Friday, April 30, 2010

I Hate Carpet ...

... especially today.

My old dog is not well, and she's having a hard time figuring out when she needs to go outside, which for the past two days has been about every two hours. It would be okay, except that we aren't home twenty-four hours a day to keep an eye on her. We have a couple of hours worth of classes per day, and no one is home during that time ... and then, there's at night.

Yesterday morning, we had to take our car in for services. When we got home, she'd had an accident. I shampooed the carpet. Later, after we got home from dance class, I found that she'd had another accident. Mama Daughter had cleaned up that one. Deus Ex Machina is out-of-town at a seminar this weekend. If he were here, she'd wake him if she needed to go out. She won't wake me. Instead, she wandered into the livingroom and left a puddle on the carpet ... again.

It's not like we have wall-to-wall carpeting throughout the house, either, and it would be nice if she would leave her deposits on one of the non-carpeted floors. No such luck.

The worst part is that she is a chow-chow, and has a lot of hair, in which stuff gets caught, and then, I have to drag her outside for a cold garden-hose bidet. Poor puppy!

I'm really sick of poop right now.

Part of my long-term plan for powering-down our house to make it more lower-energy friendly is pulling up the carpets. Caring for carpeted floors is both incredibly expensive and a waste of precious resources. Between the electricity to run the vacuum and the water for the shampooer (not to mention the fact that carpet's life expectancy is only ten years, and with synthetic fiber carpets, there's the issue of how to dispose of them), in my opinion, carpet is just the worst possible choice of flooring - even if we weren't worry about resource depletion and Peak Oil.

After days like the these last few, I would even prefer a painted plywood floor.

It would just be so much easier if I didn't have to deal with carpeting.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Filling In the Spaces

A well-meaning family member purchased a gift subscription to Better Homes & Gardens for me. It's a lovely magazine, full of fantastic ideas ... most of which won't work in my space, but which often give me some ideas and/or inspiration, which is probably the point of the magazine, right? They set the bar, show the ideal, as it were, and then challenge us to adapt their ideas to our space.

Usually, though, the ideas really won't work, because I don't an extra bedroom to renovate into a Japanese bath or an unused attic space for a new playroom, and so I flip through the magazine, skim a couple of articles, clip a recipe or two, look at the pretty pictures, and, then, toss it in the recycling bin.

When I pulled the most recent edition out of the mailbox and read the headline "More Room: How to Help a Normal House Live Extra Large", I was excited. I thought, "Cool! Ideas for making our small space seem larger."

Flipping to the story and reading the first paragraph was a face-slapping reminder of how subjective the American idea of "small spaces" is.

It reads: It would be easy for Kendra Lewis to rattle of reasons she can't do this or doesn't have room for that in her 1600 square-foot ... bungalow. But excuses aren't her thing. She loves the challenge: how to make cramped rooms feel right for her 6-foot-4 husband and 5-year-old son.

Yeah. How about making a 1500-square-foot house in which live EIGHT people seem a little bigger?

I'm not bitter, just amused, and despite the fact that my house would NEVER be featured in Better Homes & Gardens ... or my "garden" either, for that matter ... I think I've come up with some pretty creative solutions for maximizing the space we have.

My favorite is this one:

It's a canopy stuffed animal holder above Precious' bed. They have a lot of stuffed animals and couldn't bear the thought of parting with a single one, but the corner-o'-stuffies was where the third bed was going to go when Big Little Sister moved out of her room to accomodate Mama Daughter and Mr. Field-And-Stream. We could have put the bunk beds back up, but I really wanted them to feel like they each had their own little space.

There isn't a lot of floor space in the room, but they each have shelves and storage space for their things, and that's good ... for now.

I also like this solution:

These are our cross-country skis, stored on the wall behind the front door (we have no garage, no basement and no outside storage - one winter, we stored the skis on the ski rack on the top of the car for almost the whole winter, but when the snow melted, it just looked weird ;). We also hang our cloth grocery bags and the dogs' leashes there.

And, of course, nearly every wall has a shelf attached.

The space above the windows in the dining room and office was being wasted, and so I filled it ;). It seemed the perfect place for my office supplies.

We're working on cleaning up, clearing out, and organizing our outdoor space to make it more efficient and usable, too, and as soon as we get a couple of things built, I will share some pictures.

The thing I've learned in our nano-farming adventure is that everything needs to be used as efficiently as possible. There simply isn't any room for waste.

I guess it would be easy for me to rattle off the reasons I can't do or don't have room for ..., but I'm not made that way either.

Afterall, life is about possibilities, not limitations, and despite cramming eight people, two dogs, a rabbit and a guinea pig into a 1500-square-foot house, we still managed to find room to set-up our brooder ;).

Possibilities. Right?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Cheap Cheepers

We picked up our Cornish Cross chicks. Some people affectionately refer to this breed as "meat blobs", and by the time they are ready for processing, they certainly do live up to the nickname.

But right now, they're just fuzzy little chicks.

Most people would look at this picture and see, "Ah! Cute little chickies."

I look at it and see the promise that we will eat for the next year. I look at it and see food security.

Ten chicks cost us $37 to raise and, if we butcher them ourselves, work out to about $1.48/lb - no hormones, no antibiotics, hand-raised for the first two weeks, and then, pastured. It probably is cheaper to buy Perdue, but sometimes it isn't just about the dollar sign. We can't really assess the cost of raising our own versus buying chicken in the grocery store, as there is no grocery store equivalent to "hand raised and pastured."

We'll raise around forty meat chickens over the course of the summer, which will allow us almost one chicken per week until next summer when we start the whole process again ;).

This is our third year raising meat birds ... and our fourth with our chickens.

It just doesn't get old.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Blooms, Buds and Babies ... oh, my!

I wanted to participate in Amanda's {this moment} picture post, but I didn't take a picture of a one extraordinary moment this week.

I did take a picture of our beautiful peach blossoms, though, and that's what I wanted to share.

But there was more ...

Garlic ...

Peas ...

And bunnies!

It's easy to get into a funk in the middle of winter and worry about TEOTWAWKI and feel as if there is nothing that can be done.

In the spring, when life is bursting all around, it's harder to feel impotent.

The chickens and ducks are being incredibly, wonderfully generous, and are gifting us with a half dozen eggs per day. For dinner last night, we had quiche with local ground beef and local cheese and some tarragon from my garden, apple puff pancake, and a foraged greens (dandelions and violets) salad. There were some industrial food inputs in the meal (flour, sugar, and cinnamon for the pancake, for instance), but even with just what we had acquired from local farmers, from our own chickens and ducks, or foraged, it was a good meal.

One of my homeschooling friends, who is also a suburban/urban farmer (and keeps quail! Very cool!) stopped by yesterday. She and her husband are embarking on the bunny-raising adventure.

The feedstore called this morning. Our first batch of broilers are in and we can pick them up today.

So much ... and so much to do.

But it's not overwhelming anymore. It's empowering.

Life is bursting all around us, and we're no longer spectators. We're participants.

Here's hoping everyone has a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Laundry - The Great Soap Debate

I read an article yesterday, and it gave me the push I needed to (finally) make my own laundry soap.

I've had the recipe and a bar of soap sitting on the table for several weeks, and I ran out of detergent about two weeks ago. I've been using a bit of washing powder, a bit of Borax, and a squeeze or two of Dr. Bonner's Peppermint ... but the Dr. Bonner's is REALLY expensive to be using as laundry soap.

So, I made some.

The article states that we don't really need any detergent, at all, to clean clothes. It's the agitation that gets the clothes clean, which, the article states, is why, before laundry detergents were invented, people still managed to have clean clothes (of course, "clean" is really subjective, isn't it?").

I knew that ... sort of.

I knew that soaking the clothes for, at least, a half hour before running them through the wash cycle gets them cleaner than a longer wash cycle. For a while now, I've been filling the washer with clothes, water and soap, and letting them just soak until I know I have time to get them washed and put on the line (sometimes they'll soak for a full day before I get around to them ;).

Then, I run them on the shortest wash/rinse cycle. I believe I'm saving electricity, because the washing machine isn't running for as long as it would if I ran the clothes through a regular, but longer, cycle. ... but I haven't measured it.

I haven't noticed a significant difference in how clean the clothes are ... but then, I have never been one to obsess about having the whitest whites. Come to think of it, most of our clothes are dark, anyway.

And they don't smell bad. In fact, between the peppermint soap and hanging them on the line, our clothes actually smell pretty nice ;).

So, I guess they're getting clean.

Laundry Soap:

1. Dissolve one bar of grated soap (your choice, and homemade soap works, too. I used Ivory, because that's what I had) into 4c of almost boiling water.

2. Pour soap mixture into a bucket with 3 gallons of hot water.

3. Add 1c of Washing Powder and stir until dissolved.

4. Add 1/2c Borax (optional, but is used to boost the cleaning ability of the soap) and stir until dissolved.

5. Let sit until it thickens into a gel.

6. Use up to one cup per load of laundry.

Given that soap isn't even necessary, according to the article, I use about 2/3 cup per wash, and will start decreasing the amount until I find the balance I like. The estimated cost per load for homemade detergent is from two to five cents.

Natalie Merchant Sings Old Poems to Life

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Living Vicariously Through My Children

I've always said that I wanted to be able to knit. With the exception of dishcloths ... and squares ..., I can't.

But Big Little Sister can.

Look here what she made using the instructions from her new book.

Did I say something about her being impressive?

And, yes, I did put in my order for a pair ... and I have a birthday coming up soon :).

Making Peak Oil Pals

The other day, when Deus Ex Machina came home for lunch, he shared part of a conversation he had had with a vendor at work. They were chatting about the state of the world, and the vendor asked Deus Ex Machina what his employment plans were for after Peak Oil. The vendor (we'll call him Vinnie) told Deus Ex Machina that about ten years ago, he had an epiphany about the unsustainability of the typical American lifestyle, and he sold his "toys" (boats, motorcycles and the like) and started purchasing alternative energy systems.

Later in the day when I went to pick up Deus Ex Machina from work, I had the opportunity to meet Vinnie, and as Deus Ex Machina warned him, I had a lot to say on the subject of sustainability and Peak Oil preparedness. He's been aware for a few years longer than I have, but he mentioned that, while he was really motivated initially to make changes in his life, the reaction from his social and professional circles made it very difficult for him to maintain his momentum, and he found himself slipping right back into the life most of us live.

I told him that I haven't really had that happen, so much. There are areas where I, occasionally, backslide (like shopping, although I've never gone even close to where I was before my awakening), but for the most part, because most of my friends and contacts (on the Internet, in particular) were already frugal or already like-minded, I've been able to continue making progress toward our self-sufficiency goals.

My motto has become: don't focus on limitations, imagine possibilities. It's that mindset that enabled me to believe that it is possible for Deus Ex Machina and me to feed ourselves and our children on what we can grow, forage and hunt. It's that mindset that made us try (and succeed) to heat our house solely with (free, if we pick-up) wood that was gleaned from fallen trees. It's that mind-set that prompted me to learn to repair rather than discard, buy used instead of new (when possible), line-dry my clothes, sew my own reusable "girl pads", give-up the television, make my own deodorant .... It's that attitude that will build the outdoor kitchen, dig a well, and solve the cold-storage issue.

I've also had time to come to terms with creating that balance between "this is my present life" and "this is where I think we'll be in ten years" ... to straddle that rutted road with one foot squarely in my "modern" life and one foot firmly in my lower energy life.

Most of Vinnie's preparations are things we have yet, but hope some day, to do. He has a solar PV system and a solar hot waterheater. He is debt-free with regard to his house and land. He lives on a rural eighteen acres, which means he already has things like a well (with solar energy to power the pump) and a septic system.

What he hasn't done, yet, is develop food security. In that respect, we're way ahead of the curveball, because when we started our quest for self-sufficiency, food security and localizing our diet were the first proirities (and continue to be a huge focus of our energy), and while we probably aren't there 100%, we're closer to feeding ourselves than most of our suburban neighbors.

But that's the area I could control without assistance or permission, when I first started down this slippery slope toward an uncertain, but almost assuredly a lower energy, future. I was primarily responsible for making our meals, and when I decided that I would cook only with local ingredients, that's what happened. Deus Ex Machina grumbled a little at me in the beginning (I recall the nickname "Fundy Wendy" being bandied about ;), but when he realized that he could still have meat - at a significant savings over what we were paying at the grocery store - he was cool with it all, and local foods became the norm rather than the exception ;).

Vinnie wasn't the cook in his house. His work schedule kept him away from home for long hours during the week, and so starting a garden big enough to feed his family would have been a challenge, and then, even if he'd started the garden, preserving the food for use during the winter was just not something to which he could devote what few hours he had off the time-clock.

But he could sell his toys and use the money to buy systems that would make him more self-sufficient.

There's no best way to approach the coming changes. For me, the path I chose came after I sat down and thought about the things that we absolutely needed to survive, and the two that topped the list were food and shelter. I can control the food, and we're working on making sure the shelter is paid for. I'd love electricity and hot water, but those aren't of primary importance, to me.

Vinnie's path took a different route, but we're headed in the same direction - whether we've chosen the path (like my family and our friend Vinnie) or whether we've been herded blindly down it by the current circumstances (like most Americans who are finding the current times very difficult), the destination will be the same. For those of us who've chosen the path (either the technology route or the voluntary simplicity), what we'll find in the end is that even with the most careful preps, our most important asset will be the people we've met and connected with during the journey.

So, when the power grid fails, I'm going to head over to Vinnie's house with a basket of food to exchange for some electricity to recharge our batteries ... and maybe a hot shower ;).

Friday, April 16, 2010

Thursday, April 15, 2010

(Un)School Books

I've been a little preoccupied with school stuff for the past few days. As a homeschooler, it's my responsibility to keep track of what my children do "for school" on a day-to-day basis, and while I usually start the school year out pretty well with daily or weekly entries in my journal, at some point, I get a little lax, and then, I have to figure out what we've done ... you know, for the record.

I realized that I had fallen a bit behind, and it took me a little while to get everything caught up. It was a bit of a challenge to sort through all of the bits of paper with scribbled notes, calendar entries, pictures in the camera, and the other carefully saved souvenirs of our daily activities, and then to input the information into the Homeschool Tracker software I use to keep us organized. (This week's lesson: a stitch in time does not just apply to darning socks).

When one is not limited by what can be seen in the inner walls of the box, many activities that might not seem applicable become learning opportunities, i.e. "school."

This is especially true of books, and while we have some number of traditional textbooks (as reference, mostly, and not so much the foundation of our daily learning about a given subject), most of the books we use would never be found in a regular classroom.

A visit to the bookstore yesterday yielded several gems, which will be added to our (un)school library. I told Big Little Sister that the book, My Grammar and I ... Or Should That Be Me?: Old School Ways to Improve Your English, would be her high school English book.

Her response?

I'm not in high school, yet.

My reply was, essentially, now that we own the book, it will wait for her ;).

We're using the Louis Sachar book for math lessons right now. It's actually fun, and I realized that I have a lifetime's worth of unwarranted math-anxiety to work through, especially when I get scared when confronted with the problem:


It's all algebra-esque math problems where letters have numerical value and the object is to figure out what numbers the letters represent and get the correct answer. It's fun, and as Deus Ex Machina and I discovered when we were trying to help Big Little Sister solve the problem ...

- seal

... there is more than one way to come up with the correct answer.

But isn't that how it is with life? There is often more than one way to get the correct answer, despite what we've been taught. Just like, there's more than one way to get to a destination.

The amazing thing about watching my children, who've never been exposed to the very rigid school standards of problem solving, is that they've taught me the truth of that. I may find it easiest to write out the problem step-by-step and count on fingers or use coins or rocks or buttons. They don't always find that to be the easiest way, but that's okay. They don't have to do it how I say, and they don't have to show their work, and they don't have to explain how they arrived at the correct answer - as long as they understand how they got from point A to point B and the next time they see a similar problem (like getting from point r to point s), they can apply the same strategies to get the answer.

Afterall, that's the mark of true intelligence - being able to figure out a problem based on one's past experiences, even when the circumstances seem completely unrelated.

My first year as a public school teacher, the interim principal told me that it was not my job to entertain my students, that my job was to teach them. I can't disagree with him, at least in a traditional classroom setting, but here, in our "un"school, my daughters are constantly entertained, and they are constantly learning, too.

And our textbooks are a wee bit unconventional.

The knitting book was 100% Big Little Sister's idea. She's planning to make knitted gifts for her friends and relatives. She's offered to teach me how to purl ... and make ribbing ;).

Now, my big dilemma is which subject to file "knitting" under ....

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Stitch in Time ...

... saves nine.

I finally figured out what that saying meant. I know. I'm slow sometimes.

But it wasn't until I started doing things like darning socks that the saying made sense. I mean, how many of us in our throw-away society actually do any stitching these days? How many of us know that it's better to stitch the hole when it's small than to wait until it's bigger and it will take more time and effort to fix?

After a winter's worth of daily wear, my Merino wool socks will, invariably, end up with a hole in the heel. I'm sure there is something I could do better to prevent the holes, but I just don't know what it is, and as they are just the most comfortable socks I've ever had, I figure it's better to have them and have to repair them, than to not.

I have serveral pairs, and I swap them out so that (hopefully) one pair doesn't get worn more than the others, but I've accepted that socks are not something that is made to last indefinitely, and if I wished to prolong the life of my socks, I needed to learn to repair them.

That's where the saying comes in, and I've learned the importance of making the repairs sooner rather than later.

I noticed a dime-sized hole in the heel of my sock,

And I figured it was a good time to do something about it ... rather than waiting until the hole was bigger than a quarter (which I've done before).

I don't have honest-to-goodness sock yarn, but I figure for a repair, this will do.

I learned the sock darning technique on a YouTube video, and I will be forever grateful to the makers of the video for the many pairs of socks they saved ;).

When it's all done, I have a colorful patch.

If I were a purist or cared about such things, I'd want to match the yarn color to the sock, but I don't really care that the patch doesn't match. With each patched sock, I'm making a statement, and if people notice my sock and comment, it's an opportunity to share.

I could probably afford to buy myself a new pair of socks, but that may not always be the case, and I love the fact that I know how, that I am able, to fix what I have, even if it's something as insignificant as a pair of $8 Merino wool socks.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

If Annie Oakley Were an Archer ...

... her name would be Big Little Sister.

Draw. Aim. Shoot.

If the target had been a real deer, this would have been a killing shot.


Between the hunter(s) and the huntress, and what we've learned so far in our outdoor skills class, when our society and economy collapse, we probably won't starve ;).

Oh, and all of the chickens, rabbits, ducks and gardens probably won't hurt ;).

**Deus Ex Machina has promised to do a write-up about the outdoor skills class today. It was fantastic, as usual. I made a pair of chopsticks so that I could eat our foraged meal.

The Tiger Gets It

Go and read today's Calvin and Hobbes.

Relevant. Funny.

In the words of Metallica ... sad, but true.

What are we feeding our children?

Monday, April 12, 2010

How Do You Feed Eight People with Three Steaks?

Localizing our diet means that I have to be more creative ... and plan a little better, too.

I'm not always so great at it, which means there are days when we're eating dinner at 8:00 at night. Tonight was one of those nights.

The way my schedule has worked out recently, I, usually, spend the whole afternoon working, and will often not have everything typed up and ready to go until around the time Deus Ex Machina gets home. Then, I have to go out to my client's office - half hour round trip by car.

Today, I decided I wanted to make Doner Kebabs for dinner. Obviously, I can't make an authentic Kebab, like the ones Deus Ex Machina and I enjoyed in Germany, but I can fairly closely reproduce the flavors.

The problem is that it's time consuming, and all of the meat was frozen, and the pita bread had to be made from start to finish, and it was 6:00, and I still had to go out to my client's office.

But I was determined that tonight's dinner was going to be Kebabs, and I wasn't going to be deterred.

I took the meat out of the freezer and plopped it into the stainless steel sink.

Then, I made the pita dough. Most bread doughs use the same basic ingredients: water, yeast, sugar, salt and flour. The directions for the pita called for proofing the yeast (add yeast and sugar to warm water and let sit for 10 minutes), and then, in a large bowl, adding the flour and making a well. It said to pour the proofed yeast liquid and an additional cup of warm water into the well, and then mix and knead the dough until it was elastic. Then, add a tablespoon of oil and knead until the oil is mixed in.

I did all of the mixing and kneading and formed the dough into a ball, placed it in the bowl, covered it with a cloth, and put the bowl in a sink with some warm water, because my house is pretty cold right now, and I didn't think the dough would rise well enough. I was already going to be skimping on the amount of rise time as it was (the directions called for a three hour rise ... um, yeah - not happening), and I needed to give the dough every opportunity I could.

After I finished prepping the dough, I put the, mostly still frozen, tenderloins (half beef and half road-side deer) in my iron skillet in some olive oil and rubbed with a mixture of onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper, rosemary, and marjoram. I turned the oven on 325°, put a cover on the skillet, and put it in the oven.

Then, I went to my client's office.

When I got home, the aroma from the oven was heavenly.

The dough had doubled, and so I started rolling it out into flat rounds and baking them. The first couple of pitas didn't puff up, but the last several did.

It always amazes me to note that I can make pita bread - actual pita bread that can be sliced in half and stuffed. Pita bread was one of those mysterious types of foods that I was sure could only be made with special ingredients and a little magic, and I think it's pretty cool that, apparently, I have that special magic, too ;).

While I was working on the bread, Deus Ex Machina was cutting the tenderloins into very thin slices.

I made my version of tzatziki, without cucumber, because this time of year, I don't have cucumber. Instead I add some dried herb (tarragon is my favorite, but I've also used mint), and instead of yogurt, I mix equal parts real cream and mayonnaise, add a splash of red wine vinegar, and of course, a couple of cloves of garlic. It's really very good, and I also use it as my main salad dressing, when we have lettuce - which will hopefully be very soon!

The point is not to show what a great and amazingly creative cook I am, because, well, I'm not, but over the past several years, I have learned that almost anything I can buy in a restaurant, I can make at least as well in my kitchen, and with fresh, local ingredients and because it's usually very fresh, like the pitas that were pulled from the oven fifteen minutes before they were eaten, it's even better.

I love the fact that I know where most of the ingredients come from, but even more, I love that I know how to make a few things that might seem exotic.

My daughters' dance school participated in a bake sale this past weekend and my contribution was Baklava. It's probably the most exotic and decadent dessert known to man, but it's wicked easy to make.

A big part of our self-sufficiency goal is being able to feed ourselves, which includes knowing how to make a meal out of what's in my kitchen. We follow the eat what you store/store what you eat method of stocking up, which means we don't store or eat proceesed, pre-made or factory canned foods. Learning how to cook using whole foods has been one of the most empowering lessons I've learned over the past few years.

And I can take three tenderloins (maybe a pound of meat), a handful of herbs, nine pitas, a small head of (locally grown) lettuce, and some tzatziki sauce and feed eight people.

That's pretty cool.

Oh, and tasty ;).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cold Closet

I meant to add a link to this article about how to construct a cold closet.

The thing about a cold closet, especially for those of us in suburbia who don't have basements, is that it's the best solution for lowering our energy usage so that it would be possible for us to, eventually, install an alternative energy generation system and provide for all of our electricity needs (for things like the sump pump, which we apparently need much worse than I originally thought ;).

And then, I can take my old side-by-side refrigerator, rip off all of the working parts, and bury it to make a root cellar - potatoes on one side and apples on the other ;).

Maple Brew

It was nearing the end of the season. The days were getting warmer and the nights not quite so cold. The taps weren't flowing quite so freely, and the sap that was in the storage barrel was starting to go cloudy. It was fermenting, which means it was not so good for syrup.

So, Deus Ex Machina decided to try making maple beer.

We have read some articles on maple beer and had thought it might be fun to make it, but because sap is such a precious gift and because real maple syrup is what we like, but it's incredibly expensive, we wanted as much of the sap as possible for syrup. It would have felt like we were wasting the sap if we'd made it into beer, because the girls won't be drinking the beer, but they will enjoy the syrup.

When the sap turned cloudy, we figured this was our chance.

The sap was boiled down to 6%, as measured with a Hydrometer. Deus Ex Machina added some brewer's yeast, poured everything into a fermenting bucket with an airlock and let it sit for a couple of weeks until it stopped bubbling.

Tonight, he bottled it.

I had a taste, and all I can say is ... Yum!

It was the perfect way to end the season :).

Friday, April 9, 2010

Replace is NOT one of the Three R's

We've had a bit of excitement here at the nanofarm. Two days ago, the sump pump alarm for our septic system started blaring. Just for clarification, most septic systems use gravity to drain the excess water in the leach field, but the grade in our yard was not steep enough, and so we had to have a pumping station installed, which pumps the water from the septic tank into the leach field.

The only time the alarm should go off is when the water level in the pumping station gets too high, and if it's too high, that means that both the septic tank (1000 gallons) and the pumping station are full. The alarm was kind of a fail-safe measure, and it seems that it was a good thing we have it, because we wouldn't have known anything was wrong until the liquid started coming up in the yard ... or worse, backed up into the house (in the bathtub or shower, which is what happened when our septic system failed a few years ago).

So, we had the company who pumps our tank every other year, usually in the fall, come and check things out for us. Both tanks were full of water, which means the pump was not working. After the guy pumped out both tanks, he told us to give the office a call the next morning to schedule a technician to come out and look at the tank. As it turns out, the problem was just a faulty float. Phew! So, it's fixed, and our septic system should be operating properly.

If that were all of the craziness, it would have been no big deal, but around the same time, Deus Ex Machina's three year old desktop PC decided it was done (I freakin' HATE planned obsolescence! - I'm sure it's all a conspiracy to get us to buy more ... and it's working, darn it! - at least where computers are concerned ;).

We'd already intended to replace the desktop computers anyway as part of our plan to reduce our overall energy usage in the hopes that, someday, we'd be able to afford a small power generation system to provide for all of our needs, and so buying a new laptop was not such a big deal, except that Deus Ex Machina really wanted to try to fix the old computer. He hates planned obsolescence, too, and his fick Dich ins knie to the manufacturers is repairing things.

Unfortunately, like my computer, after some trial and error, we believe it is a motherboard issue (same brand of computer), which would be very difficult to fix, given that all of the components on this particular motherboard are soldered to the board, and while I can solder, we don't know which component to remove and replace.

So ... Deus Ex Machina has a new computer, and we're one step closer to reducing our energy usage.

Now, we just have to replace the girls' "school" desktop ... and get rid of the television and VCR and DVD player, and build a cold closet to replace the refrigerator, and ....

I found this fun software today and made my own "change" poster ;). It's got nothing to do with replacing the float on the sump pump or buying a new computer, but it's a fun picture :). What do you think?


In my neverending quest to be more self-sufficient, I'm always looking for ideas and plans that will help toward that goal. One of my long-standing plans has been to have a dedicated outdoor cooking space, and what I want is an actual 1970s'-esque suburban outdoor BBQ pit/kitchen.

Yeah, we all know what I mean ;) - a place for all of my doomer dinner parties :). And the options are limitless.

Unfortunately, I've always thought that it would be a very expensive project (which has nothing to do with my, rather, extravagant tastes ;).

There's this saying that I remember at times like these ask and you shall receive, which is what has happened.

A couple of days ago, I received this month's copy of Mother Earth News magazine, and on the front cover was the article that I'd been hping somebody would write - a how-to build an All-in-One outdoor oven, stove, grill, smoker. It was that last word that cinched it for me. Since we discovered how amazing the flavor of smoked chicken and rabbit is, I knew that I wanted a dedicated space for a permanent outdoor kitchen complete with a smoker for preserving meat.

And the best part?

The project costs less than $400.

I'll be moving some garden beds this summer, and probably losing some of my backyard garden space, but it will be worth it to have an outdoor oven, stove, grill, smoker ...

... and maybe even that hand dug or driven well we've been contemplating ....

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Just for Fun

Yes, I am a Metallica fan, but given my mountain ancestry, I have to appreciate that my roots are in bluegrass music.

So, when Deus Ex Machina came home today with this little nugget, how could I not ...?


P.S. I'm also an Ozzy fan ....

And this is probably my favorite Ozzy song.

Food Safety

As if we needed one more thing to worry about, the other day I was reading an article about BPA.

BPA, or Bisphenol A, is a hormone-like chemical. It has been linked to numerous (typical American) illnesses including cancer, Type II diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. As this article states BPA is so ubiquitous that more than 90% of Americans have traces of it in their urine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So, where do we get it?

BPA is used to harden plastics and the most common place we come in contact with it is in the foods we get from cans.

The news certainly made me look at those cans of tomato sauce differently. For the most part, we've stopped buying canned foods from the grocery store. Store-bought canned tomatoes were the last hold-out for me. I can my own tomatoes every year, but never enough ... there's never enough ... and this time of year, after the home-canned tomatoes are used up and the new crop has not, yet, gone in, I've been known to buy a few cans to tide us over.

After reading that article, I decided I needed a different solution, and I found one. Instead of buying tomato sauce in BPA lined cans, I buy locally grown hothouse tomatoes, chop them up and cook them down, and then put them in canning jars and store them in the freezer until I need them. The whole process takes about an hour, including cooking time, which does not require my undivided attention. So, the time I spend actually doing the work is about twenty minutes, for about two quarts of sauce (about 5 lbs of tomatoes).

The best solution is to grow more and can more during the summer, and that's what I'll try to do this year, but until then, this is my happy-medium solution. The other choice is to give up tomato sauce until the summer, and believe me, I've considered it.

The more I learn the harder it gets to buy food at the grocery store.

In the News

In Australia, they are being told to "expect a higher cost of living."

In fact, in a recent news interview, Premier Barnett stated, "... that is part of getting to a situation where users of electricity, gas and water pay the real cost of providing those services, and to make sure that those utilities have the ability to make the investments in future supply."

In short, he's saying, "Hey, folks, you can stop counting on the government to subsidize these services, and you'll need to, now, pay the actual cost, not the cost minus the government subsidy."

Our government is planning to impose a value added tax on us, which means that we'll be, basically, taxed to live and breath within the US borders. Talk about increasing the cost of living.

I admire the Australian Premier for, at least, grabbing his cojones and telling people that "Shit is bad, folks, and you're going to have to pay more just to live what, for the past century, has been just an average lifestyle."

We will never hear as much from our leaders. They'll just keep spewing the same old we can fix this - no problemo bullshit rhetoric and turn a blind eye when the utilities companies raise prices and some folks end up in the dark ... or worse, more people end up homeless, because they can't pay the electric bill, and the town condemns their apartment.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Retro Literature - Give Away

Since I've been preoccupied with the past for the last few posts, I thought it was time to offer a couple of books that have been hogging up space on my, already, cluttered desk top.

Ordinarily the idea of giving away one of my books (*mine* as in I own them, not *mine* as in I wrote them - that's for later ;) gives me hives, but this time is different, because I got the books from a very generous freecycler in an advertised "box of books - come and get them", but I already had these two, which tells me that they are good books to have in one's personal library.

The first is Handbook of Homemade Power by The Mother Earth News, originally published in 1974, but given the number of copies I've seen floating around recently, maybe even more applicable to our times than when it was written.

The second is the First Collier Books Edition of Bradford Angier's How to Stay Alive in the Woods: A Complete Guide to Food, Shelter and Self-Preservation Anywhere printed in 1962.

If you would like to be considered to receive a copy of either book, please leave your comment and indicate whether or not you have a preference.

I'll do the drawing at the end of April.

Update: Please see the comments for Richard P's giveaway ... but don't enter the drawing, because The Backyard Homestead is on my wishlist, and the more people who enter his drawing, the slimmer my chances of winning become ;). Okay, just kidding. You can enter his drawing, but don't forget to enter mine first ;).

Monday, April 5, 2010

Pete and Re-Pete

When my grandma gave birth to twin boys, she was out of names. At forty-two years old and nine children later (seven of whom were boys), she had lost her sense of humor. Luckily, however, her children had found it, and when they were trying to decide on names, the title of this post was one of the (discarded) suggestions.

I don't know about the rest of you, but when I'm trying to come up with a blog post title, sometimes certain phrases just stick in my head. The above title is an example of that. It just stuck in my head Pete and Re-Pete.

After I published today's post, I remembered that I'd written another post about history repeating itself and the importance exercising our memories.

The following post was originally published on my blog on December 6, 2007 and was entitled:

Like a Bad Egg Salad Sandwich - History Repeating

I'm not that smart. My IQ is somewhere between 120 and 140 (depending on the test), but that just means that I'm able to store an above average amount of useless information in my little head (like the names of all five of Charlie's Angels and the actresses who played them - and I don't mean the spoof movies with Drew Barrymore and Lucy Lu, but the 1970's actresses who gave feminism a new face - Yes, Farrah Fawcett-Majors was my heroine, and she was married to Lee Majors, who was the Six Million Dollar Man ;).

But even as dull as I am, I knew that I would need to go to college. I knew that it was likely that I would have to support myself, and even though my parents are still married, and most of my friends' parents were still married, and I lived in a suburb in a small, southern city on the outskirts of a large southern city, and we had food and clothes and cable television. I knew that life, as we lived it, was not going to last forever. I knew that we would get to a point and that would be as far as we could get ... like Lewis and Clark reaching the Pacific.

In the immortal words of Porky Pig Yib-a-dib-a-dib-a-dib-a ... that's all folks!

I don't know what it was, but something made me understand, at a very early age, that a thing can only get so big before it bursts (maybe it was all of those water balloons :).

I vaguely recall news stories about the energy crisis, and now, as an adult, I've found books written in the 1970's that could have been written today.

It's so surreal. It's like deja vu, every ... single ... day. If someone were to research some newsreel footage from the early 70's, they could juxtapose them next to a news story from October 2007, and they would look the same ... except for the hair.

It's almost like our society is on a roller coaster ride. The early 1900's we started up that hill, slowly, slowly, wheels clacking. By 1970, we had just about reached the apex. In the 1980s and 1990s we were teetering on the top, and now, here we are in the new century, and we're heading back down.

Right now, we're running parallel to the 1970's with the war and the energy crisis and a sudden and intense interest in the environment.

More and more people are starting to pick up the eat local movement, the back-to-the-land movement, the gardening in your backyard movement, the Compact, anti-consumerism, exploration of alternative religious philosopies and ideologies or anti-religiousism. These things are leading us back to the 1960's.

I also see more emphasis on families, on stay-at-home parents, attachment parenting, cloth diapering, breast-feeding. The idea of community and family and having strong personal relationships is becoming newsworthy, possibly moving us toward Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best.

We're already at War, and it's only a matter of time (sooner than later, if some of those in Power have a say), before it's an all-out World War.

As for Depression, we may already be there, too.

It's like we're speeding down that hill and repeating every single mistake we've made for the past century.

I've heard that those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it. It seems, however, that we're doomed to repeat it anyway, because here we are. It's all coming back to haunt us.

My girls are embracing some of what made the 70's what they were. Little Fire Faery and her team mates performed their group number at competition to this song. I don't know what's worse - that the song was resurrected and used as a competition number ...

... or that I know all of the words.

Let's Talk About the Weather

It was a really nice weekend - warm, sunny .... We went for a bike ride to our friends' house for dinner and an opportunity for our kids to get together and hang-out.

It seems like wherever I go, people are commenting on the warm weather trend we had this year - as if it's something odd or new.

It's not.

In 1998, the first spring Deus Ex Machina and I spent in our house, I recall it was very warm following a fairly mild winter (not much snow, and I thought, in my newbie naivete that I could never get sick of the snow. Ha! live and learn, my friends ;). One fine, warm, spring day, I donned a tank top and went out to plant my tomato seedlings despite the very good advice from my native Mainer neighbors to wait to plant such tender plants until the end of May.

A week later, we had a killing frost. It was the first time I'd ever seen a frost-burned plant. Not a pretty sight.

Yeah .... I didn't do that again ;) - although I have learned, since, that some plants actually like it a wee bit cooler, and I do plant those things this time of year.

We could say that 1998 was just an anomaly, but the fact is that 1998 was no record breaking year.

On April 5, 1991, it was 70° where I live (and in 1992, a hurricane came up the coast causing severe damage and flooding that blocked all of the major roads going north for several days). According to the Weather Underground, April 21, 1957 saw a record high temperature of 85° here in southern coastal Maine. Six days prior on April 15, 1957 the record low was 20°. Six days after that it was 52°, which is a more "normal" April temperature for this area.

The next year, on April 27, 1958, would see a record low of 25°.

The 1950s were just crazy weather-wise.

The point is that we tend to have very short memories. I hear people talking about global warming, and while I don't disagree that we are having some interesting weather patterns these days, I don't think this is terribly new. There isn't the metaphor about unpredictable weather for nothing. Metaphors are almost always based on an attempt to make a factual comparison between two things. The weather is unpredictable and quirky, and very warm days in Maine in April are rare, but not hitherto unheard of.

We need to stretch our long-term memories beyond what happened last week, and remember what we've been through, in our lifetimes, and do a little digging to learn what others have experienced, too. We need to remember, and we need to record, and we need to retell - the 3 R's of changing the inevitable, if you will - because, as George Santayana observed, those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

The price per barrel for crude oil is above $86 today.

We would do well to remember 2008. It wasn't so very long ago ... only two years.

In 2008, Deus Ex Machina and I replaced our old woodburning stove with a more efficient model, and in the summer of 2009, we stockpiled wood from trees that had blown down in the previous spring's storms, and in the winter 2009-2010, we heated our house for free.

Since 2007, Deus Ex Machina and I have been reducing our driving and have learned to live with just one car. So when our houseguests take over the use of one of our vehicles, it will not be a hardship for us. We've already been living the lifestyle.

The price for crude is almost $87 per barrel. The price of gasoline per gallon is edging toward $3. The price for heating oil is going to increase, too, and then, the price of natural gas will increase as demand for that fossil fuel increases when people can't get enough heating oil. As Suburban Survivalist stated in a comment it will snowball.

But as I said, we still have time - just maybe not a lot.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Ellen Degeneres Said It All

From the dust jacket of her book, My Point...And I Do Have One:

My motto has always been "If you're going to read, it might as well be a book ...." So, as you might imagine, I was awfully excited when I was asked to write a book myself. But after the celebration was over and all the champagne was gone, I realized I had to actually write it ....

And that, dear friends, is where I am now ... I have to actually write it ... my book, I mean ... not Ellen Degeneres' book, because she already wrote it (her book, I mean, not mine - which I have to write), and it's actually pretty funny.

I hope I can do as well, or at least half as well, because, well, my subject matter is a little more sobering than hers, and I'm not quite as funny as she is, which is why she has a television show, and I'm a stay-at-home/work-at-home mom living in the suburbs and trying to figure out a way to survive and teach my children to survive while the world-as-we-know-it comes to an end.

And as you might guess, that's what the book is about ;).

The first draft is due in August. The book is scheduled for publication next Spring.

As Precious would say, "Oh, mySELF ...!"

You know how it feels when you've wanted something your whole life (since I was twelve, anyway), and then, it's finally happening, and ...?

Now I have to actually write the book.

Give Me a Good, Old Fashioned Timepiece

I was reading this article. What's interesting about the article is that:

1. Creeping gasoline prices are (finally!) making the news again;


2. The article references peak oil production. We hardly ever hear the words "peak" and "oil" in the same sentence in mainstream media, and it's almost surreal every time I do.

As a kind of off the cuff post, I made some 2010 predictions. Most of my predictions were specific to what I believed would happen in my own household over the year, but I did state by the time tourist season comes around ... we'll be wondering when the price per gallon got to $3.

Three months ago, I was watching as the price had been slowly increasing, and no one seemed to be paying attention. After the "astronomically high" prices the previous year, $2.50 per gallon seemed cheap.

How short our memories are!

When Deus Ex Machina and I moved to Maine several years ago, the price per gallon for gasoline and heating oil were both under a dollar. It's triple today what it was back then, and the price per barrel for crude is almost $85, which is a $4 increase over what I've seen in the past few months (it's been bouncing from $79/barrel to $81/barrel for a while), and in some places the price per gallon for gasoline is already over $3.

A couple of days ago, I debated the Fast Crash vs. Slow Descent, stating that I thought a fast crash would be preferrable, because it would just get things over with already so that we could adjust and move on.

The problem is that time has a way of putting things into perspective. We are crashing, and from our perspective, here on the ground, in the moment, it seems to be happening in slow motion. Thirty years from now, when we're looking back, it will seem to have happened all in the blink of an eye.

During the Cold War, I never believed that an all-out nuclear war would happen, despite the plethora of literature (movies, books, magazine articles) on the subject. Likewise, I don't believe there will be any sort of thing like an EMP attack (although I do believe a good, old fashioned invasion is possible). I don't believe there will be one catastrophic event that sends us over the edge and tumbling head over heels into the abyss.

I think what we will, ultimately, experience is what we are experiencing now - a slow impoverishment of most of our population. We'll just all get much poorer, and those things we take for granted now - new clothes whenever the whim strikes us, color televisions and $100 per month cable subscription, cellphones, iPods, Ugg boots, chocolate-dipped strawberries for Valentine's Day (in Maine) - will become the luxuries they are for the rest of the world. Paying for food and shelter will consume most of our incomes ... just as they do in the rest of the world.

It will continue to happen gradually, over the next few months and years. We won't wake up tomorrow and find that we've lost it all - well, most of us won't ;).

Which is actually the good news, because it means that we still have time to put our wealth to good use and purchase quality things that will last, and that will serve us well when we can't just run to the store for another one.

We still have time.