to: 1) plan better; and 2) use the stove top more often. Planning better means that I would use the oven once or twice a week, instead of whenever the whim strikes me. I would spend a day baking bread, and at the same time, bake other things, like pumpkin or pies.

An electric burner operating for two hours uses, approximaately, 50 kwh, which is less than half of what it costs to operate the oven for the same amount of time. I could run two burners for two hours for less than it costs to run the oven. I could also use woodstove more, although now that it's getting warmer outside, using the stove for cooking doesn't really work as well as it does during the deep winter freeze, because I'm not burning the fire quite as hot.

Using techniques like a haybox cooker and doing things like heating water to boil, adding pasta, and then turning off the heat and covering the food, which will continue to cook, will save energy, as well.

Changing those habits won't cost us a thing, but there are some low-cost solutions to the cooking issue, too, which would pay for themselves in a very short period of time.

The low-cost cooking solution is to build an outdoor kitchen. Not only would it provide me a cheaper way to cook our meals, but it would also give us a fixed place for the annual maple sugaring :). If we built an earth oven I could even reduce our cooking costs even further.

The whole topic of an outdoor cooking space is so incredibly broad. Having an outdoor cooking space would offer so many advantages that indoor cooking does not provide, including the above mentioned sap boiling, meat smoking, and wood-fired bread baking. The only dilemma, for me, at the moment, is where to put it to best utilize our space ... and since I want our outdoor kitchen to have a hand-pump well, too ....

But that's a whole other post ;).

Back to the topic of saving, we could cut another 37 kWh/month if we were to handwash the dishes, although our little half-sized dishwasher probably doesn't use as much electricity as the calculator says.

Replacing our circa 1997 refrigerator with a smaller and/or more efficient fridge would save 30 kWh per month (assuming my calculations for how much energy our fridge uses are correct).

We have night lights in the bathrooms, and if I could train myself and my family to not turn on the bathroom overhead lights if they're just tinkling, we might save a few more pennies per month. We already "let it mellow" if "it's yellow", which saves on the amount of electricity the septic pump uses (less water means less pumping needed :).

We've already picked all of the low-hanging fruit (turning off lights, replacing bulbs with CFLs, using power strips for ghost loads), when it comes to lowering our energy usage.

And we took it up a notch when we installed the woodstove for heating.

It's time now to take it to take it even further and start really changing habits. We have to get our every day electricity usage down to what we can reasonably afford to produce ourselves.

Step one: replace the desk top computers with laptops (and at this point, doing without isn't really an option, as computers are big part of our home schooling, could take the place of our television ... and, oh, yeah, I work from home using a computer *grin*).

Step two: build an outdoor kitchen.

Just those two things will decrease our energy usage by an estimated 235 kWh per month ... and the $38 per month we'll be saving could go toward the purchase of our alternative energy system :).

It might seem silly to spend $500 to save $38, but it's not about the short-term. It's about the long-term, and if we spend the money we have today on things that will help us use less energy and make us more self-sufficient tomorrow, I consider that a good investment.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fast Crash versus Long Descent

Do you ever have one of those moments when you're in a conversation with someone and you suddenly realize something about yourself? I mean, you knew it, but hadn't articulated it or defined it until that very moment?

Through a total fluke, I was sucked into watching the television series Grey's Anatomy, which I have been following on (borrowed) DVD for the last year. I neither like nor dislike the series, and despite my overall distaste for television in general and soap operas in particular, it is a little ... engrossing. So, when my Grey's Anatomy buddy gives me the next set of discs, I do watch it, because I feel obligated, but also because, despite my (weak and ineffectual) insistence that I'm not interested, it beckons me ... kind of like chocolate cake in the refrigerator. I know it's not good for me, but I do it anyway.

Yesterday evening my GA buddy gave me Season Four. I just finished Season Three, and *SPOILER ALERT* the cliff-hanger was Meredith's younger, half-sister joining the intern program at Seattle Grace, and meeting George, who has just flunked out of the program, in the locker room, but in the previous episode, Meredith's younger sister met Meredith's boyfriend in a bar, and he (the boyfriend, played by Maine's own Patrick Dempsey :) had the opportunity, but did nothing - a fact he shared with Meredith, kind of like, "Hey, some hot chick flirted with me, and while I was momentarily distracted, I decided to be a good boy." And I'm thinking, "So, what? You want a cigar and a Hoorah cheer?"

Anyway ....

Yeah, TMI, right? There is a point to all of this ... I swear.

So, after watching the season three finale, I googled Lexi Grey (Meredith's half-sister), and I read what happens.

I know what happens for the next two seasons.

For a lot of people that would be a deal breaker. Knowing what happens in the end would be enough for them to just not want to watch, because they know what happens, and so what's the point. Right?

But knowing the outcome doesn't diminish the story, for me, and in fact, it leaves a whole slew of unanswered questions.

I was talking with my GA buddy last night about the things I know happen in Season Four (she's already watched it), I realized that I'm not the kind of person who will refuse to watch a movie or read a book, just because I know the ending. In fact, there have been many, MANY times that I've watched a film, and then, read the book, or vice versa, because I wanted more of it. I want more of the story. I want to get to know those characters better, more in depth, and from other perspectives. In fact, there are movies and books that I will watch or read over and over, because there is often something I missed in the first watching or reading.

I know what's going to happen, but it's not the destination for me, it's the journey.

I also realized, something I've known for a long time about myself, but have only recently come to recognize, and that is that I don't really like surprises. I've never been a fan of mysteries. I like to know whodunit and then figure out why and how.

For me, the journey is about reaching a defined and known destination, and I kind of like to know where I'm going before I start so that I can make the best plan about how to get there. Unfortunately, life isn't like that. I don't know what the outcome of my day will be until I've lived it.

The problem is that I know *something* is happening in the world, and it is my feeling that at some point this something is going to significantly disrupt my life, and while I'm not eager for it to happen, at the same time, I do often wish that whatever is going to happen would just happen, so that I can react and move on. I was in the military and the hurry-up-and-wait lifestyle was very difficult for me.

To make matters worse, though, I look around me and I see people who say they know something is happening, but have yet to change their lifestyles significantly enough that when *it* does happen they won't suffer. And I know their apathy comes from the very human characteristic of not reacting to an emergency until there is an emergency to react to. It is normal behavior for people to maintain the status quo until they are forced to change.

Which is why I favor the fast crash to the long descent.

In keeping with the overall medical theme of this post (okay, I realize that Grey's Anatomy isn't really about medicine, but give me some latitude ;), my best analogy of how I feel about our future is to compare it to a terminal illness. I don't wish for death, but if I had a choice, I would rather die quickly than to suffer through a long terminal illness. Modern medicine has given us some amazing miracles that have resulted in prolonging the lives of millions of people, but if prolonging my life means being dependent on machines or medicines that often cause other problems that require further treatment, I would rather just go gentle into that good night. I would rather not drag myself and my family through a pit of hope that ends in despair when I am finally forced to give up, because the doctors have reached the end of things they can use to try to save me.

If I apply the terminal illness analogy to current events, our world is on life support. Our lifestyles are completely unsustainable, and the longer we refuse to pull the plug, the greater the damage that will be done.

In my terminal illness analogy, if, for instance, I am suffering from an aggressive form of cancer with a low life expectancy, I have the option to accept some form of experimental and radical therapy that *might* give me a few more years, or I can take the time I have left, go home and spend those days with my family. In the end, the result is the same, I will die. The question is, do I waste my time trying to get better, or do I accept the fact that I am dying and spend those last days living and enjoying what little life I have left?

If I choose the first option, the drugs and therapies used will result in damage to the rest of my body. If I choose the second option, there are parts of my body that may be salvageable, and I can donate those organs and potentially save other lives.

Our world is suffering from a terminal illness, and we are employing every experimental and radical treatment we can find to "cure" the cancer that is our modern lives, but in the process we are destroying our planet. We're hanging on to this lifestyle at the expense of our environment. We're looking for new, improved technologies so that we don't have to give up our televisions or our ARNY trucks. We're stripping the land for precious minerals and drilling in the deep oceans, and all to keep what we've got, when what we should be doing is learning to live without.

Maybe I can be accused of being eager to see it all end, but it's not because I'm sadistically hoping for the end of the world and eager to be witness to extreme hardship and suffering, but rather because I don't believe that prolonging the inevitable is a better choice. We're suffering now, and a fast crash will not make the suffering more acute than a long descent. The fast crash will just force us to accept, more quickly, what is happening anyway, and maybe preserve some of what's left of our planet so that we can pick-up the pieces and start over.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Cost of Oil

You may not have noticed, but a few weeks ago, I put an app on my blog ... down the page on the right hand side, just above the FreeRice logo. It shows the current price per barrel for crude oil and updates automatically as the price changes.

I'd forgotten about it, until I read Kunstler's post on Monday. The price of oil per barrel is $82 today, and it's been steadily increasing for a long time now ... just slowly creeping upward, and no one has really noticed.

I was thinking about that last night as we were driving home after I dropped off some work at my client's office. There was this woman driving a huge Ford truck with the license plate ARNY. She was having a pissing match with a little Hyundai. They played tag back and forth for a few miles, and then, suddenly, the truck swerved over and almost clipped the little Hyundai.

I thought, "WTF?!?" Is she seriously trying to run that little car off the road?? And in all of this traffic? And where in the hell does she think she is - on the set of the movie The Italian Job?

I'm thinking she's been watching too many of those cop dramas on the television.

I almost called the police, because those two cars weren't the only ones on the road, and despite what the movies portray, most serious car accidents are serious requiring some extensive rehab in the form of MONTHS, if not YEARS, medical treatments from surgery to physical therapy. If that truck had managed to hit the car, it would have caused a pretty extensive accident involving, at least, three other vehicles, including us, with me, Deus Ex Machina and our three, little girls crammed into the backseat.

All because the girl driving the car pissed off the woman driving the truck, and the rest of us, were just innocent bystanders. It was a frightening moment.

My thoughts turned rather black, and I realized that I couldn't wait until the price per gallon for gasoline tops $10. I actually said, out loud, that I couldn't wait until the price of gasoline increases to the point that that woman, with the ARNY license plate, is no longer driving, because she can't afford to keep her "hell on wheels" on the road.

I won't be sorry to see more of us walking.

I broke my car a few weeks back, and while it was being repaired, we only had one car. It wasn't difficult to make the transition. It did, however, take some cooperation between me and Deus Ex Machina. We had to coordinate our schedules, and we had to depend on each other. Imagine that? A married couple having to depend on each other and cooperate because we have only one car? In our society where every licensed driver has a car of his own, that's just crazy talk, right?

It's been a good experience, and I've realized that I actually like having only one car. In addition to all of the savings we would realize by not having to pay for things like gasoline, maintenance, registration and insurance on our second vehicle, only having one car introduces the opportunity for some real problem solving exercises.

Of course, with Deus Ex Machina working only six miles from our house, and most of our activities being close to home, as well, it's been an easy adjustment.

Even if that weren't the case, if Deus Ex Machina worked further away from home, for example, as someone commented on another blog not long ago, where there's a will, there's a way. If we really want a thing, we'll find a way to get it.

I really want a sustainable lifestyle, and we're getting there ... slowly ;).

What do you really want that seems impossible? But more than that, what impossible thing did you want, that you actually achieved?

We've been horribly spoiled in this country for a very long time, and now, the price of gasoline is on the rise again. We're still in the midst of some difficult financial times for a lot of people, and I've seen reports over the years that said there would be serious economic consequences if the price of crude topped $80 per barrel, which makes it seem like the increasing cost of crude oil is a bad thing.

But if it means that we slow down, and stop trying to run smaller cars off the road because we're in a rage; if it means that we can quit our soul-sucking jobs, because we have fewer things that we have to pay for; if it means that we are given the opportunity to actually stop and listen to the Earth song ... is that such a bad thing?

None of us may have cars on the road for much longer. I just hope when they start getting scrapped that I can find that Ford with the license plate ARNY, because I think it would make a nifty storage unit out in my yard ... provided it comes to me sans the driver ;).

Monday, March 8, 2010

All Back to Normal

That was quick ;).

We had pizza for lunch and I'm thinking potato soup for dinner. I didn't get around to putting the beans to soak :).

So, I don't get the day off, but neither will the baby chicks get too cold ;).

Speaking of ...

Two Aracunas and a Rhode Island Red.

We were having a very lively discussion about raising chickens on one of the local homeschool e-groups. There are a lot of us backyard chicken wranglers on the group and even more people who are interested, but understandably a little hesitant to jump right in.

I love having our chickens, and I think, given my experience and what I know now, that if I had to live someplace where I couldn't be as open about my birds as I am, I'd do just exactly what I recommended several years ago when I first realized that the suburbs is where we are, and the suburbs is where we'll stay.

On that topic, I read a piece by a guest blogger over at Club Orlov yesterday, and as an American who lives in the suburbs, I was pretty insulted by the whole piece, but I had to step back and ...

... one, consider the source. I've known a few Europeans in my time, and to say that they are a bit ... hmmm ... what's the word? Arrogant ... is an understatement (no offense to my European readers, because I know that's just as much a stereotype as the traits the author of the post assigns to us American suburbanites - and, actually, my very dear European friends aren't arrogant as much as they believe themselves to be more enlightened than we, Americans. In some ways (not all, but some) their belief is true, but there's a danger in making blanket statements about a whole culture, because there are always glaring exceptions, and even the most, seemingly, accurate stereotypes usually fall apart as soon as one looks a little deeper into an individual situation :). I think, just as there are thoughts and beliefs that many Europeans hold based on their history, there are thoughts and beliefs Americans have, and we just can't know what it is to *be* American, or Italian, or French, or Russian, unless we were raised in those places by people who were raised in those places. It's like being human and believing we *know* how a beehive functions. We think we know, based on educated guesses and observation, but we don't really know.

... and ...

... two, realize that he doesn't know *me*, personally, and so he wasn't talking about *me*, in particular. It's quite possible that his only experience with American suburbanites is exactly as he described them. Maybe I should tell him to go and check out Patty Moreno - another suburban homesteader who's doing some remarkable things, none of which include languishing on the couch and cursing her bad luck, and who lives in a Boston suburb (Roxbury, MA), too.

What's funny is that the author of the piece talks about living three generations in this one house. This weekend, we found ourselves in the same situation when my daughter and her family moved in. There are eight of us, now, living in my little house.

And I keep calling my house "little", but my father and his siblings grew up in a much smaller house with five more people.

So, I guess it's all a matter of perspective.

Perspective and clutter, of which his family had very little and my family has a great deal.

Too bad the electricity came back on. If I'd thought about it, I probably could have used the power outage as an excuse to do some orgainzing ;).

Oh ... darn. Now, I have to sit at the computer instead of cleaning house (*grin*).

Random Power Outage

The power just went out, and I'm using the last of the power in my UPS to type this post (maybe not the best use of that power, but ... :).

The thing is, it's a beautiful day - clear blue skies, slight wind. There's no weather reason to be without power.

It's a reminder, though, that the power grid is fragile. Anything can happen ... and does.

It may come back on fairly quickly, and it may not. We won't know. We can never know.

Which is why, being prepared just in case is the only way to live.

Now, I'm off to get some beans soaking for dinner. Thankfully, it's still cool enought outside that we have a fire in the woodstove, so we can cook ;).

Saturday, March 6, 2010


I've been rather preoccupied lately with just stuff, and I've found it hard to really focus on the things I ought to be focusing on. When I get like that, I tend to go off on tangents about things that, certainly, I feel strongly about, but which aren't really important in the greater scheme of things - like our personal, financial responsibilities and our government's proposed health care plan (ugh! please don't get me started on that, again! But for the record - I think all insurance is a racket, and someone is making a fortune off of our fears. Someday I might talk about our recent experience with changing our life insurance policy - which is a bigger racket than the health insurance ;).

It could be that it's because we're coming to that moment when we flip from winter to spring, and I can feel it ... just ... right ... there, and I'm ready to get out and start planting peas, but when I was working on prepping the bed the other day, I noticed that there was still ice under the mulch.

What's funny, though, is I was pulling some of the dead stalks from around my garden (I leave the seed heads over winter for the birds), and I grabbed one stalk, not thinking about what it was, and it came up, root and all - it was the Jerusalem artichokes I planted last year.

I figured since I pulled them, we might as well eat them. I used them just like I would have cooked potatoes - shredded, mixed with egg and fried. They were delicious. They aren't exactly like potatoes, though - a little sweeter, and a little drier, but very interesting. I'm thinking of roasting them with some sliced Japanese knotweed.

And speaking of eggs. The chickens and ducks are (finally!) earning their keep. We're getting about four eggs per day between the nine birds. We have several hens who are over three years old, and so we don't expect a lot of eggs from them. So, four a day, is pretty good as far as we're concerned.

But because a few of our hens are getting on up in years, we decided to get a few new hens this year. The original plan was to order to hens with our first order of Cornish Cross chicks. We submitted the order form today, when we stopped at the feedstore for layer pellets, and they'd just received a delivery of chicks.

Chicks! A whole brooder full of fluffy peeping little bodies.

We brought home three ;). Two Aracunas and one Rhode Island Red.

I am not a sucker! *grin*

We ordered ten Cornish Cross to be delivered some time in April ;).

We were talking with the owners of our favorite, locally-owned feedstore today. They were looking for a maple syrup producer so that they could sell syrup in their store, but everyone they talked to said something similar to what we discovered - the sap just isn't flowing this year. I hope that it's just a fluke.

For this year, though, if you like maple syrup, you should buy what you can now, because there won't be much of it come this time next year, and it will, likely, be very expensive.

Tomorrow, we'll probably boil down the last of the sap we've collected for this year. I'll check the beds, and maybe turn over the dirt. It's time to plant the peas. In fact, I may be a week too late, and so they need to go in, especially if the growing season is as unforgiving as the sugaring season has been. There's just no time to waste, waiting for a better day.

A few years ago we had a friend whose name was Kiah. Her mother told us it was an African name and meant the moment the seasons change, which, as her first child, was appropriate, because with her birth, her parents' lives changed from couplehood to parenthood. She was, in every since of the word, their Kiah. I thought it was so profound.

With all that will be happening in our house tomorrow, I suppose that this moment, right now, this is our kiah, and today we've flipped from winter to spring ...

... and so begins the season of growing for us.

The Ethics of Debt

First off, I want to thank everyone who responded to my question.

It actually did happen to us, and we drove back to the store (about twenty minutes from our house) and paid, in full, for the movie that we had unintentionally taken. To do otherwise, for us, was not an option - not because of some external fear of divine retribution (neither of us are religious people), but because we believe it would have been wrong - not criminally wrong, but wrong nonetheless.

In retrospect it was, perhaps, not the best analogy.

I'm not making value judgments about people who choose to feed their families instead of paying their credit card debt, or even people who just decide to thumb their noses at an unjust system. Neither am I defending creditors.

Whether or not people who default on their debts should be punished as criminals is rather beside the point I was trying to make.

What I have been trying to say (and obviously not doing a very good job of it ;) is that we should not justify, rationalize, glamorize or excuse those actions and call it something that it's not. Choosing to not pay our debts is not anything as noble or patriotic as civil disobedience.

I just think we should call a spade a spade.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Stealing vs. Oops! I Made a Mistake

One evening, late, Deus Ex Machina and I went to the store with the intention of purchasing a particular DVD we wanted. We picked out the DVD, and a couple of other things, and then went to the checkout. The cashier was really nice and chatty. She rang in our purchases and told us the total and gave us our stuff, and we came home.

We talked about how inexpensive the purchase was on the way home, and how we were a little surprised, because it seemed like, maybe, a mistake had been made. When we got home, we looked at the reciept, and sure enough, the DVD hadn't been charged.

By this time, it was our girls' bedtime. It had been a long day, and we were tired.

Since we didn't purposely take the DVD, is it stealing for us to keep it? It wasn't even our mistake. We even tried to pay for it ... in fact thought we had paid for it.

Now, I stop, and ask you, if it were you, if you found that you had brought home a DVD, which you intended to pay for, but found that you hadn't, what would YOU do?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Robin Hood - a Noble Thief, But Still a Thief

Don't we all love the story of Robin Hood?

According to legend, he was a nobleman, required like all nobleman in exchange for the land that he was given, to serve in the King's military forces during 100 Years War. That's an important point, too. Robin of Locksley had lands, which he was given or inherited, and his job, as a nobleman, was to protect the King's interests, and he fulfilled his duty to the King.

But when he returned to England after many years of fighting in the Holy Land, he found his home in shambles, under the tyrannic thumb of the minimally sane, extremely greedy Sheriff of Nottingham, whose job it was to enforce laws and collect taxes in the King's absence (the King, as we recall, was off fighting in the Middle East).

As the legend goes, the people were suffering, cold and hungry, and the Sheriff was growing fat and rich, basically stealing from the King's subjects. He wasn't a very good fellow. Robin Hood began a campaign of taking back from the evil Sheriff.

One might argue that it was an act of Civil Disobedience. The people were being forced, by law, to pay all of their money to support the Sheriff, who would have argued that the money was going to support the King's war in the Holy Land, and those who could not pay their taxes ended up in jail. Robin Hood's answer was to take the money away from the Sheriff - often by force - and give it back to the people.

As noble as his cause, it was not an act of "civil disobedience", but rather it was stealing. Plain and simple.

Better would have been to rally the people against the tyrannical Sheriff and orchestrate a rebellion. Instead, he engaged in a guerilla conflict, behaving not much better than mercenaries or anarchists, and just taking from the rich travelers who passed through the forest. He and his band of Merry Men were stealing.

I was reading an article the other day. Basically, the article was about ways we can get ourselves out of debt, other than doing the responsible thing and paying off the debt. The premise of the article seemed to be that we've been duped into this sort of lifestyle by some forces over which we have no control. The argument was that *we*, the average, middle class working stiff, didn't know what we were doing, because we were being manipulated, and therefore, we should not be held accountable for our massive debt load.

Frankly, I find it a little insulting to insinuate that I was too stupid to understand the complexities of free enterprise, and when I accepted the terms of my credit card or my mortgage or my car loan, it was only because I am too dim-witted to understand that I was being toyed with - like a cat with a defenseless mouse.

An aside: I had a cat a few years ago, who didn't have any teeth, because she was old. She caught a mouse once, and was holding it in her mouth, trying to squeeze it to stun it, and it bit her, and she dropped it with a yowl. Observing that scene forever erased the idea that mice are defenseless.

The authors recommended several courses of action to mitigate the debt problem, and I didn't have a problem with any of their suggestions, except that they called it civil disobedience, and I disagree that what they are advocating falls under that definition.

The definition of civil disobedience is active refusal to obey certain laws, demands and commands of a government, and last time I checked, there were no laws requiring that citizens apply for and use credit cards, take out student loans, borrow money, or buy homes and enter into mortgage contracts.

For years, many years, in fact, we have enjoyed this glut of credit, and now, when things are going poorly for a lot of people who accepted ... nay, demanded unsecured credit on the promise that they would pay back the loans, we have well respected authors, authority figures whose opinions are sought and trusted, advocating that we just walk away from these loans, because ... well, it wasn't our fault, and the banks are the bad guys, anyway, and so in our Robin Hood fantasy, it's okay to take from them, the rich, and give to us, the poor.

Personally, I'm not buying it. I think it's irresponsible. We can argue all day about how evil the banks are, but in the end, if we play their game on their ground, are we any better?

We have options. In fact, that article I read did give one or two good pieces of advice. The first one was to stop, and that's, really, the only one of the four possibilities that I could get behind. We can stop making the rich richer by refusing to take the things they offer.

We can stop shopping.

Most of us have a houseful of crap, and we could live for YEARS without buying something new if we just reused and repurposed what we have.

For those things we feel we do need, we could find them used at thrift stores, on Craigslist or through freecycle.

We can grow or forage all of our food.

We can stop driving and walk wherever we go.

We can.

That we choose not to is something altogether different, but we are able to do any and all of those things. It is possible.

The other option is to continue to buy the things we want and need, but to adopt a cash-only lifestyle. We can drive our cars, if we were able to get the car without a loan. There are many people who live this way, quite successfully, and what they've found is that without the lure of easy credit, they spend less on things they do not need, and therefore, actually have more money to spend. It's funny to note that by not borrowing other people's money, we actually have more money to spend, but it's true.

Walking away from one's debt is not civil disobedience but if we really wanted to engage in civil disobedience, how about some options that don't require us to compromise our integrity in the way reneging on our obligations does?

How about ignoring some of the more restrictive ordinances and home owner policies instead?

How about planting a garden in the front yard;

... stringing a clothesline;

... raising livestock - without registering them;

... having a pet dog without a license;

... digging a well or a root cellar, or remodeling the inside of the house to allow for more space for tenants or roommates, or putting in a woodstove, or setting up a solar array or windmill, or setting up a storage shed or woodshed without a building permit?

All of those things are against the law in some places - the civil law, not the criminal law, and more and more we find that those laws serve no purpose but to force us into a dependency that is becoming more detrimental to our health and well being. The inability to grow one's own food has forced us to depend on others to satisfy the most basic of our needs, and what they are feeding us is making us sick. We would do a lot better concentrating on getting those laws changed ... and the result would be that we'd save a great deal of money by being more self-reliant, which we could, then, use to pay off our debt obligation.

Thoreau's essay, Civil Disobedience, was not about money in the sense that the above referenced article was. His essay was about not allowing the government to make us dependent. It was about encouraging us toward self-reliance.

It is our right and our responsibility to refuse to obey laws that force us into a position of dependency.

But when it comes to our personal debt - our mortgages, our credit cards, student loans, car loans, bill consolidation loans - arbitrarily deciding one day that we're not going to repay our obligation to our creditors, because we've come on hard times, and, well, they're all corrupt anyway, is *not* civil disobedience, and using the term thus is an insult to the hundreds of individuals who fought to overthrow tyrannical governments by peaceful refusal to follow the laws they were trying to enforce.

Refusing to pay one's debts is irresponsible. No person in this country was forced to accept the handouts of easy credit, and we all willingly accepted the opportunity to live a life we could not afford. Now that we're realizing that we can't really afford the things we thought we needed to be happy, we've started blaming the banks for giving us the money?

That's like blaming your mom when your life turns out badly, because she gave birth to you.

But being pro-Life.

We can't have it both ways. We can't buy into the consumerist lifestyle, until it gets too hard, and then decide we just don't want to play anymore, and then stop paying our bills, but at the same time, refuse to change our lifestyle (you know, like, not paying the mortgage, but refusing to leave the house).

Either we want the consequences of our hedonistic lifestyle - which is debt.

Or we don't, which means we don't get to drive a sports car, and maybe we live in a tent down by the river, instead of in a four bedroom, two bath colonial with lake frontage.

We can't have it both ways, and we can't expect to get something for nothing. That's what children do. As adults, we have to do better.

Taking something that someone else owns without being willing to provide some sort of compensation is stealing, not civil disobedience, and Robin Hood, for all that we love his courage and tenacity, was simply a thief, which is great in fantasy, but not so much in reality.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Meal of Gifts

Recently, we have been gifted a great deal of food.

The first were the several pounds of pasta Mama Daughter and Mr. Field&Stream were given and passed on to us.

Then, there was the deer.

And this past weekend, my very good friend and her family came to visit. She brought me rosemary.

I'm not sure why, but when I looked at the rosemary it said, I am foccacia bread. Let me just say, when the herbs start talking, one should listen ... and no, there wasn't any smoking of other herb involved ;).

Lunch yesterday was a celebration of all of the gifts we've been given lately. I made bowtie pasta with a deer meat sauce (using the home-canned tomato sauce from the hothouse tomatoes :) and foccacia bread with rosemary.

It was delicious!

Thanks for the rosemary, Hope ;).